Friday, May 07, 2010

Westminster Must Learn from Holyrood

It is clear that the "first past the post" electoral system used in the UK is unrepresentative in an age of party politics. No-one in their right mind can claim that it is a fair result when the Liberal Democrats win a 23% share of the vote and get about 50 parliamentary seats, whereas the Labour Party get a mere 6% more of the popular vote but 200 more seats than the Lib Dems.

Some would claim then that the answer to this gross disparity between popular vote and seats in Parliament is to introduce Proportional Representation, something I have posted about before. I am simply not convinced that simple PR is the way to go, for example, what threshold do set you set for parties to gain seats in Parliament? In the Czech Republic, if I remember rightly, a party needs 5% of the popular vote to get seats, if such a system were implemented in a British context then we would have only three parties in the House of Commons, representing 89% of the electorate based on the results of Thursday's election, and the nationalists of Wales and Scotland, as well as the Northern Irish would simply have no voice in Parliament.

Perhaps I greatest concern when it comes to PR is who chooses the MPs? Do we go to a system of party lists, where the same old faces keep cropping up no matter how unpopular a politician is? Such an approach surely centralises political influence within the national party and takes power away from local parties. Simple PR also changes the nature of the British MP, no longer is he the chosen representative of his constituency, but rather he is the lackey of the central party, taking democracy away from the local level and alienating the people yet further from the system.

What then is needed, in my thoroughly un-humble opinion, is a hybrid system where the House of Commons consists of MPs elected by constituency based, simple majority voting, and 100 MPs elected on the basis of a proportion of the electoral vote, without including those seats where a given party won. So, for example, in a given constituency the winner of the simple vote becomes the MP for that area, the number of votes for each of the other parties contesting that election are tallied with the number of other non-winning votes for each party around the country, and the extra 100 seats are divided according to the percentage of the non-winning share. This is of course similar to the Additional Member System as used in the Scottish Parliament, but without the option for each voter to choose a person and a party separately. Obviously the 100 MPs taking their seats as a result of this system would have to be chosen from a party list, which isn't ideal in my world, but I can't for the life of me think of a democratic alternative to party lists.

As I said to begin with, it is clear that the British electoral system is no longer representative of the British people and as such must be changed. What is not clear, is the fairest, most democratic way to ensure that the voice of every voter is heard, and that the electorate are engaged in the political process.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Need for Continued Reform

It was 1517 when Martin Luther caused a rumpus that would lead to the end of the Holy Roman Empire, that saw the end of the Inquisition in northern Europe, that gave birth in many ways to the modern nation state, with the consciousness that shared language and traditions bring to a people, especially a people who can express their religious beliefs in their own language rather than in a long dead tongue. The Reformation can been seen as both a religious struggle but also a political one, one where the forces of progress prevailed over the forces of reactionary conservatism. One of the mottos, or slogans if you like, of the Reformation was that the church should always be reforming itself, or to use the Latin, ecclesia semper reformanda. Now, don't worry, this post isn't about religion, it is about politics and the failure of the right, across the globe, to continue the process of reformation, prefering instead to lament a mythical golden age and misunderstand that conservatism is not about keeping things as they have always been, but rather about holding on to what works in a society and reforming what does not.

In a way, the political world should take to heart the idea of ecclesia semper reformanda, simply because human beings are flawed and society needs to be in a constant process of improvement and development in order to create a world where, to Anglicise the French, equality, liberty and fraternity flourish. The problem for many on the reactionary right is that they are adverse to paying the costs of equality, liberty and fraternity, whether financial or otherwise, and of course they often seek to deny equality, liberty and fraternity to those whose opinions they disagree with. It is a continual shame to modern society that hypocrisy is the modus operandi of many in the political sphere. Too many ignore Voltaire, allegedly, when he said that "I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it".

One thing I would reform in every nation state across the globe is to bring an end to political careerism and a return to the idea that representing your peers in parliament is an act of service rather than an act of enrichment. At present, Members of Parliament in the United Kingdom earn a basic salary of £64,766 (approx. $93,000) per annum, rising to £197,689 (approx $300,000) for the Prime Minister, while the average salary of the Britons they represent is £22,202 (approx $33,000). In the US context, a Senator earns $174,000 per annum, and the President earns $193,400, and the people they represent earn a median of $27590 a year. It certainly makes you wonder who these politicians are representing when their incomes to so astronomically beyond the imagination of the average person. Of course, there used to be politicians who refused to take more than the average workers salary, but sadly they are in a minority these days, and thus we end up with a political class living in ivory towers, far removed from the concerns of the people they represent.

This brings me to my second reform for the political world, an end to having a "lifetime of service" by limiting the number of terms a person can serve in a given political office, one way of achieving this could be done by enforcing political retirement at 65, which would also have the added benefit of the political system becoming less dominated by old men, which is never a bad thing really.

Hmmm, this post has kind of wandered off track, so I will stop and smell the roses for a while.....

Monday, February 22, 2010

I Guess I Just Ain't Good Enough

Reading around this week, I came across a thing called the 9/12 Project, the brainchild of Fox News' Glenn Beck. Not being the kind of person to see something by a person whose politics I find abhorrent in the extreme and not want to interact at some level, I decided to look a little deeper at the 9 Principles and 12 Values that give the organisation its name. According to the project web site, if you agree with 7 of the principles then you have something in common with Beck and his ilk. Let's address these one by one.
  • America is Good
Being something of a nit picker, my first thought is "good for who?", is America good for the Palestinians living in camps being radicalised by an American backed Israel? Is America good for the poor of its own nation who can't afford health insurance, while health insurance companies lobby openly to have its own customer base dwindled to only those with enough money to pay ridiculous premiums? Is America good for the manufacturing jobs that have been shipped overseas in order to maximise shareholder dividends? Countries are of course value neutral, there is no such thing as a bad country or a good country - unless of course racism is your thing and anyone brown and wearing a turban is bad by default. America is just a country, no more special and no more chosen than any other country. I guess then I fail to have something in common with Glenn Beck, because America is just America and not a moral proposition.
  • I believe in God and He is the center of my life
Admittedly this is, already, starting to feel like an AA meeting, but we'll continue. Again I have to ask a question of this statement, whose God is Beck talking about? Is he talking about the Christian God, or the Mormon God? And let's face it, only the theologically illiterate would consider Mormonism's deity to be anything like the traditional monotheistic faiths, the differences have been shown quite clearly elsewhere. Until someone can tell me which God, unless of course this is a nebulous concept like in Freemasonary, then I guess I can't approve of this statement - not looking good is it?
  • I must always try to be a more honest person than I was yesterday
Sure, not a problem, striving to be a better person is something I agree with whole-heartedly.
  • The family is sacred. My spouse and I are the ultimate authority, not government
Not sure quiet how this one works, given that God is the center of life for people who can sign up to this project. How can human beings be the ultimate authority when God is the center of life? That simply doesn't work.
  • If you break the law you pay the penalty. Justice is blind and no one is above it.
Absolutely agree, without justice society falls apart. But who enforces that justice? If it is the populace then mob rule becomes the norm, I guess when it comes to law and order, the government is the ultimate authority rather than myself and Mrs Velky Al?
  • I have a right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but there is no guarantee of equal results.
Yes of course, with the caveat that the right to life brings with it the responsibility to live well, to liberty the responsibility to champion freedom for others, to happiness the responsibility of gratitude for all that you have.
  • I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable.
Yes in theory, but I have no problems paying tax to help create a society where everyone has the same opportunity to better their lives. Taxation is not charity, it is social responsibility.
  • It is not un-American for me to disagree with authority or to share my personal opinion.
I agree entirely, but the converse must also be true. It is un-American to force your opinion on other people, and to use your authority to ensure conformity with your opinion.
  • The government works for me. I do not answer to them, they answer to me.
Yes OK that sounds very nice, but if they work for me and I begrudge them pay, then the public is a very crappy employer.

The 12 values are listed as follows:

Hard Work
Personal Responsibility

I agree with every single one of them, because they are human values, sought in every culture around the world. There is nothing uniquely American, European, Christian, Muslim, atheist, socialist or conservative about such values, they are simply human values.

So I guess I am not eligible to join Beck's project, not that I am surprised.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

It Takes Two To More than Tango

I am not a fan of tabloid newspapers, having read The Guardian and The Independent for much of the last decade. Whenever I would head back to the UK for my little visits I looked forward to getting the Saturday edition of the Guardian, and the Observer on Sunday, to then spend a week reading through them in preparation for the following Saturday and Sunday. Neither am I am fan of tabloid level news programmes on the television, the kind of thing which digs and delves into the private lives of the famous because it is apparently in the "public interest".

The cause of my ire this morning was watching Good Morning America, during which they started talking about Tiger Woods' press conference tomorrow and its implications for his career. If the rumours are true and Tiger has been in "sex therapy" then I am very, very confused. Is sex now something which is not a normal part of life? Is it something that you need therapy for when you see an opportunity for a little bit extra and you go for it? Is being unfaithful to your wife something that you need to see a counsellor about? Is there a self-help group called Adulterers Anonymous?

The media here seem to love banging on, pun not necessarily intended, about the affect Tiger's indiscretions have no doubt on his wife, and how could a married man be so bad, blah, blah, blah. This got me thinking about the women that Tiger is alleged to have bedded, and how the media is a scrum of hypocritical parasites. Did these women not know that Tiger Woods had a Mrs Tiger Woods and little cubs at home? Why is the media not going after these women and asking why they knowingly slept with a married man? Why are these women not being reviled as home wreckers?

Oh, I get it, these women are not rich, famous and influential, so I guess you can't expect anything better from them. So adultery is bad for the monied peoples of this world, the "role models" if you will, but not for the regular people who jump into the sack with the wealthy? A bit of balance is required, a little less moralising about Tiger Woods doing what many men would given the chance, and a little more about the women who had an affair with him whilst knowing he had a wife and kids at home.

There are two sides to every story, here it is simply a man who wanted some fun on the side and women who lacked the integrity to say no. A sad reflection on the state of society indeed.