Friday, 28 October 2011

EU undemocratic?

Is the EU undemocratic? I don't think's why...

Election of representatives
European Council - Prime Minister or equivalent of each EU member state is automatically a member, thus indirectly elected by the public
EU Parliament - MEPs elected by public vote
Council of the EU - Relevant ministers automatically appointed from each EU member state, thus democratic accountability varies
House of Commons- MPs elected by public vote
House of Lords - Lords selected by leaders of parties, or by pre-conferred "right" to sit in the House

Formation of "cabinet*"
European Council - The European Council is it's own cabinet, so is indirectly elected by the public
EU Commission - Council of Europe and President have discretion over who is in the commission, but must be approved by the EU parliament
UK - Prime minister has sole discretion over who can be in the cabinet

Election of political "heads of state**"
EU President (colloquial term) - Elected by representative body of heads of EU member states
Commission President - Elected by representative body of heads of EU member states, and further ratified by the EU Parliament via a vote (second election of sorts).
Prime Minister - Elected by unrepresentative body of members of a single party

Removal of political "heads of state"
EU President - able to be removed from office by super-majority (not just over 50% of the votes, currently over 75%) vote of heads of EU member states at any time
Commission President - Can be removed through a vote of no confidence by the EU Parliament
Prime Minister - Only removed through fixed term changes of party in power, or prime minister's choice to stand down

Powers of political "heads of state"
EU President - Cannot make policy, can only help bring consensus on discussions
Commission President - Controls most of the policy agenda for the EU, policy must be voted on by Council of Europe and EU Parliament
Prime Minister - Controls most of the policy agenda for the UK, policy must be voted on by House of Commons and House of Lords (though House of Commons can force the House of Lords to be ignored).

So in the UK we elect one chamber out of two, this helps to decide who is the person that chooses our policy direction (though that person is elected by a tiny subset of a completely unrepresentative sample of the UK population). This person, along with other party leaders modify who sits in the second chamber, the House of Lords. The Prime Minister then decides who he or she wants to help him form policy, and that group of people entirely unelected by the people put forward new laws. These laws are voted on by those MPs we voted for directly, and then by Lords whom we have had no say in their "make-up".

We can't get rid of our Prime Minister, our MPs can get rid of our Prime Minister with a super-majority (which means those who are in the party of the prime minister would also have to vote them out), and so effectively the only way to change our policy direction is for the Prime Minister to volunteer to stand down, or to elect a new government at the next election.

By contrast the EU system is more complex, but more democratic. The European Council is made up by political heads of state, and as such the nations interest on the European Council always reflects the current wishes of that nation's public as of the last general election. The EU Parliament is directly elected just as our House of Commons is.

Comparison: The European Council is a psuedo cabinet for the whole EU, but unlike the UK where the head appoints his cabinet in a top down fashion, the EU functions on the indirectly elected heads of each country deciding who their President will be. A more democratic situation. The EU parliament is very similar to the UK, MEPs elected by the people, and a second chamber that are appointed. The difference is that the Council of the EU is still supposed to be representative of the will of each member state (since the minister involved at any one time should be following that country's policy direction). The House of Lords is representative to no-one, though supposedly should be representative of the power balance in the Commons. This too is very slightly more democratic in the EU, though could be counted as more democratic simply through MEPs being elected in a way that ensures a much closer accuracy to people's political beliefs through proportional representation.

The European Council decides who should be the EU Commission President and the European Council President (The former more like a "Prime Minister" the second more like a "President" though without the wider powers), they do this with a democratic vote in a system designed to try and forge a unanimous decision. The Commission President then needs to be ratified by EU parliament.

As said above, the presidential role in the European Council is a bottom-up appointment. As for the Commission President, unlike our Prime Minister who is only determined by members of their party, the Commission President has to be approved by both the "Cabinet" of the EU, AND your elected representatives in Europe.

In short, the systems in the EU are fundamentally more democratic than our own in the UK, and where there are potential weaknesses in the EU on the front of democracy it is only because individual member states (like the UK) have poor democratic structures when considering integration in to Europe, and because Europe does not tell those member states what they most democratically achieve to be included in it's processes.


*It's worth thinking about the Council of Europe as a small version of our House of Commons, with each head of state being an MP. They automatically have a say in policy direction in some areas for the EU, and if anyone else such as the High representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy is elected in to this sphere of "cabinet member" by super majority, though they have no voting rights. A Cabinet in UK terms is the body of people that decide policy direction for the country.

**I'm fully aware the Prime Minister isn't technically our head of state, but for all intents and purposes (s)he is to be regarded as one.

Monday, 24 October 2011

UK Parliament? When do we get our say?

In the 13th Century the landscape of Britain would change forever as the Magna Carta was introduced, and started the process of a terrifying removal of powers from the king and in to the hands of self styled "representatives" around the country.

Over centuries the powers of the monarchy were eroded away with no direct say by the people of England as to how they wish to be governed. The nearest we came was in 1642 where a Civil War forced the debate in to the open, and despite some early gains the supporters of the Monarchy ended up being soundly defeated, public seemed, though was controversially never measured, to be in favour of this abhorrent new way of thinking around governance.

Moving on to 1707 those people that were in favour of Parliament perhaps never realised that their "English Parliament" dream would turn so sour, as a union was made with the Scottish by the English to have a British parliament.

Was anyone consulted about this? Were they asked if they wanted it? No!

To add further insult to injury, in 1801 Ireland was added to the mix to create a UK parliament. Again, no-one was asked if they wanted this, those that fought and died for the monarchy must surely be smiling in heaven right now because at least they could have seen this gross abuse of constitutional rewriting would be the end game.

"But we just wanted English representation for English people" the descendents of the Roundheads might cry. "We never wanted it to go as far as this!"

The fact is that generation after generation has never been asked the question of if they want Westminster, the center of the UK political landscape, to be our government. There have been fundemental constitutional changes, not limited to the increase of unions with other countries but also including giving women the vote, allowing the POOR to vote.

It's sick, just sick that our leaders are riding roughshod over our wishes for a simple say in how we're governed, not by them and their sham gathering of pompous "representatives", but by a glorious monarch in all his or her glory.

All we want is a say, our descendants may have agreed with the setting up of parliament, but it's constitutionally gone too far and it's about time we had an In or Out referendum on Westminster.

Who's with me? #WestminsterReferendum on Twitter, I hope you'll join me on the #No2Westminster side and tell these charlatans that we're not going to take it any more and let them amend, improve and enhance our representation any longer!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Who do we want to be governed by? The EU?

The following comment was made on Liberal Conspiracy (and my comment is reproduced and enhanced below):

“The real ponit though is who we want to be governed by. I think our parliament and courts should be supreme in our country, yet we have a situation where our vote is watered down time and time again in Europe. We only get to directly elect our MEPs, but they are near enough powerless. The actual levers of power we have absolutely no say in. Did anyone on this site vote for Herman Van Rompey, or anyone else in the European Commission? Wasn’t Baroness Ashton simply appointed?”

The real point is how astoundingly people misunderstand representative democracy (and why it's better than direct democracy). Lets just break this down…

Who do we want to be governed by, or rather who don't we want to be governed by? For EU-sceptics it's "Not the EU" because "UK matters should be dealt with by UK government". But where do you stop with this? Why do I get represented by westminster? Why haven’t I got a regional South West government that negotiates on policy with the rest of the UK while maintaining an agreed trade system between regions? Why not town? Why not street level crime policy?

I’m not going to claim one level over another is correct, because it is arbitrary. There are countries in the EU with governments that preside over less of a population than my local constituency, this doesn’t mean that my constituency should be an autonomous EU member state, nor does it mean those small countries shouldn’t be.

You think our parliament and courts should be supreme, yet there is no discernible reason why they should be other than through some kind of nationalistic pride. To argue that the parliament should be supreme is also to argue that a town council should supersede the authority of parliament. If you don’t argue this it’s only because you’ve chosen your own personal and subjective limit of where to draw the line on where authority should reside. But it is just that, subjective…arbitrary.

Our vote is not “watered down” in Europe, it is proportionate. Sure, it may become less strong as more people join the representative party, but it’s still a fair vote. There is no reason why the UK should be getting more favourable treatment than other countries when it comes to european wide trade and regulatory agreements. We already dislike that potential for a German and French bonus from the on going "crisis talks" yet we also want to give ourselves an unfair edge?

To talk of MEPs as powerless is ridiculous. There are about as many MEPs as there are MPs in this country. Do you believe that MPs are powerless in this country? They have got more and more power as treaties have been amended, taking more and more away from the less accountable Council of Europe (or at least requiring that both arenas agree). Again, to state that MEPs are pointless is to state that our MPs are pointless, the model is entirely comparable.

Then we come to the crux of the whole representative democracy thing. For a start you’re overly simplistic on the realities of the “election” of the president of the council of Europe. The European council is every head of state for those in the EU, and has the responsibility for political objectives. It is therefore entirely democratic that heads of state (either directly elected, or indirectly elected) then go on to “elect” their own president, in this case through a unanimous decision by all heads of state.

In essence the president of the EC has one of the best mandates of any politician in the world through representative democracy. And yes, Ashton was also “appointed” but only by in practice getting a majority of “votes”.

It’s time to start thinking a little bit more maturely about the EU (or perhaps to simply start thinking). In the UK we elect an MP who does little but bring our concerns to parliament as a very influential lobbyist (at least if a member of the ruling party), and has a small say on implementation of policy. That MP then helps decide which party wins, and that party democratically decides who will lead them. All the EU does (outside of the situation of MEPs, which is exactly comparable to MPs), for the purposes of European wide political direction, is then extend that party (through their leader) to be our voice amongst other nations. It’s not an alien concept, and it’s readily embraced in this country within our own borders.

So who do we want to be governed by? We decide by who we vote for to decide the policy direction of the country, and therefore what type of policy direction we want to take on to be considered in Europe. If we have a problem with how we’re governed in the EU then we better tear up what constitution we have with our own national governance and try again, because if the EU is not working then neither is our own democracy here at home. They are, after all, as close to being identical models of representation as can be. it really worth all this fuss? The EU probably influences about 15% of all of our laws, a far cry from interfering in everything that we do in this country, and doesn't even consider how much the UK has a say in how EU laws that affect that 15% are created either.

Again, to go with the tact above, is it wrong that national government imposes as much law as it does over the South West? Over individual towns? Streets? At what point do you say "These people, with our involvement in a proportionally representative system where I get a fair say, have no right to tell me what to do" and why?

If one of the best arguments EU-skeptics have is that they don't feel why they should be governed by the EU, then it's their duty to say why we should be governed specifically by Westminster instead, and not one of the other many ways we could provide governance for ourselves. Just don't be surprised if those reasons don't have anything other than desires and "feelings" to back them up.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

GCSE results: Getting worse?

In 2000 there were 401,685 total students in the 16-19+ age bracket for all secondary schools in the UK. This has risen to 528,395 in 2011, an increase of 24% in total student numbers. This is not necessarily an increase in Full Time Equivalent (FTE) numbers, though part time students are a tiny minority of all students.

By contrast in the same period the number of full course GCSE exams sat (GCSE's as we would talk about them) has dropped from 5,481,920 to 5,207,790.

This is an actual drop of just over 5%, but a real terms drop of 27.8% compared to the 2000 figures. Students in the UK are taking over a quarter less normal GCSE exams than they did a decade ago. More students than ever that are noted as being in education that year are not taking a full GCSE (or are taking significantly less full GCSE's).

I don't say this as an absolute negative, as the routes through education have changed, IGCSEs have started to pop up, and there are always vocational routes that could be getting more popular (I don't have data to hand to say they are or not). However GCSE short courses (half length, half reward), though more popular, in real terms have only increased in sittings by 2%; Entry level (Certificate of Achievement) sittings have cratered. To me, where these students are going isn't sitting in plain sight, and outside of a significant number of students taking far fewer exams, it simply seems that less students are taking exams full stop.

Now the current headlines are about the rise on last year of pupils getting 5 good GCSEs. In the UK 69.8% of exam results were A*-C, a rise of 0.8% on 2010. Good news?

The trouble is that the total exam sittings in 2010 was 5,378,159. What we have here is a situation where in 2010 each student was sitting 10.8 GCSEs (from 496,850 pupils), yet in 2011 they were taking 9.8, one less exam each. Clearly less students are taking exams, with short courses also dipping in number of sittings.

Is it that students are dropping out across the spectrum of ability? Are schools truly making their brightest and most capable students cut down on the number of exams as well as the least able? Statistics from 2000 through to 2011 show that the percentage attaining only the lowest grade "U", a complete fail, has dropped from 2.2% to 1.2%. G has gone from 3.3% to 2%, F from 7.1% to 4%, E from 12.1% to 7.8% and D from 18.3% to 15.1%.

Simply a case of education working well a decade on? The increase in percentages in the top results as well may suggest this...but the drop students taking exams is a shadow hanging over everything. If those students, deemed not to be good enough to take exams (and clearly not going elsewhere to take different qualifications), were refactored in to the figures then the "rises" in attainment look a little different. It all comes down to whether students now not doing GCSEs are bright students simply taking a different route (such as the International GCSE) or not.

It's interesting to note, however, that the Department for Education is saying that IGCSE's could account for a 2.6% increase of A*-C results in England (may be less in the UK as a whole).

If the increase in pupil numbers was mirrored in the number of exams taken (with those not taken counted as grade D or less) then the number of Grade C's would be (difference on 2010 results in brackets) 22.4% (-3.5%), B's 19.6% (-1%), A's 13.9% (-1.2%) and A*'s 7% (-0.5%). This is the equivalent of just 62.9% A*-C passes, a 6.1% drop from last year.

I'd like to see how this spreads across subjects, but if the reports are right then it is in core subjects that we are seeing this kind of decline of participation too, and that it isn't just the more "woolly" subjects that are being dropped in an effort to provide a more focused education on the subjects employers really want to see.

To me it seems clear that our rise in attainment over last year, and since 2000, is more down to a manipulation of which students are taking the exams. If an equivalent number of exams were taken in 2011 as 2000 then the attainment of A*-C grades would have fallen from 57.1% to 53.1%. Even including the IGCSE effect, this is not an improvement, and is still a very possible decline.

Note: This article is based on figures to do with GCSEs, but doesn't necessarily follow alternatives.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Boundary Proposals: a review

I just wanted to take a look in to the real effects of the proposed boundary changes. Using data that I've visualised up at to represent the boundary changes I'm assessing not only which parties lose out in terms of seats, but also in terms of notional vote shares. Where have parties taken a hit (or been handed a life line) while not necessarily gaining or losing extra seats? Which areas seem to have confusing decisions made regarding constituency area?

It has to be stressed, this data is notional and so is a reflection of how it is likely (but not guaranteed) that constituencies would look in 2010 if the boundaries had been as they're proposed now back at that election. We know that in terms of opinion polls the Lib Dems are polling differently (lower in general, though much less lower in seats they're battling the Tories), and that Labour are doing slightly better than 2010 while the Tories are about the same.

I will be editing this post as and when I get time to do more analysis.

Cornwall loses about half a constituency through the changes, which may be a source of concern to the Cornish who, at least in the West, see themselves as very separate from the rest of England, especially Devon. In terms of seats Cornwall notionally gains a Lib Dem seat from the Tories in the process.

Cornwall remains an extremely marginal county, with differences between the Tories and Lib Dems in the area continuing to reside on a knife edge. If things have improved for the Tories it is only be a percentage point here or there and the electoral landscape for the constituencies will remain similar to that of 2010.

The major change is the loss of what was Truro and Falmouth in to the new Truro and St Austell and Bodmin and Newquay constituencies. What small majority the Tories had in either area is eaten up by the more Liberal tendencies of those in Mid to East Cornwall. On the flip side Cornwall North, just getting out of being a marginal constituency, is split up in such a way that a new super marginal Bodmin and Newquay is made, with the majority staying put in the new Devon and Cornwall constituency, Bude and Bideford. The Lib Dems sit with notional majorities of just 0.3%, 2.5%, 2.7% in 3 of their 3 and a half Cornish constituencies.

This means that while the Lib Dems may be happy with the outcome in Cornwall, it also requires a big fight from them in 2015. How many of those Lib Dem votes will remain, and how many were Labour tactical votes? Will more Labour voters go tactical to help the Lib Dems steal a marginal Falmouth and Camborne from the Tories? More importantly, will a potential resurgence in the Labour vote hurt the Lib Dems or Tories more in the county? Should the Labour votes rise at the expense of the Tories then it's feasible that the Lib Dems could, as in 2005, claim the whole of Cornwall...but on the flip side a deserting of the Lib Dems could see a sweeping move to net the Tories an additional 3 seats.

The electorate numbers look good compared to the ideal of around 76600, with only St Ives really breaking away from the average significantly. I can't initially see any reason that this should be rectified, with local areas quite well partitioned and the scope for future population increases in the mid to east of Cornwall rather than the far west of St Ives.

All in all, for Cornwall, the Lib Dems should look happiest in as exciting an electoral landscape as their usually is in the area. They do better where they're fighting marginals historically, and some sensible political moves by Labour supporters combined with natural flow back from the Tories to Labour could result in gains for the party. However similarly the Tories have to see this county as an opportunity, and as the party that tends to have more money to throw at marginals they could really hurt the Lib Dems if successful. The question is if they would be able to in a post-coalition landscape in a clearly more liberal and "locally-thinking" area. The prospects for Labour remain poor.

Devon's 12 constituencies become 11 and a half, losing half a constituency to the Bude and Bideford merger with what was Cornwall North in 2010, and with the redrawing of boundaries the seat winners bring about a single Tory seat lost as Devon South West effectively gets squeezed down and merged in to Plymouth Sutton.

Devon remains fairly close to the ideal number of electors, with Plymouth Devonport alone standing out as a slightly larger than average population. Marginality does change, however. While most areas stay the same, the loss of half a constituency helps to make constituencies held by the Tories more likely to be quite safe. Devon West and Torridge was almost marginal at over 5%, but thanks to being split with Cornwall the resulting Tavistock and Plympton has a notional majority of over 20%.

The old Devon South West very safe seat (over 30% majority) may be gone, but as a consolation for the Tories the marginal Plymouth Sutton and Devonport is merged in to the safe Plymouth Sutton with a notional majority of 20.1%. Newton Abbot moves to slight marginal away from marginal status, while Central Devon gets a little less safe but still on the very edges of a significant swing (now 13.5% down from over 17%).

Devon is a county with a mixed bag through these changes. On one hand there are several constituencies that are literally untouched, or that are changed very little, yet on the other where significant changes have happened they have tended to significantly solidify a party's support base. Labour will be happy that in the seats that they control, Plymouth Devonport and Exeter, they are no worse off (a little better off in Plymouth), and the Lib Dems are untouched in the county aside from that Cornwall and Devon constituency creeping in from North Cornwall. The Tories will no doubt be disappointed to lose an MP, but they have at least not lost it to another party and have shored up support elsewhere.

Somerset has actually gained a constituency, up to almost 10 from 9. I say almost 10 as it has taken a very small part of what I would personally consider to be outer Bristol. In doing so the Tories are gaining a seat out of nowhere for the county.

There are some significant boundary movements, but little changes on marginality. Tory majorities in the region stay the same while the new constituency, Kingswood & Keynsham, makes a slightly safe seat at around 10% majority.

The Lib Dems, while shifting their area of representation out of the Wells area and more to the area around Bath, can be happy that they slightly increase their strength of standing. Their marginal seats are still marginal, but a percentage or two less so, and their only real loss in majority is Bath, where they can afford to lose the 5% to a notional 20.4% majority.

Electorate numbers are more interesting. Somerset is a county that, through the addition of the new constituency perhaps, has a lower number of electors than the threshold in large areas. Yet at the same time Weston-Super-Mare and North West Somerset have a couple of extra thousand. This is arguably the right way around, with more likelihood of population moving in to the larger constituencies and thus allowing for a rebalancing that avoids drastic boundary changes in the future.

Could the extra 2-3000 extra people over the threshold in those two constituencies be better represented in other constituencies, or is it (as is more likely) that being able to split just that amount of people out of these larger constituencies would provide too complicated when trying to adhere as much as possible to previous separations of populations such as at local council level? I tend to think it's the latter in most cases, your mileage may vary.

Somerset really doesn't feel like it is affected by these changes, indeed it may be a benefactor through an extra MP for the area in a scheme designed to reduce MP numbers! Marginality stays the same, and while there will be changes to make to local campaigns the status quo is mostly upheld.

Dorset sees a slight reduction in representation, losing about half a constituency to share with Wiltshire to the north. In a process that sees Dorset North cut up to help enlarge Christchurch, Dorset Mid and Poole North, and Wiltshire South West the net effect is the Lib Dems losing their seat in the area, though no-one picks it up since it disappears.

The already super marginal Lib Dem seat shows that the Lib Dems really don't have a chance in the area under the new desired populations for each constituency, their support is simply too low. The only hope for the Lib Dems in the area is a slightly reshaped Bournemouth West that is held by a 6.4% majority. Labour on the other hand are as shut out of the county as ever, with Tory majorities being largely untouched aside from that part of Bournemouth, and the new constituency of Blandford & Wimborne being an almost straight Tory vs Lib Dem fight, unlikely to be lost by the blues.

When it comes to population there is a question that hangs over just why both Bournemouth seats need to be so overpopulated (over 80,000 electors in each constituency) when Christchurch and South Dorset are both significantly under the ideal threshold. In my mind it is worth asking why areas of the Bournemouth seats couldn't be pushed out to their neighbours, with a view to increasing the size of Dorset South to the West and Christchurch to the East.

Dorset is, if anything, a score draw for all parties. The changes are significant in the center of the county, but don't serve to make many changes. Even the Lib Dem loss is arguably a Tory loss, as the margins were such that it would surely be one of the main targets in the country at the next election.

Gloucestershire and Bristol Area:
I have a bit of a personal interest in this area, it's my current "hometown" as it were! Bristol is what I would define as the 6 constituencies around the city center, including Kingswood and Filton & Bradley Stoke. This distinction gets blurred under the new boundaries as Thornbury and Yate gets split in half, encroaching on the old Kingswood constituency, and Filton & Bradley Stoke join with Thornbury to become Filton & Thornbury.

Further north, in to Gloucestershire actual, the remaining 7 constituencies in this area are unchanged aside from the already mentioned breaking up of Thornbury and Yate, and a small boundary shift between The Forest of Dean and Gloucester.

The overall effect of all this is that Kingwood and Keynsham is now more of a Somerset constituency than before (see above), essentially being lost from the area, leaving 12 constituencies compared to 13 before. This is a net change of one Lib Dem seat to a Conservative one, however.

I have my own concern in the area, it seems ridiculous that Filton has been extended to join with Thornbury, and in doing so created the largest constituency in the area in population numbers. This is an area which has very active housing development next to the Filton Airfield that could bring hundreds, if not thousands, more people to the area. The North of Bristol is being constantly redeveloped and the boundary commission seem to be ignoring this when choosing where to pitch their numbers.

Is it right that the Filton area keeps getting cut up and redistributed 5 years because a little forethought can't be put in here? This is aside from the fact it makes no sense to put what is an edge of the city urban area in the same catchment as a countryside town.

Bristol North West and Bristol West both have population numbers under the threshold from this review, in areas where people are certainly not going to be moving in at vast numbers. Bristol West is a mixed constituency, with a large student population as well as inner city residents, while Bristol North West has it's own mix of both poor and affluent residents as it spreads out to the west.

To my mind, moving Filton and Frenchay and Stoke Park wards in to the Bristol North West constituency, while moving Avonmouth (further from the city center than Filton, and partly crossing the M5) in to the Thornbury "outer Bristol" constituency would both make more sense from the point of view of the MP representing people with similar issues, and would have a net effect of making "Thornbury and Filton" or whatever it would be called near to the ideal threshold, while Bristol North West would grow to be about 2000 people over the ideal.

This alone would be acceptable, given the population growth to the north of Bristol as I said before, but it could also be even further balanced by swapping Stoke Bishop and Bishopston wards between Bristol North West and Bristol West.

Elsewhere in the area Bristol South seems a little over subscribed, but has little easy way to balance this with the Kingswood and Keynsham constituency next door. The Forest of Dean could easily do with a larger area, but with wards so large in the mainly rural outskirts to the constituency there is little prospect to do this without significantly (and arguably needlessly) messing with the already established constituencies that remain unchanged from 2010.

Gloucestershire itself has very little to show from the review, barely any boundary changes and thus no real change of marginality. Bristol's outskirts, however, get a thorough overhaul. Do the Lib Dems need to lose their seat in this way? It's another of those situations that is more complex than it seems, as a strong Tory and Lib Dem seat is turned in to a weak tory seat and better than halves the previous Filton area majority to 6.2% making both very attainable to the Lib Dems. Labour suffer slightly on Bristol East, but remain in a good position in a three way marginal (of which Bristol has two, lucky for us!)

Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire:
Herefordshire somewhat loses it's identity through the changes. A simple county of two constituencies only has one within it's borders after the provisional changes. In technical terms though it now becomes three constituencies, two shared with neighbouring Worcestershire and Shropshire. The overall effect of this is a single seat lost across all three counties.

While the Conservative constituencies get shunted around quite a lot, the loser in this area is Labour who's Telford constituency is the one that effectively disappears. This isn't much of a surprise given how small a majority Telford was held on, and concentrated in to such a small geographical area. This won't lead to anything more interesting, however, majorities at a safe level and beyond even any reasonable tactical voting thresholds the worst that can be said from a Conservative point of view is that a few very safe seats have turned to merely being safe.

Electorate sizes are fairly well balanced given the largely rural nature of the counties, and aside from the loss of a Labour constituency there is little interesting that is happening through these changes; there are simply too many Tory supporters in the area to make the changes significant, despite some fairly drastic redrawing of boundaries.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

unfair unfair dismissal laws

You're a dilligent worker, you like your job, but recently your manager has been forcing you to do things that are outside of your job description and threatening you with the sack if you don't comply. You've gone along with it for a while, perhaps it's an opportunity for progression. A few months later you feel you've proved something, you ask for a pay rise...instead you get sat down and told that you're being fired.

Under proposed changes by George Osbourne and Vince Cable, if you were previously a victim of this kind of abuse after your first year of emploment but before your second year at the business, you will now be unable to make any kind of claim against their former employer. They'll be unemployed, without a decent reference, in a worsening job market.

Apparently this is necessary to help our growth because businesses feel not being able to sack people without justification is stiffling their ability to employ. A cynic would suggest in the short term the Lib Dems and Tories feel that empoyment figures will look much better with a more revolving under-class of workers that are hired and fired at intervals that would usually be known for careers taking the next step up the ladder.

The trouble is...there's no benefit here to the state or society, aside from perhaps some statistical manipulation. The number of people it will affect currently is small, though this could worsen if the law is relaxed...and the cost it would save the government is so negligible at less than £6m per year, the state equivalent of change down the back of the sofa...certainly a small amount to pay for equality between employers and employees.

Don't get me wrong, employers need to be protected at the start of contracts, it's all to easy to lie on your CV and to be smooth in your interview, yet not be able to produce the goods in the actual job. There has to be an ability for adequate probation in roles where there isn't an extensive training/induction process to allow the employer to let someone go who simply wasn't what was expected. But this should be apparent in 3-6 months, not 2 years.

At 2 years without being able to claim unfair dismissal the prospects for employees are worsening conditions at work, lower job security (which results in lower morale), and the potential for the wage market to be stifled while business profits and productivity continue to rise.

Worse still is the idea of there being a charge to make a claim to be introduced. Not only will we make it so that young people have all of their power stripped from them for two years while they fear any non-submissive action might have them fired with no recompense, but if they manage to last longer than 2 years then they need to find at least £250 for the privilege of seeing justice done.

Would we be happy if the families of murder victims could only bring their cases to court if they paid a fee up front? The introduction here of fee's is a blatant attempt to limit access to justice in this country, along side the already dubious plans to remove legal aid for many.

These proposed changes aren't about rebalancing anything, the law as it stands is balanced. You can employ who you like within a fair selection process, and you can get rid of them if their job is no longer required as a role or the person is disruptive, incompetent or under-qualified. Equally the employee knows that once they have a job if they do the job, the business doesn't downsize, and they act appropriately, they can't be fired. Where exactly does this balance need to be redressed?

Look out for a consultation to come around in the next couple of months, and for calls to write to the Business Secretary to let him know how callous and unethical it is to draw power away from employees at a time when they need it the most. This government said it was going to be the champion for civil liberties. With these various changes on access to the justice system, and talking about the removal of the Human Rights Act at the Conservative Conference, they're sounding less and less like that government every announcement.