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How our voting system keeps helping elect extreme candidates

by Mark Thompson     May 8, 2013 at 11:01 am

During the AV referendum campaign a couple of years ago great play was made by the “No” campaign of how a preferential system would “allow BNP voters to dictate the result”.

This was always a highly dubious claim. Indeed the BNP actually opposed AV, presumably because they realised that under a system where a candidate needs to get broad support they would likely get no seats at all. At least under FPTP they can occasionally win, usually where the barrier is often considerably lower than 50%.

One of the results from the recent local elections amply demonstrates this point.

Collin Brewer was an independent councillor in Cornwall who before the elections attracted a lot of publicity having made some highly offensive comments about disabled children and how they cost too much money so should be “put down”. He resigned at the time but decided to stand again for the Wadebridge East ward and to the consternation of many was actually re-elected.

There is an online petition at the moment trying to get him to resign again which has gathered hundreds of signatures.

But it is worth bearing in mind how he managed to get re-elected. Here is the breakdown of the 2013 results for Wadebridge East taken from the Democracy Cornwall website:

Wadebridge East – results
Election Candidate Party Votes %
Collin William Brewer Independent 335 25% Elected
Steve Knightley Liberal Democrat 331 25% Not elected
Roderick Harrison UK Independence Party 208 16% Not elected
Adrian Darrell Jones Labour 161 12% Not elected
Brian Aubone Bennetts Conservative 150 11% Not elected
Sarah Hannah Maguire Independent 146 11% Not elected

As you can see Collin only got 25% of the vote. Now I don’t know how many of those who voted for him were aware of his remarks but even if most of them were, 75% of voters voted for a candidate who does not have those views. And yet because of First Past the Post Collin was allowed to take the seat on only a quarter of the vote.

Far from preventing extreme candidates from being elected, FPTP actually allows it to happen by simply taking the candidate with the plurality of votes and giving them the seat no matter how low the vote share is. Elsewhere in Cornwall another candidate was elected on less than 20% of the vote.

We aren’t going to get AV or any other form of electoral reform any time soon I suspect but we have to accept that keeping FPTP means as a country we reap what we sow.

Cameron’s Tories are getting MORE socially conservative not less

by Mark Thompson     February 10, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Something that I haven’t seen much covered since this week’s vote on the Equal Marriage bill is just how much it tells us about the social conservatism of the 2010 Tory MP intake.

Using the data on the vote from the Guardian Data Blog I have sorted those Tory MPs who voted for the bill into four categories. Those first elected before 1990, those first elected during the 1990s, those elected during the 2000s and those first elected in 2010.

I think the results tell an interesting story:

We all know that fewer Conservative MPs voted for the bill than voted against or abstained. But the trend here is very noteworthy. There is a steady increase in the percentages voting for the change as the first elected range increases through the decades.

But suddenly for those elected in 2010 this goes into reverse. A lower percentage of the 2010 cohort voted for change than their 2000s colleagues (and that is already from a pretty low starting base).

This is very strange. Most of the MPs elected in 2010 will have been born and raised during a time when homosexuality has been legal. They will have seen things like the equalisation of the age of consent, the scrapping of Clause 28 and the introduction of civil partnerships all from outside of the House of Commons.

They have literally grown up during a time of social progression and enlightenment on LGBT+ issues. And yet the majority of them were not willing to vote for the equalisation of marriage rights.

Whatever the arguments (and I have yet to see a really good principled argument against equalisation that doesn’t appeal to the authority of some religious text or relies on slippery slope nonsense) David Cameron who took a clear lead on this issue has a big problem.

The MPs that were elected in the general election where he led his party are more socially conservative than his contemporaries from the 2000s intakes. They seem to be getting more out of touch, not less.

If Cameron and other senior Tories ever want their party to reflect the open tolerant and socially liberal nation they wish to lead they are going to have to do some serious thinking about how to persuade those that make up the parliamentary party (and those who seek entry) their views are antediluvian and completely out of place in modern Britain.

cross posted from Mark Reckons.

Leveson is linked to Savile but not in the way Paul Dacre thinks

by Mark Thompson     October 18, 2012 at 9:45 am

Last week, Mail editor Paul Dacre called for the Leveson inquiry to reopen in order to examine the BBC’s role in the Jimmy Savile allegations of child abuse.

This is a rather bizarre request given that it would mean Leveson stepping well outside his original remit. But to be fair to Mr Dacre, he is, in his own way trying to ensure that that aspect of the Savile scandal is investigated thoroughly.

It is highly unlikely that Leveson will be reopened though and there are already separate inquiries into what happened at the BBC in terms of both Savile and the Newsnight report that was spiked.

I do think however that the long serving editor has unwittingly highlighted the link that there is between the Savile scandal and the Leveson inquiry.

For months on end we have heard witness after witness testify as to how their lives and families have been damaged by the use of tabloid dark arts such as phone hacking. The extent of the use of these techniques is truly mind-blowing.

From the voice-mail messages of a missing (and as we now know murdered) schoolgirl right through to finding out details of film stars, nobody was safe from having their most intimate details pored over by the hacks and then used in “exposes” or other stories.

Well, I say nobody. Actually there was one person who seems to have been safe from the tabloids’ nefarious reach. Jimmy Savile.

Despite the fact that pretty much everyone in the media seems to have been aware of the rumours. Despite the fact that it is now coming to light that numerous of Savile’s victims and others who witnessed incidents did try to speak out but were either not believed or laughed at. I doubt there is a single Fleet Street journalist throughout the 1970s and 1980s who had not heard on the grapevine about his alleged activities.

I keep reading and hearing that they couldn’t stand the stories up and/or there was nobody to corroborate them. But as we have seen, all it has taken is for a few of his victims to be given the chance to speak out and in the words of Esther Rantzen, an expert on child abuse “they all corroborate each other”.

And many more have now been given the confidence to speak out as they realise they will likely be believed. If any newspaper had executed a proper investigation into Savile’s activities 30 or 40 years ago perhaps his crimes would have been revealed sooner and some of his later victims would have been spared their ordeals.

We of course know that this did not happen. He was free to abuse right up until his death last year and was given a showbiz funeral with the obligatory hagiographic obituary pieces.

So the next time you hear Dacre and others from the tabloid world banging on about how Leveson needs to look into the BBC, just remember that Leveson came about because of the phone hacking scandal and the dark arts the newspapers used to get private information on people for their splashes. Those same techniques that on occasion are defended in the name of “public interest”.

You have to ask why on earth celebrity tittle-tattle was considered a legitimate target for their use and a suspected serial sexual predator like Savile was not.

Mark Thompson blogs at Mark Reckons

Can MPs really be trusted on Lords reform?

by Mark Thompson     June 24, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Imagine that you work for a medium sized organisation. It gives you status and respect and that there was a real battle for you to get the position in the first place. Now imagine that there is another sister organisation just over the road from your one.

The pay isn’t as good but it provides similar status and respect within society. And even better you don’t actually need to go through a grueling selection process to get in there. Now, finally imagine that you and all your colleagues are given the chance to change the way the sister organisation works.

You can vote for the selection process to be thrown open to everyone and for it to be as grueling to get in there are it was to get into your current organisation. That is pretty much exactly the dilemma faced by most MPs as they consider the Lords reform bill which is being published this week.
continue reading… »

Lords reform: the public did NOT reject Proportional Representation last year

by Mark Thompson     April 24, 2012 at 8:55 am

Over the weekend I saw comments from a couple of Conservative MPs who, in the context of a potential Lords reform, say the public rejected a form of proportional representation in the referendum last year.

Here is Elainor Laing, MP for Epping Forest quoted in The Independent on Saturday:

What Conservative MPs are angry about is that Nick Clegg’s Bill [will] create in effect a new House of Commons to be elected by proportional representation. Less than a year ago, the British people rejected PR in a referendum.

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The doctors planning to run over the NHS would bolster Tories

by Mark Thompson     March 25, 2012 at 9:23 am

On Friday, Lord Ashcroft published an interesting poll on Conservative Home analysing the potential threat from a group of doctors who are planning to field 50 candidates at the next General Election against senior Lib Dem and Conservative MPs on an “anti-NHS reform” ticket.

The absolutely fascinating finding is that whilst the doctors apparently have 18% support, they would only shave a little bit off the two coalition parties. By far the biggest loser from their entry to the parliamentary race would be Labour.

Here comes the numbers bit:
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You just can’t be a Monarchist and believe in meritocracy

by Mark Thompson     March 9, 2012 at 11:05 am

We are now in the build up to the celebrations of The Queen’s 60th Jubilee. I was actually out of the country during the 50th celebrations in 2002 so I missed Brian May playing guitar on the roof of Buckingham Palace etc.

As a republican this stuff generally leaves me cold.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with my view that the head of our state should be elected. Indeed it is clear from polling that I am in a minority.
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Does Labour have a broader charisma problem?

by Mark Thompson     January 22, 2012 at 10:00 am

I was thinking the other day about the Labour Party and its recent history and I realised something that had not really occurred to me before.

Despite having held power for almost half of the last 50 years, there are only two Labour PMs from that period who have actually won an election. They are Harold Wilson and Tony Blair.

I think perhaps this sometimes gets a bit lost in the detail of the 7 election wins and 24 years of power they yielded.
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Why Peter Oborne’s “Tory moment” argument is full of holes

by Mark Thompson     January 8, 2012 at 10:02 am

I greatly admire Peter Oborne – he has done some sterling work over the years, especially in exposing political hypocrisy.

But a piece he wrote for the Telegraph last week – in which he claims that the right is winning the argument in every major area of policy – is wrong-headed.

Mehdi has already had a crack at fisking the article here so I won’t go through all of it but I wanted to highlight a couple of things from the last 10 or 15 years that prove Oborne is wrong.
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This is why the Osborne cocaine allegations matter

by Mark Thompson     September 12, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Guido has details today of a story about how someone who knew George Osborne when he was in his early twenties is claiming that she saw him take cocaine on multiple occasions.

Osborne has had these allegations made to him before and has always strenuously denied them. It is possible that this latest round of allegations will come to nothing too. It is not clear if there is a smoking gun.

But if it turned out to be true would Osborne have to resign?
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