On polling day, our democracy will fail spectacularly…

It really doesn’t matter what you think of Corbyn or May. All the manifestos, the (non) debates, the spin, vox pops and soundbites – all will have absolutely no effect. For in some two-thirds of constituencies the result is already known. Indeed, on the morning of 9 June, the returning officer will declare a Conservative as my own member of Parliament. I know this because for the last 67 years my constituency has always been Conservative regardless of who has the keys to number ten. Unless I vote Tory (and I most definitely will not), my vote will not matter.

Sadly, forgone conclusions like this make a mockery of our democracy. Unless you live in a marginal constituency, then you will have no influence on who forms our next government. But it’s even worse than that, for under our first past the post voting system, most of us will end up with a government that we didn’t want (no party since at least 1945 has ever won more than 50% of the popular vote).

Put another way, a relatively small number of swing voters, in a minority of parliamentary constituencies, will ensure 100% of the power goes to a party that is supported by less than half of those who voted. The winner will take it all; and democracy will have failed spectacularly.

Note: For information on proportional representation, please see Make Votes Matter and the Electoral Reform Society

We should all become political; and social media must be our platform

A great article, re-blogged from Green Pepper…

 

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The general election campaign opened with Theresa May heading for a greatly increased majority in the Commons. Two weeks in, and nothing much has changed. So unless the unexpected happens, we must prepare for five more Tory years.

For civil society, the prospect of continued austerity, and a hard Brexit, is unlikely to receive a gracious welcome.

But as polling day approaches, I doubt that the many serious problems facing us will receive much coverage. There will be little mention of charity, social value, cooperation or collective action. Nor will we see, for example, policy debates on disability, civil liberties or employment rights; while issues like rough sleeping, social care and the environment will not receive the attention they deserve. No, sadly the election will be decided by headlines; and the respective personalities of the party leaders. It will mean surely, an abundance of soundbites and vox-pops from a seemingly…

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And so it begins…the alarming prospect of five more Tory years

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And so it begins…The general election campaign kicks-off officially today with when the current parliament is dissolved. As it currently stands, we face the alarming prospect of five more Tory years taking us towards a hard Brexit, with continued austerity, and the underfunding of our public services.

Calling the election has been a cynical, and well-calculated step by Theresa May. She knows things will get ugly as Brexit day approaches. I predict that she will not have secured a good deal (if any deal at all), the pound will fall further, inflation will be rising, and international companies will begin pulling out of London and elsewhere.

But she knows she has a massive lead in the polls, due in part to the continued in-fighting within Labour ranks; and a media, including it seems our BBC, that presents the Tories in a favourable light . Not only that but she will also avoid the embarrassment of a potential 20 or more by-elections if  Tory MPs are prosecuted for alleged election fraud.

And if this wasn’t cynical enough, Theresa May is refusing to debate anything on TV with the leaders of other parties. Instead she will settle for soundbites, and pro-tory articles in right-wing newspapers. Public accountability it seems, is not her thing.

Sadly, this unwillingness to engage in democratic debate will end up being to her massive advantage. She has everything to lose from debate, and nothing to gain. Indeed, in our flawed first-past-the-post democracy she will, unless there is some real shift in opinion, likely win well over half of the seats in the new parliament, with much less than 50% of the vote. What’s more, she will claim a mandate to pursue her hard Brexit with far fewer total votes than the number who voted “leave” in the referendum. Meanwhile, the majority of us – the ones who didn’t vote Tory – will have five more years to endure.

 

 

 

 

resist the temptation to describe the labour party as a shambles, they don’t need any help doing that…

Belonging to the Labour party must be challenging these days. Not content with blame and recrimination over why they lost the election, Labour seems in turmoil over the possibility that Jeremy Corbyn might become leader. First we had Blair sticking his nose in; then we had the moron jibe, and now we have party figures saying the leadership election should be halted. You couldn’t make it up.

If Labour do elect Jeremy Corbyn, then maybe the party will regain its soul. However, call me a pessimist, but despite the apparent groundswell of support for him, I still can’t see Corbyn winning – I’ve heard just too many Labour party members say he isn’t electable. 

But what about Kendall, Cooper or Burnham? I don’t think they’re electable either. Labour has failed to inspire; and will continue to do so under any of this trio. And all the while Cameron & Co. are allowed to set the agenda (which they have done for at least the last six years), Labour hasn’t a chance. 

So instead of looking good for Tory voters and newspapers, isn’t it time that Labour decides where it really stands? Are they progressive or conservative? More precisely, what sort of society does Labour actually want for Britain? If they could work this out then at least people might have some idea what they’re voting for. It isn’t just about looking competent, Labour needs some vision. Otherwise why should anyone bother?

But also, perhaps Labour should recognise that it doesn’t need to win absolute power to make a difference. A Labour party in some form of future coalition with Greens, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and yes, the SNP, could push through some progressive policies. Policies that would never see the light of day if the party shifts further to the right…. And if such a coalition gave us a PR voting system, it would make a Tory majority government a thing of the past.

What I’m trying to say is that Tory lite doesn’t have to be the answer. There is room, in today’s multi party system, to campaign for policies that Labour party members want, not policies that the media wants. 

It won’t happen of course. Labour is still clinging to two party politics. Meanwhile the Tories must be delighted. There they go, smugly pushing ahead with one of the most nasty right-wing programmes we have ever witnessed; and the official opposition can’t even decide which way to vote over welfare.

I shall resist the temptation to describe the current Labour party as a shambles, after all, they don’t need my help doing that. 

it may take an epiphany, but perhaps labour holds the key to voting reform

On Saturday there will be a gathering of people outside of Parliament in support of voting reform. They will be there because 25% of registered voters, who made up 37% of those voting, resulted in a single party winning just over 50% of the seats in parliament and so secure itself 100% of the power. Put another way, 3 in every 4 of us on the electoral register didn’t vote Tory, but as a result of our flawed democracy, they will be governing us for the next five years.

Of course, as it currently stands, voting reform for Westminster is still years away. Winning the argument with voters is one thing. But persuading the entrenched politican is quite another.

Unfortunately while this government rules, and unless Labour has some kind of epiphany, FPTP will be here for the foreseeable future. Indeed, while they believe they can form a majority government, it serves the Labour party’s interests to ignore voting reform.

And yet it is perhaps the Labour party who hold the key….

Because what if Labour don’t win in 2020 …. or in 2025? Do they go on moving to the right in some forlorn hope of one day winning an outright victory? Or at the first hung parlaiment do they accept coalition, embrace proportional representation, join with other parties and help us to put an end to future Tory majority rule, once and for all?

I know what I’d prefer.

so where do the greens go from here?

The general election is now recent history. But while Labour and the Liberal Democrat parties embark on the election of new leaders, What about the Greens?

Despite only winning one parliamentary seat, the Greens 2015 general election performance was surely a good one. Over 1.1 million votes (up by well over 300% on 2010), four second places, more third places and many more saved deposits than ever before, albeit from a record number of candidates standing. This came with a raised profile and yes, considerably more scrutiny. What’s more, it was all achieved on a relatively small budget.

Of course with Labour doing so badly in the election, could the Green Party might have done even better?  Well yes, possibly; and I’m sure some useful lessons will have been learnt as a result.

But with bookings for its autumn conference about to open, where does the Green party go from here?

The green surge has certainly continued, with membership reaching over 60,000. But in the absence of greater electoral success, how do the Greens ensure this membership growth is not in vain?

When it comes to scrutiny, it is policies, presentation and personalities that seem to matter. Certainly there was confusion over areas of Green policy, with some of its long term and very long standing ideas selectively quoted by the media to make the Greens seem out of touch, extreme or just simply just silly. These were not policies in the manifesto, but they were nevertheless pounced upon by a right wing media and picked over with relish by political opponents.

So before the next election the Green Party will, I hope, re-visit and update some of its older policies; and also make a clear distinction between its long term goals, and more immediate priorities.

But given the country’s antiquated and unfair first-past-the-post electoral system, I think a different approach to elections altogether is needed. Indeed, I’d like to see the Green party in future place much less emphasis on a detailed manifesto, limiting it to just a small number of key policies. Instead I believe that the party should focus on highlighting the principles that would guide prospective Green MPs if elected. For me that would mean making the environmental message central, but keeping it linked very much to social justice and a fairer society. But as Bradley Allsop argues on Bright Green, the Green Party shouldn’t opt for an easy option, giving people what they want to hear. Climate change and inequality are massive problems and so the Green Party must continue to challenge the status quo.

The approach I’m suggesting would help keep the focus on the broader goals and message; and make it less likely that spokespeople become bogged down with details on policies that will never see the light of day (not in the immediate future at least). What’s more, given that Labour appears to have lost its ideology and principles, the Greens have an opportunity to fill a void on the left with a distinct message linking environmental action and social justice.

Of course nowadays, like it or not, politics is also about personalities. It shouldn’t be, but sadly, the media dumbs down politics to a sort of X-factor contest where performance of the leader matters more than policy. The Greens learnt this to their cost early on in the election campaign. Once Natalie Bennett experienced her infamous brain-fade incident the going immediately became tougher. Whether she runs for a further term as Green Party leader remains to be seen, but like it or not, the choice of leader will be an important factor in future Green Party success.

There is though a world outside of elections. In recent years Greens have been good at reaching out and building links with like-minded organisations and individuals. Continuing down this path, making common cause with community groups, student unions, trade unions, and campaign bodies, will make the Green party more accessible and relevant. As part of this I’d like to see the party maintain its leading role in opposing fracking, and put itself at the centre of the anti-austerity movement and the campaign for electoral reform. Locally there may also be some limited merit, if the circumstances are right (and it’s a big if), in electoral agreements or alliances with progressives in other parties, but any such move must be approached with extreme caution.

So what about the rapid increase in Green Party membership? Vital for building a stronger organisation, but also presenting a challenge of sorts. New members need a sense of purpose and belonging; and there is plenty of talent to develop and experience to widen. Having once been involved in the Labour party, I know how easy it is to become disillusioned. So it is important that new members are welcomed and engaged. If the democratic and grass roots culture of the Green Party works properly, this shouldn’t be difficult. But like any membership organisation there is always a danger that people are put off with needless bureaucracy, domineering activists and/or badly run meetings.

Looking at Green Party organisation, funding will always be a problem. But I do hope it can up its game on press and PR. A professional approach to administration; and to leaflets, flyers and websites are also essential. But at the same time Greens should be proud of their difference to the Westminster bubble. After all, it is the establishment parties that so many, including myself, have lost faith in.

I’m sure there is a promising future for the Green Party, despite the prospect of five long years of Conservative rule. Only time will tell. In the shorter term there are elections to come in Wales, Scotland and the London Assembly. If the preparation for these starts now, the Green Party should see more success in the future.

the year is 2024. this is our future history….

I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m still shocked at what they’ve done to this country. It’s as if we’ve learnt nothing, even now, almost a quarter of the way into the 21st century.

Of course we new it could happen. After their election in 2015 the Tory government went on a rampage. Their first 100 days saw them put into place the powers needed to control the electorate and marginalise any opposition. First it was their snoopers charter, enabling electronic surveillance on a scale never before envisaged. Fear of terrorist attacks made it a popular move, and dissenting voices were ridiculed as soft, wishy washy, left-wing and unpatriotic. Of course this extra surveillance gave the government early warning of proposed campaigns and any unfavourable media reports against their agenda; enabling them to pre-empt and counter with tremendous effect.

Next came the anti-union legislation, coupled with new measures to speed up the privatisation of our NHS, social services, prisons, schools and colleges. Legal strikes proved almost impossible to organise; and new laws were brought in making it a criminal offence to organise unofficial action. Selling off the BBC was hailed as a golden moment by the Government and the media, all but wiping out any serious analysis of the government’s programme by the broadcast media.

Then we had further restrictions on what charities could say despite their rapidly growing role providing services that were once the job of the public sector; and in filling the gaps left by a series of severe welfare cuts.

The referendum that took us out of Europe the following year proved pivotal. Laws from Europe protecting workers and the environment were soon repealed, while a new British Rights Act was brought in based on so-called British values. This was big on rights to create wealth and own property; but proved totally ineffective at protecting civil liberty. Indeed, the right to protest was curtailed with limits on, among other things, the number of people that constituted a legal demonstration. Immigration was effectively halted; and many recent migrants chose to leave due to a climate of discrimination and hate that flourished in the post European era.

Alarmingly, the expected popular backlash against the government  never really materialised. A sympathetic media were very quick to undermine opposition leaders. labelling them as anti-British, against progress, and of course, left-wing. Their private lives were disrupted and some even criminalised for daring to organise protests. This soon become the establishment response; and sadly it gained traction in our increasingly divided society.

Most of us had pinned our hopes on the election of 2020, but the disappointment that night proved worse than in 2015. Despite securing an even smaller share of the popular vote than before, the Tories held on to power with a majority of two. Once again the first-past-the-post electoral system proved their saviour. The rebranded right-wing Labour party failed to make any headway, losing seats to the Lib Dems and to a confident Green party that secured over 7 million votes. 

For many of us the prospect of another five years of conservative policy was too much. By summer 2021 the Labour party had imploded. Three of its MPs joined the Tories, and a sizeable group refused the party whip. Many  activists simply resigned from the party. The only real opposition inside parliament was coming from a rump of whip-less Labour traditionalists, and an alliance of Green, SNP, Liberal Democrat and Paid Cymru MPs. Outside of parliament there were sporadic and sometimes violent protests, unofficial strikes and occupations at a number of universities.

But despite this period of unrest, the division between the haves and the have-nots meant that for the better-off half of the population, the country was a happy place. It was perhaps this fact, plus the relentless media messages and police harassment, that led eventually to the end of the unrest. People had grown weary and despondent. No doubt just what the government wanted.

Home owners, who by now were almost all aged over 40, were enjoying a surge in house prices; and landlords were exploiting their wealthier tenants like never before. Gated communities were proving popular; and a whole new service sector was springing up to cater just for their needs. Indeed the haves rarely needed to go far, with almost everything they needed being delivered to their secure and nicely painted doors.

But for those who could not afford to buy or rent anything decent, daily life was far from happy. Before the 2020 election there had been a growth in the number families sharing with others, pooling resources in order to get by. Housing co-operatives were now common, as was squatting. And in some cities whole areas were rapidly being dubbed the new shanty towns as homeless people improvised their own housing with boxes, tents, sheds, and caravans. Unsurprisingly with this hardship came poorer health, and reduced participation in education and civil society.

So with a year until the next election, Britain is a grossly unequal country. Social mobility is for much of the country, a thing of the past. But while the poor and vulnerable suffer and die, the better-off thrive and the wealthy propser. If you have money and property in 2024, you are well looked after.  

Personally I’ve been lucky. A reasonable occupational pension and a job with a charity means I don’t struggle. But I have no health insurance so the threat of serious illness always haunts me. Today I am joining some fellow activists. I expect we’ll be turned back a good mile from the fracking rig. But this ritual is being repeated by environmental campaigners all over the country on an almost weekly basis. If we are lucky the police will be expecting the protest at another fracking site, so we may get through. If we succeed, the plan is to stay until we are arrested.