26 September 2005

4 fringe meetings and a booze up.


3pm. The New Statesman debate: Where now for Labour? With John Kampfner, Ruth Kelly MP and Polly Toynbee.

Interesting debate, Polly raised the issue of electoral reform and received loud boos when she said there were people in the Lib Dems who could quite easily be in the Labour Party. I supported her point that there has always been a permanent left of centre majority in this country and it is wasted every time the Tories are allowed to govern with minority support under this system. I also made the point that the party were so embarrassed about their victory under FPTP that they couldn't even bring themselves to print the share of the vote they received (35%) in the conference programme election analysis.

Lots of lefties standing up saying Labour should move to the left. If only they would embrace electoral reform we would then have socialists, greens etc. with a real say in government instead of currently being ignored.

4.45pm. IPPR Channel 4 debate: Football, fit for the future? With Dick Caborn MP, Phil French-supporters direct and some FA Bloke who replaced Delia Smith who had disappointingly pulled out at the last minute.

The FA Bloke (sorry didn't get his name) was surprisingly very good. Talked about football being about 40,000 football clubs not just the Premier League. Made mention of the 8 England teams, both sexes and disabled teams (Cerebral Palsy team world champions, under 17 and under 19 teams ranked 1 and 2 in the world). He went on at great length about how the FA can't intervene in pricing, but can encourage schemes like football league clubs introducing free entrance for under 9s.

Phil French, mentioned the number of professonal teams under supporter control, (12 rising to 30 next year (he reckons). Lots of shouts from the audience about the Glazers and general overpricing. Phil agreed, in fact pretty general consensus on this even from the FA guy and Dick Caborn. Phil argued for a salary cap and ticket price cap, but Dick says the government couldn't intervene in the market. Dick generally was quite jolly about where football was going and went on about Sheffield Utd (his club) and made jokes about Sheff Wednesday. Everyone agreed that talk of a football crisis was nonsense, compared to the 1980s football is doing fantastically. Phil French did warn however that the inequality of revenues is going to ruin football. He suggested a return to sharing gate receipts. Although they don't realise it, even the big clubs are nothing without a competitive league. He said why would supporters continue to support a mid placed club like Aston Villa (no disrespect) who move 2 places up one year and drop 2 the next. All the panel agreed that football clubs are more than businesses and have a massive importance to the community.

6.30pm IPPR and Compass (left pressure group within Labour Party, well worth joining). Can we do a Sweden? What can Labour learn from Social Democratic success? With Polly Toynbee, Professor Robert Taylor, and Nick Pearce.

Best debate of the day. Once again PR is raised as essential to Social Democratic success in holding power for most of the last 80 years in Sweden. Taylor makes some very good points about how Sweden has combined economic success (no nationalisation, not afraid of the private sector, ) with social justice (no child poverty to speak of, 80% unionisation but unions work with employers who in turn are progressive). Also mentions Sweden's success on environmental issues and aid. Basic conclusion is that the UK needs PR and needs it fast!

8.30pm Make Votes Count/ERS/LCER. How the voting system threatens Labour? With David Lipsey, Polly Toynbee (again!)-(how does she do it?), Neil Kinnock, John Denham MP, Fiona Mctaggert MP.

The best attended debate of the day and also good to see that is was the youngest audience by quite some distance. Neil Kinnock makes a rousing speech on how he has always believed in PR, but while he was leader he couldn't mention the fact in case it led to headlines like 'Labour admits they cannot win'. Lots of talk about Robin Cook from all the speakers and a minutes silence given. Robin Cook was a passionate advocate for electoral reform and his dynanism and humour will be sadly missed by our cause.

Very good speech from Fiona Mctaggert, who argues how PR will help feminism. She talks about how Labour has gone from being well behind amongst women to being 6 points ahead and puts this down to the rise in the number of women MPs, a more female approach to discussions and how Labour's policies helping women have given them something to vote about. With PR it is going to be even easier to argue more feminist viewpoints as more time is allowed to build consensus rather than worrying about the established views all the time.

John Denham discusses a local byelection he was involved in. This area had been neglected by Labour and the Lib Dems had held the seat since taking it from Labour in 1984. Anyway he said they ran a fantastic campaign, made sure every house was leafleted and knocked and pulled in all the heavyweight name MPs and councillors to help in the campaign. It indeed went extremely well and Labour got more votes than the Lib Dems which they congratulated each other on while watching the new Tory councillor celebrate. The Tory vote had fallen but the split between Lib Dem and Labour was so even it had given the Tories victory on a small minority of the vote. Is this what the voters here really wanted? This demonstrates perfectly why the system needs changing.

Polly once again raises tribal loyalty getting in the way of our true objectives. I make a little speech in support stating that all Labour CLPs should pass a resolution calling for electoral reform just like Brighton Pavilion CLP have done. We shouldn't be frightened of democracy, there is a permanent left of centre majority in this country that would have given us a Labour coalition government evry time, just like the Social Democrats have had in Sweden. Labour would benefit enormously by capitalising on this majority with PR.

It is the Tories who are scared witless by PR, because they know it would signal their deathknoll, just like neo-liberalism around the world has died under PR (Look at Sweden). As Neil Kinnock reminded us, what better endorsement is there for PR, than Thatcher (in a rare moment of candour) ranting how 'we must never let Labour win, they might change the electoral system'.

Finally just a mention about the German elections which were touched on here by David Lipsey (the Make Votes Count Chairman). No electoral system can protect against stalemate being voted for by the electorate. When one party has 35% as the CDU has and the other has 34% as the SPD has. The electorate have not shown majority support for either. The problem of forming a coalition has been caused by the SPD refusal to join with the Left party (a breakaway). This will be resolved by a probable minority government under Schroder with Left party support, or a 'grand coalition'. We must remember this has happened under FPTP as well, in 1951 and 1974 when there were 2 elections 6 months apart. The same stalemate is going to become a regular feature under FPTP now that a third party has garnered so many seats. All the betting is on a 'hung' parliament in 2009. The difference between FPTP and the German system is that you can't get a minority govt riding roughshod over everyone else's wishes in the name of 'strong govt' (whatever that means- dictatorship?). Even the party that came second or third could 'win' an overall majority. What justification for that is there?

Germany is a democracy and it will form a government that reflects the people's wishes. That is all you can ask of an electoral system. Not some arbitrary system that rewards one party with all the power just because of some quirk of the system. You might as well just toss a coin, if 'strong government' is all you want. It is no argument at all.

Anyway finally after all these shenanigans we managed to get last orders down the Windmill to add a pint to all the free beer and wine and (nice food in Queens Hotel) that we had accumulated.

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