Posts Tagged 'Elections'

Democracy through the Wythenshawe prism

We have learned that the media will do all it can to ignore the crucial matter of political and electoral legitimacy. The establishment can’t have ordinary people actually thinking about or discussing MPs sitting in Parliament after securing only a tiny amount of support in the ballot.  That would be dangerous to the establishment.  The media, as its ally, continues to help distract attention away from this significant issue.

84.4% of eligible voters in Wythenshawe and Sale East did not vote for the candidate elected as the area’s MP.  71.8% of eligible voters in the constituency did not even vote.  The turnout was mentioned in Chris Mason’s piece, but only as part of the result, tucked away as a bullet point neatly at the bottom of the vote tally, no further discussion of it wanted or permitted.

This is an issue that is not going to go away.  In a democracy the elected representatives must have legitimacy.  Mike Kane’s election ‘victory’ with only 15.6% of the available vote is nowhere close to legitimacy.  We do not live in a democracy.  It is time people made a stand in order for this country to become one.

The real Wythenshawe election result

Party politics is a tribal business and it was no surprise this morning to see my tribe had won the Wythenshawe and Sale East By Election in a landslide. The results were as follows:

Makes no Difference so Not Bothered   -   61,034  (71.8%)
Labour   -   13,261  (15.6%)
UKIP   -   4,301  (5.1%)
Conservative   -   3,479  (4.1%)
Lib Dem   -   1,176  (1.4%)
Green   -   748  (0.9%)
BNP   -   708  (0.8%)
Monster Raving Loony   -   288  (0.3%)

We will get to the implications for democracy in just a moment.  So what does this mean for the parties?

Labour said they knocked on every door in the constituency, yet even with the abuse-enabling postal vote they were unable to motivate even 16 in every 100 voters to make a positive vote for them.  This was always a win and from the moment he was appointed, Mike Kane could have used his candidacy as collateral for long term borrowing and planned a new, well funded lifestyle with plenty of holiday time and boondoggles to cherry pick from.

UKIP as ever talked a great game but even before the declaration, Paul Nuttall was moaning about a postal vote stitch up and the inability of a party to build momentum during a campaign. This is fatuous nonsense.  This is not the 1960s where voters had a range of policies to choose from on the big issues that matter, and therefore wait to be persuaded by powerful arguments before choosing who to vote for.  With the EU running almost all the major portfolios, parties have little scope to change anything of substance and even less therefore to offer voters.  Swing votes are increasingly cast on the basis of economic self interest, be that a desire for lower taxation and efficient services, or the preservation of benefits and welfare payments, in constituencies that are marginals between Labour and the Conservatives.

I said to friends before the election that anything less than 5,000 votes in this election would represent a failure for UKIP, as their vote would turn out even while others stay at home. Even as a dustbin for protest votes and with substantial media coverage over recent months, UKIP only managed to enthuse 5% of Wythenshawe’s voters to come out and support them in rejection of the other parties.  This does not indicate any sense of a breakthrough. It shows the limitations of UKIP’s appeal and it represents a bad result for the party in the current political climate.

They will do better in some other constituencies where a vote for UKIP can inflict a bloody nose on another party in a close race, or where the election is meaningless, such as the European elections.  But for all the noise of UKIP fanatics on comment threads, in the real world voters are not flocking to the party in the way its vocal followers imagine.  On this showing, second place in the Euro elections seems more likely now.

Conservative election managers were expecting a pounding and they rightly got one.  Their vote collapsed with it being obvious Labour would win easily.  Tory campaigns have been hit hard by the loss of supporters, particularly since Cameron became leader and turned the party into the new age Social Democrats, then rejected the option of forming a minority government and calling another snap election to secure the extra seats they needed for a majority – instead getting into bed with the Limp Dums in order to give Cameron the cover he wanted to dump much Conservative policy.  The party is finished in the northern urban areas.  It has nothing to offer that differs from Labour and its own efforts to maintain a client state in years past is coming back to bite it hard now finances necessitate welfare to be reined in.

Fib Dim supporters repeatedly rejected suggestions they would lose their deposit here, but they did, then promptly went into a self imposed media blackout.  Previously the party of all things to all men, now they are nothing to almost everyone.  The party will now write off the Euro elections and prepare to see its MEP tally slashed to almost nil.  All attention will turn to a ‘hold what we can’ strategy for 2015, where what remains of the Lib Dem activist base will be drafted in to selected constituencies where they have MPs for the most bitter and nasty election campaigns we will have ever seen in a desperate battle to retain most of their seats.  If any party is devoting more time to party maintenance than anything else, it is Clegg’s declining rump.  They have nothing to offer and most voters now treat them with the contempt they have long deserved.

Green / BNP can be lumped together as two cheeks of the same authoritarian arse.  While one seeks to undermine and reverse the progress made over decades in our industrialised and open country through damaging and regressive eco-loony policies, the other seeks to undermine and reverse the progress made over decades to build a more inclusive society through racism and identity politics.  Neither party is credible.  Neither party appeals to anyone outside a limited number of angry and hate fuelled drones who want to ‘purify’ this country through ecological and traditional fascism respectively.  Thankfully here they made up little more than 1% of eligible voters, but even that was too many.

Monster Raving Loony entertainment is always a fixture in By Elections and in addition to those who treated the election as a farce and stayed away, another 288 made an effort to come out and treat the party political process with a bit of extra contempt by voting for those upholding Sutch’s legacy.

So what does this mean for democracy?

We still don’t have it.  We have an electoral process, but that’s all.  Mike Kane will settle his backside onto the green benches, but will now answer to Labour whips in Parliament, vote as he is told and parrot prepared lines to take.  He will go through the motions of being a lawmaker, but ultimately change absolutely nothing for the residents of Wythenshawe and Sale East.

In 2015 he will stand again and will win again.  More people will be motivated to turn out and vote just to ensure the hated Tories do not sneak in by some fluke of electoral happenstance.  The Tories will regain second place as many of their stay away voters from this campaign come out in forlorn effort to stop Ed Miliband becoming Prime Minister.  UKIP back will likely slide back into third as the enthusiastic support they have has already turned out and few others will jump into their camp at the General Election, so they will be overtaken by Conservatives who will turn out after getting in a lather as a result of the General Election hype.

All in all, after great expense and column acres of discussion, analysis and interpretation, nothing of substance will change.  Voters will be no more empowered and have no more control or ability to change things through the system than they had before.  People power will remain a soothing catchphrase.  Slowly though, more people will reject the process and increase the number of those who could be tempted to look at a radical alternative to what masquerades as democracy today.

UKIP’s failure will be due to flawed strategy

‘UKIP’s failure?’ I hear some UKIP supporters ask.  ‘We are rising in the polls, we’ve added 13,000 members since 2013, we are taking votes from the Tories and Labour, we are the main challengers in a number of seats, we are favourites to win most votes in this year’s Euro elections, the other parties running scared,’ are comments that are repeatedly made in threads on newspaper websites and blogs. But there is good reason to believe the foundations underpinning these claims are soft.

We will come to the polling in a moment, but first we need to set the scene and look at UKIP’s prospects in this year’s Euro elections.  Farage has talked up the party’s prospects and its members are highly confident that UKIP will win the most votes in the election.  However the Euro polls are still showing that UKIP is behind Labour and will likely only come second at best.  There is even still a chance the Tory vote could just squeak them into second at UKIP’s expense.  It’s worth remembering UKIP’s total vote in 2009 (2,498,226) actually fell from that in 2004 (2,650,768) despite a larger electorate.

This time around, if the party can’t secure the most votes in the Euros, even in these perfect conditions for a protest vote, huge media coverage and a core support that will definitely turn out while millions of Labour and Tory voters will not bother themselves with a trip to the polling station, then success in the 2015 General Election is a pipe dream. Don’t forget, just a year after the 2009 Euro elections, in 2010 at the General Election, UKIP’s total vote fell to 919,546 (with the BNP on 564,331).  That’s a lot votes loaned to the party in meaningless Euro elections that go somewhere else when people are asked to elect a government.  Although with UKIP hoovering up BNP supporters and votes along with disaffected Tories and previous non voters who wish to register their disgust at the three main parties, it would be realistic to see UKIP get well in excess of 1,700,000 in 2015 – possibly even clearing the 2 million mark with room to spare.  But that won’t translate into seats.

Back to polling then.  While polling in some marginal seats funded by Alan Bown has UKIP, when the figures include undecided voters and those who refuse to say who they will vote for, as high as 19% (Thanet South) and 16% (Great Grimsby), nationally the party is still rooted stubbonly around the 13% mark.  But the polls are not telling the whole story here because it is impossible to tell from them what the effect of the BNP’s collapse is.

We know a number of white working class Labour voters defected to the BNP.  With the BNP imploding we know anecdotally that many of their members have been attracted to UKIP as the next best alternative by the immigration message that has taken centre stage.   This 13% average UKIP polling figure is a lower percentage than before the May 2013 local elections in which UKIP won a number of district and county council seats.  There is no breakthrough at the moment and UKIP’s position, third in the national polls, is only that way because the Lib Dems are being punished by former supporters for being in coalition with the Conservatives and have seen a lot of their support desert to Labour. These numbers and other factors considered, we will not see UKIP win any Westminster seats in 2015.  Despite much bravado, it seems that UKIP is hitting a glass ceiling of support.

What does this suggest?  A failure of UKIP’s own making.  What voters are now seeing is a party of blatant contradiction they cannot trust, whose offering is nothing more than a dustbin for protest votes,  ‘vote for us because we’re not Conservative/Labour’, which is offering nothing positive or differentiated of its own.

In the south people see UKIP promoting itself as the alternative to the Conservatives and trying to appeal to those who want low tax, smaller government, shrinking welfare budgets, stronger defence etc. People who are attracted by Farage lauding Margaret Thatcher, in a clear message that he is positioning himself to them as Thatcherite.

In the north people see UKIP promoting itself as the alternative to Labour and trying to appeal to those who believe in government running most things, funded by higher levels of tax than the south want, preserving or even increasing welfare budgets, who would like strong defence because many young men and women from the region join the forces in the absence of other opportunities.  People who are attracted by pictures of Farage drinking bitter in a pub, in a clear message that he is positioning himself as an ordinary working class bloke.

The two are too mutually exclusive, and thanks to national media and 24 hour news, this ‘all things to all men’ strategy employed by Farage is all too visible to voters who will rightly feel it is nothing more than an electoral ploy, saying different things to different people based on what UKIP thinks they want to hear.

While some voters will feel moved to support UKIP regardless, when it comes to putting an ‘X’ on a ballot paper, will that be enough for UKIP to hold on to enough potential supporters in the north and south respectively, who see the party’s schizophrenic pronouncements in different parts of the country?  People who loathe the blue or red side so much they would vote tactically for whoever is best placed to form a government that would keep Cameron/Miliband out of Downing Street.  That’s the crux of the matter.

No matter whether the party is comprised of enthusiastic amateurs or professional political animals, as a strategy it may result in some short term gains.  But in the long term it is doomed to failure. Depressingly, as that happens, so the Eurosceptic cause as a whole will be adversely affected.

Representative Democracy: The disengaged

Four in 10 people are “alienated” from  Britain’s political parties and say they will not consider voting for any of them, according to new research that is reported by the Independent.  It is an interesting article that is worth a couple of minutes of your time to read.

The problem with the article is that it drifts off into the realm of fantasy when it goes on to tell readers that, although the polling carried out by TNS-BRMB does not mean people are apathetic about politics,  the Committee on Standards in Public Life which commissioned it believes the findings pose worrying questions about the future of democracy in Britain, maintaining the illusion that we actually have democracy in this country.

Lord Bew, who chairs the committee, said the growth in the size of this group over the last 10 years represents a real challenge to politicians, parties, local organisations and community groups to provide the public with a sufficiently attractive and relevant set of options to choose from.

This is where the lack of understanding about how this country is governed, and by whom, is utterly exposed.  The politicians, parties, local organisations and community groups cannot provide the public with attractive and relevant options to choose from because they do not govern the country, the EU does. This is why we have meaningless posturing, endless broken promises that could never be kept, fights over narrow meaningless matters and soundbite politics, instead of genuine choices and real change when people want it.  This needs to be repeated over and over until people understand it.

British politicians do not run Britain.  This is why no matter who is elected in this country, on the substantive issues nothing changes because they do not have control over those issues.  This is not a sovereign country.  Our control over the laws in this country has been lost, our control over the taxes payable in this country has been lost.  Whether most stay-away voters realise this or not, they do at least see that voting changes nothing and is not a worthwhile exercise.  More people are joining their ranks.  The disengaged is a growing constituency.  The only solution is a wholesale change of the system where the people hold the power, not the political class.

Getting back to the democracy illusion, one of the comments in response to the article captures the essential point about our condition with ruthless efficiency. It is an excellent potted summary that deserves to be shared around, for it underlines the reality and helps to reinforce the necessity of challenging and changing the system to replace the cheap and nasty sham we have with real democracy:

Their fear is growing, the establishment is circling the wagons

Russell Brand’s interview by Jeremy Paxman, and the subsequent furore about not voting, has evidently rattled the political class.  So much so, the columnists are still pouring out their implorings for people to trapse to the ballot box and continue doing what clearly has no effect whatsoever, and think tanks are now weighing in to spread their own brand of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt).

The latest examples are in the Independent today, where Jane Merrick reports (without any question or challenge) a tidy piece of scaremongering from the Labour party’s closest thinktank, the Institute of Public Policy Research.  And John Rentoul uses his space to argue that even a vote for Nick Clegg is better than not voting.  The IPPR piece stands out for its FUDmongering:

People who do not vote are more likely to face public spending cuts and reduction in household incomes, a leading think tank reports today.

Political parties are more likely to tilt their policies and economic decisions towards groups who turn out at the ballot box than those who do not, the IPPR says. As a result, it leads to a “vicious cycle of disaffection” because low turnout groups feel politicians are not listening to their concerns, and this makes them even less likely to vote.

There really is a worry among the political class that the increasing tendency of large chunks of the electorate to stay away from the polling stations, recognising that however they vote nothing will change and the will of the people will be ignored, will increase as a result of high profile personalities articulating the reality and encouraging more people to follow suit.  To help things along, this comment has been added to the article’s discussion…

So where are the hard truths then? – Part 2

Continuing from the previous post… In his comment piece in the Guardian, Russell Brand has himself admitted that he said nothing new or original in his interview with Jeremy Paxman, acknowledging that it was the expression of the knowledge that democracy is irrelevant that resonated with both Paxman and a wider constituency.

In his op-ed, Brand argues that:

As long as the priorities of those in government remain the interests of big business, rather than the people they were elected to serve, the impact of voting is negligible and it is our responsibility to be more active if we want real change.

What Brand this fails to acknowledge or deal with is the reason why the people who politicians were elected to serve are not being served.  It is too simplistic to say the politicians are only looking after the interests of big business.  The fact is the power to effect change in this country has been given away to the European Union and politicians here cannot rein in behaviour of the corporates when EU laws give them a mandate to act as they do.

Whether Brand realises it or not, the issue again boils down to sovereignty – who should run Britain?

When Brand says that politicians are frauds, he is right on the money about many of them.  This is because there is a significant number of politicians who understand very well the limitations that EU rule has on a government’s scope for domestic governance.  Despite this they make impossible promises and hold forth about changes that need to be made in areas of policy where the UK no longer governs itself – while staying silent about the EU dimension.

However, there are politicians who simply do not understand the EU dimension and think the UK still has the ability to effect changes.  Given the fast moving world of current affairs and the sheer breadth of things they need know just enough about to comment upon, as if they were in control of a brief, these are the people who don’t take the time to learn how this country is really governed, where power really resides and how little can actually be changed even if Westminster was of a mind to.

This takes us back to the so-called ‘democratic process’, which is just long hand for ‘voting’.  This is about the limit of involvement people can have in our so-called democracy.  But where is there any value in voting when the people we elect do not have the power to change those things we are opposed to?  Back to Brand’s op-ed again:

The only reason to vote is if the vote represents power or change. I don’t think it does. I fervently believe that we deserve more from our democratic system than the few derisory tit-bits tossed from the carousel of the mighty, when they hop a few inches left or right. The lazily duplicitous servants of The City expect us to gratefully participate in what amounts to little more than a political hokey cokey where every four years we get to choose what colour tie the liar who leads us wears.

Replace ‘The City’ with ‘the EU’ and Brand has actually got it spot on.  The reason we only get a few derisory tit-bits is they are all there is within the gift of the people we elect to give to us.  The reason they hop a few inches left or right is that all the big issues are dealt with in Brussels, so there’s no point in ideological battles when any mooted changes could not be delivered unless the EU willed it.  That leaves us with the change in tie colour every four or five years, because the three main parties are all fighting over that narrow piece of ground where Britain still has some control over its affairs.  That results in the insignificant differences Brand references.

Somewhere else Brand has managed to land on solid ground is with these words:

I like Jeremy Paxman, incidentally. I think he’s a decent bloke but like a lot of people who work deep within the system it’s hard for him to countenance ideas from outside the narrowly prescribed trench of contemporary democracy. Most of the people who criticized me have a vested interest in the maintenance of the system. They say the system works. What they mean is “the system works for me”.

Perhaps. Or perhaps they just have no imagination.  Perhaps that is why the likes of that fool, Harry Mount, rush forth with a blanket rejection of Brand’s comments and have to work in extremes.  The alternative to what ‘democracy’ we have today, the likes of Mount argue, is violent revolt, lawlessness, social breakdown, chaos.

Not for Mount is there any consideration of a different system where there is real democracy.  One where the politicians have to ask for permission from the people before executing some of their plans.  Not for Mount is there any route to this other than though armed revolt, rather than peaceful, intelligent civil disobedience that demonstrates a removal of consent by the people and removal of power to implement the wishes of those over whom we have no control and who we cannot hold to account.

Just as politicians avert their eyes from the EU elephant in the room, the other parts of the establishment avert their eyes from the one way they can be brought down, without them being given the excuse to use force of arms. Although Brand heads off on a flight of emotional indulgence, he does return to the core issue, possibly without realising what he has hit on, when he writes:

Here’s one for blighty; Philip Green, the bloke who owns Top Shop didn’t pay any income tax on a £1.2bn dividend in 2005. None. Unless he paid himself a salary that year, in addition to the £1.2bn dividend, the largest in corporate history, then the people who clean Top Shop paid more income tax than he did. That’s for two reasons – firstly because he said that all of his £1.2bn earnings belong to his missus, who was registered in Monaco and secondly because he’s an arsehole. The money he’s nicked through legal loopholes would pay the annual salary for 20,000 NHS nurses. It’s not illegal; it’s systemic, British people who voted, voted for it. I’m not voting for that.

What he has described is the result of the loss of sovereignty.  This is what happens when a nation state can no longer levy taxes because it is precluded from doing so by the law that applies in the political union.  This is a powerful case for leaving the EU, where corporatist interests are indeed put first.  We have never voted for it, as Brand asserts.  The politicians simply made it possible by taking decisions in our name and refusing to seek our permission.  It doesn’t take a violent revolution to correct that.  Just making ourselves ungovernable in a peaceful way is far more effective as it breaks the very system from which they derive their power and exert control.  This is Harrogate Agenda territory.  And it doesn’t require a single vote for the least worst choice of identikit political climber, it doesn’t require a spoiled ballot paper.

Brand finishes his piece thus:

If we all collude and collaborate together we can design a new system that makes the current one obsolete. The reality is there are alternatives. That is the terrifying truth that the media, government and big business work so hard to conceal. Even the outlet that printed this will tomorrow print a couple of columns saying what a naïve wanker I am, or try to find ways that I’ve fucked up. Well I am naïve and I have fucked up but I tell you something else. I believe in change. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty because my hands are dirty already. I don’t mind giving my life to this because I’m only alive because of the compassion and love of others. Men and women strong enough to defy this system and live according to higher laws. This is a journey we can all go on together, all of us. We can include everyone and fear no one. A system that serves the planet and the people. I’d vote for that.

He is mostly right.  If we collude and collaborate, if we believe in and want real change, if we defy the system in intelligent ways that frustrate and undermine our tormentors, we can indeed embark on a journey together and bring about a system where we, the people, have the power and our interests are served.

These are indeed hard truths, though perhaps moreso for those people who continue to troop to the polling station and put an ‘X’ in a box, particularly those who do it without enthusiasm because they feel it is their duty to exercise their franchise.  In the main, most of them do not realise all they are doing is legitimising a system where they are not able to vote for the people who really do make the decisions about how Britain is governed.

In such a circumstance, why bother voting?  If it changed anything, they would likely ban it.

So where are the hard truths then? – Part 1

Last week we had Russell Brand, who for reasons passing understanding is now a very rich ‘celebrity’ holding forth on politics and being selected by our dumbed down media to be afforded a platform, telling Jeremy Paxman that he ‘can’t be arsed to vote’ and looking forward to a revolution, in a Newsnight interview.

Now we have the Guardian focusing on Paxman’s confession that he himself, grizzled establishment beast that his is, once did not venture out to vote because looking at the candidates he found ‘the choice so unappetising’.  This was enough to spark off the Guardian’s Michael White into writing an op-ed, that we will look at in a moment, as it actually prompted this post.

Back to Paxman for a moment though.  Regardless of who he works for and the editorial line he takes, some of his withering assessment is illustrative and quite valuable.

Russell Brand has never voted, because he finds the process irrelevant.  I can understand that: the whole green-bench pantomime in Westminster looks a remote and self-important echo-chamber. But it is all we have.

In one recent election, I decided not to vote, because I thought the choice so unappetising. By the time the polls had closed and it was too late to take part, I was feeling really uncomfortable: the person who chooses not to vote – cannot even be bothered to write ‘none of the above’ on a ballot paper – disqualifies himself from passing any comment at all.

At the next election we shall have a choice between the people who’ve given us five years of austerity, the people who left us this mess, and the people who signed public pledges that they wouldn’t raise student fees, and then did so – the most blatant lie in recent political history.

It won’t be a bombshell if very large numbers of the electorate simply don’t bother to vote. People are sick of the tawdry pretences.

It was in response to these comments that the Guardian’s insufferably arrogant Michael White entered the fray with a voter apathy piece.  Now, things are never black and white, there are always shades of grey, which is why there were some parts of White’s piece that seem well judged.  But this is Michael White, so he undoes his good work with some typically idiotic rot:

But Paxman speaks to a wider malaise in which the media itself plays a larger part than it ever cares to admit. Yes, politicians promise too much and under-deliver. But the idea promulgated by Brand, that they deliberately “lie and deceive” while remaining indifferent to voter needs, is risible. If anything, current politicians are too keen to appease voter demands – better services for less tax – than to tell hard truths about our problems.

This is so much establishment bollocks.  Take David Cameron, Nick Clegg or Ed Miliband for example, promising too much and under-delivering.  Why does this happen?  It is perfectly fair to argue that they are lying and deceiving.  It is not risible.  Their failure is not about being more keen to appease voter demands than to tell the hard truths about our problems.

The first hard truth is that they infer action will be taken, or promise action will be taken, on matters where they know all too well the UK Parliament has no control, because sovereignty has been ceded to the European Union.  They know it because they are briefed about the limitations of what they can and cannot do by advisers and civil servants. They don’t make these promises to appease voters, they do it to conceal the extent to which power has been given away.  That is why they indulge in such tawdry pretences.

If these men and their ilk wanted to appease voter demands we would have had, for example, an EU referendum years ago, we would not have invaded Iraq, our troops would have already ended the Afghanistan debacle, illegal immigrants and failed asylum seekers would be removed from the country as soon as their claim was rejected, people wanted on terrorist charges overseas who abuse our hospitality by using this country as a base from which to incite violence would have been deported, wind turbines would not be replacing coal and gas power stations at greatly increased expense to consumers, fuel duty would have been slashed, and idiotic rules on waste collection and spiralling landfill costs we are forced to pay would have been dropped. Just for starters.

So Russell Brand is right about the lies and deceit.  What about this assertion from White?

Consensus can be a boring but necessary part of life, at home as much as in politics. Compromise is part of the process of politics whereas polarisation fuelled by outrage (real or fake) is more fun, but also more dangerous.

The reason why there is so much consensus is that the major issues of ideological difference have been removed from national control.  Change cannot be effected, so the three main parties are congregated around the scraps that are left, where there isn’t really scope for wildly divergent viewpoints.   There is a hard truth here, but none of the politicians acknowledge it.  The EU elephant is in the room, the deception is maintained.

The hardest truth of all is that democracy has been utterly subverted.  We hear lots about democracy when politicians seek legitimacy through elections.  But when constituents try to influence how their elected representative votes on a matter in the House of Commons, they are rebuffed by the MP – often with words to the effect of they represent all constituents, not just those who write or call to press for him/her to vote in a certain way.

So where from here?  Since writing this post commenced in the late afternoon, Russell Brand has been given space in the Guardian for a lengthy opinion piece.  The comments and ideas there concerning elections and voter anger will be covered in part 2…

MPs hint that representatives with small electoral mandates lack legitimacy

MPs appear to have questioned the democratic legitimacy of elected representatives who have a small electoral mandate.

The Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee has released a report following its scrutiny of the actions of Ian Johnston, Gwent’s Police and Crime Commissioner.  Johnston was accused of bullying former Chief Constable, Carmel Napier, into retiring in June.  The committee swung into action to give the illusion of control and hauled Johnston and Napier into Westminster to investigate the process of removing a chief constable and if Johnston had exceeded his authority.

Clearly there was no love lost in the battle of egos and after the session, Johnston had some things to say about his interrogators.  This did not go unnoticed by the parliamentarians and they made that blindingly obvious in paragraph 9 of their subsequent report which reads:

We were disappointed that, shortly after we took evidence from Mr Johnston, he took to Twitter to criticise a member of the Committee for asking questions that he believed had been prompted by Gwent MPs, describing the proceedings as “sad really”. Mr Johnson even described Mr Ruane as a “plant of Gwent MPs”. This disdainful attitude towards scrutiny by Parliament, as well as an indication of a clear over-sensitivity to criticism, from a politician elected by less that 8% of the electorate, who had managed to side-step the statutory arrangements for local scrutiny of his decision to sack the Chief Constable, is further evidence, if any were needed, that the checks and balances on police and crime commissioners are too weak.

It was in their arrogant fit of pique and effort to be dismissive of Johnston that the MPs opened a Pandora’s Box they might one day regret delving into.  Until now only bloggers and a couple of journalists have raised the legitimacy question of MPs – and governments – being elected by a minority of voters.  But now, MPs who have relied upon the accepted practice that the person in an election with the highest number of votes is the winner and has democratic legitimacy, have raised questions about power being held by people with small electoral mandates.

The committee’s report suggests that the principle underpinning our complaint is accepted, so now it’s just a question of figures.

So what size of mandate confers legitimate entitlement to represent a constituency?  Clearly 8% is not sufficiently impressive for the members of the Home Affairs select committee.  No doubt they consider their own mandates as conferring sufficient legitmacy to warrant their place on the ego trip aboard the rather luxurious gravy train.  So let’s see what the figures are…

Home Affairs Select Committee
(approx % of eligible voters in their constituencies who voted for them in 2010)

Keith Vaz 35.5%
Nicola Blackwood 27.6%
James Clappison 36.2%
Michael Ellis 21.3%
Lorraine Fullbrook 30.8%
Dr Julian Huppert 25.4%
Steve McCabe 23.9%
Bridget Phillipson 27.8%
Mark Reckless 31.9%
Chris Ruane 26.9%
David Winnick 20.5%

On average the committee members have squirmed into Parliament with the support of just 27.9% of eligible voters in their constituencies… some of them with barely one vote for every five available.  It’s hardly a thumping endorsement.  It is a questionable mandate.

The committee’s comment in the report is an important development.  Democracy in this country exists in name only.  The illusion of a mandate is what gives these people the opportunity to inflict their whims on the rest of us.  Now they have opened the door to the idea of a small electoral mandate being of questionable legitimacy, the concept of ‘None of the Above’ can no longer be dismissed so readily and not voting really does have the potential to undermine the political class.

UKIP advances as voter anger with mainstream parties runs far deeper than realised

By rights and in keeping with electoral convention, in the first County Council election results that were announced on Thursday night, UKIP should only have managed to win a handful of seats.

To have won 42 seats before the main bulk of the contests have even begun counting, against a backdrop of a concerted smear operation by the Conservatives against UKIP candidates and the absence of anything that could be fairly described as an effective UKIP local organisation, is a stunning result.  This reveals the depth of voter anger with the mainstream parties runs far deeper than perhaps even we realised.

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg will be very fearful men this morning and with good reason.  Make no mistake, if the UKIP advance continues with the results to be announced on Friday this election, and the forthcoming European elections in which UKIP were already expected to do well, could represent a game changer in national politics ahead of the 2015 General Election.  The results could be that significant.

An unexpectedly high tally of seats to accompany a strong percentage of the overall vote is likely to bring about several things.  Firstly, UKIP can expect more scrutiny, but significantly more air time and coverage in the media to present their narrative – albeit in need of urgent improvement and cohesion.  This will result in more potential voters taking a look at the alternative to the mainstream parties, which could lift UKIP’s support even higher.

Secondly, with something now approaching a local base developing, we can expect to see an increase in dissatisfied Conservative councillors defecting to UKIP, as they become confident they have a fighting chance of still being re-elected outside the Tory umbrella.  Don’t underestimate the vested self interest of electoral prospects informing the decision making of councillors, many of whom are sick to the back teeth of Cameron’s evisceration of conservative principles and policies.

Thirdly, with wider coverage and evidence that UKIP can win seats promoting more confidence, party membership can expect to increase in the coming months.  Crucially for UKIP this would also result in more money – and there could now be a real prospect that some current Tory donors might consider switching their money to UKIP, as electoral success from virtually no base will show their cash could be used to achieve some tangible success.

Fourth, the EU referendum strategy, which Cameron has developed around the idea of batting it away into the long grass beyond the next General Election – and only then if the Conservatives win, which is now looking a more distant prospect – is likely to unravel.  Internal pressure within the Conservative party to address the issue much sooner in an effort to arrest UKIP’s progress, will be deafening as the non-wets assert themselves with electoral evidence of the strength of their argument.

In politics, momentum should never be underestimated.  A combination of opposition to EU membership, anger over immigration, and the opportunity to protest against the cosy mainstream political stitch up and reject the main parties, has given UKIP momentum.

What matters now is how it’s used.  As this blogger has always maintained, with Farage at the helm things have the capacity to fall apart quickly and people might find the party is all fur coat and no knickers.  There are a number of risks but two in particular that stand out.

First, that the lack of cohesion on policy due to Farage’s refusal/incapacity to ‘do detail’ results in contradictory statements and voting which embarrass the party.  Second, that Farage’s autocratic control of the party, which because of its relative size makes him more powerful comparatively than Cameron is over his Tories, means some unsavoury candidates have slipped through the net and as they are exposed – make no mistake, the media poodles will pore over them continually – they bring the party into disrepute.  There is a greater than average chance that UKIP proves to be its own worst enemy for the reasons this blog and others have trailed for many months.

We now wait to see what Friday’s results bring.

Elections 2013 prediction time

Here are my completely unscientific forecasts (like a political equivalent of the Met Office’s output, if you will) for the elections taking place today.  I could get it horribly wrong as I’ve not given it much thought and these are gut feel numbers based on nothing but intuition and prior experience.

South Shields – Labour hold with around 55% of the vote on approx a 51% turnout.
UKIP to come second with around 6800 votes giving them around 21%.  This will be a hoovering up of the BNP votes from 2010, taking a few from Labour and the Lib Dems, and winning over a proportion of the disillusioned previous Conservative vote.

County Council Elections - Labour to take control of seven authorities.
UKIP to win no more 20 seats, but their vote will lead to more second places in wards and Conservative seats being lost to Lib Dems and Labour.

If the UKIP figures sounds low relative to the polling numbers, it’s because the polling numbers are national and UKIP has nothing resembling a coherent local organisation to identify and target their support and concentrate efforts on getting out their pledged voters – in addition they will get virtually no postal votes for the same reasons.

Farage, famously and to UKIP’s detriment, doesn’t do detail.  Whereas what’s left of the Tory machine will work hard to get out their supporters in wards where canvassing shows UKIP is a threat.

Do feel free to leave your predictions in the comments and we can compare them tomorrow.

And they call this ‘government’

As the BBC reports, Iain Duncan Smith has said that wealthy elderly people who do not need benefit payments to help with fuel bills or free travel should voluntarily return the money to the authorities.

The Work and Pensions Secretary has told the Sunday Telegraph that he would ‘encourage’ people who do not need such financial support ‘to hand it back’.

Well that should do it!  Thanks very much, Iain.

For decades the political class in this country has served its own interests, with naked bribes to voters in return for being able to enjoy the trappings of power.  The cost of welfare and the other promises that make up many of these bribes is largely responsible for the staggering level of borrowing and the horrific debt this country simply cannot repay.

Once again reality meets political expediency and instead of doing the right thing by British taxpayers Ministers are trying to do the best thing for their own electoral prospects while doing contortions to appease the plethora of bodies constructed by the transnational overlords and follow rules everyone else avoids.

Collectively this is why the government doesn’t get serious about only spending our money on essential services and supporting the vulnerable people in our society.  This is why our money gets spent supporting overseas based families of migrants who have contributed barely anything to the pot in the short time they have been in the UK.  This is why now hear the government enthusiastically ‘plays by the rules’ in forking over hundreds of millions of pounds for healthcare costs for UK nationals treated overseas, while permitting the NHS to fail to keep accurate records of foreign nationals treated here under the services British taxpayers fund, so we only get back a fraction of what we are due for use of our overstretched resources.

The government could slash taxes, but instead it chooses to hoover up our money so it offer some of it back in credits and benefits in return for votes.  Too many voters don’t understand that while they are being given these bribes with one hand, they are crumbs from the table as much more is siphoned off and wasted on administration and diverted for spending on things people do not support.  The government could rejuvinate the economy and reduce borrowing dramatically if it simply let people keep more of their own money and spend it on what they want, rather than fritter it away on boondoggles, wheezes, special interests and these disgraceful, self serving bribes.  But it won’t because if it controls the money it controls everything.  It can  build the insipid client state and increase the size of government to justify the ever worsening kleptocracy that has developed.

Voting for any of the political parties is an endorsement of the continuation of this scandalous behaviour.  Voting for any of the political parties props up the faux democracy that exists in this country.  It does not result in change.  It results in the electorate and taxpayers continuing to be treated with ever more contempt.

What we need is not a reshuffle of the deck chairs, nor a rotation of faces who are all committed to perpetuating the same corrupt system that holds sway in this country.  We need a complete overhaul of the system, to bring about real democracy where control and decision making rests with the people and where the executive serves the people rather than dictates to them.  We need a genuine revolution.  The potential alternatives to this, borne of desperation and anger, are too awful to contemplate.

We need real change.  It will never be realised by playing the political class’ game and using their rules – and that includes the charade of traipsing to polling stations to vote for the least worst option in the certain knowledge that on the major, substantive issues nothing will change.  They will continue to take their steer from unelected, unaccountable, self selecting entities instead of us, the people they are supposed to serve and whose wishes they are supposed to execute.  It is time for people to assert themselves and take the power back.

We have to define the game and set the rules that should be used.  We have an outline of how they should look.  Now we need people to consider how they can be realised.  In the meantime, while that discussion takes place and the approach is refined, we need to withdraw our consent by refusing to play their game and refusing to heed their desperate attempts for validation as they plead for people to use their vote.  Don’t feed the beast.

Candy Crowley: Romney was right, just picked the wrong word

The moderator in the debate between Obama and Romney stepped in to ‘correct’ Romney as the pair clashed over what Obama said (referencing the assault on the embassy as a terrorist act, or not) the day following the murder of the US Ambassador to Libya in Benghazi.  Now outside the heat of the debate and having done her pro-Obama work, the reality emerges.

If Crowley had been unbiased and impartial, not that one expects that in the US media which leans so far to the Democrat party it’s a surprise it’s not toppled over, one wonders if Crowley’s injection would have been rather different.  Elsewhere someone who has undertaken their own fact check of Obama’s speech that day offers this assessment:

As for the actual Rose Garden speech by Barack Obama the day after the Benghazi Massacre, the one and only use of the word terror comes toward the end  – the exact phrase being “no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.”  The president was unclear as to whether or not he was referencing the specific coordinated terrorist attack in Benghazi, or acts of terror in general.  This confusion is furthered by the fact Obama referenced that anti-Islam video in this same speech and placed its reference toward the beginning, further adding to its significance as the primary cause of the attack.

Possibly this small but significant part of the debate is going to get a lot of focus in the hours and days ahead.  It will be interesting to see if Romney plays this up as the actual quote is spread far and wide.  Fraser Nelson is already helping that along  http://specc.ie/QpwjkK.

The real London Mayoral election result

The people in London, who are actually registered to vote, had their say on Thursday about who they wanted to be Mayor.  Below is the official result, including the second preference votes where a choice was indicated.

The vote doesn’t take into account those people who had a mountain of opportunity to support a candidate but who decided not to vote for anyone.  When you include that number, the election result looks rather different (percentages rounded).

This is the state of politics today.  38.1% of those with the franchise saw anything worth voting for and went through the motions of supporting a candidate under the illusion the outcome would matter.

However at least 3,588,047 of London’s registered voters exercised their democratic right not to engage or select any of those on offer.  There will be a multitude of reasons why they chose not to.  But turnout in London was down 6.7% from four years ago, the last time the Mayoral election was fought.

The political process is failing people and increasing numbers are turning away as they recognise the fact that nothing they do will effect any kind of change.  They do not want anything to do with those who purport to represent them and claim a mandate to lead them.

It is time to stop looking at the percentage of the vote candidates secure, and instead look at the percentage of registered voters who actually engage in the process.  It is far more informative.  61.9% in an election is considered to be a landslide.  In this case, it is a landslide against the political class and politics in general.  Those in office do not have real legitimacy.  In years gone by an electorate excluded people based on class, title and gender.  The only difference now is those not having a say are self selecting.  They have disenfranchised themselves because they have no power.  We just need people to see that they can take power back.  It is within their gift.  It is their responsibility to do so.

The excitement and drama of election night

In years gone by elections used to matter.

Election night was a time for sitting in front of the TV and radio as results streamed in from around the country.  The people who were elected and the platform they stood on would have an effect on the way services were delivered and the spending priorities of authorities and central government.  The notion of a politician being rejected at the polls and therefore seeing their manifesto discarded was a powerful influence.

But for a long time now elections have ceased to be relevant.  When all that is on offer is the same product in a different coloured wrapping there is frankly no point going out and making use of the electoral franchise.  For the main three parties it doesn’t really matter who is returned by the voters, because the same agenda will be ruthlessly pursued and the wishes of the people won’t be allowed to get in the way.  Which is why local political campaigning on real issues is all but dead in more and more localities and paper candidates are increasingly the norm.

The result of this should be a rejection of the political class by the electorate, characterised by a refusal to go out and vote.  But there has always been a hard core of people who wish to use their vote.  However even that number seems to be experiencing a dramatic decline.  (Update: As Richard at EU Referendum puts it, ‘The indifferents have it’).  Bearing witness to this implosion is BBC News Online’s live text coverage.  Just a few of the comments lay bare the accelerating rejection of the political class:

… In Kingston-upon-Hull, reports turnout about to be declared at 18.7%.

… Reports that polling station in Ealing & Hillingdon, west London, had reported hardly anyone voting until parents started collecting children from school. Turnout was remarkably low even then.

… BBC Radio Derby’s Chris Doidge reports candidates in Derby say turnout is well down on last year. Official says postal vote returns down around 5%, indicating it is not just the weather.

… Early indications point to a record low turnout amongst Scotland’s four million voters. Councils will begin counting ballot papers tomorow morning with the battle for control of the country’s biggest cities expected to command most attention. 

… Alan Johnson, Labour MP for Hull West and Hessle, tells the BBC that he is “very disappointed by the turnout”.

… BBC Nottingham’s Steve Beech reports that turnout in Nottingham’s mayoral referendum was just 10.89% in one ward.

The impact of this?  It is likely there will be an increasing awareness among ordinary people that politicians who are imposing decisions on us are doing so with ever less legitimacy.  Especially given that despite what appears to be a much improved showing for UKIP where they are standing candidates, they are still not taking seats from the main three parties against the backdrop of a sharply reduced turnout.

… Andrew Sinclair Political Correspondent, BBC East reports that UKIP have come within 40 votes of taking a seat from the Conservatives in Great Yarmouth.

… Darren in Liverpool emails: Some excellent results for UKIP so far, a good number of second places they seem to be making good progress in local elections in recent years, despite a lack of coverage.

While many people may remain blind or ignorant to the fact most of our laws and regulations already lack legitimacy because they originate in the EU – imposed by people we have not elected or accepted and who are beyond democratic accountability – people are more likely to notice and take issue with the lack of legitimacy in their own towns and cities.  This is dangerous territory for the political class and the current ‘democratic process’.

Things cannot continue as they are.  Change is overdue and the refusal of the electorate to engage in the current process via the ballot box suggests the time may soon be ripe for a new settlement.  That really could provide a mix of excitement and drama – and not in the way the political class might hope for.  And with that, it’s off to bed to leave the BBC reporters around the country sharing the election news with an ever less interested and rapidly shrinking audience.

Rejecting political parties: A sign of things to come?

Interesting developments from the Republic of Ireland, where the Presidential election campaign has seen a previously rank outside independent candidate sweep to odds-on favourite to replace Mary McAleese (not Robinson as I wrote at 2am through bleary eyes…)

According to an opinion poll conducted by ‘Red C’, the candidates for Labour, Fine Gael and Sinn Fein are trailing in the wake of Irish ‘Dragon’s Den’ entrepreneur, Sean Gallagher.

The former Fianna Fáil man is running as an independent and his stock is rising rapidly with Irish voters who are deserting the organised political parties.

  • Independent – Sean Gallagher – 39%
  • Labour – Michael D Higgins – 27%
  • Sinn Fein – Martin McGuinness – 13%
  • Fine Gael – Gay Mitchell – 8%
  • Independent – David Norris – 7%
  • Independent – Mary Davis – 4%
  • Independent – Dana Rosemary Scallon – 2%

However not all is quite as it seems, as Gallagher is effectively running as an ‘arms length’ Fianna Fáil candidate.  He is a mere Indeplastic – a cheap rip off of the real thing.

That political party, knowing it would get short shrift from voters, does not have an official candidate and has decided the way forward is to get behind a proxy ‘celeb’ candidate.  It is a sign of weakness.  Clearly the penny is dropping in Ireland that the interests of the political parties are not the same as the electorate and that voting for the usual suspects doesn’t result in the changes they demand.  Fianna Fáil are wise to it, but will others change tack too?

If Gallagher wins the Presidency and takes up residence in the Áras it could signal the acceleration of the demise of political parties in Ireland.  While that might be honey in the ears of the unelected bureaucratic dictators of the EU, it could see more people step up as genuine independent candidates – the kind of people who still want democracy and can’t be bought off by Brussels.

One thing is clear in this political era, we are at a critical juncture and everything is to play for.  The question is, are we up for the battle?


Enter your email address below

The Harrogate Agenda Explained

Email AM

Bloggers for an Independent UK

AM on Twitter

STOR Scandal

Autonomous Mind Supports