Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The failings of the official #Yes2AV campaign.

The local campaign group had a post-mortem meeting last night - which crystallised my thoughts on the electoral reform campaign and the movement in the UK. I wasn't an official part of any campaign - just a supporter of democracy who did my own thing (tweeting, blogging and leafleting), and did a bit to help the local 'yes' group (stalls).

The referendum was not lost recently, it was actually lost over the preceding decades. The self satisfied, smug 'great and good' who have been doing 'very nicely, thank you very much' out of the various reform organisation have been sitting around preening themselves and not actually doing any thing that would actually make any difference.

The yes to av activists (and maybe take back parliament) were launching from a standing start. If the established organisations behind the official yes campaign had actually ever done any 'work' over the preceding decades then the activists would have had something to build on - but they didn't. Decades of time/money/effort spent on empire building, self promotion all to absolutely no effect regarding the mission/purpose of reforming the UK electoral system.

That was before the campaign - when the campaign arrived and some groups were already getting organised and getting things done, I think there was an unfortunate sense of 'deference' to the official yes campaign when it launched - the 'great and good' at the top expected it and many activists obliged.

Then the two most stupid mistakes in the use of volunteer/activist time/effort were made by the official yes campaign.

The first stupid mistake was to adopt a US style phone campaign, set it up from scratch and try to man it with volunteers - something completely untried in the UK. And as Andy May has highlighted it actually cost more to use set this up (even using volunteers time) than it would have cost to have got a commercial organisation to do it.

The second stupid mistake was to *not* use the freepost service of leaflets to every UK household. Again volunteer time/effort was used to deliver leaflets which meant very patchy coverage and delivery at random times.

Volunteers/activists spent time doing things that could have been done more cheaply by a commercial organisation (phone bank), or FREE by royal mail (leaflet drops). This was a double whammy - every minute spent by an activist on the phone, or delivering leaflets could have been done more cheaply by others but ALSO that activists time could have been spent on *useful* work.

The first part of a solution to this is the one thing that will not happen... The problem is the people at the top of these organisations - they are simply not up to the job. They will look to change things, and get advice and reviews, but they will not do the one thing that could make a difference in future, they will not step aside and let better people take over their jobs.

I hope activists will continue to campaign for reform - but I hope they have learnt that they, as the lions, should never have (and never should again) defer to the donkeys.

My message to the donkeys - just give us the money and let us get on with it.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Out the box thinking - Electoral Reform.

Just a couple of ideas that people may not have heard of or considered when thinking about voting reform.

1) Weighted Voting in Parliament or Council.

This was suggested to the Jenkins commission on electoral reform but ruled out, out of hand. With electronic voting, it would be quite simple to implement now we are out of the technological dark ages.

Basically MPs/Councillors would not each have one vote, they would have a number/proportion of votes in proportion to the actual vote they (or their party) received. i.e. in the 2010 general election, the Labour party received 29% of the vote but have 39% of the MPs (substantial over-representation) so each of their MP's should only have 0.75 of a vote... Meanwhile The Greens received 1% of the national vote but received only
.15% of the seats in parliament (1 MP - substantial under representation) so she should have 6.5 votes(!).

There would need to be a few tweaks 6.5 votes is too much for one person, so there should be one or two top up greens, and UKIP got 3% of the vote and no MPs, so there would need to be top ups there to share out their 'power'. But I am sure you get the idea.

2) Non-Geographic Constituencies

My primary concern in UK politics right now is our government being subservient to the EU commission. Many people share this as a primary concern (920,000 of us in the 2010 general election) - but because we are spread across the country, our 3% of the national vote didn't give us 3% of the seats in parliament (20 MPs!), it gave us none. I would happily exchange my right to vote for my local constituency MP for a right for my vote to count towards a non-geographic MP... An issue specific MP!

So *instead* of voting for one of my local candidates, I would cast my vote nationally for a party that supported the UK leaving the EU - for every (say) 50,000 votes a party receives it should get a 'non-geogrpahic' MP! It would be for each voter to choose how to cast their vote - locally for a candidate, or nationally for a party/issue.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Brighton and Hove City Council - Electoral reform could start here, now.

Brighton Councils largest party is the Greens - a party committed to Proportional Representation.
The votes across for the council totalled up as Green 33%, Labour 31% and Conservative 28%.
However the seats/councillors are split Green 23, Labour 13 and conservative 18.
Voting in the council could immediately be made to reflect the proportion of votes cast by the voters of Brighton and Hove (and Portslade and The Deans) if 5(*) Green councillors voted with Labour.
If Proportional Representation is a a matter of principle for the Greens (and not just supported for party advantage), I can see no reason that they could not adopt this as policy immediately - giving the People of Brighton and Hove the council they really voted for!
Come the next election, maybe all three parties could commit to continuing this arrangement until true PR is implemented...
(*) As the conservatives are slightly over represented, on occasion it may be more representative for only four greens to vote with labour.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Electoral Reform - What Next? Gradual Roll-out - Brighton and Hove First... ?

While most areas of the UK clearly chose to retain FPTP, there were areas where AV was identified as the preferred system.

It occurred to me that there is no reason for all MPs to be selected in the same way - each constituency has a 'right' to send an MP to parliament, and there seems no reason that the constituency itself should not choose their own method to select their MP. This idea seems to have some support, and would tie in well with my view (and UKIP's view) on local and direct democracy...

Here in Brighton the referendum result was very finely balanced 50.1% for FPTP 49.9% for AV with only 250 votes difference!


I am thinking that as Brighton is a distinct area with a city council and three MPs it would be an ideal location to look to a new politics.

If the people of Brighton, Hove, Portslade and the Deans come together we can move towards implementing direct democracy ourselves without the need for official sanction (at least not at first).

Local council petitions give the right to address full council - if a local organisation with several thousand members could get petitions completed on demand, the organisation would have direct access to the council without the need for any party political affiliation (so allowing people across the political spectrum work together where we agree).

Also calling on our three MPs to work *together* for the benefit of the city - if each MP is called on by a few thousand of their constituents to a joint meeting, they would find it hard to refuse.

The Yes2AV campaign has brought many people across the city together - this could be the basis of revolutionising UK politics, bit by bit - starting with the City of Brighton and Hove.

Such an organisation has to be led democratically - not run by any unaccountable external organisations.

Brighton Residents Association?
Take Back Brighton?
Brighton First?

We can do this - but like the AV campaign it needs party politics to be put to one side...

First issue would be to look towards changing the voting system in Brighton and Hove - both for the Council and for our three MPs...

Some people have suggested it is impossible to have a house of MPs elected in different ways. People suggesting that should consider that had AV won, then at some point by-elections would have been held under AV while sitting MPs would still have been elected under FPTP. No one suggested that this would be a problem... not even the no to AV campaign!

FPTP retained - why was that?

OK, AV was rejected by voters in the UK. I have no doubt that the main reason for this was ignorance. Even at the end most people didn't really know what AV is/was. The main reason for this is that the UK media (newspapers, radio and TV) betrayed their special place in UK politics, and instead of informing the public they took sides and campaigned in the most partisan of ways against reform. The BBC is the worst culprit by far as its *officially* required to (and its mission statement is to) educate and inform - private media are traditionally seen as 'the forth estate' of UK politics and in this it has failed - leaving the public less defended against and more vulnerable to political coercion by the government and prime minister.