Friday, 31 December 2010

AV and the magic of geographic dispersion

"AV will cause more coalitions in this country!", "FPTP is the only way to ensure strong government!"


It's time to put this myth to bed once and for all. No voting system that purely asks people to vote for an MP to represent them in their constituency is able to cause or limit the amount of coalition governments that form over the years. It may slightly enhance or hide the realities of support in each constituency, but in itself neither FPTP nor AV can cause coalitions.

Take, for example, our last general election result. The Tories had 36% of the vote, Labour 29% and Lib Dems 23% (in popular terms). Let's think about the realities of what forms coalitions. They are caused when the number of MPs elected for each party is in significant enough number that there is no majority to be had.

To form coalition governments in single member constituency voting systems (or to at least see Hung Parliaments) you need three parties with at least a modest popularity each, depending on how many smaller parties have strong localised support. The reality is that the cause of our latest coalition, under FPTP no less, is the increased support for the Lib Dems over several elections mixed with a redress of the geographical dispersion of the vote for each of the main parties.

Let me just be clear about that. It is how spread out or concentrated differing political opinions are across the UK that determines the likelihood of coalitions being formed.

Take a highly unlikely example. If the population was perfectly dispersed based on political opinion, to the degree that every constituency reflected the national picture of C 36%, L 29%, LD 23% then there would be only one result possible under FPTP....a parliament made up 100% of the Tories. Under AV it would be different, again assuming opinion is the same we would have either a 100% Labour parliament or 100% Tory parliament depending on where Lib Dem's would tend to put their second preferences.

But what if we switch it around? Let's say that the 36% of Tory support are localised entirely in 234 constituencies but in 0 others, that Labour similarly have 100% support in 189 constituencies, and Lib Dems the rest (not counting the constituencies that would be filled with the independent, national and Irish MPs). In this situation, still with the same voting system we'd have a proportional representation in parliament.

The same number of people voting for the same party they did in 2010, but depending on where they live you can have anything from an elected dictatorship to a fully proportional parliament forming a coalition.

Our current situation with a hung parliament is based mainly on the divide of class in this country, where more rural and higher earning areas tend to vote Tory, middle class and student (though we'll see how long that lasts) areas vote Lib Dem, and Working class to middle class areas vote Labour.

Without mixing these classes in to the same constituencies we have concentrated blobs of party support throughout the UK, and it is this segregation, combined with a greater than two dimensional political opinion, that led us to the coalition government we have today.

How will AV change this? I will come back to this issue in a future piece; However, it may well be that AV increases the hyper-concentration of support, making it less dispersed, and causing a greater hung parliament. Yet it is also the case that the fine balance of the geographic dispersal of political opinion could result in a bloating of the vote for (most likely) Labour, giving them a disproportionate (based on 1st preferences, though not in terms of absolute support) majority that helps to avoid a coalition while more accurately reflecting the political leaning of the population.

If you're against coalition politics then I'm afraid your only recourse to achieve this will be to try and return this county to a system of two party politics and to try and stop people from believing in political ideals they believe in.

Voting against AV won't stop coalitions from forming while three party politics takes hold, it's time for the "No" camp to accept this reality.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Nick Cohen's "failure" to appreciate the complexities of reform

Nick Cohen has released a piece for the spectator that gloriously highlights the 2 dimensional style of argument that those in the "No" campaign for the upcoming AV referendum display. I have no idea if Nick Cohen supports Yes or No camps, but his piece might as well be written by the more short sighted and mischeviously misleading parts of the No side.

You can read the Nick Cohen piece here, though I'll be fisking it below...

Over on Coffee House my colleague Dan Hodges notes that a large chunk of the Parliamentary Labour Party has come out against AV, and speculates that their stand will help the “No” campaign.

A fair argument, given that it's clear that Labour voters/supporters are torn and don't yet understand the benefits the Left in this country can gain through a more preferential voting system due to the current standing of opinion in the UK.

So it may, but he is missing the true danger to the “Yes” campaign, which lies with its friends rather than its enemies. To be blunt, the supporters of “reform” are at best deluded and at worse rank hypocrites.

And so begins the start of a strawman argument based on only half a reality.

The alternative vote solves no problems and remedies no grievances.

Straight out of the blocks and in to a lie. The alternative vote, AV, remedies one extremely important grievance and problem...that of lack of surety over an MP being elected who is supported by their constituency. FPTP allows MPs to be voted with only 35% of the vote in some cases, and thus all we know is that at least 35% of the constituency support them. AV ensures we know the MP elected has the most support possible (with some caveats).

It is an unlovely and unloved electoral system, as the voters of New Zealand showed when their government gave them the chance to choose how they cast their votes. New Zealanders were interested in all kinds of reforms to first-past-the-post but dismissed AV with scorn.

New Zealand were offered two referendums to ensure an absolute clarity of decision. The first was whether to move away from FPTP, to which they voted overwhelmingly by 84.5% to 15.5%. They were then asked (ironically under a FPTP system) which type of system they would like. AV lost out, unsurprisingly, as it was the shortest move away from FPTP.

Does this mean anything to us? New Zealand, a country that legalizes brothels, is a very different country to our own politically...I'm always loathed to make comparisons between different countries as easily as Nick Cohen does, it doesn't offer any relevance to ourselves and our own unique situation.

Which is all AV deserves because no one in their hearts believes it is the best or fairest way to produce a government, least of all the constitutional reformers behind the “yes” campaign?

So back to the New Zealand issue here, they were offered several good systems and definitely didn't back the worst of those. This was after a referendum that simply asked if people wanted to move away from FPTP.

Have we been asked this? No. Our referendum is unfortunately two questions in one. Some can interpret it as "Do we want to move away from FPTP" and others "Do we want to move to AV". The question specifically asks the latter, but it is the former that will be in reformers minds.

People like myself, who would prefer more proportional representation in our parliament, know that reporters like Nick he has evidenced in this article...will spin from a "No" result. While he talks here about the AV question, it is the "Keep FPTP" answer that will be the headline.

Does AV deserve to be dismissed when compared only to other more proportional systems? Yes, absolutely. Does it deserve to be dismissed when put up against FPTP, a non-preferential and non-proportional system that is clearly worse than AV in every way other than in terms of absolute simplicity and logistics (two arguments that we should be EXTREMELY worried to be included in the debate about our democracy)?

No, it most certainly deserves to be heard...

They believe, as I believe, that the fault with first-past-the-post is that it produces governments with large majorities on a minority of the popular the vote.

This is part of what we believe.

AV does not solve that the problem because it is not proportional.

On a national level it is certainly not proportional. On a local level it is more proportional...or as more appropriately described, it contains a fuller level of opinion from constituents to form a more representative outcome than under FPTP. Indeed AV, on a single member constituency level, is almost the best system for ensuring representative democracy is accurate.

Indeed in some circumstances, it makes unrepresentative governments more powerful.

Now Nick here is mixing up terms. Notice how suddenly he uses the term unrepresentative governments, a term that is only accurate if using the FPTP form of the term? Previously it was about proportionality.

There is no denying proportionality is out of the window with both AV and FPTP, except by pure chance. But this is due to our system of one MP per one constituency. We are not voting for a proportional make up of the House of is impossible to guarantee or ensure such a thing with a simple one MP/one constituency system!

But AV would make it as representative a parliament, and therefore government, as could be under this single member constituency environment. Each constituency will have guaranteed the MP they sent to parliament has their explicit support, that the MP definitely represents the type of politician that the constituents wish to have.

And let's not even get in to the idea of representative governments being tosh, I can only assume Nick here has mixed up his terms by accident, because unless a government is made up of all different parties elected in their proportion of the vote...most likely becoming paralysed in the process, then government itself will never be truly representative anyway!

To understand how imagine a popular party leader heading for a resounding victory. It is not just the people who vote for his party who quite like the look of him. Many of those voting for rival parties will have soaked up the mood of the times. They too will see his appeal and under AV will be able to give him their second preferences, and deliver more seats to his party.

And here's that "what are MPs elected for" problem highlighted again. This referendum only allows us to choose between two single member constituency systems...the idea of the make up of parliament being fair or proportional flew out of the window with that question being affirmed.

If a party leader sails to a resounding victory, picking up extra seats because of second preferences, it's because we're forced to keep to a system that means we're technically not electing a party to rule us, but an MP to represent us. If 600 constituencies under AV decide that they would prefer a Tory MP (after preferences) more than any other MP, that would be a massive majority of Tories in parliament. It's most likely not proportional (based on first preferences alone) but it is what each constituency has, by majority, decided they want for their parliament.

This is not unrepresentative, far from it, it is the country saying that based on initial opinion, and the prospect of other MPs that they don't like...these are the MPs each section of our country want to be in power.

This was precisely the position Tony Blair found himself in 1997. Lord Jenkins in his report on electoral reform in 1998 concluded that far from making the 1997 Parliament more representative, AV would have “swollen the already sizeable Labour majority”.

However, as Labour popularity waned that swell may have deflated much quicker than under FPTP, the people may have got a sooner chance to get rid of Labour. Alternatively it may be the case that at the 2010 election most of the population were still Left leaning (this is my belief) and that Labour wouldn't have lost power due to more people having a greater say over exactly which MP they prefer over the others, without votes being split unfairly due to simple geographical statistics.

‘A 'best guess' projection of the shape of the current Parliament under AV suggests on one highly reputable estimate the following outcome with the actual FPTP figures given in brackets after the projected figures: Labour 452 (419), Conservative 96 (165), Liberal Democrats 82 (46), others 29 (29). The overall Labour majority could thus have risen from 169 to 245. On another equally reputable estimate the figures are given as Labour 436, Conservatives 110, Liberal Democrats 84 and others 29, an overall majority this time of 213. On either basis an injustice to the Liberal Democrats would have been nearly two-thirds corrected (their strictly proportional entitlement was 111 seats) but at the price of a still greater injustice to the Conservatives.’

Injustice, how it can even be said to be injustice while comparing the purpose of single member constituency voting systems to proportional outcomes is laughable. There is no injustice is Tories being unpopular over-all in a constituency by constituency basis therefore being appropriately under-represented in parliament.

The injustice right now is that a Tory, Labour or Lib Dem MP can hold less than 50% support, meaning that over half the constituency actively LOATHE that MP, yet still get in to power....yet that this is being paraded as a virtue of our current system over AV.

Remember, this is about voter opinion forming a more representative outcome in their constituency...we have no option in this referendum to guarantee proportionality either way.

There were other problems too – Tories in Scotland and socialists in Surrey would still have wasted their votes under AV

An absolute lie here again. But then I guess it's how you define a "Tory" isn't it? To Nick it would appear that Tories are people that would only vote Tory, the Tory party members themselves. What about those voters who would prefer a Tory style MP in their constituency but currently know that their vote for a Tory would be lost under FPTP? Perhaps those Tory supporters still vote Tory, but in doing so they split the vote.

Take, for example, Stirling

It used to be Tory once upon a time, but is no longer. Labour won the vote, but without an absolute majority. Do the Tories there want Labour to win, or would they prefer the SNP? Under FPTP their opinion on what they prefer doesn't matter. Under AV, those Tories may want to give Labour a bloody nose and give their preference to the SNP who they'd prefer over Labour. If they did so (with some help also from the Lib Dems) the SNP could have taken the seat, further helping any chance of a national Tory majority.

Now, tell me again...which system out of FPTP or AV leaves a Tory voice wasted?

– but let us stay with Lord Jenkins’ objection and relish the hypocrisy of the “Yes” campaign.

Much as I have been relishing in the out and out lies and misrepresentation by Nick Cohen (shared by the No campaign)....

We now have supposed constitutional reformers lobbying for a change to the electoral system that can exacerbate the worst features of the old regime they claim to oppose.

The system is not proportional as it stands. If we remain with FPTP then geographical chance can lead to the same disproportionate results that Nick claims AV can result in. You cannot make an argument one way or another...either as a Yes or No campaigner...about proportionality while the question is what it is.

What we constitutional reformers can hope for is a greater voice for the electorate, with our wider opinions making a difference even if our first choice isn't popular. Is it really a hypocritical and ridiculous thing to wish for more power to the people?

They know this. They have read the Electoral Reform Society’s pamphlets and argued at meetings in draughty halls about the virtues and vices of various electoral changes. Yet they persist in recommending that the public vote “yes” for a system which Nick Clegg once described as “"a miserable little compromise”.

Because miserable little compromise or not, it's still a step towards a greater voice to us, the voters, in forging for ourselves a representative parliament that we each, individually as constituencies, can be happy with.

Eventually, even the nodding dogs of the BBC are going to have to ask them why they are abandoning principles they have supported for decades, and recommending that voters support a system they once opposed.

More two dimensional, overly black and white misrepresentation. Am I abandoning my principles? How can I abandon my principles when the only options I've been given are between two potentially disproportional systems? None of us in the Yes camp are saying "Well actually we now believe AV is the best system around", it's a complete fabrication and an insult for Nick to paint us in this image.

We have a question before us, we have an opinion on which is the best answer...and that answer is Yes. Our principles are still here, we want greater power to voters, AV delivers that, it doesn't abandon it.

I have heard only two honest answers, which both reek of desperation. The first is that any change is better than no change

It's desperation to make positive steps forwards? Perhaps we should tell that to homosexuals that have the right to civil partnerships, and the benefits that come along with that union, without still having (disgracefully) the right to marry? Is it desperation that we at least support this interim step?

even if it is a change for the worse.

...When looking at only ONE aspect of the change, and then assuming a whole scenario that may or may not change in the future. Isn't it funny that Nick can describe this as a change for the worse when a change in public opinion in 5, 10 or 15 years time could suddenly mean FPTP is the system delivering bloated majorities?

The second is that AV referendum was all Cameron would offer the wretched Clegg, and they are stuck with it.

Are we not stuck with the question we've got? Does being stuck with the question change our ability to objectively work out for ourselves what the best answer is?

Nick insults the Yes campaign here by misrepresenting our arguments, putting words in our mouths and then lying through absence of the complete picture.

The moment of danger for the “Yes” campaign will not come when old Labour MPs announce their support for the status quo, but when journalists start exposing the fraught and insincere arguments of the supporters of “reform”.

I can only hope that journalists leading up to May have more integrity to report the full facts about the referendum question and it's two systems, rather than the strawman laden hatchet job Nick Cohen has written here.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

My thoughts on Lib Dem betrayal

(This was originally a comment to this article on CiF)

I'm getting tired of people using all encompassing statements about the Lib Dems betrayal.

So some MPs (not the party, the pledge was a single MP act across constituencies, which some MPs broke) broke their promise in voting for something that is a better solution than the possibly £12-14k fees the Tories may well have brought in. Tough situation that some all too black and white viewers can't understand.

Nor, clearly, do those people understand how the Lib Dem party policy machine works. You can claim that you can never trust the Lib Dems again, yet they're the only party I can look at (as a non-affiliated voter) and know precisely what policies they would aim to make real if they had controlling power.

So people are going to stop voting Lib Dem, maybe go to Labour or to a set of minority parties? Fine, it's your choice, but if you're doing it thinking you're going to get a better deal than the Lib Dem policy to scrap tuition fees for first degrees then you are, simply, a moron.

But on to other things...did the Lib Dems betray me and my vote? I dislike the tuition fee rise, but I'd have disliked a larger rise more, we also know Labour would have raised the cap.

They've also put in to motion the end of child detention, I don't feel betrayed there. They've scrapped ID cards, finally enacted the european ruling (that Labour dithered over) for giving at least some prisoners their right to vote back, they will be repealing more illiberal and authoritarian law, including the possibility of removal of control orders and 28 day detention without charge. I don't feel betrayed there either. A referendum on a voting system that will finally give people a complete voice in their constituency, not a hint of betrayal. The income tax allowance will be increased, no betrayal again. Trident renewal shelved, married couple tax breaks shelved, more ambitious green targets...all a far shout from feelings of betrayal.

The reality is that the Lib Dems are delivering on an awful lot of what they said they would, unfortunately the Tories are doing the same, we get the "best" of both worlds, but on some issues like Tuition fees those who voted for Lib Dems have not got it entirely as they'd wish.

Betrayed? Not even close.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Of Democracy, Fairness and Labour

Democracy...power from the people. It's a simple concept yet one that is interpreted in enough different ways that some are losing sight of what democracy actually means.

@Aaronk28: @Niaccurshi in true democracy people vote for who they want elected 2nd choice 3rd choice etc should be irrelevant #no2av

A true democracy can not be so simple, surely? Their first preference alone stating their wishes, and to hell with their fuller and more rounded opinion? If democracy is truly "of the people" then my feelings are FPTP falls at the first hurdle to achieving such a status. Just because people participate in a vote does not mean that they have bestowed power. In a majority of constituencies more than half of the voters participate but don't deliver more than that participation.

Be under no illusion, a "worthy" and "correct" winner in a single constituency system is the one that has the greatest overall support. This isn't the greatest initial support, nor is it the "least worst" is the prospective MP that the largest number of people would like to see represent them. The truly most popular.

In this sense a "true democracy" is much closer to AV than to FPTP, where everyone's views are taken on balance, where even if you are a supporter of an MP outside the top two contenders, you still have the right to say who you would prefer out of those two remaining. This isn't "unfair" as some may say, nor is it people getting a second bite of the cherry (in fact everyone gets another bite at every round), this is true fairness.

After all, what is fair about MPs currently elected with less than 50% of the vote, when the constituency is more than 50% against them? I don't mean this in a simplistic "If the MP didn't get 50% then they are unpopular", the reality is that in the information-less system that is FPTP we don't know if they are the most popular overall or not. What I mean is that if that MP is a left wing MP, elected on say 40% of the vote, but the constituency is 60% right wing...then how is it fair that constituency has to be represented by a left wing MP? Or vice versa?

I support AV, despite preferring more proportional voting systems, because it gives every person in a constituency an equal voice, and a louder voice. I support it because it leads to more representative constituencies and therefore a more representative (though not necessarily single member constituency system can be proportional) parliament. I support it regardless of whether it delivers landslide majorities for ANY party, or leads us to coalitions...because this is ACTUALLY democracy, getting what we have asked for.

But saying this...I have to look to reality and ask...what are the Labour No camp thinking? Do they prefer opposition? Would they rather remain out of government? Labour No seem to want to seal their fate as struggling back to power, if they can make it back there at all.

Look at the figures. A party (the Lib Dems) that was on high mid 20% shares leading up to the election are now slumped at ~10%, losing easily 50% of their support (for now) as a result of the more right wing nature of the government. As one of those 10% that would likely still vote Lib Dem I can still say that despite current situations I am hopeful of a return to the actual party policy which is fundamentally more left wing, should they have the opportunity to get away from the Tories. I would be amazed if I were in a minority in that view.

Under AV it feels like a guarantee that in many conservative constituencies Labour would clean up thanks to second preferences from Lib Dem supporters. In other Tory constituencies Lib Dems may end up taking the vote under AV from Labour second preferences...the net result is still more Labour seats, and less Tory ones. Labour No seem to want to throw this potential win away, as well as to leave the more left-leaning in this country potentially less well represented. It's just confusing!

As a Lib Dem voter last time around, and likely again in 2015, I hope that this country can be more representative, even if that means the Lib Dems lose seats...even if it meant a higher Tory share. I care about "true democracy" and "fairness" over and above any tribal political instincts, and that leads me to question (as I have been for a while) exactly what the motives are of those that intend to vote No in May. Tories I can at least understand, fearing that their (in my opinion) fake "majority" may fall if people are given a greater voice...Labour, less so.

Answers on a postcard?

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Students' fees, it'll cost us all in the end

Edit: There is some contention over the "resource cost" mentioned in this article, and exactly how it is dealt with and applied. As such take the below with a little pinch of salt in the event that I've misinterpreted exactly what it entails! I've struck through what I think isn't accurate, but left it in for posterity.

The Tory/Lib Dem coalition. I will, in the future go in to my feelings on this but right now I'll leave you with the background that I'm generally on balance happier than I am unhappy at the situation, I can see that it's complicated. I dislike Labour, I voted Lib Dem, I dislike the Tories and what the Lib Dems have done in government has left me more apathetic than I was a year ago. Bumpf over, let’s get on...

Here we are today, December 9th 2010, with 21 votes between the ayes and nays for student Higher Education (HE) fees increases. We are now moving towards a world that will see tuition fees increase and the debts that our students enter in to increased significantly. More progressive apparently, better for graduates, better for part-time students (the 33% alone that will benefit at least).

Sorry ...wait. Did I say that the students would be having greater debt? Oh yes, silly me.

We, the taxpayer are now going to be put in greater debt, on students' behalf!

Aside from some access funding for poorer students that won't count as debt (it'll be funded from budget shuffles and magic), each of the roughly 2 million students that study HE courses each year will add, approximately, £2.3-4.9bn to the debt our country carries on behalf of these students. Each year.

If this doesn't sound like a large enough amount, realise that it is on top of all existing student loan debt (£30.5bn for England) AND the £2.75bn those same students would have added to the system through top up fees AND the £3bn debt for living cost loans. Potentially a year on year increase in debt in this country of between £8bn and £10.5bn.

A lot of the campaign to stop the higher fees has fallen to students alone. Selfish taxpayers have, rather blindly and therefore stupidly, made their "They should get a job", "why should we have to pay for them" claims throughout the country. Even some particularly militant lefties have got up in arms about students campaigning for "Middle class benefits" ahead of campaigning for real cut-busting on issues like housing and benefits.


You think this whole plan by the coalition saves us money, as tax payers? Well I'm afraid the reality is that you haven't, Mr "I don't know what the fuss is about"!

By the time this new fee structure rolls in we'll be roughly £35bn in debt simply as par for the course, of which around £7bn will be fee related. After the first adopters of the new 6/9k fees graduate in 2015 it'll be up to £70-£75bn depending on how Universities charge, a total of up to around £36bn will be fees related.

Given that the loans system costs to maintain (as in, pay for lack of interest paid by the borrower), on average, about 33% of the cost of the loan (£9.5-£12bn £2.6-£3.3bn), that the cost of our national debt in interest is something like 5% of our loan amount (up to another £1.4-£1.8bn), and that the SLC costs £100mil to run the whole system each year, it is simple maths that as a tax payer we will be forking out MORE per year to allow students to get in to debt, and increase our potential deficit, than it would cost to just give HE institutions the bloody money from our tax income!

£14bn. Fourteen Billion Pounds. This could pay for so much more than what it is being pissed down the drain for, don't you think? With the annual cost of keeping all students that apply for loans at shy of £8bn (at most), the rest of the money could genuinely go to provide access for mature and disadvantaged people to get part-time or full-time higher education. It could ensure our HE institutions were the absolute best in the world.

Edit: So it would make more sense that the resource cost is a one off cost per loan (of which there are three for each student usually) and not a cost applied every year. If this is truly the case then it'll likely never reach the point that servicing the loan costs more than providing it, unless there are a lot more defaults and write offs as the system goes on. There is, of course, a real danger that there could be seen, in a few decades, significant amounts of money written off, billions perhaps...and at that point we'd need to question whether this policy was a financially sound one to begin with.

This doesn't alter the fact our debt bill increases dramatically each year, and that the amount tax payers are having to pay has (ironically perhaps) increased to levels that would have only a few years ago paid for all top-up fees to be paid for by the government.

So there we are, this vote that centered in the debate more on who could sling the most mud, Labour at the Lib Dems for selling out, Tories and Lib Dems at Labour for starting this whole thing off (but no worries, they’ll continue it any way), and Labour at the Tories for raping poor children or something, this vote that analyst are having a party over because of the gossip it can present about the coalition, Lib Dems, and cracks or faults in the veneer of both, this vote’s real impact has been completely ignored.

Yes, it'll make some poor kids that don't have the benefit of someone with common sense nearby to let them know debt doesn't really matter when you're earning, especially when it doesn't affect you if you're not earning. Yes it'll mean most people are unlikely to actually pay off that debt (further increasing our total public debt, of course). Yes it ensures the squeeze is still on universities who already complain about spiralling staff and resource costs year on year.

But what's been missed is that this whole exercise, when looking at it as the economic manoeuvre that it is...fails as just that. If it's meant to help bring economic stability by cutting our interest payments and debt as a percentage of GDP, then this policy fails the coalition's main aim. If it's meant to free up tax payer money to spend on other things, then this policy fails the coalition's main aim.

There is still time, as unlikely as it is to happen, to defeat this bill. It will soon go to the Lords where it will be debated once more, if it isn't defeated at the final reading in the House of Commons. The Lords is our last opportunity to even try to question why this whole policy has been announced. Given its apparent lack of economic advantage, given the students don't want it, given many universities don't want it (though they'd like the same amount of money please, thanks, yessir), given that parents are worried about how it'll effect how and where their kids grow up and gain the life skills they need in a cut-throat economy...shouldn't we be asking what the real reason is that the coalition made this disastrous policy one step closer to reality?


Disclaimer first, this is late night calculation, I apologise if anything is actually wrong and will amend it as it's pointed out to me. But it is only intended to be a generally rough set of figures, not allowing really for inflation in projections, nor for greater than inflation increases in either loans or repayment of loans.

I've used this parliamentary briefing paper for my figures.
It shows that current debt (maintenance and fees) is £30.5bn.
Maintaining the loan system costs on average 24% of the loan provision per year, 33% for fee loans and 21% for maintenance loans.
Take up of fee loans is now approaching 900k students per year.
The average loan amount given is currently £3110, only a hundred pounds short of the cap, or 94.5% of the cap amount. This equates to £2.75bn of loans
The above means each year 900,000 students would cost roughly £7.65bn in fee loans at most, and £5.1bn at least.
Each year a total of about £5.7bn is paid out in all loans to students.
Each year the debt bill for HE loans grows by around £4-£4.5bn. This may increase in the future even without fee cap rises.
This above would relate to around £1.5bn being paid back each year in to the system. This amount will rise as more graduates enter the job market.
Figures for interest payment are obviously rough, but come from David Cameron's own "£70bn interest" speech where he relates the potential £1.4trillion debt to a £70bn interest bill, or 5%.


The thing that springs to mind after some more thought is that it's unlikely that there are additional interest costs on top of the resource costs to maintain the loan debt. So rather than £14bn it may look more like £12bn.

A point I'd be happy to take more clarification on is how the resource costs are borne, where are they paid from and who pays them? Are they attributed to another debt pile, taken from the tax payer directly, or more indirectly subtracted from the overall tax takings to allow for repayment of the debt?

Saturday, 4 December 2010

The "weighting" argument against AV is a red herring

Just a quick one. AV does not give disproportionate weight to unpopular parties. What it does is ensure that of everyone left standing in the race in each round, people have an opportunity to say which they prefer.

Round 1: Candidate A, B, C and D get 40%, 20%, 25% and 15% of the vote respectively. The least popular candidate, D, doesn't get a disproportionate boost, he gets eliminated.

Round 2: Candidate A, B, and C now get 40%, 33% and 27% respectively. What people who don't understand AV, or are wilfully misrepresenting it, are trying to say here is that Candidate B gets an unfair weighting. It's just not true, Candidate C drops out here because those people that voted D have the fair opportunity to say they would rather candidate B got their votes rather than candidate C if their most preferred candidate is eliminated.

Round 3: We're left with Candidate A and B, who on balance had the most support of everyone to be put in to this final showdown. The final result is 45%, 55% respectively. A loses. Again, this isn't because of disproportionate weighting but a fair opportunity given to people to say what they would prefer if the situation was such that their first and second preferences were no longer in the competition.

There is nothing more fair than coming to this kind of compromise in single member constituencies, where everyone at each stage gets to have their beliefs tallied so that the most popular candidate of those remaining in the vote, at least one of which will be due to the initial high popularity within the largest minorities of the constituency.

People who voted for Candidate A in this scenario gave their candidate TREMENDOUS weighting, they kept him in the competition all the way until the final round with no fear of elimination. The fact Candidate A then didn't do enough to ensure he had broader support in the constituency if people were ultimately asked to choose between him and candidate B is a seperate, and more political, issue.

It is, quite simply, a myth to say that in this above scenario that Candidate B, despite coming 3rd in the FPTP style vote, is a "less popular" candidate. How can they be less popular if, when the voting options narrow to A, B and C, that candidate then picks up enough votes to not be the last in terms of percentage share?

It's a fallacy to claim that AV gives disproportionate weighting to the "unpopular", what it does is more accurately show who is really popular or unpopular on balance as the voting plays out. In this case A was simply popular with a significant minority of the constituency, but when it boiled down to it was not as popular as B in a straight head-to-head.

Under FPTP we simply don't know this level of information. Is the winner of FPTP on 40% the most popular? He could be, in one sense he is, but in another sense he may not be. Without information rich voting systems like AV, we just don't know for sure who is popular or not

For more on why compromise is good, and why trying to apply weightings to each person's vote is a flawed concept, please see my last post on this subject.