Daily Archives: 10 May 2008

Daniel Kawczynski: a whinger and a wanker

Neil Kinnock famously (and anecdotally; he hotly denies it) described Charter 88 as a bunch of “whingers and wankers.” It’s good to see that the shoe is now on the other foot, as demonstrated by this whine by Daniel Kawczinyski.

What is amusing about this article is that it is wrong in almost every single important respect. To start with, he deplores closed lists. But he then goes on to exhort first past the post which is, erm, a closed list system. If he wants accountability, then why not advocate a system which encourages it, i.e. STV?

Secondly, he claims that voters in London were confused. Well maybe, but the vast majority of them managed to vote okay. Indeed, compare the number of rejected votes for the Mayoral election (1.67%) and the London-wide list (1.69%) with the first past the post constituency election (1.95%). It would appear that the system that caused voters the greatest confusion was the one Kawczynski is advocating!

He refers to Scotland’s elections debacle last year, yet fails to mention that the lessons of that incident have already been learnt – hence the low ballot spoilage. He claims that “the overwhelming will of the people of London was to get rid of Ken Livingstone and elect a Conservative mayor”. If that is the case, why didn’t they vote that way? Boris Johnson got 43% of the vote in first preferences – a plurality to be sure but well short of a majority. He fails to explain how the preferential system got in the way; all it did was illustrate that of the voters who preferred a candidate other than Livingstone or Johnson, more of them (not not that many more of them) preferred the former over the latter. And he claims that is in some way undemocratic. Inconvenient for an ideologue like him maybe, but undemocratic?

He then drops this clanger:

“The fact that Brian Paddick, Sian Berry and Ken Livingstone did well on second preferences only goes to show the bias which is built into the system in favour of left wing parties, parties which, in the case of the Lib Dems and the Greens were not well supported by people’s first choice.”

Uh? How does this show the system is biased? Paddick and Berry could have carved up the second preference votes between them and it still wouldn’t have got either of them elected as Mayor. The system doesn’t care if you count the number of second preference votes for candidates who failed to come first or second or not. The system only considered those cast for Livingstone and Johnson.

In fact, this demonstrates almost the exact opposite: generally the public are left-inclined but the system made no allowance for that.

Not all of Kawczynskis are completely invalid, but his prescription certainly is. To claim that first past the post is a tool for engagement, when in fact it guarantees that come election time the parties will ignore that vast majority of voters is simply ridiculous. He knows this. He knows how it leads to a fixation on swing voters.

It is ironic that he bemoans that PR systems don’t allow for by-elections while FPTP not only does but allows for greater accountability. Bob Neill didn’t stand down and make way for a by-election for his Assembly seat in 2006, and yet in Bromley and Bexley the Tories had an increased majority. I’m sure that numerous Tories might like to think that was solely down to James Cleverley’s hard work, but we all know it had more to do with the Mayoral election. Where is this magical accountability that Kawczynski has been telling us about?

We certainly could make things more democratic. If we had open lists or, better yet, STV which would allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference rather than purely on party lines, then accountability would increase. In doing so we could also cut down the numbers of ballot papers to two. We could hold the Assembly elections on a different day, possibly on the same day as the London council elections so that they aren’t completely overshadowed by the Mayoral election.

Yet somehow I suspect that accountability is the last thing that Kawczynski wants. He just wants the system that he feels suits his brand of rightwingery, knowing that under any system of fair votes the majority would make his life much more difficult.

At least not all rightwing ideologues believe that the only recourse is to steal elections rather than compete in them. Douglas Carswell, no wet he, has been advocating multi-member constituencies for a while now. It seems that the days of the Kawczynski Tory sense of entitlement may be numbered.

Why is the UK so lousy at cinema?

Amid all the gloom of the past few weeks, a nugget to warm my cockles: it turns out that the film Three and Out has been a massive flop.

For the past month, Londoners have had this film rammed down their throats via a mammoth advertising campaign and a faux controversy over Aslef condemning the film for promoting the idea of suicide by underground train. I can only wonder what Aslef got out of the deal as this gave the film a huge amount of free advertisng. The promoters responded by making the controversy a central part of their marketing, publishing ever increasingly bizarre adverts in the London press attempting to summarise the “debate” and screaming censorship every 30 seconds.

But as film promoters go, Aslef have nothing on the Catholic church and the film remained in the doldrums. Speaking personally, I was lost as soon as I saw my first poster, with an image that managed to evoke the twin horrors of Britpop-travesty Shooting Fish (with Gemma Arterton standing in for Kate Beckinsale before she discovered leather basques) and Sex Lives of the Potato Men.

But it does beg the question why the UK is so bad at making decent films. Our TV is of variable quality, but there is enough good stuff on the small screen to suggest we are not lacking in film-making talent. There appears to be a particular problem with lottery-funded projects, which all consistently have the same anonymous transatlantic quality – superficially British and “edgy” but played for safety and ease of access for US audiences. It has made celebrities out of no-marks like Guy Ritchie (even his one “good” film wasn’t actually very good) while ruining the careers of numerous talented individuals.

It does seem to me that whether you approve of subsidies or not, when they fail to lead to anything of either critical or public acclaim they should be reconsidered. Maybe we should try it the other way around, offering million pound prizes to the teams responsible for the most successful British film of the year? You might baulk at throwing public money at people who have already found success but how is using it to prop up a pile of hideous shite any better?

Oh dear, Livingstone is lost in his own mythologising

Ken Livingstone won the London Mayoral election last week. Well, okay, he doesn’t actually claim that in his Guardian article yesterday, but he comes pretty close:

Nationally Labour’s vote fell by 2% compared to 2004, but in London the percentage of first preference votes I received in the mayoral election went up very fractionally. The increase in the absolute number of votes was striking – up by 220,000, or 30%. There was no Labour “stay at home” factor in London. Four years ago I polled 10.8% ahead of Labour nationally – a week ago this increased to 13%. I received slightly more second preference votes than Boris Johnson. On the London assembly Labour made one net gain.

All of which points to a phenomenally high profile election in which the national and London media helped put out a squeeze message on a daily basis. There are plenty of Labour held seats across the country where they bucked the national trend for the same simple reason: it was clear to the electorate that it was a choice between two candidates.

If the acme of Labour’s ambitions is to come a very good second place in the next general election, they should listen to Livingstone. Otherwise, I suggest they look further afield.

His comments on the Lib Dems are more interesting:

Lib Dem failure in London was massive. They chose to stay outside the progressive alliance of Labour and the Greens. As a result they failed even to reach double-figure support in the mayoral election, and their London assembly seats fell from five to three. Hopefully this suicidal orientation will be reversed in the next four years.

The scale of the Lib Dems’ failure is undeniable (well, undeniable for anyone apart from Mike Tuffrey who sent out an email last week claiming that “actually when the final tally is examined, I think we’ll find that in many areas the total number of people we persuaded to vote for us was up. But that success was masked by a much higher turnout, spurred on by the mayoral Punch and Judy show.” – if only those pesky voters didn’t turn up, we’d have won! No lessons being learned there I fear). I’m not convinced that Livingstone’s prescription for success would have had any effect however. The Lib Dems are a national party which can’t afford to behave like the Greens and avoid scrutiny in the same way. Sian Berry can get away with broadcasting the message “Vote Green, Get Brown“; Brian Paddick and Nick Clegg could not. If we had done so, we would have mortgaged all our potential successes in the local elections across the country, helping the Tories push the message that they were the only alternative to Labour.

There certainly is an argument that we concentrated too much on the Mayoral election and didn’t consider how we could consolidate our standing on the Assembly anything like enough. As a third party which is no longer the repository for protest votes it once was, we have a peculiar problem with the AMS system where people feel they can split their ticket by giving the Lib Dems a vote in the constituency and, say, the Greens a vote in the London-wide ballot and be helping us (solution: our London-wide message in future has to focus relentlessly on the list). But hitching ourselves to the Green-Brown love-in would have done us no good at all.

It might have got Mayor Ken re-elected so one can understand why he thinks it has such appeal, but however much I might have preferred him to be at City Hall right now rather than Bozza, performing the role of Mayoral figleaf has very little appeal for me. Perhaps if Livingstone had understood that, rather than adopt this Bush-style “you’re either with us or against us” approach, he might have been able to come up with a counter-stratagem.