helenic: (Default)
helenic ([personal profile] helenic) wrote2010-05-06 02:21 am

election notes

Yesterday I went to the anti-Murdoch flashmob, supporting a hung parliament in defiance of the scaremongering being peddled by the right-wing press. Well, I went to Parliament Square armed with a newspaper and righteous indignation, but I was 6 minutes late so the actual flashmob was over by the time I arrived. It was good to see the Democracy Village people all set up, and to wave at a few fellow campaigners, but Denny had already leafletted the crowd and in the end I headed back home without having felt like I'd contributed anything. Still, if I hadn't gone I'd have felt bad about that too. There's some news coverage of the flashmob here.

I did however get to pick up a free copy of the new shiny election-special Independent. They're giving away free, slimmed-down copies during the campaign period, with a front cover saying "The truth is not always easy to find. So here's a free sample." It contained articles which are already available free online, half of which I had already read. I have been very very impressed with the Indy this election. There was their fantastic video The Truth which carved the Indy out as the first paper not to be strung along by the two-party duopoly, several days before the Graun came out supporting the Lib Dems. They have pretty much represented my views in this election - pissed off with New Labour's track record, hostile to the Tories, rooting for a hung parliament, electoral reform and a Liberal-Labour coalition. Their leading article today sums up the need for electoral reform so I don't have to, and includes front pages from previous elections where they campaigned to get rid of FPTP.

Anyway, this is all very interesting, because - remember the Facebook campaign against making Rod Liddle the editor of the Independent? Remember how it won, and he wasn't hired, but Roger Alton was fired as planned when Lebedev bought the paper? Good riddance - he'd taken the paper towards the right and watered it down with sensationalistic headlines. Anyway, so MD Simon Kellner (who had been pushing for Liddle to be editor) took on the role of acting editor, and is marketing the paper as the anti-Murdoch - culminating in a series of stonking articles and the genius idea of free mini-papers until polling day. Why he was supporting Liddle I don't know, but he's done a demonstrably excellent job. Apparently he's just been confirmed as editor, which seems like a good thing all round. The Indy are offering a discount subscription at the moment, and I'm sufficiently impressed that I'll be buying one.

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So most of you know this, but I've been involved in Hang 'em, the campaign for a hung parliament headed by OpenDemocracy and Ekklesia and supported by George Monbiot. I made the website, which has some fab copy by Anthony Barnett which pretty much sums up my position, and I've been running the Twitter stream, blog links and video updates on the site, all of which include important things. Basically I think a hung parliament is our only realistic hope of change in the UK, more likely than a Lib Dem majority; I think negotiation is good, slowing down the pace of legislation is good, I support a more proportional voting system and I don't buy any of the economic scaremongering. Spain is a monopoly government and that's one of the weakest economies in Europe - Germany is a coalition and that's one of the strongest. We live in a plural society and we need a government that accurately reflects the contrasting views of our mixed, multicultural, plural populace.

The other thing is that I have come to feel very strongly during this election that our democracy would be healthier with a better balance of party and independent MPs in the Commons. It's going to be hard to bring about due to funding and resource issues, but the way the big parties do politics actively works against representation. In order to win their seat, candidates are dependent on the support of their party, and thereafter indebted to them. In order to stay in their job, MPs need to tow the party line, play by the rules and not rock the boat. MPs who rebel are not put forward for ministerial roles (although I think government and parliament should be separated anyway, but that's a different question), not supported in their candidacy at the next election, and can give up any hope of a future political career in their party of choice. Party politics have become synonymous with the phenomenon of the "career politician" who is more concerned about representing the wishes of their party whip than their constituents. My MP David Lammy is one of these. It inhibits democracy, makes government immune to single issue campaigns, and gives MPs carte blanche to ignore the concerns and interests of the people they are supposed to represent.

With independent MPs, this isn't a problem. They are accountable to no-one apart from their constituents. In a hung parliament, wherever two big minority parties vote on opposite sides of an issue, third parties and independents have the power to swing the vote either way. There are 315 independent candidates standing in this election, many on progressive, consultative or direct democracy platforms. That's twice as many as stood in 2005, and the highest number since records began. Only a handful stand a chance of getting in - and many are up against Lib Dem candidates with a chance of winning - but both the Lib Dem surge and the rise of the independent are part of the same movement. I compiled a list on Police State UK of grassroots reform campaigns which have sprung up around this election - read it, it's inspiring stuff, and paints a compelling picture of a society crying out for change, for the chance for people to engage more meaningfully, contribute more actively, and have their voices heard.

We are in the process of rejecting the inevitable pendulum of two party politics and moving towards a more balanced parliament which is better able to represent the interests of the people. The biggest hurdle to this is FPTP, which exists to minimise the impact of smaller parties and independents, disproportionately favouring the biggest two. This is exacerbated by whichever party currently holds power shifting constituency boundaries and other bureaucratic details in order to maximise the number of seats for themselves resulting from the same number of votes.

A hung or coalition parliament offers our best chance of reform, the "quiet revolution" favoured by the British, or at least an end to the dizzying legislative pace of the last 13 years. We need to reject authoritarianism, reject a single way of thinking, reject a complacent, over-strong government which does not believe it needs to negotiate or listen to anyone else. To this end I'll be attending the electoral reform rally this Saturday. Whatever the result of this election, it will not be representative or fair, and we need to push for change now to persuade whoever forms the next government to act. If I can manage to show my face briefly despite being in the middle of house-move packing chaos, you can too.

--

I know some of you will anyway, but here are ten good reasons not to vote Labour by [personal profile] liz_with_hat, mostly focussing on their civil liberties record. They are my reasons too.

There are many more reasons not to vote Conservative, which most people who were around in the 80s will already know, but Johann Hari has written two excellent articles in the last week. Here are five ways in which Cameron is concealing his inner Bush, which seems worryingly plausible even though I'm personally not sure the EU Arrest Warrant is a good thing, and today's masterpiece on the reality of a Conservative council in Hammersmith and Fulham - ostensibly a model for the new, "compassionate" Conservatism. Oh, and if anyone has missed the whole "Tory coup" story, read this report of their plan to bypass the electoral process to seize power.

Then of course, there's the lovely Stephen Fry, who has far too much grace and decency to tell anyone how to vote (I have rather less, as you can see) but who nonetheless seems to be leaning towards amber. His article offers a lovely antidote to the previous, though; he has nothing negative to say about any of the parties, and his gentle touch is much needed.

The irony of both left and right complaining about negative campaigning even as they indulge in it has not been lost on me. The Thick of It author Armando Iannucci has an excellent critique of the press in this electoral period in the Independent, pleasingly titled The Duffy affair turned the media into a pack of shrieking gibbons. I was in Rotterdam when that happened, and very quickly realised while watching the BBC World News in my hotel room quite how superior the internet is as a medium for news. The television coverage was screechingly sensationalistic, uncritical, unnuanced, and tediously elongated, spending hours and hours going over the same content while thousands of events went uncovered. I'm far better off with an internet connection, a blog feed-reader, YouTube and online papers which I can skim at my own pace, checking anything I'm unsure of with FactCheck and Google.

The BBC bias has been highlighted by the Philippa Stroud scandal, which has recieved almost no media coverage at all - startling when compared to the vulture-like glee with which Brown's gaffe was endlessly rehashed, or perhaps more pertinently, the coverage given to Labour candidate Sood for a far tamer remark. Even France has wondered why the Stroud story isn't newsworthy.

This Observer article on how the international press sees the UK election is utterly fascinating, and very worth a read if you want to regain some perspective. Give Your Vote have also started releasing the results from what will be the world's first cross-border election, which so far unanimously puts Lib Dems in first place.

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This has been the first election in which I've done actual face to face canvassing. I headed out with Denny the other weekend, the sunny one, with a pile of leaflets to see what Shoreditch made of direct democracy. We got zero response door knocking - everyone was out enjoying the nice weather. There are some amazing pockets of beauty in Hackney. We walked past community play areas and gardens, glowing with love and life, with hand-painted signs advertising seed swaps, bake sales and other community projects. We ended up in Haggerston park, which I hadn't visited before, lovely in the spring sunshine and full of all the people who hadn't been answering their doors.

We got a good reception - well, I say we, I mostly let Denny do the talking and kept him sane in between. We had some good chats with left-leaning voters, had leaflets gratefully accepted by undecideds, tried to persuade people who were disillusioned with politics to vote for themselves. Most people thought direct democracy was a good idea. As soon as the word "independent" was mentioned, people's interest was engaged - there's a lot of anger with the parties and big-party politics. Interestingly, about half of the people we approached weren't eligible to vote - very frustrating when they liked the idea! Hackney has a huge proportion of first-generation immigrants, foreign students and temporary residents who aren't entitled to vote. Strange to think that even before you take into account low turnout, a proportion of residents are voting on behalf of a much broader population, but everyone is affected by the results. (I'd be in favour of extending voting to immigrants or people with temporary visas, I think, but it would be easier to manage in a direct democracy system where people voted on issues; you could simply grant access to individual votes to different visa statuses, to let people have a voice on the issues which most affect them, and end the access when their visa expires.)

It was a lot of fun - I love having positive conversations with random people! - but also exhausting, between the walking, constant projection of energy and enthusiasm, and social interaction with strangers. I would not want to do this every day for a whole campaign and I admire those who do.

--

And yet despite all this, I still haven't - quite - decided how to vote. I have missed both the local hustings due to lack of advertisement, finding out about both of of them when the candidates posted afterwards on twitter, but not before, despite a fair amount of googling. (Ironically, I did go to the Hackney South and Shoreditch hustings to support Denny.)

I would normally vote Green but the only thing I've seen of the local candidate is her name on the BBC site, and I want an MP who's enthusiastic, responsive and dedicated. The Green candidate doesn't stand a chance anyway. As such my choice has boiled down to TUSC vs Lib Dem.

TUSC, pros: I agree with pretty much all of their manifesto. I support left coalitions in general.* Their candidate is a local community organiser, closely involved with the local community college, which has visibly blossomed lately but is facing cuts, and female, which is a factor for me. She probably doesn't stand a chance of getting in but she seems to have an enthusiastic local following and I liked her leaflet. TUSC were the only candidate to answer my long list of questions, and their answers pretty much entirely chimed with my views. I'm in a safe seat anyway so I may as well vote with my conscience.

* I am torn on this one. All election I have felt a rising frustration at the way the left vote is inexorably split; the right has a clear advantage in being able to gather under the banner of a single big party and two smaller ones, where the left has two big parties and dozens of smaller ones, all splitting the vote. Why can we not work together, I cried? At the very least the Lib Dems and Greens should be working together, pledging to support each other's candidates in constituencies where either has a chance of getting in. Are our differences really so precious as to keep us divided and disenfranchised? And yet... well, I'm getting ahead of myself; I'll deal with the cons in a minute.


TUSC, cons: They include the No to EU coalition. It's not very active in Tottenham and doesn't feature on their local manifesto - I think Sutton is pro-EU herself - but can I really vote for a coalition that includes No to EU? I'm not sure I can. And that, my friends, is the problem with lefty coalitions. We are all so tight-arsed about our principles that one small policy clash is enough to put us off. How many Lib Dems would not vote for a Liberal-Green coalition because of a minor manifesto difference? It feels like it would strengthen the left vote, but I seem to indicate that it wouldn't.

Lib Dems, pros: Oh, too many to list! The Freedom Act, their equality policies, their attitude to sustainability, Anna Arrowsmith, Vince Cable... They represent my views as well as the Greens or TUSC, with a few exceptions (I want the LDs to be more pro-immigration; I'm pissed off with how they handled the Digital Economy Act although glad they've pledged to repeal it; I'm more in favour of nuclear power as a realistic interim measure than the LDs or the Greens) and they stand a chance of winning, or at least being a coalition partner. They represent the best chance we have for electoral reform. They offer us our first opportunity to break open politics and make it more plural and more representative. Nationally, I really want to support them. The Lib Dem surge of the last month is history in the making, and I want to put my name down as being part of it.

Lib Dems, cons: The local candidate is boring, male, white, far more interested in campaigning to run the local council than to be MP. He has no online presence; he hasn't replied to my email, he's not on Twitter, and none of the issues on his leaflet spoke to me. I don't want to endorse a candidate who hasn't made the effort to be approachable or reach out to me. He seems decent enough, but either he's entirely boring and weak, or he and his party have abandoned this constituency to the New Labour dogs. As with the Green candidate - why should I endorse a party and candidate who don't think my vote is worth courting?

And yet ... the Lib Dems were in second place in 2005, a long way above any other challengers; Tottenham is a Labour safe seat, but this election could make it a Lib Dem / Labour marginal if the national surge trickles down at all.

Mostly I wish I had a transferrable vote, so I could put TUSC first and Lib Dems second. I don't. But voting Lib Dem will make it more likely I'll have one next time.

Argh, I still don't know. I will sleep on it again, and probably end up deciding in the polling booth.

bard: While playing Shylock (Default)

<3

[personal profile] bard 2010-05-06 12:21 pm (UTC)(link)
For me the process has been a bit easier because my local Labour incumbent is dirty as hell and standing down, the Labour newcomer is ok in places but likes ID Cards and the LibDem is all of local, a popular ex-Mayor, BME and in with a chance (though not female).

But this has made it much easier for me to understand yesterday's figure of 38% undecided. Thank you.
nanaya: Sarah Haskins as Rosie The Riveter, from Mother Jones (Default)

[personal profile] nanaya 2010-05-06 02:14 pm (UTC)(link)
the right has a clear advantage in being able to gather under the banner of a single big party and two smaller ones, where the left has two big parties and dozens of smaller ones, all splitting the vote. Why can we not work together, I cried?

Surely you jest! The right is as riddled with sectarianism as the left, possibly more so. If you only mean the centre-right, that's another matter, but still.

I agree with you that the Lib Dems & the Greens ought to have had the sense to work together on this election for electoral reform, though.
nanaya: Sarah Haskins as Rosie The Riveter, from Mother Jones (Default)

[personal profile] nanaya 2010-05-06 03:54 pm (UTC)(link)
I've never been "in the right" either, this is more my general low-level research about far-right nationalist movements coming to the fore. A quick look at the history of the BNP's relationship with the NF is quite illustrative there, for starters, in particular the early days with the League of Empire Loyalists, but it's such a common pattern.

Voting tactics in elections aren't necessarily the same as ongoing political activism either; it seems clear that there's a section of both the far left and the far right which disdains voting, but even leaving that to one side, that doesn't alter the ongoing factionalism one finds even among the voting majority.

I can't really answer the complicated question about voting statistics; I'll have to ask A. when he gets home *much* later.