Post-election blogging: is the UK really that right-wing?

By the looks of it, yes. Tories gain 97 seats, Labour and the LibDems lose 96.

But that is after the voting has been put through the electorial polarisation filter system that is called first-past-the-post. It mangles what people have voted for, filters out all minority views, and spits out binary numbers: zeroes for all the losers and a one for the only winner.

Change or no change?

The popular vote looks different – quite different. According to the Tories and their right-wing press allies we have been suffering under thirteen years of Labour malfunctioning. Admittedly, Labour have made quite some huge mistakes – the war in Iraq, supporting faith schools, supporting quack medicine, the MP expenses scandal which hit them harder than the Tories, and deregulating enough to allow the banks to go mental.

Then the Tories have, admittedly, a leader with much more on-screen charisma than the Labour leader. (OTOH this might work sometimes work against the Tories where people distrust Cameron.)

So, after all that, what does the overall UK popular vote tell us?

Conservatives: 36.1% +3.8

Labour: 29.0% -6.2

LibDems: 23.0% +1.0

That, to me, is mightily mightily unimpressive for the Tories.

Right… or left?

Many people – mostly supporting the ‘winners’, the Tories. Claim that this country wants to see a right-wing government. Let’s have a look at that.

I think it isn’t a big stretch to call both Labour and LibDem left; just different shades of left. If we look at the ‘larger’ parties – I’m Dutch so everything 1% or more is large :p – I roughly count between 40 and 45% right-wing votes (the UKIP and BNP get 5% together and there’s the rest).

However Labour and LibDem alone already have 52% of votes and that’s even without the left-wing SNP and the Greens.

Axe the first-past-the-post system!

This all of course is just my long-winded argument that the UK needs to get rid of that antiquated and undemocratic ‘FPTP’ system. It emphatically does not lead to a parliament that represents what the people have voted for.

Several campaigns are underway to get this done, the already-mentioned Power 2010 has the highest-profile; loads more can be found at the end of the homepage of Take back parliament.

Post-election blogging: chaos at the polling stations

I am very lenient in these cases – I think everyone who has turned up before the time that the polling station closes should be allowed to vote. And I don’t care whether this turns out to include a hundred BNP supporters, a stretch of Tory limos, or LibDem-voting students. This is a democracy; everyone that wants to vote and decides to do so in time should be allowed to.

It is ‘not on’ that this way, the system can potentially be misused by anyone at the polling station, deliberately stalling the voting if it is predicted that most registered voters will vote for a party that ‘isn’t so popular’ with the organisers of the polling station. I’m not saying this happened but the potential is there – and it shouldn’t be there.

Arguments that people simply ‘should have turned up earlier’ are ridiculous. Some people were there over an hour in advance. Sounds reasonable to me. Some that turned up late weren’t able to get there earlier.

Regardless of that, if you are there before 10PM you’re clearly indicating that you’re ready to vote, and within the legal limit too. Why shouldn’t you be allowed to vote? I can’t think of a compelling reason apart from legal hairsplitting.

And there is the issue that in some instances people were turned away whereas others were allowed to vote; that’s unfair to some people somewhere, too.

I say, a full revote for all these polling stations.

Post-election blogging: LibDem meltdown… or not?

It may seem so, after the recent ‘Cleggmania’ and the poll surge. And looking at the seats in parliament it surely looks that way, with just over 60 seats out of 650.

Look only a little deeper however and the real problem becomes clear: Labour got 8.4M votes; the LibDems got 6.6M.That doesn’t look like a major difference does it?

Put another way, Labour only needed 33k votes to get 1 seat in parliament, the Tories a very similar 35k votes for each of their seats… whereas the LibDems only got 1 seat for every 126k votes for their party. (It’s even worse for the smaller parties with the Greens getting their 1 seat from 200k votes and everyone else [outside of local parties] infinite votes i.e. no seats).

I can see why there’s unlikely to be electoral reform in this country as the two major parties are also the two biggest beneficiaries of this highly unjust system; they will accept losing seats here and there because their gains are so much bigger than these losses.

#update, also, despite losing seats, the popular vote for the LibDems has increased by 1 percent point. OK, this is not much after all the Cleggmania and all that… BUT it is an increase – and therefore incredible that they instead lose representation in parliament.

Lack of opinion (to ban or not to ban)

It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally I do not have a clear opinion. Really! Right now the only issue that comes to my mind upon which I’m undecided is:

Should the burqa be legally banned?

(I’m leaving the legal small print about whether I mean here or in Belgium, state-wide or local, &c, OK so no nitpicking)

Pro: I don’t like to see anybody wear them

Con: Unfortunately for me (and the general public), not liking something is not a basis for banning something. I also don’t like fat woman wearing spandex leggings, British men wearing nothing but shorts in summer, and chavs wearing… everything that chavs wear. The argument I read that in one Belgian town women wearing burqas were stopped by police because passers-by found them ‘annoying’ or ‘upsetting’ doesn’t sound like an argument to me.


Pro: It’s a signal of oppression to women

Con: The main problem here is that women who wear them fall into two categories. The ones that have been so brainwashed that they truly believe that they are wearing them out of free will, and the ones that are under so much pressure by their male relatives/spouses that they will claim to be wearing them out of free will. So trying to go this route doesn’t get one very far.

It’s like asking children if they are abused by their parents – you get the same two groups as above and no child will readily admit that their parents are abusing them.

(In my opinion this is really the same issue as with muslims wearing ‘ just’ headscarves except that these are less noticeable, but this would be too long a discussion here)


Pro: It’s a signal of religious fundamentalism/religious symbol

Con: Unfortunately, we live in a free society where everybody can follow any religion they like, however fundamentalist, as long as they don’t enforce it onto others.

But: Definitely true when it comes to public roles, where the state (at least on the continent) is bound by its constitution to be non-religious. You can’t have a police officer or judge wear religious symbols; what faith would a muslim have in a fair trial if (s)he takes a christian to court and the presiding judge is wearing a big fat cross around their neck?

We’ve had court cases here in the UK on a related issue – public sector christians who refused to marry gay couples. They’ve been resoundingly slapped down by courts forcing them to follow the law and not let their religions get in the way of their work.


Pro: It makes people impossible to identify. It’s a public safety issue.

Con: Only true in cases where you indeed have to identify yourself. In France apparently even when you withdraw money from a bank but come on, how often do we need to be recognisable? What about all these hoodies? I can grow a beard and dye my hair, too. This to me is a ‘technical’ reason, not a ‘real’ one.


Pro: it’s a health issue (vitamin D and all that)

Con: bikinis and UV


Con: It’s against freedom of religion/it’s islamophobic.

Pro/neutral: Freedom of religion ends where other, more important, freedoms begin. Whether women’s equality, public safety and the secularity of state are less important is up for debate.

It is my personal opinion that as long as in islamic countries women are forced not to wear short skirts, muslims have no grounds to complain if they are similarly forced to not wear something ‘here in the west’. I know that most religions have difficulties understanding they are not special, though, and they usually also have no problem with the asymmetry of claiming all their rights (under ‘freedom for our religion’ claims) whilst denying others theirs (under ‘freedom for our religion’ claims).


It’s not really about the burqa is it?

The real problem isn’t with the burqa, it’s what it represents. Shaving your head, wearing a bomber jacket and waving English flags isn’t bad in itself either (and isn’t prohibited, and won’t be, also in equivalent forms in Europe), it’s that it represents xenophobia, a penchant to fascism, and other signs of mental retardation.

On the flipside of the argument, it’s also not about the burqa but about people being scared of the perceived large number of muslims in europe and the islamisation of western society.

How to go about it?

So I can’t think of an easy solution to this problem – I actually think there isn’t one else we would have found it by now.

But I do think a solution might be found in carefully looking at how we deal with related problems, such as far right political views, and nationalism.

Israël

Hm, een onverwacht stuk – in het Nederlands en over Israël, midden in de UK verkiezingen en de euro-crisis.

Democratisch? Hmm…

Maar de VK bericht dat Israël een stuk minder plezierig land is dan ze zelf willen doen geloven – democratisch, open, en totaal niet zoals de Arabische semi-dictaturen die hen omringen

Nou wist ik al dat dát een droombeeld was, maar dit bericht is een (grote) stap terug voor mijn respect voor Israël. Als je als bevolking tegen kritiek op de regering en het leger bent, vindt dat klokkenluiders hard mogen worden aangepakt – en het gaat hier niet over het op de grond gooien van een kauwgompapiertje, maar het willens en wetens negeren van uitspraken van het Hooggerechtshof –  dan ben je als ‘democratie’ totaal verkeerd bezig.

Ook de neiging om de schuld bij die groepen te leggen die de misdaden rapporteren – en niet bij de misdaden zelf –  sluit daarbij aan (een reactie die ook de katholieke kerk recent heeft vertoond na het misbruikschandaal; dat zegt een hoop over het morele gezelschap waar Israël zich in bevindt).

Afwaarderen dus!

Wat ik maar zeggen wil is dat vandaag ‘officieel’ mijn houding tegenover Israël is veranderd; van gematigd-positief-kritisch naar negatief-kritisch. Wie geen democratie wil zijn, met niet alleen rechten maar ook plichten, die krijgt van mij geen sympathie. Hoe zou deze afwaardering heten in termen van S&P? Van A- naar B-, denk ik.

the Greek economic crisis

OK my short and possibly ill-informed, but heartfelt, idea about this mess. Bailout or no bailout for Greece?

Pro

I am a supporter of the Euro and the idea of helping weaker countries. I understand that it is also good for the stability in the eurozone to help Greece out.

Less important I can’t stand the smugness of the UK’s right-wing press and politicians who are now saying ‘see, if we were in the eurozone we’d be paying too’, without seeing the massive problems the UK has with its budget – and if the UK lands in more trouble, there will be no help from the eurozone. Eh.

Con

I wonder what is wrong, apart from it being rather cruel, with just ditching the whole country out of the euro and let them sort out their mess. But OK, I’ll be humane. Ish.

They’ve had more than ten years to do something about their debt and expenses since joining the euro – clearly they didn’t do much. Since they already had these problems before 2000 it is my guess that they didn’t do much in several decades before 2000 either, so the chance of them now suddenly changing their ways seem slim at best. Therefore handing over a small sum, only a couple hundred billion euro, on the ‘promise’ that they will tighten their budget seems naive to the nth degree.

I can so understand the German sentiments along the lines of having been living restrained while the Greeks were partying – and now the Germans will not pick the fruits of this labour but instead get to pay the Greeks for their partying. Reminds me of the fable of the ant and the cricket.

In sum

It’s probably legally impossible, but my solution would be to do bail out Greece, but at the same time to turn them into a de facto ‘colony’ or mandate of the EU – all control of their finances should be handed over to the european central bank (or a likewise institution), which will run their budget, overhaul their expenses and generally whip them into shape until all Greece’s indexes are back to where they should be.

This is very childish but apparently Greece needs this.

With all manifestos out… is there a winner?

Yes!

Unsurprisingly, my ‘winner’ based on the manifestos is – the LibDems. Nothing shocking there.

My ultra-short* take is:

(*and of course biased, I haven’t the time to sift through the manifestos in detail – and I can’t vote anyway, so I’ve no need to)

Labour – too detailed, stuck in tinkering, no real change.

Conservatives – too handwavey, based mostly on ‘not being labour’ and hoping that anti-labour sentiments will carry them to victory.

LibDems – they have the luxury of not having the dirty hands of having been in power, which makes for easier sniping. But they still win on merit, especially finances, political reform and civil liberties.

In a bit more detail: Labour

Having no real changes was to be expected; proposing major changes after having been in government themselves for 13 years would be to admit major failure. But finding in their manifesto proposed changes along the lines of (from The Guardian, emphasis mine)

  • ‘Failing police forces will be taken over by successful ones – although this promise is hedged with caveats, indicating it is likely to be rarely used.’
  • ‘A new right to see a GP at evenings and weekends’
  • ‘[A] promise not to extend VAT to food, children’s clothes, books, newspapers and public transport fares’
  • ‘A “toddler tax credit” worth an extra £200 a year for families earning less than £50,000 a year with children under three years old.’
  • ‘US-style street pastor teams using vetted ex-offenders to reach disaffected young people’
  • [P]ilot a scheme to give all primary-school children free school meals’
  • ‘Birmingham’s new Queen Elizabeth hospital … will have a military ward’

and finally, my favourite (on powers for Scotland):

  • New legal powers over airguns

is a bit too much for me (yes, there was still a sentence to be finished).

In Dutch we call this ‘gerommel in de marge’ (tinkering in the margins). It’s nothing, putting a dot here and shifting a comma there. These shouldn’t even be in a manifesto; these are minor details you implement some time after the election, without much ado.

What about political reform – a written constitution, proportional representation? The largely undemocratic House of Lords? The costly war in Afghanistan? Regulation of banks so that economical disasters as the recent one don’t happen again? What about higher education, science and technology? The abolition of these ridiculous faith schools?

On top of that Labour is responsible for encouraging (the abovementioned) faith schools, restricting civil liberties to a point that makes the UK a third-world police state, (at least partly) the banking crisis and the MP expenses scandal, and a restrictive and counterproductive drugs policy. So that’s Labour out.

In a bit more detail: Conservatives

It is in any case against my very nature to support Tories, but it’s always good to see them vindicate my non-support. Basically they come up with a vague plan, supported by no concrete financial details, and mixed in with the general negative message of ‘vote for us, because you don’t like Gordon Brown’. They’ve looked closely at their transatlantic cousins, the Republican Party, who run most election campaigns on a similar paradigm.

The vagaries and absence of detail make it difficult to pinpoint criticism – there literally isn’t much to criticise! But there are things:

  • Their (populist, IMHO) proposal to somewhere, somehow (‘Emergency budget within 50 days of election’, in other words ‘just take our word for it that we will do the right thing, honestly’) find an extra £6 bn in government expenses that can be used towards lowering the deficit
  • ‘More money for schools that take more than average numbers of poor pupils. But no detail on how much money will be allocated

Actually, I can’t find anything that is specific enough. Everything they propose seems to cost money, though, so I wonder where that money will come from:

  • ‘Access to NHS dentistry to be extended to a million more people’
  • ‘An extra 10,000 university places this year’
  • ‘Smaller class sizes’
  • ‘[F]reeze council tax for two years’
  • et cetera

There are of course also a few policies I simply disagree with, they are conservative after all, despite their somewhat schizophrenic attempts to appeal to both the wealthy AND the ‘ones left behind by Labour’:

  • ‘[I]nstant grounding orders for antisocial youngsters; prison sentences for carrying a knife; ban on below-cost alcohol sales*; new border police force’

* I actually agree with this, or more accurately I think it doesn’t go far enough – but my views are beyond the scope of this post. ‘Prison sentences for carrying a knife’ is laughable electioneering and needs no expansion from me I think.

  • ‘Neighbourhood groups, the “little platoons” of civil society will be able to take over failing public services’
  • ‘Develop schools under the Swedish “free schools” and the US “charter school” models: small, autonomous institutions run and set up by parents, teachers, universities, faith groups and voluntary groups

To clarify, in my view nothing and nobody but the state should be running schools, period. That is the only way to ensure that education meets the same standards everywhere, without bias. To see the Tories basically agree with Labour on faith schools is… well, not surprising, actually.

  • ‘Tax breaks to promote marriage and civil partnerships’
  • Replace Trident nuclear missile system’
  • ‘Set up National Security Council “to integrate at the highest levels of government the work of our foreign, defence, energy, home and international development departments” ‘
  • ‘Set up a new permanent military command for homeland defence and security’

Apart from me disagreeing with all of these, I note again that these measures all cost money and I wonder where that will come from. All in all, the Tories are out as well.

In a bit more detail:Libdems

To start off, this is the financially most detailed manifesto, which is good – if the numbers add up. Apparently, so far, mostly they seem to do. Then the next question is, what about their plans? Well, the LibDems surely have a few that I wholeheartedly agree with:

  • ‘[N]ot renewing the Trident nuclear deterrent system’
  • ‘an extra £2.5bn to cut class sizes to 20 in primary schools’

Having no children I don’t necessarily care much about this pledge, but note the difference with the Tories in putting a number to it.

  • ‘Recruit 3,000 more police officers, paid for by scrapping ID cards, electronic fingerprints on passports, the prison building programme and Whitehall plans to track all emails and internet use’
  • ‘Replace prison sentences of six months or less with community penalties and cancel the £800m prison-building programme.’

I heard Nick Clegg this morning on tellie explain that this is based on research indicating that (IIRC) over 90% of short-sentenced offenders re-offend, so keeping them out of the prisons would save money and work – sounds reasonable to me, and I’ve always been more in favour of preventing over punishment-as-deterrent (because that is proven not to work).

I also heard him say something about what sounded like amnesty for illegal immigrants who fulfil certain criteria, in order to ‘take them out of the hands of criminals and into the hands of the tax man’ which also sounds humane, rational, and generally good.

In general, the LibDems would win my support based on their treatment of civil liberties alone, and this is by far their trump card, in my HONEST and HUMBLE opinion:

  • ‘A freedom bill to regulate CCTV, end the collection of innocent DNA, scrap ID cards, the children’s contact database and anti-terrorist control orders. Halt the creation of new criminal offences’

Hear, hear! Perfect. Can’t beat that.

On top of that is what the Guardian doesn’t mention: proportional voting, a fully-elected second chamber to replace the House of Lords, and introduce a written constitution. All great ideas, overdue by… well, something like (at least) a century.

Finally there is this point, which I recently debated with a good friend of mine and where I off-the-cuff proposed something similar (ie shared parental leave). I don’t know the details of this plan but it sounds very similar to my idea, always a good reason to agree :p:

  • ‘Extend shared parental leave to 18 months, allowing parents to share their allocation of maternity and paternity leave’

So, in short, the LibDems win my support. Now let’s hope for a hung parliament.