Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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Why I’m supporting AV

Say Yes to AV!I am surprised that there is the whole spectrum of strong views about the Alternative Vote among my friends and colleagues. UK voters are being promised a referendum on whether or not to adopt AV for electing the House of Commons, and the party lines seem to be shaping up as Labour and Lib Dems for, and Tories against (with sizeable groups within parties campaigning against the leadership). I am for it, but am shocked that those I consider the most progressive and/or radical are set against it. I am a member of the Labour Representation Committee, but was knocked back when I found out that the National Committee had decided to support the No campaign.

To be honest — and, if you are of the No persuasion, I shall grant you this as a starter — AV is not a very attractive option. If we were being truly progressive, we would want a referendum on adopting a system of proportional representation. Neither AV nor our current system are designed to return seats in Parliament in proportion to votes cast. However, just because AV is not the best ever option, it is does not automatically follow that we should keep our current arrangement. When given a straight choice between AV and the current FPTP system, AV is far better as it allows voters to express their true preference and return their preferred candidate, without wasted votes or vote splitting, and reducing the need for tactical voting.

This referendum is a distraction from the real politics of the dismantling of the post-war consensus on the welfare state and public services, which are far more important. However, if we have to do this, let us do it right.

There are three lies that are being spread by the No Campaign about AV

  1. That we no longer have ‘one person, one vote’
  2. That it will mean that a ‘loser’ will win and a ‘winner’ will lose
  3. That it will cost a huge amount of money

Under AV everyone still has one and only one vote. The difference is that an FPTP vote can be wasted by voting for a candidate who does not stand a chance. With AV, instead of the vote being wasted, it is transferred to the next preference as ranked on the ballot paper. This does not mean you get two or more votes. It is still one vote, but it can now be recycled if the first preference polls badly. With FPTP the problem of wasted votes encourages voters to vote tactically rather than expressing their true preference. For example, many more people would probably vote for the Green Party, but they do not vote for them because they reckon that to do so would be a wasted vote. Thus, the Green Party’s electoral support is probably far lower than the true preference of voters.

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I marched, but the media reported wrongly

I joined the March for the Alternative on Saturday 26 March with around half-a-million others. It was an exciting day, and good to see people of all ages, including little children, and all backgrounds dancing and chanting along the Embankment and en route to Hyde Park. I got back to see BBC News coverage of the event, and was angry, albeit not that surprised, to see a very skewed view of what went on.  I have had around two-dozen friends say that they wished they had gone on the march, but were concerned about this or that. I have to say that this march was ultra-safe, and the babies and toddlers only cried when they saw Cameron or Clegg’s face on placards! If you stayed home and only know about the march from media reports, let me tell you something you have not yet heard: it was a great day out for all the family.

The main contingent of the march were the unions. There were lots of Unison, Unite and GMB banners there. There were firefighters marching in pristine uniforms. Teachers were marching, as were students. A huge Postman Pat was leading groups of posties. Plenty of Labour Party branches were there with banners, as were a few Green Party branches and the assorted other parties of the Left. Campaign groups were out, like Stop the War and UK Uncut. Many spent hours on coaches from Scotland and Northern England to get there. A group of carers for the elderly marched with placards, each bearing a photo of an older person and their message of support for the march — an old woman grasping her zimmer frame: “I would march if I could”. It took two hours for those at the back of the march to reach the starting point on the Embankment from which the front moved off. If each of us who marched has a handful of friends who stayed at home yet support us, the march represents many millions of Britons who refuse to accept the government’s rhetoric on necessary cuts. This is no minority, this is mainstream.

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An English anthem?

And did those feet in ancient time

The preface to Blake's 'Milton, a Poem', containing 'And did those feet in ancient time', as coloured by Blake.

Greg Mulholland, Lib Dem MP for Leeds North West, has been watching the footie, and he wants a debate on an English national anthem. It seems he’s got a little annoyed at the use of ‘God Save the Queen’ for the England football team at the World Cup in South Africa.

First off, anthems are rather silly things. Their lyrics are often little more than a admixture of jingoism and romanticist nonsense. However, the things of anthems and flags are important symbols of belonging, as long as we recognise they are the symbols and window-dressing of our identity and not its substance.

Second off, I abhor our current paean to Mrs Windsor because she doesn’t even begin to represent what this country means to most of us. The tune and lyrics are both bad: scrap it along with the monarchy! It also has the problem of having some official status in most Commonwealth realms (those countries that inexplicably keep Mrs Windsor as head of state). New Zealanders, for instance, would have the right to complain that the use of ‘God Save the Queen’ by British or English sporting teams that the anthem is just as much theirs — ‘God Save the Queen’ is the national anthem of New Zealand, alongside the more common ‘God Defend New Zealand’. In spite of my being a Christian, I recognise that ‘God Save the Queen’ bears a certain theological element that is either inappropriate or questionable to a significant number of citizens — being addressed to God, it is a prayer, and can, historically, be said to be a Christian, even Church of England, prayer.

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I’m supporting Diane Abbott

Diane Abbott

Diane Abbott

On Wednesday, John McDonnell, whom I was supporting for the Labour Party leadership, pulled out of the contest. He and most of his supporters transferred their nominations to Diane Abbott, catapulting her from last place to near the threshold. In my last post, I outlined why it would be good to have Abbott on the ballot paper.

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Getting Labour back to work

2010 Labour leadershipWednesday 9 June is the closing date for nominations for the Labour leadership. In the meantime, Harriet Harman has been doing a not-too-bad job as acting leader. Just like MLeadership 2010argaret Beckett before her, Harman’s stint in charge is merely a caretaking role, and the best a woman has ever got in the Labour Party.

Of the six candidates up for nomination, we have only one woman, and Diane Abbott is currently in last position with only eleven nominations (including Harriet Harman and Jon Cruddas). She is also the only black candidate: an unenviable intersectionality in the patriarchal den that still goes for parliament in this country.

The Labour Party faces the challenge of mounting a strong opposition to the Con Dem government and taking the lead when the public outcry against savage spending cuts comes. The Con Dems, however, can return these with interest using one simple play: it’s all New Labour’s fault. Of course, New Labour cannot be wholly blamed for our country’s financial situation, but The Current Bun and The Daily Hate don’t bother with those niceties. If Labour try to mount an opposition, the Con Dems will decry the record of the New Labour government. If Labour try to spearhead the campaign against cuts, the Con Dems merely have to suggest that the last government made such cuts neccessary.

As with the dying days of John Major’s government, Gordon Brown’s premiership was inhabited by ghosts: politicians lacking purpose or principle. It was only in the last few days of the general-election campaign that Cabinet ministers started to rediscover that they had some principles: like pearls, discovered after a very lengthy bothering over intense iritations.

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Alternative Vote and other animals

Visualisation of electoral outcomesIt seems that our new ConDem government will be offering us a referendum on changing the electoral system used for general elections from First Past The Post to Alternative Vote (FPTP → AV). The pre-election manifesto status was that the Tories wanted to keep FPTP, the Lib Dems wanted proportional representation (PR), while it was Labour who were the party suggesting a move to AV. A few times the BBC made the mistake of suggesting that AV is a proportional system, but this is not surprising from reporters who are more concerned with personalities than electoral geekery.

There is some self-interest in the parties’ various stances. On the basis of votes cast in this last general election, the Tories would probably lose seats given any of the other systems, Labour would probably gain a few seats under AV, and the Lib Dems would probably gain around a score of seats under AV and over a hundred under PR. Of course, these are hypothetical results, because we can’t be sure how a different system might change the way electors cast their votes (for the data, see this Grauniad article). All the different systems would still have resulted in a hung parliament, but oddly both AV and PR might have made a Lib-Lab coalition more appealing with a stable majority (mainly because the Lib Dems would have more seats). The ConDems offer of AV is a compromise in that the Tories would possibly lose seats but not as many as under PR, and the Lib Dems would gain seats but not as many as under PR.

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Why do some parties think repealing human-rights legislation is a vote winner?

English Democrats: putting England back into the Dark Ages!

English Democrats: putting England back into the Dark Ages!

Leafy Twickenham is all aquiet as volcanic ash has cleared Heathrow’s flight path. Political banners are beginning to bristle from box hedges, although most of them proclaim the incumbent Vince Cable as the choice vote.

When it comes to human rights, the fundamental underpinning of liberal democracy, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party have a consistently positive track record (although neither party has been in a position where they have had to live with the consequences of their stance). Labour are often thought of having a poor record, yet, despite New Labour’s increasingly authoritarian approach, it introduced the Human Rights Act, the most comprehensive legislation on human rights in the UK (among many other things, the act totally abolished the death penalty in the UK, which was still available for certain military offenses). Conversely, the Tories have consistently challenged the act, and now wish to replace it with a watered down bill of rights.

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