Sunday, 13 March 2011

Referendum Revisited (It's a definite Yes)

When the AV (Alternative Vote) Referendum was announced last summer, I wrote a piece about it which was highly critical (and pessimistic) - see here . Re-reading it today, I felt it needed an update, as my views on the subject have gradually changed in the intervening months.

I still take the view that AV versus First-Past-the-Post is a pretty poor choice. Caroline Lucas did her best to get a wider choice of systems on the ballot paper, but with not a single Lib Dem supporting her (so much for their commitment to proportional representation) she couldn't get very far. However with respect to the referendum with which we are now stuck, I have become increasingly convinced by the following:

- A 'No' vote will be far more damaging to future reforms than a 'Yes' vote
- There is sufficient advantage in AV when compared to FPTP to make it worth arguing for a yes in itself.

However the strongest motivator I have for supporting the 'Yes' campaign isn't to do with the 'Yes' campaign, it's to do with the 'No' campaign, who (bereft of any constructive ideas) are running an increasingly dishonest and dirty campaign.

Some weeks back there they launched a series of expensive billboard ads, claiming that use of AV would cost hundred of millions of pounds, thereby depriving babies of life support machines and soldiers of effective body armour. The public were therefore exhorted to vote no to save the babies and the soldiers. This in spite of treasury figures showing that this additional cost was untrue - unsurprisingly this was taken up with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). More surprisingly the ASA let it go.

I'd hoped the 'No' campaign would have had the decency to withdraw it anyway, but No. A version of the advert appeared this week on the wall opposite the office where I work (there's enough to wind me at work as it is without this addition). Unfortunately it's just out of vandalising reach

The latest guff being spouted by 'No' campaigners (such as Ken Clarke on Radio 4's Any Questions last week) is that the AV voting system will benefit the BNP. Supporters of different electoral systems often get 'the BNP question' - with some systems it's true that the chance of the BNP gaining seats is higher; however that is something which is definitely not the case with AV.

To win with AV requires a vote from 50% of the electorate either via first preferences, second preferences or subsequent preferences; how many voters of other Parties are likely to give any preferences whatsoever to the BNP? Hardly any, I'm sure which would mean the BNP would have to get over 50% on first preferences alone. It's no wonder that the BNP are the only Party with an official Party policy of supporting First Past the Post in the referendum.

So this is another 'No' campaign lie, attempting to scare the voters. My fear is that this sort of negative campaigning works (the referendum a couple of years back to grant proper a proper democratic assembly for the North-East foundered on propaganda about increased cost - so I know that can be a persuasive argument even when false).

I have to say that I'm not totally happy with the 'Yes' campaign either; I can just about swallow comments in their leaflets about the desirability of the constituency link (which tends to work against true proportional representation) but they shouldn't be saying that AV eliminates tactical voting (no system will do that entirely, although first past the post is worst for it). But compared to the 'No' campaign, those in favour of this reform are a beacon of integrity.

See here for Link to the The Yes Campaign

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Kicking a Leather Sphere around a Green Field

If there is one thing which Manchester is noted for internationally at the moment it is football. Regardless of country or continent, if you mention Manchester the reaction is 'Ah yes, Manchester United!'. Of course Manchester also possesses arguably the richest club in the World in Manchester City, but I'm not going to get drawn into the customary United / City arguments (I'll just say that for historical reasons I'm a Newcastle fan and move on).

Under the circumstances it's not surprising that football features regularly in the political and economic life of this city, and recent events provide plenty of examples. City moved centre stage last week, with the approval of a massive plan to develop sports facilities in East Manchester see here. Greens are sometimes accused of being against all developments - on the contrary, my initial reaction is that this is a welcome development in a part of the city which has suffered disproportionately; it is much better than the supercasino which Manchester Council were trying to get previously.

Manchester United has its own political dimension. Following the takeover of the Glazers, many Man U fans sport green and gold scarves (a colour scheme which I find quite fetching) rather than the conventional red; those of a more radical bent formed a breakaway club with the prosaic name of FC United. Whilst not yet in a position to challenge the senior divisions of English football, they have had their moments. Their rebellious origin and democratic approach appeals to me; If I were to support any local team it would be 'FC'. Manchester City Council seem less supportive; a plan for a stadium on derelict land in Newton Heath was dumped last week because the council has refused financial help to get it off the ground - see FC United's take on it here

Now, from this last fact one might assume that the City Council weren't interested in football. Not quite - despite the cuts imposed by the ConDem Government, and passed on to the people of Manchester by the council - they are paying £7 million to get the national museum of football into the Urbis building. Now I think that Preston was an entirely appropriate venue for the museum, and I was one of those campaigning for Urbis original cultural role to be retained, but if we are to have the National Football Museum here, surely we should be looking at the two super-rich Manchester clubs to be funding it?