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May 012017
 

With an election coming up it is time to try and persuade those who do not vote to get out there and vote. One of the main reasons people give for not voting is because none of the candidates are inspiring enough. Well it is all very well waiting for a candidate that inspires you, but you could well be waiting for a very long time.

Probably the second biggest reason for not voting is that with the first past the post system, there are places where voting for anyone other than the leading candidate is seen as a wasted vote. Nothing could be further from the truth! In almost every “safe” seat, if everyone who didn’t vote for the leading candidate all voted for an agreed alternative, then the seat could easily go to that alternative candidate. For example, the Arundel and South Downs constituency was won with 32 thousand votes in a constituency of nearly 100,000 – easily enough to overturn the Tory majority.

As to tactical voting: It can be summed up by selecting the candidate you would most like to lose (such as the Tory candidate), and picking the candidate most likely to defeat them.

Anyone can find out the last few election results (and a whole lot more) at http://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/. Just look at the last few elections and vote for the second placed candidate (providing that’s not a Tory or a UKIP candidate of course!). And don’t keep punishing the Liberals for breaking their promises; they don’t break their promises any more than the others.

Of course this may mean you are not voting for the candidate you want, but under the present voting system it makes more sense to vote against the candidate you dislike the most. Yes this is crazy, but so is using a voting system first used in the medieval era!

May 112010
 

There are those who claim that the possibility of the Tories and the Liberals combining into a coalition, or worse Labour and the Liberals combining into a coalition is undemocratic because it would not be what the public has voted for.

Perhaps, but it is no less democratic than a parliament with a clear majority. We do not have right to select the Prime Minister, just our representative in parliament. We expect our representative to vote for (actually technically it’s not vote against) the leader of his or her party. It is interesting to note that there is nothing in our system that allows for MPs changing parties – if you voted for a Labour party candidate, he gets elected and then immediately joins the Tory party, there is nothing to be done – your representative has been chosen even if you do not agree with his defection!

In reality, it is the elected MPs who decide who the Prime Minister is to be. What effectively happens is that the Queen (or King) selects a candidate Prime Minister. Although the Queen could pick whatever MP she wants as Prime Minister, in practice she selects the obvious choice – basically the leader of the majority party (or coalition). The Prime Minister then takes a “Queen’s Speech” to parliament and the MPs either vote in favour, or against – in which case the Prime Minister basically isn’t accepted by parliament so has to resign and force another election.

The key worry of those who claim that we could end up with an undemocratic result is with the possibility of a Labour-Liberal coalition – a “coalition of the defeated” – forming the next government. Is this fair ?

If you put add together the Labour, Liberal and nationalist MPs, they more than outnumber the Tory MPs, so even under our current electoral system, the hypothetical Labour-Liberal coalition is actually more representative of the will of the people than a Tory government.

After all, all the major parties have lost this election – Labour, Liberals, and Tories. The Tories have the largest number of MPs but not a majority. They cannot claim to have won this election any more than Labour can, because under our system “winning” is effectively having more than 326 MPs. And they do not.

If we end up with any coalition, it will be a coalition of the defeated. And yes the possible Tory-Liberal coalition is just as much a coalition of the defeated as a Labour-Liberal coalition would be.

May 092010
 

There are those who say that the election result is a clear defeat for Labour and Gordon Brown should immediately go. Actually that would be unethical and irresponsible. Gordon Brown is obliged to remain the Prime Minister until such time as a new Prime Minister emerges from the confusion of the current discussions on whether a coalition is possible.

Formally, the Prime Minister stays in power until the first parliament after an election takes place at which opportunity parliament can express its’ new views by voting down the old government’s Queens Speech. At which point the old Prime Minister is effectively forced to resign. In modern years, it is common when there is a clear result for the old Prime Minister to ask the Queen to appoint the new Prime Minister.

The whole point of the process is to avoid leaving the UK without a government for anything more than an hour. As such, Gordon Brown cannot resign in favour of the next Prime Minister because nobody has emerged who will take his place. If he were to resign, the current Labour deputy prime minister would take over.

May 082010
 

So after some 36 years, we have a “hung” parliament again with no party in overall control. There’s a joke in there somewhere to do with hanging politicians from lampposts, but I cannot quite see how to fit it in. Except to say that the politicians should sort out some sort of consensus government in a fairly short order.

The overall effect of the way that the public voted is that we effectively voted for a coalition government – no single party obtained a majority so the only stable government will be a coalition government. There are people going around saying that only the Tories have the moral right to form a government because they are the single largest party (on just 35% of the popular vote!); those that believe that misunderstand that we are in a “balanced parliament” situation where it is the largest coalition that has the votes to form a government.

Without second guessing the results of the negotiations, there are some obvious possibilities.

Conservatives On Their Own As  Minority Government

This is the option that could quite easily see the Conservatives in the electoral wilderness for another generation. Everyone can see that the only sensible option for a stable government would be to form a coalition to ensure a relatively stable majority. Opting to go it alone, would indicate that the Conservatives are unwilling or unable to share power with any other party despite it being in the best interests of the country.

A minority government of this kind is likely to be so unpopular with both the other politicians and the public that it would be unlikely to last for very long and quite possibly would result in the Tories being pushed to third or fourth place in the polls at the next election.

Frankly it does not seem very likely – I would expect that if the Liberals cannot get a good deal with the Conservatives, they will go across the road to Labour.

Con-Lib Pact

This combination seems a little unlikely to be honest – a coalition between unrepentant reactionaries and progressives ? The discussions are going on as I write this, and it is quite possible that some sort of agreement could result in such a coalition government. But there is a fundamental conflict between the two parties – Liberals are very interested in electoral reform, and the Conservatives are very much in favour of the current system which has seen them form the majority of governments in the 20th century.

If such a coalition forms, I see it as only lasting until electoral reform has taken place … or when the Liberals realise that the Tories promises on electoral reform were just a big con. It is also likely to be a coalition with a considerable level of bad feeling – whatever the leaders might feel, the ordinary MPs and ordinary supporters just are not going to like it very much.

Lib-Lab Pact

These two parties are almost natural allies in forming a coalition government as both are progressive parties. And the resulting coalition government is likely to be more stable than a Lib-Con coalition. There are those who would say that that such a coalition would be ignoring the will of the people who have voted Gordon Brown out.

Well, they would have a point if Labour were attempting to form a minority government, but that is not what this is about. Between them, Labour and Liberal have more than 50% of the popular vote, so can quite legitimately claim that as a coalition they have a more legitimate claim on government than the Conservatives alone who have just 35% of the popular vote.

The question would be, would the Liberals go back on their word not to work with Gordon Brown, or would Labour ditch Gordon Brown and elect a new leader to work with the Liberals ? It would certainly make some kind of sense for Gordon Brown to go as a sort of symbol of the end of the Labour government. After all, whilst nobody has “won” in the old fashioned sense of getting an overall majority, it is certainly the case that Labour has lost it’s overall majority.

But the biggest problem with a Lib-Lab pact is that it would have to be a “rainbow” coalition of essentially everyone who does not want to see the Tories back in charge. This adds up to around 329 MPs including the nationalist MPs from Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland (but ignoring Sinn Feinn who do not take up their seats). Whilst the nationalist MPs may not work with Labour on their own in their respected countries, they very well may support a rainbow coalition as the best way to prevent the Tories from getting in.

Con-Lab Coalition

Well it makes sense numerically, but can anyone really see this one being a realistic possibility ? Not likely.

It is fun to contemplate what may happen, but the only real answer to all the speculation is to wait and see what happens. There is an interesting possibility of electoral reform, which may very well be finally accomplished – if the Liberals stick to their guns and insist on it as a precondition for their membership of a coalition government.

And indeed it could well the that insistence that breaks any coalition between the Liberals and the Conservatives. Various comments leaked by the Conservatives indicate that they at least do not believe in electoral reform, or believe how important electoral reform is to those who believe it is vital.

If we end up with a coalition government (or a less formal arrangement that amounts to the same thing), we will end up with a government much more like governments in countries with less unfair and far more sensible voting systems. We will end up with a government much less likely to resort to extremist policies and a government much more likely to reflect the collective will of the people.

Apr 262010
 

Under our current voting system, voting for the candidate who represents the party you wan in government is not necessarily a smart way to vote. In some cases, choosing the party you want in government is throwing you vote away on a party that is very unlikely to win in your constituency. For instance in the constituency that I live in – Portsmouth South – anyone who votes Labour is pretty much throwing their vote away. The effective choices are between Liberal, or Conservative candidates.

With a transferable vote system (which of course we do not have), a Labour supporter (which isn’t me!) may well vote Labour as their first choice, and Liberal as their second choice to reduce the possibility that the Conservative candidate would win. Similarly, a Tory supporter in Scotland may choose Liberal as their second choice to reduce the chance of a Labour candidate winning.

Under our current system, it is probably better to choose between the two (or rarely three) leading candidates, picking the one that you least dislike the least. Whilst it may go against the grain to vote for somebody other than your preferred candidate, it does mean that your vote against the candidate you dislike the least is more effective.

Smart tactical voting is more complex than this of course – it involves checking the details of your constituency (you may also want to check the Voting Power details for your constituency, and the relevant Wikipedia article), and working out from the previous election results which two (or three if the third is within about 5% of the second placed candidate) and working out which one you would least dislike.

The Tories are warning that a vote for the Liberal party is voting to keep Gordon Brown in power – which is effectively saying that smart voting can accomplish something, but obviously slanted towards favouring voting Tory wherever you are. Whilst no party will encourage tactical voting, it can be for the benefit of whatever party you would prefer.

Vote tactically – it’s the smart thing to do!

Apr 182010
 

There is a suspicion that the elections in the UK just might result in a hung parliament where no party has an overall majority. In other words no party has more MPs than all the other parties put together. In such a situation, a government formed from the largest party tends to be quite nervous as it can be thrown out by its enemies if they all manage to agree.

The preferred option is for a coalition to form out of two or more parties who can swing (if all their MPs obey the party whip) an overall majority.

However in either case, the government is not as stable as it would otherwise be. Hung parliaments usually have a poor reputation because they typically do not last very long and spend more time arguing amongst themselves rather than actually doing anything constructive.

At least in the UK. In Europe, hung parliaments are common enough that coalition government is the norm rather than the exception.

The Tories – after the first “presidential” TV debate where Nick Clegg was surprisingly effective – are suddenly banging on about how dangerous hung parliaments can be. Ignoring those scum-sucking lying politicians for the moment (at least as far as we can), are hung parliaments actually good or bad ?

Well the truth is that they do not happen enough in the UK for us to know. We do know that hung parliaments in Europe are quite common and that it does not appear to be a complete catastrophe there. Of course there will be those who point at countries like Italy and ask whether we want a government as unstable as they have. But I will also point at Italy’s economy and say that it doesn’t seem to have done much harm – Italy is the 7th largest country in the world in terms of GDP.

It is entirely possible that a hung parliament in the UK will cause a momentary loss of confidence by the financial markets, although those that panic are eventually going to be counter-balanced by those with cooler heads that realise that the UK is not going to go bust just because it has a potentially unstable government. It is likely that the economic effect of a certain cloud of volcanic ash will have a greater effect than a day or two of instability in the economic markets.

If we can avoid being distracted by the probably relatively minor economic problems of a hung parliament, we can look at more interesting aspects of one.

This will be an opportunity to get a government which does not let either of the old major parties (Labour and Tory) have everything their own way. Of course a coalition government will have one or other comprising the largest part, but another party – most likely the Liberals – will have a big say.

The likely result of such a hung parliament is significant electoral reform because the smaller parties are more interested in it than the old school parties who do quite well out of our archaic and undemocratic electoral system. Sure you hear of Tory and Labour plans for electoral reform, but what they plan is tinkering around the edges, and the Tory plans revolve around making the political system cheaper with the effect of making our current system even less democratic than it is at the moment.

If the thought of a hung parliament is currently making you consider one of the big two parties, perhaps you should reconsider – a hung parliament is not quite as bad as the politicians of the big two will have you believe, and the increased chance of genuine electoral reform is worth taking that risk.

Apr 082010
 

The Tories have been slowly trotting out a procession of business leaders who think a Tory government would be a good idea. This is supposed to be news ? We know that the Tories are bankrolled by big business, which gives those business leaders a considerable say in what the Tories do – not explicitly, but in terms of influence.

Labour of course is similarly indebted to the unions, which gives the union leaders considerable influence over Labour’s policies.

Given that I am not a fat cat but one of the workers, I am likely to be less unhappy with the union’s unfair advantage with Labour in charge than with the fat cats hotline to a Tory government.

But I’m not happy about either Tories or Labour being beholden to any select group. It doesn’t seem to me to be a healthy situation if some group has an unfair access to the corridors of power because they helped fund the political party who managed to win an election.

There is of course the Liberals who are not funded in the same way, but realistically they are unlikely to win a majority. The best chance for Liberal involvement in the next government is with a “hung parliament” with no overall control – at least until a pact is established.

The real answer is to make party funding independent of private interest groups.

Apr 062010
 

Now that it has been announced, we can look forward to a very tedious month whilst the politicians try and grab all the headlines with variations on “look at me” (with the hope that their exhibitionism will turn into a vote). At least we know when it will be over at last.

Of course because of the election system we suffer, most of us don’t have much in the way of a say in what the next parliament looks like and who makes up the government. Apparently around half of the current seats in parliament have not changed in terms of what party the MP represents in over 40 years! So much for democracy.

Of course there is a form of democracy at work here – those few of us who live in marginal seats are effectively the ones who decide what bunch of politicians make up the next government. The rest of us are expected to vote according to the usual pattern and return an MP for our constituency no different to the previous one.

Perhaps we should remember the expenses scandal, and vote for independent candidates not affiliated and obligated to the party machines.

Mar 282010
 

One of the tedious things about the UK election system is that we do not know when the election is coming, so before the date of the election is known we have a kind of “phoney election” where the politicians all go head to head being even more critical with each other than they usually are. And of course generating even more hot air than usual.

And then the election gets announced and all the tediousness goes into overdrive.

What for ?

Because of the election system in the UK, there are only a handful of seats (the “marginals”) where the result makes a bit of difference. If like most people you live in a parliamentary seat which is to a greater or lesser degree “safe”, your vote is effectively pointless and all the politicians making noise in your face about how bad the other politicians are, are just wasting of your time.

It seems that there are just 60 seats that are marginal enough to make a difference – 60 out of 646, roughly 9%. So only 9% of the population have a vote that counts! At least if we all vote more or less the way we usually do. Basically the political establishment counts on the majority of us acting like sheep.

The funny thing is that if politicians were honest and actually admitted that the voters in “safe” seats didn’t count, the normally safe seats would be up for grabs. So our electoral system accidentally rewards dishonesty! Kind of puts the expenses scandals into a new light doesn’t it ?

Of course even if you are one of the lucky few living in one of the 60 marginals, the election process takes far too long – who needs many weeks in order to make up their minds ? Most of us already know who we would vote for in the next election, so delaying it just allows the politicians to puff up their feathers.

Just remember we can always ignore the “big three” (Labour, Conservative, ad Liberal) and go for the independents and we might have a chance of getting some proper electoral reform rather than just a bit of tinkering around the edges.

Feb 092010
 

Gordon Brown has announced plans to reform the electoral system in the UK after the election – if Labour is elected, and they do not change their minds. Of course they look likely to give us one choice of reform – choose Labour’s preferred option or no reform. What kind of choice is that ?

We should be telling Parliament what kind of electoral reform we want and not just calmly expect what suits the government of the day. If you look at what Gordon Brown is proposing, it probably represents the minimum possible change to our present system. The Alternative Vote (what GB is suggesting) consists of people voting by listing their preferred candidates in order of preference; if there is no overall majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is excluded and the votes of those who voted for him or her are shared out amongst the other candidates according to their second preference.

The idea is that no MP is elected without representing the majority view of his or her constituency. Ok, sounds better than the current system, but is it as good as one of the following :-

Or even the zillions of other possibilities out there – Wikipedia has a good selection.

There are certain advantages to Gordon Brown’s preferred system – it is a relatively small change and does make things a bit fairer. I would myself prefer a more radical change, but I am quite willing to let the people decide and not have our choice restricted to a simple yes or no to choose some politician’s choice. After all, how sure are we that this is actually best for us and not best for the Labour party ?

Of course as you might expect, the Tories are against any form of electoral reform, and the Liberals are in favour (although this isn’t their preferred system).

What I would like to see is a referendum giving us a proper choice amongst a range of options. That would be complicated to difficult to do properly and would be more complex for us people to decide – we would have to spend some time thinking about what we want. We would need a neutral group reviewing possible systems and keeping the list of options down to sensible numbers. We would also need a neutral group coming up with a list of advantages and disadvantages for each, and ideally stop the politicians from making recommendations (asking a politician to keep quiet is wildly unrealistic I know).

The key thing is that we should be making the choice and not the politicians.

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