23 July 2010


The government's proposed question for the referendum on the voting system has been released:
Do you want the United Kingdom to adopt the 'alternative vote' system instead of the current 'first past the post' system for electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons?
Put that way, I'll withdraw my plea for supporters of proportional representation to spoil their votes. Just vote no.
  • Trevor Fisher has a good post on this on the Chartist blog here.

21 July 2010


1. It is increasingly clear that the people who will pay for Britain’s economic crisis are those least able to do so and that the Con-Lib coalition’s cuts will do serious damage both to economic recovery and to the fabric of British society.

2. It is just as clear that a vast number of people whose primary source of income is selling their labour power – the proletariat in Marxist jargon, though the category has long extended way beyond manual industrial workers into what most think of as the middle class – are happy with this. They're the ones in work that aren't in the public sector. They didn’t vote Labour.

3. Most of this group has nothing but disdain for the work-shy or, paradoxically, for over-eager immigrants who undercut wage rates. (This disdain is spread much more widely, but that's another question.)

4. They feel, with reason, that they have a stake to lose – their job, their nice house, their top-notch motor, their credit rating, their regular holidays – and want to minimise their taxes because they want to keep what they’ve got in tough times.

5. They see the economy as an extension of household budgeting – so if you’ve maxed-out on your credit card as a nation you have to rein in pretty soon. Keynes doesn’t get a look-in.

6. They don’t give a damn about the Third Way, the Big Society or electoral reform.

7. So someone has got to work out a means of dragging suburbia back to the social democratic project. It ain't going to be easy.

All right, I know it’s an amalgam of J K Galbraith 20 years ago and contemporary cynicism, but take it as a starting point...

13 July 2010


Gary Younge has an excellent column in the Guardian today about how petty the Gordon-Tony-Peter stuff all is here.

10 July 2010


David Miliband's lecture to the comrades in the valleys is worth a look here:
I agreed completely with Gordon Brown, when he became prime minister in 2007, that we needed renewal. I supported and voted for him. I agreed that we needed greater moral seriousness and less indifference to the excesses of a celebrity drenched culture. I agreed with him when he said that we needed greater coherence as a government, particularly in relation to child poverty and equality. I agreed with him on the importance of party reform and a meaningful internationalism that would be part of a unified government strategy. I agreed that we needed a civic morality to champion civility when confronting a widespread indifference to others.

But it didn’t happen.

It was not just more of the same. Far from correcting them, failings – tactics, spin, high-handedness – intensified; and we lost many of our strengths – optimism born of clear strategy, bold plans for change and reform, a compelling articulation of aspiration and hope. We did not succeed in renewing ourselves in office; and the roots of that failure were deep not recent, about procedure and openness, or lack of it, as much as policy.

8 July 2010


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 9 July 2010

It is easy enough to see why Nick Clegg supports introduction of the alternative vote for elections to the House of Commons. All the indications are that it would make it much easier for the Lib Dems to retain the parliamentary seats they currently hold – and they could well need all the help they can get after jumping into bed with a Tory party that seems intent on crashing the economy just as it did in the 1980s.

Why anyone apart from Clegg and his party should want AV is, however, something of a mystery. AV would do nothing to address the major flaws in the first-past-the-post system we currently use for Westminster elections, which are its gross disproportionality and its concomitant tendency to turn general election campaigns into battles for the votes of a few hundred thousand wavering voters in a hundred of so marginal seats. And AV might make these flaws worse.

AV is not, repeat not, proportional representation. It is not even a step towards it. It is the electoral system used in Australia for the House of Representatives, in which voters in single-member constituencies rank candidates on the ballot paper in order of preference (1, 2, 3, 4 etc) rather than putting a single “X” next to their first choice as we do in first-past-the-post elections in the UK. If no candidate wins more than 50 per cent of first preferences, the second preferences of the candidate with the lowest number of first preferences are redistributed. The process is then repeated until one candidate reaches 50 per cent plus one of votes cast.

AV has two superficial attractions over FPTP. Every winning candidate under AV can claim to have the support (however grudgingly faute de mieux) of a majority of his or her constituents; and AV makes the practice of tactical voting much less of a guessing game for voters. A UKIP supporter in a Tory-Labour marginal who prefers the Tories to Labour, for example, would be able under AV to vote “UKIP 1, Conservative 2” with a reasonable level of confidence that the second preference would count rather than, as now, having to decide whether or not to put an “X” next to the Tory candidate’s name for fear of letting Labour in by “wasting” a vote on UKIP.

But there are downsides even to these attractions. Is a candidate in a three-way AV contest who wins by 51 per cent to 49 per cent with the help of second preferences, having trailed 46-29 on first preferences, more democratically legitimate than someone who wins a three-way FPTP contest 46-29-25? Why should your second choice have the same weight as my first choice?

AV encourages the worst kind of lowest-denominator politics – every marginal contest is a sordid scurry to be everyone’s second choice – and, partly because of this, it delivers more ludicrous landslides than FTPT whenever one political party is no one’s second choice despite having a solid core of first choices. Labour was massacred in 1983 under FPTP: it would have been worse under AV. Ditto the Tories in 1997.

Sorry, but this is a farce. FPTP is crap – but so is AV. We are going to be asked to choose between the two, if the government has its way, in a referendum next May. The choice is an insult. If the referendum bill cannot be amended to include a genuinely proportional third option, reformers should spoil their ballots in the referendum by scrawling “AV is not PR” across their papers.

* * *

On a different matter entirely, I was sorry to read last week of the death of Ken Coates at the age of 79.

I first met him in the early 1980s through European Nuclear Disarmament, when he was chair of the co-ordinating committee that organised annual anti-nukes conventions for thousands of activists from across the continent. He had recently fallen out with most of the rest of END in the UK over who ran the organisation’s magazine – Edward Thompson referred to him as “the renegade Coatesky” (if you don’t get the joke, don’t worry) and I was in the Thompson camp – but he struck me as a strangely impressive figure.

A veteran not only of the implosion of the Communist Party after 1956 but also the first wave of CND, the early-1960s revival of Trotskyism, the anti-Vietnam war campaign and the early-1970s movement for workers’ control, he was extraordinarily well connected and well read … and a faction-fighter of the old school. He became a Labour MEP in 1989 and worked impressively to persuade the world of the benefits of a co-ordinated European full-employment policy before falling out irrevocably with Tony Blair as Labour leader, being expelled by Labour and fighting the 1999 European election as an independent.

I disagreed with him a lot, but he was personable and kind and a Tribune regular for more than 40 years. RIP.


I meant to post a link to Rosie Waterhouse's piece in the Independent last week here but forgot. So here it is.

6 July 2010


An excellent piece on the former-RCP spiked crew by Jenny Turner in the London Review of Books here.