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Entries in UK Politics (3)

Wednesday
Mar172010

Ready for change?

I'm a bit of an anorak when it comes to UK politics, and I'm finding the whole run-up to this election fascinating. The prospect of the first hung parliament in years is decidedly exciting to people like me, however much the money men are trying to scare us off one (next time you hear a guy in a pin-stripe suit warn you that a hung parliament is a Very Bad Thing for the economy, remember that he and his chums were largely responsible for the current economic crisis in the first instance).

If on May 7th there isn't a hung parliament, it's fairly likely that the Tories will have won the election. With a foreign-owned, right-wing media providing the party with acres of free publicity and a bag-full of Lord Ashcroft's foreign-generated (and untaxed) cash to pay the marketing bill, a Conservative victory remains a very likely prospect.

So what would a Tory government be like? You've probably noticed by now that the Conservatives have gone for an Obama-esque slogan, positioning themselves as the party of change. Interestingly, a lot of journalists have rubbished this idea somewhat, pointing out that the Tories have watered down their Thatcherite stance (or at least language), are now quite New-Labourish, and that a Tory victory would provide more of the same; business as usual. 

Wrong. I think a Tory victory at this point in the UK's history could result in some of the most profound changes that Britain has ever seen.

Here's why.

Firstly, the Scots don't like the Conservative Party very much - in fact, at all. They never really vote for them these days. If the Tories win power -- thanks to the efforts of English voters ("Motorway Man" and his other carefully-segmented friends) -- there is a much greater chance of the Scots voting for full independence in a referendum. 

Secondly, the Tories have promised to reduce the number of MPs in Westminster by 10% (65 or so MPs). Somewhat unsurprisingly, the proposed cuts will mean that it is mostly Labour MPs getting the chop. This would have a massive effect on the make-up of future parliaments.

Thirdly, the Tories don't like the idea of electoral reform, or more specifically, proportional representation (the idea that the number of seats in parliament should proportionally reflect, er, the wishes of the voters). The reason that Tories don't like proportional representation is because they know that the only way that they could ever get into power is under the existing arrangements, where 40% of the vote can deliver 50%-60% of the seats in the House of Commons. Coupled with the new constituency boundaries which will help to deliver even more bang for the Tory vote, we're looking at a situation where it would be extremely hard for other parties to win elections.

So, at this point - say, three years after a Tory win, what are we left with? An independent Scotland, and an England and Wales which have a voting system that is hard-wired to elect Tories (and no reform to this system in sight). Now, the Welsh don't like the Conservatives much either. Could a more vigorous independence movement start in the valleys, if it looks as though an eternally Conservative half-Britain is a likely prospect? The end of the Union beckons! And ironically, brought to you by the Conservative and Unionist Party.

It sounds far-fetched. But an independence referendum is the centrepiece policy of the current Scottish administration; the reduction in the numbers of MPs is a key part of the Tories' response to the expenses scandal; and David Cameron has come out firmly against electoral reform.

Ready for change?

More Chris Singleton content
Thursday
May012008

Live in London? Read this for the good of your health!

Dear All,

Some politics at lunchtime for you...

If you live in London, no doubt you're aware that today is the day that we're all voting in the Mayoral Election.

I don't want to come over all Bono, but it'd be great if you could join with me in doing your best to stop Boris getting elected.

That basically means giving Ken Livingstone either your first or second preference vote today. Ken may have his foibles, but they pale in comparison compared to what Boris would bring to London: he has a history of rascism, corruption and ineptitude - not to mention extreme right-wing opinions.

For years Boris has written a Daily Telegraph column and otherwise communicated his views and opinions, which include:

  • fanatical support for the Iraq war
  • fanatical support for George W Bush (he campaigned for him to win the US elections in both 2000 and 2004)
  • opposition to the Kyoto protocol on climate change (which every single developed country in the world apart from Bush's USA has now signed up to)
  • opposition to the minimum wage- support for rail privatisation (the cause of the current chaos and high fares)
  • opposition to the congestion charge
  • opposition to paternity leave
  • the belief that South Africa under Nelson Mandela represented “the majority tyranny of black rule”
  • such vocal and sustained criticism of the inquiry into the Stephen Lawrence murder case that Stephen's non-partisan mother has said he is “definitely not the right person” to be Mayor.
Given all the above, I can only see our quality of life in London being damaged were he to get elected. Boris may be funny, but the prospect of him having so much influence over our lives (in areas of transport, crime, security and much more) is no joke.

So please get out there and do whatever you can to stop Boris. You can start by copying and pasting this message and sending it to friends, but above all, get out and vote for Ken.

Many thanks and please excuse the politics! I'll start talking rock and roll again soon...

Best, Chris Singleton

Tuesday
Jul172007

The one thing Gordon Brown should do

We've got a new prime minister, so it's time to get political. Ish.

There's been a lot of noise on the blogosphere - and elsewhere - about what Gordon Brown should do now that he's prime minister. I've read an interesting mix of instructions, from the hang 'em and flog 'em brigade, calling for the removal of immigrants from the UK, to anti-war protestors calling for the removal of troops from Iraq. Depends whether you're on the Sky News or the Guardian website respectively.

A lot of people have extensive 'to-do' lists for Gordon - and admittedly, I have a quite a long wishlist myself - but if I met him, I'd ask him to do just one thing. And it's something which should transcend political divides; a political reform that, if they hold democracy dear, no left-winger or right-winger should be afraid of. I would ask Mr Brown to introduce a fair voting system, in place of the first-past-the-post voting system which is currently used in the UK.

In the UK voting system, an MP is elected to represent a constituency if they get a higher number of votes than any of their opponents in that constituency. This is not the same as winning a majority of votes. For example, a candidate could win a seat if she got 10,000 votes and her two opponents got 9,500 and 8,000 votes. In spite of the fact that far more people effectively voted against the winning candidate than for her, she would still win.

This may seem unfair at a constituency level, but it leads to incredible distortion at a national level. As an example of this, consider the 1983 and 2007 elections, which led to large majorities for the Tories and Labour respectively.

1983 Election*
The 1983 election saw a massive Tory landslide - they got 397 parlimentary seats compared to Labour's 209 - and a 'mandate' for Thatcher to carry out her revolution. But she only won 42% of the vote: 58% of the UK population did not want her party in office. But the Tories' 42% share of the vote resulted in them winning 61% of the seats in parliament. Is this fair?

1997 Election*
Labour's 1997 landslide is just as dubious. Their remarkable 418 seats in parliament and their historic majority was on the basis of winning 43% of the vote.

Although in both elections it was clear that the parties that ended up in government won the largest 'chunk' of the vote, they did not win the popular vote outright and ended up with majorities which, on the basis of votes cast, they did not at deserve.

In fact, since 1945, no party that has entered Government has won a majority of the votes (i.e., more than 50%). Labour came close in 1951, with 49.4% - and actually lost the election.

The 'strong government' argument
The main argument that I've heard being made in favour of the first-past-the-post voting system is that it produces 'strong' governments, as opposed to fragile coalitions that are prone to collapse. That may or may not be the case - but it's irrelevant. A strong government that effectively was not elected is not preferable to a coalition that was, regardless of its perceived 'strength' or coherence. In any event, my home country, Ireland would disprove that particular notion, with one party, Fianna Fail, having been in power for most of the past 25 years under a proportional representation system, in coalition with various minor parties.

If it's good enough for them...
The answer to all this is obviously to switch to a voting system where the number of seats a party receives broadly corresponds to the number of people voting for them. This doesn't mean doing away with constituencies or local MPs - it just means switching to proportional representation. And besides, if PR is good enough for elections in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland - surely it's good enough for UK general elections?

More information
Make Votes Count - http://www.makemyvotecount.org.uk/about.html
Electoral Reform Society - http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/

* Statistics from House of Commons Research Paper 03/59: UK Election Statistics 1945-2003