strange_complex: (Chrestomanci slacking in style)
In this post I am reviewing three books which I actually read in 2015. I'm aware of how utterly ludicrous that is; just humour me. It's a thing I feel I need to do.

6. Conrad Russell (1999), An Intelligent Person's Guide to Liberalism

After the 2015 General Election, various Lib Dems shared lists of reading recommendations in the spirit of fuelling a #LibDemFightback. This one seemed the most universally-recommended, so I got it out of the University library and read it. It is indeed a very good articulation of what liberalism is about today (or was at the time of publication), and how it has evolved from its earliest recognisable origins in Whig opposition to James II’s interference in parliamentary autonomy through a series of different issues (religion, economics, personal freedoms, the environment etc.) as UK politics has changed over the centuries. I found the chapter on economics the most interesting and helpful for clarifying my own understanding of liberalism. Broadly, it points out that liberalism does not really have a clear default economic position in the way that (say) socialism does, because it initially evolved in a context where the main dividing lines in politics were not economic ones, but others – primarily religion. But because liberalism is essentially about the redistribution of power from those who are hoarding big chunks of it to those who don’t have any, it isn’t too hard to translate this to economic forms of power, and indeed there are plenty of early examples of liberals siding with the economically-exploited over their exploiters – e.g. Whig involvement in passing laws for the ten-hour working day in the mid-19th century. This in turn opens the door for a vision of liberal economics which is much more about cooperatives, mutuals, trade unions, breaking up monopolies and cartels, encouraging entrepreneurialism and ensuring level playing fields than the laissez faire approach often described as ‘classical liberalism’. I would love that vision to be more deeply embedded and widely understood in the Liberal Democrats today, never mind in wider politics – but unfortunately it is not. Meanwhile, back to the book, its big flaw is that it is unlikely to be at all accessible to anyone not already interested in liberalism and familiar with UK politics. Fair enough, it bills itself as being for the ‘intelligent person’, but that in itself is not very liberal really – hardly in keeping with the Liberal Democrats’ consitutional pledge (adopted verbatim from the Liberals before them) to ensure that no-one is enslaved by ignorance. And, as is often the case with similar riders, ‘intelligent’ is really just a synonym for ‘educated’ or ‘pre-informed’. So Russell will refer in passing to something François Mitterrand said in 1989 (I’m inventing the example, as I no longer have the text in front of me to provide a real one), without actually saying what it was or how it relates to the issue under discussion. A more accessible introduction to liberalism could certainly be written, then, and could do a lot of good by helping to ensure a broader understanding of what it actually is. As my friend Andrew Hickey, who also recently reviewed Russell's book points out, an awful lot of the people who are currently convinced that liberalism is a terrible scourge on society are actually working with a heavily distorted understanding of it, and would probably quite like the sort of thinking which Russell outlines if they knew about it. Attempting to communicate it is, of course, on us liberals, and clearly that is what Russell was trying to do. Until anyone can achieve a more accessible articulation of the same thinking, his book will probably remain the best introduction to liberalism we have.

7. Andrew Hickey (2015), Head of State

Talking of Andrew, he wrote a book of his own, and it's great! It is a novel, technically belonging to the Faction Paradox series, but I can personally attest that you do not need to have read any prior Faction Paradox stories, or really know anything about them, to enjoy it. It helps in particular that the story is very much set on Earth; though I don't know how much that is or isn't true for other FP stories – maybe they all are? Anyway, this one follows a surprise outsider's US presidential election campaign, which is clearly being manipulated by the Faction Paradox in some way, and which relates to traces of their activities also identifiable in the historical and mythic past. In order to tell this story, Andrew has used multiple interweaving narratives: different present-day perspectives on the presidential campaign, Victorian explorer Richard Burton, the 2002nd story of Scheherazade and various interpolations from non-human dimensions. This is not easy, but I thought he did it exceptionally well, capturing the various voices of his different characters distinctly and recognisably without making any of them seem over-mannered or cariacatured. For those reasons alone I enjoyed reading the novel and would recommend it to anyone. But there is of course an extra dimension of pleasure to reading a novel by a friend whose view on the world over-laps closely with your own. I recognised a lot of both the political and the online culture described, for example: in particular a female journalist blogging on a platform called 'dreamjournal', whom Andrew confirmed when I asked him was indeed based on the journalist I thought she was. He is even sweet enough to have included me in his acknowledgements at the end, although literally all I did was lend him a book of commonly-used Latin phrases with which he could pepper Richard Burton's prose. As for that presidential candidate – he's a Bernie Sanders, not a Donald Trump, but an awful lot about the campaign sections of this book did resurface in my mind during the latter part of 2016: high-level corruption and manipulation, people gradually realising that the 'no-hope' candidate is going to win, and a load of right-wing nutjobbery to boot. It's a pity real life has managed to turn out even more horrendous than what happens at the end of this book, but that's another matter. I'm really proud to know the author of such a great read.

8. John Buchan (1927), Witch Wood

I learnt of this book from the British Library's exibition, Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination in autumn 2014, where it was presented as an example of folk horror and likened to Witchfinder General in particular. It's a reasonable comparison. This story deploys the classic folk horror motif of an educated outsider coming into a small, traditional village community: in this case a newly-ordained priest, David Sempill, assigned to a parish named Woodilee. It's also set during the Civil Wars, though in Scotland rather than in England, and involves accusations of witchcraft. After those face-value similarities, though, it's a pretty different kind of narrative: essentially a historical novel concerned with how the ideological conflicts of 17th-century Scotland translate into personal struggles for its main character. On the one side, Sempill owes loyalty to the Kirk and, through its Solemn League and Covenant, the parliamentary side of the Civil War. On the other, he increasingly finds that his efforts to help the sick and the needy put him at odds with his parish leaders and church elders, who are more concerned with personal reputation and formal doctrine than actual morals or spirituality, and that his sympathies are drawn instead towards royalists and aristocrats. Witches and indeed fairies are overlain onto this, in ways which allow Buchan to highlight the hypocrisies of the parishioners and tangle up Sempill's political leanings with romantic attraction. But there is nothing overtly supernatural in the book: only a bit of paganism-cum-Devil-worshippery and Sempill's hyper-romanticisation of his girlfriend. Most of the politics and religion I could take or leave to be honest, not having any great investment in either, but the novel does contain some very engrossing sequences: Sempill's terror journeying through the dark wood at night, the utter devastation of his village by the plague, or the tormenting of an obviously-vulnerable old woman by a witch-pricker. Those are what have stayed with me, and what made it worth reading.
strange_complex: (Penny coin)
I cannot remember the last time I did this, but allow me to recommend to my readers the journal of [ profile] maryanndimand.

The author is a US-based former economics professor, and she has set up the account specifically in order to deliver regular bite-sized chunks on basic economic principles over the course of this calendar year. Her rationale is that most people claim to vote on the basis of economic issues, but don't in practice have the understanding of economic principles and reasoning which they need to evaluate politicians' claims in this area critically. She'd like to help with that and I think she's doing a good job.

Obviously if you're reading this, you can simply follow her account here on LJ, but she is also posting the same content to Facebook in public posts marked with the hashtag #2017econ.

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strange_complex: (Asterix Romans)
Well then. For what it's worth, after the initial disbelief and disappointment, my basic response to the referendum result is the 'rolling up my sleeves and getting on with it' one. I won't be at all sorry if for one reason or another we never actually do end up leaving the EU - e.g. if the country ends up in such a deep economic, political and / or constitutional mess that Article 50 is never invoked. But I'm not pinning my hopes on that, and I'm certainly not signing any petitions calling for a new referendum under different rules (though I don't at all mind other people signing that petition as a way of registering the extent of disappointment and anger in the country). Rather, I now want to focus on trying to make this country the best place it can possibly be, given the hand we are now holding.

[That said, I think I will have a go at claiming the Irish (and therefore EU) citizenship to which I am perfectly entitled by dint of having an Irish grandmother - though it won't be a trivial process. As far as I can tell, I'll need no less than nine original copies of birth / marriage / death certificates and certified passports, including one (the original birth certificate on which the whole thing rests) which would have been issued in County Sligo in (I think) 1912. Yikes!]

Anyway, going back to making this country the best place it can possibly be, living through the entire referendum process has certainly done a lot to reaffirm my liberalism. Two main issues stand out, both connected, and both of which strongly reinforce (for me) the essential core of liberalism - a concern with excessive concentrations of power, and a desire to break them down and redistribute it.

Firstly, the power concentrated into the hands of people like Paul Dacre and Richard Desmond. For decades now, newspapers like the Daily Mail and Daily Express have been publishing front-page lies and hatred about both immigrants and the EU, while inadequate bodies for press regulation have failed to challenge them, and, on the rare occasions when they were were successfully challenged, they have only needed to publish retractions in tiny print on the inside pages of the papers. Meanwhile, the requirement on the broadcast media to provide balanced political coverage is interpreted as an instruction to give equal air-time to voices on either side, rather than to challenge lies themselves or identify any kind of prevailing consensus. This approach has been characterised by some as "Shape of the Earth: views differ".

At first sight, it may seem illiberal to restrict the freedom of the press, but the press is in any case not currently free from powerful individuals seeking to propagate lies for their own financial or political gain. More fundamentally, a democracy (which is a tool for distributing political freedom) cannot function properly if the people who live in it do not have access to accurate and impartial information on which to base their voting decisions. See e.g. Russia or North Korea for details. And it is very clear indeed that in this referendum (as also in the AV referendum five years ago), people voted on the basis of claims which were untrue, while any attempts by moderate people to counter those claims, or the decades worth of misinformation and bigotry which they tapped into, were hopelessly drowned out by the power of the tabloid press. If that press had been properly regulated years ago, this might not have happened.

Secondly, the power concentrated into the hands of the 'big two' political parties by our First Past The Post voting system. One of the most common arguments against proportional political systems is that they allow members of extremist parties to win seats at elections. But in my view, this is a good thing. Once a party's representatives have been elected to office, they are subject to the white light of accountability. If they implement policies which turn out to be disastrous, or fail to deliver on their promises, they will lose their popularity and be voted out again. In my view, we would be much better off today if UKIP had started winning council seats and parliamentary seats in serious numbers twenty years ago. Then, people might have had the chance to discover that they are a bunch of self-interested con-merchants while the damage they could inflict was still relatively limited, and before we arrived at the almighty mess we are in now.

Furthermore, most proportional voting systems, but especially the Single Transferable Vote, make politicians much more accountable to the electorate than FPTP. Safe seats largely disappear, parties campaign meaningfully against one another in all parts of the country, and voters can choose between individual members of the same party, based on nuanced preferences (e.g. liking Blairite Labour candidates but not Corbynistas), without harming that party's overall political prospects. I believe that if we had been using STV already for decades, the main parties would not have been able to get away with parachuting their favoured candidates into seats where voters were not being presented with any meaningful alternative option. Then, we would not have the huge yawning gap between the electorate and their supposed representatives which seems to have contributed to enough of that electorate deciding to use the EU referendum to deliver them a kicking in return for years of neglect and dismissal. Under STV, parties would have had an incentive to develop real solutions to the problems which older working-class voters are trying to express, rather than just telling them it's all the fault of immigrants and the EU. Even UKIP would probably have evolved into a more responsive, solution-focused party, rather than the fantasists they are.

If you've been nodding along while reading the above, and would like to help solve these problems for the future, here are some things you could do (if you haven't already):

1. Join Hacked Off, who are campaigning for a free and accountable press. It's free to sign their declaration or sign up for campaign bulletins, though of course they would love donations too.

2. Join the Electoral Reform Society, Unlock Democracy and / or Make Votes Matter, all of which are campaigning in different ways and with different emphases to improve our political system. It's £24 p.a. (or less for concessions) to join the ERS and Unlock Democracy, and free (though again donations welcome) to join Make Votes Matter.

3. Join the Liberal Democrats. I know we're far from perfect. We too have floundered in the white light of accountability. But we are the only political party in the UK which stands fundamentally and explicitly for the liberal principles I have discussed above. If you'd like to know more about what we think we stand for, read the preamble to our constitution. The final paragraph (beginning "Our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries...") explains why we have always been, and will always remain, committed to collaborative international organisations like the EU.

4. Join any other political party. Yes, even UKIP (though I hope you'll prefer not to). Because the more people in this country are members of political parties, the smaller the gulf and the better the dialogue between politicians and the electorate.

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strange_complex: (ITV digital Monkey popcorn)
I saw both of these with [ profile] ms_siobhan as a New Year's Eve double-bill at the Hyde Park Picture House yesterday, from our favourite seats on the left-hand side of the balcony.

45. Some Like It Hot (1959), dir. Billy Wilder

First of all, it does have to be acknowledged that this one particular film probably bears about 90% of the responsibility for the transphobic myth that trans women are really just straight dudes who want to infiltrate women-only spaces and ogle cis women. It didn't invent that idea, and nor is it now necessarily the direct cause of most people absorbing it, but it is a major theme of the film, and must surely have given it a very big cultural boost. So I think it's important to say that whenever talking about this film, as a small way of helping to chip away at the real-world potency of that very damaging myth. On a similar note, I also found the scenes in which Tony Curtis' character, in persona as Shell Oil Junior, coerces Sugar into sex by pretending to be sexually unresponsive and in need of 'help' to fix him pretty gross as well. I get that disguise and deceit are ancient staples of romantic comedies, and never more so than in this one, but she was totally into his Shell Oil Junior character anyway. She would very obviously have willingly and enthusiastically have had sex with him without that extra layer of lies and manipulation, so to me they broke through the romantic comedy genre conventions and out into some distinctly rapey territory.

But I am perfectly capable of separating out those things from the rest of the film in my mind, and seeing it for the of-its-time romantic musical comedy it is meant to be. As a star vehicle for Monroe it is magnificent, with her performance of "I Wanna Be Loved By You" capturing her appeal perfectly. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are perfectly paired as the two protagonists, the Chicago gangsters are brilliant, the music is great, the physical farce fantastic and the witty dialogue to die for. Plus, for all my reservations above, I also think that by showing male characters experiencing male treatment of women at first hand, and by including scenes with strong homosexual overtones (both lesbian ones between Sugar and Curtis-as-Josephine and the famous "Well, nobody's perfect" ending between Osgood and Lemmon-as-Jerry), it probably helped to achieve some social steps forwards as well as backwards. So, if the movie isn't perfect either, that doesn't mean it isn't still a great watch.

46. The Apartment (1960), dir. Billy Wilder

Part two of the double-bill was the next year's follow-up movie from the same production team, which brought back Jack Lemmon as the leading man. It's still a comedy, and starts out looking for all the world like a farce, but it has a dark undertone from the beginning, because of the way it portrays sleazy executives laughing it up together as they coldly conduct affairs in Lemmon's character's apartment, and him conniving in it for the sake of material promotion, while at the same time being very obviously strung along and exploited himself. Then, half-way through, the darkness bursts violently to the surface when one executive's to-him-casual (but to her serious) fling attempts suicide in the apartment. The overall arc is actually very moralistic - Lemmon discovers his moral compass and is rewarded with True Love, the chief sleazy executive gets his come-uppance, and the young lady (Miss Kubelik) rediscovers her sense of self-worth. But gosh, you do get put through the wringer along the way.

This made it a good second film for the double-bill, though. It felt a little more 'cerebral' than Some Like It Hot (if that's quite the right word), which worked well for its early evening slot once you'd been warmed up by the comedy first. It was certainly more moving, anyway - I found myself sniffing back tears as the end credits rolled, which you just wouldn't get from Some Like It Hot (unless, of course, Chicago mobsters had killed your grandmother, you insensitive clod). But it has in common with the other film all those classic qualities of slick pacing, seemingly effortless photography and of course a brilliant cast. Though his character isn't very nice, I actually thought Fred MacMurray was absolutely brilliant as Sleazy Executive Mr. Sheldrake, hitting that perfect note between oiliness and plausible charm which seems to be so characteristic of American Presidents (Nixon and Regan particularly spring to mind). It is essential to the whole plot that we should be able to believe Miss Kubelik might attempt suicide over him while simultaneously being able to see that he's a schmuck, so MacMurray had an important job to do there, and did it really well. I'd like to see more stuff with him in now on that basis. I also loved both the characterisation and the performances for the two Jewish neighbours, Dr. and Mrs. Dreyfuss - relatively small roles (especially hers), but ones which felt very human and three-dimensional al the same.

While Some Like It Hot has fun playing up the glamour of the 1920s jazz age, The Apartment is now just as fascinating for being set in its contemporary present day. I particularly enjoyed seeing how large-scale corporate office culture might have operated in 1960s America, complete with lobbies, elevators, desk diaries, rotary card index files, calculating machines and telephone exchanges. And I liked the insights into Lemmon's bachelor life-style as well, which was so close to and yet not quite the same as its equivalent today - frozen meals for heating up in the oven rather than microwave meals, a TV remote-control unit with a dial on it fixed to his table, and of course the time-honoured pokey apartment for one. In less cheery news from the 1960s, though, I was disquieted to realise that Miss Kubelik is obviously at risk of getting into trouble with the law for having attempted suicide, so that the whole thing has to be hushed up. We have moved beyond that, suicide-wise, in both the US and UK since, but that is still exactly where we are with drugs, leaving addicts unable to seek help for fear of punishment (not to mention at risk from unregulated products), and it's about damned time we sorted that out.

Back to The Apartment(!), it also turned out to be a Christmas / New Year film, which I guess was yet another reason (on top of release-date chronology and the tonal move from pure comedy to black comedy) why it needed to be the second half of the double bill. Miss Kubelik makes her suicide attempt on Christmas Eve, spends a few days recovering at Jack Lemmon's apartment, and then finally dumps her Sleazy Executive in favour of him on New Year's Eve. Not quite the Christmas-to-New-Year experience I would wish on anyone in reality, but still in its own way something to get us in the mood for our own NYE celebrations which followed.

Films watched 2014 round-up )

And now I believe it is time to get started on my films watched in 2015. :-)

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strange_complex: (Me Yes to Fairer Votes)
So I assume we all know by now that Tory party co-treasurer Peter Cruddas has been caught out by the Sunday Times offering businesses direct personal access to David Cameron for a minimum donation of £100,000. This BBC news article has the video if you haven't seen it. And just to be absolutely clear that this is not simply a matter of a few hand-shakes and photo-ops, let's take particular notice of this phrase from Cruddas' sales-pitch:
"If you're unhappy about something, we will listen to you and put it into the policy committee at number 10 - we feed all feedback to the policy committee."

Lobbying is a perfectly normal part of a functional and healthy democracy. It's what you do when you write to your MP, what campaign groups like Equal Marriage do when they organise petitions, and what business leaders do when they arrange meetings with ministers to express their concerns about current government policy. The problem with cases like the current Peter Cruddas scandal is that access to policy-makers is being arranged behind closed doors and being used as a money-making exercise which excludes those who can't afford to pay for it from the process.

This is why a full, robust and transparent lobbying register is needed, so that we can all see who exactly is talking to ministers, how much they are paying for the privilege and what they are saying.

As it happens, prompted by previous scandals of this nature, the government has recently published proposals for such a register. But their proposals represent a poor shadow of what's actually needed for real transparency, covering only lobbying done by agencies (roughly a quarter of the industry) and not directly by firms' in-house lobbyists (the other three-quarters), and recording only the minimum level of information about their meetings. This is why Unlock Democracy are currently campaigning for a full and effective lobbying register to be introduced, rather than the sop which is currently on the table.

If you'd like to lend your voice to that campaign, please take two minutes to sign Unlock Democracy's letter calling for a full lobbying register here.

You can also read more about their campaign, including details on how to contribute directly to the public consultation on lobbying, here.

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strange_complex: (Girly love Tadé Styka)
In favour of equal civil marriages? Then it's ACTION TIME! The government's consultation on introducing them opens today, and it's very important for positive voices to be heard. This is not a foregone conclusion, and if we want it, we need to say so loudly and clearly.

It's About Time gives information on the consultation, tips on what sorts of things supporters might say, and a link to where to go to say them (click on 'Take Part'). Please take the time to speak up if you support this proposal. This is not just another online petition, but a direct government consultation where you can really have an influence.

strange_complex: (Me Yes to Fairer Votes)
Tomorrow is the day of the AV referendum, and I know some people are still making up their minds how to vote. I've explained my own reasons for supporting AV in a previous post. But if you're still unsure today, allow me to put the case for the Alternative Vote in the clearest way I can.

Basically, First Past The Post is fine for binary decisions: e.g. Cake or Death? But if Chocolate is offered too, the 'We just want to live!' vote may be split, allowing Death to win. (Unlikely, of course, but who knows? There may be a lot of suicidal people living in your constituency.)

In the real world, FPTP was fine in the 1950s, when most voters were making a binary choice. In 1951, 97% of people voted either Conservative or Labour – so most MPs (94%, to be precise) were able to win a clear majority of support in their constituency. But in 2010, only 65% of people voted Conservative or Labour. Our votes are now spread across a wider range of parties – and the result is that two-thirds of MPs in the House of Commons today hold less than 50% of the total vote in their constituency. They've secured the largest minority, but do they have the support of the majority? We don't know, because FPTP doesn't check that.

At its worst, FPTP has allowed BNP candidates to be elected in some council seats because the majority non-BNP vote was split. Someone on Facebook posted this image of the results from Coalville ward in Leicestershire:

But it's not the only case of its kind. See also Mixenden in Calderdale, Mill Hill in Blackburn, or Fenside in Boston, Lincolnshire.

The extremist nature of the BNP means it isn't hard to imagine that the majority of the voters in these wards did not actually want a BNP councillor. But because the non-BNP-supporting majority spread their votes across a variety of other candidates, that's what they got.

The wider point about FPTP is that any candidate who wins on less than 50% of the vote may be just as loathed by the majority of their constituents as (we can guess that) these BNP councillors were. But FPTP doesn't check up on this by probing the views of the split majority. AV resolves this problem by eliminating trailing candidates one at a time, bringing split votes for similar candidates back together, and identifying a majority consensus. Put simply, it is a way of double-checking that the result which we would have had under FPTP really reflects what the majority want.

Further discussion for politics geeks of what the BNP examples reveal about the problems with tactical voting under FPTP )

So if you want a system which:
  • Ensures that each constituency elects an MP whom the majority of the voters there really support.
  • Prevents widely hated candidates from winning because the majority vote against them was split.
  • Allows people to express their preferences honestly, without having to make (imperfect) guesses about how other people will vote.
  • Deals with those preferences systematically and in the best interests of the individual voter, no matter what other voters do.
...please say Yes to AV this Thursday.

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strange_complex: (Me Yes to Fairer Votes)
This is an assessment of all the main possible methods for electing national governments, written by a lecturer at the University of Reading with the explicit aim of making "the findings of research on electoral systems available to a wider audience ahead of the referendum in the UK planned for May 2011." A fellow Yes campaigner recommended it to me at the beginning of this year as a balanced, rigorous and accessible guide to the main strengths and weaknesses of both First Past the Post and the Alternative Vote, so that I'd be equipped to argue about both intelligently in the course of the referendum campaign - and it has certainly provided that extremely effectively. Not only that, but the timing of the publication means that the author wrote it in the full knowledge that a referendum on the issue was going to be taking place, so that he was able to draw on up-to-date material such as the outcome of the 2010 General Election and comment on up-to-date issues such as the planned constituency boundary changes. So although the book actually goes beyond simply FPTP vs. AV, it is particularly well-geared to the current debate between the two, and examines them with the specific circumstances of the referendum in mind.

Overall structure and approach )

First Past The Post )

The Alternative Vote )

Simple Proportional Representation and Mixed electoral systems )

The Single Transferable Vote )

Obviously, it would probably have been helpful if I'd got round to reviewing this book a little earlier than 10 days before the referendum, so that anyone interested in reading Renwick's views for themselves could have had time to buy their own copy and read it before putting their cross on the ballot paper. But thankfully, Renwick's views on AV specifically are readily available online in the form of this briefing paper produced for the Political Studies Association. I can recommend it very highly to anyone wanting a properly balanced account of the arguments. Like the book, his assessment of the various strengths and weaknesses of AV as compared to FPTP in the paper is balanced, nuanced and objective. But the fairly clear conclusion to me is that AV is a small but measurable improvement on FPTP - and therefore worth having.

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strange_complex: (Me Yes to Fairer Votes)
Now that my conference paper is done and I am less ludicrously busy, I'm turning my attention firmly back towards the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign. I've written a fair bit on this journal about my involvement with the campaign, but I haven't yet said very much about why I'm so convinced that a change to AV is worthwhile. I did use the example of the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election back in January to explain why I think AV enhances the dialogue between voters and prospective candidates, which is certainly one good reason for making the change. But there is much more to say than that alone.

I could, of course, write a long rambling post which attempted to cover all of the reasons why I am supporting a change to AV - not to mention the many, many things which are wrong with FPTP (not all of which AV will fix), or with the No to AV campaign. Believe me, there are plenty of arguments to go into, and I've used most of them during the 1000 or more phone-calls which I've now made for the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign. But many of them have also been rehearsed elsewhere. In the more personal context of my own journal, I've decided instead to whittle things down to the single strongest argument which is convincing me to support a change to AV, and focus on writing about that.

So, are you ready for this?

The most straightforward, truthful and accurate statement of why I am campaigning for a Yes vote in the May 5th referendum?

OK - here we go:
The Alternative Vote is better than First Past the Post at identifying the Condorcet winner in each constituency election contest

That really is my genuine, number one reason for supporting the change. To me, it's the most persuasive argument. Unfortunately, it also isn't an argument I can use when campaigning. That small percentage of the population who have read up on the subject and know what the Condorcet criterion is might well nod sagely and agree with me - and believe me, I've been hanging out with a lot of those sorts of people in the context of the campaign! But most people would just greet me with a blank look. Should you wish to know more, however, read on... )

So that's me, and those are my real reasons for voting Yes to AV. As I've said, they aren't necessarily the reasons which are most effective in an actual debate. For most people, saying that I prefer AV because it is better at FPTP at identifying the Condorcet winner in each constituency is meaningless. And even if they're prepared to listen to me explaining it, I still have to acknowledge that that will only achieve a relatively modest improvement in the electoral system, and that AV isn't perfect at identifying the Condorcet winner itself anyway. But nonetheless, that is an honest statement of what is convincing me.

What's really important when I debate the issue with people on the phone is that my own core of conviction is solidly in place. From there, I can leave all talk of Condorcet winners behind, and concentrate on the arguments which are actually accessible and persuasive. It's nothing like as difficult as this post might make it appear. :-)

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strange_complex: (Clegg checks the omens)
I've just got back from a weekend in Sheffield, where I went to attend my first proper LibDem party conference )

Policy making )

What I actually attended )

Meeting people )

Anyway, there's lots more I could say about it all, but it's bed-time now, and I'll be back into full-on mega-busy mode at work again tomorrow. So I guess I will leave it there. Definitely an experience I'm glad I made time for, though, and I hope I'll get to do it again before too long.

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strange_complex: (C J Cregg)
Well, this election aftermath story is certainly throwing up some surprises, isn't it? I was a bit downcast about it all on Friday afternoon. I didn't think the LibDems had a strong enough hand to make electoral reform a central tenet of a coalition with either of the other parties. And if that couldn't be achieved, I couldn't really see how any of the three most likely outcomes (Con-Lib coalition, Lab-Lib coalition or Tory minority government) would ultimately do anything much else other than damage the Liberal Democrats in the long term - and hence damage the prospects of them having any serious input into the formation of government policy in the future. Like a lot of people, too, my immediate instinctive reaction to the idea of a Con-Lib coalition was "ugh!".

But I clearly underestimated Nick Clegg and his negotiating team )

What will actually happen is still anyone's guess )

Not everyone is happy with the outcome of this election )

I've got to say that I'm not seeing horror and betrayal in my corner of the internet )

Personally, I'm pretty OK with Con-Lib if it's going to achieve the implementation of as many of the LibDems' key manifesto commitments as it looks like it might. It's not going to be 'Torygeddon' - that wasn't the outcome of the election, and it's not how the Tory party would be able to behave while held on a tight leash by the LibDems in the context of a formal coalition. I'm not sure Lab-Lib is as workable - but if it can be made to work, I'd be perfectly happy with that too on the same grounds. It's a pity that the particular type of electoral reform that's being talked about by both Labour and the Tories at the moment is alternative vote, when single transferable vote is a lot fairer - see [ profile] innerbrat's excellent discussion for details. But that any kind of electoral reform is being seriously offered at all is amazing - never mind all the other issues surrounding the economy, taxation and education which are all clearly going to end up being resolved in ways that are much more to my taste than either the Tories or Labour could have managed alone.

Everything could still fall apart, of course, without any of us really getting anything we want - no matter what we voted for. But one thing is for sure. Between the outcome of this election, the priorities of the Liberal Democrat party, and the activities of groups such as the Take Back Parliament coalition, the issue of electoral reform has become a central part of the political discourse. People are talking about it all over the internet, and yesterday evening the BBC News channel provided a detailed outline of the differences between FPTP voting, AV and STV. It feels to me as though this issue won't just fade away again now. And that is one of the main reasons why I voted LibDem in the first place.

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Polling night

Friday, 7 May 2010 05:04
strange_complex: (Tick my box)
Well, it's nearly five a.m., well over half of the seats have declared now, and so far it's a pretty depressing picture. There have been a few surprising results, but no sense of a big swing of popular opinion; no big shocks or iconic defining moments. Just a slow but steady trickle of seats of all sorts falling to the Conservatives.

Far more depressing, of course, is the spectacle of thousands of voters being deprived of the chance to cast their votes at all because of an inexplicable failure on the part of polling stations across the country to predict that they might want to. I'm particularly bothered to note that most of the places where the polling stations ran out of ballot papers or didn't have time to process everyone who wanted to vote before 10pm were urban constituencies - that is, exactly the places that are most crucial to both Labour and the LibDems.

My silver linings about this are two. One - it has already clearly produced widespread rage, and we have been promised a thorough enquiry by the Electoral Commission into exactly what happened. Some results may be declared invalid, and if the overall situation is a hung parliament, it may be yet another argument for basically have a re-run of the entire election in the very near future. Two - this issue, along with high voter turn-out in general and large numbers of postal votes, seems to be contributing to delayed counts in a lot of the seats where it happened. As I've said, they are generally the types of seats which are most likely to come out as Labour or LibDem. So as their results do come out, they may start to show that the real Tory lead is actually smaller than it currently looks like it is going to be - at least if they are held to be valid, anyway.

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for my current constituency, Leeds North West, to declare. I note with pleasure that Bristol West, where I lived in 1997 and cast my first vote, has seen an increased LibDem majority. But that pleasure is distinctly tarnished for me by the news that my more recent former constituency, Oxford West, has fallen to the Tories, causing the wonderful Dr. Evan Harris to lose his seat.

Elsewhere, it's a pretty depressing night for the LibDems. They've lost a few here, gained a few there, but generally look on track to do what the exit poll predicted, which is retain more or less the number of seats in parliament which they already had. I'd like to know what their overall share of the vote nationwide is - has that gone up? I hope so, as it will strengthen their ability to claim that they should be able to have a decisive input into whatever happens in the wake of this election. But it's disappointing after the support they've been enjoying lately, and far short of what I'd hoped for them.

Ooh, this just in, though - Charles Clarke loses out to a LibDem candidate, and has a face like a slapped arse! That was fun.

Anyway, dawn is breaking, and David Dimbleby is sounding pretty tired and fed up now. I guess most of us feel much the same. I'm not too tired myself, as I have been deliberately time-shifting myself over the past week in anticipation of this evening - as the time-stamps on my last few posts will make clear. This is still rather later than even I'm used to staying up, but I can do another hour or so. If you're still up too, or even getting up early to check in on LJ before you go to work, drop me a comment and let me know you're out there!

ETA (05:30): excellent! Leeds North West holds, with an increased LibDem majority! Now why couldn't that have been repeated nationwide, hmm? I could go to bed now, especially since it will still clearly be a good 24 hours before we really have the slightest clue what this result will actually mean. But I'm still anxious to hear what has happened in Sheffield Hallam (Nick Clegg's seat, and clearly badly affected by polling station problems).

ETA the second (06:40): Clegg's seat now declared, and I'm very impressed by his speech emphasising the utter unacceptability of people being deprived of their votes first, and then saying we shouldn't rush into anything without taking time to think it through. Sensible man. Apparently the Queen is a sensible woman, too - she said early on that she wouldn't see anybody before 1pm. This seems to me like advice for life; and besides I don't think she's in much danger of being disturbed today at all. I could go to bed now, but still don't feel much like it. I will pay for this later.

ETA the third (09:00): OK, the BBC are closing down their election night coverage, it's still not completely certain that the Tories won't win an outright majority but it's pretty likely, and now I think I really am going to have to go to bed. Annoyed that the LibDem's share of the vote seems to have gone up slightly overall, but their number of seats has gone down. FPTP the post is clearly never going to work for them - so here's hoping that there is enough willingness now for them to push successfully for electoral reform.

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strange_complex: (C J Cregg)
So, here we stand on the eve of what is clearly going to be one of the most ground-shaking elections in living memory. I believe the closest I've seen to this level of excitement and sense of change before was in 1997, when Labour overthrew an eighteen-year-old Tory government to begin what has turned out to be a thirteen-year stint in power.

I actually voted last week, because I choose to have a postal ballot for the sake of convenience. Unlike a lot of people in this country (even still at the time of writing), I was never in any real doubt about how I was going to vote in this election, so didn't see any point in delaying the process. I'm certainly never going to vote Tory, so that wasn't an issue. Labour have, in all fairness, done some pretty good things since 1997 - for example, the minimum wage, granting control over interest rates to the Bank of England, and civil partnerships. But they've done some pretty shitty things, too - tuition fees, illegal wars, the campaign for ID cards, and of course lately cutting HEFCE funding so badly that my subject and my own job are now under threat. So there's no way I am going to vote for them either.

Anyway, I never really was. Ever since the first election I was eligible to vote in (which was in fact the 1997 one), I have consistently voted Liberal Democrat. Well - apart from the 2005 election, that is, in which I was disenfranchised because a letter I didn't know I was meant to be expecting got lost in the post. THAT was upsetting, and one hell of a strong reminder of what a precious possession the right to vote actually is.

Why I vote LibDem )

Why I don't vote tactically )

What I think / hope will happen at this election )

Anyway, tomorrow night I shall be having a few friends round to watch the results as they come in. It's fun to play drinking games involving sips of appropriately-coloured boozes as each seat is declared, of course - but that's also a strategy liable to cause you to cease caring and slide underneath the coffee-table before the night has advanced very far. Some might say that that would be for the best this time - but given that I do actually want to know what is happening, I have chosen an alternative, sugary method of marking the results. After extensive research in town on Tuesday, I concluded that M&Ms offered the best balance of good, strong primary colours, reasonable price and relatively minimal wastage. So I purchased five large packets of them and spent a happy quarter of an hour today sorting them out into their respective colours, like the roadie in Wayne's World.

If the contents of the packets are any indication of the election result, I can report that there will actually be a surprise Labour majority with the LibDems in second place by a narrow margin over the Tories:

If that's how it turns out, just remember folks - you heard it here first!

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strange_complex: (C J Cregg)
This only works if people are prepared to tell a stranger's data-collection gizmo how they intend to vote at the election - but if you're happy enough to do that, it's fun to see how your friends are lining up.

Help purple_pen and get your own badge!
(The Livejournal Electioniser was made by robhu)

The spread there so far is no particular surprise to me - but it could do with more data! Apparently, the graphs get updated periodically, so you can still change how mine looks by submitting your voting intentions.

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strange_complex: (Girly love Alma Tadema)
With thanks to [ profile] diffrentcolours:

I'd just like to promote a new campaign by Nick Clegg and LGBT Lib Dems calling for Marriage Without Borders - removing the gender restrictions on marriages and civil partnerships, and improving international recognition of same-sex relationships.

Please sign the petition; if you're on Facebook you can become a fan, but do make sure you sign as well - and pimp it to your friends! Get HTML code to copy and paste!

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strange_complex: (C J Cregg)
Seen last night at the Cottage Road cinema with [ profile] ms_siobhan and [ profile] planet_andy.

I didn't expect to be so absolutely gripped by this, but it really was enthralling. At micro level, it focusses entirely on the preparations for and recording of the series of interviews which Nixon gave to David Frost in 1977, but in the process it casts a very searching light indeed over the nature of politics and the media and the relationship between them.

Martin (oops!) Michael Sheen and Frank Langella are absolutely brilliant as the nervous young Frost and the ageing and embittered Nixon respectively, managing to capture the mannerisms and speech patterns of their subjects beautifully without ever coming across as slavish impressionists. And I very much liked the device of having most of the major secondary characters appearing not only within the story itself, but also in 'talking head' guise, looking back on their experience of the interviews from a perspective in what appears to be something like the early '80s. It was a great way of allowing the interviews to be commented on from a position of hindsight at the same time as presenting the unfolding process as it occurred, which was important given that one of the main things the film wanted to do was emphasise the contrast between the eventual success of the project and the risk of total failure which had been run along the way.

That said, I think it would also be incautious to be too easily swayed by a film which demonstrates so clearly the persuasive and distorting power of the screen (small or large). It's fairly clearly mythologising both Frost and the interviews, and it presents Nixon's final confessions about Watergate as a crushing and unexpected defeat for him. But I find it hard to believe that so canny and manipulative a politician as Nixon would really have allowed himself to be pushed by Frost into saying anything he didn't entirely want to say anyway. And then again, we do in fact see Nixon's Chief of Staff looking back on the interviews a few years later on and saying that he felt they had been a success - so maybe the possibility that Nixon knew exactly what he was doing is allowed for as well.

Anyway, I very much enjoyed the close treatment of such a fascinating moment in the history of both television and politics. I'll be looking out to see how this one does at the Oscars.

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strange_complex: (C J Cregg)
I can't help feeling today rather like the Italian allies apparently felt on the eve of the Social War in 91 BC. They fought alongside the Romans on campaign, and were therefore profoundly affected by Roman foreign policy. Rome's enemies were their enemies, and Rome's campaigns were their campaigns. But they had no vote in Rome, and thus no say in the decision-making process that lay behind declarations of war.

Velleius Paterculus describes their situation thus:
In every year and in every war they served with twice as many foot and horse as the Romans, and yet were not given the right of citizenship in the very state which had reached through their efforts so high a position that it could look with contempt on men of the same race and blood as if they were outsiders and foreigners. (Roman History 2.15.2)
Their reaction was to rebel against Roman power, causing warfare throughout Italy: an action which in fact resulted in them getting exactly what they wanted, since the Romans realised that extending the vote to the whole of Italy was a small price to pay for peace and stability on their doorstep.

I'm not saying anything of the sort is either desirable or necessary now - it would be far better if the United States simply stopped throwing its weight around so much, and dragging the rest of us into its ill-thought-out wars. But I empathise with that sense of frustration. Today the world's future is being decided by the electorate of one nation. And all the rest of us can do is stand there crossing our fingers.

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strange_complex: (Lee as M.R. James)
You've probably heard about this on the news already, but the government is planning to cut the budget of the British Library by up to 7%. The library is saying that the only way it can survive if this happens is to dramatically reduce its opening hours, and charge fees to use its reading rooms.

In other words, the nation's greatest and most comprehensive repository of printed information could be changed from a freely accessible resource into one which is only available to those with the wealth to pay its entrance fees and the flexibility to attend during limited opening hours. Personally, I feel very strongly that this should not be allowed to happen.

Thankfully, over 6000 people so far have shown that they feel the same way by signing a petition on the new Downing Street petitions website to protest against this. If you'd like to join them, the link is here. (But only UK residents and ex-pat citizens can sign up, I'm afraid).

Edit: or, as [ profile] sushidog advises, go to Write To Them to send an email about it directly to your local MP. It only takes a minute or two, and you don't even have to know who they are - just where you live.
strange_complex: (Claudius god)
So Gordon Brown is concerned that the union between England and Scotland is under threat.

What do you think?

[Poll #905956]

Sorry - there are no snowflakes here.


strange_complex: (Default)

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