Friday, 29 April 2011

Pay and Display On-street Parking Debate

As you may remember from my earlier post, there was a petition against the increases in on-street parking charges which stand to price people out of the town centre and damage local businesses by driving away customers. Because the petition got over 20,000 signatures the council is obligated to debate the matter. However, the Tories running the council voted to postpone the debate until after the election - in all probability so that they could duck the responsibility until it was too late for voters to show their displeasure at the ballot box. As the Guildford Lib Dems report:
Because over 20,000 people signed Surrey County Council's on-line petition opposing the introduction of charges for on-street parking throughout Surrey, using Pay & Display machines, a formal debate will take place during the council's AGM on Tuesday 10 May.

Over 26,000 names were listed on this petition. In addition some 30,000 signatures were collected on paper-based petitions in various parts of the county and presented to council officers prior to the previous council meeting. Accordingly it is anticipated that members of the public may turn up for this meeting in significant numbers. 
It is uncertain whether the current repairs to the roof of the Council Chamber will be complete by then, so a lecture theatre has been booked in Kingston University (on the opposite side of the road to County Hall) to accomodate the numbers of the public who are expected to turn up.

Like all meetings of the Council, this is a meeting held in public, which the public may attend to listen, but not to speak. The meeting starts at 10.30am, preceded by prayers by a chaplain at 10.25am.
So, if you don't want to see ludicrous increases in parking charges in Guildford, please turn up to the debate. You may not be allowed to speak but there's nothing against you holding up placards with your opinions on them ;)

Go on, give the tories a scare and make your voice heard.

The Facts on the Alternative Vote (AV)

There are a lot of claims and counter claims flying about at the moment so please allow me to introduce some sanity. The PSA have produced a briefing paper on AV which provides unbiased facts on what AV would mean were it to be introduced. Rather than having to read the whole thing, I reproduce here the Executive Summary:

Executive Summary

We face a very important choice in the referendum on our electoral system on 5th May. But many of
the claims being made by both sides are either false or exaggerated.  We need a debate that is
grounded in solid evidence. This paper provides that grounding.

The basics of AV
  • A move to the Alternative Vote (AV) would not be a radical change from the current system of First Past the Post (FPTP).  AV is not a proportional system. Rather,  AV is  majoritarian: candidates win by securing a majority of the votes in their constituency.  Under FPTP, only a relative majority is required; under AV, the goal is that winning candidates should secure an absolute majority.  
  • AV allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference.  If no one wins more than 50 per cent of first preferences, second and sometimes lower preferences are taken into account.

AV’s known effects
  • AV would increase voter choice – between but not within political parties.  
  • AV would reduce but not end tactical voting.
  • AV would uphold the principle of “one person, one vote”.  Every voter would still be treated equally; each vote would count only once in deciding who is elected in each constituency.
  • AV would give weight to second and lower preferences as well as first preferences.  The merits of this move can be debated.
  • AV is not a proportional system.
  • AV would not eliminate safe seats, though it will probably reduce their number.
  • AV would not cost much to implement.

AV’s likely effects
  • AV would probably not change turnout at elections.  Nor is it likely to change significantly the number of spoilt ballots.
  • AV is unlikely to change the structure of the party system fundamentally.  But it is likely to increase the Lib Dems’ seat share somewhat, at the expense of the other main parties.
  • AV would probably make coalition governments slightly more frequent (but changes in how people vote mean coalitions are already becoming more likely under FPTP).
  • AV would probably sometimes exaggerate landslides.
  • Minor parties under AV would probably win more votes, but not more seats.  AV would belikely to increase the bargaining power of some minor parties, but not of extremists such as the BNP.  It did not help Australia’s One Nation party.
  • AV would be unlikely to increase the number of women or ethnic minority MPs.
  • AV would be unlikely significantly to change  the standards of  MPs’  behaviour or the relationship between MPs and voters.  It might make some MPs focus more on constituency work – which might or might not be desirable.
  • AV would probably reduce the tribalism of political battle only at the margins.
  • A “yes” vote would probably make further electoral system change later on more likely.
So now you have the facts on the matter. Hopefully you will now be able to make an informed decision.

Alternatively you can check out No to Democracy for reasons to vote no.

Unleash the power of Reform Cat!

On the 5th of May we all need to vote Yes to AV to unleash the awesome power of Reform Cat:

Change of plans - police abuse of power

I was going to do a blogpost on how the debate with Jeremy Hunt went last night.

However, instead I came across this on Liberal Conspiracy.

The people being arrested are street performers who's "crime" was to be planning to perform a mock zombie royal wedding today. Part of it was to involve a mock execution of Prince Andrew. Not exactly my cup of tea  but I fail to see how that's a criminal offence.

A while back the police said that:
This is a day of celebration, joy and pageantry for Great Britain. Any criminals attempting to disrupt it – be that in the guise of protest or otherwise – will be met by a robust, decisive, flexible and proportionate policing response.
- Cmdr Christine Jones, Metropolitan Police
At the time I was concerned what that meant - the police, especially the Met, are not known for their "proportionate" responses.

I'm sorry, but this is disgusting. As a liberal the abuse of police powers and the politicisation of the police is despicable. It's happened too often under both the Brown, Blair, Major and Thatcher governments and it's happening again under this one. The difference is that this time we have Lib Dem MPs in government. This should not be happening. We have fought time and time again against exactly this kind of abuse of police powers.

Our MPs should be fighting against this. I sincerely hope that some of them will take notice. If you're reading this and have a Lib Dem MP, please forward this footage to them and ask them to do something about it.

This government should be drawing the line under such police behaviour, not turning a blind eye to it. Either we do something now or I for one will be unable to see anything beneficial about being in power. If we can't even stand up for our basic principles now we're in government then what's the point of the party?

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Debate with Jeremy Hunt

Tomorrow it will be exactly seven days till the AV referendum so from 7.30pm tomorrow evening I will be going up against Jeremy Hunt MP (Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport) in a public debate about AV at the Georgian House Hotel in Haslemere.

I'll be on the panel in my capacity as a member of Surrey Fairer Votes - we've had two debates with him so far and we've won one and lost one so this debate will  be the final face-off. Hmm, I'd better put on my war face:

The Potter Blogger's war face is so terrifying that it would break
the internet - please accept this picture of a cat as a substitute.
So today and tomorrow I'm going to be preparing for the debate. To be fair, the debate shouldn't be too hard  - AV is a simple system and the arguments in favour are fairly simple to make. In contrast the No campaign have very few criticisms they can accurately make - and if Mr Hunt cares to make inaccurate claims then I am fully prepared to call him out on it.

So, Mr Hunt, you have been warned. If you prepare yourself and conduct yourself in a manner befitting a gentleman then perhaps we can go to tea afterwards like civilised people.

Pictured: an unparalleled source of moral fibre and fortitude

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Scotland to collapse into anarchy

On the 5th of May, Scotland will go to the polls to elect members of the Scottish Parliament. This will be done by the method of election known as Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMPR). Incidentally, they'll also be voting in the AV referendum.

Now, as we all know, AV is ridiculously complicated and the voters won't be able to understand it. But Mixed Member Proportional Representation is even more complicated so, assuming the dire predictions about the effects of AV are correct, we will obviously see the entire Scottish electorate in an even direr position than they would be under AV so the entire election will descend into chaos and Scotland will be plunged into anarchy.

Scottish politics prior to the introduction of MMPR

After all, that's exactly what happened in their previous local elections (done using STV and AV) and Scottish parliament elections. Right?

Scottish politics after the introduction of MMPR

Vote No to AV - you're too fucking thick to understand it.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Doctor Who is back!

The latest season of Doctor Who is about to start!


That's all I have to say on the matter!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

How the Alternative Vote (AV) system works

A lot of people still aren't sure how AV works and this isn't helped by the Yes campaign not explaining it and the No campaign lying about it. So here's a simple explanation that doesn't take ages to read:

Under AV you get the same ballot paper you do at the moment but instead of putting a cross next to your favourite candidate you instead rank the candidates in order of preference.

You put a 1 by the candidate you genuinely like best; 2 by your second preference, and so on. You can even just mark your ballot paper with an X, which will count as a1st preference only. Simple.

The big difference is that the system used to count the votes makes sure that a candidate has to get at least 50% of the votes to be elected.

When the votes are counted if someone gets more than half the votes they win. If no one does then unpopular candidates are gradually excluded. Then the preferences are used work out how people would have voted if that candidate hadn’t stood. If a candidate then has over half the votes then they’re elected.

But if no-one has got a majority we’d keep excluding unpopular candidates until we find someone with more than half of votes - this means that the winner has to have majority support.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

EGRA meeting

Last night I attended a meeting of the East Guildford Residents Association. It was a chance for local people to meet their candidates and, I'm pleased to say, we got a decent turnout from Christchurch (the ward in which I'm standing). Sadly, the same cannot be said for the other parties. We had candidates from both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems but UKIP, Labour, the Peace Party and the Greens didn't bother to turn up. Apparently they didn't even reply to their emailed invitation.

The meeting itself went fairly well. The candidates were grouped together based on which ward they were standing in and we began with the candidates introducing themselves. When I introduced myself I made a point of explaining why my fellow Lib Dem candidate for Christchurch (Lizzie Griffiths) couldn't come - her 3 year old had come down with a bug and she'd had to stay at home to look after him.

There were then a few questions from the residents which were mainly answered by the Sarah (for the Lib Dems) and Matt (for the Conservatives) as the official leaders for each group of candidates. Most of the questions were ones where both parties agreed on the answers - we all agreed we didn't want to see any more garden grabbing, for example. I also answered one question directly myself when a resident raised concerns about the council's strategy to bring empty homes back into use - my father lives in East Sussex where they already have such a scheme so I was able to explain how it worked there.

Next up there was a presentation by Matt on the monolithic Localism Bill. Quite frankly I don't think anyone really understood it (Matt himself said that he didn't either) and in any event it's likely to be altered a lot more before it gets Royal Assent. My gut feeling is that it'll take a year or two before people start to understand it and make use of it to benefit local communities - certainly a lot of measures in it though look to be too expensive to be used at all.

We then split up into local groups for about half an hour so candidates could meet with the residents of their wards. The biggest issue most people had was about the risk of building on Stoke Park. There are some buildings on there already which apparently the council is looking at redeveloping but I am now sworn to fight to the death to prevent the redevelopment from building on any land not already built on. I have to say, it's hardly onerous as it's a complete no-brainer - only a moron would want to ruin one of the best open spaces in Guildford by building on it.

Finally, we had a brief debate on AV where I gave my spiel about it and we got to call Matt Furniss a liar when he claimed that AV would mean an end to one person, one vote (Newsflash: it won't).

At that point we ran out of time and most of the gathering retired to the Three Pigeons where I made the shocking discovery that some tories are actually human being. Very disturbing.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Enough renewable, zero-carbon energy to power Europe - forever

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

You may have noticed that the title for this post is rather ambitious. After all, there's no way that's possible right? There's no way that we can get enough energy from renewables to power all of Europe, and it's certainly not possible within, say, the next ten years, right?


As it happens, for the past few years, engineers, climate scientists and higher ups in governments across the EU have been talking about a scheme capable of doing just that.

That my friends is the single European energy grid. I can tell you, as an engineer, just looking at it makes my mouth water. You see, the problem with renewable energy is that it's temperamental. It's all very well having wind farms but what happens on a day without any wind? What do you do with solar panels when the sun goes in? You could try storing energy when you've got a surplus but that's very expensive and inefficient. Whereas coal and oil and nuclear on the other hand keep on producing the same output whatever the weather.

Well, that's where the European energy grid comes in. If you connect all of Europe and North Africa to one single energy grid then that problem disappears. When the wind's not blowing on one side of the continent then it'll be blowing on the other side. And solar panels might not be that good an idea inside the Arctic circle but they're a brilliant idea in the North African desert.

A single, smart grid would link all these energy sources together and distribute the energy according to need. When there's a gale in the North Sea then the UK and Scandinavia can export their energy surplus to the rest of Europe - and when Spain is baking in a hot summer it can export its solar energy surplus to northern Europe.

This isn't just pie in the sky. It's completely feasible. Some of the connections already exist and the completed grid would provide enough power for the whole of Europe and North Africa at least for the next century and probably beyond as more efficient power generation methods become available.

The downside of course is that the grid will be expensive to build. Ultra-efficient transmission of energy over long distances comes at a price. But the various national grids are in desperate need of an overhaul already - they're creaking and need replacing. And the cost of not solving the coming energy crisis will be far greater than the money saved by not embarking on such a project.

A single European energy grid would completely solve energy issues in Europe. And not just in Europe. This model could be adopted all over the world in places like India and South America. It's perfectly possible that this very model could be the one we use to end our requirement for already depleted fossil fuels.

Now there are obviously obstacles that stand in the way - there always are when it comes to projects on this scale. But this isn't a gamble and the benefits are obvious. I was speaking with an MEP the other week and he told me how already the idea is gaining serious traction in the European Parliament.

Schemes like this show just how radically engineering can solve the problems facing the world today. There is nothing like engineering when it comes to monumental, awe-inspiring projects. That's why I decided to study engineering in the first place and it's wonderful to know that the spirit of the great engineers is still alive today and driving projects like this.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The battle for Guildford

On the 5th of May the good folk of Guildford will go to the polls. They will be voting to elect 48 councillors across 22 wards. These 48 men and women good and true will form Guildford Borough Council. At the moment the Tories have overall control of the council with 27 seats to the Lib Dems' 21. This means that a Lib Dem gain of four seats will leave us back in control of the council eight years after the tories took it from us. (Of course, if we only took three seats off of the tories then both parties would have the same number of seats - and that would be a very interesting council.)

In those eight years they have chalked up quite a record. They've closed centres for the elderly, scrapped the Shuttlebus which elderly people used to get into the town centre, scrapped wardens and on-site meals at Drayston Court, built only a few dozen affordable homes for the 4,000 people on the housing waiting list, taken £10 million from the housing budget to spend on a £26 million entertainment venue which they are giving away to a private company which will be paid hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to run it and which will charge local groups £3,000 to use it. Oh yes, and they've done the same with the Spectrum leisure centre - yet another building, built with local ratepayers' money, which will now be given away to a private company who will get paid using our council tax for the privilege of making a profit from it.

Quite frankly the Conservatives deserve to lose Guildford council. Most of the tories locally are a rotten bunch - in my own humble opinion of course, and I'm sure - despite such incidences as a Conservative council candidate claiming that a Lib Dem councillor was a paedophile and publishing his photo and home address on the internet (for full details see Bloggerheads) - that deep down they're all perfectly nice people with the best interests of Guildfordians at heart.

Now, I doubt it's much of a secret that at the moment we Lib Dems are campaigning to hold all of our seats. It's also not much of a secret that we've been putting a lot of effort into two wards in the north eastern quarter of Guildford (hint: one of them features the close involvement of yours trinity.. Overall our situation there is not what it could be In Holy Trinity we have one councillor versus two conservative councillors but we used to have three Lib Dem councillors there so it'd be nice if we could retake them this time. In Merrow and Christchurch we don't have any councillors at the moment but we've got a strong local team and there's no reason we shouldn't be able to oust at least some of the Conservative councillors in Christchurch or Merrow.

The canvass data is looking good in certain places at the moment but the overall picture we're getting is that this contest could go either way. So there really is all to play for and I'm sure that the good residents of Guildford will be heartily sick of the face of the Tory and Lib Dem candidates before election day. Sorry about that.

The best Chinese takeaway in Guildford

I recently had my second lovely meal from Guildford's Tong Tong - a Chinese takeaway. Now as a student I've had quite a few Chinese takeaways in my life and I maintain that Tong Tong is without a doubt (in my opinion) the best in Guildford.

It's certainly not the highest of quality but it's definitely great value for money. For example, their Special Fried Rice (which comes with large pieces of chicken and pork) only costs £5.25 and is large enough to be a meal in its own right. I ended up having the Special Fried Rice and Spicy Salt and Pepper Chicken - the latter was a bit too spicy for my tastes but, then again, so is just about everything else.

Basically it's food of a good quality, they are open every day apart from Tuesdays, you can order over the phone, they deliver to your door and the price is very reasonable.

And no, before you ask, they have not paid me to write this review for them or anything like that - I just happen to have really enjoyed their food. However, if by some chance the owner is reading this and would like to offer me complimentary prawn crackers with my next order then I don't think that I'd object...

Best video ever!

I came across this video celebrating the departure of Tony Blair. In addition to being bloody hilarious, it's the perfect reminder of why I will never, ever vote Labour and why I sincerely hope to one day piss on Tony Blair's grave.

Unfortunately for some reason you may only be able watch it on youtube but please go and watch it. It's effing brilliant!

Council elections 2011 - Armageddon for the Lib Dems?

It's only two and a half week to the council elections. Loads of people are cheerfully predicting electoral meltdown for the Lib Dems. Aside from the fact that this has been promised on multiple occasions before (and failed to materialise), there seems to be some substantial evidence that it may not be as simple as that.

Now, to be fair, the national polls are rather bad at the moment with the party on about 10% if you look at the average of all the polls. But national polls aren't representative of what happens in local elections - at least not where the Lib Dems are concerned.

Over on political betting they have a piece concerning the By-Election Forecast Range by Rallings & Thrasher. For this they essentially tot up the council by-election results so far and work out what the average vote share for each party is (it's actually a lot more complicated than that but in essence that's what they're doing). Now, they've been doing this accurately for over a decade so they have something of a track record in this area. But let's have a look at what they produced this time round:

Here's what political betting said about the matter:
The two also make predictions for each year’s local election day, based on local by-elections results, and their projections for May 2011 are in the chart. 
This year, unsurprisingly, they are suggesting that Labour will move to 38% and the Tories to a range between 34% and 38%.

But as they explained at length they had had real problems with a Lib Dem share projection because of Clegg’s party's relative success in local council by elections. 
Feeding the by-election result data into their standard formula they came up with an incredible 22% - only two off what happened in 2007. 
I don’t believe it either and I think that it will end up near to the lower end of the Rallings & Thrasher range.
As you can see, they're rather surprised at the results, after all, even taking the minimum value of 16% would still give far better results than those predicted off of national polls.

I have to confess though that I'm not that surprised. You see, as I've pointed out previously:
The Lib Dems have a long record of doing better in local elections than national ones and have proved very tough when it comes to defending hard won seats. This is because their essential principle that "all campaigns are local" stands them in good stead when it comes to local elections.
And that's certainly been borne out by my experience campaigning on the doorstep for the local borough council elections (I'm standing in Christchurch ward in Guildford, if you're reading this and live in Guildford please come and deliver leaflets for me).

Now, one thing to bear in mind is that in council by-elections we obviously focus all our resources in the area into that by-election campaign - obviously come the council elections proper everyone will be campaigning in their own patch with little time to help out their neighbours. As a result you can probably expect our success rate to be a bit worse than we've been having in by-elections. Mind you, the same applies to the other parties as well so you there is a bit of an off-set there as well.

So now I'm going to look into my crystal ball and make a prediction. If we look at the 22% value we can say that's the high point - but too high. So let's subtract 5 points from that and we get 17%. Now 17% isn't the minimum predicted by Rallings & Thrasher but it is closer to their minimum than to their maximum. So this is now my prediction. At the council elections on May 5th the Lib Dems will get a national vote share of 17%.

On that kind of share we could expect to see net losses of seats and perhaps a few councils but overall the battering would be far less than several are hoping. Armageddon it would not be. Of course there is no doubt that we will then start to get predictions of a massacre in the European elections in 2012 but I'm not to concerned about that. As I said, we have a habit of surviving the regular predictions of our demise.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

A political dinosaur

I was reading a piece in the Telegraph and was reading the comments underneath it (as one does) here's one that really jumped out at me:
"I hope and pray that you are wrong and, that at the next election, the Liberals are, finally, and once and for all, destroyed. 
Our political system is basically, a two party system.
Minor Parties, such as UKIP, BNP, Greens, Screaming Lord Such etc., can be tolerated, and may even be a source of fun, or a reminder to the Conservatives and Labour, that they are being watched. 
The Liberals are different. They are a Party of spoilers and political opportunists, - the present coalition government is evidence of their duplicity.
They always play both ends against the middle, whilst always supporting Labour, evidence, the way they sustained the failing Wilson and Callaghan Governments, in power during the latter part of the 70s. 
The forthcoming AV vote, brought about by the crass stupidity of Cameron, promises to lead to the destruction of strong, decisive Government, probably for all time, and lead to a Party of all time political losers, the Liberals, calling the tune, and effectively governing by default."
Well, it's hard to know where to begin with a statement like that.

But I suppose the simplest thing to say is to comment on how this is a statement of a political dinosaur. An arch tribalist whose one hatred other than the opposition is anyone who dares to attempt to disrupt the hegemony of the two main parties.

Of course, a century ago people were making the same comments about the Labour movement - and just look at how that turned out.

But I suppose the thing I take away from what this guy said is the breathtaking arrogance, the certainty that there can be no valid views other than his own and, if you do disagree, then you must belong to the other lot, those blasted socialist marxists. Well, I'm sorry to say that we do not have binary political views in this country. We may once have had a binary political system (thanks to first past the post) but we have never had binary political opinion.

And let us not forget the triumphs of those minor parties. The Greens put climate change on the agenda, UKIP put the EU back on the agenda and the Pirate Party are putting digital rights on the agenda. As for the Liberals, well we've never stopped reminding governments, of any colour, of such awkward issues as civil rights and the humane treatment of some of the most vulnerable in society (such as asylum seekers).

But ultimately, the best answer to such a statement from a political dinosaur is this:

It's a conspiracy!

Today I read a rather shrill piece on Liberal Conspiracy. It's by Sarah Hayward and it essentially claims that the recent spat between David Cameron and Vince Cable was a set up. Here's an extract:
"Mike Smithson speculated on Political Betting that the speech is a reaching hand to Tory core vote ahead of next months local elections. The subject deliberately chosen to stop votes leaching to UKIP. 
I’d go a stage further and suggest that the whole thing, including Vince’s media reaction is a plot cooked up between them to enable both parties to comfort their base. Cameron get’s pretty easily riled, and yet his reaction to question’s about Vince’s intervention didn’t have the air of a man responding to an unplanned outburst by a ministerial colleague. He was deliberate and consistent in his answers. 
I’m pretty sure he knew exactly what Vince was going to say this morning before he said it."
My immediate reaction is something along the lines of "well, duh". For one thing, it's the local elections, of course Cameron is going to say something about immigration to reassure the traditional tory voters. Similarly, of course the Lib Dems are going to publicly disagree - just as they did last time Cameron made a speech on immigration. This is because they also want to reassure their core voters. But to suggest it was all pre-planned? Sounds rather far fetched to me.

The main reason Hayward gives for this idea of a conspiracy is because Cameron wasn't riled by what Vince said. Well, duh. He wasn't riled the last time Clegg disagreed with him on immigration because he knows that the Lib Dems disagree with him on this and, in any event, this public disagreement benefits him anyway because it reassures the raving conservativehome crowd that he isn't secretly becoming a Liberal. Clegg and Cameron started the Coalition with a deliberate agreement to disagree on certain matters and so I do find it rather strange that Hayward can't quite grasp the concept of collegiate disagreement without immediately suspecting a conspiracy.

As for her statement that:
"I’m pretty sure he knew exactly what Vince was going to say this morning before he said it."
I think that is quite possibly one of the most idiotic political statements this year. Of course Cameron fucking knew. That's because every speech by a minister is cleared by Number 10 (and Nick Clegg) beforehand. So Cable would have known that Cameron was going to make a speech and Cameron would have guessed that a senior Lib Dem was going to make a counter-speech, and would then have seen the text of that speech before he drafted his own counter-counter speech.

Just like the Gillian Duffy vs Nick Clegg thing the other day, this allegation of "conspiracy" is incredibly ridiculous and worthy of, if not derision, then at least a general shaking of the head and carrying on with life.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Bad statistics

So, I came across this graph today:

Now, can you see the obvious flaw in this graph? I can. The graph shows Entitlement spending & Interest payments increasing at a rate produced by essentially drawing a line following the current direction of entitlement spending. However, the Revenue line, instead of being extrapolated from it's most recent direction,  quickly levels out and flat lines in the prediction.

Now, call me stupid, but looking at the underlying trend, I would say it's far more likely that entitlement spending would probably grow at a relatively slow rate, just as revenue would probably remain steady.

Of course, that's not even mentioning the way that entitlement spending (the American name for welfare) and interest payments (presumably on the national debt) are lumped together. Of course interest payments are going to increase (assuming they don't start reducing the deficit), but why should that figure be combined with welfare spending? You might as well link it with military spending, or the federal government's budget for pens.

The graph is a fairly blatant example of how people use dodgy statistics, selective data and ridiculous extrapolation to reinforce whatever political point they are trying to make. In this case I'm fairly sure that the argument being made is that welfare spending should be slashed.

So, dear reader, be very careful when people use statistics or graphics to reinforce their points. I remember that at school we once compared ownership of microwaves with the likelihood of being burgled. There was a strong correlation but that certainly doesn't mean that microwaves attract burglars.

Essentially, whenever someone shows you a graph, ask them what their assumptions are and make sure they justify them. If they can't then they're probably trying to hoodwink you.

Still confused over AV?

Right, this should be my last post on the AV referendum as I fear I'll end up boring people otherwise. This is another video by CGPGrey in which he explains how the Alternative Vote works.

One thing I would add is that AV works by making sure that everyone has one vote in each round of counting. One of the main things people use to argue against it is that AV is unfair people who vote for smaller parties get more of their preferences counted than someone who voted for one of the mainstream candidates. The problem with this argument is that, if you get your preferences counted multiple times, it's because your favourite candidate didn't win. If you only get your first preference counted then that means that (lucky you!) your favourite candidate has remained in the running all the way till the final round of counting.

Another way you could get a system identical to AV would be to have multiple first past the post elections with the lowest ranked candidate eliminated each time and then the people voting again for the remaining candidates until someone got over 50% of the votes. People wouldn't say it's unfair for people who voted for a minor candidate in an early round to be allowed to vote again in subsequent rounds - so why should people claim it's unfair that that happens under AV?

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Being the candidate for Christchurch

Today I paid a visit to Christchurch ward - the place where I'm standing as a council candidate. Unfortunately, I'm going to be living on the other side of Guildford until July when the tenancy agreement runs out, hence it's a bit of a trek to get to Christchurch.

However, today I managed to make the trip and I got to spend about three hours delivering leaflets. Now, this was a very exciting experience as this was the first time I've delivered leaflets with my name on them. There's something very exciting about seeing a piece of literature being sent out in your own name and, despite getting sunburnt, delivering them was hardly a chore.

Mind you, there were all the usual hassles when delivering leaflets. For example, I'm pretty sure that one of my leaflets was eaten by a dog as he was chewing on it when I left. However, the biggest hassle was the letterboxes. As any political activist can tell you, letterboxes were clearly designed by people who have no concept of how they function. Letterboxes are such a pain in the arse that Liberal Democrats even have a song about them. It's to the tune of Little Boxes...

...and has these lyrics:

Letterboxes - by Chris Young

Letterboxes on the doorfronts,
Letterboxes going snippy-snappy;
Letterboxes on the doorfronts -
Letterboxes hurt and maim.
There's a high one and a low one,
And a small one and a narrow one;
And they all stick or go snipy-snappy,
And they all hurt just the same.

And the Focus for the houses
Was written by the candidate;
But he won't touch letterboxes:
Letterboxes hurts and maim.
So I take them and I fold then,
And I try to deliver them;
But they all scrape or go snippy-snappy,
And they all hurt just the same.

Now the front flap on the letterbox
Is stiff or goes flippy-flappy
And it bruises all my fingers
And it traps them in the frame -
Which is filled with rows of bristles
Which crumple the leaflet up.
And they all jam or go scritchy-scratchy,
And they all hurt just the same.

As I bleed upon the leaflet,
It stops at the inner flap,
And I have to wedge it open
With my fingers in the frame.
Then a dog jumps at the doorfront
And tries to bite my fingers off.
And they all growl or go yippy-yappy,
And they all hurt just the same.

So the leaflet turns to dogfood
Or gets snagged in silly curtaining,
And get tangled, further mangled:
It is all part of the game.
When the owner gets the leaflet,
It must be half-illegible;
And they'll never vote Libby-Labby.
But it all hurts just the same.

Letterboxes on the doorfronts
Should be subject to regulations;
Never sideways, all at waist height,
Letterboxes just the same.
And the dogs should be sedated,
And the hinges lubricated fully.
They'd be simple and not knicky-knacky,
And they'd all work just the same.


Wednesday, 6 April 2011

No2AV definitely running out of ideas

So, twelve days ago I wrote a post about how the No campaign's "weekly reason to vote no" had been the same for five week's running.

The day after I wrote that piece they changed the weekly reason to the following:

Pictured: inaccuracy at every level possible

It's now been twelve days and that's still their "weekly reason". Now, the last time they kept a reason up for five weeks I wondered whether they were running out of ideas. Now it's clear that they definitely are running out of ideas.

And, incidentally, this "reason" is just as much bullshit as the last given that the PSA just published an unbiased briefing paper which, amongst other things, stated:

AV’s known effects

  • AV would increase voter choice – between but not within political parties.  
  • AV would reduce but not end tactical voting.
  • AV would uphold the principle of “one person, one vote”.  Every voter would still be treated equally; each vote would count only once in deciding who is elected in each constituency.
  • AV would give weight to second and lower preferences as well as first preferences.  The merits of this move can be debated.
  • AV is not a proportional system.
  • AV would not eliminate safe seats, though it will probably reduce their number.
  • AV would not cost much to implement.

[Emphasis mine]

Nick Clegg is a hypocrite

Today newspapers up and down the country are labelling Nick Clegg a hypocrite. This is because his new campaign to improve social mobility (a concept where people rise and fall on their own merit rather than anything else) is attacking unpaid internships and nepotism. Only it turns out that Clegg himself got his first job through his father pulling strings! And that's not all. He also went to an exclusive private school and did his degree at Cambridge! This shows that, when he criticises the system that enables people like him to get an unfair advantage, he's actually being a hypocrite of the worst kind.

Er, no actually.

As you may know, I'm not Nick Clegg's biggest fan. However, on this case he's actually doing the decent thing for once. At the moment MPs from all the major political parties rely on unpaid interns to run their offices. The only way for most people to get a foot in the financial sector is by doing an unpaid internship. And of course, these internships are mainly in London. And since the employers only cover basic travel expenses (and lunch if the intern is lucky) then the only people who can afford to do them are middle class young people living in London.

So when someone like Nick Clegg - having seen the benefits of nepotism and 'who you know rather than what you know' - decides to try and put a stop to it then he should be applauded. Who better to stop it than someone who's experienced this unfair advantages first hand?

Let me tell you a little secret. I'm middle class. And I went to a private school in Hampshire. And I'm at a very good university. And I've never worked a day in my life.

Sure, my father might have been from a working class background, and I may have only been able to attend that private school in Hampshire because I was a foundationer and I may well have got into university on my own merits. But none of that changes the fact that I have been very privileged growing up. I've had opportunities that most people my age never will. And I've seen first hand how my friends got ahead through relatives pulling strings. For example, one of my course mates got a placement at McLaren simply because her father knew someone at the company. Sure, she had to demonstrate skill and pass an interview to get the job, but for most people there would never have been the chance of the interview. And, as a result of string pulling and a bit of hard work on her part, she now has a guaranteed job waiting for her when she leaves university.

So does this mean that I can't want to see a fairer society? Does this mean that I'm forbidden from wanting things like top quality schools for everyone, or from wanting a living wage? Of course it bloody doesn't.

Most people don't see that networking and nepotism that goes on. I've seen a bit of it and Nick Clegg's seen a lot of it. His desire to try and remedy the situation is a well overdue step in the right direction and I applaud him for it. I just wish he'd shown the same determination when it came to tuition fees.

So why is it that so many people seem to think it makes him a hypocrite? Well, in reality, they don't. They're just using it as an easy thing to attack him with. Labour and the left wing press are using it for political point scoring and the right wing press are using it to try and scupper measures to improve social mobility.

And who are the real hypocrites here? People like Clegg who benefit from the system and want to make it fairer? Or is it really the people who also went to Oxbridge, who also got where they are because of who they know, who get paid thousands of pounds to write pontificating articles about how the government should do more than the poor, who lead the Labour party and quite happily talk about a living wage and a fairer society? Clegg benefited from privilege and is trying to change it. People like Ed Milliband benefited from privilege and talk about trying to change it but attack Clegg as soon as he tries to do it. They are the real hypocrites here, not Nick Clegg.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

How voting would work under AV

There are two good things I've come across today. The first is a flowchart explaining the incredibly complicated AV system versus nice and simple FPTP:
Pictured: the complexity of the AV system
The other thing I saw was this report which was covered in the Independent. Don't worry, I'm not going to ask you to read it. Instead, I'm providing the results in, wait for it... gratuitous bar graph form!

Pictured: Gratuitous bar graph

So, as you can see, there will be more marginal seats under AV and will increase the power of the average voter. Admittedly, it's not a vast improvement, but it is a substantive improvement on what we have at the moment.

And, conveniently enough, the Voter Power Index has reprocessed the data so you can see the effect it would have in your constituency. It only takes about 20 seconds so please give it a go.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Did Yes to AV airbrush out a black poet?

Er, no.

The Telegraph and the Mail are claiming that a black poet was airbrushed out of Yes to AV literature for the west country.

Predictably, this is a load of bollocks.

Benjamin Zephaniah didn't feature in leaflets sent to the west country - but only because the leaflets used in each area are different. In this case, Benjamin Zephaniah was left out in favour of Tony Robinson. This is because Tony Robinson comes from the west country and Benjamin Zephaniah does not.

If you want any further indication of whether Yes to Fairer Votes is racist or not, just read this extract from the Telegraph article:
A spokesman for the "Yes" campaign said: "We have a number of endorsers and we vary the endorsers we use on our leaflets. 
If the No campaign want to accuse us of racism on the day that Kriss Akabusi launches our campaign, that is up to them. Who are Operation Black Vote and the Muslim Council of Britain backing? The Yes campaign."
Enough said.


As the Waugh room reports, Zephaniah wasn't airbrushed out of leaflets outside of London, rather Robinson was the original figure on the leaflet but was replaced by Zephaniah for leaflets for London.

Here's what Zephaniah himself had to say:

“These allegations are preposterous. I am happy for the ‘Yes’ campaign to use my endorsement as they see fit. I am happy for them to use it in London, and as I understand it, in a nationwide letter. “Let’s talk about the real issue – how we renew our democracy. I want democratic change and that is why I am voting ‘yes’ on May 5."

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Update:Being a candidate and other stuff

The sharper eyed of you may have noticed something new at the bottom of my blog, it reads:
Promoted &published by S. Doughty on behalf of G. Potter (Liberal Democrats) all at The Hall, 53A Woking Rd, Guildford, GU1 1QD
This has appeared because my nomination papers are now in and I'm officially (or will be in a couple of days) one of the two Lib Dem council candidates for Christchurch ward. The other candidate is the excellent Lizzie Griffiiths

Being a candidate is very exciting - not least because I'm going to have my first leaflet going out in a few days. As you may or may not know, the fundamental tool in a Lib Dem candidate's tool box is Focus. Focus is a local news leaflet which all good local Lib Dem parties send out four times a year - plus extra ones at election times - and it's one of those leaflets that we'll be sending out to every household in Christchurch. I don't want to go in to too much detail just yet (in case any tories or labourites are reading this in hope of discovering our campaign strategy) but here's my bio for the leaflet (first draft, so it may be revised before the leaflets actually go out):
"George went to school in the local area and is now at the University of Surrey studying engineering. He has been actively campaigning against the rise in tuition fees and is concerned that the double whammy of debts from university and a high cost of living will exclude local young people from living in Guildford. He gives high priority to affordable housing. “I think it's wrong that this Tory-run council has taken money from the affordable housing budget to pay for their new G Live civic hall.”
The way that the tories have wasted money on G Live is a pet hate of mine as it is a prime example of them essentially making the vulnerable suffer to fund their pet projects. Yes, Guildford needs a new civic hall, and yes the basic concept is a good idea, but when they effectively steal money from the housing budget to pay for it then I find it disgusting. And yes, I did say "steal" and that's because they've taken £10 million pounds from the housing budget and given no indication of when they're going to give it back - probably not for another ten years. It isn't actual theft but it is effectively robbing the four thousand people in Guildford in need of housing in order to pay for an expensive, over-priced vanity project.

And that's not all, I've already mentioned multiple times how the tories waste money, misspend it and ride roughshod over the will of local people. And what's more, they then have the sheer gall to lie about it in their leaflets and proclaim that, for example, they're standing up for the elderly while in reality they're closing day centres for the elderly and have scrapped the shuttlebus that many elderly people relied on to get in to the town centre. Meanwhile we have a local Labour party whose website is an eyesore,who lie through their teeth (so no change from Blair) and who just put a leaflet through my letterbox which doesn't mention a single issue affected by the elections we're having at the moment. (Tip for Guildford Labour: stuff like tuition fees comes under the purview of parliament and the roads come under the responsibility of the county council - neither will change based on the result of the borough council elections.)

And, while I'm ranting about Labour, here's a few facts they seem to have conveniently forgotten. It was Labour that broke a pledge and introduced tuition fees and it was Labour that broke another pledge and increased them. It was Labour who commissioned the Browne review which recommended removing a cap on tuition fees altogether. If Labour had won the last election then right now students would be facing unlimited tuition fees. It was also Labour that saddled us with the national situation where we're adding billions to our debt each year and are paying £250 million in interest alone each day.

Not that it makes much difference as Labour only have slightly more chance of running Guildford council than the Peace Party does.

Right, rant over. Now, what I really want to get across is this: I'm really happy to be a candidate, I hope I win and I urge everyone to vote Lib Dem to stop the tories wrecking Guildford any further. Vote Labour if you want but all you'll be doing is letting the tories in.

P.S. Yes, I have mentioned before that I don't like it when people are forced to vote for the candidate they don't really want just in order to keep another out but unfortunately that's what happens with our current voting system. If you don't like it, back the Alternative.