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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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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What is the House of Lords for?

House of Lords

House of Lords

Ninety-nine years ago today the British Parliament passed the Parliament Act. It limited the powers of the House of Lords and set up as official the idea that the chamber should be democratized. The Parliament Act 1911 also changed the way the House of Commons operated by reducing the maximum term of that chamber from seven to five years and introducing MP’s salaries (then at £400 p.a.). These Commons measures were along the lines of what the Chartists and others had long been campaigning for: shorter terms to give the electorate greater voice (because we can vote more often), and wages for MPs so that a private income is not needed to take up the political ‘hobby’.

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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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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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I believe in Brilliant Britain

Last night I saw the new Labour Party election broadcast featuring Eddie Izzard. The Labour Party rolled out this passionately clever comedian to front this broadcast at the same time that the Tories courted Gary Barlow, boy-band singer, pop-song writer and charity worker. Both are great Britons, but whereas Izzard brings a wry humour and indomitable otherness, Barlow comes across as a rather superficial populist.

Anyway, Eddie Izzard’s broadcast reminded me of the absolute root of the difference between the political right and left: the right have always played on people’s fears (crime, economy, immigration) to gain power, whereas the left pleads for people’s hopes (free healthcare, education, equality).

Izzard makes two main points in the short broadcast. Firstly, he mentions that the Tories have massively more funding than any other party. Prominently, Ashcroft, tax-avoiding non-domiciled Tory life peer, has invested in campaigns in marginal constituencies. As Izzard says, they probably expect some return on their investment.

The other point is a refutation of the Tory slogan Broken Britain. Since time immemorial people have complained about the kids not respecting their elders, fears of crime and general dissatisfaction. The rightwing media have spearheaded this ‘feel bad’ message. But it is this curse of fear that is the real problem. As a Christian, I believe in hope as the fundamental motive of our action (from faith to love). As a Briton and an Englishman, I love my country for all its quirkyness, beauty, dodgy food and funny people. Britain’s not broken, it’s brilliant.

For the record, I’m a paid-up member of the Labour Party. Watch the broadcast here: