Tag Archives: elections

David Howarth’s Fixed Term Parliaments Bill

I’ve been highlighting this as part of my day job but haven’t said anything about it here. Anyway, David Howarth’s Fixed Term Parliaments Bill is being debated in the Commons tomorrow and you need to do something about it. Write to your MP about it and ask them to sign EDM 1528 – Fixed Term Parliaments. More details here and here. Meanwhile, here is David talking to that nice Mr Dale:

Does religion really battle apathy?

I posted this response to Martin Turner’s Lib Dem Voice article Apathy in the UK on the comments but I’m keen to see a response so I’m cross posting it here:

What he talked about was why he was backing religion in general (Greenbelt is a Christian arts festival), because it was a bulwark against the single most destructive thing in society: cynicism and apathy.

Really? Got any evidence for that? Or is it just based on “faith”?

The New Scientist has recently published a collection of 24 “Evolution Myths” one of the ones it debunks is that “Accepting evolution undermines morality” and in so doing it cites a recent study which demonstrates that most secular societies have lower rates of murders, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancies, etc. (pdf).

I’m willing to add another for further investigation: secular societies in general have higher turnouts than religious ones. Contrast the US (turnout: 47.5% in 2006) and Iran (turnout: 59.8% in 2005) with the Netherlands (80.4% in 2006) and Denmark (86.6% in 2007). (source: International IDEA)

I’m not claiming that religion is a cause of apathy, but I am certainly arguing that to claim the opposite is crass and without foundation. Some would even go so far as to say that to make such claims is an act of cynicism. Physician, heal thyself.

Another point I could make: religion is most active in London in the East, where the Christian People’s Alliance and TELCO are active, yet turnout there is lower than anywhere else in the city. Turnout in City & East constituency also increased less this year than the London-wide average (6.4% against 8.4%). Again, I’m not claiming religion is a cause of apathy, but where is the proof it is the cure?

Local elections comment on Comment is Free


Overall, I feel the party has turned a corner in this election. The optimism amongst the people I’ve spoken to is much higher than it was 12 months ago. The drop in share of the vote from 2004 has not been replicated by a drop in seats.

It’s been a rough couple of years, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now. Ultimately that counts for a lot more than bogus BBC statistics.

A tale of three newspapers

I’m on the night shift tonight – got to file an article for Comment is Free at 7am. The big picture is still unclear at the mo so I thought I’d offer my words of wisdom about the London election.

I’ve spent the past month tracking mentions of Boris, Ken and Paddick on Twitter. What I witnessed, particularly today, was about 80% of twitterers mentioning Boris expressing utter disbelief at the prospect of Three Jobs Boz getting the Mayoralty, 5% were petulant remarks from True Blues accusing anyone who fails to immediately see how wonderful he is as being “class warriors” and “inverted snobs” and 15% echoing Charlie Brooker’s article a couple of weeks ago, namely “OMFG LOOK AT HIS FUNNEEE HAIR LOL!!!! BORRIS IS A LEGERND!!!!” I’m afraid to say that seeing the 100th one of these messages today, I started to go a bit funny in the head.

The general impression seems to be that turnout in London is high. Iain Dale seems to think it is limited to the Outer London donut, but my experience from telling in an uber urban Islington ward today is that it is high there too. At 6pm we were being told that turnout there was already hitting 50%.

What I found most revealing today was looking at the coverage of the London elections in London’s free newspapers. For those who don’t know, London now has three of the things: the Metro which is distributed on the tube in the morning and London Lite and thelondonpaper which is handed out in the late afternoon/evening. The Metro and London Lite are both Associated Newspapers, who also publish the Mail and the Evening Standard. thelondonpaper is News International who also publish the Sun and the Times.

The Evening Standard has of course been running a vendetta against Ken Livingstone and not surprisingly called on its readers to vote for Bozza in a leader today. But what of the Metro and London Lite? They have very different demographics: while the Standard is the paper for the middle aged, middle class, stockbroker, its sister papers are for the hoi polloi.

thelondonpaper has had extensive coverage of the Mayoral elections over the last three days. Today’s paper consists of the following:

  • Front page: headline “IT’S NOT TOO LATE”. front page editorial encouraging people to vote.
  • Page 2: pics of the candidates
  • Pages 6-7: general coverage
  • Pages 8-9: Bozza and Ken’s style analysed, with tips on how to get their respective looks

By contrast, this is the coverage of today’s London Lite:

  • Front page: headline “Ken closes in on Boris”
  • Pages 6-7: general coverage.

And the Metro? The paper with the widest circulation by a factor of more than two?

  • Front page: nothing. nada.
  • Page 23: half a page of jokey coverage.
  • Er…
  • …that’s it?

It’s quite clear that the Associated Press were trying their best to depress turnout. So full marks to thelondonpaper, which has easily had the best and most balanced coverage. The fact that News International are angling for the license to distribute a morning paper on the tube is, I’m sure, a complete coincidence.

Ham: Are You High?

Readers may recall me mocking the Ham and High a couple of years ago for condemning the Labour party’s “flying pigs” advert on the grounds of anti-semitism. Words therefore fail to learn that the same paper has allowed the BNP to take out paid advertising on their pages.

The paper appears to have confused the two concepts of “freedom of speech” and “suckee suckee – one dollar!” – to be fair, many people who lack a moral compass do. But does anyone seriously believe that if this advert had been anti-jewish as opposed to anti-muslim they would seriously go ahead with it? In that part of North London?

Anoraks and PR

I’m still trying to be on my best behaviour by not commenting here on the London elections, but I can’t let this comment by Lib Dem Voice’s resident troll Laurence Boyce go unchallenged:

Please allow me to provide my own advice for London voters.

First preference: State your first preference for Mayor of London.
Second preference: State your second preference for Mayor of London.

Because it really is as simple as that.

I didn’t comment on Laurence’s previous advice on electoral politics as he was clearly on a massive wind up. After noon on 1 April, it ought to have had a “don’t feed the troll” neon sign hung above it and can be summed up thus: “me, me, me, me, me, me, me.” I don’t however question that his opposition to proportional representation is genuine. It is however one thing to oppose any electoral system that would prevent tactical voting; quite another to claim – as he has done today – that it is an irrelevance.

The May 1997 election would not have been as spectacular as it was were it not for tactical voting on an industrial scale. This isn’t the eighties (don’t be confused by Laurence’s designer stubble); tactical voting is no longer a controversial electoral tactic. All parties encourage it or discourage it according to what happens to be to their personal advantage in every election. The electorate intuitively understand this and exercise their preferences accordingly. Of course, all this negativity has a corrosive effect on our political system, but it is a product of the system not something individuals trying to make the best of a bad job ought to feel particularly guilty of. If you hate it so much, change the system, don’t whinge.

To claim then that the SV system is as simple as giving your ideal two choices a first and second preference vote is somewhere between laughably ignorant and criminally misleading. As an opponent of electoral systems that would dispense of such tactical voting, Laurence simply can’t be allowed to have it both ways.

Opponents of PR like to accuse its proponents of being anoraky. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes at an Electoral Reform Society AGM can hardly disagree, but when the debate moves beyond the merits of individual systems and instead focuses on broad principles, it is the other side who start to sound distinctly hairy palmed.

I might prefer STV as an electoral system but I’m really not personally that fussed so long as it achieved three things:
1. The overall votes cast should broadly reflected in Parliament. A minority party with 35% of the vote should not be sitting pretty on the government benches with 56% of the MPs.
2. Voters should have a choice of candidates, not just parties. I’m realistic that in most cases the electorate will simply vote on party lines but bad eggs should not be unaccountable simply because they are high up on some closed party list.
3. Voters should not be forced to choose between stating a genuine preference and having their vote count, or between voting positively for a party and voting negatively against one.

Any system which achieves those aims is fine by me and I will happily refrain from getting too bogged down into the details. Yet when I talk to opponents of PR, they bombard me with weird arguments about why Parliament should reflect the popular vote, why the public should be denied a choice of candidates (a feature of the first past the post system – which is just as much a closed list system as the one used for European Elections) and either that tactical voting is an irrelevance or some beastly thing that people should somehow be prevented from doing – and ultimately the only way to achieve that would be to outlaw any political party beyond the first two.

All those arguments are intensely complex and downright weird. They genuinely involve patiently explaining the logical equivalent of black = white and that all swans are purple. Terribly clever these fellows, far far too clever for their own good. Blessed with exceptionally flexible spines and neck muscles, they can disappear up their own sphincters on a whim. They are capable of the most obscurantist argument the collective membership of ERS can only dream of.

Asking the most hardcore electoral reformers to focus on broad principles rather than detail is an exercise in futility, but the next time some Tory calls you an “anorak” simply for believing that votes ought to count for something, ask them why and hand them a raincoat.

Finally, back to Laurence for a second, it is probably a good thing he isn’t a Londoner. A committed atheist, it is hard to see how, out of principle, he could vote for any ticket other than Unity for Peace and Socialism.

Barbie boy calls for tax cuts for married couples

God, Labour really are in a full scale rout at the moment, aren’t they?

The tax system should reward married couples, a cabinet minister has said.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Andy Burnham told the Daily Telegraph: “It’s not wrong that the tax system should recognise commitment and marriage.”

He did not advocate specific changes to the tax system, but said there was a “moral case” for using tax to promote the traditional family unit.

On the claim that there is a ‘moral case’ for using tax to promote marriage, he could not be more wrong. One of the least moral reasons going for getting married is acquiring tax advantages and if the system ends up penalising single parents, many of whom are not single through choice, then already unstable families will end up doing worse out of the system.

If there is a moral argument for marriage, money ought to be immaterial. You can’t tax and spend your way to righteousness.

Presumably we can depend on Harriet Harman, the only member of the Brown government to have a mandate from the party, to put the opposing view? After all, she’s been lambasting Cameron on this issue for months. But of course Harman’s first act as a government minister back in 1997 was to cut benefits for single mothers. I’m sure she’ll find a way to reconcile her own stated views with Andy Burnham’s. Her idea of radicalism in office is to call on Gordon Brown to do something that he committed himself to doing in a White Paper published three months ago, and which will not materially affect anything (if the Prime Minister has a majority in the Commons and demanded an election, do you seriously believe the party would turn him down?).

What amazes and appalls me the most though is how, in the space of a fortnight, Labour have seemingly done everything they can to transform Gideon Osborne’s reputation from whining top hatted toff who is totally out of his depth to a Svengali-figure who sets the entire political agenda of the UK. It’s utter madness. He came up with a few proposals that were economically irresponsible and fundamentally didn’t add up, and the entire Labour front bench falls down in a heap, struggling to emulate him in every way they can. Truly this is the single greatest mystery of modern politics.

Labour in freefall: huge Lib Dem opportunity. Time to step up a gear perhaps?

That was the election that wasn’t

Ever since I heard about Gordon Brown’s decision to call off an autumn ballot, I’ve been thinking of Helen, the runner up of Big Brother Series 2. Famously, for the proverbial 15 minutes at any rate, Helen liked blinking. Well, Gordon Brown has just given it a go and I get the feeling he doesn’t like it. Doesn’t like it at all.

And yet. And yet. Reading Jeremy Hargreaves’ piece on the tragedy of Cameron has got me thinking. While Gordon Brown’s nods and winks about a November poll have successfully united the Tory party and given them a good week at a time when we were expecting them to tear each other apart, they have coalesced in traditional Tory territory. Their one commitment on environmental issues, a levy on planes to replace the passenger duty, essentially means that the Tories have caught up, puffing and wheezing, with where the Liberal Democrats were in 2004. Back then, as a member of the Green Liberal Democrats exec, I can assure you that we were deeply concerned at the lack of solid commitment the party had to environmental issues. If that’s the best Cameron can do, he ought to drop the act that he takes the issue of climate change seriously; no-one’s buying, least of all Zac Goldsmith (who, following his sulk last week, ought to claim the mantle of Quiet Man from IDS).

My prediction last week that by not holding an election now, Brown will force the Tories to bore the public to death on the topic of Europe still holds. The Tory front bench have now as good as given their rottweillers a green light to bonkers over the IGC this month and the genie cannot be put back in its bottle. Whether he likes it or not, Cameron’s own party will now force him to make Europe a big deal in the election.

The process of rejecting Cameronism, which started with the Grammar schools debacle in the summer (“Grammar streaming”? Snarf!!), is now complete: Cameron is now a slave to his party. A couple of years ago, he was really quite scary and seemed to truly capture the zeitgeist. Now he just looks like another posh boy.

But Brown hasn’t got off lightly either. In truth, his tarnish started to come off with the stunt last month when he invited Thatcher round for tea: it was horribly effective but about as subtle as a brick and we all knew it. Back then it became apparent that Brown was just as careful a spinner as his predeccessor; now it is undeniable. The honeymoon period is now over; he too now looks as if he has feet of clay.

That the Labour and Tory leaders are mortal may not appear to be that big a revelation, but when you remember that this is the main criticism levelled against Ming Campbell, you begin to realise that it represents a real opportunity for the Lib Dems. We’ve all been taken down a peg or two since 2005; from now on politics will have a little less effervescence and be a little more substantial. In my humble opinion, all the boring, dry work that Campbell and his colleagues have been doing to make the Lib Dems serious players in terms of policy and positioning now has a chance to pay off. He still needs to sort out his press operation (kudos to whoever for getting the Campbell comment on Brown’s bottle out before Cameron, although I note now that the BBC has now relegated Campbell’s comment in the way it always does – thank God we can rely on Iain Dale to confirm how slow the Tories were out of the starting blocks), but if we can just sort that out, I’m confident we have now turned a corner.

Has Gordon Brown dropped a big hairy one?

I think the answer to that one must be a Big Yes:

An ICM poll for the Guardian newspaper indicates the gap has narrowed to just one per cent compared to seven per cent a month ago.

It follows two other surveys which suggest Labour’s lead has dropped to four and three percentage points.

The word hubris springs to mind. What I don’t understand is why people put so much faith into opinion polls. Before Brown took over, all the signs were that he wasn’t going to do Labour any good at all. Labour got all excited and read way too much into the subsequent rallying in their poll figures and started plotting an election campaign. Now, with that gap narrowed, going into a General Election looks like lunacy. But having hyped it up to an unbearable degree for the best part of a month, can they afford not to go?

On balance, and I’m willing to be proven wrong here, I still think they will err on the side of caution. Although walking away from a snap election will make Labour look very silly indeed, there are simply too many known unknowns out there for them to want to risk it. The IGC could get out of control, at least a million people will be disenfranchised (and that’s assuming everything else runs smoothly), the Tories are rallying, in any case Tory supporters are more likely to turn out at a time of year where the weather is likely to be poor and the sun will be setting before most people get home from work and the “big mo” argument is now out of the window.

What all this does hail however is the end of Brown’s honeymoon period. It won’t be so easy for him from now on and the media do not forgive vanity (for that is what going for an early poll was) lightly. The irony is, if Labour had played down speculation about an early poll, the Brown Bounce could possibly have continued long into the winter.

So if he doesn’t now go for an early election, he’ll come out of it looking damaged. If he does go for an early election, he’ll come out at least as damaged and possible worse.

Can we return to normal politics again? First item on the agenda: fixed term parliaments.

Will Gordon Brown disenfranchise me?

Okay, I accept that the chicken entrails are all currently indicating an autumn election. Iain Dale and Vicky Ford have just made me realise something: am I going to lose my vote to suit Gordon Brown’s agenda?

I moved house back in January and dutifully filled in the registration form this summer (okay, okay, with some prodding, I admit). But with the new canvass not set to come on stream until December, I’ll be one of those awkward people who find themselves between two registers.

A November election will be a miserable one; it is no surprise that most Scottish Labour MPs are loath to have one (hat tip: Jonathan Calder). With Brown only calling it if it is to be a forgone conclusion (as best as he can tell), the question will be not so much whether we have a low turnout but how low can the turnout get. Will this be the first UK General Election to have a turnout of less than 50 per cent?