Author Archives: Nick Brook

About Nick Brook

For many years, I was, like many, apathetic towards politics. I knew it wasn't going in the right direction, but didn't really know what direction it should be going in, or how it could change. I wasn't aware of the full extent of the problems we face. I had better things to be worrying about.

This changed in 2014 as I left my full time job, supporting myself with freelance work. As the pressure of full-time work lifted my attitudes towards many things began to change. I learnt a lot more about politics and became disgusted with the way things are going.

While the information about what is happening is out there, and a number of mainstream sources cover it in real-time, there didn't seem to be many people taking a step back to cover things with a wider, longer term perspective, or publicising the less well-known blogs and articles.

Chatting to co-founder Brogan Morris in a pool in North Carolina, we realised we were equally frustrated with politics and our new-found awareness was compelling us to do something. As the links flew back and forth on social media, we knew it wasn't just us who needed to know about this stuff.

So we formed Shamocracy, a blog dedicated to uncovering and collating the less documented and deeply insidious politics that is happening behind closed doors in the shining glass towers of Western oligarchies.

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 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

Shamocracy Podcast Episode 2

In episode 2 of the Shamocracy Podcast we discuss the Guardian Live event with Yanis Varoufakis, Tax Credits, the Labour U-turn on the Fiscal Responsibility Bill, the junior doctor contract changes, the leaked email detailing Blair’s support for the Iraq war a year before the war began, China’s visit to the UK, and what the government is doing with feed in tariffs for renewable energy. We recorded this episode on the 24th October.

Links for things we discuss in the podcast:
Guardian Live event with Yanis Varoufakis
800,000 people ‘lifted’ out of fuel poverty – by redefining it
2010 George Osborne debates 2015 George Osborne on the Fiscal Responsibility Bill
Corporate Welfare
Blair and Bush’s ‘Deal in Blood’
Saudi Arabia sees the end of the oil age coming

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Featured image: Brookings Institute (via Flickr)

The Shamocracy Podcast Episode 1

Welcome to the Shamocracy podcast! In this first episode we discuss the Labour and Tory conferences, TPP, Panorama’s Westminster VIP paedophile scandal and Snowden episodes, climate change and the UK government’s disastrous energy policy.

We recorded this episode on the 9th October. We’re still getting up to speed, in future we’ll be quicker to publish. Things move quickly in politics!

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What a difference a month makes

First they ignore you,
then they laugh at you,
then they fight you,
then you win.

– Mahatma Ghandi

On the 15th July, the Telegraph comment desk published an article encouraging its readers to register as Labour supporters and vote for Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election. The idea was that a Corbyn win would surely spell disaster for the Labour party, as the Overton window has shifted too far to the right to accommodate Corbyn’s socialist policies.

Well, what a difference a month makes: far from appearing confident that Corbyn would “destroy the Labour Party”, The Telegraph now appears to be encouraging tactical voting to knock Corbyn out of the Labour leadership battle. Ben Riley-Smith, Telegraph political correspondent, writes how the other candidates are calling for second and third preferences to be shared between them in an effort to out-maneuver Corbyn, while another Telegraph article reports on Tory calculations that Corbyn’s policies would cost British households £2,400 a year (which apparently is worse than the £24,000 per household the Tories have already given to the banks.)

Perhaps it is the recent polls which show cross-party support for Corbyn that have the Establishment trembling, and that the usual tactics of character assassination and mockery seem so petty they only serve make him stronger. Corbyn represents a movement the Establishment were perhaps blind to see coming, and one that they aren’t quite sure how to handle.

Update: The Torygraph has since published an editorial calling for Jeremy Corbyn to be stopped, with brilliant one liners like “He would end austerity in the public finances, which would put Britain well outside the mainstream of economic thinking.” We aren’t sure which mainstream the Telegraph is looking at, but it sure isn’t the one where two thirds of economists said austerity harmed the economy.

 

Featured image: Bob Peters (via Flickr)

How long will the Tories last?

The Tories have reached 100 days in full control of HM Government, and it’s been a pretty terrifying time for anyone who cares about the future of this country and our planet. Cameron and co have been implementing policies left, right and centre – many of which were never in the manifesto – and moving at breakneck speed to sell off the last of our public assets and strip us of privacy and democratic power. They’ve dropped any remaining “Green crap”, and handed tax breaks to dirty energy, all the while blaming everything that’s going wrong on the desperate migrants at Calais and people struggling on poverty wages and benefits.

With so much objectively bad policy being implemented, respected individuals and groups are beginning to speak up. While experts and academics are often hesitant to speak out against the government, there comes a point where enough is enough, when the ruling party stands to tear our country apart at the seams. The question now, as Cameron’s Conservatives mark 100 ignominious days in power, is how long this government can even last. Continue reading

If the Tube strikes have affected you, find another job

Another Tube strike. Londoners crumble without our Tube, the publicly owned and operated backbone of our transport network, carrying 1.265 billion passengers a year with delays on track to be 58% lower than 2007 levels this year. Like the saying goes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. These strikes should serve to remind us what a valuable service the Tube is.

The news coverage is largely focused on the negativity of the strike, demonising the ‘overpaid’ drivers and comparing them to underpaid health workers or teachers. The truth is that all Underground staff are not unhappy with their pay, but with the new conditions being imposed on them in order to run 24-hour services from September. London Underground are acting in a malicious way, only offering credible compensation packages a couple of hours before the end of negotiations, leaving not nearly enough time for unions to consult their members.

We should support the strikes if we are to maintain workers’ rights in this country. But it’s still bad news for London, right? The cost to the economy has been pegged at £50-300m due to commuting delays and “minutes frittered away commiserating with colleagues over nightmare journeys”. While some businesses fret about employees venting frustration over the commute (instead of the usual water cooler talk), other businesses have avoided such catastrophic loss by allowing employees to work from home. Continue reading

The party of contradictions

Don’t you just hate it when you condemn a group of people for doing something you do yourself? The Tories certainly do. Last week we had not one but two such contradictions from senior Tory ministers.

Iain Duncan Smith – in the press recently for his hand in redefining child poverty in the face of rising figures and the upcoming £12bn cuts to welfare – has had his expenses credit card suspended for failing to prove the expenses were legitimate. Smith had his card blocked when he failed to repay the £1,057.28 of spending which he had not proved was genuine. This comes from a work and pensions secretary who previously backed giving benefits claimants prepaid cards to control what they can spend their money on. As usual with the Tories, one rule for them, and another for their constituents.

Meanwhile, the education secretary, Nicky Morgan, on Tuesday warned that children with homophobic views are more likely to become extremists. (Confusingly, when asked for traits that might indicate extreme views, Morgan replied, “Sadly, Isis are extremely intolerant of homosexuality.”) Perhaps opposing gay marriage would be a sure sign of homophobic views – however, this is exactly the position of Morgan herself, having voted against gay marriage in 2013.

With a party so full of hypocrites, seemingly contradicting itself on an almost daily basis, it’s sometimes difficult to understand what the government believes in and is trying to achieve. Whatever it is, you can be pretty sure it’s not something we need.

 

Featured Image: UK In Spain (via Flickr)

Time to strike…or not?

On Monday and Tuesday next week, employees of Network Rail were due to go on strike, but both unions have just called off their action. The strike had been called by the RMT and TSSA unions, and would have caused massive disruption for individuals and businesses, with perhaps 90% of trains not running. Should we be angry at those striking when it is so disruptive?

Network Rail last year posted a profit of £1bn, a 39% increase from 2013. Senior executives patted themselves on the back with ~45% pay rises, despite all the bad press Network Rail has had recently. Meanwhile, the rest of its workforce was only offered a one-off £500 taxable lump sum, and any future pay rises will track inflation. It’s easy to understand why the employees wanted to take action, and in a top down, hierarchical organisation, the only way to get yourself heard is to rebel.

Our new full-fat Tory government plans to make strike action require 50% turnout and 40% support of union members voting in favour, which will effectively make almost any future strike action illegal. Let’s not forget that the Conservatives won the election with only 24% of the population voting for them.

As cuts become more severe, and profit is directed only to those at the top, strike action should become more prevalent, and we need to encourage and support it. If your train is cancelled next week, don’t blame the underpaid staff, blame the senior executives and government.

 

Featured image – Rose and Trev Clough (via Geograph)