Sunday, 25 July 2010

Every Little (and Big) Hurts

On Sunday 27th June, I had a chance to witness England's great sporting triumph of that day. Those of you looking back at the calendar may be puzzled – surely that was the day we were thrashed by Germany in Bloemfontein, hardly a triumph. True, but I was referring to our cricket team taking an unassailable 3 -0 lead over the Aussies at Old Trafford, a mere 2 miles from my home, and a match to which I might have gone.

So why didn't I? Because, Lancashire County Cricket Club have hitched their ground improvement to Tesco, who plan to put what is arguably Britain's biggest hypermarket close to the ground, with the redevelopment money as a bribe to Trafford Council and the Cricket Club. I've blogged at length on this before - Just Not Cricket so will just focus now on more recent events in this sorry saga.

Tesco's application was approved by Trafford Council, but a strong campaign from No Mega Tesco called for the Government of the North-West to have it called in. A particular argument for call-in was a rival supermarket plan for Sainsbury's at White City little more than a stone's throw away, and on a site where such a store was already permitted. The Government of the North-West deferred their decision until after the election; several weeks after the result, with the Tory – Lib Dem coalition in power, and cuts very much on the agenda, the Government let it go. As the cricket club celebrate the many campaigners have only a possible appeal from Derwent Holdings (who are behind the rival Sainsbury's) bid to hold on to.

To add insult to injury Tesco are apparently planning a further supermarket in Chorlton, to add to the one they forced through against local opinion a few years back. Unfortunately as they are taking over a disused pub, they don't need planning permission, so we can expect it imminently.

Battles against Tesco rumble on continually across the country, indeed there is a well-known national campaign group concerned with this one topic – Tescopoly. Former Green Party principal speaker Derek Wall has the honour of being banned for life from Tesco, following an earlier act of opposition.

Elsewhere in the country right now, the Norfolk town of Sheringham is trying to hold out against the juggernaut, with evidence of dirty tricks from the Supermarket giant - as reported in the Independent recently -
Meanwhile in Brighton, Green councillors and even a Green MP don't necessarily tip the odds enough, - see here for information on their fight to save a Community Garden from the Tesco onslaught:- Lewes Road Tesco

Tesco already control over 30% of the UK grocery trade; in the wake of these developemnts we can the loss of more local shops across South Manchester and Trafford, and more money siphoned out of the area, to the pockets of Tesco shareholders

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Same Sh*t, Different Referendum

So we are going to get a referendum on the voting system (for Westminster elections) next year. For most of England this will be the first referendum for over thirty years – I say most, because of course, the people of Manchester had a referendum much more recently (on the 'TiF Bid/Congestion Charge).
At first glance these two referenda, one on transport the other on voting reform, have little in common. On the contrary I can see a lot of similarities.

In the Transport referendum the majority of green-leaning groups, such as Friends of the Earth campaigned for a Yes vote, but there were many, including myself, who felt that what we were offered had so many flaws that we couldn't get behind it with any real enthusiasm. There were some Green Party activists who felt for sound reasons that a No vote was the right response.

In the Alternative Vote referendum coming up, I can see remarkably similar lines being drawn. I only have to look at my inbox – the day after the referendum announcement I received 2 emails almost simultaneously. One was from Vote for a Change' gushing with 'amazing news' and a 'huge victory', and of course urging me to campaign for a 'yes' vote; the other from a respected Green Party colleague inviting me to join the Facebook Group 'No to AV – Yes to PR', and calling for a No Vote.

What will guide me in whether I vote Yes or No (or abstain altogether for that matter) when the referendum comes, is which outcome will do least damage to our transition to a genuinely proportional system. Will a Yes vote be taken as 'Well we've gone to all that trouble to change the system, we're not changing it again' or will a No vote be taken as 'people don't want to change from the present system so its off the agenda for a long long time'. If I vote Yes it won't be with any enthusiasm whatsoever. What we are being offered is completely the wrong referendum (and at the wrong time too – more of that later).

What should have happened was a healthy open debate about the different voting systems, along with wider constitutional issues (what is happening with the House of Lords?, what about voting reform for local councils?) engaging as much of the electorate as possible. This would be followed by a referendum offering a range of choices, as it was done in New Zealand when they changed their voting system. Instead we're being granted an artificial choice between two systems which are only marginally different in their effect, a feeble offering from a bunch of establishment politicians looking to entrench/advance their own Parties' positions. Why don't groups like 'Vote for a Change' stop drooling over this pathetic choice and start campaigning for real Change?

Wrong time too – holding it the same day as the local, Scottish and Welsh elections, presumably in an attempt to boost the turnout. It will be particularly strange for voters in Scotland; as well as casting their votes for the Scottish Parliament and local councils, using two different voting systems, they'll be asked to vote between two different, and worse, systems for Westminster. Far better to keep such votes separate so that voters can concentrate on one set of issues at a time. It may well be a bad time for the coalition too, as their cuts begin to bite. It smacks of desperation on the part of the Liberal Democrats, as their influence within the coalition seems to be slipping.

The TiF bid/Congestion Charge proposal was heavily defeated. With many supporters only too aware of flaws, a hostile media, and tarnished by a close association with the political establishment, it's not surprising in retrospect that it lost. My feeling at the moment is that the Alternative Vote referendum will go the same way.

PS for description of different voting systems see – Electoral Reform Society – but note they are very evangelical about the Single Transferable Vote system so take any bias into account.