Posts Tagged ‘lib dems’

So. The election happened. If you’re still catching up, here are some results.

Yeah, I don’t have a whole lot of analysis right now. Just a few scattered thoughts on individual points:

– Electoral reform needs to happen. This graphic here shows as clearly as anything I’ve seen the disparity between the way the popular vote went and the corresponding representation in parliament. It’s pretty much bullshit. The Conservatives got well under twice as many votes as the Lib Dems, but more than five times as many seats. It’s even less fair on the Greens.

The Lib Dems are obviously behind the idea of completely reforming the system. I’m not sure what the other parties have been saying about it most recently, but I think the issue is a lot more prominent now, and the momentum for reform won’t just fade away easily. There’s just no way a First Past The Post system can be relied on to provide a single-party government when there are more than two parties playing a substantial role. Without one lot being the outright winner, it’s going to come down to some kind of coalition system. Heading down the Proportional Representation route to make that work more fairly sounds a much better option from here than trying to devolve into a more straight-forwardly binary system like the US has.

– The BNP got 563,743 votes (or more – looks like one constituency is still to report), but didn’t win a single seat. That’s about 1.9% of the total count, so in a PR system, they would have got something like 12 seats in parliament. Sadly, if you’re going to argue for reform that gives the Lib Dems a fairer score based on the votes they got, you kinda have to support significant national representation for the BNP as well.

It’s not ideal, and I won’t pretend I wasn’t pleased to hear they’d lost everywhere this time. But they were voted for in a general election by half a million constituents. The fact that the British National Party are disgraceful wastes of organic material isn’t a good enough basis for disenfranchising the many people who tried to vote them into power, if democracy is what you’re interested in accomplishing.

The best response to the BNP isn’t to try and shut them up. The answer to bad speech is more speech. Have you seen Nick Griffin talk? They’ll sink themselves quite happy if they’re given the chance. I have enough faith in this country that people like him won’t get any significant political hold – and if they do, it’s not my place to decide that I know what’s best and try to override democracy and shut them down, and it’s not yours either.

– The hashtag #dontdoitnick is currently trending on Twitter, referring to the possibility that Nick Clegg might make an agreement to work with David Cameron to form some sort of joint government system together in ways I haven’t got my head around yet. Some people are saying it’s a chance for the Lib Dems to exert more political power than ever, and they should seize this chance to prove themselves in the political arena and keep the Tories honest; others are saying that accepting such a deal would be selling out unforgivably and promising never to vote Lib Dem again if it happens.

I really don’t know about this one, except that the “never voting Lib Dem again” thing seems petulant and childish. It seems that a coalition would gain the Lib Dems some substantial political clout, and I don’t know to what extent it would require them to capitulate to any of the Conservatives’ more odious policy ideas.

There’s one parallel that I was trying to decide if it made any sense, which needs a bit of backstory elaboration. Physicist Brian Cox recently signed a deal with The Sun to write a science column for them. The Sun aren’t traditionally seen as being a great outlet for competent or serious science news, and he’s been criticised for taking this position, I think primarily for wasting his time, on the grounds that readers of The Sun don’t care about actual science information and he’d be better off finding a better way of getting through to a more receptive audience elsewhere.

Dr Petra has been among those defending his decision, and I think she’s right. An opportunity to provide good science information from a passionate and qualified science communicator is not to be sniffed at, even if the audience might not be already attuned to the message. I trust him not to let the quality of his information slip just because he’s not talking to what might be his usual nerdy crowd, and I can’t see anything wrong with trying to nurture an appreciation of genuine science among Sun readers.

Anyway, it occurred to me to wonder whether this might not be in some way similar to Nick Clegg making some compromises to form a government with the Conservatives. It might not be an ideal platform for the Lib Dems to make their point, but perhaps they should take what they can get, and keep pushing their policies and ideas as best they can, even in the presence of what might not traditionally seem like a receptive audience.

If you’re not convinced by the analogy, me neither. But if you want to explain why it’s vitally important, either for the security of this country or the integrity of the Liberal Democrat party, that Nick Clegg either does or doesn’t make a deal with Cameron, feel free to give it a shot. Short words only, please. I’m increasingly feeling out of my depth here.

– Miche made a good point here about tactical voting, essentially describing a non-contrived scenario where voting with a more cunning strategy than “pick your favourite” can be honest, practical, and democratic. I admit it’s not a clear-cut, all-or-nothing point, and I’ve stopped way short of actually condemning any tactical voters for this reason.

There’s something else which might undermine my point on this – or at least, it would be nice to think so. My opposition to tactical voting is partly based on the idea that it obscures the true levels of party support: if most of the Lib Dem voters are voting Labour, say, it will never be clear how many Lib Dem supporters there really are, and how well they could do if they all decided to actually vote for their preferred candidate. But what if this fact wasn’t obscured?

Especially in the internet age, measuring overall political opinion might not be that hard, and making your Lib Dem sympathies clear even while voting Labour may become possible, perhaps even to the extent that much of my problem with tactical voting is nullified. If tactics are only employed by the supporters of a party genuinely in the minority, with no hope of victory, and if everyone were keeping track of the “who we’d vote for if we thought they had a chance” factor so it’s always clear when they’re not just a minority without a chance any more, that might be a useful way around much of the problem.

It’s not a very developed thought. Maybe I’ll work on it some more later.

– Finally, I stand by my and everyone’s right to give their vote to whoever they think deserves it, and call utter bullshit on anyone claiming, for instance, that Lib Dem supporters handed the election to the Tories, or are responsible for the unspeakable horrors of chaos and uncertainty as we sort out this hung parliament business. Everyone voting for who they want to win is called democracy, and if the entire system collapses because some democracy happened, then we need a new system.

Tomorrow I hope to bash something out about the idea of earning the privilege to vote, rather than expecting the right. And then maybe I’ll be able to talk about something else again. Remember when this blog used to be about attacking religion and pseudoscience? What happened to that?

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So, I wrote what quickly became my most popular blog post ever last week.

It was basically a big rant against the idea of tactical voting. In particular, I was pissed off by the Conservative Party’s claims that voting for the Liberal Democrats in the forthcoming general election would be somehow dangerous and irresponsible, because it would lead to the horrors of a hung parliament, and so we’d all be better off voting tactically for the Tories.

This would ensure that a nice and stable government would be voted into power, with only the minor quibble that it’s full of people we actively didn’t want to elect into office.

People seemed to agree with my basic point: if you want the Lib Dems (or your local Lib Dem candidate) to win, then vote for them. Don’t be scared out of voting for someone who you think is worth it because of what other people say will happen as a result of democracy occurring.

There was a characteristically entertaining tweet from @TheFagCasanova that I re-tweeted today, which read:

Voting Conservative, because you’re angry with Labour is like sawing your balls off because your trousers are too tight.

I thought this was rather good – but a lot of the same people who re-tweeted this, and seemed to agree with its sentiment, were also sharing links to articles offering advice on how best to vote tactically against the Conservatives.

The line of thinking I’m about to pursue may be familiar if you were following me on Twitter earlier today, but isn’t there something of a double standard there? To continue the analogy, it seems like basing your vote on who has the best chance against the Conservatives would be like realising your trousers are too tight, and deciding to go nude from the waist down, to make absolutely certain that everyone can see your intact testicles.

I’m not sure that analogy works, on reflection, but if you really want to spend precious minutes of your own life determining which political party is represented by which part of the anatomy and stringing together the logic of my strained metaphor, you go right ahead.

Anyway. Tactical voting is still something I’m really not comfortable with, in either direction. Maybe it’s naïve, and the simple mathematics of this particular situation do merit a non-idealistic approach, but if the Liberal Democrats have proved anything over the last few decades, it’s that the idea of having to vote tactically for whoever has “the best chance” can cause an entire country to completely lose track of what it actually wants. John Cleese was pointing this out in 1997, and yet the Lib Dems are only just now starting to be taken seriously by the 49% of the country who want to vote for them.

Oh yes, I remember now that I had a point. Let me try something. For all I know, this is all covered in the first half-hour of any Political Science 101 course, but I’ve been reasoning it out myself from an initial state of ignorance and apathy, so give me some credit.

A lot of the rhetoric around this (or any) election makes it sound like I personally have the ultimate power to cause horrific damage or wonderful good. A great deal of importance is attributed to my vote. “Vote Clegg, Get [Someone Else You’re Not Meant To Like]”, and so forth. But actually, if I vote Clegg, I’m still going to get whoever I get.

Almost no vote cast in the history of ballot boxes has ever actually “made a difference”, if that one vote is taken in isolation, and the concept of making a difference is considered in the narrow scope of “Someone else would have won if you’d voted differently”. A margin of a single vote is almost unheard of in any election of any substantial size. But clearly this isn’t the most useful way to think about things.

You’re not going to single-handedly destroy the environment and send Mother Nature into an apocalyptic hot flash if you take two plastic bags home from the store to help carry your week’s supply of bottled water. The important thing to be addressed isn’t this one action of one person, it’s the general group approach taken by society as a whole. If millions of people do the same thing, then that’s actually significant.

Similarly, the only way it makes sense to consider what strategy people should use to vote is to consider the effect of such a strategy being taken up by an entire group. And this is where I think the very simple technique of “Vote for someone you want to win” holds up rather well, when considering the odds of achieving something actually democratic.

Yes, it’s true that some Lib Dem voters would prefer a Labour win to a Tory one, and although the Conservatives are winning in their constituency, Labour could still take it if given a boost by some Lib Dem supporters voting tactically. Again, no one voter is going to sway things, so you’d have to advise all Lib Dem voters in this area to vote Labour. And this might seem appealing, but it’s insidious and liable to screw things over down the line.

Say the Conservatives start with 40% of voters on their side, Labour have 35%, and the Lib Dems have 20%. The Lib Dems realise they don’t have a chance, but could force a Labour win, which would be preferable to letting the Conservatives take it. So, 55% of the electorate vote Labour, of whom 20% do so grudgingly.

What this does is make this constituency look like a very comfortably safe seat for Labour, which will only reinforce the idea among Lib Dems that they don’t have a chance, and need to keep voting tactically to keep the Tories out. But next time around, liberal sentiment might have grown, and maybe Lib Dem supporters now make up 35% of the populace, while the other two parties have slipped down to 30% each. The Lib Dems could win if everyone voted honestly – but Labour had such a strong majority last time, and the Conservatives were close behind… it’s probably not worth risking a Tory takeover, so better keep playing it safe and make sure the Labour guy stays in, right?

This is exactly the trap the Lib Dems have been stuck in for longer than I’ve been alive, and the best chance I can see of escaping it is to encourage a universal strategy of voting honestly, for someone you think is worth it. It’s hard to find any argument that there’s something undemocratic about that.

Well, except that the whole First Past the Post system is still profoundly broken. But that’s a whole nother issue.

I do have things to talk about that aren’t politics, honest. I’ll get to them soon. Election’s on Thursday, so probably by the weekend I’ll be back to normal.

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I’m writing this on 3rd May 2010, by which time it may be too late for any of these links to be a great deal of use in the UK general election this time around. But there’s still time to decide who’s worth voting for, and in a way that’s just the start. Once people have been voted into office, they get to start doing stuff, and we get to start keeping them accountable to make sure they don’t fuck things up.

So, this is a complete list of all the political websites that I’ve encountered in recent weeks, categorised by the questions they can best help you answer, along with brief descriptions of what use they might be, either before or after the big day. They’ve all apparently been set up by enthusiastic activists, to allow uninformed idiots like me to become less of both those things, and to get involved without having to do any real work.

Who are these people?

TheyWorkForYou.com – Details on your current/former MP, including their voting record on key issues, and speeches made in the House of Commons.

YourNextMP.com – Complete lists of all the candidates standing in your constituency, with contact details and external links to further information.

UK Polling report – Candidate information for all seats, with detailed statistics on past results, predicted results, boundary changes, and so forth.

Where do they stand?

TheStraightChoice.org – Scan in any election leaflets you receive here, or see what other people have been receiving from their local candidates.

The TheyWorkForYou.com election quiz – You can prod your local MP or candidates to answer these questions on various local and national issues.

Skeptical-Voter.org – Find out how your MP or candidates have responded to the suggested questions. If their answers aren’t there, why not use some of the links below to ask them yourself?

Where do I stand?

VoteMatch.org.uk – Rate where you stand on certain key issues, and see how closely your views match with those of the political parties who are after your vote.

VoteForPolicies.org.uk – Pick the set of policies that most appeals to you, without knowing whose they are. At the end, you’ll be told which party’s ideas you seem to be most in line with.

WhoShouldYouVoteFor.com – A list of statements on one page for you to agree or disagree with. Based on your answers, you find out who you should vote for. Simple.

How can I get hold of them?

WriteToThem.com – You can send an email to any of your local councillors, MPs, MEPs, or other representatives here, just by filling in a message on the site. All the work of looking up the names and contact details of the relevant people has been done for you; just plug in your postcode, click on a name, and have your say.

EmailYourCandidates.heroku.com – Send an email through the form on this site to any or all parliamentary candidates in your area (for whom an email address is available).

What else can I do?

DemocracyClub.org.uk – Raise local issues important to you, or help get things done that have been suggested by others.

AboutMyVote.co.uk – Register to vote in future elections here, as well as finding out about things like postal voting, or how the polling stations work.

Any more suggestions, leave a comment. I’m trying to keep it non-partisan, though, so I’m going to avoid including anything with a leaning to any particular political party – though I certainly don’t plan to keep this whole blog politically neutral.

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