Thursday, February 5, 2009

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Is It Time To Change The Way We Vote?

A north-west MEP believes now is the time for a change in the way we elect our representatives.

Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies was elected in 1999 to represent the north-west in the European Parliament and benefited from proportional representation (PR) to win his seat after being ousted as MP for Littleborough and Saddleworth in 1997.

He supports, perhaps predictably, the introduction of PR for Westminster elections. Electoral reform is after all a cornerstone of Liberal Democrat policy.

“I don’t think it makes any difference if you’re a Liberal or not,” says Davies. “Anyone who supports democracy and the principle of democracy should support a fair voting system. I think we all believe in one person, one vote and I would hope that we all agree those votes should have an equal value.”

One of the criticisms of first past the post balloting is that only votes cast for the winner count. Theoretically, this means a government can poll less than a rival party nationally but still win a Parliamentary majority.

It can also win a disproportionate amount of seats compared to its share of the national vote, as happened in 2001 when Labour’s 40.7% share won 412 of the 659 seats on offer. In contrast the Liberal Democrats took 18.3% of the popular vote and took just 52 seats.

“The fact is, the first past the post system operated in this country does not produce a result that reflects the equal value of votes,” argues Davies.

As a comparison, had the 1997 UK election used the same system as Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliamentary ballots (the additional member vote) Labour would have been 35seats short of a majority, the Conservatives would have gained an extra 15 seats and the Liberal Democrats’ total would have more than doubled to around 110 seats.

This leads to the counter argument that PR can produce hung parliaments, therefore creating weak and unstable coalitions.

Chris Davies refutes that viewpoint: “If that’s the case one has to ask why the vast majority of governments in the world are chosen on the basis of proportional representation and why the majority of electoral systems are run on that basis. And it’s why, almost without exception, every government in Europe elects on that basis.”

The UK is one of only a handful of democratic nations to favour first past the post, along with Canada, India, Russia and the USA.

No Waste
Even Northern Irish MPs earn a place in Westminster via a system called single transferable voting, in which voters select preferences and surplus votes are passed on until all vacancies are filled.

In theory this means no vote is wasted and was introduced to make sure all sections of the community were given a voice. But which system is best? Davies claims there are around 400 variations of PR in existence.

Click here for a comprehensive explanation of some of the most popular systems in use globally.

Yet change could come to the UK soon, according to one of his party colleagues Mark Jewell, Preston’s Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate.

“The other two parties probably realise they would lose out under it [PR],” he claims. “Certainly it would be very interesting if the Conservatives didn’t win the next election. I know there is a strong thought that they will, but if they didn’t it would be very interesting to see whether they would start to consult on proportional representation.”

“The Liberal Democrats have beaten that drum for so long now and it’s so part of our mantra, that it’s certainly something we would argue for.”

He feels that small steps would be more successful in winning the argument. For instance, using PR in local elections first and then extending it out to other types of ballot.

It is already used to select MEPs, albeit on a closed list system, where you pick your party not your candidate, and Welsh and Scottish governments have been using the additional member voting version since 1999.

In that system constituency representatives are picked in a first past the post vote and a second choice for a party picks top up candidates, based on that party’s share of the popular regional vote. It has led to minority and coalition administrations but no party has been able to dominate in quite the way they seem to in Westminster.

With reform of the House of Lords due, Liberal peer Roy Jenkins’ report on electoral reform, handed to New Labour in October 1998 and subsequently shelved, may soon be dusted off and revisited.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

What is a Liberal?

Labour and Conservative conflict seems to dominate the media coverage of politics, so what is the Liberal message and why does it continually play bridesmaid to its more powerful rivals?

Liberal Democrats need to give the media something to talk about if they want their message to get more coverage, says their Preston parliamentary candidate. Councillor Mark Jewell, also head of Preston City council’s Economic Scrutiny committee, feels Liberal Democrats don’t get the press they deserve but also need to get past people’s perceptions of Liberals.

The Message
“For me, what defines a Liberal is someone who believes that decision making should be made at the lowest practical level,” says Cllr Jewell. “It’s certainly not just about the individual – I associate that with Conservatism.”

“It’s someone who believes that not every decision should be made from the centre and, as such, believes in the freedom of the individual. And someone who protects those freedoms of the individual against the overpowering imposition of the state.”

“I think your political Liberal is different from your personal behaviour liberal and perhaps, I don’t know, there’s a perception there in people’s minds. But in terms of ‘does Liberalism get a fair crack of the whip in the press’ - probably not.”

Liberal Democrats aren’t the only party claiming the Liberal platform though. There’s still a Liberal party alive and kicking and proudly independent from the Liberal Democrats.

Sold Out
Their national president is Liverpool City councillor Steve Radford, someone who believes Liberal Democrats sold out the Liberal message in pursuit of high office. Cllr Radford feels the national media’s reluctance to engage the Liberal message is not, as has been suggested by some, because Liberals are ‘woolly minded’ and indecisive.

“It’s very difficult to get our message across because of the way the media presents Liberalism,” says Cllr Radford. “I think the media sees Liberalism as a threat and uses the term in a derogatory way.”

“Nobody’s ever accused Steve Radford of being ‘woolly minded’. I think that was the David Steel era of creating a woolly mess when he created the LibDems.”

“The party that I’m a councillor for said, 'we are the body to militantly protect Liberalism'. We believe in a society where individuals should have liberty, properties and security. The Liberal Democrats are like a weather vane. They change their opinions with the wind.”

To use a football analogy, the Liberals are AFC Wimbledon to the Liberal Democrats’ Milton Keynes Dons.

“In 1988 our local association had a meeting and we decided to remain as Liberals,” says Cllr Radford. “We didn’t have a problem working with people who wanted to join the new party, but we didn’t want to join a party committed to social democracy.”

“If I’d have wanted to be a social democrat I could have joined the Labour party. Why remain a Liberal for decades in political isolation, to then defect to something different?”

“You’ve got to have a principle about saying that is where we want to go and they are our values. Sometimes you have to actually stick to your principles when it’s unpopular.”

Cllr Radford calls the Liberal leader at the time of the merger with the SDP, David Steel, a “Quisling” - not an ideological Liberal, but one using the party for his own means.

“Being a Liberal is not an easy viewpoint, it’s got some sophisticated views, which are often not popular. It is not about seeking office per se, it’s a set of beliefs about the type of society we want to see. I believe Steel wanted to create a party much akin to the American Democrats.”

His opinion makes sense when similarities between Liberal Democrats and American Democrats are raised with Mark Jewell.

“We had a delegation of our parliamentarians who went to the Democrat conference in America,” says Cllr Jewell. “There is an association with the Democrats in America in the sense that, whilst respecting the freedoms of the individual, there is a role for communities, society and the state to play at an appropriate level.”

Punch and Judy
Although LibDems took more than a fifth of the national vote in the last general election and a quarter of it in the last local government elections, Liberalism struggles to hold the media’s gaze.

Cllr Jewell feels Liberal Democrats miss out because they try to keep to the issues and don’t get involved in political point scoring.

He says: “It does seem to be Punch and Judy politics - you say something and I’ll bash you, I’ll say something and you bash me - which has been perpetuated by the media. It’s not that the papers are not taking on my story, it’s more that if there’s a storyline there, and more importantly one that helps them sell papers, then they will print you.”

Click here to read the Liberal Democrat policy document.

Take Look At Some Of The Key Points In Liberal History, Below:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Preston Bracing Itself for Credit Crunch Losses

With the economy biting hard on the finances of big business, the inevitable loser is the workforce.
Looking at the map below, there are at least three large-scale and well-established businesses bracing themselves for job cuts and it's poor old Joe and Josephine public that will inevitably foot the bill by being the subject of those cuts.
If the banks don't start lending responsibly, instead of hoarding the cash given by the Government to bail them out (our cash by the way), they may not have many customers left to fleece!
Just a thought.

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