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From alternative media to alternative vote….

Councillor Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blog and twitter. This post was reproduced with the authors kind permission from One World Column.

I missed the major Norwich #Yes2AV organising meeting this week – because I was at the @OneWorldColumn party, which unfortunately was taking place at the same time…

To make up for missing the meeting, I am devoting my column this month to the reasons why I think it is so important, for democracy in this country, for the AV referendum, when it happens, to be won. This issue is very pertinent at the moment because, worryingly, the bill to provide for the referendum is still moving at only a snail’s pace through the Lords, due to ongoing and constitutionally-dubious delaying tactics by AV’s opponents. As the person who scooped the entire establishment media to bring the news to the nation of when the Coalition was scheduling the AV referendum for I have, naturally, been following this story more closely than many. I hope it will end happily. For our political system badly needs this referendum to be won.

Why?

Well, check out this poster. I think that this nicely sums up some of the central reasons for voting Yes in the referendum, and why it matters:

Now let’s consider some common arguments against AV, and see how well they stand up. People sometimes say, for instance, that AV maximises the votes of extremist candidates. This might well be technically true, in the sense that people are no longer discouraged from voting for the candidate of their choice, under AV, because AV eliminates the ‘wasted vote’ argument that is the bane of small parties under FPTP. However, relative to AV, it is FPTPthat maximises the seats that are gained by extremist parties. This is demonstrable for example in relation to Council elections in this country: there are many seats that the BNP have won under the present system that they would without doubt have lost under AV: for the second and third and fourth preferences of voters voting for mainstream/non-fascist parties would in very many cases have transferred against the BNP. In seats where it is not obvious who to vote for in order to stop the BNP, FPTP is the system of choice for the BNP. Which may well partly explain why the BNP, somewhat understandably, is calling the AV referendum a conspiracy against the BNP…

People sometimes claim that it is wrong that under AV votes transfer at full strength. Should a 5th preference really count as much as a 1st or 2nd preference? The answer to this is that if you allow some second preference votes to count for more than others, than you reintroduce into voters’ calculations, from the start, standard ‘tactical voting’ considerations – the very considerations that have increasingly deformed Britain’s democracy as we have moved away from being a political duopoly. AV cuts through all that, and abolishes tactical voting in its classical form. AV means that one does not have to shy away from voting for the candidate(s) who one supports, in simple order of descending preference.

Once one understands the reality of how the two systems work, then the choice between FPTP and AV is really a no-brainer: unless either one wishes for some unaccountable reason to keep mass tactical voting alive for the sake of it, or supports fascist parties such as the BNP….

But people say that AV won’t much change our political culture, because it wouldn’t much change our election results. But: this is to make the rash assumption that those who voted (say) LibDem at the recent General Election actually do have LibDem as their 1st preference, that those who voted Labour actually do have Labour as their 1st preference, etc. . In fact, this assumption is much worse than rash – it is manifestly false. It is falsified by the existence of large-scale tactical voting, under FPTP.

 

The big question about the effect of AV on election results is how the abolition of tactical-voting and of ‘wasted vote’ arguments (an abolition that AV very largely, thankfully, effects) and the drastic reduction in safe seats that it will simultaneously bring about will affect the first-preference votes of the LibDems and of smaller Parties. In some seats (notably, Labour-Conservative marginals), the LibDems are at present perceived not to have a chance; their first-preferences will go up under AV, in those seats. But this is unlikely to help them much at all in the short term – because, in such seats, they are in most cases far enough behind that they will still be eliminated before either the Conservatives or Labour. In many seats (including obviously most of the seats they actually hold), the LibDems currently benefit a great deal from tactical voting: in these seats, their first preferences will slump, under AV. It may well be that in some cases those first preferences (which will turn into 2nd or 3rd preferences, under AV) will slump so much that the LibDems will be eliminated before the 2 ‘main’ Parties – or indeed before smaller Parties, whose first preferences will in many cases leap up, once tactical voting and ‘wasted vote’ arguments have been eliminated by AV.

This is a reason for believing that the LibDems may, ironically, suffer in 2015 from AV, rather than benefitting from it. So, if you are one of those people who is worried about voting for AV because you don’t want to do the LibDems a favour, then I would suggest to you that you need worry no longer…

In the longer term, a great advantage of AV is that it enables smaller Parties (which the LibDems may well be again, after the next General Election!) that are not thoroughly disliked by a majority to build up their votes. This is how the Green vote has grown in Australia, for instance, to the point where the Greens have won seats in the Upper House (elected by PR) through being able to build up their first-preference votes (through AV) in the Lower House. And the Aussie Greens have now won their first seat in the Lower House, through second-preference-transfers under AV…

Thus AV, unlike FPTP, makes it comparatively easy for democracies to outgrow ossified Party structures – such as arguably we have in Britain, today.

To sum up: Because it puts an end to tactical voting and the ‘wasted vote’ argument, AV changes the expressed first preferences of voters. For example, the rise of the Greens inAustralia has been predicated on growing numbers of Aussies voting Green even if and where the Greens have little chance of winning; voters can affords to do this, because their second preferences etc will still count.

If the AV referendum goes through, expect substantial changes to British politics – including an accelerated rise for the Green Party. It is interesting to reflect on what might have happened in Norwich South in the 2010 General Election, had the Election been run under AV. The LibDems narrowly won, as a result of mass tactical voting for them, to get rid of Charles Clarke. Under AV, as the election may well be in 2015, would they still have won? Or might we have seen a Green MP, in Norwich?…

It will be good for democracy for small non-extremist Parties which are hurt by FPTP to grow, as AV facilitates. It will be good to end the nonsense of mass tactical voting. It will be good to create a momentum of successful political reform, which could lead on from AV to democratisation (at last) of the House of Lords, to…

And it will be good to give one in the eye to the BNP, the TaxPayers’ Alliance, and the other awful people who are ‘leading’ the #No2AV campaign…

For all these reasons and more, when the time comes, I’m voting Yes. I hope you will, too…

 

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Filed under: Electoral Reform, Green Party, Liberal Democrats, Media,

Why the left should take the AV Referendum seriously….

Keith White is the leader of the Labour Group on Dacorum Borough Council and blogs here.

One thing is certain there is going to be a referendum on whether we should replace the current First Past the Post voting system (FPTP) for the House of Commons with the Alternative Vote (AV) so for activists in the Labour Party and on the left to claim it is unimportant (campaigning against Tory cuts is much more crucial) and to try to ignore it is not only pointless but also a political failure – the left has as much of an interest in the future of democracy as anyone if not more.

A familiar argument against changing from FPTP is that alternative systems, such as AV, benefit the smaller parties disproportionately and that the so called centre ground third party will be the major gainer. This argument is based on the somewhat flawed assumption that all votes cast under FPTP would translate to first choice votes under AV, whereas in reality the weaknesses and distortions of the current FPTP system in many areas influences voter choice.

Since the mid to late 1980s, in particular since the 1987 and 1992 General Elections there has been a significant build up of willingness to vote tactically in many constituencies, and a growing advocacy from political parties for tactical voting where it is perceived to benefit them. Hence, the “It’s a two horse race”, “Labour/LibDem/Tory (delete where applicable) can’t win here” leaflets; all seeking to convince the electorate that if they don’t want one political party to win they must vote in only one alternative way. This style of campaigning has fuelled the negative view of politics that it is all about saying how bad the opposition is rather than what the party in question is actually going to do. In this climate it is much easier to justify the “their all as bad as each other” reason for ignoring elections and voter apathy increases alongside the perception of a lack of choice. The ultimate result of tactical voting, FPTP and negative campaign fuelled voter apathy is the 2010 General Election result.

The electoral dynamic created by both the FPTP voting system and ‘anti-party’ campaigning, which if anything is more prevalent in marginal seats than any other, is to increase the influence of the compromise party. Why vote for your first choice party if they have no real prospect of winning, why not ensure your vote has influence by voting against the party you don’t want to win by voting for the perceived ‘middle ground’, the other ‘anti’ party?  The Liberal Democrats built most of their appeal by presenting themselves as an ‘anti’ Conservative party that could win in seats where Labour could not and in some areas by being an ‘anti’ Labour party that could win where the Conservatives could not. They built support as a ‘safe’ protest party precisely because of the distorting effective of the FPTP voting system. The nature of the FPTP voting has meant that as this ‘alternative anti’ and/or ‘safe’ protest they have gained votes they would not otherwise have received, often on a perception and without any real scrutiny of their policies or what they stand for.

On this basis it is arguable that the Liberal Democrats will lose first choice votes through a switch to AV rather than gain as, over time, people return to casting their first choice vote for the party and candidate they identify with most rather than against the party and candidate they don’t want to win.

Equally as candidates campaign for first, second, and in some constituencies, third or even fourth choice preference votes they will be forced to campaign positively. On what they will do and what their policies mean. Minor parties will start to gain influence, not through protest voting but through policy challenge as major parties frame an appeal to attract transfer votes from their supporters. Here for the left the way Labour addresses the concerns of the Greens will be crucial. Just as interesting will be the influence UKIP transfer votes might have on the Tories, will it strengthen the hand of the Euro-sceptic right?

And what about the Lib Dem surge that will come from being everyone’s second choice?

There is no longer any reason to think that they are. The prospect of them being the automatic second choice of Labour voters has been largely burnt following 2010’s General election and the actions of the Coalition Government. In any event the benefit of them being ‘second choice’ only works in constituencies where they can gather enough support to be in first or second place when all other parties have dropped out and their votes transferred. Without the pressure to tactically vote enforced by the FPTP system there is no reason to believe that the Liberal Democrats will achieve this in any more constituencies than present. Given the current state of party support in the polls it is much more likely that in seats that Labour won in 1997 but fell to third in 2010 that Labour would find it easier to bring back lost votes and move back in to the top two. It is here that Ed Milliband’s appeal to Liberal Democrat votes is important. In an AV election the size of a Liberal Democrat vote transfer, second or third choice votes, could make the differences in many seats. Electing Labour MPs through a progressive left policy alliance building a positive policy platform that is attractive to Labour, Green and left of centre Liberal Democrat voters.

Supporting AV may well be the best way to prevent another 2010 General Election. It may also be the best way to renew progressive politics and build a new debate across the broader centre left. Tribalism may well be forced in to history, but not because coalition government is the inevitable consequence of shifting from FPTP but because open positive debate between parties might be the only way to convince the electorate and to secure the first, second, and third choice votes necessary to win the seats and therefore the election.

This might just be our best chance to make politics real again.

Filed under: Electoral Reform, Green Party, Labour, Liberal Democrats, The Left

Lefty co-operation against the Tories; why we need to fight on our own turf…

Adam Ramsay is an Editor of Bright Green Scotland.

When Philip of Macedon – father of Alexander The Great – fought his opponents, he always won. His army had the longest spears. His opponents gradually made longer, and longer spears. But the Macedonians were the world experts in this game. And wherever they went, they won.

Until the Romans came along. For unlike their previous opponents, the Romans didn’t attempt to beat Philip at his own game. They simply threw javelins to disable their shields, then walked between the spears to kill the Macedonians with their short swords. The lesson is obvious – you don’t beat your enemy at their own game.

Today, the same lesson is famous among political hacks, and is most often expressed as: every election is a referendum, the winner is the person who sets the questions.

And this political rule applies every day. For the battle between left and right is not so much a contest of answers as a fight between questions. While we ask how to protect rights at work, they ask how to limit immigration. While we ask how to end poverty, they ask how to unleash business. While we ask how to cut crime, they focus on how to punish criminals. While we ask how to respond to climate change, they ask if the climate is changing. While we ask how to create jobs, they ask how to cut public spending. Every time we try to fight them on their turf, we accept the premise that this is a matter of significant debate. And, like Philip’s early opponents, we are likely to lose.

One of the great mistakes of New Labour was to cede such rhetorical ground. Tony Blair seemed to believe that if you sound like a Tory, you can sneak through some Labour policies. So he switched from “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” to announcing initiatives to march ‘hoodies’ to cash machines. And while these statements were Daily Mail fodder which never actually happened, a whole generation of people began to believe that attacking those who commit crime is the appropriate response, as no one led them to the evidence that such an obsession with enacting societal vengeance increases crime, and we must deal with causes.

And the same is true of the economy. Does the lack of concern about relative poverty, perhaps, correlate to the fact that there are precious few politicians today making the case against inequality? Well, in the one area where Labour was (relatively) bold – LGBT rights – we saw a massive shift in attitudes. Thus we see the power of the pulpit of the Prime Ministership – of the leadership legislation can provide.

And so every gain Labour sneaked through the back door – increased spending on public services, for example – is under immediate threat from this government, as no one remembers why we wanted them in the first place. If “use the language of the right and you can deliver a manifesto of the left” was the idea, then the reality was “use the language of the right, and you make us a country of right”. Where Labour got things right, the problem was not so much the painfully slow progress along the road to a better world, as the failure to remind us all of the destination.

And now that the Conservatives have the Downing Street podium, they will not make the same mistake. They have already succeeded in turning the great crisis of capitalism into a problem of ‘profligate’ public spending. They have already shifted the goal posts from “how do we fight unemployment” to “how do we cut the deficit”. While the White House has internal debates about how to pay for the increases in public spending the global economy desperately needs, right-wing governments across Europe have shifted the spotlight off the problem of unemployment which has caused the deficit, and onto the deficit itself. The right don’t ask whether to cut spending, but how. And as swathes on the left rush to answer the ‘how’ they shut out from the debate those – including troops of Nobel winning Economists, Central Bankers, and Barack Obama – who argue that we shouldn’t be cutting at all.

And so it is through setting the terms of debate that the right is winning.

We waste our time refuting climate sceptics, and so the public shift to what they see as the middle ground – doubt. We accept some of their cuts in the hope of sounding moderate, rather than asking the real question – how do we create (green) jobs? We talk about – and this is the most bizarre – a “left narrative on immigration”, rather than forcing the right to explain why we shouldn’t sue RBS’ executives for billions in lost earnings through the unemployment they created, and why we shouldn’t mutualise all the major banks. And that is extraordinary – our national economy is destroyed by free market capitalism, and the best the British left can muster is a wet explanation of how immigrants shouldn’t be given all the blame?!

Where we agree on solutions, we should work together. But for me, it is in re-shaping the debate – choosing the debate – that the broad left can best co-operate. For we don’t agree on answers, and, no matter how many conference break out sessions we sit through, we will not agree on tactics. But while we don’t agree on how to tackle it, we can agree that poverty is a bigger problem than immigration. While we don’t share solutions, we can agree that achieving greater equality of income is a crucial goal for our society. While we don’t agree on PFI, we can agree that the question should not be whether, but how to fund public services. We don’t share solutions, but we do agree that climate change is a great challenge of our age.

And if we can, in our battles with the Con-Dem government, ensure that political debate in this country focusses on our questions, then we will ensure that once more, Britain truly has a progressive majority. Because like the Romans, we won’t be caught on the political spears of arms races we can never win.

Filed under: Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, The Left, , , , , , , ,

Two months after the vote: from LibDems to Greens…

The following article was cross-posted from the Hagley Road To Ladywood with the kind permission of Claude, who is a leftist blogger and translator from Birmingham. He blogs about media, culture and politics.

Part four of our post-election series. Let down by the ConDem deal, Jane Watkinson explains why she defected from the LibDems to the Green Party.

[This is a guest post]

When I decided to defect from the LibDems to The Greens, part of me was worried that I had made a mistake. All sorts of questions went through my head: have I gone too early? would it have been better to fight my case within?

I am pleased to say, after around a month of being in The Greens, I am 100% confident my decision was the right one. I have never been so comfortable in arguing my politics – my lefty views were constrained within a party, which has a central outlook/ideology that includes the desirability of a rapidly shrinking state. This is illustrated quite well when considering how much support the LibDems have thrown behind the ‘Big Society’.

If the election was repeated, I would obviously now vote for The Greens. Locally in Leeds, The Greens have formed a minority with the Labour to run the council, and in doing so, reached a very comprehensive agreement with a £30 million housing insulation programme included. Nationally, The Greens picked up their first MP, and arguably would have gained at least one more if the LibDems had not run such a misleading campaign.

Many aspects of the election outcome were hugely disappointing. One of the most central concerns I had/have with the ConDem deal is the LibDems apparent abandonment of their left progressive ideas/policies. Furthermore, they have become very submissive to Tory pressure when it comes to key lefty issues/policies such as capital gains tax and the now very regressive nature of the income threshold rise – as the progressive LibDem policies that were going to be used to pay for it have since been dropped and thus, it will be funded largely out of regressive public spending cuts.

These latter developments only confirmed my earlier concerns I had with the initial proposals that saw them drop key central policies and adopt what to me was all but for the smallest of details a Tory manifesto. Whilst the Tories still complain of how hard done by they are, they forget that the LibDems had to accept key policies watered down (e.g. income threshold and AV), key policies abandoned (e.g. immigration and Europe), key policies being sent to often pointless commissions (e.g. breaking up the banks, House of Lords reform) and also having to give up any chance of opposing controversial decisions (e.g. marriage tax and tuition fee raises).

It is hard to find positives from the ConDem deal. Regardless, they have scrapped ID cards and the building of a third runway at Heathrow, whilst proceeding with a more open government and genuinely reversing the assault of civil liberties from the previous Labour government. However, this would have happened without the LibDems, as they were all key Tory proposals. Furthermore, other policies, such as the marriage tax, are undermining progressive moves in extending civil rights, as we see the state becoming more influential in people’s personal life.

For the progressive left to make successful inroads in this centre-right neo-liberal government, we need to see an advancement of pluralism. The left really need to work together in this, tribalism should be reduced as much as possible so the fight for a fairer and sustainable economy and society is advanced and achieved.

Filed under: Green Party, Liberal Democrats, , , , , , , , , ,

The counter intuitive nature of ConDem’s welfare cuts, and delayed LibDem rebellion…

By Jane Watkinson

Reading the ConDem ‘defenses’ of the budget, and more specifically – welfare cuts, the illogically of the arguments couldn’t be any clearer. There is a central argument that somehow cutting welfare will lead to growth and prosperity and somehow is ‘fair’ – this lies on a right wing ideological assumption that most people on benefits want to be so, and enjoy ‘lazing’ around whilst Osborne puts it, their neighbours go to work and look in disbelief as the ‘scroungers” curtains remain closed at 9 in the morning.

There is no economic sense behind the slashing of welfare bills. It is not unavoidable, as Osborne put it. It is fairly obvious that if you cut welfare spending, cut benefits, and make it generally harder for people to find assistance when out of work (such as the cuts to the Future Jobs Fund) then you make it harder for the most vulnerable to live above subsistence. You then account for the fact that public sector jobs are going to be cut so dramatically that 60,000 jobs, it has been estimated, will be lost at the end of parliament – then the situation looks even more disastrous and illogical. You can’t complain that people are on benefits and then cut jobs and hammer the supply side so as to make the job market even worse than it is. But the government will seek to punish the most vulnerable for this, as many who will lose their job will go onto benefits which will be increasingly cut due to the new index linking that will see benefits have a new relation with inflation.

Furthermore, Osborne has said today that they will look into further ways to cut the benefit bill, which is worrying when considering the October budget to come. This is in aid of reducing the 25% departmental cuts that are going to take place – Osborne believes that the welfare bill is largely responsible for this high figure. Again, this shows the government’s ideological desire to pass the buck to the most vulnerable, whilst claiming that everything they are doing is actually in the best interests of the vulnerable.

It is interesting to watch LibDems increasingly criticise the coalition. This was rare occurence when I left the LibDems immediately after the coalition agreement. Instead of assuming the ‘best’ in people, I thought it would be naive to somehow assume that the LibDems could ‘tame’ the Tories. The Tories had more seats, Clegg and other high LibDem officials had changed their mind on the cuts with a devastating effect (however, what is happening now makes you doubt whether they ever believed in what they campaigned for anyway). Thus, when the LibDem MPs and the LibDem members signaled their support for the faster and deeper cutting agreed by the coalition, what did they actually expect would happen? They agreed to allow the government to press ahead with very regressive measures such as VAT increase, it is all well and good arguing that they are against it now – but they signed the deal that made it all possible. Only Charles Kennedy really can commend respect as a LibDem MP – as he was the only one to vote against the bill.

Richard Grayson, vice-chair of the Liberal Democrat federal policy committee, said that:

“Liberal Democrats may soon realise that a centre-left party is being led from the centre-right.”

I think this misses the point that the LibDems themselves are now centre-right. I don’t think that the LibDems have credibility to claim that they represent progressive values, especially after high-profile LibDems such as Clegg and Cable have argued that measures such as VAT are somehow part of a progressive budget. With the October budget to come, the situation can only get worse. The illogically and counter intuitive nature of the government’s proposals and creed will only become clearer as time progresses.

Filed under: Conservatives, Economy, Liberal Democrats, , , , , , , , , , ,

I didn’t vote LibDem for this


The following article was cross-posted from the Hagley Road To Ladywood with the kind permission of Claude, who is a leftist blogger and translator from Birmingham. He blogs about media, culture and politics.

Axing hospitals, jobs, help for the unemployed, manufacturing projects and front line services: this cull is coming straight from the most ideological right-wing hymnsheet.
Commenting on cuts and “difficult budget decisions”, Deputy PM Nick Clegg said recently that his government would “not” do it “the way we did it in the 80s”. “We’re going to do this differently”, he remarked.

The acute observer, however, may have learnt the bitter way that, whatever the Lib Dem leader says, the exact opposite is true. In fact, his public declarations read in reverse should be coveted as the best way of predicting government policy.

And so, yesterday’s announcement that projects worth £2bn are getting axed (with another £8.5bn suspended) is a clear sign that, for all Clegg’s posturing, the 80s are actually back with a vengeance.

To quote Chris Dillow, “[W]hen Clegg says he’s going to do things differently from Thatcher, he’s right – he’ll cut overall spending by much more than she did”.

The significance of yesterday’s cuts is immense. It offers a clear glimpse of the ideological direction taken by the Con/Dem administration.

The Coalition are not cutting back on things such as council-funded festivals, public-funded anti-obesity ads or – even better – the salaries handed on a tray to the Chief Executives of Network Rail or the Royal Mail.

No. The axe is falling on public projects which were crucial in both the public and private sector. Cuts are going to affect job creation (mostly in the private sector), 21st century manufacturing, the health service and measures to help the unemployed.

Those include scrapping a much needed new hospital in the North-East and cutbacks on the Future Jobs Fund, a scheme that was created during the recession to help the long-term unemployed with jobs or training.

But probably even more significant was the massive blow dealt to manufacturing firm Sheffield Forgemasters.

Their £80 million loan would have created skilled jobs and stimulated the supply chain in low carbon power generation. It was a good investment both in terms of future green technology and long-term support of a specialised UK company with only one direct competitor in the field of heavy steel forgins and steel castings – in Japan. Other foreign companies will soon be vying to fill the gap.

Quite clearly this government is not interested in diversifying the economy away from the financial sector. They are repeating the short-termist mistakes that led us to the crisis in the first place. They are not interested in a forward-thinking manufacturing base and they have no plan for growth other than praying that their Ideological Hymnsheet may deliver the goods.

And the 11th Chapter, first epistle to the Free Marketeers, Verses 2-16 states clearly that the government shouldn’t invest in manufacturing and that mass unemployment is a price worth paying. Amen.

Filed under: Liberal Democrats, , , , , , , ,

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