Friday, 25 February 2011

Is there an Alternative?

I haven't said much on the subject of the AV referendum, for one very simple reason; I'm really not sure what I think about it.

Of course, if I were a loyal member of the Conservative Party then my decision would be straightforward; vote "no" to AV because Dave says so.  However, there are very few things that I am loyal to when it comes to being told what to think, and I don't think any political parties are on that particular list.  So, as usual, I will insist on making my own mind up.  And therein lies the reason for my silence; I hadn't made my mind up until today.

To try and decide, I've looked at the last two election results for my constituency, Wycombe.  The 2010 polling was as follows:

ConservativeSteve Baker23,423
Liberal DemocratSteve Guy13,863
LabourAndrew Lomas8,326
UKIP John Wiseman2,123
IndependentMudassar Khokar228
IndependentDavid Fitton188

So under FPTP, Steve Baker won handsomely and is now apparently acquitting himself well as a new backbencher.  Under AV, the result would probably have been the same; we have no idea where the independent votes would have gone, but we can assume that the UKIPpers would have voted Conservative as their second preference.  That would have increased Steve Baker's vote to 25,546, over half the total cast and therefore an outright win.  We can't be certain - we might have had a UKIP win with lots putting Conservatives as their second preference, but given the complete vanishing act by the UKIP candidate for the whole campaign, I doubt it.  

What about 2005?  Then, the votes were a little different:

ConservativePaul Goodman20,331
LabourJulia Wassell13,280
Liberal DemocratJames Oates8,780
UKIPRobert Davis1,735
IndependentDavid Fitton301

Again, I have to ignore the Independent votes for the very persistent Mr Fitton, as I have no idea where they would go.  So UKIP would be the next to be eliminated, giving:

ConservativePaul Goodman22,066
LabourJulia Wassell13,280
Liberal DemocratJames Oates8,780

Still no-one has an overall majority.  So the Lib Dem is eliminated.  I'm guessing most or all of those votes would go to Labour; let's be honest, most Lib Dems are quite socialist in outlook.  So that gives:

ConservativePaul Goodman22,066
LabourJulia Wassell22,060

Ooops.  The 301 Independent votes will swing it either way, therefore.  Given that Wycombe is an historically Conservative seat, and that a protest vote against that "establishment" is a fairly non-Conservative thing to do, I reckon there is a good chance that most of them would put Labour second, handing what FPTP declared to be a safe conservative seat to Labour, reversing a 7,051 majority and giving the seat to someone who was the first preference of 30% of the voters.  

And there is, I think, my objection to AV.  Its supporters claim that it produces a winner who is supported by a majority of the voters.  I disagree; I see this as pure spin.  I think it yields a winner who was not objected to by a majority of the voters.  Think about it: psychologically, you will give your first vote to someone who you want to win.  Your second vote will go to someone who you don't mind winning - the compromise candidate.  Yet, as shown above, it is the second preference votes that will decide the result in many cases.

This will have a simple and predictable effect on the election process.  We will get the inoffensive candidates.  The one that no-one minds if they get in.  The ones that are dull.  The ones with no firm opinion of their own, and no likelihood of expressing a definite view.  The ones that will toe the party line..

Meanwhile, the principal thing that I think is wrong with our political system (and it heads a long list) is that we have a  dreary bunch of machine politicians, corporatist Statists who think they are there to help their party win elections and gain the right to manage the UK.  This is reflected in the oft-repeated jibe that the parties are all indistinguishable - they are just bland centrist men in grey suits who will maintain the status quo rather than fix it.  I want independent thinkers in Parliament, MPs who understand that they are there to represent the interests of their constituents, hold the executive to account and limit its freedom to act, and to scrutinise draft legislation (people like Steve Baker, in fact).

What we need is a breath of fresh air.  We need it to be easier to create a new party, widen the range of candidates, challenge the established order of the left, the right, and the other lot.  We need a situation where a party who falls seriously out of favour (like Labour in 2010 or the Tories in 1997) don't just lose power, they die.  Any company that let down or lost the faith of its customers in the way politicians of all colours have in our history would be bankrupt, would itself be history.

AV won't do that.  It will reinforce the drift towards bland politics, the politics of protecting the established order.  And we can see that in the referendum campaign.  Dizzy has found that the Yes campaign is funded by corporate self-interest, and the No campaign has resorted to peddling frankly pathetic and fallacious non-sequitors.  It is politics as usual from both sides, in other words.  We can do better than this.  We deserve better than this.  

I want RON, not AV as such.  RON, in case you don't know, is "Re-Open Nominations", an alternative on the ballot which, if it "wins", results in the election being re-run with new candidates standing.  This could be combined with AV, or STV, or whatever - it would allow people to say "I don't like any of these", or "This candidate, else none of them".  My preference would be for AV/STV, plus RON, plus compulsory voting.  Send the message that you must vote, but if you don't like any of them then you can vote for none of them.

That would really set the cat amongst the pigeons, given our usual level of voter turnout.

So, the AV referendum is a missed opportunity, twisted by narrow political interests that only want it in order to preserve a system that suits them.  It will, I suspect, be the issue that stops me from voting Lib Dem for a very long time.   

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Counting Beans

We need the census, apparently.  We need to be asked all 43 questions for a variety of reasons, all of which boil down to the basic one "Nanny State needs this information in order to plan".

My response is summed up perfectly by Messrs Lynn and Jay.  It is the last episode of Yes Prime Minister, and Jim Hacker is proposing to abolish the Department of Education and Science.  He naturally meets opposition from Sir Humphrey, a man who believes that nothing can happen without a Government Department to support it, a man who would have been beside himself with joy from 1997 onwards.  Having established that the DES does little of direct and immediate relevance to day-to-day schooling, Jim delivers the coup de grĂ¢ce, suggesting complete closure of the department.  The following is taken from the book, written in the style of Hacker's memoirs:
(Jim) "Let's see if we can do better without the bureaucracy."
(Sir Humphrey) "But who would plan for the future?"
I laughed.  But I didn't just laugh, I laughed uproariously.  Laughter overwhelmed me, for the first time since I'd been Prime Minister.  Tears were rolling down my cheeks.  "Do you mean?", I finally gasped, breathless, weeping with laughter, "that education in Britain today is what the Department of Education planned?"

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Short Memories

Remember this?
Leadership in the international community
A new Labour government will use Britain's permanent seat on the Security Council to press for substantial reform of the United Nations, including an early resolution of its funding crisis, and a more effective role in peacekeeping, conflict prevention, the protection of human rights and safeguarding the global environment.
Or this?
Human rights
Labour wants Britain to be respected in the world for the integrity with which it conducts its foreign relations. We will make the protection and promotion of human rights a central part of our foreign policy. We will work for the creation of a permanent international criminal court to investigate genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Both from the 1997 Labour Manifesto.

Remember this?

Monday, 21 February 2011

Just Wondering…

…what our internationally-famous and well-known-friend of Colonel Gadaffi, the Middle East Peace Envoy is up to these days?

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Hear hear

Tom Paine sets out the fundamental objection to the State supplying essential services.
If I am ever in a nursing home, I want my daughters to be paying the bills, checking up on the service and making it clear to the proprietors that they are ready to take our family's business elsewhere if they are dissatisfied. No bureaucrat, however kindly s/he may be, can replace that.
Don't tell me that socialists "care" more than conservatives or libertarians. Ignore their fine words and look at what they actually do.
Well said.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Bring on the Cuts...

We cannot and must not cut, because every part of public spending is vital, and carried out efficiently! So any cuts will hurt people, surely?

Oh, no - wait:

What - you mean the decade of local government targets led to endless wasteful spending on projects that were of no use to anyone but which met a Whitehall target, and therefore qualified someone for a positive employee appraisal?

But then, we would be stuck with a £1trn debt which we had to pay off, for which all we had were cycle lanes that were too narrow to cycle in and too short to have been any use even if they had been wide enough... oh,...

(Hat tip to  Do read their site, but not just after paying a tax bill)

The Preparation Begins...

All the Caterham build diaries agree on one thing - a Dremel or equivalent is essential. It also seems quite useful in its own right, so I've ordered one even though there are 6 months to go before my boxes of bits turn up:

I've also bought Rolson's very good pack of spare Dremel bits, which seems to cover all the bases. If you want one, you'll have to wait, though - it seems I bought Amazon's last one...

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Appealing Perverts

So there is a fuss, because the Judges have ruled that sex offenders must be allowed to appeal against their lifetime inclusion on the sex offenders register.  The Home Secretary will comply, although she claims not to want to, so will make the right as limited as possible.  The People are in uproar, apparently (or it may just be the Mail, it's difficult to tell).

The thing is, the Judges are absolutely right.  Those who object point to the abhorrence of allowing people who  have committed appalling acts their full freedoms, of allowing them to move freely and undetected in our society.  They point out that these people rarely reform, that there is something seriously (and often irrevocably) wrong in their make-up. And they are right, too.

Where the objections to this move fall down, in my opinion, is that they fail to note the non-sequitor in holding up these cases to show that no-one on the sex offenders register should ever be allowed off it.  There are two reasons.  First, and foremost, is the objection that the criteria for inclusion on the register are far wider than just these singularly disgusting individuals.  As we have seen, they are wide enough to include a teenager who sleeps with their teenage crush a little earlier than is legal.  It is not enough to argue that the criteria should be adjusted to exclude such "deserving" (or maybe, less undeserving) cases; it would be an impossible task to set out a perfect distinguishing line.  There needs to be a mechanism for looking at the offender later in their life and asking why they were convicted, whether they are (genuinely) still a risk, and whether the limits on their freedom imposed by inclusion on the register are still necessary.

The second reason is a more philosophical one.  I know, and understand, that these people rarely reform.  But there is a world of difference between rarely reforming and never reforming.  If we accept that there is a non-zero possibility that these people will one day reform their soul, understand that what they did was wrong, and find the personal strength to change, then we must allow a route for them to demonstrate that this has happened. By all means set a very high standard of proof indeed (although not an impossible one).

If you do not accept this, if you take the view that there is no possibility of reform whatsoever (which, as an aside, would imply that you take a non-Christian outlook on life), then by all means object to the possibility of release from the Register.  However, logically speaking, you should also object to them ever being released from prison.  In practice, no official register is ever going to completely prevent a predatory rapist or paedophile from meeting up with women and children, so if nothing can be done to change them then there is only one option.

The right outcome, therefore, is to allow someone's inclusion on the register to be reviewed, but (given that the known likelihood of reform is low) to set a very high bar indeed for any such applications, and to take into account the nature of the original offence.

The reason most of the Twitter links in the above post don't work is that @Wokingite/@Spiderplantblog received a number of death threats following the opinions she expressed.  Now, I disagree with her on this subject, as is clear from the above, but she was speaking from the heart and simply saying what most of us think.  Certainly, the above is my considered view whereas my gut reaction is much closer to hers.  She had an absolute right to express them, and to threaten her for her opinions is contemptible.

Voltaire was spot on, and it is a great shame that most people will have no idea what I mean by that reference.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Quite excited and also a little bit scared

I've just decided to put my money where my mouth is. I've signed up for the 2012 Caterham Academy.

So, provided I don't have a financial crisis between now and December, I will be spending the winter in the garage building a 7, and the spring & summer finding out whether it might have been me in F1 instead of Button...

I plan to post details of the build and the race series here as I go.  Watch for the "caterham" tag.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

We all still have the vote

Yes, all of us.

(Except those that choose to give it up, of course.  So if you want to keep hold of your vote, try to avoid accidentally robbing a bank.)

Compare & Contrast

Here is the original speech by Lord Phillips on the subject of judicial independence and the funding of the Supreme Court.

Here is the report by the BBC.

Please read both.  I have.  It seems to me that the essential message of the BBC article is that "The nasty Tory budget cuts are threatening the independence of the Supreme Court, which is naughty. That nice Labour man Lord Faulkner said right from the start how important it was to prevent this from ever happening".

The message of the original speech, however, seems to me to be that "Lord Faulkner was seriously challenged in Parliament over his previously inadequate safeguards for the independence of the Supreme Courts.  In response, he promised to introduce a carefully designed system of funding that would have provided the necessary independence.  However, the final Act of Parliament did not contain any such safeguards.  The present need for cuts is highlighting this failure".

This is, of course, slightly different.  Am I being paranoid here?

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Caused or Correlated?

Richard over at Going Fast, Getting Nowhere has put down some thoughts on gang injunctions and the root causes of violence.  He is annoyed at the ever-present assumption that unemployment and poverty cause violence and crime.  He points out that he (like me) has experienced times when he had little or no money, but managed to stay non-violent.

He offers a reason - it is "because I am not a violent person". That made me think.

It is fairly well established that there is a correlation between poverty and crime.  The problem, as any philosopher will tell you, that correlation does not prove causation.  To prove causation requires use the scientific method, and social science is unfortunately not a scientific discipline.  After all, to use the scientific method would require us to take a large sample of comfortably-off middle-class families, throw them into destitution, and watch what happened.  That would obviously be unacceptable to any caring, intelligent human (which tells us all we need to know about Labour Chancellors of the Exchequer).

But what if there is a causal link?  After all, we tend to assume that a longstanding and consistent correlation is in fact indicative of a causal link of some sort.  Our assumptions in this regard are not always accurate, but we make them for a reason - which is that they often are.

Thinking about it, it is very likely indeed that there is a causal link.  And the link lies in Richard's words -  "I am not a violent person".  Richard is not violent or criminal (so far as I can see!) but some people are.  What will happen to those two groups?  Richard will work hard and is more likely to apply himself at school.  He is likely to get qualifications.  That leads to a job, in which he will work hard and get on with his co-workers.  The thug, on the other hand, will not work hard at school (you all remember at least one, surely?).  He (yes, usually it is a he) leaves at 16 with few or no qualifications, and finds it hard to get a job.  If he does, he is likely to antagonise his co-workers and be generally unco-operative, meaning that he is not advance and is more likely to leave, willingly or unwillingly.

Now, these are stereotypes, and extreme ones.  But they do point to a strong causal relationship, which is the precise opposite to that usually assumed by the soft liberal left.  So no, poverty does not cause crime.  Crime causes poverty.

My prescription?  For the ones who are still children, school discipline and youth counsellors.  For the adults, a mix of continuing education, prison or the Army for them to choose from.

It has to be better than telling them that it's all so not their fault, it's nothing to do with their outlook on life, they've just been hard done by, society should give them more money and more stuff, and ow, that hurt, and Oi! that's my bag, come back here!