15 August 2015

The Labour Leadership & Jeremy Corbyn

Let's just for one moment leave aside the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn.

Can any supporter of one of the other candidates truly say their candidate is of the sort of calibre and appeal that Labour are going to need for the mammoth task of winning in 2020?

Are Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham & Liz Kendall all the party can offer? They all seem very poor candidates. The evidence is in their lack of ability to motivate support behind them. Their campaigns have been dire. Even some of their biggest supporters admit that. If they cannot motivate support now, how are they going to do it in a general election?

This is not about ideology for me. Dan Jarvis is on the right of the party but he at least convinces that he could challenge the Tories.

The electability criticism was a powerful attack on Jeremy Corbyn when first used, but now it seems Jeremy is actually the most electable of all the candidates according to some new polls.

The next big criticism is that he cannot unite the party.

But could someone like Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendall unite the party when they refuse to work with a candidate destined to be first choice for leader of around half the members of the party?

But a lot of the parliamentary party will refuse to accept Jeremy as leader, I hear you cry?

Actually none of the candidates have that many direct backers in the PLP. Burnham around 70, Cooper 60 and Kendall 40, not much more than Corbyn's 36 nominations.

Yes I know only around 25 of these nominations are directly for Corbyn, but most of those extra nominations were Burnham supporters & will fall in line. Burnham has said he is open to being in Corbyn's cabinet. A prominent role for Burnham will mean around 110 MPs onboard, at least half of the other 120 MPs will respect the party membership & unify behind this big part of the PLP. But this still leaves around 60 very unhappy MPs, maybe half of these will be hell bent on destabilising the party.

In the first instance I imagine there won't be much for these rogue MPs to rebel against. Voting against the government is not that controversial on most issues.

The big rebellion will be played out in the all too willing media. Constant briefing against the leader, rumours of plots etc. But all of this will be massively disrespectful to the membership who will have just given Corbyn a huge mandate.

There is a big difference between arguing against the party line on a point of principle and just causing mischief for the sake of it. True that Corbyn was a serial rebel, but he always respected the party and generally his rebellions were on issues backed by a significant number of the membership.

In these 30 or so constituencies with rogue MPs, members will have to ask themselves whether they really want to keep reselecting those who seem hell bent on ignoring their wishes and arrogantly not even acknowledging the members existence.

It will be difficult, but shaping the party into a strong democratic movement over the next two years will strengthen Labour's chances of electability.

Jez We Can.

11 August 2015

Labour Has Always Been The Party I've Felt At Home With And Jeremy Has Brought Me Back Into The Fold.

I've only ever been a member of one political party - Labour.

I really wanted to see Ed Miliband become PM in May and I was gutted for Labour's Nancy Platts in Kemptown.

Yet I had for a number of years drifted away from Labour as they moved further to the right. I did publicly support & vote for Caroline Lucas in May but I could not join the Green party. Something held me back. They didn't feel quite right for me.

Now, I am absolutely delighted to once again be a supporter of the Labour party. Jeremy Corbyn has given me real hope that Labour now have the artillery to win a general election. He has drawn be back into my Labour home. And I look forward to becoming an activist once again within a Labour movement confident of it's socialist roots.

But best of all, Corbyn is outlining clearly how to do it.

After initial short term borrowing, council homes could be big income generators in the medium to long term helping to pay down government debt. Corbyn will free councils to raise funds to build as many homes as their community needs. Private house builders are reluctant to build on brownfield sites because their profit is slightly less. In fact they seem reluctant to build at all when sitting on landbanks is such easy profit. Councils will have no such incentive.

Education is more than just individual advancement. It benefits the whole of society. Corbyn recognises this and why it should be paid for by general (progressive) taxation not by individual loans that are bound to hit the poorest harder.

And austerity rewards the irresponsible lenders by placing all the blame for debt on borrowers driven to desperate measures by out of control inequality. Corbyn will passionately make the case for a true "all in it together" philosophy where lenders do share some of the responsibility.

I could go on, but the point is Corbyn is outlining the case for a strident Labour party. We have tried timid Labour, it has lost 2 elections badly. I want to passionately want Labour to win. Like Blair, Corbyn can make that case, but times have changed since 1997 and it requires a new argument. Corbyn has refreshed Labour and I now desperately want to be on board and help them win elections once again.

07 June 2015

Labour Need Clever Populist Policies That Deliver A Left Philosophy

Labour are almost certainly going to lose the 2020 general election. The electoral geography and political realities are the worst they have been for Labour since their foundation.

The offer to the public in 2020 needs to be so huge and widely supported that tweaking policies here and there is just not going to cut the mustard.

Labour need a 1997 level of win in votes just to achieve a small majority.

These are facts, not pessimism. And if Labour do not face up to them, 2020 is already lost.

Of course, a lot could happen in 5 years to change this. The Tories although in a strong position, face some tough hurdles - the EU referendum, Scottish cessation, continued brutal public spending cuts, their promises on the NHS and the deficit, their muddle on human rights and housing.

All of this could trip them up. The economic credit bubble could once again burst. But Labour can't count on voters turning to them. Voters are turning to more radical options - SNP, Greens and even UKIP.

Labour need to think big to address their big problems.

Labour have completely lost Scotland and Southern England. If they're not careful, the rest could follow.

The two biggest problems - Labour are not trusted with public spending/ taxation AND thanks to a hopeless situation in Scotland, Labour have to win most votes in England. Something they haven't done since 2001.

The constitution is a complete mess. The Tory solutions are weak - English only committees and devolving services locally but without control of funding. This beats Labour, who are scared of saying anything much, but there is a big opportunity here for Labour.

English voters think they are getting a raw funding deal compared to Scotland. While Scots feel too much fiscal power lies in England. A big offer here could please both.

The over centralised UK has been obvious for decades, ever since Thatcher abolished a lot of local government in the 80s, the power has moved one way. Local government is capped and restricted in almost everything it does. The Tories have found local government a great way to hide central government cuts. By devolving services without the funding to pay for them. The Tories are being clever.

Labour could trump the Tories offer. I've thought long and hard about the UK's devolution problem. I used to think regional devolution was the answer. This was started in London with the GLA. The English regions would be similar in population size to Scotland. But the new Scottish tax powers has now made that problematic. You can't really have different income tax rates between Newcastle and Manchester. The Tories greater City Mayors is another fudge.

The only solution I can see satisfying the English public is an English parliament, with the same powers as the Scottish parliament.

This has huge advantages for Labour.

It would win them votes in England. And if all fiscal powers were devolved, would win them support in Scotland too, who resent Westminster deciding tax rates and spending for the whole UK.

But also the new English parliament could replace the House of Lords and use it's chamber and would have to be elected in the same way as the Scottish parliament, by PR.

PR would stop the fragmentation of England between North and South by stopping one party dominating with a minority of the vote. The UK parliament would control security and foreign affairs, with taxes and spending devolved to each country. Further devolution to councils would be decided at country level.

The other solution for Labour is to grasp the nettle of tax and spending. Offer the British people a referendum on tax and spending levels, arguing 37% support in a general election is not enough of a mandate to decide the direction of the country on this issue.

Do we want Scandanavian services and welfare or US levels of social problems. Labour should trust the people. An offer of a referendum would kill this as a negative issue for Labour, because whatever the people decide they would abide by. It would free Labour up to campaign for fairer and higher levels of tax and spend. But people would know the final decision would be theirs.

This would win support across the political spectrum and be difficult for Tories and their right wing press to campaign against. Also it would satisfy both left and right within the Labour party itself.

So, a parliament for the English and a clear referendum to decide taxation levels and the consequent public spending. This could put the Tories on the back foot and be a bold enough vision to show Labour was ready for power once again. The fairness of a PR elected English parliament would appeal to Green supporters, while the concept of an English parliament would apeal to Ukippers and Tories.

Without powerful promises such as this, the left could continue to fragment. Certainly lots of left voters will not want to support a Labour party chasing Tory and Ukip support by being mean to immigrants and the vulnerable. Without a centre-left Labour party, I see little future for Labour.

05 June 2015

The Single Non Transferable Vote

Thanks to another blogger (Thank you Paul Z Templeton) I now know the name of the voting system I have been advocating (SEE TITLE, I know, I should have known this!).

Paul is a big advocate of another system - the Single Transferable Vote (STV). But I'm not so impressed with STV.

The main problem I have with STV is the complexity of the system.

I know it is easy enough to rank candidates in order 1,2,3, but I think it is really important for the legitimacy of the system that the counting process is also easily understood.

Also, preference voting itself, tends to favour centrist candidates. Centrist campaigning is one of the big flaws of our present first-past-the-post system as well.

Virtually all those elected are centrist non-entities, or at least pretend to be, which is even worse. Our extremists are hidden in the FPTP or STV systems.

By definition, in a more proportional system, the majority will still be fairly centrist, but minorities will also (shock, horror!) get a MINORITY of the seats. This allows more radical (and yes sometimes extremist) views to get a hearing. But we ALL get more honest and open MPs as a result.

Presently our candidates are forced into compromising their principles. The most honest candidates have to be really careful that their policies always appeal to most (if not all) of the population. Which I think leads to bad politics, because necessarily unpopular or radical policies are just hidden till after the election and not properly debated.

Looking to Irish politics is not a good advert for STV. STV has not enabled Ireland to form long lasting social and economic policies. The countries that do best in terms of social, economic and environmental policies have the most proportional systems. Which brings me on to the next flaw of STV, it's lack of proportionality.

To keep the number of candidates on the ballot down to manageable levels and to keep candidates local, there is a necessity to limit the magnitude of multi member districts to 3 to 6 seats in STV systems. This limits the proportionality considerably, with effective thresholds that are far too high - from 14% to as high as 25%. This shuts out minority parties and views from being elected and heard.

This is where we get to the key advantages of the Single NON transferable vote (SNTV), which is the system I am advocating.

Because surplus and split votes are not transferred, parties have to manage their wasted votes themselves by limiting the number of candidates they stand, to those with a good chance of election and targeting different candidates at different constituencies within the multi member district. These are both desirable aims.

This enables SNTV to operate at much higher magnitude districts (10-16 seats), which guarantees high proportionality (effective thresholds from 3% to 7%), but still provide ultra local candidates and manageable ballot papers.

Looking at where SNTV has operated worldwide. Where it is used exclusively, it provides extraordinary proportionality and ensures minorities get a say.

The weaknesses in terms of wasted votes tend to happen where districts are too low magnitude or too many "no hope" candidates are allowed to stand.

It is important for SNTV to work well that the nominations process acts to filter out candidates with no chance of winning.

This is easily achieved by setting a high bar in terms of the number of supporters required to get on the ballot paper. I suggest each candidate needs 500 local electors who have donated to their campaign in the 12 months preceding an election.

I prefer this to garnering signatures and large deposits, because someone's wealth should not be an issue. And each donor could donate as little as £1 and it shows much more of a commitment to a candidate than a signature.

Overall, I think that to be inclusive to ALL voters, we need a voting system that is very simple to understand, provides ultra local candidates and proportional results. SNTV does all these things. A simple X by the candidate of your choice and the candidates with the most votes are elected. Simple and fair.

28 May 2015

Flexibility Is The Key To A Good Voting System

My proposal is that every elector gets one vote for one candidate and the top candidates in votes are elected to the seats. So if there are 16 MPs in a county, the 16 candidates with the most votes are elected.

The more I look into the practicalities of this, the more I like it.

It is very proportional and very easy to understand. The candidates with the most votes are elected. No complicated formulas or party lists. No safe seats, expensive boundary reviews or 2 classes of MP. And most of all no silly results with parties amassing millions of votes for little or no MPs.

The clever part is how this system deals with "split votes". Which is at the root of the problem for most systems.

Rather than the smaller parties having the largest burden of split votes and thereby being completely shut out of parliament, every party has to manage the problem of potential split votes or face losing seats.

And it is easily managed by parties by them adjusting the number of candidates that they stand and by having candidates target local areas. Both good for the working of the system.

Thus providing ultra local candidates to those voters that vote for local candidates and keeping numbers of candidates on the ballot paper down to manageable levels.

Also, the voter knows that EVERY candidate on the ballot paper has a real chance of being elected. This is REAL choice. Wasted votes are kept to a minimum because all parties have to aim to minimise surplus votes and only stand candidates with a real chance of election.

No hoper candidates would harm other candidates in the party by wasting party support.

Also the proportionality and the fairly low threshold give independent candidates a chance, but only if they pass the strict entry criteria - 500 electors in the county having donated at least a pound to their campaign in the 12 months before the election.

This also makes it difficult for the larger parties to just "parachute" in candidates from elsewhere. They will need to have built up local support in the preceding 12 months to garner enough support for every party candidate to make the ballot paper.

Easy enough if you are a serious candidate with decent levels of support but this will stop joke and time waster candidates clogging up the ballot paper.

It cannot be right that all you need is a spare £500 deposit to stand. This purely money based system that we have now goes against the principle of democracy. By having to garner 500 real electors willing to donate £1 to a campaign, it will demonstrate really strong support for a candidate before they get on the ballot paper. There might even be an argument for making this donation threshold even higher, maybe 1000 donations. The idea of setting the minimum donation at £1 is to make it affordable for all electors to back a candidate.

Thereby everyone on the ballot paper will have a strong chance of being elected. To be elected you need to get approximately 4% of the vote or more (depending on the size of the county and how the vote splits this threshold might be as high as 8%).

It is the "self correcting" aspect that is the genius part of the system. It is the flexibility of the system that is its strength, allowing voters to decide the rules of the system rather than faceless bureaucrats. Voters decide how local the candidates will be and also the areas they represent within each county.

In Sussex, to guarantee finishing in the top 16 places and become an MP, you'd need 5.88% of the county vote. (1/17 Thanks for correction, Christine. See comments below)

This is the optimum vote. If you get above this you're elected. If a candidate gets far more than this they are safely elected. But whereas safe seats in FPTP are useful for a party, too many surplus votes in this system can damage a party's chances by wasting party votes that could have elected other candidates.

There will be wider choice for the voter with around 17 to 23 candidates on the ballot paper. This is still a manageable level. You can have this many candidates in current byelections.

Each party would likely stand one more candidate than they think they would win in seats. And there would likely be at least one independent stand.

In a 16 seat county, that might mean 23 candidates. Very unlikely to be more than that, because parties would avoid wasting votes.

Parties would judge support by opinion polls. I know polls infamously can be wrong, but they are accurate enough for this purpose (within 6% accuracy).

Voters would be able to choose from ultra local candidates from the more popular parties in the local area or for smaller parties maybe standing for a wider area in the county. Independents might be ultra local or wider. It all depends on size and concentration of support.

Officials wouldn't have to agonise over which streets to include in some arbitrary boundaries, it would all be decided by voters and parties responding to that and boundaries would be invisible and flexible.

All the officials would do is set the number of seats in a county according to the population. This would also mean poorer areas with low voter registration wouldn't be shortchanged on representation.

If we look at our Sussex example using party votes from the general election projected onto likely candidates we can see that the vote needed to be elected is lower than 6.25%.

This is because votes for party candidates are not going to be perfectly spread.

In Sussex the 1st place candidate would be elected with 6.75% of the vote and the 16th placed candidate elected with 3.82%.

The 6 candidates falling below this figure were unelected with combined totals of 18.4% of the vote. These votes elected no-one, so could be called the "wasted" votes under my system.

If we now compare these figures with the percentage of the county vote the current Sussex MPs have under first-past-the-post.

These varied from the highest vote for an MP of 4.07% (Peter Bottomley) to the lowest elected at 2.19% (Simon Kirby) of the Sussex vote.

The total votes not electing anyone in Sussex under first-past-the-post are 50.31%. So the majority of votes could be said to be wasted votes.

So, we can see that under my proposed system, MPs are elected with more votes and there are less wasted votes. We also get a highly proportional result. The Tories in Sussex with 48% of the vote, get 50% of the seats, (whereas they get 88% of the seats under FPTP). LABOUR 19%,19% (6%). UKIP 14%, 13% (0%). LIBDEMs 11%, 13%, (0%). GRNS 7%, 6%, (6%).

So, voters could vote for an ultra local Tory or Labour candidate, or maybe a UKIP, LibDem or Green candidate covering a wider area. The choice is for the voter. Their votes will determine how many candidates are local.

The election will always be close between the election of a candidate in 16th place and non elected place immediately below this - a fraction of a percent. So every candidate can be considered worth voting for.

But if you live in say Worthing, you are probably very likely to vote for a candidate covering your area rather than say a Brighton and Hove candidate and vice versa. Although you could vote cross county if you liked that candidate. There is that freedom.

It would be interesting to see this system in practice. I'm confident it would work. Even if there was a lot of cross county voting and wide disparities in votes between candidates in the same party. It would still deliver reasonable proportionality and legitimacy. If a candidate does get a low vote and fails to get elected, whose fault is that?

This system is fair, simple to understand and still provides local MPs if voters vote that way. In short there is still a direct link between elected candidates and voters. It would be cheaper to run than our present system and it provides proportional results without 2 classes of MP.

Indeed MPs are likely to be elected with more votes than now and there will be less difference between their support.

Nationally at the moment MPs are elected with anything from 12,000 votes to over 40,000. In my system it is unlikely any MP will be elected with less than 25,000 votes. In my Sussex example the lowest would be 32,265 votes to garner the 16th and final elected place.

So, spread the word. Lets elect our MPs county by county by placing an X next to our favoured candidate. Simple and easy. A "Fairest Past The Post" system.

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.