Tag Archives: Democracy

GREECE – The End of the Euro is Nigh

UPDATE

The Greek Parliament voted through the austerity Bill yesterday with a larger majority (155 to 138) than expected while the riots continued out side. More riots are expected as culturally the Greek society goes into shock.

Of course there is no way that Greece will either pay back its debts or actually achieve the austerity measures past.  Yet continue to live in this nether world of make believe as the Euro leaders congratulate themselves on the stay of execution for the Euro.

Original article

Greece may or may not vote for the Austerity of a nation for a generation or more, but it seems clear now that the Euro cannot survive in it’s present state.

Right now hundreds of thousands of people are demonstrating on the streets of Athens with a few thousand people committed to a day of violence around the Parliament buildings, rioting and setting fire to cars and vans.

The classic signs of a fractured society being asked to pay a massively high price for a problem they did not create.

Greece has become the fall guy of the Euro zone being asked to have several decades of austerity; falling living standards; a burden of debt it cannot hope to repay and the selling off of it’s national assets in order to prevent the collapse of the Euro and to prevent a massive shock to the European banking system.

Realisation is now hitting many within the Euro zone, that for some countries, including Greece, the only way to bring prosperity back, is to obtain economic growth.  To do this they cannot be subjected to a generation of austerity, where a downward spiral of division and poverty is the only future they have to look forward to.

Around 70% of the debt of Greece is held by German and French banks, and austerity measures is the price Greece is being asked to pay in order to prevent a shock to the banking sector that could yet again freeze up the wholesale banking system and grind the world economy into another recessionary dip.

The sticking plasters of the last 4 years have not worked and the Ostrich like behaviour of the European leaders to deal with the structural problems of the Euro has led us to a slow motion Domino Effect.

The Euro was never a united currency with a fiscal and monetary convergence within Europe.  The Political ideology of the French and German political leaders of the past led to a blind eye being shown to certain economies within Europe.

GREECE is a sacrificial lamb in such a disgraceful way, leading to the sell off of national assets quicker than Margaret Thatcher could ever have dreamed of.  Selling national assets in a quick fire sell off to satisfy such undemocratic organisations like the IMF at rock bottom prices just at the time when investors are least likely to pay a fair price for them is madness.

The IMF has become the standard barer yet again to impose an ideology imposed by the US and other western governments.

How the IMF has been able to rise up the ranks of importance in world financial affairs is staggering.  When we consider that 6 months prior to the financial crisis they were arm twisting governments all around the world to deregulate the financial sector to follow the UK and US banking systems, just before they collapsed.  Yet we are now swallowing medicine from the same doctor that should have been condemned 4 years ago.

The real loser however is democracy.  Democracy is fragile and evolves over time.  The flag barer of democracy is legitimacy.  Legitimacy of governments, laws and policies is paramount for democracy to work.  However, now we are in a cycle of democracy that is disconnected from reality and legitimacy.

The power is no longer with the citizen, but with the banks, IMF, European Commision, and politicians who no longer speak for their own electorate. Unaccountable institutions now have a disproportional amount of power in society.

The Domino Effect will continue  – in slow motion – until the inevitable defaults occur, and the Euro is restructured.  This is just one economic shock that is inevitable, and unless we wake up to the necessary reforms of the financial sector more economic shocks are on the horizon.

bb

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THOSE DAMNED PESKY UNIONS

How the world see’s what it wants to see and the narrative continues with the ever large backdrop of the deficit focussing our minds.

So as it was recently on Channel 4 news with Francis Maude debating with Union leader Mark Serwotka. The ever altruistic Maude sought to muddy the waters of debate over these damned pesky unions, run by evil commie union barons and tried to make out the unions had NO mandate to strike because of the low turn out of the membership for the vote.

Now, I have some sympathy for the wider argument of democratic accountability and legitimacy being affected by low turn outs.  However, as a believer in “real” democracy as opposed to the “Westminster Bubble” version of it, surely we need to look at the wider context.

The argument goes, from Francis Maude, that the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) only had a turn out of 32%, of which 61% voted to go on strike over the proposed government changes.  Please note that 61% is higher than any government has maintained in its support since WWII.

Clearly the result is emphatic and is an overwhelming majority in favour of strike action.  The other unions also taking action on June 30th are the National Union of Teachers (NUT), and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), who had higher turnouts with even higher majorities in favour of strike action but still a lower turn out than 50%.  In short the turnouts were 40% for the NUT with a 92% vote for strike action and a 35% turnout for the ATL with 83% voting for strike action.

Clearly, of those that voted there is severe discontent over the issues and there was certainly an emphatic support for strike action. However, is the legitimacy of the vote diminished by the low turnout?

Francis Maude argues that the low turn out means that the unions lack any authority to hold strike action, almost equating the low turn out with those that don’t vote actually wanting not to strike.

In part I have to say I have some sympathy with the argument put forward.  Low turn out for me represents apathy, disinterest or worse, disenfranchisement from the political process.

However, unlike Francis Maude I do not believe this only when it suits me; when it supports my argument on a particular day of the week.  I believe it when it affects the heart of our political system.  When a government can get a majority with less than 36% of the vote, that allows more power to be exerted than in almost any other democratic country on earth and ride rough shot over other members of society who they do not represent, I find this reprehensible.

Francis Maude on the other hand does not.  He only see’s it as a problem when he wants to exert HIS power over someone else.  Our esteemed Mayor of London Boris Johnson has a similar point of view.  He who was elected on less than a 42% turn out.

If we look at the great and the good in our country, European elections have a turnout of around 35% for an institution that has a substantial say in the laws of this land.  The recent AV referendum had a derisory turnout of around 42%     while the local elections had a low turnout generally, with some wards having turnouts as low as 20%.  Some MP’s in our House of Commons also get elected with a voter turnout of less than 50% while the voter turnout in general elections has gradually declined since WWII to around 65% today.

However, what falls crashing down in the arguments of Francis Maude and co is that if we have a problem with democracy in this country it is throughout our democratic system and not with the Unions. Each Union is one democratic organisation within a complex post industrial society.  It adheres to the strictest union laws of any country in Western Europe, and carries out it’s ballots based on laws brought in by previous Conservative governments.

The Unions, at least in terms of the ballot itself, have acted within the law and completely democratically within the rules laid down by the Conservative party.

In addition, Francis Maude and others seem to forget the reason low turnouts are permitted.  In this country we rightly or wrongly believe that people have the right to exercise their vote or to not use their vote in any democratic election held.  This has been a tradition in our democracy.

Some would argue that people should become compelled by law to vote.  I have some sympathy for this stance, however, if this is the way our democracy is going to evolve, it should evolve for ALL democratic elections and not for just the ones that it seems would be politically advantageous to impose it on.

The simple fact is that the Unions have an overwhelming mandate from it’s members to go on strike whatever the rights or wrongs of the actual issues are.  If people do not wish to exercise their vote that is their right to do so and in doing so they agree to abide by the decision of those who do vote.  The issue of democratic legitimacy is completely bogus and and cynical .  What makes it worse is that those within the Liberal Democrats like Vince Cable have also been trudging out the same line, threatening the Unions with yet more union legislation.  Blackmail never looks good, especially when it is those in power who are doing it.

What Francis Maude et al should be doing is concentrating on the issue at hand and arguing their case.  The pathetic rhetoric of this government never ceases to dismay and sicken me as time goes by.  The vindictive nature of vilifying the disabled, unions, public sector workers and those on benefits is perhaps something to be expected by a Conservative government, but less so by a coalition.

But as I have said in previous posts, we live in interesting times.

Are we heading for a “GREAT RECESSION”, akin to the great depressions of our past?

Each day that passes, the narrative of politics and economics never ceases to become more interesting.  And so these interesting times continue with yet more bad news for our economy.

I remember some time ago, soon after the crisis of Autumn 2008, having a conversation with a friend who stated quite confidently that the only companies going to the wall were badly run businesses.  How house prices (one of his main concerns) would recover and there was plenty of money in our economy.

The conversation followed the belief that this would be a short blip on the economic landscape, and times would return to normal fairly quickly.  Indeed, within a few months the same person, along with various media publications were stating that the banking crisis was either “over”, or nearly “over”.

Several years down the line – 3 1/2 years since the queues outside of Northern Rock – if we look back we can see a timeline which is significantly longer than we were led to believe.

Today, no one knows how long the banking crisis will last, or indeed where it will lead next.

It seems like every week new news is broadcast casting doubt on any economic recovery with commentators always pointing to the fact that “technically” we are no longer in recession.  This however denies the seriousness with which the world economy is stumbling from one economic shock to another affecting the standards of living of billions of people.

We Avoided Going From A Recession To A Slump 

As we know, Gordon Brown “saved the world”, from the worst effects of the banking crisis, and we are constantly reminded how this action prevented a recession from turning into a slump or depression. (Please note the hint of sarcasm before people start giving me abuse!)

My reading of the action taken by world leaders at the time, including Gordon Brown, is that their action was decisive and needed to prevent a collapse of the capitalist system as we know it.  I am glad that Gordon Brown was actually in power at the time, the thought of George Osborne et al being in power, staring into the headlights fills me with horror.

However the structural problems have still not been dealt with and the terms behind the bailouts were poorly thought out.  Like the snooker player planning a centenary break, our esteemed leaders were only thinking as far as the next black.

The idea that we prevented a slump in my opinion is looking less and less like fact and more like propagandist rhetoric.

The more economic indicators are released across the world, the more the economic crisis continues, and for some gets worse and not better.

If I were living in Spain today would I be thinking that this is the normal “economic cycle” or recession, or would I be thinking that this was far more serious?

Spain has 22% unemployment and 45% youth unemployment – a country in debt – and had negative economic growth for 6 consecutive quarters and in the last 5 quarters has not grown more than 0.3% in any quarter. The economy is stagnant at best with now the prospect of enormous cuts in public expenditure, sucking enormous amounts of money out of the economy.

If you were living in Spain would this have been a recession or would you see this as a depression?  The prospects for the population over the next decade in terms of standards of living and general employment is bleak at best.

Spain is by no means the most badly effected economy in the world following the financial crisis, yet these figures give pause for thought after the recent elections and demonstrations there.

Spain though is possibly the most pivotal country within the Euro zone, the country that will have the most effect on the outcome of the Euro’s fate.

Whereas bail outs can be discussed and organised for Greece, Ireland, Portugal and maybe even Italy, to talk of bail outs for Spain would be a bridge too far.

The European Union is the largest economy in the world, a homogeneous trading area, overtaking the USA in GDP in the last decade with over 15 trillion dollars and over 20% of the worlds market share.  The US and EU account for over 40% of the GDP of the planet, so despite the rise in the growth of China and India, the old engine rooms of the world economy are still incredibly important.

Although the rise of these developing economies can aid world economic growth, the fact that these countries “make things” and sell them back to markets in the developed world means that if the developed economies are on their knees then the developing world will grow less as well.

In addition to this there is a massive discrepancy with debt and surplus as China saves too much and collects the debt of the largest single country economy in the world, the US.

The World Economy shrank for the first time in post war history by 2.031% in 2009 showing just how bad the economic crisis has been and how the words of Alistair Darling were so prophetic back in 2008, that this is the worst economic crisis in 60 years. 

Neo-Liberal Philososphy

The crisis appears to be worst where the neo-liberal philosophy was strongest and where the financial markets and economies are at their most mature.

Like 1929, the crisis originated in the US, but due to the spreading of the same ideology across the world by the IMF and World Bank and the ever increasing “Globalisation”, it exposed many interwoven economies and affected those in developing countries who are least able to cope with the fall out.

I remember seeing an interesting debate on the current affairs programme “Newsnight”, before the catastrophic events of 2008, when it was argued that the globalisation and capitalist ideology of the past 25 years had reduced world hunger down to approximately 650 million, that is people who actually go hungry everyday.  Within 6 months of that interview, the amount of the people who go hungry in the world increased back up to 950 million or so.  25 years to decrease it by a third and 6 months to push it up 50%, back to the levels it was previously.  An excellent achievement!

The above graph shows the trend of those who are undernourished courtesy of the worldhunger.org website. Indeed this graph shows that the figures often banded about are actually worse than originally thought.  This graph shows that currently around 13.1% of the worlds population go hungry/are undernourished everyday, 1 in 7 people on the planet.

Globalisation has in fact created more vulnerability in the world economy and the well being of people than before.  Where as many countries were cushioned somewhat from economic strife in one area of the world, the interconnectedness now exposes everyone rather than spreading the risk.

Like the Sub-Prime housing market that started this mess, the spreading of risk added to the problems, hiding them in accounts, products and market values that no one could value or  understand.

The scandal that is the IMF, World Bank and WTO

There appears to be irony in every aspect of life these days, as the two institutions that were becoming almost irrelevant to the developing world prior to the credit crisis are now centre stage “saving” the developed economies of the western world.

Prior to the crisis, the IMF and World Bank were being side lined in trade agreements and loan agreements as developing countries would no longer accept opening up their markets to foreign companies to asset strip them, or deregulating fledgling financial sectors so that speculators could decimate their economies; or sell off their education and health services to the private sector in return for loans so that private companies could make money out of the poorest people on earth while allowing millions to go without education and health provision.  In short the “penny” had dropped.

The WTO constantly struggle to impose its will on developing countries now as deal after deal is scuppered by those who know the harm they do.

These organisations, dominated by the interests of western economies and especially the US, seek to open up markets for the benefit of developed countries with the spin that they will allow “inward investment” and open up markets for developing countries.

Yet the very same US and European Union constantly employ trade restrictions and in some cases the most restrictive practices in the world to prevent damage to their interests.  The US protects its Agriculture sector, steel industry, car industry and airline industry to just name a few.

Irony again rears its head as the IMF prior to the 2007 beginnings of the financial crisis recommended that all countries should follow the US and UK in their approach to light touch regulation in the financial markets.  Praising the US and UK and endorsing their economic policies.  This incidentally is the same IMF that every world leader mentions when justifying their austerity measures, including our own George Osborne.

The IMF was WRONG in 2007 over light touch regulation and DID NOT SEE the crisis coming.  The IMF was WRONG in the way it spread the ideology of neo-liberalism around the world and the WORLD BANK was WRONG in insisting in the liberation of fledgling markets and the privatisation of health and education institutions in developing countries.

Most of these criticisms are barely within the discourse of economics in the mainstream media or political parties.  Both the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats appear to be wedded to the same discourse.

The Effect of Cutting Public Expenditure

As we all know in the UK, we have a deficit that needs to be reduced.  As discussed here in the Truth About The Uk Deficit, the reason for the deficit is largely due to the reduction in tax take rather than simply “over spending” as the chart below shows:

Although outlays were higher at the time of the crisis than tax take by around 2.7% to 3.1% of GDP depending on how you measure it, this was within tolerance limits.  The reason for the decline in tax take and the ever increasing deficit is due to the lack of credit available in the economy and the realisation that much of the wealth created on Banks accounts were not real.  As credit reduced and money was effectively taken out of the economy the recession ensued and people were able to make less money and thus pay less tax.

If we are to bridge this gap we HAVE TO GROW.  If the economy does not grow the deficit will get bigger no matter how many cuts we inflict on our public expenditure.

Over the next 4 years the European Union is embarking on large cuts to public expenditure.  So to are other countries in the world economy like the US.  This will have the effect of deflating the economies in those countries effected, which in turn effect the countries they trade with as they will be able to buy less products, therefore importing less.

This is not a short term problem.  Japan has had mounting debts now for decades and has stuttering growth.

The current rounds of austerity will be affecting the next 4 years, even though most discussions appear to be focussed on the next 2 years.  Effectively the Euro zone average of anywhere between 1.86% to 2.4% of GDP depending on how you measure it (economic statistics are never straight forward!) as the Full fact shows here.

Note this diagram only projects cuts in the first 2 years and the cuts in the UK will be far more in the 2 years after this.

The US is cutting even quicker and plans to decrease the deficit by $4,000 billion or 2.2% of GDP by 2015.

If the 2 economic areas of the world cut between 2% and 2.5% of GDP how will this affect the economy of the areas affected or the world economy?

Nobody really knows is the true answer, the same as no one really knows what will happen next with the banking crisis.

The UK Position

The UK position is perilous at best.  Over the past two days we have had yet more bad news for George Osborne and his plans for growth and reducing the deficit.

Yesterday it was shown that the deficit is increasing under George Osbornes leadership rather than decreasing, and yet growth is also on the wane. Every month we get a further downgrading of growth expectations, today was the turn of the OECD who have down graded to 1.4% this year.  This is after the UK economy has not grown for 6 months and recent figures showing not only consumer confidence is low but that consumer spending is decreasing and is technically in recession after declining for the second quarter in a row by 0.6% in the last quarter, the lowest since the technical recession in 2009.

The “good” news for the UK economy is that the great “re-balancing” of the economy is happening with the stuttering recovery being led by exports.

Many, including the OECD today are calling for the rising of interest rates steadily to counter inflation.  Inflation is not home grown as the depressed wages show, but rather due to commodity markets and increased costs of raw materials.  However, it is argued that increasing interest rates to a more “realistic” level will strengthen the pound and therefore help counter inflation.

Yet it is the weakness of the pound which is helping our exporters, making them more competitive.  If they lose that competitive advantage will that not damage the fragile recovery?  Is this not the classic sign of what happens when you have an effective devaluation?

Further Shocks Will Knock Us Off Course 

We have many more shocks to the economy over the next few years, and which ever way we look at the economic figures they look bad.

Over the next 4 years both the EU and US will go through massive public expenditure cuts and with it probably massive unemployment to go with it.  This will suck out money from the economy causes more stress for consumers and businesses.  If interest rates increase, this will again add costs to businesses, put pressure on households making it harder to pay mortgages that has been the saving grace for many people over the past few years.

This will increase the value of the pound and probably reduce our exporting capacity further having a negative affect on the economy.

Further shock will come as the debts of Greece are most probably going to have to be “re-structured” and Italy may well be the next domino to fall in the Euro zone”.

Speculators have now gravitated to the commodity markets causing further hardship to the real economy and will add to inflationary pressures, putting more pressures on interest rates.

Food riots due to rising prices are likely yet again, while the natural disasters, sadly effecting many areas of the world (including our own, with crop yields looking to be significantly lower this year due to drought), will cause more hardship.

Then we have the prospect of Peak Oil on the horizon.  This is more worrying as it will affect every part of modern life, and is inescapable. No planning has been put into effect by European and western governments generally, it is a forgotten problem, put on the back burner, always something that politicians can come to later.

So are we heading for a Great Recession? Some commentators have already dubbed it as such, but basically without meaning.  If you were living in Spain, Ireland, Greece, Portugal or Italy I would say they already think so.

Other than the odd anomaly like Germany, who seem to be well placed to profit from an export led recovery, with the help of a deflated Euro caused by the southern European countries in crisis, the recovery will likely be in two spheres. The developing countries growing somewhat while the developed countries stutter and stumble trying to get back to normality.

The neo-liberal model is still with us, it has not been challenged economically or politically and continues to hold sway.  Banking reform, though essential still appears to be on the back burner, while those benefiting from high commodity prices like Australia make hay while the sun shines.

This is NOT about economic cycles in a text book, rather an ideology of madness that has taken over undemocratic institutions like the IMF, WTO, World Bank and the Banking Industry that have a disproportionate amount of power in an increasingly interdependent world.

A crisis of democracy is likely to follow, as seen with the recent protests throughout Europe.  This is just the beginning of austerity Europe, and the chances of a “Great Recession” or a “Slump” seem to be closer every day.

SPAIN PROTESTS IN AN UNREPORTED WORLD

Very, very slowly this story is creeping up the news agenda, but it may be violence that will be the only way it hits the headlines.

Tomorrow there will be local and regional elections in Spain, but while the rest of Europe worry about figures on a page and the fate of the Euro, the people of Spain, and those protesting in Madrid, have far more pressing concerns to complain about.

Lets for one moment imagine a time in Britain where we had:

Youth Unemployment – 45%
Unemployment rate at – 21.3% (the highest in the EU)
4.9 million jobless
Austerity measures increasing the retirement age
Reduction in civil servant pay
Austerity measures to reduce access to Health care and education

There are a myriad of reasons for discontent in Spain.  There is a feeling of discontent with the two party system that has a stranglehold over their politics.  That politicians are only in it for themselves.  That the public are paying the price for other peoples incompetence and the irresponsible actions of the banking sector.

An overwhelming feeling that Spain is one country that did not benefit in the boom years in the way others did.

These demonstrations are about much more than austerity.  They are about politics and the direction the country is going.  Can a country really survive 45% youth unemployment?

But perhaps we are missing the bigger picture even than the 10 day demonstrations in Madrid.

Demonstrations are now ongoing in Italy, yet up to now they have not been subjected to the severe austerity cuts of other EU countries.  There are fears of more  unrest in Greece and Portugal as fears of an “adjustment” in the debt arrangements moves ever closer.

The snowball effect that is the EU crises is still rolling.  Greece is getting further into trouble; fears that Italy will be next and just the prospect that Spain could need anything like a bail out is on the horizon could send the EU into a spin that will leave the Euro reeling.

This summer is a crucial time, and with people obtaining inspiration from the “Arab Spring”, ordinary people in the EU austerity countries are asking, “why should they suffer”.

Could this be the EU summer of discontent?

The NO to AV campaign have it: The end of constitutional reform for a generation

So the official result is nearly in, but the NO VOTE has already now officially passed the 50% mark.  The Yes to AV camp had given up and gone home some hours ago, and the first gloating has begun in the largely right wing press.

The Spectator was one of the first off the mark and the inane commentary has begun.  Narrow mindedness and self preservation of the 2 main parties has won out and many are now saying openly that thankfully that will be the end of constitutional reform for a generation.

It is likely that I will be dead by the time real constitutional reform comes to the fore, which it surely will one day, it is just that in Britain we are always the last to drag our traditions kicking and screaming into the modern world.

The Alternative Vote was never the best system, everyone knew it, but we also knew that it was always the only reform any of the major players could consider stomaching. But they were able to fight off the challenge to their unfair advantages built into our system.

Nick Clegg made a massive gamble in his coalition agreement and sold his soul for AV.  In the end, much of the public could not stomach what he gave up for this.

The No campaign acted disgracefully and it will be hard for many to be able to look on some figures within that campaign in the same light.  Baroness Warsi playing at extremism was an absolute disgrace.  As was the way the Tories stabbed Nick Clegg in the back with the no campaign and the targeting of him personally.

The lies told over funding and people having more than one vote; and it helping extremism will go down in the political pages of history showing just how to run a cynical and negative campaign. If you repeat a lie often enough people believe it.

In the end, the vote for AV gave the chance for those who like FPTP; those that wanted PR; those that could not forgive Nick Clegg; and those wanting to put strain on the coalition, to all campaign for a no vote.

The Conservative Party, BNP and Communists, and the old guard of the Labour Party won out.

If this is the end of our constitutional reform, it is a sad end to the progress of pluralism seen over the past 15 years.  With the partial reform of the House of Lords, devolution and mayoral elections, the benefits of local democracy and a more proportional system can be seen, as with the Scottish elections tonight.

A country should never stand still in a false belief that the past is best.  We should be looking forward to see how we can improve.  A better more accountable and transparent political system will always improve the quality of govenorship   even if those clinging onto power do not think so.

Conservative Party Wins 2011 Council Elections

2011 could end up being a landmark year for UK politics.  The Conservative Party has done the equivalent of walking on water by taking all the praise of the voters and none of the blame for their austerity policies.

Although the next 2 years will be crucial, the way the Tory vote has held up in England suggests they could ride the storm while demolishing the Liberal Democrats and while Labour tread water.

The destruction of the Liberal Democrats where they have come behind even the BNP in some seats has the affect that the left vote will be split and the Tories will ride high.  One of the most interesting aspects of this election is the way the Liberal Democrats fortunes have reversed in such a way that other political parties are doing to them what the Liberal Democrats used to do to the Tories and Labour.

Whereas in years gone by the Liberal Democrats would play the two face card by taking votes from Labour in some seats and Tories in others.  Now Labour have been taking seats from the Lib Dems while the Conservatives are taking seats from the Lib Dems in other seats.  The nose dive of LibDem votes has lifted the Conservative Party not just to not lose too many seats, but to actually GAIN overall control of some councils.  This is a remarkable outcome.

There is no doubt, that the whipping boys for the past 12 months policies, even though they are Tory lead has been taken by the Liberal Democrats.

David Cameron will be popping champaign tonight as his coalition partners are now in a weaker position and cannot afford to go to the country earlier than the 5 year term, and Labour’s vote is inherently weak.  He couldn’t give a fig about the Tories being decimated in Scotland as he does not needthese seats to win national  elections.  Whereas Ed Miliband should be worried about the collapse of the Labour vote in Scotland, even though it is guess work how this would translate into UK wide elections.

The Nick Clegg question is one that the LibDems will have to consider.  They have to radically change their strategy and criticise Tory policy much more and indeed distinguish exactly how they are moderating Tory policy.  Some are calling for Nick Clegg’s head, but realistically could they survive a battle for the change in leader and keep the coalition going for another 4 years?

Nick Clegg has made a massive miscalculation with the way he has allowed the coalition to be portrayed.  Whereas before the 2010 election Nick Clegg had the advantage of people thinking he was a different politician who could be trusted.  that has now been lost, and there is no way he can regain that advantage.

Later, there is likely to be another devastating result with the AV referendum that will just add more demoralisation on the shoulders of Nick Clegg and his supporters.

If nothing else, David Cameron has proved to be a very astute politician and strategist.  There is not doubt that the May 5th elections belong to David Cameron.

YES TO AV: Our last chance to close the democratic deficit

So this is it, the day has finally arrived where the nation goes to the polls in order to decide on the future of the election system for general elections in the UK.

The opinion polls suggest that the no vote has had a massive surge in popularity over the last 2 weeks.  My own personal experience of meeting people and having watched debates in the media seem to back this up.

Several moments over the last few days have almost driven me to throw valuable items at the TV screen when hearing them repeating in verbatim the no campaign.  Watching the Young Persons Question Time on BBC3 a few nights ago was a very depressing experience.  Many people seemingly repeating adverts they had seen in the no campaign.

“some people have more than one vote”                  –         not true
“It will cost £250 million extra than FPTP”           –         not true
“It will produce hung parliaments all the time”     –         not true

If you would like to see how the system of AV works, please see here, this is not a propaganda piece for the YES or NO campaign but a straight forward explanation by Jeremy Vine on the BBC.

It has been a sad campaign where the negative campaigning has by far outweighed the effectiveness of the positive.  This referendum was more about fear than about electoral systems.  The Yes campaign became more vociferous towards the end, but appears to have been too little too late.  We can only hope that the polls are wrong, and some element of sanity prevails.

Yesterday an excellent article was written by the FactCheck team for Channel 4 investigating the claims that David Cameron and others have stated bout AV,  ” It’s a system so obscure that it is only used by three countries in the whole world – Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. Our system in contrast is used by half the world.”

The results of this analysis show that of the 50 countries who use FPTP, 41 were ex-colonies or overseas territories of Britain.  So we directly gave it to them or imposed it on them.  The USA is a strictly 2 party system, and is designed to prevent pluralism and influence of smaller parties, while India accounts for 1.2 billion people in this calculation, who was a previous colony.

On the other hand, the ONLY country to use FPTP in the EU, is the UK.  In terms of the amount of democratic countries, the most popular system of voting is actually List Proportional Representation or List PR., with 71 countries.

William Hague has said that it would be “unbritish” to change from FPTP.  It seems he is correct as we exported it to the world.  However, any new democracy that has sprung up in the past 20 years, has not used FPTP.

We must also consider how our system has developed.  From the top down, based on nepotism and patronage only allowing a wider franchise when the powers that be were forced to do so, or it was in the interests of particular political parties.

Meanwhile the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2010, showing just how democratic and accountable countries are shows that out of the top 25 countries, the UK only comes 19th on that list, and of the top 10, 7 do not use FPTP.

By the logic of David Cameron and others, if we are to just do what other countries do traditionally, then democracies would never progress, they would remain stagnant.  Not only that, the most populous system is dictatorship with 2.5 billion people on the planet subjected to it, should we then adopt this system?

In the 2005 general election, a minority of 35.6% had a majority in the House of commons, able to enforce their will on the rest of the population.  In the last election, the Conservative party got 37% of the vote.  If the constituency boundaries were a little more equal, as they will be at the next election, they would have had a working majority again.

The share of the vote of the party that wins FPTP elections in this country is progressively obtaining less approval over time, yet still obtaining unlimited power through the party system in the House of Commons.

The democratic deficit in this country needs to change.

Debunking Myths about AV 

“some people have more than one vote”                  –         not true
This is not true.  The way AV works is that if no one candidate gets more than 50% of the vote (ie.) a majority; then the party with the lowest vote is eliminated and there vote is transferred to another candidate of there choice.  This is expressed by the 2nd preferential vote.  All the votes are then counted again and so on until someone has the approval of more than 50% of the vote.

In each ballot round all votes are counted again.  No one has more than one vote in each ballot.  This is a way of ensuring that the candidate who wins has an approval of a majority rather than a minority of the constituency.

It must also be stated that if you wish to just vote for one candidate, like for FPTP, then you are free to do this, it is YOUR CHOICE.

This also ensures that small extremist parties do not get power, as they have a very narrow base of support.  This is why the BNP and the Communist party are campaigning for a NO vote.


“It will cost £250 million extra than FPTP”           –         not true
This is simply untrue.  The analysis carried out by the government has not allowed for any extra costs associated with AV.  The only extra cost of the system is that some counts will take longer.  However, ballot counters are not paid by the hour, so the actual increase in cost would be small if at all.  No counting machines are required so the reference to counting machines is a complete red herring.     

“It will produce ,hung parliaments all the time”     –         not true
Australia has had 2 Hung Parliaments in the last 90 years, the UK has had 5, in addition to governments that have not had a working majority.  Australia use AV.

The full extent of exactly how AV would affect the UK vote is not fully known because there may well be a higher turn out as people may feel that because their vote is more likely to count, then more people would vote.  In addition, people could freely vote for the candidate they WANT, without feeling they have to vote for the candidate they least dislike.  Because if the candidate they vote for is eliminated, they can transfer that vote to a candidate who is still in the ballot.

Confusion of the AV debate

The politics of fear that has taken over in this country over the past few years due to economic uncertain times and the rhetoric of political parties has substantially affected the AV debate.

Many have mixed up within their minds the idea of “coalitions like this one”, the “electoral system” and “poor government”.

If you do not like this particular Tory/LibDem government, this is NOT because it is a coalition.  There are many coalitions in the EU, the German economy has consistently out performed the UK yet has coalition governments.  Good government or bad government is not simply because of the electoral system, but of the calibre of politician.  However, the representative nature of the political system is created by the electoral system.

If you consider the Clegg factor, or the woeful policies of this government it is not because of a coalition but rather their CHOICE to lie to the public or u-turn on policies.  Their political choice.  The article here explains this more fully.  In short there is nothing in the governments actions that was brought about simply because of coalition compromise.

I have heard people say they believe in AV but that they want to “teach Nick Clegg a lesson”.  This is a nonsense view to have.  The choice we make today is about the future of democracy in this country, not about individual political parties.

An Argument For AV 


Lets be clear, the AV system is not a panacea.  It will not get rid of all ills within our political system.  All it will do is give a small improvement on FPTP.

It is likely to improve voter turn out

It will mean that politicians will HAVE to reach out to a broader section of society rather than their core vote

Fewer Safe seats

Every MP will have to get more than 50% of the vote, an actual MAJORITY, whereas at the moment 60% of seats have less than 50%

It retains the one MP to One constituency link

It is unlikely to massively change the outcome of elections, but allow smaller parties with BROAD SUPPORT to get a larger representation

It will ensure extremist parties do not get any more representation than they do now

AV use in the world 

AV is currently used by about 29 million people in the world in 3 countries –  Australia, PNG and Fiji.  However versions of AV are used in over 60 countries in the world to either elect their President, Prime Minister, or parliament with the run-off system.  

This system rather than having candidates listed in preference, if a candidate does not have 50% of the vote, the last candidate is eliminated and a new ballot is taken, that is a whole new vote, and this continues until someone has more than 50% of the vote. Many systems ensure only two rounds are required.

This is a more expensive and long winded version of the AV system we are being asked to vote on, but very similar, with a very similar outcome.

Versions of AV are also used to elect ALL the leaders of the main political parties; the London Mayoral election; the election of the speaker of the House of Commons; Trade Unions; businesses use it and charities.

Lets be clear, the people who are most vociferous in their opposition to AV are people who do not believe in a wide democratic franchise.  The Conservative party has always seen itself as having a “right to govern”, and with FPTP they have an unfair advantage and can cling on to a disproportionate amount of power with an ever dwindling share of the vote.

The old guard of the Labour party also want to keep FPTP for a similar reason. People in the House of Lords like Dr Robert Winston also takes this view and represents an unelected chamber, that is against all principles of democracy.  He has also repeated many of the myths listed above.  A discussion of this can be seen here.

Conclusion

The AV system is NOT the best system available, BUT it is the BEST system on offer.  It will not radically change our voting system and will not radically change the outcome of elections.  There will be a slight increase in the fairness of the system as a whole and make MP’s work a bit harder at election time to reach out beyond their core vote.

Some say that it is Nick Clegg who has put this to the country – this is about as far from the truth as you could get.  It is those WITH the power that has put this to the country which is why they have put a system as close to the FPTP system as possible.

Nick Clegg would have wanted to put a Proportional System of voting to the country, which would be the best and fairest  system.  But Gordon Brown and David Cameron would not allow the public to decide on this for fear of losing their grip on power.

If anything, this proposal has been put to the country by David Cameron and not Nick Clegg.

We must think of the future, and not party political posturing when deciding on this referendum.  This is likely to be the only time in my lifetime that we are asked what political system we want.  If we vote no, it is likely that the democratic deficit in this country will continue unabated.

Our constitution moves very slowly, the UK tradition is based on very small evolutionary steps.  This is one of them, and if we do not take it, we will not have another opportunity for at least a generation.