Thursday, 13 May 2010

On fixed term parliaments and what it means

It's been an interesting day, and one that has brought out quite the worst in people with regards to jumping to conclusions, failing to understand basic principles, and using people's fears to manipulate a misunderstanding to their advantage. It should have been a day to discuss the merits or not of a Fixed Term Parliament in the UK, instead the discussion was hijacked by those that didn't know what they were talking about, arguing in a manner purely designed to obfuscate reality.

To those like I have talked to today: If you believe that a government, after being voted out of power by the 50%+1 MPs in a vote of no confidence, should be mandated to dissolve do not agree with fixed term parliaments as much as you may think.

If you believe that the only way democracy can work is if the people get to vote on who forms the government then not only do you not agree with Fixed Term Parliaments as much as you may think, but you also completely misunderstand how this country is governed.

If you believe that MPs should have the power to decide when to dissolve parliament, rather than the PM, that doesn't mean you support fixed term parliaments. All it means is that you believe that our representatives should hold that power, not a single individual.

We elect MPs, and we elect them both because of their individual abilities locally and because of the party they belong to, for each voter the two sides of that coin can matter to different amounts. In doing so you have done nothing to elect a specific government.

At best you can know that you are contributing to a result that puts one party in power, and thus a recognised leader. If you're lucky that leader might have let you know who his entire cabinet is, but even that isn't a guarantee.

If you believe our system should be such that we elect actual sets of governments, then that is a perfectly acceptable view to have, just don't pretend it's the system we live in. Consequently realise that if a government in coalition fails, it does not mean the choices that you have made differ.

You still elected the same MP, the same as everyone else in the country, and those MPs still should have the right decide on whether to try a different government and cleanly continue the governance of the country, or whether it's time to get the view of the electorate.

So what is a fixed term parliament for?

A fixed term parliament exists for one purpose alone...certainty. Certainty that an election will take place at a regular time, and certainty that a government, individual OR parliament should have necessary leave to disrupt that time table. The reason for this is to take away from those in power the ability to increase their power through opportunistic manipulation of the constitution in this country.

If you want this certainty, and this shift in power away from those that hold it, then you have to accept that this the name suggests...mean a government will be more likely to stay in power regardless of the ups and downs of their administration.

Germany does this by not allowing for dissolution, you can no confidence the government but only if you have a replacement coalition to take the outgoing executive's place. Scotland tries to achieve it by having a super-majority rule for dissolution, implemented by Labour, of 66% of MPs, combined with a safety time-out that means if no government can be formed in 28 days an election must take place.

Others cite Canada that, due to their constitution not allowing the removal of the power of the leader of the country to call an election, doesn't have a process to dissuade the dissolution of parliament. These people seem to fail to see that Canada is the prime example of how the practice of fixing election dates is pointless, as their leader basically chose himself to ignore the fixed date the Canadian system had set.

Whilst a single person, or a simple majority of 50%+1, can force a dissolution of parliament the whole reason for a fixed term parliament is undermined so much as to make it pointless.

I don't mind what your view is within this...but I think we need to have an honest discussion with each other as to what the best system is. For the record I believe that fixed term parliaments don't solve as much as they claim to, but that there is definitely scope for moving the power of dissolution to all MPs rather than just the Prime Minister.

But if you're sitting there simultaneously thinking that you support fixed term parliaments, but that you can have such a system without locking both the House of Commons and the public out of an easy route to force dissolution, then you need to wake up. At best you're wishing for two different things that can't happen together, at worst you are fooling yourself as to what you are really looking for.

To those that are against governments being able to fall and other-ones take their place, as decided by the people we elected to represent us within a fixed time frame, even if you supposedly and oxymoronically agree with a fixed time frame, you need to make the case that fixed parliaments aren't how you see this country being run...that you want to know that if a government has failed that we, the public, get to punish or congratulate MPs and parties directly through another election.

To those that are for the fixed term parliament plan, and are perhaps defending the need to go further. If we are going to have fixed terms, it needs to be FIXED. 55% is no good, it allows an easy opt out, and isn't future proof against future majority governments. The Scotland system is an example right there for us to take from, 66% threshold and safety of a timeout...those are the sort of things we need if we're going to take fixed terms seriously.

This is the future of our reform, and if we're going to use our time bickering over a figure such as 55%, or even IMPLEMENT a 55% super-majority that would still allow the ruling government to break the fixed nature of a parliamentary term, then we are just wasting parliamentary time that could be better spent doing meaningful, non-token changes. If we want new politics, then we need to stop arguing in such a diversionary old politics manner. Progress and change is something we all need to embrace, not just our politicians.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

55% is nothing to worry about

There's a lot of fuss right now on Twitter about the agreement to only allow a dissolution vote if 55% of MPs vote to do so. With the Tories likely to hold over 47% of the MPs it becomes impossible for parliament to vote for a dissolution of parliament on the fly.

Does this mean we have no choice but to have a Cameron government for 5 years? Not at all. No confidence votes will still stand, including on issues such as voting down a budget. If 50%+1 MPs vote against the government on this then the result is either the resignation of government or the dissolution of parliament. Even assuming that (quite unlikely as it is) Cameron will force it so that you cannot dissolve parliament this way, it still means he'll have to resign as Prime Minister and the Queen will have to ask someone else to form a government.

The end game of the above scenario is, surely, the Tories then agreeing to a dissolution vote or face the ignominy of being the party that dragged the country through instability for the sake of spite. Again, this assumes a no confidence vote wouldn't, as it currently does, practically equate to an election being called.

The 55% is a safety barrier, it stops the Lib Dems from getting their AV system, cutting ties and working with other parties to call and election and profit from it. Given it is the Lib Dems that are most likely to break away from a coalition it is a practical step to ensure that government is only compromised in true issues of no confidence, to maintain the integrity of the idea of a fixed term parliament.

Edit2: It also, as I should have said, stops the current largest party from forcing an election at an opportune time under a fixed parliament too, the point of fixed term parliaments being to try to keep governance running until it can no longer do so. Some have suggested that this should be a referendum issue too. I should be clear that I am personally not sold on fixed term parliaments, but they are pointless without this kind of threshold rule.

Edit3: Some feel this is all undemocratic and without precedent. Scotland operates fixed term parliaments, and their threshold for dissolution is 66%, higher than 55%. The reason for this is because fixed term parliaments are intended to keep on going, if a coalition fails the first course of action should NOT, under a fixed term parliament, be an should be giving another coalition or minority government the chance to rule. They also have a 28 day release, which means if no-one is able to gain power to govern, to protect against the sort of thing I state above about keeping a parliament crippled, an election is automatically called. I'd fully expect that to be the case for the UK as well, though we have to be calm and wait for the full details.

Edit: For more on confidence motions, this parliamentary resource seems quite good.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The future: my hope

There is little more important to me than political reform. The economy, helping the poor and those unable to help themselves, and civil rights are all huge areas that are very important also, but I feel that without the appropriate political structure in which to manage those areas, the whole system is weakened. Without knowing that our politicians are truly accountable, transparent, and open to political compromise, as well as having a strong strand of evidence base policy making about them, the fight for the other areas of political concern is made that much harder.

It's for this reason that I am cautiously happy with the result that we have facing us now that Brown has resigned as Prime Minister and Cameron has been handed the keys.

I respect Labour for some of the good that they have done, some seriously land mark progress was made in the early days of Labour administration. But it is overshadowed (though not swept away) by the actions and principles of the latter day Labour governments.

What we need now is some hope. While it looks like meaningful reform is off the table, the referendum on AV is our foot in the door if it is so agreed. To me, there will be nothing more important in the future of our politics than the outcome of that referendum, a referendum that will essentially pit the Tories idea of continued leadership of the country against the Lib Dems ideal of people power.

I hope the Lib Dems do find their way into a coalition, in doing so aiming to work well with the Tories. They will lose supporters from the highly political that wanted a progressive left leaning coalition, but they will be a significant minority.

By working well with the Tories, critically and with their own level of power, the Lib Dems can simultaneously put a dampener on some of the more horrifying Tory proposals while showing the country from the centre-left to the centre-right that a coalition government can do important work. After all there are already rumours that regressive policies such as the marriage tax break and inheritance tax cut have been put on hold as a result of the negotiations.

After such a strong coalition performance the referendum on electoral reform will be easier to win, gone will be arguments of confusion and instability...the Tory plans to ensure blame over cuts is shared will be converted to a narrow but definite victory for a new electoral system.

We will then find ourselves in an election once more, perhaps as early as 2 years, maybe all the way at 4, but under a new AV system that will see the Lib Dems disproportionately take a surge in the seats they hold, and thus a surge in power in parliament, off the back of being a party that most people "don't mind" having if their main party choice doesn't win.

No longer will their be an argument against STV, when the victors of the dis-proportionality of the AV system are themselves using that victory as a sign for the need for change.

By 2015 we'll finally have a system, along with other necessary changes on constitutional reform, reform of the Lords, etc, that delivers a fair system of governance to the people of UK. And when that happens it'll all be because the "two-faced" Lib Dems held their nerve and accepted a place alongside their own supporters' worst enemies.

At least that's what I hope.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Cameron is relying on the likes of Power2010 and 38Degrees

Cameron is currently between a rock and a hard place. He knows that within the week he could easily be PM if he offered everything he already has plus a referendum on STV versus FPTP. Unfortunately dinosaurs are threatening revolt over the issue that has always been a key Lib Dem policy, perhaps more so than immigration was ever a key Tory policy.

What does he do, offer the referendum in the deal and risk open splits in his party, or not offer it and hope that the Lib Dems accept anyway? Taking Lib Dems out of the equation, perhaps Cameron is relying on the fair votes protests and campaign to build a bit more steam.

There is a simple route forward, and it's Cameron showing his own party pages 66 and 67 of their 2010 manifesto alongside the support that a referendum on PR is gaining. It would be extremely hard for the party to stand against their own claims of involving the public more in the decision making of the country, not if they have *actually* changed to a party ready to let go of the reigns just slightly.

But equally he can say that they have clearly told the public they support FPTP. Any referendum would solely be on the basis of them clearly speaking to the politicians of this country about what they want, it doesn't mean that the Tories are bound to support those in the public that want a change in voting systems.

To me, as much as I dislike the Tories and their policies, this feels like a time for Cameron to show his true colours. Does he believe what he's told people he is, and how the Tories have changed...or will he and his party end up reverting to type before they've even officially got power? In one negotiation Cameron can simultaneously stamp his authority on his party AND likely win over some of the wavering sceptics in the country.

He won't win me over, he'll have to go a whole lot further than just offering a simple referendum on voting reform, but it'd be a very good start to a government that is meant to represent politicians talking to each other and making concessions in order to create stable governance.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

STV, better for this country all around

For a start, if you don't know what STV is then check this out for a fairly good explaination.

This is a voting system that is called proportional...though the caveat is that you don't get power for a small percentage of the votes, and thus the process means it isn't EXACTLY proportional. This is a good thing as it ensures that flash in the pan small issue politics don't drastically affect the make up and alliances of parliament.

With this in mind the key reason that we should support STV is it is stable. While it is easy to change who you have as your representatives the "swing" in change is unlikely to be huge. Take 1997. The swing which saw Labour shares rise 9% while Tory shares dropped 11% would have (on today's seat numbers) seen a change of roughly 70 Tory MPs losing their seats while Labour would have gained just under 60. A significant change, but a long way short of the Tories losing 171 seats and Labour gaining 147.

The sheer level of change under the 1997 election meant priorities were completely rewritten. There was no transition, there was no balancing factor of a third party being needed to support the main party, there was no stability in how our country was governed, no consistency.

The other thing that STV brings to the table through this is parties needing to set out their own niche. At the moment the parties don't need to worry about large swathes of the seats in the UK. They are safe, staunch support from tribal loyalty means that barely any money is spent on them. The key seats are the few marginals, where there are the undecided swing voters.

Swing voters are profiled, they're examined, they're brought in to focus groups. All of the three main parties do this, and it results in one thing...convergence.

The parties are not all the same, but their messages, the shape of their key policies, they're all extremely similar. This is because they need to win the support of just this minority of the electorate. STV breaks that apart. EVERY vote matters, EVERY vote could change the shape of power. Suddenly the emphasis has to not only be on what the undecideds want in a few key seats but what ALL undecideds want, while having to seriously balance that with the wishes of their more faithful support.

If we want our parties to talk together more, to work out how to represent all of our views best, we need STV. If we want to have a better choice between different parties with different policies, we need STV. If we want our votes to mean something wherever we are in the country, we need STV.

If you agree to make sure in a referendum that we talk about a choice between FPTP or STV, then please sign this petition.

Friday, 7 May 2010

People will forgive Clegg if he backs Brown

The current line, yet more scaremongering in my mind, is that the country won't accept Brown staying on as PM.


If it turns out as is being reported that Tories are going to stubbornly refuse electoral reform then the ball is in Labour's court. Do they want Lib Dems to support a Tory minority government and hope for a better share and another hung parliament next election, or do they want to give PR?

If they do the former then Clegg may lose a few chattering classes votes, a few Labour voters that should still be voting Labour. But this election has showed us just how many people choose the Tories...they, the significant proportion...will not feel ire towards Clegg for giving their party the platform, if not implicit support.

But with the latter we'd return to a Labour government, likely with a short package of government intentions that would lead to a referendum and then new general election (should the result be "no FPTP"). Here, apparently, the public would riot and the Lib Dem support would be forever lost.

Again, I say this is bollocks.

For a start the 45+ age group that mostly supports the Tories are not the rioting kind. Second, it is impossible to conceive of a situation where a Lib/Lab agreement is made based on reform will come out badly for the Lib Dems.

"We helped Labour get power again, yes, but only to secure the change that is so desperately needed in our corrupt electoral system, and out of date parliament. We gave YOU the choice over your future with a referendum and now we're in a situation where everyone's vote matters all across the country. When we go to the polls, you can punish us for daring to reform while the Conservatives would not, but I hope you'll recognise the benefits that the difficult decision to side with the Labour party has had" that really going to play badly come next election? No...I think not.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The final regional election opinion view...

So the last regional poll data is in from Yougov/Politics home. You can check out the regional polling data headlines here but I wanted to just break down what this is likely to mean (local campaign effects excluded).

Firstly the general move from last week is the reduction of the Lib Dem share regionally. This is to be expected as this data is from the second to just after the third debate, the last regional data was the first properly looking at the very first debate. I calculated, based on the regional variations, along with a predicted rise of turnout to around 66%, that the seats would look like this...

Con 265, Lab 246, Lib Dem 107, Nationalists 11, Others 3, NI 18.

After the changes this week that now looks as such....

Con 272 (+7), Lab 253(+7), Lib Dem 95(-12), Nationalists 9(-2), Others 3, NI 18.

All in all, not much difference overall. The key is what is happening region on region. So what should each region be cheerful/miserable about?


Happy? In London and Wales they're continuing with a gain on 2005, the only two areas they're certain to be while Yorkshire also does strong.
Sad? They are losing more votes than last week compared to 2005 in the South East, the South West (both areas the Lib Dems compete with them in), and the East Midlands.


Happy? In most of the country their dip from last week has rallied or stayed stable. They will be happy at regaining 5% (now on -9% compared to 2005) in the North East and that elsewhere the freefall in support has stopped
Sad? They're still monumentally down on 2005 in previously strong areas like the North West and Yorkshire, leaving them barely as the most popular party in these regions.

Lib Dems

Happy? In the areas they need to be doing well in, they're doing very well. Still 8% up on 2005 in the South West is a current standing of 5% lead in the region. Capturing Labour's votes in the South East stops the Tories from a 50%+ rating in the region there too.
Sad? They have halved their last week advances in many regions such as the North East, London and Wales...though arguably these aren't areas they were ever seriously contending this time around.


Happy? The SNP have made a great jump to now stand as the second favourite party in Scotland, elsewhere others are polling strong. Perhaps unsurprisingly in the South East others have increased in support, no doubt parties like UKIP getting their message across.
Sad? Just the one blip, Plaid are still performing badly in Wales now coming under the 10% popular support level for the region.

Overall I believe the SNP are the big winners of the last week's movements, though clearly nowhere near the level they need to be to gain the seats they brazenly claimed they could gain. Labour in an end to their slump will also be heartened by rallying popularity in certain areas. Lib Dems have to be terribly pleased that in their main battleground regions the Tory vote is still crumbling. Overall the Tories can only claim to have gained 1% more popularity since 2005, and so can't really have a whole lot to cheer about.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

The new marginals?

EDIT: Just to note these aren't CURRENT marginals in the sense of notional 2005 results, I'm suggesting that based on current opinion regionally through the UK these are seats that are likely to be too close to call come May 6th so need particular attention. There are also a raft of other seats that if were properly approached tactically could be stopped from going Tory. Hit me up on twitter with your constituency if you want more detail about it from my perspective. ALSO I've added Tory seats that could be won if tactical voting was applied.

I'm just going to get right in to it, here are a list of the probable marginals right now. That's to say that based on the current regional support that we know, these constituencies are around 1% swing away from being won or lost by a Labour or Lib Dem candidate. Obviously the reason I wanted to put this out somewhere is that we need to be clear where the final battlegrounds are going to be.

Note of warning: These do not take in to account local campaigns, either where a local party is performing above or below the regional performance. It also doesn't take in to account the situation in those constituencies which have been made more open to being won by the Lib Dems due to the removal/suspension of Labour PPC's (currently just two seats). Percentages given are the rough majority levels.

Lab/Tory marginals

Seats currently marked to be won by Tories, with Labour in second.

Telford --- 0.01%
High Peak --- 0.13%
Hammersmith --- 0.41%
Keighley --- 0.54%
Wirral South --- 0.61%
Warwick and Leamington --- 0.83%
Vale of Clwyd --- 0.96%
Weaver Vale --- 1.02%
Dorset South --- 1.27%
Swindon South --- 1.39%
Stevenage --- 1.48%
Blackpool North and Cleveleys --- 1.52%
Tynemouth --- 1.72%
Nuneaton --- 1.87%
Rossendale and Darwen --- 1.90%
Elmet and Rothwell --- 1.91%
Bedford --- 1.98%
Ribble South --- 2.18%
Halifax --- 2.43%
Poplar and Limehouse --- 2.51%

Seats currently marked to be Labour wins, with Tories in second

Copeland --- 0.12%
Pudsey --- 0.23%
Gedling --- 0.25%
Newport West --- 0.28%
Warwickshire North --- 0.32%
Tooting --- 0.39%
Leicestershire North West --- 0.49%
Swindon North --- 0.56%
Dewsbury --- 0.61%
Chatham and Aylesford --- 0.90%
Stockton South --- 1.46%
Carlisle --- 1.66%
Ellesmere Port and Neston --- 1.77%
Coventry South --- 1.79%
Waveney --- 1.86%
Bolton West --- 1.95%
Gower --- 1.97%
Bolton North East --- 1.99%
Morecambe and Lunesdale --- 2.08%

Lib/Tory marginals

Seats currently marked to be won by Tories, with Lib Dems in second.

Bradford West --- 0.33%
Somerset North --- 0.63%
Ealing Central and Acton --- 0.63%
Newbury --- 1.31%
Wiltshire North --- 1.65%

Seats currently marked to be won by the Lib Dems, with Tories in second.

Chelmsford --- 0.14%
Pendle --- 0.39%
Ludlow --- 0.65%
Filton and Bradley Stoke --- 1.48%
Haltemprice and Howden --- 1.54%

Lib/Lab marginals

Seats currently marked to be won by Labour, with Lib Dems in second.

Edinburgh North and Leith --- 0.05%
Sunderland Central --- 0.12%
Bishop Auckland --- 0.34%
Leeds North East --- 0.36%
Wakefield --- 0.53%
Penistone and Stocksbridge --- 0.54%
Birmingham Perry Barr --- 1.25%
Nottingham South --- 1.59%
Bermondsey and Old Southwark --- 1.98%
Plymouth Sutton and Devonport --- 2.01%
Luton South --- 2.16%

Seats currently marked to be won by the Lib Dems, with Labour in second.

Huddersfield --- 0.67%
Newcastle upon Tyne Central --- 0.74%
Manchester Gorton --- 1.76%
Aberdeen South --- 1.78%
Hartlepool --- 1.94%
Birmingham Hodge Hill --- 1.99%
Blyth Valley --- 2.10%


These constituencies only require around 1000 or fewer votes to swing one way or the other, so a concerted effort could make all the difference, and this does mean Lib Dems and Labour following the advice both Compass, the Guardian and Sunny have set tactically for the strongest result for progressives in Britain.

The current seat count using a less sophisticated method than FiveThirtyEight detailed on this site, a Regional Swing Calculator:

Con: 265
Lab: 246
Lib Dems: 107
Others: 32

If all of the seats above were successfully defended/won then the seat count would look more like this:

Con: 240
Lab: 255
Lib Dems: 123
Others: 32

Hopefully this information will be useful for people. Below are the list of all other seats that are changing hands to Lib Dems, but obviously can't be left to chance. All proviso's about local campaigns remain...

From Tories:

Dorset North --- 3.11%
Eastbourne --- 3.40%
Bournemouth West --- 3.45%
Harborough --- 3.89%
Meon Valley --- 4.47%
Wells --- 5.26%
Dorset West --- 6.37%
Weston-Super-Mare --- 6.77%
Totnes --- 7.43%

From Labour:

Bristol North West --- 2.67%
Birmingham Hall Green --- 3.16%
Colne Valley --- 3.86%
Edinburgh South --- 4.09%
Burnley --- 4.17%
Derby North --- 5.06%
Swansea West --- 5.15%
Liverpool Wavertree --- 6.47%
Newcastle upon Tyne East --- 7.09%
Northampton North --- 8.00%
Oldham East and Saddleworth --- 8.10%
Bradford East --- 8.94%
Sheffield Central --- 9.06%
Newcastle upon Tyne North --- 9.18%
Watford --- 9.70%
Norwich South --- 10.14%
Oxford East --- 11.41%
Blaydon --- 11.90%
Leicester South --- 12.09%
Islington South and Finsbury --- 12.31%
Durham --- 18.08%

Tactical voting

I also now include a list of constituencies I feel could fall easily if tactical voting was co-ordinated, to keep the Tories out. I chose the criteria of the Tories not having an absolute majority (necessary for tactical voting) and, where the third placed party changes 20% of it's votes to the second placed party, that such a 20% shift in votes outweighs the majority the Tories have over the second placed party.

The following projected Tory wins could be stopped if Lib Dems voted tactically for Labour (up to 20% of LDs likely to vote LD instead voting Labour)

Milton Keynes North
Poplar and Limehouse
Northampton South
Westminster North
Brighton Kemptown
Brigg and Goole
Derbyshire South
Dudley North
Great Yarmouth
Brentford and Isleworth
Sefton Central
Somerset North East
High Peak
Wirral South
Elmet and Rothwell
Weaver Vale
Swindon South
Rossendale and Darwen
Dorset South
Warwick and Leamington
Blackpool North and Cleveleys
Ribble South
Vale of Clwyd

The following projected Tory wins could be stopped if Labour voted tactically for Lib Dems (up to 20% of Labour likely to vote Labour instead voting LD)

St Albans
Warrington South
Calder Valley
Bradford West
Ealing Central and Acton
Somerset North

Doing this further to winning the close marginal seats detailed at the top (of which some are also included in this tactical voting list), would change the rough seat total to:

Con: 220
Lab: 272
Lib Dems: 126
Others: 32