National Politics, Uncategorized, World politics

The way to get a fairer voting system is to vote Green not Labour

andrew weaver john horgan BC

In British Columbia, Canada, Green leader Andrew Weaver agrees a deal with NDP’s John Horgan to end unfair first-past-the-post voting and bring in a proportional system

Hey ho. We are entering the final stages of a general election campaign which looks like cementing our out-of-date two party system in place for at least another five years.

Labour have failed to put a proportional voting system into its manifesto. Despite calls from many in his party, Jeremy Corbyn has stuck to his script that he does not need it to win, nor does he want it – oh and he can win the Green’s only seat in Brighton. So Labour are asking for your vote on the basis of maintaining the unfair voting system which has given us a majority of “safe seats”, expenses scandals, indifference to voters and all the rest of it.

Social media is full of idealistic people saying they wish Greens and Labour would work together. Well that will only happen if people vote Green rather than Labour in this general election.

Across the pond in Canada, Greens in the Canadian province of British Columbia have just agreed a deal with the New Democratic Party (the Canadian equivalent of Labour) which will overturn the winner-takes-all voting system in that province and bring in proportional representation. It will also restrict private and union donations to political parties.

The Greens were able to do this because the New Democratic Party (NDP)  needed the three newly elected Green MPs to form a majority Government. In the British Columbia elections last month, the Liberal Party which had ruled the province for 16 years lost seats to bring their total down to 43. The NDP won 41 seats. The Greens tripled their representation from one to three MPs.

A party can not form a government just because it has more seats than any other single party.  It can only form a Government if it has more seats than all the other parties combined. If it does not it must seek a deal with some other party to give it a majority. So both the NDP and the Liberals knew they had to do a deal with the Greens. In the end the Greens went with the NDP because they promised to fight against a massive proposed oil pipeline  and to scrap first-past-the-post voting and introduce proportional representation.

Both parties have hailed this as an example of the sort of non partisan co-operation that voters want and are urging Canada’s central Government to follow suit.

Over here in the UK it just so happens that some pollsters are now predicting that there could be a hung parliament in Britain after this election, with Conservatives winning more seats than the other parties but unable to form a Government, because their seats will not outnumber the total of other parties’ such as Labour, SNP and Greens.

We heard this before the 2015 election and it did not happen and it seems unlikely again this time but it does make the point that Greens are needed in parliament.

If Greens double their number of MPs from one (Caroline Lucas) to two – with a win against Labour in Bristol West, then the pressure on Jeremy Corbyn, or whoever leads Labour after June 8th, to end Labour’s official resistance to a fairer voting system would be intensified.

The SNP also support proportional representation, but they are not standing in England, and UKIP too support it but are unlikely to win any seats anywhere, including their former seat of Clacton (where the popular Douglas Carswell is standing down).

So if you want Greens and Labour to cooperate it is no good voting Labour in seats that are either safe Conservative or safe Labour.

The Green Party has tried to seek a pre-election deal with Labour. Labour has refused and has refused to put a fairer voting system in its manifesto.  If voters want the two parties to work together, they need to pressure Labour, not the Greens. They need to send a message to Labour and Jeremy Corbyn by voting Green in safe Labour and Tory seats. A larger Green vote will be noticed, a larger Labour one will not in seats that they either can’t win or are sure to.

And then there is Bristol West. Here the Green Party came a close second to Labour last time (LibDems and Conservative were in 3rd and 4th place). Many left-Green supporters think they must vote Labour in Bristol West to ensure that Labour have as many seats as possible so that they can form a Government.

But this is to misunderstand the way Governments are formed.  A Green win in Bristol West will serve to cut the Tory majority just as well as a Labour win. And it will have the added advantage of putting pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to make a fairer, proportional voting system  Labour policy.

So if you want a fairer voting system, and you want to get rid of the Conservative government, vote Green, not Labour.

 

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National Politics, Uncategorized

How Corbyn has cracked his halo

jeremy corbyn

The thing Jeremy Corbyn had going for him, as far as the general population is concerned, was his integrity, his refusal to compromise, his refusal to schmooze and simper and smarm. His apparent ability to stand up for what he believed in, regardless of what was deemed establishment opinion, rightly earned him the respect of people from all walks of life and political views.  He did manage to crack the establishment consensus that austerity is the only solution. Conservative strategists like Lynton Crosby saw that in his character and in their souls feared it. There is no one in the Conservative party who could win in the integrity stakes against Corbyn.

But during the EU referendum campaign Corbyn failed to be true to that. He adopted a tactic of laying low and appeared half-hearted in his support for Remain. So he was absent from many of the big Remain rallies and media appearances. The few speeches he did give sounded passionless and flat.  Opinion polls show that many of the people who voted Labour in the last general election (about a third of them) were intending to vote Leave. Another big chunk, lacking guidance from anyone they trusted, are likely to be a part of the 28% who stayed at home and sat on their hands. If Corbyn had been as active as Cameron in standing up for EU membership maybe those people would have been emboldened to go and out and vote and the ballot would have gone the other way.  That is one reason why not just Blairite MPs but strong, left wing Remain campaigners have turned against him

He also got principles confused with reality. I too was initially ambiguous about which way to vote in the referendum. But as I saw how the leaders of the Leave campaign were deliberately manipulating people into blaming immigrants for many of the country’s problems I realised I couldn’t afford to sit on the fence. Much though I disliked a lot of what the EU stood for, I realised voting Leave would embolden and legitimise racists, without achieving much change for the good, and without even reducing immigration by a significant amount (assuming that was the desired outcome for many people). Corbyn must have seen this but he perhaps loved his left-wing principles more than the reality and he wasn’t going to bend. So Corbyn not only betrayed the Remain side by being half-hearted, he also helped embolden racists.

But if he believed in Leave then why should he have loyalty to Remain? The Labour Party forced him into that box, as did probably the majority of the new young members who voted for him.  So the deeper betrayal was to his own persona. His image of integrity has been tarnished because he is seen to have been untrue to himself. If he wanted to Leave he should have come out and said so.  If he decided that Remain was the right thing to do, however reluctant he was, he should have come out and said so properly. He should have described publicly his own battle with the issue. Instead he bowed to pressure to support the Remain side, even when he did not really believe it. THAT is the key error.  That is just what St Jeremy was not supposed to do, speak for something he doesn’t believe in. The halo has slipped badly. If he wants to get his image back, he needs to acknowledge the mistake he made in the referendum campaign. Come clean, admit his true position on Europe and apologise for not being clear about it before. Unless he does that he will never repair the deep crack to his reputation.  But I am not sure he has the personality to admit he is wrong. The very inflexibility in him that has won him support is about to destroy him.

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National Politics, Politics

Britain Bombing Syria is not a solution

syrian bombingI am averse to knee-jerk pacifism as much as I dislike knee-jerk war-mongering. This is perhaps a bold admission for a Green Party member, but I supported the invasion of Iraq back when Tony Blair was primeminister, because I agreed that Saddam Hussein was worth getting rid of and thought that it could be done reasonably effectively, with a combination of ground troops supported by aircraft.

That part of it turned out to be more or less right. But I made the foolish mistake of assuming that the world’s western powers – which in effect meant the US – would have a coherent plan to create a democratic state once Saddam was driven from power. It turned out they didn’t. Like Captain Kirk blasting the baddies on a foreign planet, they thought they could install their own puppets and then walk away. They (we) ended up creating chaos, an incompetent, undemocratic Shia controlled government and massive disaffection amongst the Sunni minority. That disaffection is now stoking the growth of Isis.

So if there was a credible plan – using both diplomacy, sanctions, trade blockades, pressure on Turkey, carrots and sticks – to create a reasonably democratic state or states out of the mess that is Syria, and properly conceived military action was part of that plan, then I might just back it.

But there patently isn’t. This bombing is not part of a long-term strategic plan, it is apparently a political “message” to the US and France that Britain will back their “war on terror”. Yet there is no evidence that the Paris terrorist attacks were funded or organised by Isis, rather than individual disaffected Belgians and French who have been inspired by the idea of Jihad. And even if it turns out they were, the way to tackle terrorism is to address the underlying discontent among the populations of Syria, Iraq and Turkey that allows terrorists to thrive.

The evidence we do have points towards the futility of bombing Syria. America and France have been bombing the country for some time. All it has done is increase support for Isis by constantly killing civilians.  Would sending in ground troops – which may well be Obama and Cameron’s next step – be more effective? Not if we don’t have a plan to support the diverse citizens of the land currently known as Syria once Assad is removed. It would simply stoke anti-western feeling even further.

I have been reading all I can about this over the last few days because up until recently I was undecided. What finally swayed me against bombing were not the routine peacenik noises of Jeremy Corbyn, which are entirely to be expected. It was the opinions of people from the other end of the left-right spectrum, who do not have an ideological aversion to any foreign military intervention.

People like David Davis, Conservative MP, who believes that bombing will be ineffective.   Or Maj-Gen Patrick Cordingley, involved in the first Iraq invasion, who, writing in The Times, said that bombing, by killing large numbers of people, would simply fuel further problems with terror groups down the road.  Or Peter Hitchens, writing in the Daily Mail, who said “We are rushing towards yet another swamp, from which we will struggle to extract ourselves and where we can do no conceivable good.”

Green MP Caroline Lucas gave perhaps the most reasoned, least emotional, arguments, pointing out that the Foreign Affairs Committee had said that because Britain has so far avoided joining the bombing, unlike the US, Russia and France, we have a credibility in the eyes of Muslim, Middle Eastern nations which would allow us to take a leading role in diplomatic negotiations.

By the way, what a farce our newspapers and broadcast  journalists have made of reporting and analysing this important question. If you want to try to tease out the truth about whether we should join the bombing, you have to fight your way through a raft of lurid headlines about “Labour’s war on Syria” and commentary and overly-hostile questions about Corbyn’s “lack of leadership”. As if the main opposition political party having a heated debate on the question was somehow more surprising or interesting or important than the decision as to whether we should send our people into a battle zone in a foreign land.

For what it is worth, I’m glad that Jeremy Corbyn has allowed his MPs a free vote on the matter. If MPs are unable to exercise their consciences and intellects on this, they shouldn’t be MPs. Unlike all the other parties, the Green Party does not believe in “whipping” its elected representatives as if they are so much voting fodder. Every vote should be down to the conscience of the individual elected representative, not set by a party leader who has some tactical political reason, usually based around pleasing powerful backers, for fixing the vote.  People want their representatives to make decisions for them based on their individual conscience, not on their instructions from a party leader.

Ah yes, people will say, but you’ve only got one MP so it’s not yet an issue for you. Well all over the country we have Green groups of councillors none of whom use the “whip” to instruct their colleagues how to vote. All of them try to build consensus amonst their ranks by persuasion and debate. Greens ran Brighton and Hove council as a minority administration for four years, without using a whip. Yes that led to headlines about internal ructions and “splits”. But Greens were prepared to put up with that for the sake of treating their  elected representatives – and their constituents who expect them to make decisions for themselves – as adults.  A true leader leads by persuasion and example, not by the bullying and bribing that constitutes the whip system.

 

 

 

 

 

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