Labour should welcome new members not purge them

Labour’s attempts to block new voters and make them feel unwelcome is lunacy.

The election of a new leader for the Labour Party has sparked a lot of interest, in large part due to new rules for doing so.

The process of electing a political candidate is known as a ‘primary election’. In the UK, such votes are usually reserved for registered party members and known as ‘closed primaries’. This is in contrast to equivalent elections in the United States where, typically, anyone on the electoral role can vote for a party candidate, whether they are members of that party or not. These are called ‘open primaries’. Back here in the UK, the Conservative party have dabbled with open primaries for selecting some of their local MPs, most notably (and successfully) with Sarah Woollaston, the popular GP and MP for Totnes.

Labour have adopted a form of open primary for their current leadership election. You don’t have to be a signed up member of the Labour Party to vote for their new leader, you just need to subscribe to their values and pay £3. Thousands have done so.

Most political parties in the 21st century would kill to have people joining their ranks in droves. The Green Party’s biggest coup before the 2015 General Election was the surprise announcement of their record membership figures and the Liberal Democrats have repeatedly proclaimed the number of new members that have joined since their recent electoral battering. But Labour’s response to this surge has been to cry foul and purge.

Continue reading


Here’s what you could have won – 2015 General Election Results under Proportional Representation

The results are in for yesterday’s General Election. The Conservative majority was a big surprise but also of note is the fact that UKIP tallied almost 4-million votes whilst only getting a single MP. In contrast, the SNP got less than half the number of votes but have over 50 times the number of MPs.

Equally, the Liberal Democrats who were the biggest losers last night with only 8 MPs left actually got 50% more votes than the SNP, last night’s biggest winners.

This is the First Past The Post System in action.

What would the results have looked like under a Proportional Representation system? That’s a method under which MPs are allocated simply based on how many votes each party gets. Here’s a breakdown… Continue reading

Vote Tomorrow (even if you don’t know what for)

In preparation for tomorrow’s general election, I had been planning a spin-free comparison of the key policy differences between the main parties. A simple list of how much each party would spend or cut in what areas, what laws they would change and such like.

Unfortunately, this has proved very difficult and in many cases impossible. And that’s because none of the parties have actually said what they’re going to do. Their manifestos lack even the most fundamental details of how they would allocate money.

The Conservatives, for example, are planning the greatest reduction in spending of the main parties but the policies they detail in their manifesto would result in a net increase in spending. In other words, they’ve told us about the good stuff but not the bad.

Similarly, one of the Labour Party’s key strengths is supposed to be the NHS but they don’t actually say how much they would spend on it. They also detail all the give aways in their manifesto and few of the take-backs.

And before this makes you run off to UKIP or back to the Lib Dems, none of the other parties are any better.

I don’t agree with Russell Brand’s conclusion that people shouldn’t vote but, for anyone intending not to do so, this deliberate obfuscation by all parties is probably reason enough. It is a disservice to democracy and to the parties’ shame.

Continue reading

Politicians Hate Giving Straight Answers (but you can’t always blame them)

Few things that politicians do are more frustrating than their tendency to avoid answering questions properly. They could and should do better at this but the fault is not entirely theirs.

The usual reasons for this come down to one of two things: they’re afraid that giving an answer in either direction will be disagreeable to a certain group of voters and hedge that giving no clear answer will avoid offending either. Or, they simply don’t want to commit themselves in advance but don’t want to admit as such. Both reasons are lamentable and sometimes counterproductive.

Avoiding answering a question so as to not put anyone off is bad for democracy. It’s a deliberate act of concealment aimed at confusing the electorate into voting for something (people or policies) about which they have not been fully informed. Moreover, whilst the idea that this will improve a politician’s chances of winning votes may hold a certain logic in the short term – no policy may be better than one with which you disagree – it ignores the risk that you and all your colleagues appear as standing for nothing or, worse, trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

That politicians obfuscate and that this is bad will not be news. However, I don’t think we can lay the blame entirely at their feet.

Last week David Cameron was asked if he would stand for a third term. He said no and his answer was instantly headline news, discussed and debated at length on every media platform. It still is. Why did he say it? What was he trying to achieve? Was this a good tactic or a bad strategy? How dare he presume he’ll be in such a position?

The interviewer, the BBC’s James Landale, said that he is often prepped for an interview with subtle hints from press officers such as: “If you ask this particular question, you might just get an interesting answer…”. But in this case, he said, he was not. He just thought it was an interesting question so asked it.

Perhaps Mr Cameron had been desperate for somone to ask him this question and been carefully crafting his answer for weeks. Or perhaps someone just asked him a straight question and he gave a straight answer. No doubt the same can be said for many other headlines generated by the utterances of politicians.

Politicians deliberately wriggle their way out of questions all the time. It is to their shame and our misfortune. But, when every word they utter is poured over in such critical detail and endlessly analysed, it is perhaps not entirely their fault.

Four Things You Might Like to Know Ahead of the Election

1. UKIP and the Greens will only get a handful of MPs

The insurgent parties get a lot of attention in the press and they will get a lot of votes. They will not, however, get many MPs.

UKIP will get between 1 and 5, the Greens 1 or 2. Love or loathe them, this will be deeply unfair given the number of ballots marked in their name (see table below).

Continue reading

What would “English Votes for English Laws” actually entail?

The recent vote on Scottish independence has brought the West Lothian Question back to the fore, most noticeably through debate around the idea of “English votes for English laws”. But why is this an issue and what do the possible solutions look like?

First thing’s first though… What is the West Lothian Question?

The West Lothian Question

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have governing powers devolved from the UK Parliament. They have their own parliaments or assemblies which can vote on and control certain issues, for example, education.

This is fine and good in most people’s eyes. However, it results in the following quirk: continuing with the education example, Members of Scottish Parliament (MSPs) can change how education in Scotland works by voting in their own parliament (that’s Scottish politicians voting for Scottish laws). But to change how education in England works, MPs from across all four countries can vote in the UK Parliament. That’s English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs voting on English laws. Why do they get to vote on English laws but not the other way around? That is the unresolved West Lothian Question.

Continue reading

My Government Would Compel You to Vote

Whether or not you were pleased with the outcome of the recent vote on Scottish independence – and the odds suggest that you probably were – one thing we should all be happy about is the level of engagement and the voter turnout.

84% of the eligible population turned out to vote in the Scottish referendum. That’s a higher proportion than for any election in the United Kingdom since universal suffrage in 1918. It’s well above the 65% for the 2010 General Election or paltry 15% for the elections of regional Police Commissioners.

It makes sense that as engagement increases, so too will turnout. But might it not also follow that a higher turnout will bring higher levels of engagement?

Continue reading