Friday, 31 December 2010

AV and the magic of geographic dispersion

"AV will cause more coalitions in this country!", "FPTP is the only way to ensure strong government!"


It's time to put this myth to bed once and for all. No voting system that purely asks people to vote for an MP to represent them in their constituency is able to cause or limit the amount of coalition governments that form over the years. It may slightly enhance or hide the realities of support in each constituency, but in itself neither FPTP nor AV can cause coalitions.

Take, for example, our last general election result. The Tories had 36% of the vote, Labour 29% and Lib Dems 23% (in popular terms). Let's think about the realities of what forms coalitions. They are caused when the number of MPs elected for each party is in significant enough number that there is no majority to be had.

To form coalition governments in single member constituency voting systems (or to at least see Hung Parliaments) you need three parties with at least a modest popularity each, depending on how many smaller parties have strong localised support. The reality is that the cause of our latest coalition, under FPTP no less, is the increased support for the Lib Dems over several elections mixed with a redress of the geographical dispersion of the vote for each of the main parties.

Let me just be clear about that. It is how spread out or concentrated differing political opinions are across the UK that determines the likelihood of coalitions being formed.

Take a highly unlikely example. If the population was perfectly dispersed based on political opinion, to the degree that every constituency reflected the national picture of C 36%, L 29%, LD 23% then there would be only one result possible under FPTP....a parliament made up 100% of the Tories. Under AV it would be different, again assuming opinion is the same we would have either a 100% Labour parliament or 100% Tory parliament depending on where Lib Dem's would tend to put their second preferences.

But what if we switch it around? Let's say that the 36% of Tory support are localised entirely in 234 constituencies but in 0 others, that Labour similarly have 100% support in 189 constituencies, and Lib Dems the rest (not counting the constituencies that would be filled with the independent, national and Irish MPs). In this situation, still with the same voting system we'd have a proportional representation in parliament.

The same number of people voting for the same party they did in 2010, but depending on where they live you can have anything from an elected dictatorship to a fully proportional parliament forming a coalition.

Our current situation with a hung parliament is based mainly on the divide of class in this country, where more rural and higher earning areas tend to vote Tory, middle class and student (though we'll see how long that lasts) areas vote Lib Dem, and Working class to middle class areas vote Labour.

Without mixing these classes in to the same constituencies we have concentrated blobs of party support throughout the UK, and it is this segregation, combined with a greater than two dimensional political opinion, that led us to the coalition government we have today.

How will AV change this? I will come back to this issue in a future piece; However, it may well be that AV increases the hyper-concentration of support, making it less dispersed, and causing a greater hung parliament. Yet it is also the case that the fine balance of the geographic dispersal of political opinion could result in a bloating of the vote for (most likely) Labour, giving them a disproportionate (based on 1st preferences, though not in terms of absolute support) majority that helps to avoid a coalition while more accurately reflecting the political leaning of the population.

If you're against coalition politics then I'm afraid your only recourse to achieve this will be to try and return this county to a system of two party politics and to try and stop people from believing in political ideals they believe in.

Voting against AV won't stop coalitions from forming while three party politics takes hold, it's time for the "No" camp to accept this reality.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Nick Cohen's "failure" to appreciate the complexities of reform

Nick Cohen has released a piece for the spectator that gloriously highlights the 2 dimensional style of argument that those in the "No" campaign for the upcoming AV referendum display. I have no idea if Nick Cohen supports Yes or No camps, but his piece might as well be written by the more short sighted and mischeviously misleading parts of the No side.

You can read the Nick Cohen piece here, though I'll be fisking it below...

Over on Coffee House my colleague Dan Hodges notes that a large chunk of the Parliamentary Labour Party has come out against AV, and speculates that their stand will help the “No” campaign.

A fair argument, given that it's clear that Labour voters/supporters are torn and don't yet understand the benefits the Left in this country can gain through a more preferential voting system due to the current standing of opinion in the UK.

So it may, but he is missing the true danger to the “Yes” campaign, which lies with its friends rather than its enemies. To be blunt, the supporters of “reform” are at best deluded and at worse rank hypocrites.

And so begins the start of a strawman argument based on only half a reality.

The alternative vote solves no problems and remedies no grievances.

Straight out of the blocks and in to a lie. The alternative vote, AV, remedies one extremely important grievance and problem...that of lack of surety over an MP being elected who is supported by their constituency. FPTP allows MPs to be voted with only 35% of the vote in some cases, and thus all we know is that at least 35% of the constituency support them. AV ensures we know the MP elected has the most support possible (with some caveats).

It is an unlovely and unloved electoral system, as the voters of New Zealand showed when their government gave them the chance to choose how they cast their votes. New Zealanders were interested in all kinds of reforms to first-past-the-post but dismissed AV with scorn.

New Zealand were offered two referendums to ensure an absolute clarity of decision. The first was whether to move away from FPTP, to which they voted overwhelmingly by 84.5% to 15.5%. They were then asked (ironically under a FPTP system) which type of system they would like. AV lost out, unsurprisingly, as it was the shortest move away from FPTP.

Does this mean anything to us? New Zealand, a country that legalizes brothels, is a very different country to our own politically...I'm always loathed to make comparisons between different countries as easily as Nick Cohen does, it doesn't offer any relevance to ourselves and our own unique situation.

Which is all AV deserves because no one in their hearts believes it is the best or fairest way to produce a government, least of all the constitutional reformers behind the “yes” campaign?

So back to the New Zealand issue here, they were offered several good systems and definitely didn't back the worst of those. This was after a referendum that simply asked if people wanted to move away from FPTP.

Have we been asked this? No. Our referendum is unfortunately two questions in one. Some can interpret it as "Do we want to move away from FPTP" and others "Do we want to move to AV". The question specifically asks the latter, but it is the former that will be in reformers minds.

People like myself, who would prefer more proportional representation in our parliament, know that reporters like Nick he has evidenced in this article...will spin from a "No" result. While he talks here about the AV question, it is the "Keep FPTP" answer that will be the headline.

Does AV deserve to be dismissed when compared only to other more proportional systems? Yes, absolutely. Does it deserve to be dismissed when put up against FPTP, a non-preferential and non-proportional system that is clearly worse than AV in every way other than in terms of absolute simplicity and logistics (two arguments that we should be EXTREMELY worried to be included in the debate about our democracy)?

No, it most certainly deserves to be heard...

They believe, as I believe, that the fault with first-past-the-post is that it produces governments with large majorities on a minority of the popular the vote.

This is part of what we believe.

AV does not solve that the problem because it is not proportional.

On a national level it is certainly not proportional. On a local level it is more proportional...or as more appropriately described, it contains a fuller level of opinion from constituents to form a more representative outcome than under FPTP. Indeed AV, on a single member constituency level, is almost the best system for ensuring representative democracy is accurate.

Indeed in some circumstances, it makes unrepresentative governments more powerful.

Now Nick here is mixing up terms. Notice how suddenly he uses the term unrepresentative governments, a term that is only accurate if using the FPTP form of the term? Previously it was about proportionality.

There is no denying proportionality is out of the window with both AV and FPTP, except by pure chance. But this is due to our system of one MP per one constituency. We are not voting for a proportional make up of the House of is impossible to guarantee or ensure such a thing with a simple one MP/one constituency system!

But AV would make it as representative a parliament, and therefore government, as could be under this single member constituency environment. Each constituency will have guaranteed the MP they sent to parliament has their explicit support, that the MP definitely represents the type of politician that the constituents wish to have.

And let's not even get in to the idea of representative governments being tosh, I can only assume Nick here has mixed up his terms by accident, because unless a government is made up of all different parties elected in their proportion of the vote...most likely becoming paralysed in the process, then government itself will never be truly representative anyway!

To understand how imagine a popular party leader heading for a resounding victory. It is not just the people who vote for his party who quite like the look of him. Many of those voting for rival parties will have soaked up the mood of the times. They too will see his appeal and under AV will be able to give him their second preferences, and deliver more seats to his party.

And here's that "what are MPs elected for" problem highlighted again. This referendum only allows us to choose between two single member constituency systems...the idea of the make up of parliament being fair or proportional flew out of the window with that question being affirmed.

If a party leader sails to a resounding victory, picking up extra seats because of second preferences, it's because we're forced to keep to a system that means we're technically not electing a party to rule us, but an MP to represent us. If 600 constituencies under AV decide that they would prefer a Tory MP (after preferences) more than any other MP, that would be a massive majority of Tories in parliament. It's most likely not proportional (based on first preferences alone) but it is what each constituency has, by majority, decided they want for their parliament.

This is not unrepresentative, far from it, it is the country saying that based on initial opinion, and the prospect of other MPs that they don't like...these are the MPs each section of our country want to be in power.

This was precisely the position Tony Blair found himself in 1997. Lord Jenkins in his report on electoral reform in 1998 concluded that far from making the 1997 Parliament more representative, AV would have “swollen the already sizeable Labour majority”.

However, as Labour popularity waned that swell may have deflated much quicker than under FPTP, the people may have got a sooner chance to get rid of Labour. Alternatively it may be the case that at the 2010 election most of the population were still Left leaning (this is my belief) and that Labour wouldn't have lost power due to more people having a greater say over exactly which MP they prefer over the others, without votes being split unfairly due to simple geographical statistics.

‘A 'best guess' projection of the shape of the current Parliament under AV suggests on one highly reputable estimate the following outcome with the actual FPTP figures given in brackets after the projected figures: Labour 452 (419), Conservative 96 (165), Liberal Democrats 82 (46), others 29 (29). The overall Labour majority could thus have risen from 169 to 245. On another equally reputable estimate the figures are given as Labour 436, Conservatives 110, Liberal Democrats 84 and others 29, an overall majority this time of 213. On either basis an injustice to the Liberal Democrats would have been nearly two-thirds corrected (their strictly proportional entitlement was 111 seats) but at the price of a still greater injustice to the Conservatives.’

Injustice, how it can even be said to be injustice while comparing the purpose of single member constituency voting systems to proportional outcomes is laughable. There is no injustice is Tories being unpopular over-all in a constituency by constituency basis therefore being appropriately under-represented in parliament.

The injustice right now is that a Tory, Labour or Lib Dem MP can hold less than 50% support, meaning that over half the constituency actively LOATHE that MP, yet still get in to power....yet that this is being paraded as a virtue of our current system over AV.

Remember, this is about voter opinion forming a more representative outcome in their constituency...we have no option in this referendum to guarantee proportionality either way.

There were other problems too – Tories in Scotland and socialists in Surrey would still have wasted their votes under AV

An absolute lie here again. But then I guess it's how you define a "Tory" isn't it? To Nick it would appear that Tories are people that would only vote Tory, the Tory party members themselves. What about those voters who would prefer a Tory style MP in their constituency but currently know that their vote for a Tory would be lost under FPTP? Perhaps those Tory supporters still vote Tory, but in doing so they split the vote.

Take, for example, Stirling

It used to be Tory once upon a time, but is no longer. Labour won the vote, but without an absolute majority. Do the Tories there want Labour to win, or would they prefer the SNP? Under FPTP their opinion on what they prefer doesn't matter. Under AV, those Tories may want to give Labour a bloody nose and give their preference to the SNP who they'd prefer over Labour. If they did so (with some help also from the Lib Dems) the SNP could have taken the seat, further helping any chance of a national Tory majority.

Now, tell me again...which system out of FPTP or AV leaves a Tory voice wasted?

– but let us stay with Lord Jenkins’ objection and relish the hypocrisy of the “Yes” campaign.

Much as I have been relishing in the out and out lies and misrepresentation by Nick Cohen (shared by the No campaign)....

We now have supposed constitutional reformers lobbying for a change to the electoral system that can exacerbate the worst features of the old regime they claim to oppose.

The system is not proportional as it stands. If we remain with FPTP then geographical chance can lead to the same disproportionate results that Nick claims AV can result in. You cannot make an argument one way or another...either as a Yes or No campaigner...about proportionality while the question is what it is.

What we constitutional reformers can hope for is a greater voice for the electorate, with our wider opinions making a difference even if our first choice isn't popular. Is it really a hypocritical and ridiculous thing to wish for more power to the people?

They know this. They have read the Electoral Reform Society’s pamphlets and argued at meetings in draughty halls about the virtues and vices of various electoral changes. Yet they persist in recommending that the public vote “yes” for a system which Nick Clegg once described as “"a miserable little compromise”.

Because miserable little compromise or not, it's still a step towards a greater voice to us, the voters, in forging for ourselves a representative parliament that we each, individually as constituencies, can be happy with.

Eventually, even the nodding dogs of the BBC are going to have to ask them why they are abandoning principles they have supported for decades, and recommending that voters support a system they once opposed.

More two dimensional, overly black and white misrepresentation. Am I abandoning my principles? How can I abandon my principles when the only options I've been given are between two potentially disproportional systems? None of us in the Yes camp are saying "Well actually we now believe AV is the best system around", it's a complete fabrication and an insult for Nick to paint us in this image.

We have a question before us, we have an opinion on which is the best answer...and that answer is Yes. Our principles are still here, we want greater power to voters, AV delivers that, it doesn't abandon it.

I have heard only two honest answers, which both reek of desperation. The first is that any change is better than no change

It's desperation to make positive steps forwards? Perhaps we should tell that to homosexuals that have the right to civil partnerships, and the benefits that come along with that union, without still having (disgracefully) the right to marry? Is it desperation that we at least support this interim step?

even if it is a change for the worse.

...When looking at only ONE aspect of the change, and then assuming a whole scenario that may or may not change in the future. Isn't it funny that Nick can describe this as a change for the worse when a change in public opinion in 5, 10 or 15 years time could suddenly mean FPTP is the system delivering bloated majorities?

The second is that AV referendum was all Cameron would offer the wretched Clegg, and they are stuck with it.

Are we not stuck with the question we've got? Does being stuck with the question change our ability to objectively work out for ourselves what the best answer is?

Nick insults the Yes campaign here by misrepresenting our arguments, putting words in our mouths and then lying through absence of the complete picture.

The moment of danger for the “Yes” campaign will not come when old Labour MPs announce their support for the status quo, but when journalists start exposing the fraught and insincere arguments of the supporters of “reform”.

I can only hope that journalists leading up to May have more integrity to report the full facts about the referendum question and it's two systems, rather than the strawman laden hatchet job Nick Cohen has written here.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

My thoughts on Lib Dem betrayal

(This was originally a comment to this article on CiF)

I'm getting tired of people using all encompassing statements about the Lib Dems betrayal.

So some MPs (not the party, the pledge was a single MP act across constituencies, which some MPs broke) broke their promise in voting for something that is a better solution than the possibly £12-14k fees the Tories may well have brought in. Tough situation that some all too black and white viewers can't understand.

Nor, clearly, do those people understand how the Lib Dem party policy machine works. You can claim that you can never trust the Lib Dems again, yet they're the only party I can look at (as a non-affiliated voter) and know precisely what policies they would aim to make real if they had controlling power.

So people are going to stop voting Lib Dem, maybe go to Labour or to a set of minority parties? Fine, it's your choice, but if you're doing it thinking you're going to get a better deal than the Lib Dem policy to scrap tuition fees for first degrees then you are, simply, a moron.

But on to other things...did the Lib Dems betray me and my vote? I dislike the tuition fee rise, but I'd have disliked a larger rise more, we also know Labour would have raised the cap.

They've also put in to motion the end of child detention, I don't feel betrayed there. They've scrapped ID cards, finally enacted the european ruling (that Labour dithered over) for giving at least some prisoners their right to vote back, they will be repealing more illiberal and authoritarian law, including the possibility of removal of control orders and 28 day detention without charge. I don't feel betrayed there either. A referendum on a voting system that will finally give people a complete voice in their constituency, not a hint of betrayal. The income tax allowance will be increased, no betrayal again. Trident renewal shelved, married couple tax breaks shelved, more ambitious green targets...all a far shout from feelings of betrayal.

The reality is that the Lib Dems are delivering on an awful lot of what they said they would, unfortunately the Tories are doing the same, we get the "best" of both worlds, but on some issues like Tuition fees those who voted for Lib Dems have not got it entirely as they'd wish.

Betrayed? Not even close.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Of Democracy, Fairness and Labour

Democracy...power from the people. It's a simple concept yet one that is interpreted in enough different ways that some are losing sight of what democracy actually means.

@Aaronk28: @Niaccurshi in true democracy people vote for who they want elected 2nd choice 3rd choice etc should be irrelevant #no2av

A true democracy can not be so simple, surely? Their first preference alone stating their wishes, and to hell with their fuller and more rounded opinion? If democracy is truly "of the people" then my feelings are FPTP falls at the first hurdle to achieving such a status. Just because people participate in a vote does not mean that they have bestowed power. In a majority of constituencies more than half of the voters participate but don't deliver more than that participation.

Be under no illusion, a "worthy" and "correct" winner in a single constituency system is the one that has the greatest overall support. This isn't the greatest initial support, nor is it the "least worst" is the prospective MP that the largest number of people would like to see represent them. The truly most popular.

In this sense a "true democracy" is much closer to AV than to FPTP, where everyone's views are taken on balance, where even if you are a supporter of an MP outside the top two contenders, you still have the right to say who you would prefer out of those two remaining. This isn't "unfair" as some may say, nor is it people getting a second bite of the cherry (in fact everyone gets another bite at every round), this is true fairness.

After all, what is fair about MPs currently elected with less than 50% of the vote, when the constituency is more than 50% against them? I don't mean this in a simplistic "If the MP didn't get 50% then they are unpopular", the reality is that in the information-less system that is FPTP we don't know if they are the most popular overall or not. What I mean is that if that MP is a left wing MP, elected on say 40% of the vote, but the constituency is 60% right wing...then how is it fair that constituency has to be represented by a left wing MP? Or vice versa?

I support AV, despite preferring more proportional voting systems, because it gives every person in a constituency an equal voice, and a louder voice. I support it because it leads to more representative constituencies and therefore a more representative (though not necessarily single member constituency system can be proportional) parliament. I support it regardless of whether it delivers landslide majorities for ANY party, or leads us to coalitions...because this is ACTUALLY democracy, getting what we have asked for.

But saying this...I have to look to reality and ask...what are the Labour No camp thinking? Do they prefer opposition? Would they rather remain out of government? Labour No seem to want to seal their fate as struggling back to power, if they can make it back there at all.

Look at the figures. A party (the Lib Dems) that was on high mid 20% shares leading up to the election are now slumped at ~10%, losing easily 50% of their support (for now) as a result of the more right wing nature of the government. As one of those 10% that would likely still vote Lib Dem I can still say that despite current situations I am hopeful of a return to the actual party policy which is fundamentally more left wing, should they have the opportunity to get away from the Tories. I would be amazed if I were in a minority in that view.

Under AV it feels like a guarantee that in many conservative constituencies Labour would clean up thanks to second preferences from Lib Dem supporters. In other Tory constituencies Lib Dems may end up taking the vote under AV from Labour second preferences...the net result is still more Labour seats, and less Tory ones. Labour No seem to want to throw this potential win away, as well as to leave the more left-leaning in this country potentially less well represented. It's just confusing!

As a Lib Dem voter last time around, and likely again in 2015, I hope that this country can be more representative, even if that means the Lib Dems lose seats...even if it meant a higher Tory share. I care about "true democracy" and "fairness" over and above any tribal political instincts, and that leads me to question (as I have been for a while) exactly what the motives are of those that intend to vote No in May. Tories I can at least understand, fearing that their (in my opinion) fake "majority" may fall if people are given a greater voice...Labour, less so.

Answers on a postcard?

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Students' fees, it'll cost us all in the end

Edit: There is some contention over the "resource cost" mentioned in this article, and exactly how it is dealt with and applied. As such take the below with a little pinch of salt in the event that I've misinterpreted exactly what it entails! I've struck through what I think isn't accurate, but left it in for posterity.

The Tory/Lib Dem coalition. I will, in the future go in to my feelings on this but right now I'll leave you with the background that I'm generally on balance happier than I am unhappy at the situation, I can see that it's complicated. I dislike Labour, I voted Lib Dem, I dislike the Tories and what the Lib Dems have done in government has left me more apathetic than I was a year ago. Bumpf over, let’s get on...

Here we are today, December 9th 2010, with 21 votes between the ayes and nays for student Higher Education (HE) fees increases. We are now moving towards a world that will see tuition fees increase and the debts that our students enter in to increased significantly. More progressive apparently, better for graduates, better for part-time students (the 33% alone that will benefit at least).

Sorry ...wait. Did I say that the students would be having greater debt? Oh yes, silly me.

We, the taxpayer are now going to be put in greater debt, on students' behalf!

Aside from some access funding for poorer students that won't count as debt (it'll be funded from budget shuffles and magic), each of the roughly 2 million students that study HE courses each year will add, approximately, £2.3-4.9bn to the debt our country carries on behalf of these students. Each year.

If this doesn't sound like a large enough amount, realise that it is on top of all existing student loan debt (£30.5bn for England) AND the £2.75bn those same students would have added to the system through top up fees AND the £3bn debt for living cost loans. Potentially a year on year increase in debt in this country of between £8bn and £10.5bn.

A lot of the campaign to stop the higher fees has fallen to students alone. Selfish taxpayers have, rather blindly and therefore stupidly, made their "They should get a job", "why should we have to pay for them" claims throughout the country. Even some particularly militant lefties have got up in arms about students campaigning for "Middle class benefits" ahead of campaigning for real cut-busting on issues like housing and benefits.


You think this whole plan by the coalition saves us money, as tax payers? Well I'm afraid the reality is that you haven't, Mr "I don't know what the fuss is about"!

By the time this new fee structure rolls in we'll be roughly £35bn in debt simply as par for the course, of which around £7bn will be fee related. After the first adopters of the new 6/9k fees graduate in 2015 it'll be up to £70-£75bn depending on how Universities charge, a total of up to around £36bn will be fees related.

Given that the loans system costs to maintain (as in, pay for lack of interest paid by the borrower), on average, about 33% of the cost of the loan (£9.5-£12bn £2.6-£3.3bn), that the cost of our national debt in interest is something like 5% of our loan amount (up to another £1.4-£1.8bn), and that the SLC costs £100mil to run the whole system each year, it is simple maths that as a tax payer we will be forking out MORE per year to allow students to get in to debt, and increase our potential deficit, than it would cost to just give HE institutions the bloody money from our tax income!

£14bn. Fourteen Billion Pounds. This could pay for so much more than what it is being pissed down the drain for, don't you think? With the annual cost of keeping all students that apply for loans at shy of £8bn (at most), the rest of the money could genuinely go to provide access for mature and disadvantaged people to get part-time or full-time higher education. It could ensure our HE institutions were the absolute best in the world.

Edit: So it would make more sense that the resource cost is a one off cost per loan (of which there are three for each student usually) and not a cost applied every year. If this is truly the case then it'll likely never reach the point that servicing the loan costs more than providing it, unless there are a lot more defaults and write offs as the system goes on. There is, of course, a real danger that there could be seen, in a few decades, significant amounts of money written off, billions perhaps...and at that point we'd need to question whether this policy was a financially sound one to begin with.

This doesn't alter the fact our debt bill increases dramatically each year, and that the amount tax payers are having to pay has (ironically perhaps) increased to levels that would have only a few years ago paid for all top-up fees to be paid for by the government.

So there we are, this vote that centered in the debate more on who could sling the most mud, Labour at the Lib Dems for selling out, Tories and Lib Dems at Labour for starting this whole thing off (but no worries, they’ll continue it any way), and Labour at the Tories for raping poor children or something, this vote that analyst are having a party over because of the gossip it can present about the coalition, Lib Dems, and cracks or faults in the veneer of both, this vote’s real impact has been completely ignored.

Yes, it'll make some poor kids that don't have the benefit of someone with common sense nearby to let them know debt doesn't really matter when you're earning, especially when it doesn't affect you if you're not earning. Yes it'll mean most people are unlikely to actually pay off that debt (further increasing our total public debt, of course). Yes it ensures the squeeze is still on universities who already complain about spiralling staff and resource costs year on year.

But what's been missed is that this whole exercise, when looking at it as the economic manoeuvre that it is...fails as just that. If it's meant to help bring economic stability by cutting our interest payments and debt as a percentage of GDP, then this policy fails the coalition's main aim. If it's meant to free up tax payer money to spend on other things, then this policy fails the coalition's main aim.

There is still time, as unlikely as it is to happen, to defeat this bill. It will soon go to the Lords where it will be debated once more, if it isn't defeated at the final reading in the House of Commons. The Lords is our last opportunity to even try to question why this whole policy has been announced. Given its apparent lack of economic advantage, given the students don't want it, given many universities don't want it (though they'd like the same amount of money please, thanks, yessir), given that parents are worried about how it'll effect how and where their kids grow up and gain the life skills they need in a cut-throat economy...shouldn't we be asking what the real reason is that the coalition made this disastrous policy one step closer to reality?


Disclaimer first, this is late night calculation, I apologise if anything is actually wrong and will amend it as it's pointed out to me. But it is only intended to be a generally rough set of figures, not allowing really for inflation in projections, nor for greater than inflation increases in either loans or repayment of loans.

I've used this parliamentary briefing paper for my figures.
It shows that current debt (maintenance and fees) is £30.5bn.
Maintaining the loan system costs on average 24% of the loan provision per year, 33% for fee loans and 21% for maintenance loans.
Take up of fee loans is now approaching 900k students per year.
The average loan amount given is currently £3110, only a hundred pounds short of the cap, or 94.5% of the cap amount. This equates to £2.75bn of loans
The above means each year 900,000 students would cost roughly £7.65bn in fee loans at most, and £5.1bn at least.
Each year a total of about £5.7bn is paid out in all loans to students.
Each year the debt bill for HE loans grows by around £4-£4.5bn. This may increase in the future even without fee cap rises.
This above would relate to around £1.5bn being paid back each year in to the system. This amount will rise as more graduates enter the job market.
Figures for interest payment are obviously rough, but come from David Cameron's own "£70bn interest" speech where he relates the potential £1.4trillion debt to a £70bn interest bill, or 5%.


The thing that springs to mind after some more thought is that it's unlikely that there are additional interest costs on top of the resource costs to maintain the loan debt. So rather than £14bn it may look more like £12bn.

A point I'd be happy to take more clarification on is how the resource costs are borne, where are they paid from and who pays them? Are they attributed to another debt pile, taken from the tax payer directly, or more indirectly subtracted from the overall tax takings to allow for repayment of the debt?

Saturday, 4 December 2010

The "weighting" argument against AV is a red herring

Just a quick one. AV does not give disproportionate weight to unpopular parties. What it does is ensure that of everyone left standing in the race in each round, people have an opportunity to say which they prefer.

Round 1: Candidate A, B, C and D get 40%, 20%, 25% and 15% of the vote respectively. The least popular candidate, D, doesn't get a disproportionate boost, he gets eliminated.

Round 2: Candidate A, B, and C now get 40%, 33% and 27% respectively. What people who don't understand AV, or are wilfully misrepresenting it, are trying to say here is that Candidate B gets an unfair weighting. It's just not true, Candidate C drops out here because those people that voted D have the fair opportunity to say they would rather candidate B got their votes rather than candidate C if their most preferred candidate is eliminated.

Round 3: We're left with Candidate A and B, who on balance had the most support of everyone to be put in to this final showdown. The final result is 45%, 55% respectively. A loses. Again, this isn't because of disproportionate weighting but a fair opportunity given to people to say what they would prefer if the situation was such that their first and second preferences were no longer in the competition.

There is nothing more fair than coming to this kind of compromise in single member constituencies, where everyone at each stage gets to have their beliefs tallied so that the most popular candidate of those remaining in the vote, at least one of which will be due to the initial high popularity within the largest minorities of the constituency.

People who voted for Candidate A in this scenario gave their candidate TREMENDOUS weighting, they kept him in the competition all the way until the final round with no fear of elimination. The fact Candidate A then didn't do enough to ensure he had broader support in the constituency if people were ultimately asked to choose between him and candidate B is a seperate, and more political, issue.

It is, quite simply, a myth to say that in this above scenario that Candidate B, despite coming 3rd in the FPTP style vote, is a "less popular" candidate. How can they be less popular if, when the voting options narrow to A, B and C, that candidate then picks up enough votes to not be the last in terms of percentage share?

It's a fallacy to claim that AV gives disproportionate weighting to the "unpopular", what it does is more accurately show who is really popular or unpopular on balance as the voting plays out. In this case A was simply popular with a significant minority of the constituency, but when it boiled down to it was not as popular as B in a straight head-to-head.

Under FPTP we simply don't know this level of information. Is the winner of FPTP on 40% the most popular? He could be, in one sense he is, but in another sense he may not be. Without information rich voting systems like AV, we just don't know for sure who is popular or not

For more on why compromise is good, and why trying to apply weightings to each person's vote is a flawed concept, please see my last post on this subject.

Monday, 29 November 2010

AV or FPTP for making decisions?

You and your friends (let’s say there are 10 of you) are organising a party and you want to work out where to go to eat. How do you come to the decision on where best to go?

4 of you really want to go to have a curry at the local Indian restaurant, 3 of you are calling to go for Italian, 2 want to just go to the pub and 1 would rather you splashed out and went for an expensive foodie experience at that Michelin star restaurant you've heard about.

However the 2 that want to go to the pub also simply can’t stomach indian food, something about the spices, one of the people that want Italian food can’t stand the atmosphere of curry houses and the guy that wants to go to the expensive place will only compromise on price, not quality.

How would YOU decide?

How about a simple majority, a “First past the post” of where to eat out? Fine, you’re off to the Indian restaurant, though four of you have decided that they’ve got better things to do, and maybe they can catch up with you for a lunch next week instead.

The trouble is that there are just as many people in your group that don’t want to go for a curry as want to, their views are equally as strong as each other but in opposite camps...but your choice of simple majority vote doesn’t let this expression of NEGATIVE feelings show. Sure, it allows you all to see that people would rather not go to the expensive place, but it doesn’t even rule out that most people would agree on the more costly experience as a fair compromise.

In essence with a FPTP style vote you're abandoning the deeper opinions of the majority that would bring the context of what type of eating experience the group wants to knowledge.

Of course if you were doing this in real life you of course wouldn’t use a voting system; you’d come to that compromise organically. Assuming everyone was as engaged in making the overall best choice for everyone you would rule out options that, while they may seem initially popular with the group, are actually more unpopular. The reality of choosing a best option is that you don’t simply take a ballot of what people like, but you also listen to what they dislike.

How does this relate to the question of AV vs FPTP to elect our House of Commons?

FPTP is a simple indicator of what people like. It’s the political equivalent of a clap-o-meter. Whoever screams loudest at a single point of measure gets the win, no matter about any other factor. What AV does, while not directly allowing people to state who they don’t like, is give the opportunity to get context on those “screams”. It lets you get an idea of the boos too. It lets you reach a fair compromise.

We shouldn’t be happy with a system that means a significant percentage of us feel like we might as well not have bothered saying anything, a system which makes them wonder if next time they should vote tactically if they even bother to vote at all.

Why should second preferences mean as much as first preferences?

The reality of the AV system is that you are still using a binary voting system, if you put a preference down for someone you are supporting their election to office. You can’t “weight” your preference, you either have to give someone 100% of your support for getting the job, or 0%. Is this a problem?

I don’t see it as a problem, and don't believe anyone has much ground to stand on if they claim it is a problem.

When, under FPTP, I vote for my preferred local candidate am I doing so with 100% of my conviction? I voted Lib Dem at the last election, but there were definitely some things I didn’t agree with them on. On a personal scale perhaps I endorsed my candidate with 90% of my self, and disagreed with them on 10%. Should my vote have counted more than those that voted Labour with less conviction, is it “fair” that my votes still counts the same?

Ultimately, yes, it is fair. Weighting is a subjective element that cannot be compared between different individuals.

Weighting is far too complicated, and have no place in any political voting system. It only gets more complicated under AV where it is entirely possible that someone can believe that their second or third preference should be MP with more conviction than someone else believes their first preference should be the elected MP. It’s not the system’s place to judge what we mean when we put down a number on a bit of paper, nor how much more "absolute" someone's support is than another's.

But how is it fair if our first preference winner doesn’t go on to get elected under AV?

How is it unfair? We have to stop thinking that the most vocal minority have the right to have the final say. We have to stop thinking that such a minority opinion can decide who is "best for the job"

If your candidate would have won under FPTP but doesn’t under AV there is only one thing that signifies, that your candidate is explicitly tailored to your world view at the detriment of their image to others. It comes all the way back to the “where to eat” analogy above.

We deserve politicians that we collectively agree on as being the best choice for our constituencies. Some FPTP supporters are concerned that this will mean that they become the people unhappy with who is representing them. This is pure selfishness.

These people are putting the potential situation of over half of a constituency being unhappy with a result as a more worthwhile outcome because they don’t want to risk becoming part of the less than half of the constituency that is unhappy with the result. Can that accurately be described as electing the "best person for the job"?

It boils down to people trying to hold their territory artificially, potentially against the will of the larger majority.

Still, it moves the power to those that hold 2nd, 3rd or even 4th preferences, doesn’t it?

It moves no power except away from those that sit in a minority but are the largest minority. It gives a more distributed voice to everyone. Those that vote to have a Tory, Labour and Lib Dem as the top three candidates in their constituency have all stated explicitly that the constituency would rather have once of those three parties represent them.

What it then does is say “But the rest of you... given we simply can’t fairly give your representative a go, which of these three should we go with?” Where in this do the remainder supporters gain power for their preferences, other than to be rightfully heard within the new scenario of who is able to actually win the seat?

There is no such situation where someone gets an unfair amount of votes, or bites of the cherry. Each round everyone gets the same votes, it's just that voters of parties that are unpopular are essentially told that they aren't allowed to vote for who they want to, so choose from the candidates that everyone else has determined are fit to represent us. Even if you back the eventual winner, you get as many votes as those supporting minority just keep voting for the same MP, keeping them in the running to win each time!

FPTP is a system, it is not evil nor inherently wrong, but what it definitely is as a system is blind. It can hear how loud you shout but it can’t see the consternation or relief of those that voted for parties further down the pecking order. 1 vote, 1 party, it just means lack of context. AV on the other hand takes everything that is preferred about FPTP in this country...a single MP for your constituency, the ability to come to a quick result for the media...and adds in more fairness, more choice to vote for your representatives how you actually want to rather than having to second guess everyone else and vote tactically.

Voting to move to AV next May is win-win for everyone that supports FPTP, if they care about democracy and ensuring the voices of the voting public are heard and accounted for. Anyone who supports FPTP that tells you otherwise is quite simply not in this discussion for the sake of democracy or fairness, and I urge you to question their motives.

For more information about the "Yes 2 AV" campaign I suggest visiting these links:

And follow these people on Twitter:


Thursday, 15 July 2010

So, Students, this is fairness?

The proposition on the table is a graduate tax. You will get your way paid for you, no word yet on whether you'll be able to keep your student loan but the likelihood is that you will. Once you've finished you will then start to pay for your education and others' through a set percentage payment of your income based on your income level once you have broke through a certain threshold. You will pay it for a certain amount of time, either years from graduation or years from gaining employment perhaps. You may end up paying less than you used or more than you used, dependent on earnings and time in employment.

What we have now is a top up fee's system. You get your way paid for you, you have a student loan. Once you've finished university you will then start to pay for your education through a set percentage payment of your income once you have broke through a certain threshold. You will pay it for a certain amount of time from graduation. You will either pay less than you used or exactly what you used, dependent on earnings and time in employment.

Please, can someone tell me what the difference is going to be to any graduate whether you call this a graduate tax or top up fees that makes the plan a "bold" and "radical" one?

What we have here is a Lib Dem minister essentially repackaging top-up fees and selling it as something newer, and better. Forgive me if I don't agree.

By introducing a variable element to the percentage payable per month, removing the limit of how much students will be able to pay, and removing those that flunked out of university from the need to pay for the time they spent there, Vince hasn't suggested something that changes the landscape of funding for education at all...he's just tinkering at the sides.

So successful graduates will pay more, they'll pay for those that are unsuccessful. For example, the burden of all those students who go in to art and other low paid areas of work, work that still required the time and benefit from the expertise of their peers during university, are now not to be shared amongst the whole of society but solely by those that go in to conventional and traditional well paid graduate jobs.

Universities have been saying they need to put fee's up to £5k to stop cuts in staffing and to stay afloat, and with roughly around 500k undergraduates in the country that is an extra £1bn that needs to be found. If we did remain with the same system of top up fees that has never disadvantaged the disadvantaged then a tax rise of 0.5% on those earning above the upper tax limit would cover those debts. Want to tax the successful to pay for the poor and unaccomplished coming out of the HE system? Well tax ALL the successful then. What exactly is the problem of spreading the burden?

There's no fairness to be found here in these tax changes, not unless you narrowly look at the relatively small changes in how lower level earning graduate will pay less towards HE each year than a higher level earning graduate....while potentially paying more than they would have under a loans system over the course of their lifetime. Not unless you particularly think it's fair to remove someone that has abused their time at university, to have a good time and nothing more, from paying for their place in totality.

The graduate tax idea is a long cry from the Lib Dem party policy that suggested a shift of the burden from students to fill the funding gap through fees and on to the general public (or perhaps businesses), Cable has U-Turned spectacularly. No longer campaigning for a fairness for students, perhaps recognising the economic and social good that students bring whether successful or not; he is now suggesting policies that make HE a commodity, that say to students that you can have your education but it's your burden now, don't expect those of us gaining from your endeavors to put anything more in to investing in what ultimately makes us all better off.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Equality inside a democracy

There is, after Harriet Harman stated a desire for 50% women in the Shadow Cabinet, a glut of typical postings on the subject from feminists and feminist supporters on blogs and twitter. Unfortunately it's the same old crap we're always getting, that misses the point of democracy entirely.

This tweet perfectly encapsulates the moronic stance of the "equality of outcome" camp...

"@HouseofTwits oh look more straight white men voting to protect their position in the #hotvote I prefer to act to change things!" by @Andywhatthen.

The trouble is that this whole argument is being posed as an argument of equality of outcome versus "meritocracy", the trouble is that arguing from one side or the other is to ignore the realities and flaws in their own arguments. Arguing that cabinets, shadow or otherwise, and parliaments should be made up purely of those that have the most "merit" to be there ignores that it is entirely possible for people to be deemed to not be the best person for the job (though I'll come back to this).

This reality leads to the type of hypocritical commentary, as Andywhatthen's above, complaining about "privileged, straight, white males" standing against "equality" while continuing to ascertain that parliament/cabinets will be better with more women in them; that by providing the route for more women in to politics through positive descrimination will make us all better off.

It's essentially saying "Men are only good for half the jobs, the rest are worse than the women that should be in their place", and forgive me if I think that stance is as moronic as any implied "women can't do the job better than men" statements coming from any "meritocracy" supporters.

Arguing that these bodies should be equal and reflective of our own population's diversity ignores that it functionally does nothing more than the "meritocracy" that they decry to improve our politics. It may make us feel better that we're all being fair, but we're still left with the same problems we currently face in our democracy.

Yet it is this word, democracy, that is being willfully left out of the whole debate. And this is why I said I'll come back to this concept of "best person for the job".

As it stands the focus is on cabinets, though it has previously (and will be through this period of discussion) also be relevant to people's views about the demographics of parliament. The belief is that there are a set of skills that each individual cabinet post (or job of an MP) must be filled...specifically for cabinet ministers that they should have enough experience in the field they are now overseeing.

Is this a reasonable reality upon which to assess an MP's abilities? For a start it assumes there aren't a warren of competent civil servants that have all the relevant competencies to run a department and keep it ticking even when different ministers come and go, it assumes that the minister themselves are somehow operationally involved at a significant level rather than at a strategic one. It also ignores that a ministers job is not to "work" but to represent; represent the views of the government and provide direction to the department, represent the public's wishes to the department, and in return represent that department as it's face in the public eye.

The skills you need for this are no doubt helped by deep understandings of the subject matter, but ultimately the best person for the job is someone that can digest information from a number of sources, come up with the best direction, and act without jarring the cogs of the machine. Put simply you need to be objective, open to learning, in tune with your government's own strategic direction, and a good communicator.

Start applying an analysis of these skills to the current cabinet or shadow cabinet and you may find more people are "the best for the job" than you previously thought, though clearly you'd likely still have some people that are not. Engineering the demographics of a cabinet does not change this, in theory we have all elected our MP on the basis that they are good communicators, able to be objective with respect to our views while following a general party line...thus in theory they are all equipped with the skills for being a minister with only the weighting of experience in the functions of politics separating them individually.

All creating rules for the demographics of cabinets does is make those that feel under-represented because they base their view of representation on a statistical relativism a little bit more represented, albeit at the expense of others that feel their representation is being tied up in bureaucracy.

So with all this in mind, what are the problems that really need to be solved?

The 50/50 cabinet question is one that I would ultimately rather was left alone, but I can see the benefits in this one instance of gerrymandering. As I said above, anyone with enough experience of how governments and politicians work should be able to do the job, I'd just rather that the leader of the most powerful party wasn't forced in to using people that they perhaps trusted less, or were (by pure chance) necessary to involve under "quotas" despite being fairly rebellious to the strategic direction of the party. Indeed you could argue that a 50/50 cabinet situation that was entirely workable without danger of self-sabotage would, ironically, only be consistently available through a 50/50 parliament.

And this is where the crux of the debate is, and this is the real problem that needs to be solved and understood.

Anyone claiming that we need to create an equality of outcome in parliamentary terms is, as I've said above, simply trying to subvert democracy for the sake of a numbers game. If you take the power out of constituents hands to pick who they want and you are lessening democracy, you are by your very nature lessening the chance of the "best person for the job" to actually get it.

Yet the only way you can take this democracy away from the people is through current undemocratic practices by political parties, by using systems like all women shortlists, or through local parties selecting their candidates in manners that don't refelct local views.

While the Tories can be congratulated for trying open primaries for their candidate selection, anything short of any party member being allowed to try and run for a constituency seat and elected by a proportional system of ALL local members (at least) will create a situation where people are disenfranchised and discouraged from giving it a go.

Let anyone within the party run, let all the party members there vote for who best represents the party, then let all constituents vote for who best represents the area. You instantly have the best person available for the job, right?

Well, the one area which is absolutely true, and I think all sides will agree on, is that there is the barrier of lack of aspiration or incentive to get involved if you are from certain demographic groups, and this also means that the pool of "best people" won't be as full as it could be.

It is this barrier that "equality of outcome" groups are really trying to tackle when they suggest in the subversion of democracy through rules and quotas. And this is perhaps why I am so critical of these groups, as what point is there in trying to solve the problems in the system if you're just going to undermine the system for a period of time (if not indefinitely)?

Then there is the second issue which the Lib Dems have been consistently promoting, that of electoral reform...because it doesn't matter how democratic the election of all your PPCs are if your vote is not going to make any difference to the make up of parliament whatsoever. Safe seats are a bane to those that believe in "meritocracy", as their very existence allows MPs to abuse their privileges and to be less than they would usually be required to be.

If these problems were ironed out we'd have a country where anyone that wanted to could try to be an MP, and would get in if the public felt they were most able...with no safe seats each MP would be incentivised to keep on top of their game, and party leaders would therefore have the "best people for the job" to put in to cabinet posts, shadow or otherwise...however they see fit.

We could also have a country where our parliament was 100% disabled, or 100% female, 100% middle eastern in descent or 100% straight white male...but it would be a parliament that we the people have decided to create from an uninhibited pool of wannabes, and thus would be the most legitimate force of representation we could have, regardless of how "equal" it appears.

Ultimately you either want (unless you're an anarchist) representative democracy in this country, or you want a reflective democracy; but don't kid yourself that the latter brings a better quality of politician to the table through it's reality it offers no better chance, and at the expense of the democratic freedom we currently enjoy.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

On fixed term parliaments and what it means

It's been an interesting day, and one that has brought out quite the worst in people with regards to jumping to conclusions, failing to understand basic principles, and using people's fears to manipulate a misunderstanding to their advantage. It should have been a day to discuss the merits or not of a Fixed Term Parliament in the UK, instead the discussion was hijacked by those that didn't know what they were talking about, arguing in a manner purely designed to obfuscate reality.

To those like I have talked to today: If you believe that a government, after being voted out of power by the 50%+1 MPs in a vote of no confidence, should be mandated to dissolve do not agree with fixed term parliaments as much as you may think.

If you believe that the only way democracy can work is if the people get to vote on who forms the government then not only do you not agree with Fixed Term Parliaments as much as you may think, but you also completely misunderstand how this country is governed.

If you believe that MPs should have the power to decide when to dissolve parliament, rather than the PM, that doesn't mean you support fixed term parliaments. All it means is that you believe that our representatives should hold that power, not a single individual.

We elect MPs, and we elect them both because of their individual abilities locally and because of the party they belong to, for each voter the two sides of that coin can matter to different amounts. In doing so you have done nothing to elect a specific government.

At best you can know that you are contributing to a result that puts one party in power, and thus a recognised leader. If you're lucky that leader might have let you know who his entire cabinet is, but even that isn't a guarantee.

If you believe our system should be such that we elect actual sets of governments, then that is a perfectly acceptable view to have, just don't pretend it's the system we live in. Consequently realise that if a government in coalition fails, it does not mean the choices that you have made differ.

You still elected the same MP, the same as everyone else in the country, and those MPs still should have the right decide on whether to try a different government and cleanly continue the governance of the country, or whether it's time to get the view of the electorate.

So what is a fixed term parliament for?

A fixed term parliament exists for one purpose alone...certainty. Certainty that an election will take place at a regular time, and certainty that a government, individual OR parliament should have necessary leave to disrupt that time table. The reason for this is to take away from those in power the ability to increase their power through opportunistic manipulation of the constitution in this country.

If you want this certainty, and this shift in power away from those that hold it, then you have to accept that this the name suggests...mean a government will be more likely to stay in power regardless of the ups and downs of their administration.

Germany does this by not allowing for dissolution, you can no confidence the government but only if you have a replacement coalition to take the outgoing executive's place. Scotland tries to achieve it by having a super-majority rule for dissolution, implemented by Labour, of 66% of MPs, combined with a safety time-out that means if no government can be formed in 28 days an election must take place.

Others cite Canada that, due to their constitution not allowing the removal of the power of the leader of the country to call an election, doesn't have a process to dissuade the dissolution of parliament. These people seem to fail to see that Canada is the prime example of how the practice of fixing election dates is pointless, as their leader basically chose himself to ignore the fixed date the Canadian system had set.

Whilst a single person, or a simple majority of 50%+1, can force a dissolution of parliament the whole reason for a fixed term parliament is undermined so much as to make it pointless.

I don't mind what your view is within this...but I think we need to have an honest discussion with each other as to what the best system is. For the record I believe that fixed term parliaments don't solve as much as they claim to, but that there is definitely scope for moving the power of dissolution to all MPs rather than just the Prime Minister.

But if you're sitting there simultaneously thinking that you support fixed term parliaments, but that you can have such a system without locking both the House of Commons and the public out of an easy route to force dissolution, then you need to wake up. At best you're wishing for two different things that can't happen together, at worst you are fooling yourself as to what you are really looking for.

To those that are against governments being able to fall and other-ones take their place, as decided by the people we elected to represent us within a fixed time frame, even if you supposedly and oxymoronically agree with a fixed time frame, you need to make the case that fixed parliaments aren't how you see this country being run...that you want to know that if a government has failed that we, the public, get to punish or congratulate MPs and parties directly through another election.

To those that are for the fixed term parliament plan, and are perhaps defending the need to go further. If we are going to have fixed terms, it needs to be FIXED. 55% is no good, it allows an easy opt out, and isn't future proof against future majority governments. The Scotland system is an example right there for us to take from, 66% threshold and safety of a timeout...those are the sort of things we need if we're going to take fixed terms seriously.

This is the future of our reform, and if we're going to use our time bickering over a figure such as 55%, or even IMPLEMENT a 55% super-majority that would still allow the ruling government to break the fixed nature of a parliamentary term, then we are just wasting parliamentary time that could be better spent doing meaningful, non-token changes. If we want new politics, then we need to stop arguing in such a diversionary old politics manner. Progress and change is something we all need to embrace, not just our politicians.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

55% is nothing to worry about

There's a lot of fuss right now on Twitter about the agreement to only allow a dissolution vote if 55% of MPs vote to do so. With the Tories likely to hold over 47% of the MPs it becomes impossible for parliament to vote for a dissolution of parliament on the fly.

Does this mean we have no choice but to have a Cameron government for 5 years? Not at all. No confidence votes will still stand, including on issues such as voting down a budget. If 50%+1 MPs vote against the government on this then the result is either the resignation of government or the dissolution of parliament. Even assuming that (quite unlikely as it is) Cameron will force it so that you cannot dissolve parliament this way, it still means he'll have to resign as Prime Minister and the Queen will have to ask someone else to form a government.

The end game of the above scenario is, surely, the Tories then agreeing to a dissolution vote or face the ignominy of being the party that dragged the country through instability for the sake of spite. Again, this assumes a no confidence vote wouldn't, as it currently does, practically equate to an election being called.

The 55% is a safety barrier, it stops the Lib Dems from getting their AV system, cutting ties and working with other parties to call and election and profit from it. Given it is the Lib Dems that are most likely to break away from a coalition it is a practical step to ensure that government is only compromised in true issues of no confidence, to maintain the integrity of the idea of a fixed term parliament.

Edit2: It also, as I should have said, stops the current largest party from forcing an election at an opportune time under a fixed parliament too, the point of fixed term parliaments being to try to keep governance running until it can no longer do so. Some have suggested that this should be a referendum issue too. I should be clear that I am personally not sold on fixed term parliaments, but they are pointless without this kind of threshold rule.

Edit3: Some feel this is all undemocratic and without precedent. Scotland operates fixed term parliaments, and their threshold for dissolution is 66%, higher than 55%. The reason for this is because fixed term parliaments are intended to keep on going, if a coalition fails the first course of action should NOT, under a fixed term parliament, be an should be giving another coalition or minority government the chance to rule. They also have a 28 day release, which means if no-one is able to gain power to govern, to protect against the sort of thing I state above about keeping a parliament crippled, an election is automatically called. I'd fully expect that to be the case for the UK as well, though we have to be calm and wait for the full details.

Edit: For more on confidence motions, this parliamentary resource seems quite good.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The future: my hope

There is little more important to me than political reform. The economy, helping the poor and those unable to help themselves, and civil rights are all huge areas that are very important also, but I feel that without the appropriate political structure in which to manage those areas, the whole system is weakened. Without knowing that our politicians are truly accountable, transparent, and open to political compromise, as well as having a strong strand of evidence base policy making about them, the fight for the other areas of political concern is made that much harder.

It's for this reason that I am cautiously happy with the result that we have facing us now that Brown has resigned as Prime Minister and Cameron has been handed the keys.

I respect Labour for some of the good that they have done, some seriously land mark progress was made in the early days of Labour administration. But it is overshadowed (though not swept away) by the actions and principles of the latter day Labour governments.

What we need now is some hope. While it looks like meaningful reform is off the table, the referendum on AV is our foot in the door if it is so agreed. To me, there will be nothing more important in the future of our politics than the outcome of that referendum, a referendum that will essentially pit the Tories idea of continued leadership of the country against the Lib Dems ideal of people power.

I hope the Lib Dems do find their way into a coalition, in doing so aiming to work well with the Tories. They will lose supporters from the highly political that wanted a progressive left leaning coalition, but they will be a significant minority.

By working well with the Tories, critically and with their own level of power, the Lib Dems can simultaneously put a dampener on some of the more horrifying Tory proposals while showing the country from the centre-left to the centre-right that a coalition government can do important work. After all there are already rumours that regressive policies such as the marriage tax break and inheritance tax cut have been put on hold as a result of the negotiations.

After such a strong coalition performance the referendum on electoral reform will be easier to win, gone will be arguments of confusion and instability...the Tory plans to ensure blame over cuts is shared will be converted to a narrow but definite victory for a new electoral system.

We will then find ourselves in an election once more, perhaps as early as 2 years, maybe all the way at 4, but under a new AV system that will see the Lib Dems disproportionately take a surge in the seats they hold, and thus a surge in power in parliament, off the back of being a party that most people "don't mind" having if their main party choice doesn't win.

No longer will their be an argument against STV, when the victors of the dis-proportionality of the AV system are themselves using that victory as a sign for the need for change.

By 2015 we'll finally have a system, along with other necessary changes on constitutional reform, reform of the Lords, etc, that delivers a fair system of governance to the people of UK. And when that happens it'll all be because the "two-faced" Lib Dems held their nerve and accepted a place alongside their own supporters' worst enemies.

At least that's what I hope.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Cameron is relying on the likes of Power2010 and 38Degrees

Cameron is currently between a rock and a hard place. He knows that within the week he could easily be PM if he offered everything he already has plus a referendum on STV versus FPTP. Unfortunately dinosaurs are threatening revolt over the issue that has always been a key Lib Dem policy, perhaps more so than immigration was ever a key Tory policy.

What does he do, offer the referendum in the deal and risk open splits in his party, or not offer it and hope that the Lib Dems accept anyway? Taking Lib Dems out of the equation, perhaps Cameron is relying on the fair votes protests and campaign to build a bit more steam.

There is a simple route forward, and it's Cameron showing his own party pages 66 and 67 of their 2010 manifesto alongside the support that a referendum on PR is gaining. It would be extremely hard for the party to stand against their own claims of involving the public more in the decision making of the country, not if they have *actually* changed to a party ready to let go of the reigns just slightly.

But equally he can say that they have clearly told the public they support FPTP. Any referendum would solely be on the basis of them clearly speaking to the politicians of this country about what they want, it doesn't mean that the Tories are bound to support those in the public that want a change in voting systems.

To me, as much as I dislike the Tories and their policies, this feels like a time for Cameron to show his true colours. Does he believe what he's told people he is, and how the Tories have changed...or will he and his party end up reverting to type before they've even officially got power? In one negotiation Cameron can simultaneously stamp his authority on his party AND likely win over some of the wavering sceptics in the country.

He won't win me over, he'll have to go a whole lot further than just offering a simple referendum on voting reform, but it'd be a very good start to a government that is meant to represent politicians talking to each other and making concessions in order to create stable governance.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

STV, better for this country all around

For a start, if you don't know what STV is then check this out for a fairly good explaination.

This is a voting system that is called proportional...though the caveat is that you don't get power for a small percentage of the votes, and thus the process means it isn't EXACTLY proportional. This is a good thing as it ensures that flash in the pan small issue politics don't drastically affect the make up and alliances of parliament.

With this in mind the key reason that we should support STV is it is stable. While it is easy to change who you have as your representatives the "swing" in change is unlikely to be huge. Take 1997. The swing which saw Labour shares rise 9% while Tory shares dropped 11% would have (on today's seat numbers) seen a change of roughly 70 Tory MPs losing their seats while Labour would have gained just under 60. A significant change, but a long way short of the Tories losing 171 seats and Labour gaining 147.

The sheer level of change under the 1997 election meant priorities were completely rewritten. There was no transition, there was no balancing factor of a third party being needed to support the main party, there was no stability in how our country was governed, no consistency.

The other thing that STV brings to the table through this is parties needing to set out their own niche. At the moment the parties don't need to worry about large swathes of the seats in the UK. They are safe, staunch support from tribal loyalty means that barely any money is spent on them. The key seats are the few marginals, where there are the undecided swing voters.

Swing voters are profiled, they're examined, they're brought in to focus groups. All of the three main parties do this, and it results in one thing...convergence.

The parties are not all the same, but their messages, the shape of their key policies, they're all extremely similar. This is because they need to win the support of just this minority of the electorate. STV breaks that apart. EVERY vote matters, EVERY vote could change the shape of power. Suddenly the emphasis has to not only be on what the undecideds want in a few key seats but what ALL undecideds want, while having to seriously balance that with the wishes of their more faithful support.

If we want our parties to talk together more, to work out how to represent all of our views best, we need STV. If we want to have a better choice between different parties with different policies, we need STV. If we want our votes to mean something wherever we are in the country, we need STV.

If you agree to make sure in a referendum that we talk about a choice between FPTP or STV, then please sign this petition.

Friday, 7 May 2010

People will forgive Clegg if he backs Brown

The current line, yet more scaremongering in my mind, is that the country won't accept Brown staying on as PM.


If it turns out as is being reported that Tories are going to stubbornly refuse electoral reform then the ball is in Labour's court. Do they want Lib Dems to support a Tory minority government and hope for a better share and another hung parliament next election, or do they want to give PR?

If they do the former then Clegg may lose a few chattering classes votes, a few Labour voters that should still be voting Labour. But this election has showed us just how many people choose the Tories...they, the significant proportion...will not feel ire towards Clegg for giving their party the platform, if not implicit support.

But with the latter we'd return to a Labour government, likely with a short package of government intentions that would lead to a referendum and then new general election (should the result be "no FPTP"). Here, apparently, the public would riot and the Lib Dem support would be forever lost.

Again, I say this is bollocks.

For a start the 45+ age group that mostly supports the Tories are not the rioting kind. Second, it is impossible to conceive of a situation where a Lib/Lab agreement is made based on reform will come out badly for the Lib Dems.

"We helped Labour get power again, yes, but only to secure the change that is so desperately needed in our corrupt electoral system, and out of date parliament. We gave YOU the choice over your future with a referendum and now we're in a situation where everyone's vote matters all across the country. When we go to the polls, you can punish us for daring to reform while the Conservatives would not, but I hope you'll recognise the benefits that the difficult decision to side with the Labour party has had" that really going to play badly come next election? No...I think not.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The final regional election opinion view...

So the last regional poll data is in from Yougov/Politics home. You can check out the regional polling data headlines here but I wanted to just break down what this is likely to mean (local campaign effects excluded).

Firstly the general move from last week is the reduction of the Lib Dem share regionally. This is to be expected as this data is from the second to just after the third debate, the last regional data was the first properly looking at the very first debate. I calculated, based on the regional variations, along with a predicted rise of turnout to around 66%, that the seats would look like this...

Con 265, Lab 246, Lib Dem 107, Nationalists 11, Others 3, NI 18.

After the changes this week that now looks as such....

Con 272 (+7), Lab 253(+7), Lib Dem 95(-12), Nationalists 9(-2), Others 3, NI 18.

All in all, not much difference overall. The key is what is happening region on region. So what should each region be cheerful/miserable about?


Happy? In London and Wales they're continuing with a gain on 2005, the only two areas they're certain to be while Yorkshire also does strong.
Sad? They are losing more votes than last week compared to 2005 in the South East, the South West (both areas the Lib Dems compete with them in), and the East Midlands.


Happy? In most of the country their dip from last week has rallied or stayed stable. They will be happy at regaining 5% (now on -9% compared to 2005) in the North East and that elsewhere the freefall in support has stopped
Sad? They're still monumentally down on 2005 in previously strong areas like the North West and Yorkshire, leaving them barely as the most popular party in these regions.

Lib Dems

Happy? In the areas they need to be doing well in, they're doing very well. Still 8% up on 2005 in the South West is a current standing of 5% lead in the region. Capturing Labour's votes in the South East stops the Tories from a 50%+ rating in the region there too.
Sad? They have halved their last week advances in many regions such as the North East, London and Wales...though arguably these aren't areas they were ever seriously contending this time around.


Happy? The SNP have made a great jump to now stand as the second favourite party in Scotland, elsewhere others are polling strong. Perhaps unsurprisingly in the South East others have increased in support, no doubt parties like UKIP getting their message across.
Sad? Just the one blip, Plaid are still performing badly in Wales now coming under the 10% popular support level for the region.

Overall I believe the SNP are the big winners of the last week's movements, though clearly nowhere near the level they need to be to gain the seats they brazenly claimed they could gain. Labour in an end to their slump will also be heartened by rallying popularity in certain areas. Lib Dems have to be terribly pleased that in their main battleground regions the Tory vote is still crumbling. Overall the Tories can only claim to have gained 1% more popularity since 2005, and so can't really have a whole lot to cheer about.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

The new marginals?

EDIT: Just to note these aren't CURRENT marginals in the sense of notional 2005 results, I'm suggesting that based on current opinion regionally through the UK these are seats that are likely to be too close to call come May 6th so need particular attention. There are also a raft of other seats that if were properly approached tactically could be stopped from going Tory. Hit me up on twitter with your constituency if you want more detail about it from my perspective. ALSO I've added Tory seats that could be won if tactical voting was applied.

I'm just going to get right in to it, here are a list of the probable marginals right now. That's to say that based on the current regional support that we know, these constituencies are around 1% swing away from being won or lost by a Labour or Lib Dem candidate. Obviously the reason I wanted to put this out somewhere is that we need to be clear where the final battlegrounds are going to be.

Note of warning: These do not take in to account local campaigns, either where a local party is performing above or below the regional performance. It also doesn't take in to account the situation in those constituencies which have been made more open to being won by the Lib Dems due to the removal/suspension of Labour PPC's (currently just two seats). Percentages given are the rough majority levels.

Lab/Tory marginals

Seats currently marked to be won by Tories, with Labour in second.

Telford --- 0.01%
High Peak --- 0.13%
Hammersmith --- 0.41%
Keighley --- 0.54%
Wirral South --- 0.61%
Warwick and Leamington --- 0.83%
Vale of Clwyd --- 0.96%
Weaver Vale --- 1.02%
Dorset South --- 1.27%
Swindon South --- 1.39%
Stevenage --- 1.48%
Blackpool North and Cleveleys --- 1.52%
Tynemouth --- 1.72%
Nuneaton --- 1.87%
Rossendale and Darwen --- 1.90%
Elmet and Rothwell --- 1.91%
Bedford --- 1.98%
Ribble South --- 2.18%
Halifax --- 2.43%
Poplar and Limehouse --- 2.51%

Seats currently marked to be Labour wins, with Tories in second

Copeland --- 0.12%
Pudsey --- 0.23%
Gedling --- 0.25%
Newport West --- 0.28%
Warwickshire North --- 0.32%
Tooting --- 0.39%
Leicestershire North West --- 0.49%
Swindon North --- 0.56%
Dewsbury --- 0.61%
Chatham and Aylesford --- 0.90%
Stockton South --- 1.46%
Carlisle --- 1.66%
Ellesmere Port and Neston --- 1.77%
Coventry South --- 1.79%
Waveney --- 1.86%
Bolton West --- 1.95%
Gower --- 1.97%
Bolton North East --- 1.99%
Morecambe and Lunesdale --- 2.08%

Lib/Tory marginals

Seats currently marked to be won by Tories, with Lib Dems in second.

Bradford West --- 0.33%
Somerset North --- 0.63%
Ealing Central and Acton --- 0.63%
Newbury --- 1.31%
Wiltshire North --- 1.65%

Seats currently marked to be won by the Lib Dems, with Tories in second.

Chelmsford --- 0.14%
Pendle --- 0.39%
Ludlow --- 0.65%
Filton and Bradley Stoke --- 1.48%
Haltemprice and Howden --- 1.54%

Lib/Lab marginals

Seats currently marked to be won by Labour, with Lib Dems in second.

Edinburgh North and Leith --- 0.05%
Sunderland Central --- 0.12%
Bishop Auckland --- 0.34%
Leeds North East --- 0.36%
Wakefield --- 0.53%
Penistone and Stocksbridge --- 0.54%
Birmingham Perry Barr --- 1.25%
Nottingham South --- 1.59%
Bermondsey and Old Southwark --- 1.98%
Plymouth Sutton and Devonport --- 2.01%
Luton South --- 2.16%

Seats currently marked to be won by the Lib Dems, with Labour in second.

Huddersfield --- 0.67%
Newcastle upon Tyne Central --- 0.74%
Manchester Gorton --- 1.76%
Aberdeen South --- 1.78%
Hartlepool --- 1.94%
Birmingham Hodge Hill --- 1.99%
Blyth Valley --- 2.10%


These constituencies only require around 1000 or fewer votes to swing one way or the other, so a concerted effort could make all the difference, and this does mean Lib Dems and Labour following the advice both Compass, the Guardian and Sunny have set tactically for the strongest result for progressives in Britain.

The current seat count using a less sophisticated method than FiveThirtyEight detailed on this site, a Regional Swing Calculator:

Con: 265
Lab: 246
Lib Dems: 107
Others: 32

If all of the seats above were successfully defended/won then the seat count would look more like this:

Con: 240
Lab: 255
Lib Dems: 123
Others: 32

Hopefully this information will be useful for people. Below are the list of all other seats that are changing hands to Lib Dems, but obviously can't be left to chance. All proviso's about local campaigns remain...

From Tories:

Dorset North --- 3.11%
Eastbourne --- 3.40%
Bournemouth West --- 3.45%
Harborough --- 3.89%
Meon Valley --- 4.47%
Wells --- 5.26%
Dorset West --- 6.37%
Weston-Super-Mare --- 6.77%
Totnes --- 7.43%

From Labour:

Bristol North West --- 2.67%
Birmingham Hall Green --- 3.16%
Colne Valley --- 3.86%
Edinburgh South --- 4.09%
Burnley --- 4.17%
Derby North --- 5.06%
Swansea West --- 5.15%
Liverpool Wavertree --- 6.47%
Newcastle upon Tyne East --- 7.09%
Northampton North --- 8.00%
Oldham East and Saddleworth --- 8.10%
Bradford East --- 8.94%
Sheffield Central --- 9.06%
Newcastle upon Tyne North --- 9.18%
Watford --- 9.70%
Norwich South --- 10.14%
Oxford East --- 11.41%
Blaydon --- 11.90%
Leicester South --- 12.09%
Islington South and Finsbury --- 12.31%
Durham --- 18.08%

Tactical voting

I also now include a list of constituencies I feel could fall easily if tactical voting was co-ordinated, to keep the Tories out. I chose the criteria of the Tories not having an absolute majority (necessary for tactical voting) and, where the third placed party changes 20% of it's votes to the second placed party, that such a 20% shift in votes outweighs the majority the Tories have over the second placed party.

The following projected Tory wins could be stopped if Lib Dems voted tactically for Labour (up to 20% of LDs likely to vote LD instead voting Labour)

Milton Keynes North
Poplar and Limehouse
Northampton South
Westminster North
Brighton Kemptown
Brigg and Goole
Derbyshire South
Dudley North
Great Yarmouth
Brentford and Isleworth
Sefton Central
Somerset North East
High Peak
Wirral South
Elmet and Rothwell
Weaver Vale
Swindon South
Rossendale and Darwen
Dorset South
Warwick and Leamington
Blackpool North and Cleveleys
Ribble South
Vale of Clwyd

The following projected Tory wins could be stopped if Labour voted tactically for Lib Dems (up to 20% of Labour likely to vote Labour instead voting LD)

St Albans
Warrington South
Calder Valley
Bradford West
Ealing Central and Acton
Somerset North

Doing this further to winning the close marginal seats detailed at the top (of which some are also included in this tactical voting list), would change the rough seat total to:

Con: 220
Lab: 272
Lib Dems: 126
Others: 32

Friday, 30 April 2010

Tory promises?

Give you the right to sack your MP

All parties are doing this, you don't need to vote Tory to get it. In fact can we trust them, given only the Lib Dems voted for this power in the existing parliament?

Cut the number of MPs by ten per cent, and cut the subsidies and perks for politicians.

Tories certainly aren't the only ones that are tackling the pay and perks for MPs, but what's this tosh about cutting the number of MPs? The Tories would rather you're less represented in your area, and in doing so extend boundaries in a way that will ONLY favour the Tories. How? It'll make Labour and Lib Dem seats less safe while INCREASING the safety of Tory MPs in theirs.

Don't be fooled, this isn't reform, this is the tories trying to game the already corrupt system more in their favour.

Cut ministers’ pay by five per cent, and freeze it for five years.

A fine promise, and one that is nothing more than pandering to emotions rather than reality. This would save an inconsequential amount of money over the course of a parliament, and there are no guarantees he wouldn't then increase ministerial pay above inflation once this is all blown over.

Give local communities the power to take charge of the local planning system and vote on excessive council tax rises.

No specific promise on HOW they're going to give communities power, so this is a wolly promise they'll be able to claim is done no matter what. But what's this, voting on "excessive" council tax rises? What is excessive? and more to the point why is it positive to give people the power to hamstring their own services, especially in areas where the rich don't use those services but should be helping the "big society" function?

Make government transparent, publishing every item of government spending over £25,000, all government contracts, and all local council spending over £500.

As will all the other parties, but let me ask...why such arbitrary figures?

Cut wasteful government spending so we can stop Labour’s jobs tax, which would kill the recovery.

I thought Cameron described cutting "waste" as a trick? A trick that you can mould in to a promise obviously. The reality is this is a promise, as with their manifesto, based on information on cuts they're not giving you.

Act now on the national debt, so we can keep mortgage rates lower for longer.

Despite all economic advice, the Tories will indeed endanger our economy by cutting jobs and services too early...all for the sake of some mortgage rates it seems. What good are mortgage rates if people are losing their jobs, may I ask?

Reduce emissions and build a greener economy, with thousands of new jobs in green industries and advanced manufacturing.

How? If you're going to promise something you need to give something to measure those promises up against for christ sake!

Get Britain working by giving unemployed people support to get work, creating 400,000 new apprenticeships and training places over two years, and cutting benefits for those who refuse work.

Yes, the Tories actually promise that if you're out of work, and you can't find work because there are no jobs available, then you will be deemed to be the sort of person that will have to either a) be forced in to community service or b) be kicked off your benefits. A promise by the "compassionate" Tories

Control immigration, reducing it to the levels of the 1990s – meaning tens of thousands a year, instead of the hundreds of thousands a year under Labour.

A promise they can't actually control, since most immigration comes from the EU which the Tories are not claiming to control. Instead they want to introduce an arbitrary cap which could damage business as skills are turned away because we already reached our "quota"

Increase spending on health every year, while cutting waste in the NHS, so that more goes to nurses and doctors on the frontline, and make sure you get access to the cancer drugs you need.

Of course everyone already gets the cancer drugs they need, what the Tories want is to waste money on ineffective drugs for political gains, taking healthcare out of the hands of the independent professionals and into their own as they make these stupid political promises.

Support families, by giving married couples and civil partners a tax break, giving more people the right to request flexible working and helping young families with extra Sure Start health visitors.

Yes, £150 a year for the man if his wife stays at home. Meanwhile under the lib dems the same family would get £700 extra a year. Aside from how stupid and inconsequential this political soundbite of a policy is, it's also immoral. The man would be able to get £150 of his wife's tax allowance, he could abuse her, and then leave her with the kids as he goes and marries someone else. And what does the abused wife now in desperate need of help get from the Tories? Nothing, and the guy still gets his £150 because his new wife is a stay at home traditional 1950's wife too.

Raise standards in schools, by giving teachers the power to restore discipline and by giving parents, charities and voluntary groups the power to start new smaller schools.

Again, how are we measuring this "raise in standard", yet another promise that they'll be able to say they achieved by concocting the right mix of statistics. I'm not going to even get in to the logisitical and financial nightmare that it would be to give powers to people to start their own schools.

Increase the basic state pension, by relinking it to earnings, and protect the winter fuel allowance, free TV licences, free bus travel and other key benefits for older people.

Sad times when a Tory party has to promise things that all other parties wouldn't have even thought of cutting.

Fight back against crime, cut paperwork to get police officers on the street, and make sure criminals serve the sentence given to them in court.

I'm sure all the other parties would promise to "fight back against crime", indeed at least the Lib Dems are promising to cut paperwork. The idea, of course, that criminals don't serve the time the courts give them (aside from a minute amount of early releases due to Labour overpopulating our prisons, just as Tories would do with their tough stance on "crime"), is nonsense.

Create National Citizen Service for every 16 year old, to help bring the country together.

Is it voluntary or not? We just can't be sure can we....