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May 092015
 

Well if you are a Tory supporter nothing went wrong; indeed you must be cock-a-hoop given that you have a Tory government when 64% of the voters wanted something else! But if you are against the Tories, you have to be wondering what went wrong.

The most obvious problem is the broken medieval electoral system we have. For practical reasons it made sense in the days of horse-drawn carts to ask each area to appoint a representative in parliament. But today we should be able to design an electoral system where MPs represent people not places, and where everybody can say their vote helped appoint someone to parliament.

As an example if all the votes for the Green party were distributed amongst the smallest UK consituencies (you did realise they are different sizes didn't you?), they would have ended up with 23 MPs instead of just 1! The Tories would end up with 240 seats rather than 331, which basically means that the Tories are very good at distributing their supporters.

In my case, my vote went towards a loser which means I'm "represented" by a politician whose policies and attitudes I find totally repulsive. There is nobody in parliament that I voted for. And the same applies to a huge swathe of the population who are now feeling alienated by the whole process.

And that is something that can and should be changed.

The alienation caused by the first past the post system is probably one of the causes of the low turnout; what is the point in voting if you live in a "safe" seat?

The most obvious difference in this election is the wholesale take-over of Scotland by the SNP, which surprised everyone. Which leads the new Tory government to a bit of a problem – with just one MP in Scotland, they essentially have no mandate to govern Scotland. 

And even in England, the Tory majority is nothing to crow about – a majority of 5 is what would have been called a "fragile majority" in the past. A Tory leader with such a slim majorty is likely to run into problems if they try and ram through a radical programme.

The Tories managed to persuade many of us that a bit more self-flagellation is necessary, and punishing the poor and unfortunate is good for the country.

The effect on the Liberal Democrats is both surprising and entirely predictable. Joining a coalition with the Tories was always a mistake in terms of future elections – it was always seen as helping to put the Tories into power, and many Liberals were far less accepting of this than they would have been to see the party join a coalition with Labour. What the Liberal Democrats failed to sell was the idea that their presence in government helped to amerliorate the Tory extremes.

Labour's failure was probably down to several things :-

  1. The failure to demolish the myth of Labour's economic incompetance that "caused" the recession. It was the global failure of the banking system that caused that failure. Labour's spending was actually reasonably restrained until the need to rescue the banks arose.
  2. The failure to come up with a true alternative to the austerity plan of the Tories. Given the level of government debt that would be a hard job, but it could be started by pointing out (quite rightly) that simplistic austerity makes the debt problem worse.
  3. The inability to persuade that most voters are actually "working class". There is a historic problem with the class system by which people think of the working class as cloth-capped horned handed manual workers of one kind or another. In reality, everybody who works for a living is working class.

Of course whinging about it is not going to change things. We have five years of Tory mismanagement and punishing austerity to accept now.

Apr 052015
 

It's a bit of a slow reaction to the leader's debate, and most of the debate was fairly predictable – the Tories want to cut public spending to pay off the deficit, Labour want to spend and hope the deficit will go away of it's own accord (and according to the historical record, Labour actually have a good track record of reducing the deficit!), and the Liberals want to fit themselves in the middle. The Greens made some interesting points, and the nationalist parties also had some interesting (if nationalistic) points to make.

But Farage (representing UKIP) was unbelievably simple-minded. Just about any problem could be dealt with by getting rid of the dirty foreigner.

Farage wants to cut the deficit by stopping sending money to those dirty foreigners. Their total saving on the foreign aid budget and the EU subscription would amount to £17 billion per year; even ignoring the fact the deficit is growing at about £100 billion a year, it will take approximately 88 years to pay off. Failure number 1.

Farage has a solution to the housing crisis – stop all the dirty foreigners coming in and taking over our houses. It seems like an obvious problem, but is not the whole story (see this article for an analysis of what may be wrong with the housing market).

On the question of the NHS, Farage has a solution to increase the NHS budget – stop treating all those dirty foreigners and let them die in the streets. Concentrating on figures for the moment, stopping treating foreigners may cut NHS costs by £2billion which sounds like a great deal, but it is a drop in the ocean compared with the overall NHS budget of £116 billion. What has not been mentioned is that the NHS is not very good at recovering costs from foreign health insurance schemes which is something worth looking at.

Personally I am quite willing to see the NHS spend 1.7% of it's budget on treating foreigners, because sick people need treatment. What kind of society would we be if we let those who don't qualify for treatment die in the streets? 

Farage and UKIP seem to have only one answer to all the problems the next government will face – blame foreigners. No problem is so simple that there is just one solution to it, and even if you believe that immigration is too high then you should at least agree with me that a party whose only answer is to blame foreigners is not worth considering.

Mar 212015
 

Today's little ramble was brought about by a little off-hand remark about the last election. Aparently the Tories got 10 million votes whereas the apathetic (those who didn't vote) numbered 16 million!. So why do all those people fail to vote?

Apathy

On first appearances there is not a great deal that can be done about those who are too apathetic to vote. By their nature the apathetic are very difficult to persuade into action.

But we can make voting easier

Postal voting already exists, but still takes a bit of effort to arrange and get sorted. It is rather too late to arrange it for the election this time around, but it is time we had some form of secure online voting. Previous attempts at electronic voting have not been entirely successful, so any online voting mechanism should be slowly are carefully worked out. It is not the sort of thing you hive off to the lowest bidder and let them solve all of the problems.

But probably the one thing I'm keenest on is to review the archaic and ridiculous habit of insisting on voting taking place on a Thursday. There is no reason for it other than convenience for the politicians (it gives them a long weekend to sort out the new government). It is nothing more than a historical custom. Setting the election for a day at the weekend would allow those who are only partialy apathetic more of a chance to get their vote in.

Many of us work, and voting on a Thursday involves disruption to a routine which may not have much available flexibility. In the morning, you're too busy getting the kids to school and yourself to work to take time out to vote (I vote in the mornings and it's amazing how quiet the polling booths are), and after a bad day at work it is all too easy to slump down on the sofa and "forget" about voting. 

Safe Seats

With our current electoral system, the result of an election is determined by the result in a handful of marginal seats; in the majority of seats the result is almost a foregone conclusion (with the occasional surprise often assisted by the presence of a particularly odious politician). 

If you happen to live within a safe seat, there is relatively little pressure to vote – your individual vote is unlikely to make a difference one way or another.

Given the result of the referendum for the last attempt at electoral reform, it is unlikely that any serious attempt at change will be made in the forseeable future. But our current electoral system definitely discourages voter turnout.

It would be nice if we could change the system in some way to make a direct connection between our vote and the person who was elected – so most of us could say that we were one of the 100,000 that voted for Fred and that's why she's an MP.

The Repugnant Political Establishment

There is an old joke about just how repugnance lawyers are :-

A grade school teacher was asking students what their parents did for a living. Timmy stood up and said, "My mom is a doctor!" Sarah stood up and said, "My father is a professor!" Little Johnny stood up and said, "My dad is a piano player in a whorehouse!"

The teacher couldn't believe what she's had just heard, so she made a point of calling Little Johnny's father that evening to discuss the situation. Little Johnny's father explained, "Actually, I'm a law attorney, but how am I supposed to explain that to a seven year old kid!"

And this goes doubly so for politicians (many of whom are or were either solicitors or barristers). Let's be honest: The best of them slither around the place, and you need to keep a tight grip on your wallet whenever a politician is around. How many stories about corrupt politicians have we had in the last 10 years?

It seems to many of us that although the political establishment gives lip service to the will, wishes and needs of the people, it in fact serves only it's own interests and those of it's specially favoured friends (who always seem to be rich and get richer). Whether or not you believe this, there is a significant proportion of the population who do believe it.

Amongst those who do believe, there are also plenty of those who believe that it is best to ignore the political establishment and try and achieve something outside it. Working outside the political establishment is a laudible aim, and something to be encouraged.

But it is not an exclusive choice – you can still work outside the political establishment, and still vote.

Cannot decide which of the rancid reptiles you like best? Just vote for the one you dislike the least; any vote cast for any candidate that opposes UKIP is worthwhile. 

My Vote Won't Make A Difference

Statistically that is entirely correct as a single vote does not make a difference.

But collectively we do make a difference; a small difference as the political establishment has stacked the deck, but a difference none the less.

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