27 February 2011

Not sure what to make of this far right poll

A front page story in the Observer today was that "48% of the population would support an anti-immigration English nationalist party if it was not associated with violence and fascist imagery", according to a Populus poll for Searchlight.

I have huge admiration and respect for Searchlight and Hope Not Hate, but I guess there is a real question as to what a far-right nationalist party not associated with violence and fascist imagery. If this means a mainstream party that is anti-immigration, large sections of the Conservative party (and some of the Labour party) meet that criterion already. (Remember Phil Woolas?) If it means a new party that focuses on immigration pretty much exclusively, how is this different from the BNP? Officially the BNP doesn't advocate violence and it doesn't use specifically fascist imagery (it uses the Union Jack a lot but then so do the Tories.)

A far-right party couldn't avoid being associated with violence because it will be challenged by the left at every turn - as the BNP is. And it would be labelled fascist, just as the BNP is.

So I'm not sure what this possible new non-violent far-right party would look like. A greater danger is that the Tory party drifts into an explicit right-wing authoritarianism rather than the strange liberal/authoritarian hybrid which the current Conservative-led administration seems to be going for.

18 February 2011

Laughable attack on AV from Cameron

Looks like Desperate Dave - increasingly so, given that polls show the Yes campaign moving into a widening lead - is clutching at straws with ludicrous claims like this:

AV system would have left Brown in Downing Street, claims Cameron

The Tory leader will say that, although he considers the Coalition to be a success, the current system of first past the post is preferable because it usually delivers strong outcomes. Under the alternative vote (AV) system, smaller parties are more likely to take votes from large ones because they can benefit from second or third preferences. As a result, Mr Cameron will say, Mr Brown’s “second rate” government could have stayed in power after May 2010.
He will also argue there is nothing more powerful than when people see their vote leading to the removal vans driving down Downing Street.
“That’s real accountability. Real democracy. Real people power. The problem with AV is that it makes this all the more unlikely. Hung parliaments could become commonplace.”

Here we have the ludicrous situation of a man only in Downing Street because of a coalition - formed after a First Past the Post election, which is (according to its supporters) immune to this sort of thing - saying to voters "don't vote for AV because it encourages coalitions (although actually I think the current coalition is really good."

A confused message? Just slightly.

Dave's argument is wrong even in its basic premise that FTTP delivers strong majority governments most of the time - see Guy Lodge and Glenn Gottfried's ippr paper Worst of Both Worlds for some very good evidence on why FTTP isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Dave's argument that small parties benefit from AV is also not necessarily true. It all depends on the distribution of preferences. For example, George Galloway won for Respect in Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005 with only 37% of the vote. If that election had been held under AV it's quite likely that Tory or Lib Dem votes would have been redistributed to Labour's Oona King and Galloway would have never got in. AV is actually least favourable towards candidates who are highly popular with a minority of the electorate but disliked by a majority.

The only good thing about this is that it's good that Dave thinks that the removal van coming down Downing St is a good thing for democracy. Because the van will be coming for him in 2015 - or quite possibly sooner - and it will be interesting to see what he thinks then, AV or no AV.

By the way I have a good slogan for the Yes campaign: "AV it!" Accompanied by a video from Peter Kay.

14 February 2011

AV:a good idea but it harbours a shocking possibility

I haven't said that much on the forthcoming Alternative Vote referendum yet. Maybe nothing at all, in fact: I can't find an previous posts tagged "AV" or "voting reform" (although I know the tagging structure ain't always logical round here, but that's just me). I think I've probably mentioned it a couple of times in passing.

So, how is Hal gonna vote on this one? Quite simple really: it's gotta be Yes. Although it does feel a bit odd to be in the same camp as John Rentoul, in this particular contest I guess one finds allies wherever one can. First Past the Post is just so absolutely f***ing awful that any other system - short of the candidates sticking Rizla papers with the names of randomly chosen famous people on their heads and the first one to guess correctly gets the seat - would be preferable.

Unlike Rentoul, I can't say AV is my preferred system. It's still single-member based on single-member constituencies and isn't guaranteed to be any more proportional than FTTP. However, it does get the public used to the idea of a more sophisticated voting system than FTTP, and so may soften people up for the introduction of a form of proportional representation some way down the line. Also the Tories and a load of Labour dinosaurs don't like it, so it must be a bad thing in that case.

(Incidentally, if the No2AV campaign's frontline argument against AV is that Nick Clegg doesn't like it, you can bet it's pretty sure to get voted through. Have any of the No2AV campaign looked at Clegg's popularity recently? Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.)

But there is a sting in the tail of AV for anyone who doesn't like the ConDem govt (which on the basis of current polling, is more and more people by the week). If Labour support were to hit around 40% come the next election, with the Tories just below that - say 38% - and the Lib Dems on 10% (let's be generous here), Labour would probably win under FTTP. But under AV, it would be relatively easy for the Tories to come through on second preferences from the Lib Dems (if the Lib Dem voters do as they will undoubtedly be told come the election and specify Tories as 2nd preference, and if you are still planning to vote Lib Dem after all you've seen from Cleggie and co by then, it's unlikely you'd draw any distinction between the Tories and Lib Dems, so I think we can pretty much take 2nd prefs as read).

I'll still support AV even though this is a real possibility, because at the end of the day, once you start arguing for a particular voting system because it benefits one particular party, you've ceased to believe in democracy. But this may help explain the strength of No2AV among certain kinds of Labour supporter (and many Labour MPs). On the other hand, it could just be that Labour are in fact, more crap than we would like them to be. Oh well.

The Fig-Leaf Society and the coming poll wipeout

Hell, call me Crozier but I enjoyed Desperate Dave on the news today trying to shore up the Big Society. Remember the heady days of being ahead in the polls Dave? Because the way things are going, they're gone for good. Labour was 10% ahead on YouGov recently and not far shy of that in most other polls. The development since Christmas is that why the Lib Dems are still stuck in the 10% doldrums, the Tories have slipped back from 40% to the mid-30s - and it's unlikely they'll be able to hold that for long.

Of course, being ahead in the polls is not a surefire guide to how the next election will turn out. Any of you kids remember Neil Kinnock? He had a double-digit lead in 1989-90, and still lost the 1992 election by 7 percentage points (albeit only after the Tories changed their leader). So no-one on the opposition front bench should get complacent. But the improved Labour poll performance should at least put questions about Ed Miliband's leadership to rest for the time being.

And as Ken Clarke (probably the most honest man in the ConDem govt) points out, the middle classes haven't even been hit by spending cuts yet. My guess is we are looking at a 20 point lead for Labour in the opinion polls by the end of 2011, and probably more like 30 points by the end of 2012. Now some of this support will be very soft, but not all of it - and I would be very surprised if Ed Miliband comes away with less than 45% of the vote at the next election. In fact I am going to see if I can put some money down at the bookies' on that basis.

It is amusing to watch Dave trying to shore up this Big Society concept - a Fig Leaf cover for massive spending cuts - and a rhetoric which no-one even in his own party believes in. Or at least it would be amusing, if thousands of people weren't going to die as a result of these policies.

01 February 2011

Into February with a new laptop - PC all the way.

Blogging at the end of January just fizzled out due to sheer volume of work and the fact that my main desktop computer simply gave up the ghost after only 3 years of (admittedly high intensity) use. I think the motherboard has issues.

Anyway I am getting by with the back-up computer which we normally use for iPlayer on the downstairs TV - it's actually not much worse than the main desktop PC in terms of spec and is notably less cluttered in terms of registry, etc. So it's going quite well.

But I want to get it back to doing iPlayer asap, so I've ordered a Samsung Q330 laptop (less than £500 - nice) online - should be delivered later this week. Laptops are now so cheap/powerful that my previous strategy of "build your own desktop" doesn't make economic sense anymore (although I might still do my next dedicated Digital Audio Workstation PC that way - I'm not sure). I think, on reflection, I will use the old iPlayer PC with the good quality soundcard from the fried PC as a DAW, and use yet another backup PC as the iPlayer downstairs PC. Now this is starting to get confusing.

The new Samsung laptop will be used with full size monitor, mouse and keyboard at home (a bespoke docking station arrangement) but will also be fully mobile for client work in London or elsewhere. It's a big advance on my mobile functionality at the moment which involves lugging an ageing Dell laptop around running Linux.

So that's my IT, 2011 remix. And notice that Apple didn't feature once. Many people are getting MacBooks. I'm not one of them. And unless the whole PC industry goes belly-up, I never will be.

In a slight remix of Bryan Adams... PC 'till I die.