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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The future or our education — cuts and fees — part 1

Nick Clegg's pledge on tuition fees

Nick Clegg's pledge to do exactly the opposite of what he's now doing.

Tomorrow, Thursday 9 December, the Commons vote on higher-education tuition fees is to be held. A substantial number of Lib Dem MPs, as well as some Tories, are expected to revolt against their leadership and vote against the government or abstain. However, the revolt will probably not stop the bill going through, paving the way for universities and colleges to hike up tuition fees.

Nick Clegg is under particular pressure after making a public, personal pledge to vote against raising tuition fees before the general election. Although his defence has been that a party can only sufficiently carry out its manifesto if it is the sole party of government, this misses the point that the pledge was given personally and absolutely. He also claims that the coalition agreement supersedes the pledge, but the absolute wording of the pledge — to vote against any raise in tuition fees — would make it disingenuous to enter into an agreement that would likely prohibit him and others from fulfilling their pledges. Either the pledge should not have been made or the the coalition agreement should not have been made as is. Finally, in an election broadcast, Nick Clegg, filmed on and around Westminster Bridge and surrounded by a litter of white sheets of paper, railed against the broken promises of New Labour and the Tories. Fair enough, hand up, but the first ‘broken promise’ shown is ‘No Tuition Fees’. This film now stands testament of the gross and absolute hypocrisy of Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems: if you’re going to campaign against broken promises, you have to realise that such a stand means that there is a greater moral imperative that you don’t break your promises. In addition, many who voted Lib Dem did so on the basis of such promises, and such clear cut cases of broken mandates will make the yellow party, which still lost seats in the last election, electorally marginalised.


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A budget both unnecessary and vicious

The Liberal Democrats are doing most of the talking on this week’s budget, in an apparent attempt to convince themselves about it. My MP, Vince Cable, has been writing in the local rag about how we all knew that a tough budget was needed, that it will hurt, but is totally necessary. It is clear from various media vox pops that a number of people are being taken in by this ‘tough but fair’ line.

The only thing that is obvious is that there is a deficit in government finances. The threat that is wafted before us is that of Greece, but the UK’s credit rating is in a far better state than that of Greece. And the assumption is that the markets trump all other needs in our society. This is a deeply offensive attitude towards the people of this country, and demonstrates the hateful ideology behind this budget.

Vince Cable has been all over the TV trying to drum up support for this budget. However, when all its viciousness against families, disabled people, those on housing benefit and anyone who buys anything is listed, he defended the budget by pointing out the positives: all for business. So, the Con Dems are not only putting markets before people, but also business before people. They may retort that helping business creates jobs, and reduces unemployment, and thus is better for the general population. However, we have plenty of evidence that helping business mostly benefits upper management, and there is no ‘trickle down’.

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The horror of the slasher budget

Today, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced his budget. Variously named an emergency budget or an austerity budget, it is clearly more a slasher horror.

We already knew that the Tories were going to be savage with the public purse, but we are beginning to see a Liberal Democrat Party beholden to a liberal economic theory, and the sidelining of that party’s social democratic wing in the name of coalition government.

As everyone predicted, the new budget is a screw-the-poor budget: child benefit frozen for three years (huge impact on low-income families), housing benefit capped (those on low incomes will be forced out of some areas), SureStart maternity grant limited to first child (affects most families), tests for disability allowance to get tougher (fairly degrading to many claimants, costs to administer and will likely find fewer ‘bogus’ claimants than the Daily Mail expects)  and VAT to increase to 20% (massively affecting the spending power of the poorest in society).

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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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