Monday, 24 May 2010

Just not very angry at the moment

Sorry Chaps (and Chappettes, I have no idea if anyone reads this, let alone their gender).

I've not been posting much (at all?) recently, mainly due to being very busy all of a sudden. The other problem is I'm just not that angry at the moment.

  • There's a Tory government, cutting government spending and pushing through reform of a dazzling array of areas that were corrupted by the last administration.
  • England won the World Cup (in cricket, sure! But there's a reasonable chance we'll do OK in the somewhat less important Football tournament).
  • The sun is shining.
  • Generally, there just seems to be a bit of an air of optimism. Sure things are bad. The Euro might go tits up anytime soon (which really isn't very funny, quit laughing at the back!), but at least we're starting to do something about the incredibly crappy situation we're in.

So, why bother being angry today? There'll be plenty of time for that tomorrow.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

What I meant was...

Monday, 10 May 2010

Thoughts on PR and the Government we need

This is now the fourth time I've started this Post. I've been trying to write a sensible, balanced post without descending into circular arguments or just half-witted swearing.

Essentially there are two interesting things going on at the moment. And they're connected. Actually, there are three things going on at the moment, but for now I'm going to put the the Eurozone Bailout (funded by us!) onto one side for a particularly sweary rant later.

Right, the two things I want to talk about are:
  • Electoral Reform
  • Lib Dem support to the future Government
And boy! are they connected.

The price of a stable Lib-Dem / Tory Coalition will almost certainly be some level of Electoral Reform. I don't know what form this will take but I do know what form I'd like it to take and what form hundreds of under-informed students are stridently demanding it will be.

What I would like to happen is a mature debate around the merits of exactly what sort of elections we should have; who should be elected and what we want the government to do. This is exactly the sort of problem that cannot be solved by a minority shouting loudly for what they want.

The minority seem to be calling for Proportional Representation (or PR to its friends). This is very superficially appealing. The make-up of the House of Commons is decided purely by an exact ratio of the number of votes gained. The Lib Dems would get 23% of the seats, UKIP would get 3.1% and the BNP would get only 1.9%, or a mere 12 seats. As I've said in this piece pure, simple PR would lead to a nightmare situation. The constituency link would be broken and Party Politics would be even stronger than today.

The obvious solution is to say: "Well, sure! PR may not be right then, so let's work on another method". This could be something like the Scottish model, with a two tier parliament, partially composed of constituency MPs and the rest there to make the numbers balance. Admittedly this does use the d'Hondt method of assigning seats, which at least ensures that the smallest parties have to cross a threshold. It's argued that with some form of PR turnout would rise and the smaller, more extremist parties would be squeezed into irrelevance. This doesn't seem to be the case in Switzerland (54% turnout in the major elections. Though of course, much power there is devolved to the regions).

But all this misses the damn question. There are far more electoral problems than the mere method used to allocate seats. Why do Labour have more seats at this election than the Tories did last time, despite nowhere near the same share of the vote (And slightly tongue in cheek, where the hell were all the protesters when Labour 'won' with such a low share of the vote)? Should we have an elected House of Lords (I say no, but I can see how it could work)? Should the PM be elected directly?

Calling for Proportional Representation is just a lazy reflex response to perceived "unfairness". Voting for the Government isn't like ordering at a restaurant. You don't necessarily get what you want. You get what "the people" want. All the various voting systems try to do is work out from the mish-mash of actual votes what people actually wanted. Some reflect the people's will very closely, some lead to stable governments (Afterall, 300 years without a civil war is one of the best records in the World).

As DJPNZ said earlier: "PR will not cure our debt, or our social decay or underfunded armed forces" (he then bought up the possibility of a UK Federal system, bringing yet another possibility to be debated into the open). At the moment, we need to be cautious and have a mature, grown-up discussion about all the various things we need to do to improve the way we vote and what we're voting for.

The second interesting area is the possibility of a Lib-Con Coalition. On Friday morning I wrote a post suggesting that this could be exactly what the country needs for the future. There's a glorious possibility of two Parties coming together, losing their worst parts and becoming something greater than the sum of the parts.

I'd like to be optimistic and say that this is going to happen. It would probably be best for the country that it did. There's a lot of common ground between the Tories and the Lib Dems (despite the horror of some people on the left that perhaps politics isn't the simple right/left divide that they assume it is). The two parties both have good people and maybe could even do some good work together.

But, on the other hand, I can see this happening: The Lib Dems demand immediate, full PR. The Tories knowing this is a) suicide for them and b) bloody stupid (as outlined above) resist. Labour give Gordon Brown a revolver and a quiet room for the afternoon. Ed Millband (or Alan Johnson, or any of the various non-entities at the top of Labour) becomes the new PM. He then promises the Lib Dems a shared government, with both Parties having the same number of cabinet seats. Maybe the Lib Dems will get the seats which mean nothing to Labour, like Defence Secretary (which under Labour is the 23rd most important cabinet seat).

This coalition will be unable to do anything about the deficit (or stand firm on any other area) and the country will lurch forward another six months, teetering closer to the abyss (though unlike Greece, we don't have a $1,000 Bn bailout package set up for us). Eventually, probably on a minuscule point, the LabLib coalition will fall hard and a new election will be called. Odds are this would be before the coalition could push through PR, so it will be under FPTP again. Lib Dem voters would be demoralised and by then even Labour voters might be able to see the true face of their party. The Tories would win with a massive landslide and start taking the steps necessary to fix the country. They might be too late.

The latter situation would be best for the Tories as a party. They can watch the country burn whilst they wait for their moment in the electoral sun. Maybe we should all just be impressed that they actually seem to be trying to do what's right for all of us by pushing towards a stable Con-Lib coalition.

Are the Lib-Dems going to be able to put the country first as well? Or will they be seduced by Labours offer of anything they could possibly desire?

Friday, 7 May 2010

The Morning After

Well, I guess I feel like a lot of people today. I'm tired and slightly frustrated. I went to bed around 0600 when it was pretty clear that there wasn't a clear mandate in one direction of another. Now we enter into horse-trading. Maybe it will all be sorted by the end of the day, I don't know at the moment.

The whole election feels somewhat farcical. There are reports of fairly large numbers of people unable to vote despite turning up to the polling station before 2200. To me this is pretty simple. 2200 should be the last time you can turn up to vote. The doors then close, if you arrive at the station at 2201, you get sent home. But, if you are there on time, then no matter how long the queue - you get to vote. How hard can it be to close the doors and just wait another 30 minutes until everyone inside has voted?

(Sure, polling stations might not be big enough, but essentially: If you're in the queue by 2200, you get to vote. No exceptions)

Right, onto the actual meat of the matter. I can't imagine many people are "Happy" with that result. All major parties are probably a little bit disappointed. Maybe Labours result wasn't as bad as it could have been. Maybe Lib Dems never thought they were going to win more seats. Personally, I think that none of the parties had a good night last night.

But I'm a little bit of an Optimist. Maybe this is actually a good thing. Maybe a strong coalition government will be the best way to cut the debt without any one party being blamed for making the cuts that we all know are needed.

Maybe the Lib Dems can join with the Tories to build a new type of government, one not defined by where you are on the political spectrum, but one built on the vast areas of common ground between the two parties.

I don't know what's going to happen, but I am reminded of the Chinese curse:

"May you live in interesting times"

Well, we're certainly in one now!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Decision Time

My posts over the past few weeks have been mostly 'humourous' photos and slightly snide comments, but this one will be as serious as I can get. I make no apologies for that.

As you no doubt know, tomorrow is election day. At some point between 0700 and 2200 you'll be standing in a little cubicle, looking at a piece of paper and you'll have to make a decision.

Your mind may already be made up, and you'll stride confidently into the booth, stick a cross in the box next to your candidate, fold the paper, put it in the right box and stride out, sure that your civic duty has been assuaged for another five years.

However, your mind may be slightly wavering, and I'd like to talk you through the Choice you're going to have to make.

Firstly, I can see the attraction of voting for an independent like Old Holborn. He's making an alluring point about the general failure of politicians of all colours to solve our problems over the last few years and therefore you should protest by backing him or another minority candidate (I'd even include the BNP and the various other small parties in this bucket). Personally, I hope OH does well in Cambridge, I'd be very tempted to vote for him had he run during my university days. However, I can see that a vote for him, or any of the smaller parties is little other than a protest vote. Tomorrow may just be too important to risk a protest vote. Instead we should be voting for something.

Some of my friends and colleagues believe that this election should be characterised by a desire for electoral reform. They look at the polls and the projected results (in terms of seats) and wonder how a party can get so little of the vote and so much of the representation (and vice versa).

Rather than a protest vote, people want to vote for the Lib Dems because of their (wavering) commitment to electoral reform. Personally, I'm undecided on the benefits of Proportional Representation. I certainly think there are segments of the political spectrum who shouldn't be allowed a say. It's notable that only under PR systems do parties such as the Communists and the BNP (and they are much closer than either would admit) would gain any representation. We would also lose the constituency link as parties of all colours would stack their preferred candidates at the top of their lists, rather than a discreet set of people voting in their preferred candidate for each area. There's a strong risk that the ability to vote in a maverick, though party affiliated politician, would be severely reduced as the Party whips would be able to move them down their party's list of candidates. This would certainly be a more severe punishment than anything they can currently do to an MP, loved by their constituents, but who goes against the current party line.

However, I do believe that FPTP will need to change. I dislike the fact that the Lib Dems can get so many votes (but scattered across many regions) and win so few seats compared to Labour. I'm not sure what the optimum solution will be but I have no doubt that no matter what the result is tomorrow change will be coming to how we will vote in the future.

At least voting for the Lib Dems will be voting for something, but change is coming no matter who gets in. However, before voting Lib Dems, it's worth seeing what else you will be voting for. They have some desirable policies, I'd like to raise the taxation threshold to £10,000. I know that this will cost £17 Bn next year but it's still a relatively sensible policy. However, I can't agree with the Lib Dems position on the Euro, Crime and Punishment, Immigration or Defence.

They've talked about canceling our order for Typhoon Tranche 3, but when you look in their manifesto, they only mention Tranche 3B (Tranche 3 is now split into two parts, with the first ordered). They claim this will save £510m in a few years time, but without access to the contracts and the onerous penalty clauses, where does this figure come from? Also, wouldn't it make more sense to buy these aircraft and re-sell them onto the Omanis (who are very interested) and make a profit?

Their policy on the Trident Replacement is unfortunately not fully formed. Gordon made an excellent point that if the Lib Dems want to switch to a Air or Surface launched deterrent, they'll need to build many more warheads than we have at the moment, leading to more nuclear re-armament.

The immigration policy is massively un-costed and not fully explained. Afterall, if we don't know how many people are illegally in this country how can we check their claim they've been here for ten years? Let alone beginning to understand how much it will cost us to house these 'new' arrivals.

I can't in all good conscience suggest a vote for the Lib Dems. I actually hope they do very well in this election, move up to the official opposition and start understanding what being in power would require. I believe their policies would mature and they will one day soon be in a position to move into government. But not at this election.

I'm trying hard to keep the tone of this piece positive but with Labour it's increasingly difficult. I believe in the importance of benefits to those who need them. I believe that the NHS is an excellent system of health care (maybe not the best, but certainly a long way from the worst). I respect the increased share of government spending both Health and Education have received. I think in some areas there have been improvements. But these improvements need to be coloured with what they have done which hasn't work and what Labour have failed to do in the last 13 years.

I can't believe that of the £700 Bn of Government spending, there is nothing that can be cut. I can't believe Labour's position that the Government IS the economy. I get very angry about Labour's treatment of our incredible servicemen and women. Almost no matter what else Labour's failings, it has been their demand that the Forces do so much more with less funding and equipment that has rankled. As a result people have died. Almost nothing else a Government does will directly kill people. In this area Labour are unelectable.

However, they believe their strength is with the economy. And I can't fault them for bailing out the banks, the system needed to be propped up to ward off far worse events. Gordon talks of the dangers of removing the stimulus he's used to boost the economy. It comes to 0.1% of GDP. Other, more prudent countries have been able to stimulate their economies far more than that, because they saved money in the good times. Labour accuse the Tories of not understanding Keynesian Economics, but it is they who failed the first lesson: Spending is Counter-Cyclical. It doesn't just rise in the bad times, but has to fall in the good. Simply Labour ensured that when the worst recession in living memory came around, the UK was in the worst possible shape to deal with it.

Labour have had 13 years to shape the country as they see fit. A vote for them is a vote for a stagnant, government led economy. It's a vote for more dead servicemen and women. It's a vote for fear.

This, obviously, brings me to the last party on the list. Some would argue that the only reason to vote Tory is because the other parties, as shown above, are unelectable. I disagree. The Tories have actually run a campaign of hope, rather than fear. Sure, there were the broadsides at the risks of a Hung Parliament but these were the minority rather than the rule.

The Tories don't have a recent record that they can be judged on, unlike Labour. Their policies have to be workable and sensible, unlike the Lib Dems and the smaller parties. Their proposal to ensure that only the richest families pay the grossly unfair inheritance tax will cost the country roughly £500 m next year. This is about 0.3% of the total deficit, or 0.7% of our current debt repayments (Yes, thanks to Labour we are now spending £45 Bn on interest on our debt, much more than the Defence Budget).

The Tories haven't stated how they are going to cut the debt (not the deficit, that's just borrowing less, rather than starting to save). There's a very good reason for this. They're not actually in Government, they don't have access to the full Treasury. They don't know exactly where the Government are spending their £700 Bn. They can't say what they would cut or not, because they don't know where the Government isn't getting value for money. Labour do have access to this data and have refused to say what they would do. They know the Tories are going to have to cut, because they can see directly what a state the economy is in.

The Tories have indicated how they want to go about cutting the debt. They have proposed to not raise the rate of NI, a simple tax on jobs. Labour want to spend that money in Government, the Tories want to leave it in the economy. The Tories have said they'll put an end to this new culture of "Benefits for Life". I believe, based on the work at the Centre of Social Justice, that they'll succeed in reforming the Benefits system, delivering help to those who need it, but removing help from those who are just lazy. They'll change the system so that work is economically advantageous, rather than the situation at the moment where someone working more hours can lead to less money in their pocket. They'll change the fact that a couple can't live together more than 3 days a week to bring their children up together without losing some of their benefits.

There is a lot wrong with this country. There is a lot that's right with this country. The Tories have set out how they will protect and reinforce the things that are right, stepping back and letting teachers do their jobs; helping the NHS. They have set out where they will change what is wrong: Benefits Culture; Policemen fighting crime with one hand tied behind their back filling in forms.

There are a lot of reasons to vote against the Lib Dems and Labour tomorrow. But there are many reasons to vote for the Conservatives. A strong New Tory government will be in a position to start undoing some of the damage Labour has done, whilst protecting the things that are working in this country.

Tomorrow, you'll have to make a decision. Before you write that cross, hesitate for a moment and think abut what will be best for the country next week, next year and in the future. Good Luck.