Nobody knows the rubbish I’ve seen

What did the voters mean by choosing the LibDems over the “independent” candidate in Richmond? What did they mean when the chose the “independent” candidate, then a Conservative, in 2015? What did they mean when a plurality, rather than a majority, of just 49.7% of them chose the Conservative over the LibDems in 2010? What did they mean when even less of them – 46.7% – chose a LibDem in 2005?

Surely there was some meaning to these votes?

Well, yes, there undoubtedly was. But what the meaning was, we don’t know and we can’t know and no amount of columnists and editorials and Tweets and blog posts and polls and what have you can ever tell us – or anyone.

Because First Past The Post voting is too blunt a method of deciding anything. Everyone walks away saying that their point has been proven. The voters walk away disaffected.

Smarter than the average politician

On Sunday, our votes from the European Parliament election will be counted and the results announced.

At some point during the BBC election programme, Jeremy Vine will mug to the camera, shrug his shoulders, and confidently inform the public that the proportional voting system we use in EU elections is “complicated”, “complex”, “hard to understand”, “awkward” and other unflattering things.

It isn’t, it’s just the politicians, and the BBC, have a very dim view of the intelligence of the British public. No, really – they think we’re thick.

The actual voting system – mark a single X – couldn’t be any simpler. A 2-year-old could do it. The counting is a bit more complicated, in some ways, since it involves counting the papers to find who got the most scrawled crosses, then counting them again to find who was next, then again and again until all seats (4 to 10 depending on where you live) are filled (it’s slightly more complicated than that, but only very very slightly).

This produces a semi-proportional result that penalises minor parties and rewards the larger parties, but it’s better than our standard First Past The Post system that penalises everyone except the people who voted for the ‘winner’ (and that can be less than 30% of the voters).

There is a better system. It’s called the Single Transferrable Vote, STV, or “Supervote”. Now, this is fearsomely complicated… for the people totalling up the votes at the end, who need at most an O Level in maths to understand it. For the voters, it’s actually simpler than X voting.

On Thursday, I got my local council ballot paper and had to make a decision based entirely on what I thought other people might vote for. I wanted to vote Green, but they couldn’t win here. I didn’t want the local Conservative, Jeff Green, to win as I’ve met him and he’s a condescending piece of shit. The next challenger is usually a Liberal Democrat, but they were on their way to being wiped out for foolishness. So that left Labour, and I’m still not over the illegal and immoral war against the people of Iraq they started for no reason. In a Tory safe seat, I could do nothing more than vote for the Independent, who would come last, but I know him and he’s a great guy. So I chose to waste my vote to try to save his deposit (he didn’t).

X voting was, for me, a total waste of time. There was nothing I could do unless I was sure that everyone else was likely to do it as well. And I was sure the anti-Tory vote would be split. And it was.

Under STV, we don’t have to make such stupid, stab-in-the-dark guesses about other people. You vote for who you want to vote for, but tell the people who are counting who you’d like your vote to go to if that person can’t win, or that person would win by so much that you’re just shouting into the well.

My local ballot looked like this:

Independent [ ]
Tory [ ]
Labour [ ]
LibDem [ ]
Green [ ]

My STV ballot paper would’ve looked like this:

Tory A [ ]   Labour A [ ]
Tory B [ ]   Labour B [ ]
Tory C [ ]   Labour C [ ]
LibDem A [ ]   Green A [ ]
LibDem B [ ]   Green B [ ]
Independent A [ ]
Independent B [ ]

Wow! So very complicated, Jeremy Vine would tell you. But it’s actually easier. I know who I want to win and who I don’t want to win. So I can quickly say: Green A [1], Green B [2], Independent A [3], Labour C [4], Labour A [5], Labour B [6], Independent B [7]. I won’t bother voting for the Tories at all, but I could probably pick between them if I had to.

The people counting have the “hard” job of using basic maths to say “Green A has won lots and lots of votes, so we’ll take this vote and apply it to your next choice” or “Green A is hopeless, so we’ll take this vote and apply it to your next choice”. Eventually, I’ll get to contribute to electing a candidate I liked or at least didn’t mind. And I’ll have voted “against” the Tories by giving them nothing. So everyone is happy! And, more importantly, every single vote counts.

Yes, this does mean that UKIP-BNP and other nutters get seats from nutter voters. But designing a voting system to ensure that people you don’t like but other voters, however misguided, do is not democracy. It’s actually highly anti-democratic and leads to the nutters getting seats anyway and it looking like a majority wanted it when they “won” by getting 25% to their opponents’ 75% split 6 ways.

On Thursday, I wasted my local election vote. But any X I had made would’ve been wasted. It would either have gone to someone who was going to ‘win’ comfortably anyway, or have gone to someone who was going to lose comfortably. And the person who “won” did so with less than half the voters choosing him. Much less than half.

And then the politicians and the BBC wonder why we don’t bother to turn out to vote any more, and decided it’s because voting is hard and we don’t want to bother our pretty little heads with it, so a better voting system would, obviously, just put us thicko voters off even more – because Jeremy Vine would like you to think he’s on your side, you lumpen mass of idiocy, as he mugs to the camera and complains on your behalf how complicated it was for you to draw a single X.


This has been a great victory for people who are anti-politics. They have voted for the party they feel is the most anti-political. You know, the one that goes big not being different. Hate the different. Hate the gays. Hate the foreigners. Hate the blacks. Hate the Asians. Hate the women. Hate stuff that you don’t understand. Hate the other.

Fascism always presents itself as the anti-politics option. Not the jackboots and blackshirts and pogroms. No. Just vote for us now, it says, and we’ll make you great again. Nothing to worry about.

But those gays: you’re better than them because you’re normal. We don’t want to kill them, we just want to make sure they know that normal people are the majority. Vote for us.

Those foreigners: you’re better than them because you’re normal. We don’t want to kill them, we just want to make sure they know that normal people are the majority. Vote for us.

Those Islams: you’re better than them because you’re normal. We don’t want to kill them, we just want to make sure they know that normal people are the majority. Vote for us.

Those Jews: you’re better than them because you’re normal. We don’t want to kill them, we just want to make sure they know that normal people are the majority. Vote for us.

Those socialists: you’re better than them because you’re normal. We don’t want to kill them, we just want to make sure they know that normal people are the majority. Vote for us.

Those trade unionists: you’re better than them because you’re normal. We don’t want to kill them, we just want to make sure they know that normal people are the majority. Vote for us.

Those uppity women: you’re better than them because you’re normal. We don’t want to kill them, we just want to make sure they know that normal people are the majority. Vote for us.

And then there was nobody left to vote for your rights as a “normal” person. Ah well.

Voting irregularities


I had to call the Returning Officer for Wirral after going to vote. You go in and they hand you the yellow local council ballot paper. Then you have to ask for the European one – or they ask you “Do you want a European thing OR NOT?” in a withering tone. This happened to everyone in the queue to vote. That’s not good, as psychologically, when presented with an unexpected question, people tend to stammer “no”. The Returning Officer didn’t see a problem with this, but I did and asked her to change the guidance to asking “Do you want BOTH ballot papers?” instead of assuming.

Obviously, this practice pushes up the extremist vote, as the nutters are the ones most likely to ask for the “extra” ballot paper.

What’s your experience? Did this happen to you? Please share this so we can see what people are being told as they try to vote.

It gets worse. For reasons not explained, UK residents from other EU countries have been denied a vote in this election, with local Returning Officers again seeming unable or unwilling to enforce the Representation of the People Acts. See the Independent’s report on this scandal.

The wrong answer


Image by Coventry City CouncilCC-BY-NC-ND

Amidst a low turnout, the people of the English cities have largely rejected adopting a London-style Mayorality system.

The basic reason for introducing such a system is that local government is broken in England. Councils have either got permanent, unmovable majorities on one hand or shifting, unstable coalitions on the other. Neither is working well: permanent majorities lead to a lack of dynanism in councillors and stodgy, slow-to-react councils.

Shifting coalitions and their cousins – councils swinging between one party and another each election – mean that councillors spend their time fighting (sometimes literally), backstabbing, playing to the gallery and otherwise being very insular and political. This results in council policy forever changing and the council services being disrupted.

The Mayoral system is meant to stop that. Instead of such poor extremes, you get one man (almost always a man, alas) with the power concentrated in his hands for four years and the councillors act as the check and balance on him. This sounds great in theory but in practice it’s the same again – either it’s permanently the same man or it swings back and for between two wildly opposing men, albeit only once every 4 years rather than every May.

The solution is obvious to all politicians at all levels, but they don’t like it. They don’t want to let the solution in through the door because when people discover how well it works, they start wanting it for everything. The solution is the supervote, also known as the single transferrable vote (STV).

The supervote put all of the power in the hands of the electorate. The parties no longer have the power of patronage; there is no longer a need to vote for someone you dislike in order to avoid electing someone you dislike more; there are no permanent majorities; there are no dramatic swings. And above all there’s no tactical voting. Because of that, the need to punish or reward the distant national government in London via a local election disappears.

What the individual votes for, the council gets. Your party’s candidates are all elected together but you get to chose between them. Suddenly you have all the power over the parties and the councillors. If you’re on the left of Labour, you can vote to push Labour locally to the left. Ditto if you’re on the right of the Tories.

Supervote does result in more coaltions, but they are more stable – councillors don’t have to guess what people want, they already know. Political infighting doesn’t work because the public will use the supervote to punish it. We get more responsive councillors and a more responsive council. Turnout goes up because the vote means something. If your councillor is rubbish, you have another one to turn to. If they’re all rubbish, you have the power to remove them – even without changing what party you vote for.

The power of the supervote is truly awesome. And that’s why the politicians don’t want you to have it.

Imagine if this was a left-wing country


The other day, David Cameron made one of his lie-filled speeches about AV, and inadvertently blurted out a truth.

No, not the truth that he thinks that you and I are too stupid to understand numbering candidates rather than dabbing a big X next to their name, although that particular vote of confidence in the intelligence of the British population is duly noted. This accidental truth was when he said “First Past The Post has served us well over the years”. He’s right: First Past The Post has served the Conservatives really, really well over the past 60 years. In fact, it has given us plenty of Conservative governments we didn’t want and couldn’t throw out.

There have been 18 general elections since the Second World War. In the majority of those elections, the Conservatives came out on top, never once with more than half of the people supporting them. In 1951, Labour won 48.8% of the vote to the Tories’ 48%. But Labour got 295 seats, the Tories 321. Labour would be out of power for 13 years and the Tories would be seen – and see themselves – as the “natural party of government” for the rest of the 20th century.

For reasons I can’t quite fathom, history records that Mrs Thatcher won a landslide in 1979. She didn’t. If Jim Callaghan had gone to the polls six months earlier, Labour would probably have been returned; Labour was not as unpopular in the late 1970s as the media now recalls. Mrs Thatcher won 43.9% of the vote in 1979 and this gave her a working majority. In the next four years, she blundered through the economy, basically destroying it. Unemployment hit 5 million – a plan her economic advisers had decided upon, not an accidental consequence of her callousness.

She went to the polls in 1983 buoyed by the Falklands War but still unpopular generally. Her share of the vote fell to 42.4% and she got a landslide majority. This landslide was the one that sold off our electricity and water to foreign buyers. She got an unstoppable majority, which gave her dictatorial powers, when 57.6% of the country voted for other parties. She would be in power until 1990, the Tories would be in government until 1997, all from what 42.4% of the vote could do. The post-war settlement, the agreement that the state would work to care for its citizens in return for their hard work, was torn up on the say-so of 42.4% of the population.

First Past The Post really served the Tories well there; but it destroyed my country and ill-served the British people. The next time someone tries to tell you that Mrs Thatcher’s reforms had the support of the vast majority of us, remind them that 42.4% is a minority.

Recently, senior Liberal Democrats seem to be regaining their sense of decency. They have publicly opposed some of the more terribly right-wing things the government is trying to do. And good on them: in other countries with a coalition system, minority partners often go on television to complain about what the other half of the government is doing; this includes cabinet ministers. Here, the LibDems have been silent for too long.

Those senior LibDems have made a very good point: this country is actually a left-of-centre country. It doesn’t feel like it, but it truly is. Put it this way: since the Second World War, the Conservatives have polled more votes than Labour and the Liberal Democrats just once – in 1955 they got 49.7% of the votes to the Left’s 49.1%. Imagine that. Imagine the second half of the 20th century effectively without the Conservatives. Imagine no Stop-Go in the 1950s. Imagine no Three Day Week in the 1970s. Imagine no Thatcherism in the 1980s. Imagine no selling off of British Rail in the 1990s.

Imagine a 20th century where the only Tory Prime Ministers were Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan, both briefly.

AV wouldn’t quite give us that, and it’s wrong to choose a voting system based on the likely outcomes being more to your liking, but still: imagine a 21st century without the Conservatives. We could get nearer to it, if we vote Yes on Thursday.


AV is really, really, really complicated


Courtesy (ie ripped without credit) of B3TA. Let’s face it: if b3tards can understand AV, so can you.

Voting or not voting?


My quiet Sunday morning has been shattered… by something called the Wirral Egg Run. A ridiculously large number of motorcyclists gather at New Brighton, then ride 20 miles all over the Wirral to Clatterbridge hospital to deliver Easter eggs to children, watched by a ridiculously larger number of cheering spectators. And this takes place just outside my front door. For about 4 hours (there really are a ridiculous number of motorcycles involved). Still, it's for charr-i-dee.

Less shattering was a discussion on Twitter. Someone there made the decision to not vote any more. It's hardly groundbreaking, since 35% of people didn't bother to vote at the last election. But it's a subject that annoys me, since the people who don't vote are the ones that make the loudest noise about how dissatisfied with politics/politicians they are.

Frankly, I've never understood this. Put simply, if you don't vote – and you have the right to not vote in the UK – then you give up your right to complain about the outcome. If you didn't contribute to the result – even by going in and spoiling your paper if needs be – then how can you complain that you didn't get what you didn't vote for?

I can't think of any other subject where we allow the most noise to be made by the people with the least invested in the subject. People who complain about the state of the railways are the people who use (or used to use) the trains. A driver who never uses the rails doesn't comment – or if she does, gets shouted down by people who do, and rightly so. The same applies in other spheres of ordinary life. But if you don't vote, that seems to entitle you to complain about things that voting brings about and does or doesn't change.

Of course, it's worse when you don't vote rather than actually exercising your right to do so, because of the statement you are making. The argument is usually "the political system has disenfranchised people like me, therefore I don't/won't/can't vote". The problem is that politicians do all they can not to listen to us, except when we're saying what they want to hear. Or are saying something different that can be spun to sound like it sounds like something they want to hear. The only time we get to try to make them listen is at the ballot box; declaring that you've been disenfranchised and then disenfranchising yourself (you did it, not them) allows them to ignore you more than if you did actually vote. Worse, the politicians look at 35% not voting and take home a message: 35% don't care what we do. The number of people they can fuck over is vastly increased (for the record, it's people who voted against you + people who didn't vote, which, in our minority-votes system, means politicians are allowed to fuck over anything up to around 75% of the population between now and the next election).

Because of that, people who don't vote don't count – to politicians or to me. Why should I listen to the grievances of someone the government is fucking over when they did nothing – nothing whatsoever, not even the bare minimum asked of them, which is putting a cross in a box – to try to help themselves or try to prevent this outcome? Why should I have my ear bent by someone who can't even travel the half mile to mark a piece of paper to try to prevent other people being fucked over by the government?

To me, not voting is extremely selfish. You raise yourself and your circumstances above those of the other 65% of the population that, rightly or wrongly, believe they are contributing to the process, telling those 65% that your circumstances are so very important that you can't even begin to put a cross in a box, so fuck the rest of you.

Also, ahem, people died so we could have the right to put a cross in a box (and, with luck and a fair wind, a 1 in a box in future. See, that's not complicated, is it, Mr Cameron?). A woman threw herself in front of a horse race and died so that other women would have the right to vote. Men and women are dying even as I type in Libya, Egypt (still) and Bahrain amongst far too many other places, all because they want fellow citizens to have the right to put an X or a 1 in a box. Yet people in the UK stay home, don't bother doing the bare minimum, but do complain very loudly about how they're being ignored.

And then they call you a cunt for pointing it out. Oh well.