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Voting Reform – the Constituency Link

Many politicians insists that any reformed voting system preserves ‘the constituency link’. Unfortunately this is usually interpreted as the relationship between a single MP and his or her single member constituency. This relationship is of cause of great benefit to the MP who wants to be elected next time. However, since a parliament made up of MPs all of whom are elected in single constituencies cannot be proportionate, this causes some difficulties.

What about the interests of the constituents? The convention is that an MP represents all of his or her constituents, even though typically his or her views differ markedly from those of at least half of them. This requires the MP to exhibit the humility and social skills to listen to and communicate views that differ from his or her own. This is too often not the case, and is certainly not the case with my MP. If he had to the sense to listen to his own PA, things might be better, but he does not.

If on the other hand multi members constituencies are allowed then typically constituents will have the choice of several MPs. Under STV for example, a constituency link ceratinly operates, but it is a many to many link rather than a one to many.

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BBC Bias – the Role of Ofcom

There is great unhappiness with the way the BBC responds to complaints. It is my opinion that the BCC needs to be made genuinely independent of government. However it is important to recogise the changes made in April 2017. The BBC Trust was dissolved and its regulatory functions transferred to Ofcom. I have phoned Ofcom on 0300 123 3333. Complaints about the BBC should in the first instance be made to the BBC, but that if you are not satisfied with their reply you can then refer the matter to Ofcom. I suspect that many people do not know this. I have looked briefly at Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code and it looks good, but I am somewhat skeptical about whether Ofcom’s role  can represent a real improvement. Before advocating more radical reforms to the governance of the BBC I would like to see if references to Ofcom are having any effect – so try it!

The BBC is a unique institution. The quality of its drama and factual programmes is unrivalled, but as John Pilger says ‘the BBC is and has long been the most refined propaganda service in the world’. This must not be allowed to continue in ‘peace time’.

Hare’s ‘personal representation’

Thomas Hare argued for  personal reprsentation not proportional representation.

Voting Reform – Why MMP/AMS Won’t Do

As I understand it official Make Votes Matter policy is still to support the principle of proportional representation while declining to come down in favour of one system. The majority of opinion on the facebook page seems to be to favour STV over a mixed system, but leading members of the organising team appear to favour AMS as the more achievable system. Somewhere down the line we are going to have to choose, at least unless we get two referenda as in New Zealand.

Those in favour of AMS appear to have neglected several key issues:

  • Britons (and parties) are very divided on attitudes to Europe. This is likely to remain an issue long after Brexit is achieved or abandoned. Voters ought be able to express their opinions at the ballot box.
  • Climate change is an existential threat; I have to accept that it is highly unlikely, the way things are going, that my grandaughter will survive to pensionable age. People ought to be facing up to the implications and to be able to express their opinions at the ballot box. Party positions do not adequately reflect the differing positions.
  • Germany’s MMP system has let it down. Because it is essentially party based, (even constituency members are likely to be voted for on the basis of party – as with FPTP), Merkel has been able to dominate politics. She has been able to get away with a politically dangerous (though morally laudable) policy on immigrants, and she has steamrollered her coalition partners. As a result we have the rise of the AfD and the SPD having lost support will not participate in a new coalition. Under STV I do not think this could happen. With transferable voting MPs will be less subservient to the party and care more about their constituents’ views. They will be more prepared to challenge the government when they think it is getting things wrong.

The one virtue of MMP is a good degree of proportionality in party terms; but it otherwise combines all the faults of FPTP and party-list systems.

I personally am very loath to support a system I believe is inferior at least without having a proper structure and informed debate which cannot be managed on social media. The ideal would be a citizens’ assembly like those held in British Columbia and Ontario some years ago. It would be good if the Constitution Unit at UCL could organise one as they have over the sort of Brexit we should have. Unfortunately this would be so unpopular with the government that the unit’s core funding could be threatened. We may need to do it ourselves using crowd funding.

One argument against STV could be that we cannot have proper democracy because voters cannot be trusted because they are so badly informed by the mainstream media including the BBC. The answer surely is public demonstrations against the media which would be reported on social media, RT and Al Jazeera. don’t think we will settle anything using facebook groups, facebook pages, or twitter. Moderators can censor bad behaviour but cannot be expected to ensure people listen to each other properly. Face to face debate is essential. We need to insist on a citizens’ assembly as in BC and Ontario.

 

First Past the Post Guarantees Instability

First Past the Post has always encouraged a two party system and ‘see-saw’ politics which makes the solution of long term problems such as the housing shortage virtually impossible; but now things are worse. It has long been realised that the Conservative Party is a coalition held together by self interest. Until recently they have managed to hold things together, but now the moderates and the Eurosceptic zealots are at war, a war which I do not believe will cease with Brexit (or its abandonment).

On the other side we have Labour which is split between the Corbynites on the one hand, campaigning on a platform thought of as socialist, but which many Tory voters would accept if promoted by Tories; and on the other hand the ‘moderates’ who remain in thrall to the false religion of neoliberalism – austerity, selfishness and guaranteed inequality. If Labour wins the next election the government will face many challenges trying to reverse failed policies and will probably last for one session only. The ensuing Tory government will have to appease the zealots. Thus we are likely to face an alternation between two dysfunctional governments. Firset Past the Post guarantees that party loyalty trumps effective government.

Under PR there would be formal coalitions, but at least the various parties and factions would have to listen to one another. The issue of our relationship with Europe is one that divides both Labour and Conservative. If the Single Transferable Vote system were adopted then it would be perfectly reasonable, without splitting the Labour vote, for both pro Europe and anti Europe candidates to stand in a constituency. Even if the CLP were to come down on one side, an independent Labour candidate could stand to represent the other side. In the same way both pragmatic Conservatives v. racist and xenophobic Conservatives could stand in the same constituency.

Ir is true that Germany is struggling to form a coalition at present but that is due to the rise of the AfD, and the inflexibilty of Merkel, see, https://www.welt.de/english-news/article168995829/Merkel-s-CDU-the-bad-coalition-party.html.  The rise of right wing populist parties seems to be a feature of politics in Europe just now. But we in Britain are doing no better. We have not had effective government since Cameron resigned and certainly not since the June election. It is First Past the Post that forces the Conservative party to be dysfunctional. Recognising that the formerly much respected Merkel has passed her sell by date is easier than making our broken system work.

Genocide in Yemen

In parliament today 21 November 2017 Alistair Burt, minister of state in Dfid had the gall, once again, to deny that Saudi have blockaded Yemen. The conflict there is often described as a proxy war between Saudi and Iran. The USA and the UK have weighed in on the Saudi side, the motive on our side being arms sales.

It seems that throughout, the Saudi strategy has been to starve the Houthis rather than defeat troops on the ground. Bombing has been targetted to achieve this. Initially the cranes in the key port of Al Hudaydah were targetted thus preventing the unloading of ships supplying food. Next they have been targetting hospitals, schools and more importantly the electricity supply in northern Yemen has been knocked out. This has disabled water treatment plants thus causing the worst cholera outbreak on record – now approaching a million cases. One of the first acts of the banks in the South of the country had been the destruction of the currency – literally burning bank notes.

The excuse for the blockade of the North has been to prevent imports of arms from Iran. In fact not only has it caused mass starvation but also even journalists are unable to get in. Individual Houthis are trapped; they cannot get out. One of our sources of information is a Houthi whom we have contacted online with some difficulty, but we have now lost touch.

This promises to be worse genocide than Rwanda. The UK should be taken to the International Criminal Court.

That Humble Address – Constitutional Chaos, or Merely Displaying the hypocrisy of our ‘Constitutional Monarchy’?

So last night (November 1st) Parliament unanimously passed an ‘humble address’ to the Queen to request her to demand that the government release the secret Brexit papers. Once again the chaotic state of our ‘unwritten’ (or un codified) constitution has been revealed. According to what the Telegraph wrote before the vote http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/11/01/labour-use-arcane-19th-century-parliamentary-procedure-try-force/ “Parliament’s rulebook Erskine May states that each House has the power to call for the production of papers through an address to the sovereign but it has rarely been used since the middle of the 19th century. “ The vote was unanimous presumably because the government did not believe it could win the vote. According to The London Economic, https://www.thelondoneconomic.com/news/fury-as-government-loses-unanimous-vote-to-reveal-what-reports-on-effects-of-brexit-say-but-insists-its-not-binding/02/11/ “[the speaker] Bercow confirmed the motion is binding, as did other independent Westminster clerks, and after a Humble Address the Queen is now expected to enter the fray by having to comment on whether it is and whether Brexit Secretary should reveal this information to the Brexit Committee.”

However the Daily Star https://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/politics/657035/brexit-news-latest-the-queen-labour-humble-address-labour-jeremy-corbyn said, ‘By convention, the monarch has to respond to a humble address passed by MPs in parliament. Her response will be delivered to parliament in writing, a spokesperson for the House of Commons said.

A senior government source told the Telegraph that the motion will embroil the Queen – who is impartial on political issues – in the row. “The Palace is not happy,” the source said. “It risks dragging the crown into political issues. It is a concern. The Crown has to respond. There are concerns at the Palace that about using a procedure to address non-controversial issues in a controversial way.”’ That is as may be, but apparently all the palace said publicly was that the Queen will not wade into political matters. “Parliamentary procedures are a matter for Parliament.”

Until about a year ago the monarchy website said that the Queen always acts on the advice of the Prime Minister. This statement does not appear on the new website, but it is surely not credible that the Queen has changed her position. In reality then it is up to the Prime Minister how she will respond.

This is somewhat different from the situation in 1931 when Ramsay MacDonald who had been leading a minority government submitted his resignation to George V. The King persuaded MacDonald that it was his duty to form a new government to address the financial crisis. This was a perfectly reasonable thing to do even if things did not quite work out as the King had hoped. At some point since then the monarch decided that such activism is too controversial.

These days, where the Royal family does have influence is over matters that affect it. If for example a Bill is drawn up that may adversely affect the finances of the Duchy of Cornwall, Prince Charles will complain privately and a minister will then advise him to use his power of veto over that Bill.

During the debate Jacob Rees-Mogg welcomed the use of the ‘humble address’ procedure. In fact Keir Starmer’s use of it was justified only because a suitable purely parliamentary procedure does not exist. It is not the role of the Queen that is in question, but the lack of adequate mechanisms to hold government to account.

None of this flummary would have been necessary if the government had behaved responsibly and had discussed what information could be divulged with select committees at a much earlier.