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Taking a broader perspective…

Questions for William Hague….

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 article was cross-posted with the kind permission of the author from Left Foot Forward and can be found here.

William Hague has come under increasing pressure in the last few weeks, criticised for a series of blunders over Libya, Egypt and the whole Middle East, culminating in the disastrous SAS mission, which further unravelled yesterday, The Sunday Times reporting (£) that rebels had accessed secret MoD computer codes on “scraps of paper” captured from operatives on the bungled operation, described by one expert as “so inept, it is unbelievable”.

The questions facing the under-fire foreign secretary include:

Why was he so slow to grasp and show any support at all for the Middle East / North African democratic revolutions?

Even Cameron got there quicker, showing sympathy for the Egyptian protesters and antipathy toward Mubarak, even while Hague was still virtually parroting the Israeli line of support for Mubarak.

How can Hague justify having visited the autocracy of Bahrain to assure them of British support at the very time when the widely predicted (and then brutally suppressed) Bahrain democracy protests were getting underway? See here and here.

What is Hague’s explanation for his bizarre and jejune outburst about Gaddafi’s allegedly having fled to Venezuela? Was it any more than an opportunistic attempt to smear Chavez?

(Not that Chavez needs much help: since then, he has smeared himself disastrously, by in effect aligning his regime with Gaddafi’s.)

Why didn’t Hague oversee a more effective operation to evacuate British civilians from Libya? Surely someone must carry the can for this?

Why did Hague send the SAS into free Libya, rather than simply phoning up the revolutionary forces’ HQ in Benghazi to establish good diplomatic relations with them? Craig Murray’s hypothesis is a particularly worrying one.

Why has Hague, unlike Cameron, been so slow to support the free Libyan forces? Why has he not pressed for most of the measures advocated by Carne Ross to be implemented by Britain and the EU, and why has he not enthusiastically backed Cameron’s call for a No-Fly Zone to help save the Libyan revolution?

Labour is of course in a poor position to attack Hague over Libya, for reasons I document here; as a Green, thankfully, I am not.

But, crucially, it is not even just over issues of foreign policy that Hague is now in trouble. As I pointed out recently over at Open Democracy, Hague has been spreading untruths about the BNP and AV, too. It would be extremely unwise (to put it mildly) of the prime minister to repeat these untruths, as I point out here.

He would be better off in fact distancing himself from the completely unsound Tory BNP-AV canard which Hague has promoted, for sooner or later he will surely have to admit the truth: that AV is demonstrably the worst of all possible systems for the BNP, because voters can gang up against them, and don’t have to try to figure out which party is best-placed to beat them and vote tactically for that party.

Ed Miliband, Caroline Lucas and Nick Clegg may even need to be ready to call Mr Cameron and Hague outright liars, if they go on pretending AV will electorally benefit the BNP.

If, as the charges against him mount up, Hague eventually had to go, who should replace him? Surely the time is ripe for the coalition to start to consider moving beyond the usual suspects, and picking a figure of genuine weight not tainted by Hague’s prototypically-Conservative failings.

The huge but also hopeful ongoing crisis that the world now faces, with revolutions in the Middle East and the possibility of an enduring war and humanitarian crisis in Libya – in which we should break with Britain’s sorry past and side with the free Libyan forces – brings to mind two names which would actually carry some international weight.

I am talking about two senior figures who would be believable as more than just narrow interpreters of Britain’s ‘national interest’: Ming Campbell or Paddy Ashdown.


Filed under: Conservatives, Electoral Reform, International Politics, , , ,

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, , ,

AV Myth-Busting….


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


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, , , , , , , , , ,


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