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Taking a broader perspective…

Tory lies: AV & The BNP

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.

PM Cameron is apparently preparing to outright-lie in his increasing desperation over potential defeat in the May 5 referendum. For the truth is the very opposite of his big lie. As I’ve shown in detail (See here & here & here & here) AV is the worst of all possible systems for the BNP. Which is presumably why the BNP are vigorously and paranoidly opposing it…

William Hague has already pioneered the big lie that AV will help the BNP: See here. Hague’s position in British politics is increasingly vulnerable: one of the reasons why he may have to go as Foreign Secretary is because of his bizarre lie a fortnight ago that Gaddafi was flying to Venezuala, which was clearly calculated simply to smear Chavez. Does Cameron really want to start looking as bad and frequent a liar as Hague?
Cameron would be well-advised not to try to use the BNP card against AV. It will haunt him, if he does. For, once more: the truth is that AV, being a system in which voters can gang up on unpopular Parties, will help ensure that the BNP never gets elected to Westminster – and moreover, if introduced in local government elections, would lead to the defeat of virtually all their Councillors.

Filed under: Conservatives, Electoral Reform, , ,

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…

 

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

AV Myth-Busting….

By

Darrell Goodliffe who is calling for a ‘No’ vote in the upcoming AV referendum.

and

Jane Watkinson who takes a position of apathy when it comes to the AV referendum – instead, Jane favours a PR campaign in rejection of absolutist politics – for more, see here.

AV eliminates tactical voting…

A variation on this myth is that it creates a new ‘positive’ kind of tactical voting – something which we will deal with in a moment. However, this is one of the most irritating myths because it can only conceivably be argued by people who have never taken part in an election under AV. If tactical voting is ‘eliminated’ why, in the recent general election campaign, did Australian Greens dedicate a whole section of their website to how to vote tactically to achieve different outcomes?

Let’s look at an actual AV election and see if this is true.

The current battle for the Labour leadership is one such election and the first point is that the tactical battle may change territory but it does not vanish. If you’re a candidate or party in an AV election and you know you cannot win on first preferences then the immediate battle shifts to the second preferences, not of the front-runner (as they are unlikely to be eliminated), but of those likely to be eliminated. Thus, both the leading campaigns in the leadership election have focused, especially in the latter stages, on those who are voting for Diane Abbott, Ed Balls and Andy Burnham as their first choice.

While it is right to say that ‘crushing extremist parties’ must never be the focus of how we design our electoral system we can see quite clearly what happens if we have an AV system in a marginal seat. None of the contenders in a marginal is likely to win the required 50% in the first round so the voters who have put a smaller party first become the new ‘swing vote’ in that seat. Supporters of AV say that it would demand a focus on a broader spectrum of the electorate but as we can see this is simply not true given that the total number of voters for smaller parties is hardly likely to be greater than the ‘swing vote’ . Rather than focus on a broader spectrum of the voting population it simply shifts the focus to the voters for UKIP, the Greens, the BNP etc, etc as the likely kingmakers in marginal seats.

While progressives may have little problem with Green voters having more influence, while not wanting to deny UKIP and BNP voters their voice, they may have problems with racism and anti-immigration becoming even more necessary political currency for the mainstream parties. So, we see the notion that tactical voting under AV is more ‘positive’ is complete and utter rubbish. If anything, it is actually more negative than under First Past the Post because some voices become magnified beyond their actual social weight – what is fair and democratic about that and how is giving BNP voters through their second preferences more power a more ‘positive’ development than chasing after ‘swing voters’ who normally oscillate between the major parties?

The AV Referendum is a separate issue to boundary reform…

This argument stands-up….until you stumble over the tricky fact they are part of the same Bill in Parliament. If the Liberal Democrats had been a decent and principled party, they may well have separated the two concerns, but since they are not we are left with this stark fact; they are not a separate issue. If the AV referendum falls then it would be quite legitimate and proper for the opposition to then insist that the government’s mandate to carry out the boundary review simply doesn’t exist and insist the whole Bill be reconsidered by Parliament.

Of course, this might not be what happens but the fact that the failure of the AV part of the Bill at least opens the door to challenge the legitimacy of the boundary review is not something that can be ignored.

Wasted Votes

Let’s just start with the basic premise that there is no such thing as a wasted vote, in principle. Everyone has the right to vote and for it to reflect their values. But for this to matter, there is clearly the need for a PR system. However, the pro AV campaign has indoctrinated the argument that somehow AV will eliminate the wasted vote problem. For example, in the Green Party motion passed at conference, it stated:

Furthermore AV has the additional benefits of removing the ‘wasted vote’ argument

With a system that is little better than the existing system, it is rather irritating to see pro-electoral reformers using these factually incorrect arguments.

It would do us well to remind ourselves of what Roy Jenkins said about AV:

AV on its own suffers from a stark objection. It offers little prospect of a move towards greater proportionality, and in some circumstances, and those the ones which certainly prevailed at the last election and may well do so for at least the next one, it is even less proportional that FPTP…In particular, there would still be large tracts of the country which would be electoral deserts for major parties. Conservative voters in Scotland, for example, might only hope to influence the result through their second choice…

And that isn’t evidence for the continuance of wasted votes then?

You see, if the left and progressives such as the Green party, support notions such as wasted votes will be removed – well this will only damage the case for future reform. AV does not eradicate safe seats, and so if safe seats still exist there are still wasted votes. It might reduce wasted votes, by creating a 50% threshold – but, it doesn’t eradicate. There is an issue with the factually incorrect basis this motion passed through conference on, and the way in which the PR electoral reform bodies are lapping it up as though it is the best thing since sliced bread.

And now comes the contradiction….

Extremism and voting behaviour…

… we are told that on the one hand there will be no more wasted votes, but on the other – the BNP and other extremist parties will be eradicated. Well excuse me, for one, as Jane has written about before, you don’t design an electoral system to wipe out views you don’t like – even if they are vile. Secondly, do people who vote for the BNP not matter? Do their votes mean so little that the fact they vote for the BNP and the electoral system makes it harder for them to be selected, that it isn’t constituted as being a wasted vote? Because for us, there is a contradiction. You can’t say that there will be no wasted votes, and then argue that it will stop parties like the BNP from being elected.

We attended a fringe event at the Green conference, where an Electoral Reform representative talked up AV and emphasised how important it is to take into account the way in which AV will change the mentality of the voters. This is slightly true, but not as significant as some people are making out. I mean, Darrell has been taking part in the Labour leadership phone canvassing, and the amount of times people have been voting for David and Ed Miliband as either one of their top two preferences beggars belief. It’s a two hours race, and the AV electoral system doesn’t do anything to change that view – again, further evidence that the wasted vote problem does not disappear.

Then comes another contradiction…

In another bid to attract those who rightfully detest the BNP, apparently everyone else’s views except the BNP will change under the new electoral system. Apparently, the BNP voters will not have any second or third preferences etc – so there is no need to worry about them influencing the election results, and so no need to worry about these voters having the most influence, the voters who are most likely to be part of more extremist movements.

Again, a key argument for PR reform – that the system is fair and represents what people vote for is undermined, as people get stuck in short termist politics talking up the benefits of the AV as though it is a saviour of our kind that parties such as the BNP will be undermined. Another interesting point is that in the last election, the Greens actually got fewer votes than the BNP. That’s not something we highlight kindly, but the Greens have no right to talk about destroying and eradicating a party that actually got more votes.

Let’s also remember that the BNP may equally influence the main three parties, well particular Labour, to change their stance towards immigration or other controversial issues, so as not to lose certain voters. We witnessed this last election, where Labour played up to the BNP and got the debate wrong when it came to immigration. Therefore, the pro AV can say that AV removes the BNP all they want, but again, the facts don’t support this self-interested claim.

Future for reform…

In a rather insulting manner, Jane received a recent blog comment remarking on how her apathy towards AV is like voting against advancements towards women’s suffrage:

In 1918, when the franchise was partially extended to women, do you think pro-equal rights MPs should have (instead of voting for the measure) voted it down because it wasn’t a full extension of voting rights? If they hadn’t had voted for an interim measure in 1918, we might not then have had another extension in 1928. The history of voting rights, and increased democracy, is one of incremental steps. That’s why it’s called reform. But no. You want to fuck all the reforms and call for a revolution. It figures for someone who aligns with the Green Left socialist nutters and Derek Wall. Carry on smoking whatever shit it is you’re smoking, because you will do no good to anyone

Now this is probably one of the most factually incorrect arguments that we have seen. I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognise the difference. This was a historically moment, for the first time some women were able to vote – even if not all, it was an amazing step in the right direction. In many ways, AV is the step in the wrong direction. It is unhelpful and does little to further the case for reform. It will act as a stalemate, and it will be very unlikely that there is another vote on electoral systems for some time. Furthermore, there was a movement fully engrained within civil society forcefully carrying through change re women’s suffrage; now we have seen the AV vote split electoral reformers – it is a totally different ball game and insulting to think otherwise.

In conclusion, we have demonstrated the problems with the ‘AV Myths’ that are increaseingly being peddled by the pro-AV camp in its efforts to convince itself as much as other people of the worthiness of a system that was even described by Nick Clegg as a ‘miserable little compromise’. Given the flawed nature of this referendum and the choices it presents the electorate with it is likely that it will fail and will drag down with it the cause of electoral reform for generations to come….

Filed under: Electoral Reform, , , , , , , , , ,

Green Party Conference Review…

By Darrell Goodliffe and Jane Watkinson

Saturday

After checking into what seemed to be a hospital, getting lost due to the overrated Google Map directions whilst the heavens opened up on us, we finally made it to the conference venue. Our conference started with an introduction session from Caroline Lucas. As one of the fellow members (well Jane’s fellow, Darrell is Labour – and no, Darrell didn’t vote!) remarked in the comment/Q&A session after Lucas’s speech; Lucas had taught us more about the workings of parliament in five minutes than years full of political debate and knowledge inquiring experience. Remarkably, Lucas’s comments regarding the European parliament being a beacon of democracy and efficiently in comparison to the House of Parliament were particularly telling – the protocols associated with voting, debates and so forth are clearly detrimental to competent political debate and policy formation.

Lucas made some interesting points regarding pluralism but when it came to the possible inclusion of Zac Goldsmith within some kind of progressive movement she was going a bit far and maybe highlighted some political tension within the Green narrative. Although she said she thought he might soon realise he had made a mistake his voting record seems to indicate some contentment with his current position under the Tories big green ‘tree’. He has only rebelled once against the government and has voted for things like the increase in VAT, strongly in favour of Academy Schools and against the need for consultation about their status (which is particularly interesting in light of Murdoch’s plans to sponsor an academy) and tellingly, against the inclusion of Trident in the Strategic Defence Review.

We then made our way to the electoral reform fringe, where the pros and cons of supporting AV in an upcoming referendum were debated. On the pro-AV side was a representation from the Electoral Reform Society, whilst Jim Jepps represented the anti-AV side. It was clear then, before the plenary where the members voted for the Greens to positively endorse the AV campaign (more on this below – we are also soon to publish an AV myth busting article, and Jane is also set to write a piece on AV – so watch this space) that there was a clear sense amongst those present that AV is the way forward for electoral reform. As you will see from our future articles, we were on Jim’s side.

Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the CWU, opened the debate on cuts with a stinging attack on the governments proposals to privatise the Post Office and talked about the areas of common ground between himself as a Labour Party member and the Greens. Darrell felt that he was definitely welcomed by the conference and despite areas of political difference, firm grounding for common action and campaigns exist. This is the nub of the question; whether the Green Party can become a viable opposition and therefore attract more support and wield power both through weight of votes and how it engages with people like Hayes in common campaigning. In other words, the Labour left is a zone of engagement for green politics and furthering green political aims.

The night ended with a quiz hosted by the Young Greens. Our team name was the “Colour Blind Greens” – but our favourite name has to be the AV+ (who we think won, as we didn’t stay for the results because our stomachs were eating themselves – ask Cory Hazlehurst for confirmation).

Sunday

Our day opened with a very informative discussion regarding prostitution, chaired by Natalie Bennett, which sought to explain and highlight the reasons for why Green Party policy is to support the decriminalisation of prostitution. Something that neither of us knew, was that once you have received a criminal record for prostitution, it is there to stay forever. Now, this is a testament to how unbelievably illogical the current prostitution policy is. Women are told that it is illegal to work together in brothels, so any safety they have from working together is made near impossible. They are then told to get off the streets, but not before the police brand them with a criminal record, which makes it hard for the women to then get another job – and so, the law actually forces women onto the streets.

It is right that instead, women should be given the choice to work as sex workers, and that they should also be given the protection if they do so. Furthermore, we need to tackle the social reasons for why women get into prostitution, such as poverty, debt and drugs. The current ConDem economic policies however, will only seek to make this worse. Women need the Green party and other activists and political representatives to help further the case for decriminalisation. The attitudes of the police officers, especially in light of the new elected commissions, were raised as important issues to think about. In all, the debate was a clear contrast to the Compass fringe held on sex work, and in our opinion a lot better.

Following on from the morning session there was a promising-sounding session on ‘Eco-cohesion’ which failed to deliver on its potential. It’s quite clear that current economic debate is basically dominated by the supposed ‘choice’ between market-based solutions and state based ones and something new and invigorating is desperately needed. However, this session did not provide that and while the host was obviously well-meaning it is hard to see what fresh insight was offered beyond what most people would readily recognise as a Marxist critique of capitalism, alienation; so on and such forth.

A basic tension exists within the Green Party between its ‘ecologist’ and ‘socialist/social democratic’ wing. This isn’t fully formed and at the moment the Green’s are not that developed for it to have significant consequences but if the Green’s do grow then it will start to matter and manifest more clearly. Capitalism’s impact demands structural change and therefore the commonality between eco-economics and socialism is therefore self-evident and indeed this is where the possibility for synthesis exists.

Tensions of a different kind were on show in the second plenary which debated one of the central questions of the conference; whether the Party should lend its support to the ‘Yes’ campaign for AV. The difficulty of this decision was well illustrated by the fact that even the motion calling for this committed few resources and made the support of the Party essentially moral but not practical in nature. This reflects the fact that a sizeable number of Green’s are against the referendum. Adopting a neutral position would indeed have made the most logical sense because it is the lowest risk strategy and does not fundamentally divide the Party; in fact, it makes it stronger. What is noticeable about this debate are two broad patterns a) that supposedly reluctant champions of AV are being backed by their own position into ‘talking it up’ and b) its proponents are (and this relates to a) increasingly divorcing themselves from wider realities and sounding like electoral reform is the only thing that matters to them which will help the No campaign in the long-run.

In sum, the conference had a very strong democratic current running through it. Unlike parties such as Labour, the membership are trusted to decide the policy direction and organisational features of the party. This is crucial for preventing an oligarchical regime prevailing. There are signs however, that this may be undermined with the start-up of a shadow cabinet for example – we will have to see. But the procedure of workshops, reports and debates and then final voting is very unlike most mainstream parties, and clearly shows how the Green party are ahead on many issues.

Filed under: Green Party, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Don’t be a dinosaur: Get on board in the battle for AV

By Rupert Read

Rupert Read has been a Green Party City Councillor in Norwich since 2004, to find out more about Rupert visit his blog and twitter.

As the person who broke the news nationally that the AV referendum will be on the first Thursday in May, next year, it is obvious that this is something that I have been taking a close personal interest in. But ALL of us on the Left in British politics should take a great interest in AV – for it will be the defining political issue of the next year. And for good reason.

The battle-lines are already being drawn – it is clear that there will be lots of unpleasant money behind the campaign to stop change, and to retain the status quo. Beside the predictable nonsense from these wreckers, some of ‘the forces of conservatism’ are also (rightly) pointing out some problems with the government’s plans – such as the reduction in seat-numbers, which is liable to be anti-democratic, especially in a country whose population is continuing to rise. But it is important to be clear that, when it actually comes to the referendum, those problems will no longer be relevant. Parliament will decide them one way or another; and the issue that goes to the people to decide on May 5 2011 will be simply whether to stick with FPTP or to change to AV. That therefore is the main issue that ought to pre-occupy those concerned with the state of democracy in Britain – and, for us on the Left, that means of course that we would actually like to have some democracy, rather than just the glorified plutocracy that we presently have. AV brings us a little closer to the people ruling.

So that is the question on which each of us has to decide: Which side are you on. AV, or FPTP?

There are those who take themselves to be radicals / lefties who oppose AV on the grounds of purism: on the grounds that it is not PR. One such is Derek Wall, former Male Principal Speaker of the Green Party (see here).

So, in terms of Parties: on the No side are the Conservative Party and Labour tribalists, and maybe some Greens (if the opposition to AV of Derek et al continues). On the Yes side are the Liberal Democrats, Labour pluralists (including Compass, the Millibands and Diane Abbott) and certainly some Greens (see here).

The Green Party will make its decision on where it stands at our Autumn Conference. We are a small Party, but it could be an important decision. For, while the LibDems and Labour lost seats at this General Election, the Green Party entered Westminster for the first time. There is some momentum behind us, and a lot of respect for our Leader, Caroline Lucas MP.

It seems to me that it would be extremely unfortunate if there were to be a group of ‘PR purists’ opposing AV on the grounds that it isn’t radical enough. The grave danger is that, by dissing AV, such people will give respectable ‘cover’ to those implacably opposed to any reform of our electoral system. Those who will benefit from such ‘purism’ will be Labour tribalists represented by the likes of Prescott, Burnham and Balls, and (above all) the Tories. It is the Right that will benefit, if AV is defeated.

That is why several senior elected Greens will be putting the case (in a motion that I have proposed for consideration at our September Party Conference) for supporting AV in the referendum. AV eliminates the wasted vote argument, it largely eliminates tactical voting, it drastically reduces the number of safe seats. It allows the electorate to express their preferences and thus potentially speeds up the process of Parliamentary change at a time when Parliament desperately needs to be ready to respond rapidly to environmental degradation and financial (and social) crisis. And it is a start. It is a significant step in the right direction.

To stand in the way of it when the referendum comes will only benefit those such as Lord Ashcroft who are going to put their considerable resources behind the campaign to preserve the present system that has served them so well…

Let me explain then in a little more detail the crucial point about how AV will help renew Parliament, and take us that bit closer toward our goal: democracy. Here’s how:

  • AV would drastically reduce the number of safe seats in this country, because all those MPs who get a plurality and not a majority of votes (that’s almost all MPs) would now have to worry about everyone’s 2nd preferences.
  • It would be much easier for voters to ‘gang up’ against the incumbent, if they wanted to.
  • In the expenses scandal, the worst offenders were virtually all MPs with safe seats. Because THEY DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT WHAT THE VOTERS THINK, so they thought they could afford to break the rules – and, in many cases, they have been proven right.
  • AV would be a genuine political reform. Not as good as PR, but, as I say, a real start. AV would enable we the people to punish politicians who abused their positions.

Moroever, the laughable nonsense in the media recently from YouGov, the BBC and others about how the election just gone by would have been different under AV ignores the most important feature of AV, visible clearly in the Australian system: that AV changes how people vote ON FIRST PREFERENCES too. In Australia, Green 1st preferences have increased markedly under AV. This has over time facilitated Greens getting enough votes to win, in the Senate. AV will enable small Parties, such as the Greens, Respect, etc., to advance. It could facilitate a positive realignment on the Left (See my relevant piece here.)

To conclude. The fundamental fact now is: there is going to be an AV referendum. You need to decide which side you are on, in it. It is crystal clear that defeat for AV will be perceived as defeat for electoral reform and thus as a vote for the status quo; whereas success for AV will eliminate the wasted vote argument and eliminate most tactical voting. This will be great for smaller Parties, and thus for democracy. The Green Party would probably have won Norwich South (where I live) this time, with AV as the system. AV allows people to express their 1st preference for us, or for other left-Parties: the strait-jacket of Labourism can be broken (and forward-looking Labour people such as Neal Lawson, Ed Miliband, Diane Abbot, understand that this can be a good thing for the Left, and even for Labour).

If you are on the Left, then get on board, in the campaign to change Westminster voting forever, by what (if we achieve it, against the odds) will be a historic achievement indeed: winning in the AV referendum.

Filed under: Electoral Reform, , , , , , , , , , ,

Compass “A New Hope” Conference Review

By Jane Watkinson and Darrell Goodliffe

Morning

Central to the conference was the advocation of pluralism to unite the progressive left to counteract the current neo liberal attack on our society and economy. The morning keynote addresses included Caroline Lucas, Nick Dearden, Christine Blower and Neal Lawson; all of which struck a very convincing case for pluralism to overtake the often tribalist attitude that particularly Labour can take when it comes to working with other left leaning parties and movements.

Lucas spoke with the conviction that is resulting in her becoming one of the most respectable current MPs. She highlighted the need to move beyond the right-wing dogma that cuts are desirable and inevitable, remarking on how:

“its not an economic necessity, its an ideological choice”

The case for pluralism couldn’t be any clearer when considering public spending cuts. There is a consensus amongst the left for the need of higher taxes instead of public spending cuts – Labour MPs such as Abbott, have called for a change to Labour’s tax to public spending ratio of 1:2 respectively, so that there is more concentration on increasing taxes. Their case would be strengthened by a pluralistic left movement. Tribalism damages the progressives left. Consider the election just gone, which Lucas herself highlights when arguing a case for the pluralistic left, many Labour MPs were opposed to a progressive rainbow alliance due to their tribal belief that opposition would help the party – whilst forgetting its unhelpfulness for the country. There again, considering the LibDems did a complete u-turn on cuts and demanded Labour cut now for a deal to materialise, if Labour had done so, the fight for a progressive left would have been even more damaged.

Nick Dearden reinstated the case for the neo liberal paradigm and practice to be challenged and for pluralism of the left to be central to this. Organisations such as the Jubilee Debt Campaign, which he is a part of, could not be any more important in the current era of regressive taxation. We also cannot forget the importance of trade unions when it comes to uniting the pluralistic left. Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT, which is not affiliated to Labour, had some harsh words for some of Labour’s record in regards to her union’s concerns – notably academies. However, more concern was taken with the recent adaptions by the Tories of this policy, where ‘free schools’ will see the best schools encouraged to leave local governmental control, missing the point of why Labour introduced them in the first place. Regardless, both versions of the academies are wrong, and given the reception from the Compass audience, are genuinely not desirable amongst the progressive left.

Commenting specifically on the current government, Blower forcefully argued “education cuts never heal” and made an interesting point in regards to the Freedom Bill being passed, as the government is failing to address the current assault on Trade Union’s rights to protest regardless of their supposed pledge to restore the right to protest. Neal Lawson finished a very interesting and constructive introduction with another positive argument for a pluralistic left to develop to undermine the current centre right government. Lawson made a very good point when referring to how “opposition is a state of mind for the democratic left”. This is central to the pluralistic left movement – too many Labour MPs see power as an end in itself and underestimate the ability they have to change things with other parties such as The Greens and social movements such as women’s and disability organisations whilst in opposition.

We attended one of the many seminars on offer (if only there had been more time to visit more of the talks on offer), which addressed complex issues around the sex industry. OBJECT’s Silvia Murray, UK Feminista’s Kat Banyard and a former prostitute Emma and a former lap dancer Lucy, provided an interesting discussion that should be central to drawing up progressive policies to further women’s rights. What was rather worryingly, however, was how each speaker (less so OBJECT) tended to focus too much on bashing certain feminists (the pro sex feminists) and consequently approached the debate wrongly. Whilst Emma’s and Lucy’s experiences are very disturbing, the attitude taken by the organisations, particularly UK Feminista, are unhelpful. They wrongly accuse all pro sex feminists of encouraging the sex industry as a way of female expression. Whilst some do, the crux of the argument is that women should be given the liberty to express themselves sexually, but that their rights must be protected – in criminalising and pathologising any woman who argues for women to be allowed to take part in the sex industry as long as they are provided adequate help, undermines women’s rights in general.

What seemed to be forgotten was the underling social reasons for why Emma and Lucy and others become involved in the sex industry – we need to start addressing these issues more prominently whilst also increasing women’s protection. There are clearly areas of concern however, the sexualisation of society is a big reason for why this path is promoted as a way for women to try to ‘solve’ their problems. However, I don’t think anyone can provide a solid case of how we can completely stop prostitution – instead, the current route promoted by OBJECT of criminalising the punters and decriminalising the women seems the best available – whilst also concentrating on the reasons for why women become involved in prostitution in the first place.

Women’s organisations are important when it comes to making a case for a progressive left pluralistic movement. Worryingly, however, the progressive case will never be as straight forward as this article may look as though it is making out. Rather concerning for example, is the seminar discussion of GMB’s recent affiliation with the National Union of Sex Workers – who it is claimed allow pimps and brothel owners and others in the sex industry to join whilst finding it hard to recruit the women they are supposed to be protecting. This is worrying, and the progressive left and other unions needs to step in and make sure that the union is fulfilling its needs of providing protection for the people who need it; the women.

Afternoon

The afternoon’s proceedings were dominated by the Labour leadership hustings however, before that there was a fiery session on party tribalism and the electoral system. In fact, the seminar seemed to be dominated by both the former and the latter but there was little discussion of how they relate. Proceedings weren’t helped by Emily Thornberry MP being put into bat for the Labour side. She managed to alienate more than a few Labour supporters in the room with her belligerence and alienating your own side is never a good sign. Later being informed of her particularly bitter struggle against a nasty and personal Liberal Democrat campaign at least goes some-way to explain the scorn she heaped on them for lacking both a coherent ideology and a clear set of principles; in fact, Thornberry insisted they would do just about anything to gain power.

So, that was understandable at least; however, her hostility to other leftist forces is less defensible. The person who described the Green’s as the farming wing of the Conservative Party was rightly slapped down by none other than a Labour councillor. It is perfectly true there are doubtless examples of right-wing Green’s but the same is equally as true of Labour; the Green’s have something that the Liberal Democrats conspicuously lack; an overarching ideology and strong centrally unifying narrative. Eco-Social Democracy is their creed; they want to radically restructure the economy and society along, broadly speaking, social democratic lines but their primary reason is not the class inequalities of capitalism but the damage it does to the enviroment.This gives them much potential common ground with Labour.

Moving beyond the Greens it’s also true that there are different movements that can and should be brought under the progressive banner. Thornberry’s lack of tact may well be reasonable when it comes to dealing with the Liberal Democrats who are going to find it hard to have a foot in the camp of progressive opposition while being in government.

However, if it’s the tack Labour takes in general then it wont win hegemony of progressive movements. It is the electoral system that reinforces the false choice between power and pluralism because it ensures Labour’s electoral monopoly is maintained in terms of numbers of MP’s at least. Somewhere in the seemingly contradictory concepts of pluralism and tribalism there is a place where the two opposites can find synthesis. Where exactly that place is will be the subject of much discussion and will be at times bitterly contested, not least within Compass itself as an organisation.

After the excitement of the seminar the leadership hustings seemed rather tame. No clear hero emerged though arguably Ed Balls was the villain of the piece, never fully recovering from his remarks on immigration which predictably went down like a lead balloon. Dianne Abbott was hugely disappointing; incredibly, it was left to David Miliband to land the strongest and most telling blows against the Coalition’s ‘moral crusade’ to cut, cut, cut.

Miliband [David] lacks the conviction to convince progressives he is heart and soul on their side. Ed manages to convince on this score and even when he isn’t being particularly progressive you can still feel an affinity for Ed that sways you to his side. It will also mean those on the left will accept some things Ed says in a quieter manner where as you get the feeling they would launch a blood and thunder revolt against David.

Andy Burnham made an impassioned defence of the comprehensive system which drew thunderous applause but there is just something missing from the package that prevents you seeing him as a leader. Him at the dispatch box at PMQ’s is just a leap too far for the imagination though you remain convinced he is a talented Minister-In-Waiting he is certainly not a Prime Minister-In-Waiting of any kind.

The afternoon speeches showed where the next battle will be within Compass. It will come over electoral reform. All the Labour leadership candidates embraced AV and Pam Giddy of Power 2010 urged delegates not to throw away this chance of reform. However, it is very possible that gerrymandered boundary changes will make the AV package deeply unacceptable and a yes vote in the AV referendum may become a short-sighted tactical blunder on the scale of the ‘tactical’ Liberal Democrat vote that Compass cooked-up at the last election.It’s perfectly plausible a ‘yes’ vote in that referendum will kill further reform stone dead in any case.

One person who could change David Miliband’s fortunes in the leadership race is Jon Cruddas; if they are truly as close as is reported then the elder Miliband would be well advised to seek his public endorsement. Cruddas may not be popular in the PLP but this shows the worrying cultural gap that exists between the PLP and the wider Party. Why does the membership love Cruddas? It really is simple; he makes you believe anything truly is possible and that he captures something of the essence of Labour’s soul in what he says and does.

Another bright star in the Compass solar system is Chuka Umunna who could well be a potential future leader. His speech, though not as good as Cruddas’s, showed plenty of promise. Watch this space because these are interesting times for Compass….

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