The great British public recently had a chance to make history in this country and change the way our MP's were elected, from an out dated, heavily biased system called First Past the Post (FPTP) system to a slightly less out dated and slightly less bias system called the Alternate Vote (AV). Alas, with the Prime Minister sticking his oar in (I think that's the expression), and using his party's rather substantial resources (apparently), he managed to persuade (scare, frighten, intimidate etc.) the majority of the country that it's best to stick with what the country knows and what best suits his party, the First Past The Post system.
Having read Victoria Coren's article on the Guardian website (Luvvies or lads. What a choice) about her experience of the whole thing, I've finally realised that the whole process was doomed to failure from the outset.
The question that was asked on the ballot paper was asked as follows:
"At present, the UK uses the "first past the post" system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the "alternative vote" system be used instead?"
So the response is either Yes we should change to the Alternative Vote system, or No we should keep using the First Past The Post system. This is why you ended up with the two opposing sides called the Yes2AV campaign and the No2AV campaign.
Basically, for those wanting electoral reform the question was asked in the wrong way. Why, you say?
Well while reading Vicky's article she mentions one important thing about the way the majority of Britain thinks. She says:
"Shall I vote no, then?" I wondered. "Everyone else will. And I am British, after all. I hate and fear change of any kind. I didn't like it when the newsagent got a new window display."
To put this another way, people these days are for nothing and against everything. Should we have wind farms to provide our power requirements? Not in my backyard. A just say No attitude to everything. And this attitude appears to have manifest itself in the way that people voted in the referendum.
In that case, how would people have voted if the question that was asked was the following:
"At present, the UK uses the "first past the post" system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should we keep this system or use the "alternative vote" system instead?"
If the question have been put this way, the response is either Yes we should keep the First Past The Post system, or No we should change to using the Alternative Vote system and the two campaigns would then have been the Yes2FTFP and the No2FTFP campaigns which would have meant that those in favour of keeping the current system would have had to but more work into justifying why to keep the FPTP system instead of spending most of their time scare mongering about change.
Alas this thought comes far, far too later to make any difference but looks like the next opportunity for electoral reform may come sooner that some might think. The House of Lords is in urgent need of reform and it would be fitting if that reform could be of a democratic nature, an elected chamber. And what about the system used to elect this new second chamber? How about some kind of proportional system may be?
I was listening to a podcast from the Commonwealth Club of California the other day.
The podcast was a talk from Michael Moore on his work and films upto and including his new film 'Capitalism: a love story'.
Something was said during this that made me think of the question 'Why would someone vote for a politician whose policies are going to harm you'?
At the time I was thinking of the impending disaster of having a Conservative government in this country (something that appears to be all but inevitable at the moment when the General Election comes around next year), and the fact that a large number of poorer people in this country will end up voting for them, not because their policies will make these people better off (infact it is likely to be the exact opposite) but because the Conservative party are seen as the most likely party to 'kick out' the current 'New Labour' government as they are doing such a bad job of running the country at the moment.
This thought lead me to an analogy comparing this to a person who is allergic to nuts.
For someone who is allergic to nuts, it doesn't matter how attractive the packaging the nuts come in is, it doesn't matter how tasty the nut manufacturer claims the nuts are, it doesn't matter how glitzy the TV adverts are, if they eat those nuts it could kill them, so they wouldn't eat the nuts, would they?
The same idea can be applied to politicians. If doesn't matter how smartly dressed or nice they look, it doesn't matter how convincing their PR teams or adverts and party political broadcasts are, if doesn't matter how good a speaker or narrator they are, if their party's policies are going to harm you (either financially or in terms of your quality of life or some other way) you're not going to vote for them, are you?
Despite the better press coverage, despite the 44% increase in the vote and despite details such as the party beating Labour into 5th place in the South West and polling the highest amount of the vote in areas such as Brighton and Norwich, the Green Party of England and Wales is still left with just 2 MEP to keep up the party's good work in the European Parliament.
It is a shame that we have lost out on at least one seat due to the fact that the number of MEP's this time round was cut from 78 to 72, meaning that the South West area now only has 6 MEP's instead of the 7 MEP's it had before the elections last week. I say it is a shame because if the number of MEP's for the South West had remained at 7 then the 7th MEP would have been the first Green party candidate for the South West, Ricky Knight.
It is a shame that the party missed out on a seat in the East of
England by (if my calculations are right) 1% or 15,945 votes.
It is also a shame that the party missed out on a seat in the North West by 0.4% or 4,961 votes (This is the seat in the North West that went to the BNP).
The news gets worse. If the votes for the European Parliament was taken as a whole nation instead of region by region the Green Party would have got 6 MEP's instead of 2 (as illustrated at the site http://icon.cat/util/elections/ddumGbgDXU).
So what good news can be taken from this.
Well, as already mentioned, the party increased it's share of the vote by 44% from the 2004 election results. That's a big deal and something the party can build on in the run up to the next General Election which has to take place within the next 12 months.
The other big thing to take from these results is that the Green Party won the biggest share of the vote in Brighton and in Norwich, which puts the party in the best position it has ever been in to win seats in these area's in the General Election, and as we have seen, with the exemplary work of Caroline Lucas and Jean Lambert, it only takes a few good people to make a positive and substantial difference.
The other positive thing to take from all this is the success the party had in the local elections.
In my own neck-of-the-woods in Gloucestershire, we now have a Green councilor on the county council and the Green party have added significantly to their numbers in areas such as Lancaster and Norwich and now have 123 councillors on 42 councils in England and Wales.
The party is making progress and needs to keep up the hard work. It is easy to look at the European elections and be downcast that the number of MEP's didn't increase this time round, but it will happen as long as the hard work continues.
This coming Thursday is Euro Election day, the day we get to vote on which political party you want to represent you in the European Parliament (otherwise know as your MEP's).
In case you haven't realised, I'll be voting for the Green Party and anyone who has doubts over the three main political parties in the UK in light of the ongoing expenses scandals might want to think seriously about using their vote for the Green Party.
The party's manifesto for the Euro elections can be found here and there is a news feed from their website at http://www.greenparty.org.uk/news.html or an RSS feed at http://www.greenparty.org.uk/news.rss (you should be able to see the 5 most recent entries from the RSS feed down the right hand side of this page)
I would urge anyone thinking about not voting this Thursday (the 4th June) to think again and take a look at what the Green Party has to offer.
There has been a lot of comment in the UK press (TV, Radio and Newspapers) recently regarding MP's expenses on their 2nd homes in London. One of the more recent reports is regarding some of the expense claims made by the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, with regard to some Adult DVD's.
This has opened up a whole debate on what MP's claim on their second home allowance, an allowance given to them so they can have a second home in London, close to the House of Commons, to allow them to do their job when the House of Commons is in session.
Personally speaking I have no problem with those MP's whose constituencies are outside the London area having this allowance. Certainly this is more environmentally friendly that having to commute large distances. But, when you look at some of the things claimed on this allowance, you can't help but wonder if they are taking the mick.
Using Jacqui Smith as an example, the report in yesterday's Guardian newspaper lists the following as some of the items that she has apparently claimed on this allowance:
a £550 stone sink and console for the kitchen
£568.95 on two washing machines
a £575 armchair
£511.20 for a sofabed
Why someone would need two washing machines for one house, for example, seems strange, as is the luxurious sounding stone sink and console for the kitchen instead of a standard stainless steel or ceramic sink.
I caught some journalists discussing this on Sky News last night and the comment one of them made, struck me. He said that she had not broken any laws by claiming these things on her allowance.
The thing is, that is not the point. What a lot of people want from their MP's is a sense of responsibility and restraint, particularly in these "credit crunch" times. Just because they can get away with this, doesn't mean that they should.
I'm guessing that anyone with a Green bone in their body is disappointed/sickened/enraged by the announcement today that plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport have been given the go ahead by the British Government.
This announcement exposes in a very brutal and visible way that the current British government has no regard for the environment and probably doesn't understand (or possible care) about the long term impact that such a decision will have.
They have fallen into the old, old right wing trap of putting profit (what they would call something along the lines of 'for the sake of the economy') over the social well-being and environment consequences of such a decision.
It now looks like the campaigning and protesting will need to continue before the government will have no choice but to back down over this issue. As the report on the BBC website mentions (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7829676.stm) this is not something that can happen over night (in the sidebar called 'What Happens Next?' in the BBC report it speculates that it would be 2019 (ie. 10 years) before the runway would be ready. 10 years is a long time, so you never know what might change in that time).
The Green Party have release a statement regarding this at http://www.greenparty.org.uk/news/heathrow-go-ahead-ignorance-and-stupid...
The article mentions the fact that investment in what it calls a 'real Green economic package' (what the party calls the 'Green New Deal') could generate hundreds of thousands of jobs and the tone of the article suggests that the Green party are puzzled by why the government doesn't appear to be doing much towards creating these new jobs.
Maybe I'm a cynic, but a big part of the 'New Labour' ideology appears to be to put as much business in the hands of private companies as possible and the focus of most private companies is to make as much profit as possible (not, alas, to provide a service to their customers these days!). Therefore the easiest way for a private company to maximize their profits is to keep their work force to an absolute minimum as wages make up a large part of any company's outgoings. So whilst the idea of the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs in one respect is a very positive thing, what goes with that is hundreds of thousands of wages that need to be paid out and it is this that is likely to be unattractive to the current Government.
What can be done to try and change this very narrow minded and short term attitude, I don't know (a change to a Conservative government is not likely to change this kind of thinking within the UK political system), but I think this is the root problem with current government thinking.
More information about the Green New Deal can be found in the PDF document at http://www.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/reports/Budget_for_a_Green_New... (a link I found at http://www.carolinelucas.com/?q=node/67)