Tag Archives: labour

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.

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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 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

Get it on iTunes

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!

Get it on iTunes

Why do people like Jeremy Corbyn? Because he’s telling a damned good story

Well, what a week it’s been. Britain’s shiny new bus pass-wielding Karl Marx has already stolen food from war veterans, spat in the face of the Queen (aka Victoria WHO?), destroyed the sanctity of PMQs by daring to ask questions and offended every woman in the universe by giving only 16 of them well-paid, respectable positions in his cabinet. And yet, somehow people aren’t baying for his head on a pike – why? Because anyone who doesn’t get that a sizeable part of Jeremy Corbyn’s appeal is his uniquely mild version of not giving a shit what you think, isn’t fully tuned in to the fact that the new Labour leader is telling the best damned story British politics has seen for decades.

Whether we like it or not, politics today (particularly large scale elections) is far less about board rooms or seminar rooms, and far more about living rooms. Without an engaged populace at the base of a campaign to fervently scream and flag wave for your corner, without people who truly believe in what you’re selling, you’re not a politician. You may be an intellectual, but not a politician.

How then do you engage people in a topic as frequently dry and tedious as political debate? The answer (unfortunately), for the most part, is you don’t. For we, the proud proletariat, are far more likely to engage our minds using straightforward narrative rather than prolonged discussion. Most of us prefer a sitcom to PM’s questions, a soap opera over a live party election hustings. That’s because these stories offer us a satisfyingly easy choice: one side is good, one side is bad. It’s clear, it’s simple, it’s easy to know who to root for. It’s not, say, Ed Miliband’s confusing stance on immigration.

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The opposite of what you’ve heard is true – anyone other than Jeremy Corbyn will spell Labour’s doom

Bookies’ favourite, frontrunner in the polls, backed even by voters in Scotland – it seems now nothing and no one is going to stop Jeremy Corbyn becoming the next Labour leader. Not that some haven’t tried: the right-wing media troika of The Sun, the Daily Mail and The Telegraph have done their bit by scraping the barrel to paint Corbyn as a heartless husband and anti-Semite, but mostly it’s been those within Corbyn’s own party delivering the worst blows. The leadership rivals have pitched in of course – Liz Kendall has called Corbyn a potential “disaster” for Labour, while Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper share the opinion that Corbyn would turn Labour into a mere “party of protest”. Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, meanwhile, have all conjured up their own apocalyptic visions of Labour under Corbyn.

By now, you’ve probably heard the ‘Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable’ line (which, as the man himself pointed out, can hardly be true when he’s been voted in eight times as an MP already) so many times you’ve lost count. We’ll see in 2020 (providing the current government makes it that far) how true this argument is, but right now the fact is that Corbyn is quite the opposite of ‘unelectable’. If social media chatter and sell-out crowds weren’t evidence enough, a recent poll suggests that, to the general public, Corbyn is actually considered the most electable of the Labour leader candidates. According to Survation, should he win the leadership bid, Corbyn would be the Labour head that supporters of rival parties would be most likely to vote for in the next election.

This should be music to the ears of Labour officials desperate to reclaim the votes they lost in 2015; with reports suggesting some ex-Labour voters may never return, the party needs all the help it can get. And, with Labour’s perceived fiscal irresponsibility proving to be one of the main reasons voters shied away from Labour in May, the chances of the party will not be helped by a leader that refuses to correct the false notion that Labour crashed the economy in 2008. While Corbyn has vehemently denied the Labour crash lie, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall have been apologetic, chastising their own party for something that never happened. Yvette Cooper has joined Corbyn in rejecting the Labour crash narrative, but sided with Burnham and Kendall in abstaining from voting against the Welfare Reform bill – designed to correct the alleged mistakes of the last Labour government, and opposed by Corbyn – all the same.

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A democracy controlled by a minority

“This isn’t what we voted for” – this statement is perhaps more relevant now than when we made it our tagline last year. While we now have a majority Conservative government, one with free licence to carry out the regressive policies in its manifesto unimpeded, the vast majority of the population did not vote for this. Only 36.9% of the vote was for the Conservative party, equating to 24.4% of the population eligible to vote. Across all seats, approximately 63% of all votes were discarded, counting for nothing, thanks to our winner-takes-all ‘first past the post’ electoral system. Even worse, it is said that only about 200,000 votes in marginal constituencies swung it (you can even calculate the value of your vote). Continue reading

A tactical vote suggests approval for one of the three main parties. They won’t have ours

Want the Tories out? Vote Labour. Do not vote Green or SNP – you’ll only be splitting the left vote. Alternatively, if you seek to deny Labour the chance to govern, vote Conservative. Don’t even think about voting UKIP – it’ll just steal votes away from David Cameron’s party. As for the Lib Dems, give them your vote if you want to ensure whoever they decide to do a deal with never strays ‘too far right or too far left’.

This is what you’ve been told, anyway. Seemingly almost every party leader wants to pressure you into casting your vote based on how it’ll allow you to best cheat the system. Failing to recognise that such an endorsement confirms how absurd first-past-the-post voting is, the leaders have proceeded not just to tempt you with what treasures a vote for them will buy you, but to terrify you with the fear of what a vote for someone else will bring. Even Nigel Farage has been telling UKIP supporters to vote Conservative, so behind the tactical vote is he that he’s willing to lose a percentage just to ensure Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon don’t bring their deadly cocktail of communism and Scottishness into parliament.

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Debunking train fares

This morning I watched the commons ‘Urgent question’ on the East Coast main line.  For the last 5 years the  line has beeEast_Coast_HST_first_liveried_setn operated by East Coast, a publically owned company.  It was always planned to re-privatise the line by December 2013, even though that has failed twice before.  Now the Conservatives have sold off the franchise to Stagecoach/Virgin Rail.

The Conservatives say this will provide more frequent services with links to more stations, including a direct line to Huddersfield for the first time since the 60s.  Huddersfield is my home town and where I return to visit my parents, and so this will directly affect me.

Labour argue that the government should not be switching from a successful publically owned service to a privately owned one when private franchises have failed twice previously on this line.  They questioned why the East Coast Company were not even allowed to bid for the franchise.   There were also two mentions of the very high fares on Virgin lines on the west coast.

I’m not going to argue for or against this privatisation.  Privatisation generally syphons money out of the public sector, and while people use efficiency as an argument, it’s more often a symptom of bad politics and management rather than a fundamental problem with public services.  In this case, I don’t know enough about both sides of the argument to make a compelling case.

However, I did want to fact-check Labour’s ‘high fares on Virgin West Coast’ argument.  I have travelled several times from London to both Birmingham and Wakefield.  Usually I get the (cheaper but slower) Chiltern Railways service to Birmingham, and the East Coast service to Wakefield.  I know how expensive the East Coast service is, so found it hard to comprehend the West coast Virgin service could be even more expensive. Time for some Maths.

Let’s say I want to travel from London to Birmingham or Leeds at around 8:00 tomorrow morning and return around 17:00.  I’m going to select the ‘Anytime’ fares on both services, as these are without restrictions or offers.

The Virgin service to Birmingham takes 1h24m and costs £82 each way, £164 total.  That’s 99.81 miles between Euston and New Street as the crow flies, which works out as 82p a mile and 50.5s a mile.

The East Coast service to Leeds takes 2h15m and costs £124.50 each way, £249 total.  That’s 167.48 miles between Kings Cross and Leeds, which works out as 74p a mile and 48.4s a mile.

So the publically owned East Coast service does work out cheaper, but only 10% less than the Virgin service.  It’s also slightly faster.  Either way you look at it, these are still very high fares.  For comparison, it’s £124 return to fly direct from Heathrow to Leeds Bradford with BA, and it only takes an hour.  Our rail fares in the UK are considerable higher than Europe.

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If we are to encourage train travel in this country and better connect the north, we can’t keep raising fares every year when they are already so high.  Thankfully the government froze fairs for 2015, although that still means they will be rising 2.5% with inflation.  Let’s see if the same happens in 2016 after the election.

Inset image: Telegraph