25 May 2015

All Voting Systems Are Crazy (Except Mine).

Currently with our voting system of first-past-the-post (FPTP), the number of seats a party receives bears little relation to their number of votes.

In the 2010 election campaign, the polls briefly showed the Lib Dems on the most support, yet they were predicted to finish a poor third in seats. The third placed Labour party were predicted to get most seats.

In this general election 5 million votes delivered just 2 seats out of 650 for the Greens and Ukip but 1.5 million votes delivered 56 to the SNP.

Not to forget we now regularly get "majority" government on 30 something percent of the vote. And FPTP is terrible at representing the population. There is a massive under-representation of women, ethnic minorities and the working class.

Most democrats would concede that this is unacceptable. Only the vested interests of Labour and Tory politicians perpetuate this system. It is a democratic disgrace.

Yet the Electoral Reform Society supports another seriously flawed system, the Single Transferable Vote (STV).

This is a system where a candidate can actually increase their number of votes, yet DECREASE their chances of election. Once again unacceptable.

I won't bore you with the details, but if people rejected the Alternative Vote for being too difficult to understand, STV has no chance of being understood!

STV is also (like FPTP) prone to have "wrong winners" (where 2nd in votes wins most seats) and STV is not even that proportional. (though admittedly it is fairer than FPTP). And like FPTP it doesn't lead to representative social groups being elected.

Then there are list systems of PR and I quite like these, as they are proportional and more representative of the population, but it does mean voters feel more distant from politicians.

Whatever the value of a "constituency link", it does allow voters to "link" a politician to a small geographical area. Perhaps this is an illusion of "accountability" when 75% of seats are "safe", but at least a direct link between voters and elected is there.

Finally there are systems that mix more than one of the above systems together but they create 2 classes of MP, with completely different levels of accountability and this mixed system still has the flaws of the systems it combines.

This is where my proportional "fairest" past the post system comes in (see previous post).

Like now, every voter gets one vote. Like now they vote for the candidate of their choice. Like now, the candidates with the most votes are elected. And voters can choose candidates for as local an area as now. The difference is, we get one vote to elect 16 MPs from the county. We can only choose one candidate from our preferred party. So this means each candidate has to appeal to different areas of the county or risk taking votes from their comrades and preventing their election.

The beauty is, my system is self regulating. Voters decide the size of constituency that politicians are accountable to when they decide who to vote for. These areas can overlap or "float" within the county boundaries. Candidates will respond to communities and their level of support to determine where to focus their campaigns.  Parties will try to evenly spread their candidates to achieve just enough votes to be elected but not too many that would split the party votes to thin and risk losing seats.

Parties will naturally target their candidates in geographic areas (although they could do it in other ways - e.g. policy differences) and they will only stand candidates with a good chance of winning to avoid splitting their own vote and losing seats. This automatically ensures proportionality and keeps the ballot paper to a manageable number of candidates.

And because parties stand more than one candidate on the ballot paper, it would be really noticeable if there were no women or minorities or if all the candidates were middle class. Much more pressure to "balance" their offer.

The results are easy to understand. Candidates have to finish high enough in the race to qualify for election. The voters decide who makes the cut.

People like the idea of a race. Our present system has 650 races with first place in each getting to parliament.

My system would have about 50 races, with the top 12 to 16 placed finishers in each race qualifying for parliament (depending on the size of county, counties or boroughs used).

But my system would also deliver fair representation for parties and independents in line with their number of votes. It would also not have arbitrary boundaries decided by faceless bureaucrats.

The big problem with our current boundary based system is, no matter how hard you try, the boundaries will be unfair to those parties who don't concentrate their votes "in the right places".

It is also open to abuse. You may have independent boundary reviewers, but the rules they abide by are written (and skewed) by politicians. Also officials are heavily lobbied by party machines and incumbent MPs.

It is perfectly possible to have drawn different boundaries at the last election (all equally sized) that would have given either Ed Miliband or David Cameron (depending on political taste) a huge landslide victory without changing a single vote. That's how much difference boundary reviews can make. The voters are almost irrelevant and that can't be right.

If you don't believe me, google "gerrymander wheel".

Finally, a party would have to get 50% of the vote (or very close to it) to govern alone under my system. But do we really want one party rule with 35% of the vote? And as multi party voting seems set to increase, how low can we go before this absurdity makes alice in wonderland look sane?

22 May 2015

Fair Past The Post

What most voters want.

1. A Local MP.
You vote for one candidate that represents your local area and is directly accountable to voters at a geographical level similar to now.

2. Simplicity.
You have one vote by placing a X next to the candidate of your choice. The candidates with the most votes are elected.

3. Fairness.
The number of seats is in line with the number of votes.

Our present system of first-past-the-post, delivers on the first two principles, but not the last one. Basically what people seem to want is a proportional version of first-past-the-post and it is a possibility.

A slight tweak to our system would deliver all three principles. Let me explain.

The population of the UK is around 65 million. Our current number of MPs at Westminster is 650.

That rather neatly works out at around 100,000 population for each MP. 

For example, Sussex has a population of 1.6m and returns 16 MPs to Westminster.

This sort of size area is perfect for what I am proposing. Most of the non metropolitan counties return between 8 and 16 MPs.  Metropolitan counties vary more, but can be ideally sized by combining several boroughs. An area returning 12 to 16 MPs is the ideal and could be achieved by combining 2 smaller counties if appropriate.

My idea is to continue voting for one candidate but to allow candidates to stand across the whole county and votes across the whole county area to be counted.

So, in my Sussex example, the 16 candidates with the most votes across the county are elected.

It is a bit like how we elect ward councillors in multi member wards except voters will get one vote instead of multiple votes.

Using the results of the last general election we might have got the following results in Sussex using my system.

P. Bottomley CON(Worthing) 56,954
P.Kyle LAB(Brighton+Hove) 54724
S.Kirby CON(Brighton+Hove) 51722
D.Cooper LDEM (Sussex) 51338
F.Maude CON(Crawley+Horsham) 48953
G.Bastin UKIP(East Sussex) 48498
C.Lucas GREEN(East Sussex) 42143
S.Owen LAB(East Sussex excl. B+H) 40995
G.Jones UKIP(West Sussex Coastal) 40911
C.Ansell CON(Eastbourne+Lewes) 40140
N.Baker LDEM(Eastbourne+Lewes) 38324
C.Oxlade LAB(Crawley+Chichester+
Bognor+Arundel) 36068
N.Herbert CON(Arundel & S. Downs) 34331
A.Tyrie CON(Chichester) 32953
N.Ghani CON(Wealdon) 32508
N.Soames CON(Mid Sussex) 32268

These are the 16 candidates that would be elected under my system. With a further 6 unelected.

T.Macpherson LAB (Worthing+Horsham+Mid Sussex) 32173
G.Barker CON(Bexhill+Battle) 30245
A.Moncrief UKIP(West Sussex Mid+North) 25406
N.Gibb CON (Bognor+Littlehampton) 24185
A.Rudd CON (Hastings+Rye) 22686
J.Richmond GREEN (West Sussex) 20584

The result is very proportional

CON 48% votes 50% seats (8 of 16)
LAB 19% votes 19% seats (3 of 16)
UKIP 14% votes 13% seats (2 of 16)
LDEM 11% votes 13% seats (2 of 16)
GREEN 7% votes 6% seats (1 of 16)

Whereas the actual result under our present system was 14 Tories, 1 Lab and 1 Green. Over half of Sussex voters had no impact on the result under our present system and the majority of counties are similar.

Of course, these are the votes under FPTP. Under a PR system the voting is even more fair because it would remove some tactical and protest voting.

The eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed in the above example that the Tories fielded 11 candidates (8 were elected), Labour 4 (3), UKIP 3 (2), Lib Dems 2 (2), and Greens 2 (1). This led to a total of 22 candidates standing for 16 seats.

Why would the parties not stand more candidates than this?

This is where the beauty of my system comes in.

At the moment it makes sense for parties to stand as many candidates as possible (as many as they can afford in lost deposits).

This results in "split votes" between ideologically similar parties and ideologically similar candidates resulting in millions of voters electing no-one while other candidates win with far less than 50% of the vote.

Under my system, the parties can manage this by only standing candidates that have a real chance of being elected. If they stand too many candidates, their party could lose seats by "splitting" their own vote between candidates.

What my system does is spread the problem of split votes equally between ALL the parties rather than just those ideologically similar.

Another unique feature of my system is it removes the need for difficult and expensive drawing of boundaries. All you need to do is to allocate the number of MPs to be elected in line with the county population.

It is for THE CANDIDATES themselves to determine the areas where they want to target local electorates.

In the example above, you can see parties have given a geographical label to each candidate and each candidate would concentrate their efforts there and be accountable to that area of the county.

Why would they do that? Because if every candidate campaigned across the whole county, it would risk wide disparities in their votes and reduce the number of seats they won. Parties would aim to spread their votes fairly evenly between their candidates to maximise the seats won.

The easiest way to do this would be to target each geographical area with a different party candidate. This is where "the local link" is maintained and accountability with voters strengthened.

The larger parties would target "constituencies" of a similar size to now, whereas the smaller parties would target bigger areas, right up to the whole county area being targeted for the smallest parties.

To make absolutely sure that no unnecessary joke or ego candidates clogged up the ballot paper, I would abolish the current £500 deposit and replace it with a condition that every candidate has a minimum of 500 electors in the county who had donated at least £1 each to their campaign in the 12 months running up to the election.

This would remove any time waster candidates, who at the moment just need a big ego and be willing to a lose a £500 deposit.

Democracy is too important to be the plaything of wealthy joker candidates. Any serious candidate with really wide support would be easily able to muster 500 paid up supporters from a county with around 1.2m electors. In practise an independent candidate with significant support from the electorate would probably stand more chance of being elected than now. They would need just 6% or so of the countywide vote. There is not a single elected independent MP in GB at the moment.

In conclusion, voters keep the close geographical link with a candidate. They keep the simple vote and counting process and they get the proportionality they want between parties. What is not to like?

14 May 2015

What Is A Tory?

Like the Guardian's Suzanne Moore, my parents were "working class Tories". Not lifelong Tories, like her parents, but intermittant Tories. I particularly remember they voted Thatcher in 1979 (and later regretted it).

They voted for pretty much every party available from there on in.

Liberal/SDP throughout the 80s, Blair in the 90s, BNP, even Green, then finally UKIP.

This seems completely baffling and irrational from the point of view of a political anorak like myself. As Suzanne Moore says, it is easy to sneer.

Are all Tories politically uninformed and/or selfish? I have many friends from my schooldays who are Tories, my eldest brother's family are Tories and some of them are the nicest people you could meet in terms of helping family, friends etc.

But their political views seem vicious to me. A real disdain for the poor. An "I'm alright attitude". An incomprehension of what happens to them if THEY fall on really hard times. If their health or wealth fail them.

They see the attack on the welfare state as a good thing - reducing the amount THEY have to pay for "others" who are "just lazy". 

They do not recognise welfare as a useful insurance for THEM. And increasingly, as means testing takes over, they are right.

Save a few quid, get your earnings above the bare minimum and the welfare you pay for is taken away.

No one is making the argument that middle to high earners deserve welfare too. Yet we should be making that argument. Not surprisingly, when it is taken away from them, they do not want to pay for it anymore or vote for it. As Bevan said "welfare for the poor only, is poor welfare".

Welfare as a concept is about insurance. Social insurance or as it was known until the 1980s, social security. In other European countries it is known as "solidarity" with "solidarity taxes" to pay for it. A nice concept that the Labour party would do well to take up.

The Labour party were at their best when creating and defending universal welfare. Council houses were built for all, with many middle class housed in them after the war. The NHS of course is universal. A concept the Tories are trying everything they can to undermine. The best benefits are universal too - the state pension, free bus passes, child benefit, maternity/paternity leave etc.

And social security used to be generous. It puts a floor under wages. Low paying employers have to compete. If benefit levels are decent, they have to pay decent wages to all.

Affordability doesn't come into it. It doesn't apply to welfare, because welfare is just a redistribution of money. The money is there, you jyst have to move it from rich to poor. This is about a functioning society. This is not about creating wealth to pay for services. This is about reducing wealth at the top end to fund everyone else.

Does this affect productivity? Does this affect the desire to work? Aren't there too few rich to tax? Won't they just move abroad?

These are the scare stories and largely that is exactly what they are. They are not based on fact. The wealthy do have the money, they do not move abroad and productivity is not affected. We know this, because in more equal countries we can observe it.

Tory voters see public services as largely superfluous to their needs. And apart from a few council services, the police and the NHS, they are unconcerned about cutbacks. They see the NHS as still fine and free to use at point of use and do not realise the extent it is under threat.

Of course some Tories are  undoubtedly selfish or ignorant of the issues. And so are some Labour voters, or voters of any other party for that matter. It's a question of degree. But even if Tories were all being selfish. How does that help those of us on the left?

Are they turkeys voting for christmas? A lot of us on the left are convinced of this. We get accused of arrogance for espousing this view. But undoubtedly a lot of us who believe this ARE more politically informed than our Tory voting peers.

Who reads manifestos? I live and breathe politics. I know more policy proposals off the top of my head than anyone I know. But I still only know a fraction of each manifesto.

For at least the last 40 years of my parent's life, they never saw their vote affect the result anyway. They lived in a safe seat. That is probably the bigger issue than political education.

My dad finished up as a UKIP voter, even enthusiastically displaying their poster in his window.

His political journey seems typical of an average surburban voter.

The Tories don't dominate the suburbs, but they do win more votes there than Labour.

This is the key. How do Labour win back the suburbs? Or even, how do we persuade the suburbs that the Tories really aren't your friends. If there is an economic crash by 2020, Labour might not have to. The economy is the Tories ace card. If their credibility goes on that, like after 1992, they will haemorrhage votes.

But Labour now have other Tories to fight - UKIP. UKIP are basically Tories without the damaged brand name. Until voters see UKIP in power, they cannot judge them.

Labour actually did quite well in big town and city centres. But they did terribly elsewhere.

From my point of view, I am beginning to not care who Labour choose for their leader, or what direction they take. If Labour win on a right wing platform or lose again on a platform pretending to the left (but manifestly refusing to defend universal benefits), then there is little point to their existence.

The bigger question is where their voters go. If UKIP continue to build up support from those who economically are on the left. Then we are in real trouble.

I look for a renaissance on the left. And hope that things don't have to get too much worse before there is a reaction. But lets hope we don't leave it too late. The USA shows, once universal welfare is gone (whether healthcare or social) it is near impossible to get back.

13 May 2015

My General Election Prediction Was Completely Wrong.

Yeah. I know. I got the general election completely wrong (though I did ok in my council election predictions). I think I can safely say I wasn't the only one to get the general election result wrong.

Some of you might remember that on a 2pt LAB lead, I predicted the following Westminster seats.

LAB 279 CON 269 SNP 47 LDEM 25 UKIP 6 GRN 1 OTH 23

Whereas the actual result was.

LAB 232 CON 331 SNP 56 LDEM 8 UKIP 1 GRN 1 OTH 21

Even on a slight Tory lead, I was confident both Labour and Tory would be in the range 260-290 and probably less than 20 seats apart.

My biggest errors (apart from believing the polls) were:-

1. Thinking the Tories couldn't increase their popular vote from the 2010 result. They did (from 10.7m to 11.3m).

2. Thinking that if the polls were wrong, they would be underestimating Labour support (due to pollsters methodology allowing for "shy Tories").

3. Believing the narrative that the Lib Dems would hold on to lots of seats despite their dismal poll rating. I should have trusted my instinct on this. If Nick Clegg (in the 50th safest Lib Dem seat was struggling to hang on) surely the other 49 would be too. And most of these had the Tories as challengers.

4. Thinking the 2010 seat boundaries (which were not much different to 2005 boundaries which gave Labour 92 more seats for a tied vote), would still be favourable to Labour in England. They weren't!

5. Underestimating the polarising effect of our voting system (urban vs surburban/rural, North vs South). And with so many "ultra marginals" determined by literally a few hundred votes either way, the sheer lunatic unpredictability of our system.

Our voting system creates voter ghettoes and I think it is very easy to get stuck in a partizan bubble. Whole groups of voters walk around without meeting many of a different ideology amongst their friends and neighbours.

Voting systems affect results in a big way! Not just in seat allocation but in how people vote.

Our system has led, over the decades, to hordes of tactical and protest voters being built up, as voters desperately try to make the most of a bad system. So it is very difficult to make sense of voter preferences from national vote shares.

But it has also led to voter suppression. People hate voting for losers. At this election 63% voted for losing parties. This has a huge effect. A lot of people lose heart. Also in a system where 75% of seats rarely, if ever change hands, supporters of parties become lackadaisical about turning out to vote.

There is a whole host of statistics highlighting the madness of our system -

Nearly 4m UKIP voters get 1 seat whereas 1.5m SNP voters get 56 seats.

While 700,000 Scottish Labour voters get 1 seat, 500,000 Welsh Labour voters get 25.

And worst of all, the lead party, however low their vote, can win a majority of seats and all the power. In this case the Tories on just 37% of the vote got 51% of seats.

The new boundaries due by 2018, would have given them 54% of seats on the same vote. A majority for one party with just 29% of the vote might not be too far away.

Votes clearly aren't equal. Which is what our geographical system is all about. Concentration of a party's vote is the number one and only issue. Everything else, national voteshare and order of parties in terms of votes is incidental.

Having one "winner" in each seat takes precedence over everything else.

Making more predictions now seems heretical, but here I go again.
Looking at the results in more detail shows that Labour actually did quite well in the centre of big towns and cities, but very badly in the outer suburbs, small towns and villages.

This follows the usual pattern of the Labour/Tory split in the vote, but is getting more extreme. I believe growing inequality is one cause but also our voting system exacerbates this by switching off the voters that are continually ignored.

We are seeing two nations develop. The better off are moving apart from the poor. This has always been the case but now it is getting even more intense. The North/South divide continues to grow. As Labour leadership hope Dan Jarvis put it "More people have walked on the moon than there are Labour MPs in the South of England".

The non Labour & Tory vote is still around a third of voters in general electiond. But even this, is probably an underestimate of true support. In the European Parliament elections, Labour and Tory combined struggled to get half the votes.

Labour have a huge dilemma. Scotland is now a whole swath of safish SNP seats. Labour are unlikely to win more than a handful back in 2020, if any.

The Tory/Labour battleground will be England & Wales. The Tories successfully stoked English nationalism to scare voters off a Labour/SNP government. What is to stop them doing this again in 2020. Labour have to find an answer to this.

The only solution is to embrace the SNP and highlight how insulting and undemocratic it would be to exclude Scottish voters choice of MPs. Also they need to highlight how the SNP could be an asset in government and that to not include them would be a threat to the UK. Labour tried distancing themselves from the SNP, but with the SNP politically bound to back any Labour administration over Tory, it lacks credibility.

But even bigger than Labour's Scottish problem are their lost voters in England and Wales.

Labour can either compete for the 40% or so of voters who lean Tory but put at risk their own 30%. Or they can try to unite the disparate, disenchanted and/or leftish vote that makes up the majority, but is spread across a range of parties. But Labour cannot do both of these things.

Going after the Tory vote is probably easier, but they would hemmorhage voters to UKIP and the Greens.

UKIP strangely appeal to disenchanted leftish supporters. If you look at their voter's views on nationalising the railways, the NHS and inequality etc. They are generally to the left of Labour policy.

Of course they also tend to have very rightwing views on immigration and the EU, but most UKIP voters, I think, would recoil at UKIP policies if enacted. Rational?

So, what is the answer to the Left's dilemma?

Caroline Lucas of the Greens has talked about a left of centre pact,  avoiding each other in key seats, but voters generally take a dim view of such things. It could work, as it has for the DUP and UUP in Northern Ireland, but their vote is bound by strong religious bonds. Voters can react in unexpected ways to pacts, as the closer two parties are ideologically, the more tribal animosity between the two sets of supporters can be.

My radical solution, which I know won't happen, but I think would work, would be for all the parties that want vote reform (which admittedly would be an unholy alliance) to stand on one ticket at the next election, with just one policy - electoral reform. This would almost certainly need Labour to be involved but not necessarily.

Would a UKIP/Green/SNP/PC/LibDem alliance as the "Voting Reform Party" be palatable for their supporters and voters when the only policy would be to change the voting system and call an immediate follow on general election? Even on this straightforward platform it would stick in the claw for a lot of UKIP and Greens etc to work together.

Alternatively we can soldier on and head for probable defeat to the Tories in 2020. The landscape of the country could be utterly changed by 2025, with poverty at US levels and constitutional vandalism destroying voter turnout.

Labour could win on a rightwing platform. But I would expect the erosion of the combined Tory/Lab vote to continue, especially the more proportional European parliament elections, which are having a more profound effect than many people realise.

Also the media selling votes as a "retail offer" of selfish short term policies will always favour the rightwing parties. But if Labour gives in to this, it's roots of support will continue to wither away.

Labour deludes itself if it thinks multi party voters will melt away. A lot of these new voters for the smaller parties will never return to the main parties. Indeed, how can any future campaign deny the smaller parties participation in election debates, after the success of this election?

The left will not be kept out of government for ever. But when they do get their chance, they'd be best to embrace electoral reform.

11 May 2015

People Want To Choose Local Candidates And Ensure A Party's Seats Match Its Voteshare

I think the solution to this problem is to have a hybrid voting system. Half of MPs elected in constituencies as now, half by a regional "open list" system where we vote for a regional candidate.

You walk into the polling station and you are ticked off the address book by the officials. You are given your constituency ballot paper with it's official stamp and you are directed into the private polling booth (as is the case now).

Now for the differences. You get two votes, one for your constituency MP and one for a new regional MP.

You place an X by your chosen constituency candidate and fold the paper.

Then you choose ONE of the regional ballot papers stacked in the polling booth for your regional vote.

They are all colour coded on the printed side with party colours or white for independent candidates.

You choose which ballot paper depending on which party or independent you want to vote for then place an X next to the candidate of your choice from that party or independent candidates.

You fold your regional ballot paper which is neutral black on the other side. Show your official stamp on the outside of your constituency ballot paper to the officials, receive your stamp for the outside of the regional ballot paper and you post both your folded ballot papers into the appropriate ballot boxes.

You will be voting for a constituency MP as you do now and a regional MP under an "open list" system.

The constituency MP will be elected as they are now, on a "first-past-the-post" basis in constituencies about twice the size. So 150,000 electors on average instead of 75,000 now. So for example, Brighton could be one constituency instead of being split into Pavilion and Kemptown.

As well as 15 constituency MPs in a region, there would be an equal number of regional MPs. So, there would be 15 regional MPs covering around 2.25m electors. About the size of Sussex and Kent combined. This would total nationally to 325 constituency MPs and 325 regional MPs. A total of 650 MPs, as we have now.

Each party could field up to 15 regional candidates for you to choose from (or you could choose an independent candidate). You vote for one candidate out of the list and the number of votes for each candidate determines the order of each party's regional allocation or the order of independent candidates.

These regional MPs would be shared out proportionately to each party or group of independents according to their total share of the region's votes.

So if for example Green candidates got 20% of the total regional and constituency vote combined in that region, they would get a total of at least 3 MPs. If they got less than 3 constituency MPs, their regional candidates with the most votes would make up the total to the 3 MPs required.

This would allow for a reasonably proportionate share of seats to votes for each party or independent. But crucially EVERY elected candidate would have been chosen by the voters.

For example, in Sussex and Kent under our present system, the Tories got 45% of the vote but 92% of the seats.

Under the new system, the Tories would still get 92% of the constituency seats on 45% of the vote, but that would only be 46% of the total seats. Because they would be unlikely to get many (if any) of the half of seats allocated regionally, as these would be allocated in proportion to parties' total voteshare.

The effective threshold would be about 6.5% for a party or independent to get one regional MP (100% divided by 15).

Parties might very likely decide not to put up as many as 15 candidates, though there is no disincentive to do this. It would make sense for a party to put up a wide range of candidates from all wings of the party to garner as many votes as possible. And this gives a voter a chance to influence party policy directly by voting not just for that party but the candidate they like from that party.

In our current system there is huge disproportionality between regions. Tories have very few constituency MPs in urban areas, the North, Scotland and Wales compared to their voteshare. They would likely win some regional MPs there to compensate them for this. Likewise Labour would win regional seats in rural and Southern England, also now in Scotland to compensate for the fact nearly all constituency MPs are Tory in the South and rural areas, and SNP in Scotland.

The smaller parties that are not so geographically concentrated, would do very well out of regional seats. As long as they can get over 6.5% of the vote in that region they can win a seat.

The result under our present system in the 2015 general election was, (rounded to 1 significant figure).

CON 37% vote, 51% seats
LAB 31% vote, 36% seats
SNP 5% vote, 9% seats
LDEM 7% vote, 1% seats
UKIP 12% vote, 0.2% of seats
GRN 4% vote, 0.2% seats
OTH 4% vote, 3% seats

As you can see, a fairly random and totally disproportionate and unfair result in terms of seats to votes.

With my suggestion of a hybrid "open list" system, the results on the same voteshares would look something like this. (note: I'd expect very different voteshares as there would be less need for tactical or protest votes).

CON 37% vote, 41% seats
LAB 31% vote, 34% seats
UKIP 12% vote, 10% seats
LDEM 7% vote, 4% seats
SNP 5% vote, 6% seats
GRN 4% vote, 2% seats
OTH 4% vote, 3% seats

Yes, I know this would very likely lead to a Tory/Ukip coalition government. But, that folks is democracy.

If over 49% voted for these parties, it is not unreasonable that they get around 50% of seats and into power. But I do believe that those UKIP voters that are on the left economically would quickly abandon Ukip once they saw them enacting their rightwing policies in a Tory led government.

Any new system takes time to bed in. For this reason, I think the first 3 general elections under this new system should be every 2 years before reverting to every 4 years. This should mean voters can get used to what they are voting for and any parties that are "conning" them (UKIP?) would be quickly removed.

As you can see, smaller parties all get seats much more in line with their voteshare. They get a few percent less seats if they fall below the 6.5% threshold in some regions, which means they win no regional MPs in that area.

Most of the Others total are Northern Ireland votes and seats and therefore regionally concentrated, so not falling below the threshold.

I hope you can clearly see how much fairer and democratic this system is. All the MPs are still voted for directly. Voters can feel more free to vote for candidates from parties they really support knowing their vote will count.

This system is similar to the hybrid systems used to elect the Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly, and also the German and New Zealand parliaments.

The difference is the "top up" regional candidates are "open list" and chosen by the voters and not by the party providing a "closed list" of ordered candidates elected due to party preferences.

This I feel deals with the criticism that regional MPs can "hide behind their party vote" and are not directly accountable. If a regional MP is unpopular, they can be directly punished by the voters. Voters can also do this without punishing the party they are from (if they so wish). Candidates will be less beholden to their party than now where 75% of seats are safe.

We will still have some safe seats in the constituency half of seats. And in these seats MPs will still be elected with "most" votes even if they get less than 50% of the vote. I would have introduced an AV element here but because this was rejected in a referendum and because I wanted the system to be simple I went for the well known X on the ballot.

So to sum up. I hope you can see that this system is both simple and fair. I've gone into detail describing the voting process, because I want to demonstrate its simplicity.

You put an X by your choice for constituency MP and an X for your choice for regional MP from your chosen party or independent candidates list.

The counting process is also easy. Most votes for a candidate in a constituency elects the constituency MP.

The regional MPs are elected proportionately. So if 30% of votes for candidates are from one party. 30% of their candidates in order of most votes are elected.

Other changes I'd like to see are the introduction of a small expenses allowance for turning out (say £20) that recognises the costs involved in voting (both in terms of time and financial).

I would introduce photo ID at polling stations and go back to severely limiting postal ballots to safeguard against fraud.

I would introduce a "none of the above" on the ballot paper. If 50% voted for this option in the constituency ballot, then a person would be drawn at random from the local electoral register to become MP. In the regional ballot a proportionate amount of "jury" MPs to the "none of the above" vote would be chosen.

24 March 2015

Analysis: Individual Electoral Registration Could Swing 16 Seats For The Tories

Individual Electoral Registration (IER) came into effect across the UK from July 2014.

IER places the onus on the individual to register to vote rather than by household registration as before. It also places new burdens on individuals to produce proof of ID.

Every year, electors will need to check to see if they have been removed from the electoral roll, or not added to it, and will need to re-register with NI number and date of birth. This particularly affects "attainers" - (those turning 18), students or anyone who changes address.

Proponents claim this will improve the accuracy of the register and reduce electoral fraud. It is also claimed that allowing one person to register the whole household is "old fashioned", "patronising" and raises security and privacy issues.

If this claim about accuracy was really true, it would be true in other areas too. Yet curiously no-one seems to be claiming they can improve the decennial household Census with an individual based one. Probably because they know that the claim is complete nonsense!

Anyone with experience of collecting data knows if you increase the data collection points, you increase the complexity, the chances of inaccuracy and the administrative costs. This was one of the reasons why the poll tax failed. Corresponding with every elector rather than by household increases all these problems by three or more fold.

As for the privacy and security issues of household voter registration. Living with someone per se is a privacy and security issue. People who live together have to share risks of fraud in far more lucrative areas for a fraudster than voter registration, such as their personal possessions, banking details, ID & confidential mail etc. There is no real incentive for someone to fill in a household voter registration form inaccurately.

Also, if you opt people out of something and rely on them to opt back in, even when there are big incentives to opt in, default can be high. But we don't need theory to know IER will seriously deplete the electoral roll and votes cast. We have the experience in Northern Ireland where IER was rolled out in 2002.

From the 2001 general election to the 2005 general election, the number of votes cast in Northern Ireland fell by 13%. This was the first ever recorded fall for general elections in Northern Ireland and came despite votes cast across the rest of the UK increasing by 2% across those same elections.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee noted "the adverse impact that individual registration appears to have had on disadvantaged, marginalised and hard to reach groups, including young people and people with disabilities". The drop in turnout was "a cause for concern".

On the issue of voter impersonation fraud which IER is designed to address, the Electoral Commission noted that they had "received no evidence to suggest that this was an issue".

So, we had been warned about IER and also that voter impersonation fraud was not an issue.

Yet, voter impersonation fraud is still used as an excuse to defend IER. On this, I quote the words of one investigator into voter impersonation in the US "voter impersonation is rarer than being struck by lightning".

As we know, to have an effect on the result, fraud has to be widespread. This is impossible by voter impersonation without being pretty obvious.

Yet the one area where widespread fraud could be an issue is postal ballots. The most likely electoral fraudsters are the candidates who could collect postal ballots and forge signatures or alter votes. (Rather than mythical hordes impersonating voters at polling stations, which would be easy to spot). Curiously this is something the government haven't addressed despite real evidence that postal ballot fraud is a problem. In fact they have made postal ballot fraud more possible by allowing postal ballots for every voter, rather than just those voters who have difficulty voting in person.

At best, IER is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. And it probably misses the nut too!

For me, it is clear that the introduction of IER has nothing whatsoever to do with reducing electoral fraud.

I knew that IER would help the Tories electorally. But my analysis tells me the effects could be more immediate and shocking than I thought!

My focus has been on the distortion of the electoral roll, which will affect the drawing of constituency boundaries in 2018. Boundaries are drawn on registered voters not those eligible to vote. Because of this, IER is likely to increase the number of rural seats and decrease the number of urban seats. This is because registration has fallen more in poorer urban seats. The Tories do better in the more wealthier rural seats.

My analysis of Northern Ireland IER shows a huge drop in votes cast and not just the electoral roll numbers.

Due to the unique politics of Northern Ireland we can also see clearly the divide between how IER has impacted differently on nationalist and unionist turnout. A 14% drop in the nationalist vote compared to just 10% drop in the unionist vote. The nationalist community tend to be poorer and more marginalised.

We know that poorer people are more likely to rent rather than own property. And renters are more likely to move more often and consequently be taken off the electoral roll by IER. We also know renters are more likely to support left of centre parties in the UK.

If these figures are transposed to the UK, it could mean a 0.6% gain for the Tories over Labour nationally and probably higher in marginal and Labour held seats. Around 16 seats have less than a 0.6% majority. The number of votes cast nationally could drop by over 3m and this despite population growth of 2m since 2010. Turnout last time was just under 30m votes. This is the figure to watch.

In Brighton and Hove, a drop in turnout will hit the Greens hardest. Particularly the young and students falling off the register. Especially since the scandalous and completely indefensible decision to end the block registering of students in halls of residence that Universities automatically carried out previously.

Council leader Jason Kitcat and Brighton and Hove council are doing their best to encourage registration with a widespread advertising campaign, but they are fighting against a flawed system.

Voting should be an automatic right, not something you're made to jump through hoops to get.

Votes cast could fall by as many as 20,000 across the City. A drop of 7,000 in Brighton Pavilion alone, more than half of those potential Green supporters.

Since Caroline Lucas's majority is just 1,600 votes, they should be very worried by this. With Hove and Kemptown also marginals with small majorities between Tory and Labour, all 3 seats here could be affected by IER.

The Tories knew exactly what they were doing introducing IER. Together with 5 year fixed terms and boundary enlargements passed for 2018, this is another measure that has eroded democracy and accountability. Shocking that the Lib Dems have also supported these measures.

These measures bring us closer to seat majorities "won" on 29% of the vote, as envisioned recently by Lord Ashcroft.

Also, these measures coupled with the rise of the SNP and UKIP, Labour might need a substantial lead in votes to gain the same seats as the Tories. Inverting the situation of 2005 and 2010, so bemoaned by the Tories. Food for thought to those short sighted tribal Labourites so pleased with first-past-the-post.

21 February 2015

My Predictions For The Brighton & Hove Council Elections 2015

In 2011, I underestimated how many seats the Greens would gain. In particular I didn't foresee the Green gains from the Tories in Withdean and Central Hove.

I also underestimated how badly the Tories would do. They lost 8 seats when I thought they might only lose 3. And May 2011 was not a bad time nationally for the Tories. They were riding high with decent poll leads over Labour and the coalition was in a honeymoon period (difficult to imagine this, I know).

There are some strange demographics going on in Brighton and Hove. There is a huge churn of voters in the central wards. As much as 50% turnover in some wards where there are some of the highest number of renters in the country. This is bringing a younger, more cosmopolitan sort of voter that doesn't particular favour the Tories. I expect this has continued since 2011. For these reasons I expect the Tory vote to drop overall (assuming the new registration rules haven't decimated the electoral roll).

I also think 2011 might have seen a temporary high water mark for the Green vote. The voter churn I have mentioned is a huge help to the Greens but locally they have had many difficulties running a minority administration. So first a necessary diversion.

The big turning point was the Cityclean bin strike in 2013. I wrote about this at the time and I don't want to go into too much detail again. But just to say, that although I will be voting Green, I have realised the Greens will not be as radical as I want them to be. The Greens will comfort themselves that the dispute was about "equal pay", but as I wrote at the time, that may have been the intention of the national legislation, but there are also some perverse side effects.

In this case it meant that the lowest scales of pay had to also have the lowest allowances for weekend and anti-social hours. This meant that those on higher pay would see increases while some of the lowest paid faced cuts. "Delineating pay differentials" was how I phrased it at the time.

The Equality Act and "single status" agreement between local authorities and unions requires an assessment to be made to align pay of "similar jobs" within an organisation. But the indirect effect of this is to set differentials between each scale.

The problem was, the lower scaled Cityclean jobs did not have the lowest allowances. Either higher grades had to see increased allowances or the lower scales had to see allowances cut to be "proportional" to their basic pay. Increasing higher scale allowances was deemed too expensive, so that left cuts to lower scale allowances as the "obvious" option.

Jason Kitcat could see no way around this "legal imperative". Caroline Lucas instinctively knew cutting low pay was wrong, whatever the reason and joined workers on the picket line.

The alternative radical solution, to cap top pay at say £50,000 p.a. and use the proceeds to raise pay across the board at all other grades was too radical even for the Greens. It was surreal to see some Green councillors justifying gigantic salaries of £80,000-£150,000 on the grounds that they had to pay the "market rate" to get the "right" people. They didn't get my argument that perhaps people who demanded such huge salaries weren't "right" for public service anyway. The shrugged councillor shoulders brought the image of the pigs from animal farm into view.

The damaged morale of workers at Cityclean has led to a deterioration of the service and further disputes. The public just see a poorer service and not the mitigating circumstances (excuses) of a nationally imposed Equality Act, 20 year PFI contracts signed by previous administrations and the current 55% cuts in government central grants. The Greens have seen their brand damaged.

Back in 2011, the Greens had very wide appeal. They could appeal across the political spectrum. But the surburban residents who drive into the city centre were never going to be impressed by the 20mph zones, bus & cycle lanes and higher parking charges. Coupled with the desperately overdue regeneration of many road junctions caused by a previous 30 years of neglect.

Put all the inevitable road delays and Cityclean problems together and a narrative of Green chaos has been created. Nevermind the overdue improvements to some of the most neglected parts of town, the regenerated parks, roads and markets.

Central city residents mostly welcome the reduction of speeding cars, increased cycling and more pedestrian friendly environments.

Personally I would have liked to see much more of this, but of course we have to remember the Greens are a minority administration who need Labour or Tory support for these nationally funded schemes.

Nobody could say the Greens have entered council politics in auspicious times. Considering the challenges of the budget cuts, the Greens have managed services incredibly efficiently and managed to attract national grants for parks and roads on an unprecedented basis.

But back to the point of this post.

My gut feeling this time is that Labour are going to do well in 2015. I expect Labour to retake the parliamentary seats in Hove and also Kemptown (although the excellent Nancy Platts will need a few Greens to lend her their votes to triumph). Caroline Lucas should hold on in Pavilion but not by the sort of margin suggested as possible by the 2011 council results.

The evidence we have to go on are recent Lord Ashcroft polls in Pavilion, Hove and Kemptown, a citywide Euro result and a couple of byelections in Westbourne and Hanover/Elm Grove wards.

The Ashcroft polls in Pavilion shows Lucas 7 points up on 2010 but around 8 points down on the 2011 Green results. There is similar movement in Hove and Kemptown. Greens down, Labour up a couple of points and the Tories a point down. We can project these results across the council as follows.

First the "clean sweep" wards.

For the Greens I expect them to hold St Peters & North Laine, Regency, Brunswick & Adelaide, and to retake the lost seat to Labour in Hanover & Elm Grove.

For the Tories, Hove Park, Woodingdean, Rottingdean Coastal, Patcham and Westbourne will be held. With them regaining seats from the Greens in Withdean and Central Hove.

Labour will hold in North and South Portslade wards and East Brighton. And retake seats in Hollingdean & Stanmer from the Greens & Independent. They will gain a seat from the Tories in Wish and see off the Ukip defector in Moulsecomb & Bevendean.

Now to the "split wards".

Labour will gain a seat from the Tories in Hangleton & Knoll giving them a 2 to 1 split.

Labour will gain 2 seats in Queens Park, so a 2-1 over the Greens. And Labour will also gain a seat each in Preston Park & Goldsmid, leaving them trailing the Greens 2-1 in each of those wards.

Overall I predict the following totals (with changes from current position).

LAB 21 (+8) CON 18(-) GRN 15 (-5)

I expect the independents and Ukip defector to all lose their seats.

29 January 2015

A Green Citizen's Income.

There has been criticism of the Green proposals for a Citizen Income (CI). How will it be funded? Does it really help the poorest?

It's actually all very simple. What's complicated is the costly and inefficient welfare system it replaces.

The Green proposals are to implement a £72 a week payment to all adult citizens, and a lesser amount to children.

There have been claims (notably by Andrew Neil on the Daily Politics) that this will "cost" £280bn per year.

So first a quick sum. £72 x 52 weeks x 50m [adult population] equals £187bn

This is the approximate yearly amount of the adult part of the payment.

Then we have to deduct £72 x 11m (=£41bn). These are the pensioners already receiving more than the CI sum in state pension and pensioner credit. That leaves £146bn to find.

The children's part of a CI depends on the amount it is set at. But we already have a childrens Citizen's Income in Child Benefit (or we did before the coalition started to means test it). If we imagine the child rate is set at half the adult CI rate (£36 a week), that would cost approximately £12bn more than child benefit does currently. So that makes a total of £158bn for our CI.

A lot of money for sure, but well below Neil's inflated sum of £280bn.

So where is this £158bn coming from?

Actually Andrew Neil answered his own question.

The scrapping of the personal tax allowances alone raises around £100bn.

The Green plan is to merge the regressive National Insurance with Income tax to have more honest, progressive and transparent taxes on income. The richest do not pay the bulk of National Insurance, whose burden falls largely on low to middle income earners. The untaxed "rentier" income from capital and the scrapping of the NI ceiling for those earning over £42,000pa would raise many tens of billions more. Lets say £20bn for a conservative estimate. That leaves £38bn left to find for our CI.

To administrate our current £160bn welfare bill costs about £20bn a year. The current army of bureaucrats and means testers uses up over 10% of our welfare budget. To administrate the universal child benefit was 1%. 1% is the sort of figure needed to administrate a universal CI. So once again savings of tens of billions off the welfare it replaces.

A CI replaces completely jobseekers allowance (£3bn to 6bn) and Income Support (£4bn to £8bn) (depending on levels of unemployment).

So we are now down to between £4bn to £11bn left to find.

The Greens are proposing a 1% wealth tax on over £3m of assets. which they estimate will raise £40bn. Andrew Neil disputed this figure, citing the lower threshold (£800k) French wealth tax that only raises £4bn a year. I suppose it all depends on how forcefully such a tax is implemented and how much is allowed to be avoided through capital flight.

Finally, a Citizen's Income would replace the impossibly complex system of tax credits. Around 7 million households are entitled to Working Tax credits and Child Tax credits. Around 5 million claim them costing around £30bn-£35bn a year (Note: this brings the total raised to more than needed for the proposed CI).

Critics use tax credits to point out that a CI could actually penalise some lower earners currently claiming these credits. Though the higher than child benefit rate I propose for the children's CI would probably make sure families with children are always better off.

I think that the huge change in the personal allowance in the last few years from £6,500 to £10,500 has made calculating a more progressive level of CI more difficult. Coupled with the replacement of the tax credits system, it might mean that a more generous CI would need to be implemented than the one proposed by the Greens to ensure that absolutely every low earner is better off. This could be clawed back through higher rates of income taxes on higher earners.

But the impact of a CI remains sound.

A payment of £3,744pa is better than tax allowances that saves you less (approx. £3,000pa). Only the higher tax rate payers should lose out with higher rates when NI is merged with Income Tax.

And the real impact is on the financial incentive to work.

Tell the unemployed you can earn money AND keep your £72 a week payment and the financial incentive to work has been dramatically improved.

Green leader Natalie Bennett did the Citizen's Income a disservice with her poor level of detailed knowledge of this policy. She needs to do her homework and be much sharper in future interviews and debates.

15 January 2015

I've Seen The Future Of Low Public Spending... 11,000 Miles Away.

Unaffordable housing, dire public transport, crumbling roads and infrastructure, scandalous road deaths, rising crime, desperate rising inequality and a dearth of decent paying jobs. The UK? How about New Zealand!

Perhaps not the image you might think of about the land of the Hobbit and the Maori. Of course New Zealand has wondrous abundant countryside and is well worth a visit (if you don't mind lots of driving). But for a country with an abundance of natural wealth, it isn't half in a mess.

Add in unaffordable healthcosts and dire TV and radio to the above list and you might understand why so many New Zealanders emigrate.

If you want a vision of life without the BBC, spend an evening watching (or rather enduring) New Zealand TV.

No homespun dramas, just endless imports, repeats, derivative programming and incessant adverts littering every programme, making them unwatchable. I started watching a film at 9pm, by midnight I had given up getting to the end of the movie after literally dozens of very long advertising breaks. I was then told that New Zealanders NEVER watch anything live, preferring to spend their time zapping adverts every few minutes on their timeshifted shows.

If you'd like the idea of a bonfire of regulations, you will love New Zealand. Where land developers are free to destroy beautiful countryside at will (while brownfield sites are left to decay), to throw up dilapadated tin houses with no insulation, that even in New Zealand's mild climate will leave you shivering. Where drink driving will result in only a slap on the wrist fine and result not surprisingly in the most dangerous roads in the Western world. To get too old or sick to drive is really to experience loneliness for most New Zealanders. Trapped in isolated towns with no resources for health (or much else).

So there you have the free market in all its glory and all its excuses laid bare. There are no planning restrictions holding developers back from building homes in New Zealand. And in a country bigger than the UK with just a 4.4m population, there is masses of space. Yet still they don't build. Why? Because big developers control the market like in the UK and by carefully restricting supply drive up property and land prices, especially in the crowded cities. Hence bigger profits, and that is the bottom line of market economics. It is not run for the masses, or even for efficiency. It is to make profits for the few. Proper regulation is needed to ensure competition diminishes profiteering. And a thriving private sector needs the public sector to provide opportunities and infrastructure support.

Go to New Zealand and drive (or should I say bounce) on their many "unsealed" roads, i.e. rubble tracks that are untarmac-ed. Go to their historic "spiritual" sites, if you can afford the theme park prices and stomach the theme park mentality. And woe betide if you can't drive. They don't even spend money on bridges or tunnels for their trains, preferring to run them through traffic islands. Not as if it matters when they run so infrequently for passengers, they are next to useless. They will never be able to expand public transport precluded by this lack of foresight. When New Zealand's population does grow big, as it will, they have laid the foundations for a living hell for future generations.

It is all such a shame, such a beautiful country, and through mean public infrastructure and reckless irresponsibility they are in a rush to despoil it.

I've seen the future for the UK if we keep heading in the same direction. The Tory road leads to New Zealand, but without the countryside.

06 January 2015

Can We Define Cameronism?

As, hopefully, David Cameron's reign as PM hits it's final furlong. I'd like to look deep into it's murky backwaters. I'd like to find the defining ideology of the man, and his schizophrenic government. Not just in terms of two parties in coalition, but of the conflicting ideologies of the man himself.

When the Labour party ran their shortlived and underplayed party political broadcast of a cartoon Cameron chameleon morphing from one political theme to the next, they were closer than they realised to nailing his defining characteristics. And to be fair to Cameron, they are not all bad. His apologies for Bloody Sunday and Hillsborough did seem genuinely heartfelt.

The most surprising attitude of his government has been their attitude to foreign aid and gay marriage. To have a Conservative government support these issues, in the face of much severe criticism from it's own MPs and media, is a bigger victory for the Left than probably they dare realise. It is also difficult to fathom.

I really can't make my mind up whether Cameron is a real convert to these causes or is trying to play some sort of modernist card to win the liberal urban middle class vote that the Tories have sorely missed since their post Thatcher collapse.

I actually suspect his conversion is real, but it doesn't square with his support for Section 28 (as recently as 2001) and his opposition to gay adoption.

Ditto, foreign aid. Did he find some damiscene conversion in being a 80's child of the Live Aid era? Seems as unlikely as his claim to be a Smiths fan.

Look at how easily Cameron has jettisoned his now almost unrememberable softly softly approach to immigration and Europe. His seemingly real understanding of the stupidity of punitive drug laws. His infamous, now laughable claim of "vote blue, go green". He even went as far as quoting "the spirit level" when claiming to want to reduce inequality. A claim never to be heard again from the man who put IDS in charge of welfare.

Then we look at the economic agenda and attitude to the public sector. More Thatcherite than even Thatcher. The relentless drive to push private sector profiteering deep into public provision. Cutting tax on Capital even further, even amid an economic depression and promise to reduce government debt.

Although he has given up on two dog whistle issues - gays and foreign aid, he has relentlessly pushed others. He has been outflanked on immigration and Europe because he could never out UKIP UKIP. But the attacks on the unemployed, disabled and even public sector workers have been relentless in their ferocity. Here we see Thatcher's child in his full glory.

Another curious aspect is his hot and cold attitude to religion. Once describing his religiosity as "like Magic FM in the Chilterns" - "it comes and goes". Then months later he is praying in Church like a US president at his most eager.

It is really difficult to pin down what is sincere about Cameron. But as attributed to Tony Blair, if you can fake sincerity, you have it made.
Cameron seemed to start out a liberal but become more hardcore Thatcherite once in power. His journey rightwards seems to continue to this day, with no sight of where it would end. For those of us who are true liberals, lets hope it ends on May 7th!