Friday, 17 December 2010

Tomorrow is Pay Day

Tomorrow, Saturday 18th December, the last Saturday of Christmas shopping should be a big day for High Street retailers. There premises should be full of hopeful shoppers trying to pick up a present for a friend or family member and the cash registers should be filling up with other people's hard earned cash.

However tomorrow is PayDay, the culmination of UKuncut's campaign against the corporate tax dodgers Vodafone and Arcadia, owned by Philip Green.

Let's not forget also the tax avoided by Mothercare and Boots.

Ukuncut have organised, and more importantly inspired, peaceful protests across the country, usually taking the form of a group of protestors appearing outside a store and attempting to temporarily shut it down. If they can do this to sufficient sites tomorrow they will seruously dent the profits of the tax dodgers.

Pay up Phil, it'll be cheaper in the end !!!

Good luck to anyone involved in aprotest tomorrow. Remember, keep it loud but keep it peaceful.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Friday, 10 December 2010

Yes2AV or No2AV that is the question

I'm posting on a subject other than the Boycott of the business of the 35 cuts-supporting fat cats today for a couple of reasons.

1. I'm so angry at the scenes I witnessed yesterday outside the home of our 'democracy' where violent thugs wearing police uniforms were assaulting people trying to protect their livelihoods and education that if I think about it any longer longer I'm liable to do myself an injury, and

2. I've been 'tweeting' with people from the YES2AV campaign as I'm genuinely unsure how I will vote, or even if I will vote now that the LibDems have made a virtue of abstentianism, in next May's referendum on changing the voting system. I said I would post up my ideas, as I can't fit them into a 140 character tweet so here they are.

A bit of personal history on the subject.

When I first got involved in party politics in the 80's I opposed PR in all its forms. This was largely because I suspected it was simply a ruse to improve the political fortunes of the LibDems and would do little to improve people's lives.

My position on this changed however when I saw the tories retain control of our local council, of which I was a member, despite having the same number of councillors elected as the combined opposition parties and elected on many fewer votes. The tories then launched an all out offensive against public services cutting everything they could find. Had that council been elected by PR there would have been some kind of coalition formed and extreme behaviour prevented.

So I was turned into a PR convert, but each system of PR I looked at seemed to be devised with the aim of helping one political party or the other. I could not see one that seemed to regard the wishes of the electorate as paramount. I then started to devise my own systems, but more of that later.

The referendum in May does not propose PR, which is the first reason I hesitate to vote Yes. It proposes changing the voting sytem from First Past the Post to the Alternative Vote.

Another reason to hesitate is that it is supported by the LibDems who have shown themselves to be totally untrustworthy. You rarely buy a wreck from the same car dealer twice.

First Past the Post (FPTP) is the system we are all familar with. Whoever gets more votes than any other individual candidate wins. It was devised back in the days when there were rarely two candidates let alone more than two and all the electors could meet in one room. In those days only male landowners could vote. In that context FPTP worked. However we are no longer living in the early 1800's.

The Alternative Vote is where each elector indicated there preference for candidates by listing them as choice 1,2,3 etc. If no candidate receives of 50% of the votes cast the lowest polling candidate is eliminated and the second preferences of their voters added to votes of the other candidates. The process is repeated until one candidate has over 50% support.

Sounds fairer doesn't it, but look at it in the context of UK politics and it sounds like a scam.

The first thing I noticed about AV that I did not like was that this first group of people to have their second vote counted are those who supported the candidate who polled the least. That means those who support the least popular set of policies have their second say before those who come 3rd, 4th or 5th. That seems to favour extremists.

UK Politics is highly tribal. People tend to grow up with a political identity based on social status. For example David Cameron's conservatism was inevitable given his privileged background. He didn't just read Adam Smith and Milton Friendman and decide he agreed with them. He instinctively identified with the politics of his class and rationalised accordingly. The thing is, he is not alone in this, we all do that. We know who is 'on our side' and who is not. Professor Dawkins could probably explain the reasons for this much better than I could as I suspect it's an evolutionary thing linked to the protection of identiable tribal groupings.

Whatever the reason, political allegiance and the perception of others' political allegiance seems fixed. People may change parties, but they rarely change their motives or their principles, if they have any.

So in this context it is easy to see that in a three way contest fought under AV a Tory supporter would put the Labour Party, his historical class enemy, as his bottom choice, and a Labour supporter would do the same with the Tories.

This means the LibDems would pick up the majority of second preferences of whichever other party polled third. It is therefore a simple calculation to see that the LibDems would be favoured to take any seat where a, the winning candidate polled less than 50% and b, they are currently in second place.

(This analysis does not take into account the current suicidal behaviour of the LibDems in breaking pledges and voting against the interests of aspirational parents who want to see their kids go to university.)

This is why I have doubts as to how to vote on the referendum. FPTP is bad and AV is just as bad.

Were this a conversation at this point someone would shout out 'Ok, then what's you're idea' and it would be a fair call.

Ok, I have two mutually exclusive solutions.

My First system. d'Hondt Plus.

This is not completely my own idea but does have a twist I've added myself.

The UK uses the d'Hondt system to elect its Euro MPs. Every voter chooses the party of their choice and the number of seats awarded to each party is roughly proportional to the number of votes cast. There is a complex mathematical formula used to determine who gets which seat which can be found here - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%27Hondt_method .

The problem I see with the d'Hondt system is that although voters decide which parties get each number of seats it is the party managers, through a listing system, who decide which of their candidates are actually elected.

I would propose that we change this so that each elector has the opportunity to also vote for each candidate.

Under the system I would propose there would be two ballot papers. The first would be the existing ballot paper where you decide which party receives your vote. The second would list all the candidates individually and you could vote for up to the number of seats available. All Euro seats are multi-member and all Westminster seats would become likewise.

This way voters could express their dis-satisfaction with a candidate without having to change their party allegiance. In the light of the recent expenses scandal people could vote for their party of choice and unelect a perceived crook without voting for another party.

Equally if a voter had a particularly strong view on an issue on which all parties were split, such as say, membership of the Euro, they could vote for pro or anti candidates in all parties and so have their view better represented.

If you supported a minority party and knew your favoured party were unlikely to win any seats you could use your vote to determine which candidates of other parties were elected.

As you can probably imagine party managers would hate this system as it places the power to elect firmly in the hands of the electorate and eliminates safe seats, as no seat would be safe as you could lose it to someone in your own party.

This system requires multi-member seats representing 5 - 8 current constituencies to work.

My second system is more radical, more representative in its results and is a bigger change from the current system. I call this 'All In'

Under the 'All In' system the number of MPs elected becomes less relevant than the number of votes they gained.

The basic idea is that instead of a MP with a majority of 1 being the equal of a MP with a majority of 50,000 votes cast in the House of Commons by MPs are weighted to reflect the number of votes each candidate received.

This changes our democracy from being a 'representational' system to being a 'delegatory' system where each voter decides which candidate to delegate their vote to during the next parliament.

The way it would work would be that every candidate polling more than a threshold figure would be elected, but governments would form on polling strength rather than number of MPs as no party would have a majority in terms of number of MPs but may do so in terms of popular vote.

Votes in the House would be more like shareholders meeting where the voting strength of each MP would be different and would be the number of votes they received in the election.

The downside to this is that unless we combine constituencies into larger blocks we could end up with a lot more MPs, and that might not go down very well. We could of course change their system of remuneration to one of performance pay linked to their number of votes so the power to pay them lies in the hands of the only people whose opinion matters, the electors.

The upside is that if all MPs vote on a piece of legislation it will succeed only if a majority of those whom the electorate cast their votes for vote for it, making parliament more representative of the country.

Both my systems envisage larger multi-member constituencies because I believe this would work better than the current system. I know from experience that someone looking for assistance from an elected representative will rarely go to his or own if they are from a party the elector does not trust. They would rather go to someone from the party they do support even if that means dealing with an MP or councillor from another area. With multi-member seats we are all more likely to end up with someone we voted for.

Let me know your views in the comments.