Introducing Real Vote: A Way of Making the United Kingdom a Democracy

realvote

At election times we are free to say what we like, anyone can be a candidate, it is easy to vote, results are counted honestly, everything is straightforward and we congratulate ourselves for living in a democracy and feel thankful that it is like that.

And that’s fine – until the results come. Then there is little to feel thankful about. Consider the following.

THE REALITY
It seems reasonable to expect that the results of any election in a democracy would show a relationship between the votes cast and the numbers of MPs elected. Thus, if half the electorate votes for party X, it should seem reasonable that half the MPs in that parliament should be from party X. That seems obvious. Who could disagree? And yet, in the UK, election after election, no such relationship can be found. There has never been a link between how citizens vote on Thursday and the make up of parliament on Friday. The result is and always has been, entirely random. At the moment we have a government rejected by 64% of the electorate.

Every student of politics knows that this is a consequence of the UK voting system, First-Past-The-Post – a system particular to the UK. This simple system, rooted deeply in the past, has survived all the political changes of the centuries, but now fails every democratic test.

Consider the results of the 2015 election for UKIP and the SNP. UKIP voters totalled 12.7% of the vote (3,881,099) yet have .02% of MPs – only one MP. SNP voters totalled 4.7% of the vote (1,454,436) and have 56 MPs. This is gerrymandering of the highest order. Who could justify such injustice? A simple calculation will show that each SNP MP represents 25,972 voters and the single UKIP MP represents 3,881,099. And so 150 UKIP voters are needed to equal the voting power of one SNP supporter. Democracy? You are joking.

Here are the details of the 2015 election illustrating the injustices of our system

% of the votes % of the seats
Conservatives 36.8 50.8 WINNERS
Labour 30.5 35.7 WINNERS
DUP 0.6 1.2 WINNERS
SNP 4.7 8.6 WINNERS
UKIP 12.7 0.2 LOSERS
Liberal Democrats 7.9 1.2 LOSERS
Green 3.8 0.2 LOSERS
Plaid 0.6 0.5 LOSERS

These columns reveal the underlying weaknesses and unfairness of our UK system. Both columns should be more or less equal. This would then show that Parliament truly reflected the national vote. But how could this be done?

It’s quite easy. Introduce REAL voting. We need to introduce the concept of VOTING POWER. VP can easily be calculated by relating the total percentage of votes won by a party with the percentage of seats won by that party. Thus, the SNP, having won 4.7% of the national vote and 8.6% of the seats would have a VP 0.55 for each of their MPs. This is calculated by dividing the percentage number of their votes – 4.7%, by the percentage number of seats they won – 8.6%. This would reflect the true support for the SNP in the country. So when an SNP MP voted in the Commons, that vote would count as .55 of a vote and would be a completely accurate reflection of that party’s support. It’s not complicated. It is simple arithmetic.

The UK would continue to elect 650 MPs. As usual, each member would represent a local constituency and would be elected by achieving a simple majority (i.e. more votes than any other candidate). So far no change.

But, when all votes were counted, and all seats declared, each party would have its percentage of the national vote divided by the percentage number of elected members. For example, in 2015 the Conservative party received 36.8% of the national vote. Therefore, for the election to have been truly democratic the Conservative Party should have 36.8% of the power in the House of Commons – but they have over 50%.

The list below shows the VP of the parties elected in 2015 election had there been a REAL vote. These VPs would represent exactly the proper democratic importance of each MP. For the first time ever, we could then claim that every voter in the UK had been equally represented in the House of Commons.

Conservative 0.73
Labour 0.85
Liberal Democrats 6.42
SNP 0.55
UKIP 81.8
Green 24.7
Plaid 1.2
DUP 0.5

THE BENEFITS OF REAL VOTING
Every vote, whether a winning or a losing vote, would count in the final result.

In 2015, Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Scotland) was the smallest constituency with 21,769 voters. The Isle of Wight was the largest with 108,804 voters. This is another gerrymander resulting from the differing constituency sizes. It takes five Isle of Wight voters to counter one vote from Na h-Eileanan an Iar. But REAL voting would correct this unfairness as the all losing votes would be added to each party’s VP. For the first time ever those lost votes would count.

Nothing changes on Election Day. Same ballot paper, same constituencies with its own MP, same counting at the end of the day, same everything. First-Past-The-Post is popular with voters as it is simple. REAL voting is exactly the same. But unlike FPTP, it is fair.

There would be one huge and unexpected advantage to MPs in REAL voting. MPs would have to vote electronically. Instead of wasting time at every division, each vote would take less than one second. Think of the hours saved if our MPs joined the 21st century.

After the election every MP would be given a VP and that would be the value of that MP’s voting button for the duration of the Parliament. And every time that voting button was pressed, that vote would be representing exactly the number of voters who had supported the party. It’s called democracy.

SOME COMMENTS
Readers of the chart showing what the present Parliamentary VPs would be, might be shocked at the power given to one UKIP MP. But that is not the fault of REAL voting. REAL voting is concerned only with making our voting system a fair one. What the UKIP VP reveals is just how ludicrously distorted our present system is. But it also reveals two problems which might occur with REAL voting.

That one UKIP MP had a majority of 3,437 in his constituency. Had UKIP not won any seats – highly probable with the present system – then 3,881,099 voters would have been unrepresented. That would have been shocking. REAL voting counts and values every EVERY vote. In such a case, it would be reasonable to appoint the UKIP candidate with the greatest number of votes as an additional member with the appropriate UKIP VP.

A further problem might occur in the case of an Independent MP. What would the VP be for that seat? If the winning Independent candidate won 35% of the votes in their constituency, that MP would have a VP of .35. The losing voters would be added, as usual, to the parties concerned.

So there you have it – some simple legislation and democracy could be ours

Tom Parkin

First Published: Sunday 7th February 2016

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Labour are the winning voice for ‘remain’

 

Above: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Deputy Leader Tom Watson and Gloria De Piero, former Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Registration at a ‘Labour In for Britain’ EU referendum rally: Image: BBC News

Since the EU referendum result, Labour, like the rest of the country has experienced a period of shock and deep soul searching. Our leader, Jeremy Corbyn spoke on the morning of the 24th June of the party’s need to respect the result of the referendum and move on. In an interview with the BBC he said, “you have to respect the decision people made”, quickly ruling out the possibility of Labour supporting a second referendum [1]

 

Since June, our new Prime Minister has dazzled the public with her wisdom by giving a detailed, perceptive and helpful commentary that ‘Brexit means Brexit’. Four months on and we are nowhere. A series of right-wing cabinet appointments, conferences, meetings with foreign leaders and photo-ops have produced no detail, no plan and no confidence for families and industry.

After the quick death of ‘Vote Leave’ following Michael Gove’s failed attempt to stab Boris Johnson, the victorious politicians are nowehere to question whilst we, the public, are demanding answers from a clueless bunch of  ‘elected’ Conservative puppets who have little to no understanding of the magnitude of what they’re doing, striding into negotiations, blindfolded and full of false confidence.

This is not the ‘steady’ leadership we were promised. Labour cannot join in.

Since the vote, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron risked further electoral ridicule and went against the Brexit tide, emerging as the voice of ‘the 48%’. The result? Massive electoral gains at the 2016 Witney by-election , eating into the constituency’s historic majority and jumping from 7% to 30% of the vote.

The truth is, around two-thirds of Labour members voted Remain, just ten Labour MPs supported the leave camp and a pro-European stance fits well with general party policy. By nature, Labour is internationalist. How can we support Brexit – especially as its main opponents just a few months ago?

This is not like us. This is not like the great political family to which I love and belong.

There are those that say anyone still advocating for Britain to remain in the EU is disrespecting the ‘will of the British people’. I understand this concern. But referendums are not binding and never have been. Throughout the campaign, the leaders of ‘vote leave’ were aware of ‘parliamentary sovereignty’ – the idea that parliament has ultimate legal authority. Michael Gove in particular, emphasised the importance of parliamentary sovereignty as a reason to pull out of Europe. Yet suddenly, when it all becomes a bit awkward, the principle is disposable, a mere obstacle to an unforgiving Brexit agenda.

To ease the difficulty, Johnson, Gove, Fox and Davis all became temperory advocates of direct democracy and yet this is not how our system works. Had their desire to make Britain a more democratic country been a life-long crusade against corruption, political mismanagement and the general political establishment – why have they never in their combined seventy-four years in parliament, put forward a single motion in favour of direct democracy?

Political selfishness and self-preservation.

“This is not like the great political family to which I love and belong.”

It’s clear Britain’s relationship with the European Union will be the defining issue of the next two General Elections. Negotiations could take up to ten years and unlike the past two elections, the Conservatives can no longer anoint themselves as the ‘party of economic responsibility‘.

Fresh faced: A younger David Cameron during the leaders’ debates in 2010, in which he declared the Conservatives as the ‘party of economic responsibility’.

The decision our party takes now must be kept throughout the negotiations. This could be until 2026. Get the decision right and the electoral gains for our party could be significant. More importantly however, the benefit for our communities could be enormous. But get it wrong and our credibility as an outward-looking, compassionate, internationalist, Social Democratic force could be lost for good.

As article 50 is triggered and Britain enters its negotiating period, the apparent unity of the Conservative Party will unravel, causing deep rifts in Westminster. Like the whole referendum, it will be messy, undignified and foolish. Labour would benefit from distancing itself from this. After all, it did not create this mess. This is not who we are.

What is it they say? Ah yes – ‘reap what you sow’.

A People Powered Movement to Save Europe #diem25

Governments cannot reform the European Union. But citizens can.

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Democracy In Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25) is a pan-European political movement to democratize the machinary of the European Union. (diem25.org)

Over the years, the role of the European Union has become warped and confusing. Today, its central institutions serve as mediators between hostile national governments. It is little more than a toy for prime ministers to throw around, misuse, blame and criticize.

And like most abused toys, the union’s political structure is broken and in need of repair.

Earlier in the year, former British Prime Minister David Cameron, swept around the continent, busily calling for a ‘reformed relationship’ and a ‘new British deal’. At last, a political leader, sitting in the Council of Ministers alongisde Alexis Tsipras, making the case for long-lasting structural reform to the system.

Not so fast.

Rather than seeking full-blown reform, Mr Cameron wanted ‘British concessions’. Ultimately, he didn’t have the nerve to call for a fundamental change to the system. The ‘deal’ he rustled up was meant to convince voters that reform was possible. Instead, it had the opposite effect. He missed his opportunity and it cost us the referendum.

David Cameron at the EU summit

SOURCE: BBC News

Mr Cameron’s deal failed because he went about it the wrong way. Governments alone cannot plan reform, negotiate terms and deliver a successful resolution. Mass movements do this.

History is a series of collective actions, aimed at empowering the majority. The Great Reform Act of 1832 is a good example of this. Without intense lobbying, protests and a network of organised groups (in the form of the Birmingham Political Union etc…), the issue of parliamentary reform wouldn’t have been a priority.

Public assembly made it so.

Mr Cameron’s negotiating style was too clean, slick and robotic. Withought organised cross-party support, what was likely to have been a well intentioned deal, ended up looking like a political fix. The Prime Minister’s motives became questionable and the ‘remain’ vote unfairly toxic.

We cannot make the same mistake again. From now on, the pro-European campaign needs grassroots leadership. Upon the failure of the political system, why can’t citizens take control, enthuse voters, educate one another, share ideas, strengthen communities and stimulate the political imagination?

What’s the problem?

Until the union democratizes, national governments will (quite legitimately in some cases) continue to strip the EU of its powers until it is nothing more than a bare financial trading block. This is dangerous as a ‘bare trading block’ changes the whole nature of the union. Rather than serving citizens, by improving working conditions and protecting human rights, the EU would become subervient to the markets.

Primarily, the EU should serve as a union of people rather than governments. A united Europe is a social project, aiming to pool the ideas and skills of citizens of differing cultures, languages, families and backgrounds for the benefit of all.

To me, the most equiped and accessable movement to reform Europe is DiEM25.

As DiEM25’s founder and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis explains, the movement’s purpose is:

“One very simple, but radical idea: to democratize Europe.” – Yanis Varoufakis

Politics itself cannot create a functioning European community. Although politicians can help regulate and support a united Europe, we – the 508 million Europeans – share the responsibility of spreading ideas, exploring cultures and learning languages.

The future of the union cannot be decided by a group of thirty bureaucrats sitting around a conference table. History tells a different story. Change occurs when people group together and act.

This group is DiEM25.

I discovered DiEM25 two months after its Berlin launch in February. With over 23 000 members in 56 countries, DiEM25 can offer a third route. Please download and read the manifestos, outlining how we can achieve the largest democratic revolution in human history.

The race to 2025 has begun. Will you join in?

 

Yanis Varoufakis (left) at the Berlin launch of DiEM in February (SOURCE:diem25.org)

TO DOWNLOAD THE SHORT AND LONG ENGLISH VERSIONS OF DiEM25’s MANIFESTO, PLEASE CLICK ON THE FOLLOWING LINKS:

Short Manifesto (ENGLISH) (4 Pages)

Long Manifesto (ENGLISH) (9 Pages)

FIND DiEM25 ONLINE:

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Climate Change: Who pays?

Thoughts on BBC Radio 4’s debate ‘The Global Philosopher’.

BBC News Summary.
Click here to listen to the debate.

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As the human race burns through more oil fields and woodlands, polluting the ocean, dumping waste and flooding inhabited land, it makes sense to ask the question: ‘who pays for climate change?’

For too long, leaders of the worst emitting countries have avoided answering this question. They have done so because they fear being financially worse off if they did. At first, it makes sense to suggest that the countries polluting the most can afford to pay for the damage they make. After all, more pollutants in the skies must mean greater production of goods and services – right?

Wrong.

Climate change is a social issue and should not be view through a nationalist lens. As one Canadian contributor to the programme said, ‘who are the largest emitters? Those are companies, those are co-operations, they are not countries.’ A nationalist response to climate change is limited to a carbon tax on companies. Although a carbon tax has its merits, it only works on the basis that ALL governments support and enforce it. If one country introduces a tax of say $20 per tonne of CO2, then a large multi-national cooperation will just relocate their headquarters to another country where the tax is lower or even non-existent.

Even if an international tax level is agreed, this also poses some difficulties. The world’s economies are at different stages of development, some more dependent than others on oil, coal and gas as a cheap means of production. This is no better than the current unfair share of the burden. The poorest still pay.

But to dismiss a loose carbon tax does not mean to diminish the role of governments in regulating carbon pollutants and sanctioning against those that are responsible for a disproportionate segment of carbon emissions.

In 2011, the US Federal Court heard the ‘American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut’ case. It was the first time that an American company was being sued on a ‘public nuisance’ claim. The state argued that American Electric had irreversibly damaged the environment and although the company did not contest this accusation, it did question why the case was being heard by the Supreme Court.

American Electric won on a judgement of 8-0 and although the legal situation is currently in favor of emitters, more cases like this are making appearances in court.

Carbon Trading
Carbon trading – or ‘Cap and Trade’ is worth an estimated $3 Tn to the market. The system sets an international cap on CO2 emissions, meaning that in theory, the rate of carbon emissions does not widen year on year. Companies are allocated a certain number of ‘credits’ based on their size and carbon output. These credits act as tokens or licences which stipulate the levels at which companies can legally pollute the Earth’s atmosphere. ‘Greener’ companies are able to sell off their credits to wealthier nations hat want to exceed their designated carbon limits.

Because we want to lower the global carbon output, the number of carbon credits released each year is reduced, pushing up the value of one credit.

Here’s the problem.

If Carbon Trading is released into the market, private companies, banks and wealthy individuals are able to make billions off the back of the system. A better solution is to effectively ‘nationalize’ the cap and trade system, allowing governments to funnel profits into renewable energy development or dividends for families on the cost of fuel and gas during the transition to a greener economy.

Only under this scheme is the cost of climate change evenly shared. In addition to this, green energy projects can receive billions of pounds worth of new investment, increasing the rate at which companies and households reject fossil fuels in industry and their daily lives.

As it exists, the carbon trading limit is set too high. This allows European businesses to buy credits from India and China. It is then possible for large coal-powered electricity generators to be built within Europe itself, thus failing to address the problem.

Graph of CO2 concentration

Source: BBC News

Why is this so important?
In May 2013, atmospheric CO2 reached a record 400 parts per million. Safe levels are estimated at 350 parts, significantly lower than first thought. Considering 450 parts per million is the threshold upon which the Earth becomes free of ice, the current cap and trade system has clearly failed.
The Carbon Tax
Another option is a tax on carbon production. However, unlike cap-and-trade, a carbon tax does not guarantee a real-term annual fall in carbon emissions. Companies are merely taxed on the carbon they produce but are not tied to any form of restrictive cap.
The most publicised attempt at a ‘carbon tax’ was under Julia Gillard’s Australian government. The tax was a measure taken to ensure Australia reached its emissions target of -5% and at first, the results were promising.
In the first year 2012-13, the new tax was set at a rate of $23.00AUD per tonne and increased slightly to $24.15AUD the following year. Although it succeeded in cutting carbon output by 0.8% in its first year, an unstable political situation resulted in its repeal on 17th July 2014.
The government’s Department of the Environment website explains why the tax was abandoned:

“Abolishing the carbon tax will lower costs for Australian businesses and ease cost of living pressures for households.” 

This explanation is important in answering the question of ‘who pays for climate change?’ The incoming Abbott administration had adopted the mantra that short-term business growth overruled long-term environmental sustainability.

This is our problem. Short-term plans.

In repealing the tax, Mr Abbott had no intention of replacing it with a viable alternative. If the then-Prime Minister had been asked ‘who pays?’, his answered would have been ‘NOT BUSINESSES. NOT POLLUTERS’.  Here, Mr Abbott and the US Supreme Court are in agreement.

So what’s the best plan?
Nationalize the carbon market:

  • Rather than sell additional credits to companies that exceed their legal limits, the government should issue additional credits at a fixed price.
  • The government should also subtract the value of these additional credits from the total number of credits a company receives over the next five years.
  • Credits should no longer be transferable from one company to another.
  • All treasury receipts from a ‘state’ carbon market should fund new PUBLIC environmental projects and subsidize the cost of renewable energy at market.

For example:

Year 0 Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Total Credits Over 6 Years
Set Credit Targets 120 100 80 60 40 20 420
Credit Limits (after borrowing) 130
(+10)
98
(-2)
78
(-2)
58
(-2)
38
(-2)
18
(-2)
420

This way, large-scale public environmental projects are guaranteed funding and carbon costs are not passed on from businesses to their consumers.

Free-market economists may ask ‘where’s the incentive?’ Why should there be a financial incentive when the most significant stimulus already exists – the chance to save the planet?