Thursday, May 29, 2008

So can a Labour mayor run for three terms?

Here's an interesting story: BBC News: Mayor expelled from Labour Party. Martin Winter, has been seeking a third term as Mayor of Doncaster "but Labour rules do not allow someone to run for a third time".

So why is he having to go outside the party to pursue this aim, yet Ken Livingstone was put to the people of London yet again? Does Labour believe in term limits or not? Or do the rules change depending on the personality?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Let's not get carried away...

Okay the Crewe & Nantwich by-election result brought many a cheer across the Conservative Party, is the first gain from Labour since 1982 or 1978 depending on what you count, etc... etc...

But let's also have some perspective. There have been sensational over-hyped by-election gains for opposition parties before. Often they haven't led to a dramatic change in the political landscape. Did the country go heavily Liberal after Orpington?

And the electorate is very volatile these days. Only a year ago people were talking about Gordon Brown leading Labour to a fourth election victory and heavily increasing the majority, whilst quite a few people in the Conservative Party and the media started talking doom and disaster. The opinion polls have practically yo-yoed for much of the past year. Who's to say that things won't swing back again and that in a few months time the media will be asking if the Conservatives can ever form a government again?

Predicting the next election result or proclaiming the Conservatives as the next government is far, far too premature. There are a lot of voters in the country who have become increasingly willing to listen to what the Conservatives have to say and even dabble with voting for us in council and by-elections. That is not the same thing as a mass scale winning them over. No vote can be taken for granted and many could well vote for Labour at the next election. A lot still needs to be done to win hearts and minds.

Does Labour need to replace Gordon Brown with an all-new & dynamic leader? It's a silly question because there's no obvious candidate. The fact that people are talking about the likes of James Purnell, who hardly anyone had heard of, shows how limited the pool of alternatives is. It's not good for a country's stability to constantly have the premiership in doubt.

If there is one clear fact to emerge from the by-election it's that the Liberal Democrats were not on their best form. They've come from third place to take seats off Labour before but this time they fell back. Is it just a failing in their by-election machine or is Nick Clegg proving the hard way that he's not the Great Young Hope that the party deposed Ming for?

Eurovision - who cares?

Traditionally even the most ardent Eurosceptics have never had a problem with the UK's participation in the Eurovision Song Contest. On the contrary it's been regarded as a bit of fun.

But in recent years everyone's rushed to allege political motivations behind the voting, to complain that the UK always does badly out of this and that the whole thing is now biased towards eastern Europe. And whine that Russia's victory this year is political. (BBC News: Russia scoops Eurovision victory)

But let's be honest - the UK does not take Eurovision seriously. We hardly ever deploy our best pop stars, instead sending in a string of also rans. Now given that the winning country has to pay to host the next competition making it a dubious prize (look at what happened to RTE when Ireland kept winning - it even spawned a Father Ted episode!) it's perhaps understandable, but other countries take the contest seriously. Hence they run serious entries that get the points.

As for the regular complaint that many countries vote for their neighbours, well consider cultural and immigration trends. Naturally people in one country are likely to be best disposed towards the music from their neighbours or from their ancestral countries. And most of the Commonwealth don't have votes in Eurovision.

So let's decide once and for all if we want to treat the contest as a bit of a laugh and keep coming nowhere or if we want to make a serious bid and put forward our top talent, rather than doing one and moaning we don't get the results of the other.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Recent quietness

One thing after another has got in the way recently, hence my quietness. But don't worry, normal service is resuming.

And I note that the US Democrat nomination is still running. Are they trying to bore us all to death?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Northern Irish political unity!

I don't know whether to laugh or cry at this. All four main parties in Northern Ireland have come together as one on the same issue for the first time. You'd think this would be a good sign.

But what they have united around is opposition to women in Northern Ireland being allowed freedom of choice. An amendment to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland has been tabled at Westminster, prompting the united opposition. (BBC News: Parties united on abortion laws) They may make some waffle about wanting the matter handled by the Northern Ireland Assembly, but then Southern US States used to pretend that it was only the principle States' Rights that motivated their objection to civil rights.

And access to abortion is an issue of civil rights. It's the basic right of every individual woman to choose for herself what she does. No politician should be able to impose their personal prejudices upon her and maintain an unjust bar on access. The 1967 Act was introduced for good reasons and it is a tragedy it was never extended to cover Northern Ireland.

It is also especially bizarre that there Unionist political parties who do not want Northern Ireland to be like the rest of the United Kingdom and instead want it to be like the Republic of Ireland...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Time to end No Platform?

For many years a lot of people have tried to counter the rise of the BNP and other fascist groups with a policy called "No Platform" designed to deny them an outlet to express their views in the belief that by denying them the oxygen of publicity this will restrict them and prevent them from growing.

It's a battering ram of a solution to the cancer of the BNP. But you can't cure cancer with a battering ram. The idea that No Platform is working has been totally blown out of the water by the last London Assembly elections.

Why is this? Well No Platform doesn't completely cut off the ability of fascists to communicate with voters. It only restricts it. And it also restricts the ability to counter the specific points made by the fascists. They are thus given a "pariah" status to appeal to the disillusioned and disaffected.

And let's not forget that the average BNP voter has no respect for the organisations that seek to deny them a platform. On The Independent: Johann Hari: BNP votes are a cry of white working-class anguish one BNP voter gives her reasons:

Instead, they were angry and alienated, and the BNP seemed to them to be the sharpest needle to jab into the eye of the political process; as one fifty something white woman said, "I just want to tell politicians to fuck off."
And No Platform plays into this image of the BNP as "the party with the answers THEY don't want you to hear".

So instead let's give them the chance to destroy themselves. Let's expose their lies and incoherent policies, let's allow them to slip up rather than hide their failings behing a No Platform policy, let's tear away the pariah status upon which they set so much store and let's bring them down.

So with a great deal of reluctance I have decided to give Richard Barnbrook a platform. And even many on the far right wish he hadn't made this speech at the Mayoral declaration:

Of course this is only part of the way to take them on. It is also essential to address the concerns that have driven voters to the BNP. That includes addressing the problems of housing shortages, but it also involves asking some very hard questions about how things are done. Multiculturalism is one of the most controversial matters in the UK today, but if community groups feel divided against one another with one perceived to be losing out to another then alienation, resentment and recrimination will only grow. And the consequences are unthinkable.

Hat tip to The Tory Troll: Richard Barnbrook: The Great White Dope, Liberal Conspiracy: Richard Barnbrook: The Great White Dope and Question That: Hari: No More No Platforms.

How the London Assembly could have been so different

Amidst all the euphoria or sorrow about the results of the GLA elections there's been comparatively little number crunching about the Assembly results. And one area has not been given much light at all - the potential for large parties to game the system to maximise their advantage. And the results are surprising.

The Assembly is elected by the Additional Member System, another name for Mixed member proportional representation and I can no better than recommend the Wikipedia article for details. But also take a look at Overhang seat for details on how the system can produce disproportionate results if a party wins far more constituency seats than its list vote "entitles" it to.

Since a party's success in a constituency cancels out its entitlement on the list, one can legitimately wonder what would happen if a party was able to uncouple its constituency and list results and run as two nominally separate parties that will act as one in the assembly chamber. When Italy used this system major parties on both the right and left set-up decoy lists with the result that they both gained far more seats than the implementers of the system expected. (For the London Assembly it may not be necessary to have a strict "decoy list" itself as constituency candidates do not have to be attached to lists.)

In the interests of fairness I've done the calculations three times, looking at the effect of each party then both running decoys. And the results make for interesting consideration.

As elected the Assembly had the following result:

11 Conservatives (8 constituencies, 3 list)
8 Labour (6 constituencies, 2 list)
3 Lib Dems
2 Green

Now if the Conservatives had run a decoy then the results of the assembly would be as follows:

15 Conservatives (8 constituencies, 7 list)
6 Labour (all constituencies)
2 Lib Dems
1 Green

The main effect would be that the Conservatives would have a majority in the Assembly, whilst Labour would not have a single list member and thus have no representation at all for much of London. Both the Lib Dems and Greens would lose a member, with the latter also losing recognised party status and thus their entitlement to group support funding. (I don't know if the Assembly rules would allow them to form a "technical grouping" with the BNP to qualify for funding but since that's realistically not going to happen let's not speculate.)

But what if instead Labour tried a decoy? We get:

8 Conservatives (all constituencies)
12 Labour (6 constituencies, 6 list)
2 Lib Dems
2 Green

This time round the Conservatives are left without any list representation. Labour are now one seat short of a majority and if Labour, Lib Dems, the Greens and the BNP all combined together (as they already did at the first Assembly meeting) then they would have a 2/3 majority to block the Mayor's proposed budget.

And if both parties tried decoys? The result would be:

13 Conservatives (8 constituencies, 5 list)
10 Labour (6 constituencies, 4 list)
1 Lib Dem
1 Green

Yes the BNP would be off the Assembly. Both the Lib Dems and the Greens would be down to a single member without recognised party status, and it would be interesting to see if they could put aside their rivalry to form a technical grouping to share party funding. (I don't know if this is technically possible.) Meanwhile there would be a Conservative majority in the Assembly.

Now will anyone else pick up on this and consider trying this tactic? Something similar was attempted by Forward Wales at the last Assembly election who ran all their candidates as independents, but the votes just weren't there for them. How long before the major parties try it? Or will the system get abolished before then?

Friday, May 09, 2008

When Labour *lost* Jarrow

I've blogged about this before (When Labour was even more flappable) but the news that the Conservatives are 26% ahead in the opinion polls (ConservativeHome's ToryDiary: Tories 26% ahead) and predictions of a 288 seat majority has reminded me of the all time greatest landslide election this country has ever seen - the 1931 general election.

This election saw the Conservatives and their National Government allies win all over the country, carrying seats such as Jarrow (so anyone who's read Things Can Only Get Better should be aware that the "Labour holds Jarrow" 1983 election could have been so much worse), and took not a mere set of Labour scalps but virtually the entire front bench - National Labour members aside, only one member of the ex Labour Cabinet (George Lansbury) and two other ex ministers (Clement Attlee and Sir Stafford Cripps) held their seats. The Labour leader, Arthur Henderson, lost Burnley by over 8000 votes and overall Labour lost nearly 4/5ths of their seats.

It was also the high water mark for the Liberals that they have still to reach, securing 72 seats. Historians like to separate the Liberals into three different groupings but such divides were not so clear cut at the time. And indeed one Lib Dem MP to this day can't make up his mind about this matter (see An inability to get the figures right or just whatever will benefit?).

So will the next election be such a walkover? I doubt it - but it would be a fun night if the election graphics are unable to cope with such an overwhelming avalanche. And it would be a blow against complacency that would be felt on all sides.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

It wasn't just London that went blue...

In the aftermath of last week's local elections various vote tallying is still going on, but one interesting figure has emerged - the Conservatives won the most votes across Greater Manchester. (Manchester Evening News: Tories beat Labour in race for votes and David Ottewell's politics: Did your vote count?) The raw figures are Conservatives 211,818, Labour 210,130 and Lib Dems 153,533.

So all the talk of the Conservatives being only a party of the South, and particularly weak in Greater Manchester, seems rather wide of the mark.

Hat tip to Iain Lindley: Tories Beat Labour Across Greater Manchester

Monday, May 05, 2008

Ashes to Ashes out of DVD

Whilst buying new light bulbs today I noticed that the first series of Ashes to Ashes is now out on DVD. I think I know what I'll be watching in my spare time from now on!

As a tribute here's two videos from YouTube. First David Bowie's classic music video itself:

Now major SPOILER warning. Here's the fantastic scene from the climax of the series:

Ashes to Ashes Series 1 can be purchased from here.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

PR - not the Holy Grail of Lib Dem electoral success?

There's an interesting post at Liberal England: Why are the Lib Dems so bad at PR elections? that wonders why the Liberal Democrats seem unable to rake in the votes once they get a "fair system" [sic]. (Their latest setback has been the loss of two of their five London Assembly members. Now the Assembly group can hold its meetings on a rickshaw!)

Some of this may be down to the particular system used - see my comments on the details - but it also suggests that the Liberal Democrat vote is rather softer than many think, and only snowballs when ruthlessly targetted. When it has to compete with other options and can't hide behind misleading bar charts it becomes exposed to the winds and does weakly, sometimes even worse than under first past the post.

So where does this leave the campaign for proportional representation?

April on this blog

It's a little later than usual, but time again for the monthly look at who's been visiting this blog. For those who wish to see stats for earlier months you can now click on one of the labels at the end of this post. Comparisons are with the stats for March.

First off the sites most people come from:

  1. Google (-)
  2. Facebook (-)
  3. (-)
  4. Mars Hill (+1)
  5. Antonia's blog (RE-ENTRY)
  6. Wikipedia (-)
  7. Piled Higher and Deeper (+1)
  8. ConservativeHome (+4)
  9. nourishing blogrolls (NEW)
  10. Live Search (+6)
Dropping out of the top ten are Yahoo (at 16, down 6), educationet (at 28, down 24), Norfolk Blogger (disappearing altogether) and Vote 2007 (ditto).

Then we have the top ten search engine requests that brought people here:

  1. what does your birthday say about you (-)
  2. tim roll-pickering (+1)
  3. what harms the environment (RE-ENTRY)
  4. whatever happened to dan quayle (-)
  5. what president am i most like (RE-ENTRY)
  6. oldest political party (-)
  7. educationet (-2)
  8. laura blomeley (+1)
  9. grumpy old men muppets (RE-ENTRY)
  10. ashley mcalister ulu (RE-ENTRY)
Surprisingly no new entries and several returns.

Finally as ever we have a list of all the cities detected that people are in:


Thank you all for reading!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The other London election result

You could be forgiven for believing that London has only been electing a Mayor this week. There was also an election for the London Assembly, elected by a form of proportional representation. And one of the results is a horrific breakthrough:

The British National Party have won a seat through the party list system. For the next four years Londoners will have representing them on the Assembly Richard Barnbrook, a member of a facist & racist party with fringe support.

This is what proportional representation means. There are many reasons why the Assembly needs the election system overhauled (if the Assembly isn't abolished outright), but this is easily the most pressing.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The future's bright! The future's blue!

What a week!

Manchester United.



Truly this is the season to be blue!

I don't think I need say any more.

Never again!

For those who aren't watching the BBC News coverage of the election results you have been lucky to escape one of the most hideous pieces of television I've ever seen, making even the numerous entries by Richard Madeley seem bearable.

Jeremy Vine dressed as a cowboy with a Texan accent telling us how Calamity Clegg is doing compared to his predecessors, by shooting cans of whatever can get 30 in. Even by the standards of funny BBC night election graphics this sinks to new lows.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Why I hate first class compartments

It'll be a few days before I can catch up with everything, but I can't let one story from the last few days go without comment and that is the case of a commuter who was fined for standing in the only space available on a train. It's not well documented online apart from Evening Star: 'I was fined for standing in 1st class'.

Despite all the doom and gloom stories, rail use has been increasing in recent years. But rail companies are doing very little to tackle the capacity problems that this brings. First class compartments on a commuter service are a joke. It's wasting space that could be used to ease the crush of what often feels like little more than a mobile cattle truck. And it speaks volumes that the rail companies are more concerned with enforcing the class compartments than actually finding ways to relieve the pressure.

Now I'm enough of a rail geek to know that you can't easily just add carriages to existing services. Quite apart from where you get the rolling stock from, the rail timetables would need to be heavily altered to incorporate longer crossings and numerous railway stations would need to be extended to take longer trains. Double decker carriages could also be difficult to implement on existing lines, although if there are any possibilities there then they'd be worth exploring.

What train companies can do, however, is make much better use of the space within existing carriages. Wisely many ditched first class compartments at least as recently as the 1980s when many slam door carriages were replaced on the London commuter lines. First class compartments are a total waste of much needed space. They don't bring any special luxuries that make the ticket price worth it beyond having a different group of people to fight for seats with, and slightly more space. This is at the expense of the bulk of travellers who get treated like cattle.

It's not just out of date class compartments that cause problems. A lot of the carriages used for metropolitan suburban services are frankly designed for county services, and consequently are badly laid out for the scrum you get at peak hours each day. A more rational approach to design and allocations is needed.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...