Tuesday, May 17, 2011
The Queen's visit to the Republic of Ireland is about time. Yes, Ireland's history is peppered by bloody events instigated by British governments of the day, but much has moved on and it is appropriate to grow up and welcome the head of state of the UK - notwithstanding the silliness of having a hereditary monarch in that role. The potato famine, instigated by Catholic-phobes from the UK, was a gross atrocity. Certainly the state sanctioned religious discrimination against Catholics in Ireland was a disgrace (and in Northern Ireland state sanctioned discrimination didn't start to be addressed properly unti the 1960s).
However, independent Ireland's history is not without disgrace. It disgustingly decided on neutrality in World War 2, whilst the UK fought Nazism. Ireland was saved from fascism by Allied men and women who fought it, many of whom died. Whilst it provided unofficial help to the Allies (and to be fair was hardly economically or technically capable of fighting a war), it was a "free-rider". For decades it funded and armed the IRA in its insurgency in Ulster and ably helped fight the British military presence in Ulster. That's without noting its repulsive complicity with covering up the rape and brutal treatment of children under the care of Catholic sadists and pederasts.
Of course much has changed in recent years. "Peace" in Northern Ireland at least has acknowledged an end to the formal claim from Dublin of sovereignty over Ulster, and it remains true that the majority of residents of Northern Ireland are unlikely to want to be part of the virtually bankrupt Irish Republic.
With membership of the European Union, and end of the Troubles, the openness of the close relationship between people in both countries is palpable. British citizens do not even need a passport to enter the Irish Republic and vice versa. There is no border control between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. Dublin by far the most popular air route from London's Stansted airport, second most popular from Gatwick and third from Heathrow. The largest foreign born resident community in the UK are those born in Ireland. The UK is Ireland's biggest trading partner. The economies are closely intertwined.
Given that it only took the UK and (West) Germany a matter of less than a decade to advance relations from arch enemies to being Allies, especially given the level of destruction and death each had inflicted on the other (because of Germany), it is about time Ireland grew up. Most people in Ireland have, as they have family, friends and business ties across the Irish Sea and across the nearly invisible border in the north of Ireland.
Monday, May 09, 2011
So much has happened, and I've been so busy, I thought it would make the most sense to treat the political events in both countries as a series of vignettes:
UK electoral referendum: A stunning defeat for reform. Those who supported AV (mostly on the left) will say it is because it didn't go far enough, those who opposed it (some who appallingly said it meant the end of "one man one vote") say the argument is over. It is, for a while. Making the House of Lords an elected chamber is still on the agenda, but there will be a few post-graduate politics theses to come from analysing why in the UK, when politicians are widely despised, at a time of economic stagnation, electoral reform is a dead duck, whereas in NZ, under not dissimilar conditions, it became a vent for frustration (ably hijacked by maverick politicians).
When you're in government, you disappoint us: Liberal Democrat voters have for decades had the comfort of electing MPs and they doing nothing but criticise the government and the opposition. Now they are in government, and can't dish out the loot its supporters yearn for, the voters have turned their backs in the 2011 local elections. The local government elections in England, and Assembly elections in Wales and Scotland all saw the Liberal Democrats punished severely - because they are in government. A third of Liberal Democrat councillors lost their seats and the number of councils controlled by the Liberal Democrats dropped from 19 to 10 (out of 279 councils to be fair). Bear in mind this isn't ALL councils, and in half of those councils only one-third of seats are up for grabs. Still it showed how voters connect local politics to central politics rather than concentrate on local issues. It also showed how many Liberal Democrat voters are really socialists.
Scotland is for the socialist nationalists: The Scottish Assembly elections saw the Liberal Democrats hammered from third to fourth place dropping from 17 to 5 seats in the Assembly. The Conservatives also lost 5 seats from 20 to 15, but Labour also dropped from 44 to 37. The winner was the Scottish National Party which has won an overall majority, the first time any party ever gained an overall majority in the Supplementary Member based Assembly since it was created under the Blair government. The SNP's raison d'etre is Scottish independence, but that doesn't appear to have driven Scottish voters. Rather they have rejected the Westminster based parties in favour of something different. Cynically one can see the SNP as old Labour, as it promises ever increased spending and public sector growth, based on the inflated taxpayer based funding gained from Westminster. Bear in mind also that SNP leader Alex Salmond once described Iceland and Ireland as models for Scotland to follow. He doesn't like being reminded of that, or that two big Scottish banks were bailed out by Westminster as well. Salmond wants a referendum on Scottish independence, but not for a few years - he knows he would lose one held now. Meanwhile, the West Lothian question remains - the Scottish Assembly has many powers on issues like health and education, but Scottish MPs at Westminster can still vote on those matters for England. I wouldn't mind if Scotland's silly socialism (which has contributed to a malaise and stagnation that is only too obvious) was self funded.
Wales is not for socialist nationalists: By complete contrast, the winners in the Welsh Assembly were Labour and the Conservatives, both gaining seats at the expense of the Liberal Democrats and the nationalist Plaid Cymru. The Conservatives are now in second place in Wales. The Welsh clearly don't have fantasies of being on their own.
A good election for the Conservatives and just good enough for Labour: The Conservatives, bearing in mind that they lead the government, gained 81 council seats and gained control of 4 more councils. Staggering given the publicity and the angst raised by public sector unions and the Labour Party about the modest spending cut programme. Labour did gain 800 council seats and control of 26 more councils, but still the Conservatives have control of 157 councils over Labour's 57, the big change was around a 40% reduction in councils with no party having overall control. Yet while Labour did ok in Wales, so did the Conservatives, and Labour was hit hard in Scotland. Labour without Scotland is highly unlikely ever to govern, so Ed Miliband will be at best relieved it isn't worse, but not enough to really celebrate. David Cameron will be very happy indeed.
Bye bye fascists: The BNP had an appalling election, losing 11 of its 13 council seats, proving again that it is a party of incompetent malcontents who are limited entirely by their own personal failings in life. However, it did come fifth in Wales, standing for the first time for the Welsh Assembly. Some votes no doubt went to the nationalist (but distinctly non-racist) English Democrats, which took 2 seats. George Galloway's vile pro-communist/Islamist Respect Party lost both of its seats. On the other side the Greens picked up 13 seats to go to 78 overall in England as the fourth biggest party.
ACT Mk 4: Mk. 1 of ACT was written up in Sir Roger Douglas's book "Unfinished Business". It promised zero income tax in exchange for compulsory health insurance, pension plans and education accounts for those with children. It would have meant a vast reform and improvement in outcomes, although not so much for individual freedom. However, despite vast amounts spent on literature, it couldn't be sold effectively so along came ACT Mk. 2 - Richard Prebble had a book written called "I've Been Thinking" and offered flat tax, and less government. That got him into Parliament initially as MP for Wellington Central, and gave ACT a reasonable run through till 2005. Then came Rodney Hide and ACT Mk. 3, as he became MP for Epsom and ACT became even more diluted, although a smattering of social liberalism also appeared. Now Dr. Don Brash is bailing him out, after a term of poor performance and being far too aligned with National's goals than ACT's one. I'm wishing Dr. Brash success, as long as he doesn't bring on the populist old-Muldoonist John Banks along for the ride. For ACT to have any purpose it needs philosophical and policy consistency. The party to abolish the deficit by cutting spending, the party for lower tax without offsetting tax increases, the party to advocate competition in public services and privatisation of government businesses, the party for less regulation and less government, including a belief in individual freedom. A party that doesn't support any kind of state privilege for individual, members of groups or businesses. Frankly, otherwise, ACT may as well wind up.
Nationalist socialist: What more to say about Hone Harawira? He treats taxpayers like a Mafia don treats protection money, he expresses his true feelings about Islamist terrorism and Western liberal democracy and capitalism, before backtracking to save some face. His Mana Party (there was a radical Mana Maori Party for some years don't forget) is a party for race driven thugs who want to treat the state as their own gang to strong arm cash from taxpayers to pay for their families and their pet projects. It is no wonder it is filled with hate-mongers like Matt McCarten, apologists for child abusers like John Minto, cheerleader for 9/11 Annette Sykes and refugees from the far too moderate Green Party, like Sue "Wow Mao" Bradford and Nandor Tanczos. My great hope can be that it pulls enough votes from the Maori Party to get rid of the two seat overhang (these seats going to Labour, which is no net gain for Labour as they will be taken from list seats), takes enough votes from the Green Party to knock it a seat back as well. Hone will probably win his seat alone, and will continue to provide an avenue for the racist, anti-semitic, pro-Marxist-Leninist, pro-violence for politics and anti-capitalist far left to vent its hatred of the human individual.
Bland vs bland: Everything else is so tiresomely uninteresting as to be soporific. The Key government does what National is good at, very little except spend other people's money. Phil Goff proposes variations on this. Quite why anyone could rouse themselves to get out of bed for either party is beyond me.
Thursday, May 05, 2011
As part of the coalition agreement with the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative Party agreed that there be a referendum on electoral reform in the UK. The Liberal Democrats as the UK’s long standing third party has always sought this in order that it get a more proportionate share of seats in the House of Commons. However, whilst it has always supported a form of proportional representation, the best it could get is a referendum on perhaps the smallest possible change to the electoral system – it is called the Alternative Vote or AV, and is similar to the Preferential Vote system in Australia.
Of course New Zealand went through electoral reform in the 1990s, because Jim Bolger was willing to hand it up on a plate for no good reason at all, in the midst of the economic reforms being continued by Ruth Richardson. New Zealand’s electoral reform process was complex, and was undertaken in a period of heightened anxiety about the economy and distrust of politicians (mainly because Jim Bolger lied in the 1990 election campaign, fully aware that the Nats had to backtrack on promises to abolish student fees and the superannuation surtax because of the massive deficit Labour left it with).
The electoral reform debate in New Zealand was ably driven by a coterie of leftwing politicians, celebrities, activists and a compliant media, all dissatisfied that both Labour and National had policies that today might only be seen with ACT. The left drove the Electoral Reform Coalition, and opponents to MMP only campaigned late in the day, with Peter Shirtcliffe (and later his daughter Janet) arguing largely on the basis on what was wrong with MMP. National and Labour both had no official view on the matter, whilst NZ First and the Alliance, with their pinups of Winston and Jim Anderton self-servingly advocating MMP (although the media rarely challenged that self interest).
In the UK it has been quite different. AV is NOT a proportional system. It simply means every MP would need a majority of preferences to get elected. Constituencies where the leading candidate gained less than half of the first preferences, would see the second preferences of those who voted for the bottom candidate get reallocated. This would continue until one candidate crosses the 50% threshold.
The real arguments for and against change are actually quite simple. A strong argument can be made that in a fully representative system an MP should have the support of the majority of voters in a constituency. That can either be done by having a runoff ballot (as in the French Presidential elections) or some sort of preferential based voting. If the highest value in an election is that majority counts, then AV can be supported.
The argument against is that people’s second or third preferences shouldn’t decide who gets elected. What AV would enable is for people to vote for whoever they like as a first preference, including any small party, safe in the knowledge that given the low probability that minor candidates could do well, second preferences could be given for the least offensive major candidate. It gives those with views not represented by major parties a better chance, which may be seen as benefiting those parties unfairly.
However, the debate has not been about that. The Pro-AV campaign has been claiming it will “change politics”, make MPs more accountable and should be supported because the Tories oppose it. It has been supported by the Liberal Democrats and some in Labour (including Ed Miliband), largely because they think a majority of UK voters are leftwing oriented.
The anti-AV campaign has been pushed by the Conservative Party based on a whole host of erroneous reasons. It is claimed AV is a lot more expensive, which it isn’t. It is argued that it is wrong to support a system only adopted by Australia, PNG and Fiji (with a quasi-neo-colonial/racist overtone that such countries are inferior). It is claimed first past the post is popular, yet the only developed countries that share it are Canada and the US. It is claimed AV is too complicated, yet somehow the Irish can get their heads around STV and continental Europeans all have far more complex systems. Most stupidly an analogy is drawn between an athletic race and the person who came third winning.
In other words, the argument has been infantile and insulting. It is presented either as a radical change that will make a big difference (which it wont), or as a complex, expensive system that only Australians use.
The Conservatives simply think they cannot get a majority of support and will lose if AV is put in place. The entire campaign for first past the post is based on retaining strong single party government (which outside the context of the Thatcher administration is hardly welcome).
So the question for me is what to do? Most of those who I have some broad political alignment with will say “no” to AV, because it will benefit the left. Yet, inherently any system based on representation should, at least, gain the endorsement in some way of a majority of voters in any constituency. Whilst AV may benefit the Liberal Democrats, the truth is that the party faces serious losses because it is in coalition with the Conservatives, so the future political map is difficult to predict. UKIP came third in the last by-election, comes second in the European Parliamentary elections and is a serious alternative for those who want less government.
So I am going to vote for AV. Primarily because, in principle, I want to be able to vote for a smaller party and for that vote not to be wasted by enabling me to choose a tolerable second best option. I think it may enable politics to be more diversified on the “right” by giving UKIP more of a voice. It will do the same for leftwing parties like the Greens and BNP (nationalist socialism), but I am NOT beholden to thinking that the Conservative Party really holds the monopoly on political sanity in the UK – it needs to be challenged. It is a rather inept and bumbling advocate for capitalism and a highly inconsistent supporter of freedom and less government.
However, I do so holding my nose – because as much as the left in the UK will take solace from an unlikely win for AV (polls are strongly against reform), I think it is a misguided measure of an electorate that is actually more conservative, more euro-sceptic and less keen on government than they may think.