AV, and why it matters.

February 18, 2011

Come May 5th, I will be voting “Yes” to Alternative Vote. Let’s get that bit out of the way. For the first time in my life, we have a chance to change the election system and I for one am not letting it pass me by so, on May 5th, I’ll be heading for the polling station and sticking a great big tick next to Yes, with a 2nd preference going to “Fuck Yes”.

You, of course, are free to decide one way or the other. But I want to look at the reasons why the “No to AV” campaign believe you should vote “No”, and why they’re fundamentally wrong.

AV is costly

The No to AV campaign claim that AV will cost “up to an additional £250 million”, and that “local councils would have to waste money on costly electronic vote counting machines”.

Let’s start with the vote counting machines. The May 5th referendum is not a referendum on introducing vote counting machines, and – personally speaking – I really hope the idea of vote counting machines is scrapped. I don’t trust electronic voting machines, and I don’t trust the companies that make them to make reliable, dependable machines with a proper paper audit trail. My reasons for not trusting voting machines, however, have nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not AV or first-past-the-post should be used for general elections in the UK. AV no more requires electronic voting than does first-past-the-post.

This is dishonest. There are arguments to be had for voting either for or against AV, this is not one of them. (As has been pointed out here, the cost also includes the cost of the referendum; this is a “pulled it out of my arse” figure).

AV is complex and unfair

AV isn’t particularly complex, but it is a little more complex than first-past-the-post. The complexity of the system however, is not in voting, but in properly counting. As a voter, all you really need to know is that you put a “1” against your first preference (the person you would normally put a tick against). You may then put a “2” against your second preference, and even a “3” then a “4” against people you may have voted for had the other lot not been in the race. From a voting point of view, AV is no more complex than first-past-the-post.

Whether the voting system is fair or not entirely depends upon what you want from a voting system, and what you consider to be “fair”. Neither AV nor first-past-the-post can be qualitatively described as “fair”, rather they are both systems designed with competing values, and competing end-results. Under first-past-the-post, the winning candidate simply needs to convince more people to vote for him than his nearest competitor; if he or she can do this then they win the election. Is this fair?

Well, doesn’t whether it’s fair depend upon what outcome you want? Picture a common scenario. Candidate A and Candidate B support popular Proposition X. Between them, they manage to get 60% of the vote. Candidate C is against popular Proposition X, but can only gather 31% of the vote. Under first-past-the-post, Candidate C is elected and the hugely popular Proposition X fails. Is this fair? Once again, it depends entirely how you determine “fair”.

Is AV a “losers charter” as the “No to AV” campaign call it? Surely that depends upon what you mean by “winner” and “loser” in an election? In the above scenario, did Candidate C really win? He “won” because he was “first past the post” and the rules say he won, but he didn’t gain a majority of the vote. He simply “won” the game.

AV is a politician’s fix

This is an interesting claim, especially given that it has traditionally only been the Liberal Democrats that have supported a change in the voting system, with both Labour and the Tories lending their weight to the status-quo. If anything has been a politician’s fix, it’s been the first-past-the-post system we’ve had all this time.

There is an interesting argument here though, and it’s the one where I think the “No to AV” and “Yes to AV” both really need to get their act together: that AV leads to more hung parliaments.

Not only is this claim almost certainly true, it should be utterly central to whether or not AV become the new system governing our elections. Because at it’s heart this is the central question of the referendum: how should our governments be formed? Should a government voted for by a minority of the people be permitted to run a majority of the parliament, as currently happens, or should a government be representative of the views of the people that elected it?

It’s easy to use words like “strong parliament” when discussing our current voting system, because we have seen successive governments that can safely ignore the people, and ignore complaints and opposition because it does not matter. There is no need for “back-room deals” when you can force legislation through parliament; legislation that most people did not vote for, and oppose. It’s also easy to look at the current LibDem-Conservative coalition and say “See! This is what happens under AV!”, and see this as the future of governments under AV.

But let’s be quite clear here: the current parliament, and the current government, was not formed under an AV voting system. Promises made (often remarkably foolish promises; and yes, I’m looking at you Clegg) were made under the first-past-the-post system, where the “winner” has traditionally been able to force through whatever legislation they wish. Promises were made to the electorate because they were made under the understanding that it only takes a minority of the vote to utterly control parliament.

So yes, AV almost certainly means more hung parliaments. It means politicians will have to argue, cajole and persuade. It means compromises will have to happen. It means it will be very hard for a single party to entirely get its way, unless that party has genuinely persuaded a majority of people that they’re right.

And election fought under AV will not be fought in the same way. AV will force politicians to engage with their electorate. It will not be enough for the politicians to pander to their traditional voters, safe in the knowledge that there is really no practical way to oust them under the current system. The politicians will need to learn to start listening to a broader range of voices; they will – heaven forbid – actually have to represent their constituency, and not just their supporters. And I think this is why – far from being “a politician’s fix” – AV scares the crap out of many politicians, because these politicians have only ever had to play at party politics, and have never had to listen to a constituent outside their party in their whole political careers, and I think AV will change that.

Scare the crap out of a politician on May 5th. Vote Yes to AV.


Legalised bigotry

July 10, 2008

This is ridiculous, infuriating, and just damned outrageous.  I previously wrote about a civil registrar who refused to do her job, because she was a homophobic bigot, and didn’t want to do her job.  She took Islington Council to an employment tribunal, claiming unfair discrimination.

Infuriatingly, she actually won.

A marriage registrar was harassed for refusing to conduct same-sex ceremonies, a tribunal has ruled.

Okay, she was harassed for attempting to break the law, which seems fine to me.  She’d be harassed if she was a racist or sexist, especially if her ignorance prevented from doing her job.  But in this case:

The tribunal ruled that Miss Ladele was discriminated against on grounds of religious beliefs and was harassed.

Or, in layman’s speak, “but it was okay, because she’s religious”.

This is bullshit.  This is utterly incredulous bullshit.

It is illegal in the UK to refuse to provide services to a person based on their sexual orientation.  Catholic adoption agencies fought hard and dirty to secure a religious opt-out.  Catholic politicians fought hard to secure a religious opt-out.  They failed.  The law of the land is quite clear: it is not acceptable – no: it is illegal – to refuse to provide a public service to a person based upon their sexual orientation.  Yet apparently, this employment tribunal thinks that there can be an exception to this law, because – erm – a person is religious.

Miss Ladele said she was being effectively forced to choose between her religion and her £31,000-a-year job as a result.

Of course she bloody was!  Like it or lump it, she provides a public service. As such, it is freaking illegal for her not to provide that service irrespective of the person’s sexual orientation.  If she didn’t like it she could simply find another f*cking job. This ruling makes a complete mockery of parliament (which doesn’t normally need a hand to be made a mockery of), and a complete mockery of the law.

But this pig-ignorant little bigot knows no bounds:

“It is a victory for religious liberty, not just for myself but for others in a similar position to mine.

Bullshit.  This – like every other debate going on within the churches at the moment – has f*ck-all to do with “religious liberty”, and everything to do with personal bigotry.

The next time some pissant little theist tries to claim religious discrimination, and state intimidation against religion, or some ridiculous form of martyrdom because they’re being oppressed by the state machinary, I’m not going to bother to point to the bishops in the house of Lords. Nor will I bother to point to the huge number of state schools run by religious institutions, or the ridiculous amount of money the Anglican church owns, or the unprecedented restrictions on the right to protest in Australia over the pope’s – hideously mis-named – “World Youth Day”.  I will simply point to this decision, which shows just how much power the religious really do have.

It’s sickening.

Pulling the law out of their… ahem.

June 26, 2008

The official War on Photographers wages on.


A photographer has been accused of being a peadophile and a terrorist because he likes taking photographs of….trams and buses.

Rob McCaffery, 50, is proud of his 30,000 photos of trams and coaches but after being interrogated twice in 12 months he fears the time may have come to hang up his camera.

The credit controller, from Gloucester, says he now suffers “appalling” abuse from the authorities and public who doubt his motives.

The bus-spotter, officially known as an omnibologist, said: “Since the 9/11 attacks there has been a crackdown.

This kind of behavior is, sadly, becoming increasingly common in the UK, as this poster by the MET demonstrates (and yes, that is a real poster).

What’s interesting, in all cases, is that photography – whether it’s of buses, people, children or buildings – is perfectly legal on the streets of London, but the Police don’t seem to understand this simple fact. Indeed, in the example cited above – and this is just one of many that have been reported recently – the police just don’t seem to get it.  This was the response of the Gloucestershire Police:

“If a member of the public becomes suspicious of an individual taking photos in public and makes a complaint to a police officer, the officer will first discuss the matter with the photographer.”

It may just be me, but surely the officer should first discuss the member of public to see why that member of public is suspicious of an individual taking photographs in public.  The way this is worded suggests that the Gloucestershire Constabulary tend to agree that taking photographs in public is, indeed, a suspicious act.

This “default to suspicious” problem is then compounded by the Gloucestershire spokesperson being apparently ignorant of police powers:

“Normally the individual is more than happy to disperse any suspicion by showing an officer their photos and one of the benefits of digital cameras is that this can be done on the spot.

Bear this in mind: The police position is that where a photograher is happy to disperse suspicion, he shows them the photographs on the camera.  This is important.  The police then go on to say:

“However, if the officer remains suspicious as to the content of the images or the photographers intentions they have the authority, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to seize the camera and arrest the individual.”

Okay.  So we have an activity being undertaken that is not illegal.  The default position of the police when dealing with a photographer is that they are immediately held under suspicion if a member of the public complains about a photographer taking photographs.  If the person doesn’t show them the photographs on the camera, the policeman will remain suspicious and the images will be seized under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.  This – according to the Gloucestershire Constabulary is legal, right, proper and above board.

But that’s not what the police guidelines on the PACE act say.

The Gloucestershire Constabulary website has a link to a website, “askthepolice.co.uk” aka, “Police National Legal Database”.  It’s FAQ on the PACE act can be found here, and states:

The grounds for stop and search that concerns members of the public mostly, is the grounds that the officer must have reasonable grounds for suspicion that the person is in unlawful possession of, or has unlawfully obtained an article, or is a terrorist, or to prevent an act of terrorism.[my emphasis]

In other words, the police can stop and search a person if they have reasonable grounds to believe they are carrying a proscribed weapon, or if they have reasonable grounds to believe that person is a terrorist.  The police PACE guidelines can also be found on the web here (pdf), which states, in part:

1.2 The intrusion on the liberty of the person stopped or searched must be brief and detention for the purposes of a search must take place at or near the location of the stop.


1.5 An officer must not search a person, even with his or her consent, where no power to search is applicable….The only exception, where an officer does not require a specific power, applies to searches of persons entering sports grounds or other premises carried out with their consent given as a condition of entry [my emphasis]

2.1 This code applies to powers of stop and search as follows:

 (a) powers which require reasonable grounds for suspicion…that a person is a terrorist.

(b) …based upon a reasonable belief that incidents involving serious violence may take place or that people are carrying dangerous instruments of offensive weapons…

(c)…based upon a consideration that the exercise of one or both powers is expedient for the prevention of acts of terrorism.

(d) powers to search a person who has not been arrested in the exercise of a power to search premises.


2.2 … Reasonable suspicion can never be supported on the basis of personal factors alone without reliable supporting intelligence or information or some specific behaivour by the person concerned.


2.10 If, as a result of questioning before a search, or other circumstances which come to the attention of the officer, there cease to be reasonable grounds for suspecting that an article is being carried of a kind for which there is a power to stop and search, no search may take place.


2.11 There is no power to stop or detain a person in order to find grounds for a search.

Do feel free to read the guidelines through in full, it’s enlightening reading.

The only authorisation given in PACE for a stop and search, then, is if the officer has reasonable grounds – based on good intelligence – to believe that the person is a terrorist, is involved in serious violence, or is carrying prohibited weapons.  Furthermore, they are specifically prohibited from allowing a person to show the officer photographic images on a digital camera of their own free-will unless they have the specific authority to stop and search.  Which they don’t.

Now, I am not a lawyer, but this would strongly suggest to me that the Gloucestershire Constabulary’s official policy is not – as they claim – authorised by the Police and Criminal Evidence act. The Gloucestershire Constabulary’s official policy with regards to photographers is actually to break the law.

Incidentally, if you’re reading this and thinking, “Well, photographers could be terrorists.  After all, they may be scoping a building for a terrorist attack”.  They aren’t. Terrorists simply don’t work that way.  Peadophiles don’t work that way. This is simply hysterical ignorance on the part of the police and the public.


Another minister that won’t listen

May 7, 2008

I can only assume from this that Home Secretary Jackie Smith has been taking advice from the Hillary Clinton school of politics

Cannabis is to be reclassified as a class B drug, Jacqui Smith has said.

Because, presumably, there is a good reason to do so:

The home secretary said she wanted to reverse Tony Blair’s 2004 downgrading of the drug because of “uncertainty” over its impact on mental health.

Okay, so presumably the advice she had been given by her scientific advisors on the matter had been unclear? Nope:

Her statement to MPs came despite the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs’ review – commissioned by Gordon Brown – saying it should stay class C.

She’s doing because she can, and because – presumably – the Daily Mail has told her to.

If you have experts in a field telling you – after a period of investigation – that cannabis should remain a class C drug, the obvious conclusion should be to ignore the people who study the field, and conclude that they were probably all high at the time.  Apparently, though, these experts don’t know what they’re talking about, because:

Since cannabis was downgraded there has been widespread concern about the increased prevalence of stronger “skunk” varieties.

Presumably, because the experts the government consulted were entirely unaware of any information regarding the potency of cannabis in current circulation.  I can only assume that the experts the government consulted were morons.  Which – obviously – says more about the government than it does about their experts.

She added that the government’s change of heart – which is subject to parliamentary approval – was part of a “relentless drive”


Why would you have a relentless drive against something the experts – the scientists, the medical practitioners, and those people who actually know what they’re talking about – say should remain classified as a Class C drug? Or are politicians really just terminally stupid.

For the record, I don’t smoke cannabis.  I have, but I don’t anymore.  I do, however, drink alcohol, and I do smoke tobacco, I love a good burger and I love cycling on the roads. Which of these will kill me quicker, I wonder?




Illegal, but right?!

April 14, 2008

Illegal says the High Court, but “right” says Attorney General Goldsmith:

It was of course uncomfortable… but I believe it was the right decision to take, in the public interest, in order to prevent terrorism.

I’m still trying to figure out what the hell we’re doing selling arms to the Saudi’s in the first place, let alone dealing in bribery and corruption, whilst protecting the interests of a private company.

It would have been a dereliction of duty to have taken that view and it would have been absolutely no comfort to people who, heaven forbid, had been injured or lost loved ones in a terrorist attack to say ‘we’re terribly sorry but we thought we ought to wait 18 months to see if this case could go ahead

This really is taking playing the terrorism card to a whole new low. The argument is essentially saying that the Saudi’s threatened to stop feeding us information on terrorist activity if the fraud investigation into the BAE affair carried on, ergo people will die in terrorist attacks.  What a load of bollocks.

Goldsmith is getting a bit too ready to leap in to defend the government’s highly unethical and frequently illegal foreign policy. It was Goldsmith who re-wrote his legal advice to suite Labour’s unstoppable lust for a war in Iraq; even though it would appear that he originally noted that it would, in fact, be illegal under international law.  He’s never had his legal judgement on that matter tried in court.  He has, however, had his legal judgement on the SFO investigation into BAe tested, and he was wrong.

I strongly suspect he was wrong about Iraq too.  Everyone else in Blair’s government was.

Do Not Want

March 11, 2008

From the BBC

School-leavers should be encouraged to swear an oath of allegiance to Queen and country, says a report commissioned by Gordon Brown on British citizenship.

Do Not Want. Why? Well, three reasons:

1) the Queen. I’m a staunch British republican[note]. I think telling teenagers that they should be encouraged to “swear allegiance” to the Queen is innately abhorrent. It’s high time that the archaic system of heredity monarchy – and that abortion of democracy that is the house of Lords – be abolished as the figure head of state, and it’s position in propping up the church of England as the official religion of the UK.

2) the Country. What does that mean in the UK? Should Scottish teenagers swear allegiance to Scotland, or Britain? What about Welsh? English? Irish? The naivety being demonstrated by suggesting that teenagers should “be encouraged” to pledge allegiance to something that even it’s adult citizen’s can’t agree is a good thing is astonishing.

3) Allegiance to the state. The very principle of pledging allegiance to a state strikes me as an insane idea. That one should consider oneself to be obligated to be loyal to anything other than oneself, and one’s personal moral integrity, is the antithesis of freedom. One should never consider oneself to be obligated to be loyal to the state, for down that road is nothing but trouble.

So it’s a bad idea – a ridiculously ill-thought and ill-conceived idea from a person who one would hope should know better, but consistently shows that he doesn’t. Incidentally, in writing this, in particular in expressing my republican sentiments, it would appear I have committed treason.

(Note to American readers: republican here is used strictly in the British sense of the belief that an elected citizen should be the head of state as opposed to the hereditary monarch, and that the British people should be citizens of the state, as opposed to subjects of the monarch.)[back]

Church welfare provision?

January 30, 2008

Via Terry Sanderson writing on-line at the Guardian, we learn that the government has apparently, for the last two years, been in consultation with the Church to provide faith-based welfare:

For two years or more, Government Ministers have been in conversation with church leaders about the possibility of the church providing extensive welfare services, rather in the way that the church plays a major part in education.[My emphasis]

Read that highlighted section again: rather in the way that the church plays a major part in education.

So how do the churches play a major part of eduction? It’s quite simple really: the churches take huge swathes of cash from the government to run 1 in 3 state-funded schools. The churches then refuse entrance to the people paying for the state-funded school unless they both attend church, and want their children indoctrinated into the church’s religion. Is this really what the government has in mind for the welfare system? Not CofE? Well, no disability benefit for you. Not Catholic? No dental service. If not, what the hell does the bishop mean?

Both Government and church are well aware that in the Scandinavian countries and Germany the church provides extensive welfare services. These countries have a church tax, which is paid by most citizens. The money received through taxation is returned to the church in support of its ministers, its buildings and in making possible the extensive welfare work done in its name. admit that I have sometimes wished that we had a church tax in the United Kingdom.

So clearly part of my guess is correct: in a nation which is increasingly secular, a nation that increasingly does not go to church, the bishop wants to introduce a church tax. But note that this is actually unconnected to his preceding comments on providing welfare: the church tax would not be to pay for this church welfare program, it’s to pay for buildings and ministers. Welfare would only be an after-thought.

The Church of England has very strong roots in local communities, making it well placed in many contexts to deliver quality services in a way that truly understands the local situation, which government departments may not. We very much want to be part of the discussion about the new opportunities that are opening up.

Oh, I bet he does! Especially since he also says:

The church is treated as a partner, and its work is trusted, rather than controlled.

Presumably, then, part of this “discussion” will involve telling the government how trustworthy it is, and that it’s welfare provisions don’t need state control. You know, trustworthy like catholic adoption agencies refusing to deal with gays…

And there’s more:

The church is signing 25-year contracts for the new academies.

This, apparently, is an example of “delivering social needs”. 25 schools handed over to the church, which church rules for entrance. “Delivering social needs” apparently is only important if your christian. Or, more precisely, a member of the CofE.  Of course the church is delighted, but that does not make it, “delivering social needs”, that makes it, “delivering the church’s needs”.

If the church is to be a partner, it must be trusted by government and not controlled. As I perceive it, recent governments have found that very difficult. Church projects of course would be audited, but not controlled.

Has no-one told the bishop that old phrase, “trust is earned”. The church hasn’t earned trust, so why would if “of course” not be controlled by the state? The state controls welfare. You don’t hand over vast sums of cash to a single organisation to manage welfare programs and not control it. Even if we ignore the churches appalling record on admissions to church schools, you just don’t do that.

The church very much wishes to be part of the discussion, but it also has serious concerns and misgivings, which need to be discussed frankly and addressed. It needs to be treated as a long-term partner which is trusted even when it wants to challenge the current effectiveness of delivery.

I have a better idea. Disestablish the church, and keep the damn thing out of politics. It has no business running schools as it is, it certainly has no business running the welfare system, and it most certainly has no business collecting taxes.

This is pretty scary stuff just on its own. But this is not the bishop of Carlisle just mouthing off, this is the bishop acting in his capacity on the bench in the house of Lords, putting forward the church’s position as part of British governance.