Sunday, 24 April 2011

Stokes Croft and the horrible stench of hypocrisy.

It's been a couple of evenings now since the Stokes Croft riots, however riotous rather than spectator like it actually was, and it's been interesting to read about the various views on what has been going on. From the police we have official statements about the operation, press releases as they are an therefore highly dubious as to their factuality. Yet on Twitter and Youtube we have other accounts as to the operation's effectiveness.

I don't wish to promote alleged police actions of "brutality", and I've been pretty damn vocal against the tactics of kettling and charging innocent protesters in London. However reading reports like this from Oli Conner just take the piss.

However, it didn't take long before everything began to switch. I couldn't say what happened first, the police arming themselves with riot shields or people dragging dustbins and bits of wood onto the street to build a barricade. One thing I can say with absolute certainty is that the police could have prevented what was to happen next by demobilising and leaving the area with the people that they had arrested. But they didn't, and stubbornness instead provoked a riot.

Emboldened, the protesters turned the tables on the police, standing in front of their vans, not allowing them to exit - giving them a taste of what it feels like to be kettled. As the riot shielded officers came back out of their van and formed another line, everyone sat down in front of them linking arms. The police swiftly responded with violence.

Yes, the police are the authority. Yes, the police should know better. But you know what, it's absolutely un-fucking-acceptable to state that one side "provoking violence" is their fault, while on the flip side it is only their response of violence after being provoked that is the problem.

What we have here is an almost playground-esque tragedy. I have no doubt that police were given stupid seems to happen a lot these days. But ultimately the police on the ground are just workers, trained in a specific way, and generally left to their own devices to carry out a blanket task. If they are told to stay and defend an area and stop people, that is what they'll do. If the people they're trying to stop start to get violent, no matter how small a group, they will revert to training.

Is this right? No. Absolutely not. But it is understandable, despite what commentators around the web may try to alude to otherwise.

Equally I understand entirely why a group of people feeling unheard, ignored entirely, or simply persecuted in the short term by the authorities present, may feel so obliged to "stand up" to authority. That doesn't make such a childish action right either.

Authority or not, we're meant to be civilised human beings. I don't believe that in the face of brutality or oppression people should back down, but there is no evidence of the police going around and seeking out to oppress or to brutalise. The people that were hurt were hurt because they, or those around them, chose to confront and oppose themselves and become the antagonists.

Take a look at this video, for example (warning, it's cut together by people sympathetic to those that aren't the police, yet still moronically is showing why the police withdrawing was a mistake).

This wasn't a protest that the police were shutting down, this wasn't a group of people acting innocent and enacting their rights. Whoever "started" it doesn't really fucking matter, what happened was two groups of no doubt briefed to expect trouble and trained to deal with it, the other spoiling for trouble after a pint or two...came together and neither felt they could withdraw.

Except only one group could be expected to take this stance, the police. They're there to maintain law and order. They failed, but it would not be seen as acceptable in any way shape or form for them to simply walk out of there after tensions had snapped. As we see from the video above, when they did leave absolute dickheads decided the best way to further their cause was to help provide the mainstream media and hand-wringers alike exactly the ammunition they need to say "SEE...they're just a bunch of criminal wasters!"

I've been largely impressed with the way that those opposing the Tesco store in Stokes Croft have handled themselves, the way they've mobilised support and tried everything they can in the face of clearly biased planning laws to enabled business to win out over communities. I can only assume they have had little part to play in the actions of two evenings ago...I hope that assumption is correct.

What happened in Stokes Croft was pitiful and made no-one look good. But don't kid yourself that this was unwarranted police brutality. If you go looking for a fight with a guy with armor and a big stick you're looking to get hurt.

And if you're happy to stand amongst those people while not looking for a fight, you're an idiot and I have little sympathy for you. Document these "abuses of power" provoked by anti-social elements from a better position where you won't be mistaken for one of the law breakers in the heat of the moment, and stop thinking that police officers are somehow unable to distinguish between innocent and guilty in that moment any more than you seem capable of distinguishing between a police officer fighting scared or fighting for fun.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

AV elects the most popular candidate...

A bit of a recap here...but it's not good enough to pretend that AV elects the least worst candidate.

If three candidates, Tom, Wendy and Kim stand for election, and get the following shares under FPTP, then Kim would win...

Tom: 20%
Wendy: 36%
Kim: 44%

If Tom never stood, then under FPTP Wendy would win, assuming that half of Tom's supporters vote for Wendy, and half don't bother to vote at all...

Wendy: 51%
Kim: 49%

If the first election was run, we'd likely say Kim was the most popular (or held the most votes), whereas if the second election was held we'd have said Wendy was the most popular.

Using FPTP's very own definitions then, it's clear that AV round 1 would result in the first set of shares, and then result in the second set of shares. Wendy would rightfully win as the more popular candidate...but more than that a candidate with majority support and true endorsement from the local area.

This process is especially important when you consider perhaps that Wendy is a Labour candidate, Tom is a Green candidate and Kim is a Tory candidate. The population (as the second result shows) are clearly leaning towards green-left ideals. Under FPTP, with all three candidates standing, the population (who are clearly green/socialist) would end up with a conservative candidate.

So AV re-runs FPTP elections to eliminate vote splitting that can allow a candidate that doesn't represent a constituency to win, and it does so by electing the most popular candidate just as a FPTP election would. A fairer system for better democracy!

Sunday, 3 April 2011

A month to go before the AV Referendum

So we're almost a month away from the Referendum vote, as well as local elections widely expected to see the country stand against the cuts that are being foisted upon them by electing a landslide victory of Labour council seats nationally.

I wanted to reiterate why it is I'm voting for AV:

1) I believe in the constituency link between voters and their MPs

We don't need to go for PR in our House of Commons, a strong constituency link is a positive factor for MPs to do what local people want...but only where they feel those local people can get rid of them. FPTP fails the second part of that sentence, as too many MPs know they need not consider as wide a range of voters as possible. Only around 1-2% of all voters mattered in 2010.

2) Proportionality can now be delivered more quickly, and more fairly, by reforming the House of Lords

But I do want proportionality in our politics...yet this referendum has screwed that consideration up for the House of Commons.

The House of Lords is our answer. If AV is lost in May, then the Daily Mail, the Tories,'ll all be swung as a victory for FPTP. None of them want a more proportional system than FPTP or AV. If AV is won then we'll have to bed it in and test it for several elections. Either way PR in the House of Commons is off the table for at least a generation.

House of Lords reform, however, should happen by the end of the current parliament if the coalition agreement is to be believed. We can have a house that scrutinises our laws, and even introduces laws of it's own, that is proportional to our national wishes.

To me this is a perfect system, a national government elected via run-off popularity in each constuency, and a representative chamber that ensures all law passed has to have been agreed by a group of politicians with political views proportional to our nation as a whole.

Yet listen to most in the Yes or No debate and you'd think that this option never existed. *sigh*.

3) AV is a more equal, and therefore more fair, voting system for voters

FPTP doesn't treat everyone equally. It gives everyone the same voting opportunity (as does AV, for the record), but it gives more influence to those who choose to vote with the crowds. If you want a minority candidate, but choose to vote for Labour, Tories, or the Lib Dems...your vote will be worth more in the system than those that vote with their hearts.

AV lets everyone vote the same way, and ensures that everyones voice is equal in the results. This is fairer for all involved, allowing people to vote how they want for the reasons they want...not forced to either vote against their wishes, or to vote in a way that means they might as well not have turned up to vote at all, as it would be under FPTP.

4) AV increases marginality through greater chance to change MPs, this is linked to increase in turnout.

Take a look, studies show that AV allows seats the change hands more frequently than under FPTP. This chance has, in research, been linked to increase in turnout.

People simply turn up more the more they think their vote will matter. So along with AV actually meaning that 25% of the country that really don't count may actually make a difference, the act of them making a difference may encourage more to turn up as well.

This only helps to enhance the legitimacy of the government that is eventually formed.

5) AV stops extremism from getting a foot in the door

FPTP is the system that lets extremist parties have a chance at winning with a tiny share of the vote. To illustrate, though they themselves aren't extremist, the Lib Dems won a seat in 2010 on 29% of the vote, less than a third of those voting!

This could have been any party that could generate a swell of minority support, Lib Dems, Labour, or even the BNP. AV ensures that the only parties that win are those who actually have the endorsement of local voters, and thus cannot be extremists in that area.

6) AV enables greater transparency

If a Labour MP wins right now, they only have some idea of why they won. Was it national politics, was it an overwhelming case for their manifesto, was it the lack of a local candidate that would split their vote?

With AV that Labour MP will be able to see who transferred votes to them. Was it Liberal Democrats and Greens, or was it the BNP and local candidates? By having this information that MP knows much better how to serve their constituency. It's a level of transparency that simply doesn't exist under FPTP.

This, of course, doesn't mean that all of a sudden Labour MPs are going to singing from the BNP hymn-sheet...right now those like Phil Woolas make educated guesses as to how many BNP supporter votes they can poach and act accordingly.

Let's have a system where candidates have more freedom to be who they really want to be, without having to pledge to being more racist/liberal/green than they necessarily want to be, or even potentially need to be.

7) AV is opposed by the Daily Mail, most Conservatives, the worst of Labour's past, and the BNP.

When the people most involved in restriction of our liberties, and the promotion of so much hatred and fear, are the people saying we shouldn't vote for AV...well I just instinctively feel I'm on the ethically correct side of this debate. Petty? Perhaps, but petty based on preferring people to have equal rights and access to the political system...unlike those currently saying "Vote No to give Clegg a bloody nose" and other such short-termist anti-democratic nonsense.