Another First Past The Post election has failed to deliver a fair result. With parties winning up to 36 more (or fewer) seats than their share of the vote would suggest, it is time to Make Votes Matter!
May was Theresa’s month, but the unexpected General Election of 2017 was in June; and produced an almost entirely unexpected result. For most of the campaign, almost all the predictions suggested that the Tories would win the increased majority they craved. Some also suggested that the election could be “ a fight for the very survival of Labour“. With the First Past The Post electoral system making it almost impossible for the other parties to win many seats, destruction of the Labour party could have left the so-called ‘Conservative and Unionist Party’ with no opposition.
This means the election was really two contests rolled into one; a straight fight for which party gets to form a government (like any other general election) and also Jeremy Corbyn’s battle to prove that his leadership and the Labour party have a future.
Victory for Theresa May’s party was seemingly never in doubt and indeed, unfortunately, they have of course won the election. However, given their objective of a decisive majority it almost looks like a defeat for the Tories. Labour have lost, as expected, but made gains and finished up with 262 seats. They may still be down, but they’re not out. That, for me, is a glimmer of hope; it now appears that there is a possibility that the next election will see the Tories removed from Government.
We are still a way off a positive outlook for the future, at the start of the election campaign I hoped the Labour party would pledge to introduce proportional representation for future elections. They did not, and for that reason (among others) I didn’t vote for either of the two main parties. The outcome I would really have liked to see would have been a Labour victory short of a majority. That could have enabled, through agreement with other parties, the introduction of a proportional electoral system and accelerated action on preventing climate change. Sadly the result we got fell short of that, but it was about the best outcome I thought possible given the opinion polling in the run up to the election. With the Tories’ position significantly weakened, I can now think to myself ‘maybe next time’.
Hope has not emerged victorious, but it has not been crushed either.
Following a trip to Snowdonia, Prime Minister Theresa May took many by surprise, including myself. Perhaps even more surprising however were some of the comments in her speech announcing the snap election. “At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division.”
That, it seemed to me, was a veiled admission that the views of the ‘opposition’ are generally close to those of the government on most important issues. I have probably pointed out before that there is little difference between Labour’s policies and those of the Conservative party, and the first past the post electoral system means other parties are largely excluded. Therefore, the electorate isn’t really given a meaningful choice at general elections; certainly on some issues. The Labour party have, at least in the past, supported expansion of Heathrow airport, and Theresa May’s government has indicated they intend to approve expansion. No choice there then; voting for either of the main parties is, or has been, a vote for a blank cheque for the aviation industry to continue to increase its greenhouse gas emissions.
But on the issue of the UK’s relationship European Union, there are actually differences of opinion in the house of commons. The Conservatives have an opposition for a change and they don’t like it, so they are holding an election in the hope they can silence it. There should only be unity in Westminster if the views of vast majority of the population are the same, otherwise the people who hold different views are not being represented in Parliament. Ours is, after all, supposed to be a representative democracy. If the public are divided in their opinions and the house of commons isn’t, then parliament does not represent the people and the system isn’t working. In 2015, the Conservatives took 50.8% of the seats in the commons with only 36.8% of the vote. That tells you all you need to know; the system is broken; and given that turnout was less than 70% the actual proportion of the population that actually ‘asked’ for a Conservative government will be lower still.
Apparently, Jeremy Corbyn has vowed to overturn the rigged system. I might believe that if Labour’s manifesto includes a commitment to scrap First Past The Post, which is rigged against the smaller parties. That could still be a possibility, since Labour has not yet published its manifesto. Campaign group Make Votes Matter have pointed out that Labour are running a consultation on their 2017 manifesto. That doesn’t seem to have closed yet, so if the link still works when you read this please respond to the consultation and make sure to include a call for proportional representation in your response. There may be more opportunities to influence Labour’s policies on there policy forum site (I’ve yet to investigate it). If Labour can be persuaded to adopt proportional representation, the next challenge will be getting the Tories out of government so that proportional representation can be introduced. That isn’t such a tall order as the initial media coverage would suggest, if the other parties see the opportunity to make things right and work together. There are signs is could be happening in some areas, with the Liberal Democrats apparently not contesting the seat held by Caroline Lucas. Add that to the fact that the Tories have very slim majorities in some seats and there is hope.
Returning to Theresa May’s speech when announcing the election, her statement “The country is coming together, but Westminster is not.” is not my impression. The general election held under First Past The Post in 2015, and the EU referendum that followed, were extremely divisive. The SNP are threatening to tear Britain apart, and the Tory majorities first past the post returns to Westminster are a huge contrast to Scottish voting patterns (only 14.9% of Scots voted Conservative in 2015). It has been argued that the election on the 8th of June is ‘a fight for the very survival of Labour’, but we face an “existential crisis” for Great Britain itself as well. Mayday indeed, but “If you fight you won’t always win. But if you don’t fight you will always lose” (from somebody’s signature on the RailUK Forums, attributed to Bob Crow). Theresa May may think on this May Day that she is going to win the election, but it isn’t over yet.
P.S. As well as Make Votes Matter, linked to above, there are a number of other groups campaigning for proportional representation. One of these, the Electoral Reform Society, has a petition here and there are probably more out there.
I had planned to release a slightly different post this week, which would essentially have been a rant about how the two parties which dominate our political system don’t really offer a meaningful choice in some key policy areas, but I wasn’t happy with it. That may still appear at some point, after some revisions and the Welsh Assembly and Scottish parliament elections, but for now it suffices to say the following.
The Tories, and elements of the Labour party (the parts that disagree with having Jeremy Corbyn as their leader I believe), represent the ‘neo-liberal’ agenda, which includes deregulation and privatisation. George Monbiot has written much more about neo-liberalism if you want to know. Both these parties benefit from the First Past The Post voting system (FPTP), and love to claim that you must vote for them to keep the other out. This, sadly is generally true, because of FPTP. The Conservatives have even been at it in their campaign for today’s Welsh Assembly elections; don’t fall for it though because they only have a few more seats in the assembly than Plaid Cymru thanks in part to the fact that only 40 of the 60 assembly members are elected using FPTP. The other 20 seats are filled using a proportional system, so anything can happen.
Today then, at the Welsh Assembly and Scottish parliament elections, we have a chance to implement a quiet uprising against the two-party status quo, by voting for smaller parties. Here in Wales, the main choices are of course Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Greens. I believe all four of these parties have ruled out the £1bn plus second M4 around Newport, the ‘Black Route’, with most favouring the upgraded A-road alternative to a second M4, known as the ‘Blue Route’. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives have ruled out the second M4.
The elections will be followed on Saturday (May 7th) by two events in London, which hopefully will also amount to a peaceful uprising. One is the ‘Demo For Democracy’, organised by ‘Make Votes Matter’, who are probably the latest group to make a stand against FPTP. The other is called ‘Own The Future’ and aims to counter the neo-liberal consensus on privatisation, instead protecting nationalised public services. This is organised by the ‘We Own It’ group.
Over the course of last week, BBC Wales ran a series of five half-hour ”Ask The Leader’ television programmes, broadcast from around Wales. Each featured the leader of a political party, who was questioned by the members of a small audience.
Monday’s programme featured Andrew R.T. Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, UKIP’s Nathan Gill was in the spotlight on Tuesday, Kirsty Williams of the Liberal Democrats took to the stage on Wednesday, followed by Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood on Thursday and finally Carwyn Jones, the leader of Welsh Labour, on Friday.
This blog post mainly discusses the points I singled out as being noteworthy from a climate and/or transport perspective.
Andrew R. T. Davies (Welsh Conservatives)
Andrew R.T. Davies was asked whether he supported carbon taxes, but didn’t give a straight answer either way. He dodged the question by saying he favoured a mix of low-cost energy sources, which to me sounded like “cut subsidies for renewable electricity generation and keep burning fossil fuels”.
Another question accused Labour of concentrating mostly on the Cardiff area and ignoring the rest of Wales, asking whether the Conservatives would be any different. I may not have been paying full attention at the time, but the only specific project mentioned was making the A40 (in Pembrokeshire, presumably) into a dual carriageway. More capacity for more polluting cars, and speeding up journeys for motorists at the expense of the rail network; not my idea of a good policy.
A few days later, the Welsh Conservatives announced that they intend to try and introduce 80mph speed limits on the M4 and A55, again speeding up journeys for motorists at the expense of the rail network. When will the counter-productive transport policies stop?
Nathan Gill (United Kingdom Independence Party (Wales))
Nathan Gill confirmed my fears that UKIP are a reckless party of environmental suicide. I still accuse both Labour and the Conservatives of similar, but they’re not quite as bad as UKIP.
Happily, one audience member had the courage to dub UKIP’s plan to ignore climate change as their craziest policy yet. Against a statement that almost all scientists agree that current climate change is man-made, Mr Gill tried to defend his position by suggesting that most of those scientists are not climate scientists, and that we should look it up on the internet. So I did, and most climate scientists also seem to agree that we are causing climate change. Even in the unlikely case that humanity is not the cause, consider the other part of Nathan Gill’s argument. He didn’t deny that the climate was changing, but suggested that stopping it was akin to trying to stop the tide coming in. The tide we know about, and can generally allow for. On the contrary, we have no idea what the world will be like if the 2 degree climate threshold is passed. Natural climate fluctuations in the distant past are suspected to have caused mass extinctions, so it is not unreasonable to fear a mass extinction might occur should the current changes to our climate continue. Thus, if we accept Nathan Gill’s stance on climate change we must accept that we are doomed. Thankfully, we don’t have to vote for his party.
On transport, Nathan Gill stated that UKIP preferred the ‘Blue Route’ M4 relief road at £400m to the £1bn second motorway (Labour’s ‘Black Route’). Sadly, this saving on the M4 wasn’t to fund public transport; instead he proposed spending the rest of that £1bn on the A55 and A470, suggesting it was currently easier to drive via England (using motorways) than use the A470.
Nathan also suggested he would break EU law if elected, by making the Welsh government use only Welsh steel. If he did this, would Wales be fined by the EU? Also, a survey has apparently shown that immigration is the second most important issue for voters in the forthcoming election, despite the fact that is not a devolved matter. These are issues for the EU referendum in June; clearly the role of the Welsh Assembly hasn’t been made nearly clear enough to the people of Wales.
Kirsty Williams (Welsh Liberal Democrats)
One of the questions Kirsty Williams was asked was similar to one of those put to Andrew R.T. Davies earlier in the week; regarding paying more attention to / spending more money on, more of Wales than just the Cardiff area. Her response was in stark contrast to the Welsh Conservative leader’s; rather than pledging future road investment she focused on other issues such as education. For example, she stated that her party had in the past achieved a better spread of schools funding across Wales, presumably as a condition of the Liberal Democrats supporting Labour’s budget.
The same focus on other areas was evident when the subject of the M4 came up. Like UKIP, the Lib Dems would scrap the hugely destructive £1bn ‘Black Route’, but would spend the money saved on creating more ‘affordable’ housing. She didn’t say where the houses would be built, but provided they are put somewhere with strong public transport links the policy articulated by Kirsty is by far the most sensible position of all the leaders questioned so far in the BBC’s series. Such a shame then that her party is still being attacked over some of the Tory policies they were unable to block in coalition, particularly university tuition fees. The British public needs to get over this; the tuition fees went up because they voted the Tories in, not because of the Lib Dems.
Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru)
Some of the questions on the fourth evening were quite different to those put to the other four leaders over the week. Nobody else was asked about Bovine TB and the controversial (and apparently futile) measures to eradicate it. Neither did the issue of nuclear power receive as much attention in the other programmes, making this episode the nearest the series came to discussing measures to tackle climate change. Plaid Cymru, it was revealed, are opposed to ‘fracking’, would not open new open-cast coal mines and don’t want to see a new nuclear power station anywhere other than on Anglesey, where they are looking to safeguard jobs following the shutdown of the current plant.
Leanne seemed keen to avoid a coalition with another party following the election, but only ruled out the Conservatives and UKIP as potential coalition partners.
Carwyn Jones (Welsh Labour Party)
The incumbent First Minster was at least the third leader to be asked about the Cardiff-focus of the current Welsh Government. Specifically, in this case (with the programme being broadcast from Llangollen), the question was why North Wales sometimes feels more remote Cardiff Bay than Westminster. Much like the Conservative’s on Monday, the Welsh Labour leader turned to roads in his attempt to address this. Apparently, Labour’s preferred hugely destructive M4 project being funded via borrowing would leave the current roads budget untouched, allowing major work on the A55 as well including a new bridge across the Menai Strait.
While Labour, along with the Tories, seem to be planning the most destructive roads, the Labour leader did at least have something to say about public transport as well. Carwyn Jones announced a ‘North Wales Metro’, to be paid for via a ‘City Deal’, and claimed improvements would come from devolving rail and bus services. Exactly what they would do with the powers if/when they get them devolved was not elaborated on though.
The Missing Party?
There the BBC’s series ended, there was no sixth programme to feature Alice Hooker-Stroud, leader of the Wales Green Party. The recently-started ‘BBC Wales Today’ election tour features a large cut-out figures of the five leaders discussed above in the tent, but Alice Hooker-Stroud is not pictured. Neither UKIP nor the Greens have any seats in the Welsh Assembly, so why does UKIP feature in the BBC’s coverage as much as the four parties who do have seats?
I suppose the BBC do occasionally acknowledge the existence of the Greens. ‘Wales Today’ covered the launch of the Green’s manifesto on Tuesday, just before the UKIP leader’s programme. The BBC will also be including all six main parties in a forthcoming televised debate, but I don’t believe the amount of coverage they are getting in comparison to UKIP is at all fair.
…reckless by nature.
Today, UKIP is due to publish their manifesto for the Welsh Assembly election in May. With the election just a few weeks away, right now the party are probably the biggest threat in Britain to the well-being of future generations, and of wildlife. Although they won just one seat at last year’s general election, this was with the deeply flawed ‘First Past The Post’ voting system. Conversely, there is a proportional element to the assembly election, if this is made clear to the electorate then there’s a real chance of UKIP having quite a number of assembly members following the election.
That, to me, is a frightening prospect.
Of course, I am writing this before their new manifesto is published, so cannot know their current policy in full. But I have two documents produced for the Westminster election, their national manifesto and the one produced by UKIP’s Welsh arm.
The latter document doesn’t mention public transport at all, at least not in the section on transport policy (half of which relates to opposing tolls on roads). The only mention comes under the heading ‘economy’ where they say they will cancel HS2.
In fairness, UKIP do seem to have a few sensible policies. Is cancelling HS2 one of them? If HS2’s current planned route is the only option on the table then I have to agree with UKIP, but we probably do need new lines to provide greater rail capacity.
It is their stance on the environment that is scary. The anti-HS2 policy heads the transport section of the national party’s document, but this followed by an alarming view on London airports: they are in favour of expansion. They claim there is currently a lack of airport capacity in the south-east and propose re-opening a former airport to increase overall airport capacity. Clearly, they don’t care that allowing the aviation sector to emit even more greenhouse gas makes the task of keeping warming under 2 degrees much harder, perhaps even impossible. Not that they recognise the need to do that, the national manifesto also has a section entitled “Housing And The Environment”, which is mostly about housing and doesn’t mention climate change at all. Elsewhere in the document, they propose abolishing the Department for Energy and Climate Change and repealing the Climate Change Act.
But that was last year. Have UKIP cleaned up their act? Obviously, I haven’t seen their new manifesto yet, but unfortunately it doesn’t look good. Apparently:
On Wednesday March 2nd, the Climate Change Commission for Wales hosted their last meeting in its current form. All Welsh political parties were invited to sign a commitment to the Paris Agreement to demonstrate Wales’s commitment to tackling Climate Change. The Labour Party, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats the Conservatives and the Green Party all signed the pledge, while UKIP declined to sign.
The inspiration for this post, and its title, comes from the shockingly irresponsible stance UKIP has taken here. UKIP’s Mark Reckless, acting as director of policy development for UKIP’s assembly campaign “responded to the request to sign the pledge from the Climate Change Commission for Wales with the one word email – “NO”“. Now do you see why I am frightened by the prospect of UKIP winning many seats in May?
I’d be surprised if Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Conservatives can convince me that they are taking their pledge seriously, but UKIP it seems aren’t even pretending to be doing enough to cut emissions.
The full Climate Change Commission for Wales story reporting the reckless decision Mr Reckless has made can be found here.
The televised ‘debate’ featuring the leaders of seven political parties in the run up to the 2015 general election presented a stark choice. I cannot remember what view UKIP’s Nigel Farage gave on spending cuts, but Nicola Sturgeon for the Scottish National Party (SNP), Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett for the Green Party all spoke out against the austerity imposed by David Cameron’s Conservative party. Labour and the Liberal Democrats promised to balance the books without cutting as deeply as the Tories.
A few weeks later, as we now know, the SNP triumphed in Scotland at the General Election. Ironically, this support for the anti-austerity SNP has contributed to the Conservatives gaining a justification (I hesitate to call it a ‘mandate’, because in fact they received less than 37% of the vote) for implementing their extreme cuts. Essentially, the left-wing vote is now split and UKIP hasn’t managed to take enough votes from the Conservatives to break the right-wing in the same way, so we may never have a single left-wing party (Labour) able to win a majority again.
That said, as I posted at the time if you want a strong commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions across the board, including the transport sector, neither Labour nor the Conservatives are an attractive proposition. In fact, until Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour party and took his party to the left, I considered Labour and the Tories to be much-of-a-muchness. If Corbyn’s opponents get their way and the Labour party moves back to ‘the centre ground of British politics’ we’ll be back to a choice between red mud or blue mud.
So, either we have a choice between two very similar, terrible, options or we don’t really have a choice at all because the left-wing vote is split and only the Tories can win. Either way, our democracy is broken largely because our electoral system (First Past The Post) is broken.
Who set the agenda for the TV coverage of the election? Apart from the Trident nuclear deterrent, defence hardly got a mention, and there was nothing of substance on the environment and climate change. It was frequency claimed that the economy and something else (I think it was the NHS) were the ‘key election issues’, but who decided which issues were important? How many voters felt they were being told to base their decision on who to vote for on just those issues, rather than what really mattered to them? Electoral reform was only mentioned after the Tories, probably the party of first past the post more than any other, had won. Dan Snow said on Panorama Live that the First Past The Post voting system was tearing the nation apart, fuelling Scotland’s desire to become independent, when really we want to stay united.
May 7th, 2015, a highly unpredictable general election. What colour of government will we have, and will they command a majority? Some of the Labour leader’s comments suggest a minority Labour government is a real possibility.
The media sometimes describes marginal constituencies as ‘key election battlegrounds’, but can UK general elections be accurately described as wars? Perhaps the media have a point since many of the main parties, while talking sense on other issues, have dangerous policies. Some could undermine the long-term future of life on earth.
Let’s start with Plaid Cymru. Their manifesto states that they oppose the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This is a sensible position since a component of TTIP is ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) which could allow companies to sue governments for impacting profits. For example, it may encourage privatisation of the NHS or allow tobacco firms to sue governments for banning smoking in public places. In fact, most of Plaid’s manifesto sounds positive at first reading. More worrying is what is missing. Most importantly, they are alarmingly vague about tackling climate change. They promise targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, but fail to state those targets. As the biggest threat currently facing life on earth, climate change requires a more robust response. Sorry Plaid.
The environment has been largely neglected in the television coverage too. The sole ‘environment debate’, shown in the middle of the day on 20th April, on the BBC’s ‘Daily Politics’ program, was disappointing. The Liberal Democrat comments on their record in government were the most interesting part of the program. A significant increase in electricity generated from renewable sources was claimed, before they admitted that transport and heating were lagging behind in terms of emission reduction.
Which brings us to transport. I haven’t downloaded the Conservative party manifesto, but they are in favour of airport expansion and plan to spend £15bn on major road upgrades. Surely that is incentivising people to do the wrong thing; they clearly have their priorities wrong. Plaid Cymru are pressing for major road expansion too, but at least they don’t back the (Labour) Welsh Government’s plans to build a second M4 motorway around Newport.
Labour’s Westminster manifesto is not reassuring regarding transport (road and airport expansion look likely) but elsewhere they do claim to recognise the importance of tackling climate change. The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) have analysed non-transport aspects of several manifestos for sustainability, and the Conservative’s score was frighteningly poor. Labour does better, and the Liberal Democrats better still. Unfortunately the LibDems have not ruled out a ‘deal’ with the Conservatives, so votes for the LibDems could lead to a good outcome (eg. a LibDem-Labour coalition) or a mediocre one (another LibDem-Conservative coalition). Either would be hugely preferable to a Conservative majority.
The Tories are bad but, terrifyingly, an even worse option has emerged: UKIP. UKIP have made their stance plain on television: rather than accepting the challenge, they deny that climate change is human-influenced. Even if you think the scientists are wrong, surely it is better to take action to reduce emissions so that, on the off-chance that the scientists are right, we don’t suffer the consequences? And the consequences of getting it wrong will be dire. Maybe this really is war…
I’ve not researched the SNP’s policies but apparently they have not admitted defeat on the issue of independence. They talk about leaving the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island’, so are threatening to destroy Great Britain. People don’t describe themselves as UK-ish. We are Welsh, Scottish, English or British, or a combination such as Welsh-British. In Doctor Who, The Doctor (David Tennant) once said: “Only Britain’s Great”. Please Scotland, you can have all the devolution you like but stop trying to rip our great nation apart.
Perhaps now you see why this election is a minefield. Returning to climate change, you’d think the Green Party would be streets ahead; and they promise to end the national major roads programme so on that basis they are. They promise to stop airport expansion etc. and come closer than any other party to what is needed to tackle climate change, but are not bomb-proof. Their own manifesto quotes the Royal Society (scientists): “global population growth needs to be slowed and stabilised, but this should by no means be coercive” but apparently offers nothing that would curb population growth; instead they propose increasing child benefit. Would removing child benefit if a woman who already has more than one child gets pregnant again be ‘coercive’?