Category Archives: Democracy undermined
On Tuesday, politicians from across the political spectrum, campaigners and people from all walks of life (a few pictured below), took part in the Hungry for Democracy action initiated by Make Votes Matter, a 24-hour hunger strike to call for a new voting system, one that truly represents the diverse nature of Britain today.
Labour, Green Party, UKIP, Lib Dems, Women’s Equality Party, SNP, and Plaid all shared a platform to fight for a parliament that truly represents the people.
Proportional representation is advocated to ensure a fairer distribution of legislative seats At present, the power of the vote is determined by geography because of the out-dated first-past-the-post electoral system. People feel disenfranchised and ask why they need to vote when the same party always wins in their constituency. In some of those places the winning candidate is elected on under 50%, and in some instances with under 40% of the vote.
In the last election our voting system made a difference in only 99 of 650 seats.
Over 80% of the public in 2017 voted for one of two parties. An estimated 20% of the electorate voted tactically to keep out the party they didn’t want.
Proportional voting systems used for elections in the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, have been in place since 1999, providing a good blend of constituency MPs and regional MPs.
Several parties – or groups within parties – are fighting for a manifesto commitment to proportional representation, building a better kind of politics. There could even be a cross-party, shared manifesto commitment to electoral reform and a constitutional convention.
The BBC World Service radio this morning, Radio 4’s Broadcasting House – and other mainstream media – offered distorted reporting:
- first headlining the “iron fist” threat and repeating this several times, before acknowledging its conditionality ‘if political unrest continues’
- and failing to focus on the far larger rallies supporting the Iranian government
They stressed that the demonstrations erupted over falling living standards, but Iranian interior minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli said that those people in the larger demos realised this was due to imposed sanctions – but the BBC website chose only to report his words about the consequences of damage to public property, disrupting order and breaking the law.
The USA’s use of soft power to foment unrest has been effective with many worldwide
The use of soft power was touched on in a linked site in 2015. We quote: “Hard power is exerted by financial inducements, invasion and remote killing by drone aircraft. Soft power sounds quite benign, but as Joseph Nye points out in The Future of Power (2011, left), it can be wielded for good or ill: Hitler, Stalin, and Mao all possessed a great deal of soft power. He adds: “It is not necessarily better to twist minds than to twist arms”.
An illusion of a free society (‘liberating minds’) is presented and a consumerist culture cultivated. One actor in this drive is the Human Rights Foundation, whose approving Wikipedia entry emphasises its insistence on ‘economic freedom’. In Central and South America and the Middle East it has paved the way for the overthrow of regimes which would not co-operate.
Has it escalated in Iran after its threat to further ‘eliminate’ use of the dollar?
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said to Putin in November: “we can nullify US sanctions, using methods such as eliminating the dollar and replacing it with national currencies”. Forbes earlier reported that this policy would be implemented. Several countries have not fared well after ‘ditching the dollar’:
- In 2002 North Korea’s state-run Korean Trade Bank announced a ban on the use of US dollars in daily payment and settlement for its citizens and foreigners.
- In 2003 Coilin Nunan wondered: “Could one reason for the US wish for ‘regime change’ in Iraq and unprecedented European opposition to such a project be Iraq’s decision two years earlier to accept euros only as payment for its oil, instead of the customary dollars? Could America’s current focus on Iran be similarly explained?”
- In 2004 Fidel Castro decreed that the dollar would no longer be legal for commercial transactions.
It should be stressed that the soft power illusions of total normality, freedom and prosperity are a confidence trick. The unmentioned features of the USA, a country which young Iranians and others have been led by soft power to admire as ‘an ideal state of freedom’, include pollution, child abuse, violent pornography, inequality of opportunity, youth unemployment, high cost housing and military aggression.
“As a report in the Blackpool Gazette showed a drone photograph of Cuadrilla’s well pad near Blackpool under inches of water this week, which could lead to fields and watercourses being contaminated with fracking chemicals and drilling muds, there is news of planned incursions elsewhere.
Ineos, Britain’s biggest fracking company, wants to survey sites in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire.
Clumber Park estate (below) in Nottinghamshire, is now owned by the National Trust which opposes fracking. As the trust has refused to allow Ineos to carry out tests for shale gas on this land, the company is to use legal powers under the Mines Act 1966. It has now applied to the government’s Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) for access to conduct seismic surveys on the 3,800-acre estate in order to gauge the best sites for drilling.
Ineos is also seeking to bypass local councils by using powers created in 2015 to fast-track plans to drill for shale gas in the Midlands without their planning approval. These enable companies to request intervention from ministers to get permission for delayed infrastructure projects deemed to be of national importance. Councils that ’unreasonably delay planning decisions’ can be overruled by Sajid Javid, the local government secretary, via the planning inspectorate.
Ineos plans to apply formally to Mr Javid within days for intervention on two delayed projects in Derbyshire and near Rotherham, South Yorkshire.
As David Powell (NEF) asks “How long can the government push clean and dirty energy at the same time?” He ends with a comment:
“If the Government bows to INEOS’s bolshie demands, it wouldn’t just be an affront to the very concept of democracy. It would also be proof – in a decarbonising, climate-changing world, even as it talks big on a ‘clean’ industrial strategy – that it retains a very misguided sense of which horse to back”.
Birmingham Council adopts the government’s austerity agenda: asking the low paid to accept even lower wages
In July, Birmingham City Council reneged on an ACAS-mediated, cabinet-approved agreement between the Unite union and Birmingham’s talented Council Leader, John Clancy, which was to end the seven-week refuse collection dispute.
And when BCC reneged on the Unite/Clancy deal, they also issued redundancy notices to the Grade 3 workers. These were later banned in the High Court when Mr Justice Fraser spoke at length about the “extraordinary” and “astonishing” state of affairs at Birmingham City Council with “chaos” between senior personnel. Read more about his reflections here.
Council leader Ian Ward (left) told a BBC reporter: “The cost of the (three month) dispute, yes that’s cost in excess of £6m”.
This ‘new’ version of the original deal (details here), described by union insiders as a ‘total climbdown’, was agreed at a special meeting of the BCC cabinet on Friday.
ITV reports that yesterday Birmingham bin workers voted to accept the council deal.
So a seven week dispute was allowed to go on for three months, regardless of health and safety implications, losing £6m of ratepayers’ money – and the wrong head rolled.
From ‘Our Birmingham‘, under another title.
A reader sent the link to this consideration of e-petition 168657 relating to proportional representation
30 October 2017
Edited extracts, emphasis added
A constituent of mine has conveyed to me the fact that she feels passionately that unless some kind of system is devised that truly represents voters’ opinions, our democracy will be even more broken that it is at the moment—she cited the example of the United States. We must ensure that people feel that their voices are heard here in Parliament.
It seems a very odd and conflicted scenario that those who say that they seek a so-called fairer voting system are unable to accept the result of the last referendum on this very issue. “Ah,” some people will cry, “that was about the alternative vote, AV. This is about proportional representation—a very different thing altogether.” The fact remains, however, that the referendum result was not only a rejection of AV, but a massive endorsement of our current voting system.
I support proportional representation but voted against AV, because I thought that single transferable vote was a better system.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that first past the post is inherently an electoral system for a two-party political system? In England, there are at least five competitive parties, and in Wales and Scotland, which have national parties, there are six.
How can first past the post possibly reflect that diversity of political parties?
The hon. Gentleman is being very generous in giving way. Does he not have any concerns about safe seats and the sense of a local monopoly if there is no competition for power? His party surely understands the concept that if one party has complete control in an area, we get bad government.
I have always been a supporter of electoral reform. It has always seemed to me that the obvious starting point for any electoral system is that the number of votes that people cast for parties should be reflected in the composition of Parliament or whatever body is being elected.
Frankly, I find it absurd that on several occasions in British history we have had elections where a party with fewer votes than another has won the election and formed the Government. That happened as recently as 1974, and before that in 1951 and on several other occasions. The number of votes cast should be reflected in the composition of Parliament. That is the start and end of the debate for me,
We have this argument about strong and weak government, but strong government to me means good government. It does not mean a Government with an artificial majority propelled into that majority by the system when the people have not voted for that majority. Whatever we think of things such as the Iraq war or the poll tax, they are examples of strong government, but I argue strongly that they are not examples of good government.
The devolved nations have led the way on a whole range of policy issues, simply because they have a more representative political culture. Many know full well that first past the post is open to manipulation. It has always been the case in every party represented here that favoured sons and daughters have been parachuted into constituencies or selection processes have been manipulated. It is simply not true that that can be transferred to any system that has a list involved.
If democracy is about fairly representing the views of the people, we are failing with first past the post. As a country, we pride ourselves on our strong commitment to democracy, yet the vast majority of votes stack up and simply do not make an impact on the overall result. No fewer than 68% of votes cast in June’s general election were, in effect, wasted—they made no difference at all to the outcome.
Yes, I have a vested interest.
Some 1 million people voted Green in 2015. Under a proportional system, those votes would have given us more than 20 MPs.
However, I am also deeply worried about what our outdated, dysfunctional electoral system is doing to the legitimacy of our governance system—a system that not only fails the political parties and fails to deliver effective government, but fails the citizens of this country.
The Electoral Reform Society described the 2015 general election, in which a Government were elected on just 24% of the eligible vote, as “the most disproportionate” in electoral history. It further reported that in the election just gone more than 22 million votes —68%—were essentially wasted because first past the post takes no account of votes for the winning candidate over and above what they needed to win, or indeed of votes for losing candidates.
In five constituencies 90% of votes made no difference to the outcome because they were cast for candidates who did not win, or cast for the winning candidate over and above what they needed to win. More than 90% of votes—a huge number.
On the point about devolution, we have proportional representation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in London. It works very well. People understand it, and it delivers good government in all those regions.
One disadvantage of our current system is that it has so many things that are negative and skew it.
As was mentioned, marginal seats are targeted, with parties throwing all kinds of money at them to try to win them back, whereas voters who do not live in a marginal seat are lucky to get a couple of leaflets through the door. That is not a good and representative system, and we need to think a bit better about how we get around and change those things. PR, under which all votes count a good deal more, would certainly be one way to change that, particularly when asking for second or third preferences from constituents, as happens in Ireland, which has a far more competitive system where people fight for those votes.
I also thank my constituents who have written to me on this very important subject.
First past the post neither reflects voters’ wishes nor is any more likely to provide strong government than proportional representation. I will also quote the late Robin Cook, who said in 2005: “Democracy is not just a means to an end. Democracy is a value in itself. And if we treasure that value, we need to provide a more democratic system for the centrepiece of our own political structure.”
I agree with the Electoral Reform Society that, under first past the post, people feel more like observers than participants in the democratic process.
Since the last Labour Government created the London Assembly, I have been involved in campaigning for elections in which the geographical link is maintained, contrary to the points repeatedly made by Members here who oppose a change. Furthermore, the London Assembly reflects the voting intentions of Londoners, as do all the new elected legislative bodies created by the last Labour Government in the years after 1997.
The hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) mentioned the recent New Zealand general election, of which I have personal experience. When I visited my son in New Zealand in September, I played a small part on election day. They have multi-Member PR there. Notwithstanding the unorthodox way in which the leader of New Zealand First announced his choice of partners in the Green and Labour parties, in order to form a Labour-led Government, there is no groundswell of opinion in New Zealand to move away from the multi-Member system. I spent the day reminding voters in a strongly Labour voting area in South Auckland to go out to vote. Because of the PR system, those people were more likely to come out to vote than they might have been under first past the post, which would have made it a safe seat.
In the UK, because of first past the post, many people in safe seats say on the doorstep, “What’s the point of voting?” In highly marginal seats such as my own—it was highly marginal until June 2017, but seems to be a safe seat for the time being—people often vote not for their first party of choice, but the candidate most likely to defeat the candidate they least want. One person in five votes tactically, according to the Electoral Reform Society. The lack of representation in Parliament of small parties is abysmal, but as the co-leader of the Green party, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), said, those parties often represent millions of votes.
Going into the election in June this year, I had a majority of 465 in my seat of Brentford and Isleworth. The Green party—some of its members are here today—withdrew its candidate because it felt that I was more likely to further its priorities in Parliament than my Conservative opponent. I met many people on the doorstep who normally vote Green and said they would vote for me, but would have liked an influence on getting a Green MP elected to Parliament. I met many Liberal Democrats who were voting for me, but would have preferred the chance to vote Lib Dem. That is not democracy—it is not good democracy.
In my view, PR is a way to have a more representative voice.
While no system is perfect, all systems have elements of complexity. All can bring instability, hung Parliaments and coalitions. PR brings proportionality, as people know that their vote will help towards the weighting of the party they want to see sitting in that legislature, and reflects the complex diversity of the UK now.
I rise to argue that the central purpose of the campaign for proportional representation must be to shine a light on the clear, strong and manifold causal links between the state of our broken politics and the state of our discredited voting system.
The simple fact is that the British people deserve an electoral system in which every vote counts.
Why do the vast majority of developed nations use proportional representation, while our electorate are forced to accept second best?
Decades of research from around the world shows that proportional representation correlates with positive societal outcomes: greater income equality, less corporate control, better long-term planning and political stability, fairer representation of women and minorities, higher voter turnout, better environmental laws and a significantly lower likelihood of going to war.
Polls consistently show that a majority of the public want PR. The latest poll shows that 67% want to make seats match votes, and those people are joined by a growing alliance of parties, MPs and public figures who want real democracy.
The transparency of a more coalition-based system whereby parties are able to self-identify clearly as parties in their own right is a far more healthy way of running a democracy.
The truth is that it is first past the post that increasingly leads to backstairs deals and pork barrel politics.
I prefer the open politics of transparent coalition building, in which parties are clear about the trade-offs that they would make in a coalition, and the public clearly do too. They like to see their politicians putting the national interest ahead of narrow party political gain, because they can see that our entire political culture, underpinned and compounded by our winner-takes-all electoral system, is not geared to building broad-based political support right across the country. No, it is geared to focus on approximately 100 constituencies —the so-called battleground seats.
I shall finish in that spirit by calling on political parties to commit to including two things in their manifestos: first, an undertaking in principle to replace first past the post with a more proportional system; and secondly, a commitment to organising a constitutional convention, shortly after the next general election, to identify the best possible proportional system that we can implement for our country. True radicalism is about going to the root cause of a problem, identifying the solution and building consensus for change, so let us for once be truly radical.
Let us accept that our politics is broken and that our utterly discredited first-past-the-post system is preventing us from building the new political culture that our country so urgently needs.
The full debate may be read here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2017-10-30/debates/9D7C1DE6-0EA9-45D2-AD7E-D0EEB3ECCB92/ProportionalRepresentation
In last week’s Prime Minister’s Question Time there was a fiery intervention by MP Dennis Skinner who told Theresa May about research showing that the High Speed 2 rail line was going out of its way to stop disruption to “leafy suburbs of the south”:
“[In] the leafy suburbs of the south, the first 140 miles, 30% of it has been dedicated to tunnelling to avoid knocking houses down.
“Yet in the north we are now told that the percentage is only 2% for the whole of the north. “And why? Because HS2 says it’s too costly, knock the houses down.
“Will she arrange for a meeting with people from my area in order to avoid another 30 houses being knocked down in Newtown part of Bolsover.
“Isn’t it high time that this government stopped treating our people like second class citizens?”
Theresa May replied by extolling her government’s service to these second class citizens citing resounding names Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engines; the reality?
The north struggles to attract high-calibre teachers . . . Its secondary schools have, on average, funding of £1,300 less per pupil than those in London. In April this year the FT reported research findings that schools with the poorest children face much greater cuts per pupil than those with the most affluent children under the government’s proposed funding formula. (Brian Groom FT)
Knowsley and Liverpool are two of the most deprived areas of the country: council spend per head in these areas has been reduced by £400 and £390 respectively. In Wokingham and Elmbridge, two of the wealthiest parts of the country, the corresponding totals are £2.29 and £8.14.
A scheme to compensate councils for the council tax freeze, for example, is calculated on the value of properties in the area, meaning that the higher the value of local homes, the larger the relief package: Surrey gets a vastly bigger pay-off than Teesside. (Tom Crewe, LRB essay)
The local authorities with the highest levels of deprivation and more reliant on central government grants, were relatively worse off. Cuts to the poorest metropolitan districts averaged 28% compared with more affluent authorities (2010-2015). National reviews painted a stark picture of closures and restrictions to services. (Steve Schofield, Conservative austerity and the future of local government)
Time for change!
Below a suitably sinister picture of Jeremy Corbyn and a very thin text in the Times, John Carlin (right) refers to Corbyn’s refusal to accept an invitation to attend an official dinner with Israel’s prime minister this week.
The position taken by the Labour leader is honest and consistent. Years ago he was arrested for demonstrating against Israel’s support for apartheid in South Africa.
Below: The West Bank Jewish settlement of Beitar Ilit, seen through a barbed wire fence. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to approve some hundreds of new housing units in West Bank settlements before slowing settlement construction, two of his aides said Friday, despite Washington’s public demand for a total settlement freeze.
“Since 1967 Israel has established over a hundred settlements in the West Bank. In addition, there are dozens more settlement outposts that are not officially recognized by the authorities. These settlements were established on vast tracts of land taken from the Palestinians, in breach of international humanitarian law. The very existence of the settlements violates Palestinian human rights, including the right to property, equality, a decent standard of living and freedom of movement”: B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
Jeremy Corbyn has consistently called for an end to the oppression of the Palestinian people, supporting a two-state solution. Had he agreed to dine with a perpetrator, one can imagine the outcry and the charges brought against him.
B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories is one of many Israeli Palestinian organisations working for justice and peace.
Nelson Mandela, to whom Carlin (his biographer) is said to have paid an eloquent, affectionate tribute (here), was loyal to Palestinians and troubled by Israel’s support of the South African apartheid, which he worked to end.
On a 1999 trip to Israel Mandela said:
“Israel should withdraw from all the areas which it won from the Arabs in 1967, and in particular Israel should withdraw completely from the Golan Heights, from south Lebanon and from the West Bank”.
(Read on here).
Broken Britain 9: ‘populism’ is really ‘anti-elitism’ – a backlash due to economic and political inequality
Stephen Latner, an FT reader, reminds columnist Philip Stephens – and a whole range of commentators – that it would be more accurate to describe “populism” as “anti-elitism” and acknowledge that the backlash is not down purely to economic factors but political as well . . .
Philip Stephens had explained that the explanation for a rising sense of grievance and a collapse of trust in the old political order is to be found in the answers to the opinion poll question asking people if they expect a better life for their children:
“Voters are now more likely to answer no than yes. The march to progress, they assume, has ended . . .The pain is made the more acute when a small minority can indeed pass on great power and wealth to their children . . .”
Latner adds that many voted for Brexit because of the perceived elitism of the EU (“an unelected, non-transparent, central bureaucracy”) and sees that new technology – ‘the digital age’ – is ensuring that elitism will come under fire and more centralisation of political power will be seen as elitist and unacceptable.
Stephens supplies the element missing from Latner’s analysis – the added burden of a political elite allied with the wealthiest corporates:
“At its simplest, establishing trust is about behaviour. Today’s elites should ask themselves just when it became acceptable:
- for politicians to walk straight from public office into the boardroom;
- for central bank chiefs to sell themselves to US investment banks
- and for business leaders to pay themselves whatever they pleased”.