Saturday, 30 April 2011
It was fun to conclude with the hearty singing of "Jerusalem," which I believe can be interpreted as revolutionary. One of the most impressive political speeches I've ever heard was by George Brown in Cleckheaton during the 1964 election. His peroration was that if we did this, that and the other we really would "build a new Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land." and we all believed him and stood up and cheered. During the singing of the hymn the camera cut to David Cameron. I'm no sure that his market-orientated "devil take the hindmost" new Jerusalem is really what either Gorge Brown or William Blake had in mind.
Wednesday, 27 April 2011
I Emailed a friend in Australia and asked what substance there is in this claim. His reply cam yesterday:
Re your question, I've never heard of any statistic about ditching preferential voting in favour of FPTP, nor has Liz (his wife) and it's not something that's discussed at all as far as I know. I'll ask around my colleagues, but I think it's a complete non-issue! The only time I heard it being discussed was after the UK election, when there were press reports here of `unfairly' ditched MP's, and some Aussie pride in the Brits considering adopting `our superior system' (rather than the other way round).
My contact goes on to say that what Australians do beef about are compulsory voting (and fines for forgetting to vote) and the necessity in some elections (rules differ from state to state and upper and lower house elections) to put all the candidates in order, not just the top two or three preferred ones. This, he says, can lead to an invalid vote if you accidentally put, say, two number 12s in a rather long list.
Neither of these problems arise, of course, with the current AV proposal in Britain. Voting will remain optional (and rightly so, in my view) and voters are quite at liberty to rank as many preferences as they wish, and if they only want to indicate one preference, that's fine.
So it appears that here is another piece of misinformation from the "No" campaign. I can fully understand why leaders of the "Yes" campaign, and leading Liberal Democrats, including the normally astute Simon Hughes, are waxing indignant about the "No" campaign's tactics, but I still feel that abuse and threats of legal action are counter-productive. The electorate has little sympathy for those who cry "Foul!" Quiet calm deliberation remains the answer.
Monday, 25 April 2011
A complete page of the "No" leaflet is entirely devoted to Nick Clegg. To support the spurious argument that "AV leads to broken promises" we are told that Nick is unpopular because he broke his promises on four issues: job cuts, the VAT increase, tuition fees and public spending cuts.
The truth is that Clegg, to his shame and ours in my view, was the first to speak of "savage cuts" so the job cuts and public spending cuts are hardly a broken promise. He broke our promise not to increase VAT at the behest of a Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer who had implied a similar promise, and on tuition fees he reneged on his pledge (after having achieved some significant concessions) in order to go along with what the Tories wanted.
William Hague and others mouth the half-truth that since the "No" campaign is an independent organisation its leaflet is not the responsibility of the Conservative party. But we all know that the "No" campaign is over 90% funded by Tory donors and there is no doubt that Cameron could exercise a veto on any publicity material should he so wish.
So whatever the result of the referendum Nick Clegg should emerge from it as a wiser man. He should now know that whatever concessions to Liberal Democrat principles and policies he makes in an attempt to preserve the cosy relationship will be unscrupulously used to attack him and us when it suits the Tories' convenience. Hence we can in future expect a more robust promotion of our policies and a suitable distancing when the coalition's policies are the antithesis of ours.
Saturday, 23 April 2011
My friend John Cole, described as a "thoroughly good egg" in a comment to a post on this blog (John is dying to know who made it) has a neat explanation as to why running races and choosing a representative are quite different processes , in the following letter to his local paper:
The ”No To A.V.” leaflet has a photograph showing four contestants in a sprint race with the caption “The Winner Should be the One that Comes First”. In this race the outcome is that the competitor originally placed second wins under the Alternative Vote system when other losers’ votes are redistributed. The implication is that such outcomes are intrinsically unfair.
An election, especially a parliamentary election, is not analogous to sprint race. The sole concern in a foot race is “who is the fastest” – speed is the only criterion. In an election, however, a variety of different policy stances (not to mention differing philosophies and values) are being considered. Hence it is valid for the voter to approve of much of what candidate A is offering, some of what candidate B is offering but very little of candidate C’s manifesto. The voter can thus legitimately rank choices between candidates.
First Past The Post, and its protagonists in the “No” camp seek to prevent the electorate operating in an adult fashion which can rank preferences 1,2, 3 etc. They wish to stick with a system which constrains the voter to pick one favoured candidate whilst rejecting outright all others. Life is not that black and white."
Thursday, 21 April 2011
It came through through the post rather than being distributed by volunteers. This, and the quality of the leaflet, means that the "No" campaign has a lot of money to spend. I had supposed that there are rules limiting expenditure on both sides. Maybe the "Yes" campaign is spending our money on those phone banks instead, or maybe the expenditure rules can be circumvented, as in general elections.
The leaflet is basically in white, purple and green, the colours of the Suffragettes, which is a bit of a cheek, since the Suffragettes campaigned to improve a faulty system, not retain one.
The front page displays the slogan; "Keep one person one vote" which of course, AV will also do - simply that if your favoured candidate can't use it you can pass it on to someone else. As Jo Swinson so graphically put it, if you go to a shop for a Mars Bar but they don't have one so you buy a Twix instead, you've still only had one bar of chocolate, not two.
Page 2 repeats the discredited claim that the cost of AV is £250million, including £130 million for electronic voting machines, which will not, of course be required. Votes will be counted by hand and the counts are unlikely to take much longer than the present ones.
Pages 3 and 4 show how the candidate who was second or third when the votes were first counted can emerge the winner under AV whereas under FPTP "the one who comes first is always the winner." At last an element of truth. It is true that AV can produce the least unpopular rather than the most popular candidate, which is presumably why both Labour and the Conservatives use a version of AV when electing their leaders, realising that they need the support of the majority, not just a section of their parties.
Page 5 claims that AV is "not a fair system" but gives no reason to support this. It does not mention that three times since the introduction of universal suffrage, under FPTP the party which came second in the total vote gained the most seats.
Page 6 is split into two columns. The left hand side has a four line explanation of FPTP, the right hand side a 30 line explanation of AV, in small print with, presumably, the expectation that most people won't read it but decide that AV is much too complicated. Presumably they are content to receive their radio by cat's whisker and all have black and white television sets.
Page 7 shows a man in a blue shirt winning a running race but a man in a black one being "the winner under AV" with no suggestion that winning a running race might not be analogous to selecting an individual to represent the views of the majority in parliament. There is also the claim that "The AV system will mean an end to equal votes" without any explanation as to why this should be so. AV will make more votes count, so in that sense will be a move to greater equality.
The final page shows a picture of Nick Clegg displaying his personal pledge to vote against any increase in (student tuition) fees, and claims that "AV leads to broken promises." Well, serves us and him right, I suppose, and it is going to take us years to live that one down. But it is not AV which leads to broken promises. Labour under FPTP and with a whopping majority broke their promise not to introduce tuition fees, and then another promise not to top them up. The Tories under FPTP are currently trying to break their promise of "no top down re-organisation of the NHS."
Clearly the "No" campaign is winning the propaganda war. I hope in the next couple of weeks, even with apparently inferior resources, we can persuade people of the truth. I am encouraged by the fact that the young are more likely to vote "Yes" than the old. It is nice to be on the side of "yoof."
Wednesday, 20 April 2011
On Monday David Cameron claimed that AV was "obscure, unfair and expensive." and his unlikely collaborator, John Reid said it was "not British." All of these claims can and should be refuted quite calmly.
AV is not obscure. When I deserted (temporarily as it happened - I didn't win) my teaching post in Papua New Guinea to fight the February 1974 British General Election graffiti appeared on some of the school blackboards (and, alas, some less appropriate surfaces) saying "Vote Wrigley 1." Whether the pupils wished to further my political career or simply to get rid of me is not clear, but they were certainly familiar with preferential voting. If young Papua New Guinians could understand voting 1,2,3 nearly forty years ago, then AV is not beyond the comprehension of the mature and highly educated British electorate.
No electoral system is perfect, but AV is likely to produce fairer representation than FPTP, which three times under universal suffrage (1929, 1951 and that same election of February 1974) gave the party which came second in the vote the most seats. It is FPTP which is intolerable in a modern democracy.
It is difficult to understand on what basis the "No" campaign claims that AV will cost £250m. How does that extra expense arise? It is not true that counting machines will be needed. Approximately one third of seats may still be decided on the first count. I doubt if counting staff are paid by the hour, but if they are and some counts take a little longer, the increase in cost will be marginal, and well worth it for a more representative and responsive democracy.
John Reid's claim that AV is "not British" is equally curious. Putting aside the strange notion that a voting system has a nationality, AV is used by the Church of England and most trade unions, variants of it by all three major parties and the Greens, and, according to Vince Cable, who should know about these things, "Come Dancing." What could be more British than that collection?
Finally, Cameron tells us that he feels in his gut that FPTP is to be preferred. True we are guided by our gut feelings in several important areas, such as falling in love and whether or not to eat snails, but more rational processes are available for deciding on the mechanisms of our democracy.
Tuesday, 19 April 2011
Fortunately the college where I worked was downhill from where I lived so I arrived each morning without a great sweat, and the five mile up-hill journey in the evening provided exercise which obviated the need for jogging. This Malaŵian experience prompted me on my return to the UK to buy a bike before I bought a car, and I use it for short journeys when it isn't raining and I don't have a lot of shopping to carry.
The above is to show that I'm really on the side of the cyclists, because I am appalled by the behaviour of the many who seem to think that the law simply does not apply to them. My own cycling conduct was learned in the 40s and 50s when you cycled on the road, stopped at halt signs and traffic lights, gave hand signals and displayed lights in the dark. I doubt if the proposal for a new a new law of "death by dangerous cycling" is really necessary, but we do need to change cyclists' culture and get the "lycra louts" to obey the existing laws.
One law I would like to see changed, however, is the use of the pavement. Within towns and villages these should be exclusively for the use of pedestrians, but there are many stretches of pavement between towns which are sparsely used by pedestrians and would provide a safer haven for cyclists than the road. This is the case, for example, in the two mile stretch between my house and the nearest supermarket, where the road is relatively narrow and has been made narrower still by little-used "pedestrian refuges." Lorries in particular rarely slow down for a cyclist when passing one of these and there is a real possibility of the cyclist being flung into the gutter. The law could usefully be changed to legalise the use of such pavements by cyclists, with the clear understanding that pedestrians had priority and cyclists should be limited to a moderate speed rather than emulating Mr Toad
Finally, all bikes should have a bell which should be used as a warning of approach rather than a demand to "get out of the way," and motorists should be fined heavily for parking across cycle tracks.
Monday, 18 April 2011
Equally bizarre is the fact that the prime minister who complains that many migrants don't speak English is actually cutting the funding for the classes which would teach it.
I suspect that the overwhelming majority of immigrants to Britain not only speak some English but are very anxious to improve their command of it. Before Christmas I did some teaching on a post-graduate business studies course at a local university, on which the majority of students were from abroad. I gained the strong impression that one of the main attractions of the course was just the university's expertise in business studies as the fact that it provided an opportunity to study in our internationally valued language.
One of the oddities of my retirement is that, in the last couple of years, I have offered my services , as a volunteer teacher or provider of English conversational practice, to half a dozen different organisations involved in immigrant welfare. Four have not responded at all and the other two have said they had no use for me. It's a topsy-turvy world where I have found it easier to get paid employment than to be taken on as a volunteer. I feel desperately sorry for those unemployed who are not simply looking for something useful to do, but also need an income.
Anyone who doubts the positive contribution that immigrants make to Britain's culture, politics and economy should read Mehdi Hasan's splendid article in last Saturday's guardian. Among other things he reminds us that both Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg are the children of immigrants, and that David Cameron is descended from a German-Jewish financier who came to this country in the 1850s.
Sunday, 17 April 2011
Consequently I welcome the proposals to abolish the discriminatory law that puts girls at the back of the succession queue in favour of boys. Raising the issue will inevitably raise those of discrimination against Roman Catholics (that should go too,) the role of the monarch as head of the C of E, and, inevitably, republicanism.
I hope the style of the monarchy will be discussed and that the Windsors will listen.. If I remember correctly Walter Bagehot argued that there was a place for a splendid monarch but no case for a mean one. I believe this is now outdated and that we should move to a "bicycle monarchy" on the Scandinavian style. Surely one palace is enough and massive wealth is not longer acceptable.
However, it is important to preserve a bit of the glamour. I was working in Papua New guinea when it became independent in 1975. Prince Charles came to do the honours and I was fortunate to be invited to most of the ceremonies. Those at which the prince was present were very well attended, those which he didn't much more sparsely so. We must be careful to preserve a bit of magic in the affairs of state and government, and not leave all the glamour to the winners of X-factor.
Saturday, 16 April 2011
The report does not seems to touch the matter that troubles me most at a personal level: that banks (and some building societies) will, unless you watch them like a hawk, put your savings on the "back burner" with a derisory rate of interest. With Lloyds TSB this is currently 0.1% gross, 0.08% net. That's per year. But if you borrow from them by an overdraft they will charge you 1.48% per month, or 19.3% per year. This huge gap, 241 times their savings rate according to my calculator, ought to cause outrage but we seem, like supine puppies, to have accepted it as the way of the world about which nothing can be done.
I realise that I am fortunate to have savings, and that anyone with debts would think it a luxury to be able to spend time shuffling savings around seeking an honest rate of interest. Frankly, I have better things to do with my retirement (such as delivering leaflets in support of AV). What I want is a bank or building society which will treat me fairly - one in which I can put my savings, not necessarily for the highest rate, but a fair rate, and one which will not drop to a derisory level if I don't keep constant track of it.
Competition ought to produce such a bank or building society, but it doesn't seem to. Perhaps here is a rôle for one of the government-owned banks. Failing that, strict usury laws, not just to curb excessively high loan rates but also to prevent banks from robbing savers who take their eyes off the ball.
Friday, 15 April 2011
Clearly the days of blanket approval for whatever the coalition does are over. It is also encouraging that Clegg and Cable have chosen to introduce the new era an issue which, though a fundamental part of Liberal Democrat philosophy, is likely to be electorally unpopular. Great: they have political courage after all. Pity they didn't find it when they could have made electorally popular, as well as intellectually consistent, criticisms of the coalition's "savage cuts" economic policy, which David Blanchflower described as "abysmal" on BBC Radio 4 the other day.
When David Cameron was elected leader of the Tory party he he set himself the task of ridding it of its image as the "nasty party." Playing the immigration/race card three weeks before an election shows that the changes are still only cosmetic. They remain the same old Tories, desperately in need of civilising Liberal influence.
Thursday, 14 April 2011
However, illiberal as it may sound, I should welcome a tougher stance on littering, dog turds in the streets and parks, overflowing rubbish bins and bins persistently left out to spoil what I believe is now called the "streetscape." When I went on a school trip to Switzerland in the 1950s we were warned that dropping litter was a serious offence which could result in an on-the-spot fine. Careful of our modest means (though there were 8SF to the £ in those days, whilst the "success" of successive Tory and Labour economic policies backed by paliamentary majorities has now, I believe, recduced it to three) this caused us to be very careful indeed, and Switzerland retained its prisitine litter-free condition in spite of our visit.
I should like to see Britain's litter problem treated equally seriously, and propose a sustained and imaginative advertising progrmme for a year, pointing out that from such and such a date dropping litter would become an offence subject to an on-the-spot fine and, from that date not only the police but traffic wardens, park keepers (if there still are any), dog wardens and other "peaked cap" oficials empowered to impose the fines.
I know that sounds a bit like a police state and shouldn't perhaps be coming from one who is not only a Liberal but also a member of Liberty, but it would reduce my blood pressure and make Britain a tidier place rather than one which I'm often ashamed display to my visitors from abroad.
Tuesday, 12 April 2011
One banking reform we urgently need is some banks dedicated to providing funds at modest rates of interest for long term investment. I believe Germany has these and they have contributed greatly to Germany's pre-eminence in manufacturing. There is no mention of such a provision in yesterday's proposed reforms. Perhaps a future for RBS?
In the political sphere the same short-termism predominates: the vision of our politicians is limited to the next election and rarely beyond. We desperately need some "statesmen/women" with the capacity to see beyond the next few years and the courage and honesty to tell us the truth. The proposal discussed in yesterday's blog, of "recall" would, if adopted, make such far-sightedness even less likely.
Monday, 11 April 2011
Happily there is still time to stop the "recall" proposal. The arguments against it are ably expressed in the following letter, written by my friend Michael Meadowcroft to someone trying to whip up enthusiasm for the proposal:
This is a campaign which risks seriously undermining representative
The concept of electing an individual to represent one in parliament
for a set period of time is crucial to the whole concept of
government. Politics is about judgement and, when he or she believes
the circumstances require it, the Member of Parliament has to be
able to make decisions on difficult issues early in the life of the
parliament which at the time may well be highly unpopular, but which
the MP judges will be proved right before having to face re-election.
If the superficially attractive but highly flawed concept of recall
were to be implemented it would force MPs to concentrate on taking
decisions that were invariably popular with his or her electorate
whether or not they were what the country or the constituency really
It is bad enough now with twenty-four hour media attention and
constant questioning and analysis - including impugning motives - and
to give the additional leverage of recall would be disastrous.
Whether or not one believes that the measures being taken to deal with
the economic crisis are individually justified, it would be well nigh
impossible to take any action which involved painful cuts if the MPs
were vulnerable to recall.
It is no accident that in a number of countries, including France and
Russia, MPs are more accurately called Deputies and are elected for a
set Mandate, thus underlining the point that the citizen elects a man
or woman to "deputise" for him or her in political decision making for
a set period, at the end of which - and not before - the Deputy is
held to account.
I suggest that you abandon this populist, superficial and misjudged
Let's hope this inappropriate import (from California?) somehow gets lost in the legislative maze.
Saturday, 9 April 2011
Predictably, George Osborne has seized on the financial crisis in Portugal to “prove” that the Tory cuts are necessary and if they aren’t made, there but for the Grace of God, goes the UK. This in spite of the fact that one distinguished economist after another, repeatedly quoted in this blog, have hammered away that the UK’s public debt is not historically high, is caused by a fall in revenues rather than government profligacy, is perfectly manageable, that the markets are not calling for its reduction, and that cuts in public expenditure are likely to make matters worse rather than better.
The Tories are good at slogans. “Stealth taxes” is one of their best, though it wasn’t coined for the almost doubling of VAT under Margaret Thatcher, and hasn’t been mentioned in relation to this year’s further increase from 17.5% to 20%. “Deficit denier”, with its overtones of connections with the irrationalists who deny the Holocaust, is equally effective. But we Keynesians are deficit realists who have studied the 1930s and are prepared to learn lessons from them.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that the demand for urgent restructuring of the NHS is another con. David Cameron asks us to let him be clear the “the status quo is not an option.” As I have already admitted, I am not an expert on the NHS, but a writer in the Guardian on 6th April, Jacky Davis, who is, concludes her article with:
“Lansley says no change is not an option, but it is not clear where the crisis lies. Surveys show that the NHS comes out top for equity of access and value for money. Outcomes are improving rapidly, and the misleading statistics trotted out by the coalition about heart attacks and cancer survivals have been shamelessly cherry-picked. What exactly is the problem to which these “reforms” are the solution?”
There is probably no large organisation in the world, public or private, in which there is no “waste” and efforts should be made to reduce it, but the hurried scramble to re-organise an organisation which is functioning reasonably well owes more to the desire for ideological privatisation than to a desire to improve outcomes
Friday, 8 April 2011
I have recently discovered a "statistics" link which has revealed some surprises for me. In the year there have been 11 727 "pageviews" or about 30 a day (although that is no indication as to how may of the "viewers" have actually read the page.) Over 4 000 of the "views" are from the UK, but almost as many, 3 883 from the US. Sadly only 244 from France and hardly any from Australia.
The most "viewed" page is that of 28th Novemeber 2010, entitled "An Airy-Fairy Measure." It is difficult to understand this as the subject was the feebleness of David Cameron's proposals for measuring national well-being by simply asking people how happy they are instead of using solid statistics such as unemployment and poverty rates, suicides and mental illness, the Gini coefficient of equality etc. I can only suppose that "airy-fariry" is code for something else of which I'm not aware. In pre-politically correct days "fairies" was a pejoritive term for homosexuals. Perhaps that's it.
My thanks to my followers and reqular contributers, especially Chris, Jaime (though I haven't heard from him for a while) and "Anonymous" (who lets slip his name from time to time.) I shall continue to post as regularly as I can, and would dearly like to be noticed by "Libdemvoice" and get into the big league.
Wednesday, 6 April 2011
The Liberal Democrat Spring Conference did Nick a favour by setting out clearly the party's bargaining position, for detalis of which click here. Get it right and we could be on a new phase of coalition politics in which the respective contriutions of the two partners becomes clearer.
Ed Miliband has already dismissed the platform appearance as a publicity stunt. This is "old p9olitics." If we want genuine democracy - government by discussion - we must not sneer and shout "U turn" whenever the opportunity for reasoned discussion is given. It is up to Nick to demonsttatee that this is no "hard sell" but a genuine attempt to get things right.
Monday, 4 April 2011
There is alwas a dangner in a debate about elecoral reform that anoraks such as myslef will cloud the issues by arcane discussions about different systemns. So far this has been avoided, apart from, as far as I'm aware, an intervention from David Owen and an Anglic bishop (of Blackburn, I think) which has made little impact. Happily even those who consider theselves experts seem content to debate the pros and cons of FTPT versus AV, which is, after all, the choice we have.
Having avoided this danger it would be unfortunate if the debate degenerated into a PMQ-style slanging match between the "Yes" and "No" campaigns. Nothing could be more likely to disillusion the electorate into seeing the issue as "just more of the same old politics" rather than an opportunity to take a further step in the development of our democratic process.
However wild arguments from either side seem to be, they need to be conuntered calmly and rationally, rather than abusively. The "No" campaign has made two claims which we believe to be wrong. One is that AV will cost umpteen millions which would better be spent on hospitals. It won't. In the third of constituencies where the MP has a clear majority than the count will cost no more than at present. Where there is not a majority then the redistribution of worst loosers' votes will take a little longer, but will be done by hand, as it has been for years in Australia. Machines will not be required, and any extra cost will be marginal and well worth it for a more reprentative and responsive House of Commons.
The second disputed "No" claim is that AV will encourgae extremist parties such as the BNP. The opposite is the case, since in closely fought contests parties will need second preferences to win and extremist parties are unlikely to attract them. That is probably why the BNP prefers FPTP and is actually suporting the "No" campaign.