Episode 6: another recording disaster

Unfortunately we’ve had more problems recording this episode, so it makes it a bit difficult to understand in places. I thought we should still publish it anyway as some of it is understandable. It might be fun to try to figure out what we were saying…right??

Anyway, we spoke about Trump, Brexit, UK US and EU politics, climate change and nuclear war, yet somehow managed to find some positives in it all.

Here are some links from the podcast:

Labour’s Brexit tactics

http://www.wsj.com/articles/next-wild-card-for-markets-italys-constitutional-referendum-1479465701?mod=e2fb

 

Feature Image: Gage Skidmore (via Flickr)

Forget Brexit. First, we need to stop the Tories and deliver Proportional Representation

More than anything right now we need to prevent the Tories negotiating our EU exit, and make sure every vote counts in future elections. A progressive alliance is the only way to deliver that

The great Brexit referendum indicated only one thing, and it definitely wasn’t that a well informed population overwhelmingly voted to leave the EU based on a considered examination of the evidence, the risks and opportunities, or on the opinion of experts. No, the only thing the referendum result really told us was that a large proportion of the public feel their vote doesn’t count – or at least that it doesn’t count in a normal general election.

The turnout in this referendum was 72.2%, higher than any general election since 1992, almost a quarter of a century ago. Clearly, with a nationwide yes/no vote, which didn’t respect arbitrary constituency or national boundaries, many people felt their vote actually counted this time and made the effort on a miserable day to get to the polling station and have their say.

On the flip side, we’ve seen substantial ‘regrexit‘ following the result – people who voted leave as a protest vote, because they didn’t think it would count and are now regretting it. These are people who have turned out to vote in the past, but it never seems to go their way, so voting is devalued in their mind.

geograph-5002468-by-Bob-Harvey

Both of these problems are caused because we have a First Past The Post electoral system for our general elections in the UK, which only 45 of 237 other countries use. This system means that in each constituency, the winner takes all, and that winner then heads off to parliament. The majority of MPs from a single party can then form a government, which seems to have almost complete control. The 2015 election was the most disproportionate in history, and the Electoral Reform Society produced an in-depth report into the problems with the system.

When you think about it, it’s clear to see why people feel their vote is wasted. With a winner takes all system, all votes for other parties count for nothing. Although that’s bad news for those who voted for the losers, it’s great for those who backed the winner, right? Well, not really. Once a candidate has more votes than anyone else, they win. It doesn’t matter if the winning candidate got a majority of 10,000 or 1, they still won, and those extra votes don’t count towards the national picture. These wasted votes accounted for 74.4% of all votes cast in the 2015 general election. It’s no surprise people feel their vote doesn’t count, when statistically three quarters of the time it really doesn’t.

So what’s the alternative? Proportional Representation is an electoral system where all votes count towards the national result. There are many different varieties of PR, and some alternatives that aren’t exactly proportional, but are pretty close.

One argument against PR is that it is not as likely to produce majority governments. However, coalitions work in other countries. Politicians have to work together, instead of brazenly steamrolling through policies. People like to see this, because they are sick and tired of the playground politics we see in Westminster. If you want to get things done under PR, you need to have an adult debate.

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Another problem with PR is that you don’t get to vote for a real person who works hard in your area and will represent your area locally. For this reason, the Green Party advocates Alternative Vote Plus, a system where you vote for a local candidate just like FPTP, but then the number of MPs from each region gets topped up to make the result more proportional. Although this system is easy to understand as the ballot paper doesn’t change, it may mean people don’t realise their vote always counts whoever they vote for. Substantial public education would be required to make them aware.

The problem has been that neither the Conservatives nor Labour want to support PR, as it means they will lose MPs. The two party system works quite well for them. However, what we have seen following Brexit is a major crisis in the establishment, and the potential breakup of both main parties – the Conservatives divided over Europe, and Labour divided over whether it wants to be a right or left wing party, and if left, who will lead it. This means that were there to be a snap general election – which surely is the only way Brexit can be negotiated in a democracy – then both parties are looking quite vulnerable.

The Conservatives however are a very top down, whipped party that sticks together through thick and thin because the leader knows best and divided they would lose. They won the general election, so they aren’t in such a vulnerable position. Labour, on the other hand, is. The ongoing coup is evidence of that. Its voter base is disillusioned and voters are heading to UKIP. And with First Past the Post, we’re not likely to see any other parties taking the lead as the opposition any time soon.

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The only way for left wing parties in this country to win, perhaps in the next decade, is to unite. The Green Party has today called on Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru to come together and form a progressive alliance. It’s possible this might also include the SNP. This would solidify the lead in many constituencies and leave the rest of the vote split between The Conservatives and UKIP. A progressive alliance with the combined support of all their party members would be very likely to win a majority in government.

What would that alliance look like, so it works for all parties? The most effective way to do it is only one party standing in each constituency, possibly rebranded under the ‘progressive alliance’, so long held loyalties and grievances would not be demonstrated so clearly in the polling booth.

Then, let’s start as we mean to go on – make it proportional. There are 632 seats in Scotland, England and Wales. Based on the last election, if the progressive alliance won all 632 seats, this is how many each of the potential member parties would have gained:

Party 2015 votes Percentage of ‘alliance’ votes Proportional number of seats
Labour 9347304 64.21% 406
Lib Dems 2415862 16.60% 105
SNP 1454436 9.99% 63
Greens 1157613 7.95% 50
Plaid Cymru 181704 1.25% 8

There will need to be some significant adjustments to this to keep everyone happy and make it realistic. Scotland is entirely held by SNP, so it might be a good idea to let them keep their seats to get them on board, because right now they don’t have much reason to be – FPTP is working well for them, and they want independence anyway. Plaid Cymru deserves a larger presence in Wales, currently they have three seats, and it might make sense to give them another. It’s unlikely that the Greens have enough support to win in 52 constituencies, but they did very well nationwide so it might be a good idea to give them all the seats where they came second – another three seats in addition to Brighton. The same might also be a good move for the Lib Dems. Careful decisions would need to be made about marginal constituencies, and more effort put into those areas. The details would take some time to be hashed out, but starting out by making it proportional would put us on a good footing.

It’s important that this is also sold to members and the general public. Local parties that have been fighting against each other for decades would need to campaign together in order to win. Labour would need to learn some humility and put its large member base to work behind other parties in some constituencies. It’s important to remember the bigger long term picture: this is the only way we can all stop the common enemies – the Conservatives and UKIP – from being in the driving seat of our EU negotiations, and deliver proportional representation, which means the progressive alliance won’t ever be needed again.

This is a vision for parties with roughly compatible ideologies working together to make elections fairer and undertake a truly inclusive EU negotiation (yes, UKIP and Conservatives too). That’s what politics in the 21st century should be about.

Image Credits

Featured Image: Number 10 via Flickr

Vote Leave signs: Bob Harvey via Geograph

House of Commons: UK Parliament via Flickr

Jeremy Corbyn: 70023venus2009 via Flickr

Shamocracy Podcast Episode 4: Hong Kong Special

We’re in Hong Kong! In this episode we talk about the great (and not-so-great) things about the city, and how they tie in to the big picture of the climate talks going on in Paris at the moment. We’ve also got a short game of Headline or Headlie, which is happily actually audible this time. M goi, and enjoy. Continue reading

Shamocracy Podcast Episode 3

On this episode we talk about the wave of automation that’s about to take our jobs, Gideon’s spending cuts, immigration, Daesh, and new regular feature ‘Headline or Headlie’, where Brogan reads me headlines from real news and satire and I guess which is which (it’s surprisingly hard).

Unfortunately there was a problem with the recording from about one hour in, so you may want to skip forward by 10 minutes when it gets unbearable. We’ll try to make sure it doesn’t happen again in future.

Links:
Immigration is economically positive, immigrants from the european economic area to the UK pay more in tax than they take in benefits and social services and are better educated” Link
The Office for Budget Responsibility suggests higher net migration reduces pressure on government debt over time” Link
“In the uk, the period from 97 to 07 of high migration resulted in a substantial increase in overall employment and the highest growth in gdp per capita in the G7 without any significant negative impacts on the employment prospects of the native-born” Link 1 Link 2
Open borders could potentially double world GDP, and could be the single best way to reduce poverty” Link openborders.info
Michael Flynn, former head of DIA on the US supporting ISIS

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The real story behind Paris

When crises occur, the immediate reaction is always to apportion blame, simplify arguments, take sides, get angry, and then do something…anything. The sensationalist press exacerbates this process, and since our politicians are so heavily influenced by media opinion, they often follow suit. Thinking outside the box is a definite no-no (see: Jeremy Corbyn).

The UK government’s reaction to the recent attack in Paris has therefore been just as expected. Events in France have given David Cameron and his Cabinet more ammo for the weapons they were already firing, while excusing them from tackling the more difficult questions. Increasing surveillance, dividing communities, turning teachers into thought police, strengthening anti-immigration sentiment; these are the orders of the day. Here’s a wider look at the causes of war in the Middle East and terrorism in the West. Continue reading

Doing the right thing doesn’t make the House of Lords OK

At the time of writing, it has been five and a half months since the nation woke up to a Tory majority in the House of Commons. Since then there have been riots, protests, name calling, egg throwing and Jeremy Corbyn. It’s been a busy summer, but we’ve finally come to rest in our allotted positions: the establishment on the right, the opposition on the left, with clowns and jokers left to fall where they may. It was all becoming so simple, so expected. Corbyn asks his questions, Cameron struggles to make himself heard over the laughter of his baying hyenas, and England finds itself merrily knocked out of another sporting competition. How completely and utterly dull. Until the House of Lords of all things started rearing its antediluvian head and forcing its way onto the front pages by defying the Tory government it is normally in such loyal service to.

For those of us who routinely forget the House of Lords exists, the tax credits vote was a surprising and confusing moment to process. An ancient, traditionally rightward-leaning body, a stalwart desert oasis of the mirage that is British democracy, doing something…good?

There can be no doubt that anything which puts the brakes on Osborne’s plan to skim £4.4 billion off his fabled deficit by stripping some of the country’s poorest working families of their tax credits is a good thing. Not only is his proposition cruel, underhanded and ethically bereft, it makes a mockery of everything the Conservatives claimed to stand for at the general election. Supporting hard workers; getting people back into jobs; the party of working Britain; the Tories who painted themselves as the nation’s security system are now breaking into our homes and robbing us blind while we’re out at the jobs they so badly wanted us in. Thankfully, the scheming has been waylaid for the time being, but as per usual it’s come at a price.

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Whether he fakes it or not, a poppy on Cameron will always be a hollow symbol

Which is more disagreeable: the archive picture of David Cameron with the Remembrance poppy photoshopped onto it, or the one in which the war-hungry PM wears it for real? Downing Street on Monday bizarrely decided to use the (poorly) altered photo as its Facebook profile pic, before swiftly taking it down and replacing it with one of the Prime Minister wearing the red poppy in live-action; the change occurring because the suggestion that Cameron couldn’t be arsed to pose for a photo wearing the poppy might be deemed offensive (imagine the typhoon-level media shitstorm if Labour had done the same with Jeremy Corbyn). The replacement image – of DavCam beaming, blood-red paper flower on his lapel – is no less insulting or fraudulent, however.

Those in the public spotlight who shun the near-ubiquitous red poppy have their reasons. Derry-born footballer James McClean elects to forego wearing the poppy because of what it symbolizes in his home town, while news presenters Jon Snow and Charlene White won’t wear the poppy because they wish to remain impartial and not show favouritism towards any one charity or cause. The political commentator and WWII veteran Harry Leslie Smith, meanwhile, last year stopped wearing the poppy because he felt the symbol had been “co-opted by current or former politicians” to justify new wars.

You have to wonder whether those who routinely wear the poppy, like David Cameron, so carefully consider the statement they’re making every time they pin the paper on their chest. The Remembrance Day flower was inspired by the poppies that grew out of the graves of soldiers in Flanders during WWI. It stands for the wasted dead. It is a symbol of all those who lost their lives in battle from the Great War up to the present day. The poppy, plucked from the gore-soaked fields of one of WWI’s most notorious battlegrounds, is designed to remind us that war isn’t – to say the least – favourable.

Continue reading