Archive for the ‘Elections’ Category

Bad news for freedom, the UK’s AV referendum

April 3, 2011

On Thursday May 5th 2011, a tiny number of people will vote to make a badly understood change to the UK’s electoral system. It seems likely (unless there’s a change in public awareness), that the Alernative Voting system will replace the current system of ticking a box for one’s preferred candidate.

The date of the referendum coincides with local elections in some parts of England, but not London. It does coincide with elections to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies so turnout will be high in areas where nationalist and extremist votes are voting anyway, but low in those areas where fewer extremists live.

As usual with referendums, there is no minimum threshold for the result to be valid. If 50,000 people, all of them rabid fanantics for election reform, happen to vote while 45,950,000 stay at home, then we will see a very bad electoral system introduced.

Three reasons for voting “No” to AV, although a different change could be better

1) It is important to realise that the referendum is NOT about “should we change the UK election system to something fairer”. If that were the case, then I would expect the result to be “Yes” and I’d probably support it.

If the referendum question passes, AV will be introduced and any discussion of other, better, voting systems is over. Once we have AV, it is very unlikely that any agreement can ever be secured to have a referendum on scrapping it. It’s like demolishing St Paul’s Cathedral to build a rubbish landfill site. Not something one can reverse easily. Any reform that is as crucial as changing the electoral system should have the same standard of approval as, say a vote by a building society to become a high street bank: 75% of members have to approve.

It is simply crazy to have a fundamental issue of how democracy works in the UK decided by what is likely to be less than one in ten people.

2) Complexity

Most of the people I know who will be voting for the AV change do not strike me as really having examined how it is supposed to work: they support AV for tribal reasons, being members or at least staunch supporters of the Liberal Democrat party. That alone alarms me, as it means that the risk of an unintended negative consequence of AV is almost certain to be overlooked by its supporters. They tend to assume that any opposition to AV is the same as opposition to the Liberal Democrats having a chance of power in the UK parliament.

For what it’s worth, I’m happier that the Lib Dems are in the government coalition than if they were not. So my opposition to AV has nothing to do with my opinion of local government, the environment, European Union, same-sex marriages, drug policy etc.

In my parliamentary constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn, the Liberal Democrats were the first placed party, according to BBC projections of the 2005 general election to the new boundary, with Labour second and the Conservatives third.

Under the AV system, we would have had to vote for our first and second preferences based on that (as it turned out faulty) analysis. So a supporter of the Green party who wanted the non-Conservative candidate to win would have put Green 1st and Liberal Democrat 2nd. A UKIP voter who wanted Labour out would have put UKIP 1st and Liberal Democrat 2nd.

In fact, the analysis was based on what I predicted would be a false reading of the local election results in the London Borough of Brent, where wards with high Lib Dem support were pushed into the Hampstead constituency. I know the areas concerned well and knew that lots of Conservative voters had been voting Lib Dem to get Labour out. Given the chance of voting for a Conservative in a first past the post parliamentary election, they could vote Conservative.

The actual result was a Labour victory and the Conservatives coming second, 42 votes behind.

Under AV, total confusion would have occurred. Unlike the French election system, where there is a second round of voting two weeks later between the top two candidates if neither passed 50%, we wouldn’t have known that the Lib Dems were eliminated before the Conservatives. So the Green and UKIP second preferences would ALL have been wasted. But any Communists or Nazis who happened to prefer Labour or Conservatives would have got a second vote that mattered.

I can see no basis for supporting a second preference when I don’t know who has a chance of winning.

Another problem is the number of people who are likely to be confused and tick two boxes (as they are told to do in local elections for multi-member constituencies). We should be making it LESS complicated, not more.

3) Pandering to the extremists

If the people who vote for the most extremist political parties with the smallest support have their second preferences counted first, they have twice as much influence as the people who vote for the larger more moderate parties.

Specifically, if a British Nationalist Party candidate gets 1,000 votes, but the gap between both Labour and the Conservatives reaching 50% is, say 900 votes, then both Labour and Conservatives have an interest in capturing the BNP vote. This is unlikely to be by offering anything nice. The same obviously applies to socialist or communist fringe groups.

By contrast, in 2002 the French Presidential election unexpectedly threw up a Republican centre-right versus National Font extreme-right run-off. Because the French voters DID NOT HAVE AV, they had two weeks to decide if they preferred “the crook” to “the fascist”. With AV, all Socialist voters who didn’t realise that their support would be needed to keep out Jean-Marie Le Pen would have abstained, so a National Front victory could have been realised.

What change should we consider?

I don’t favour party list systems (like the system used in the European Parliament elections in the UK) because they reduce the connection between the elected politicians and their voters. To succeed, a politician will want to be higher up the party list, which means grovelling to the leader and ignoring local voter concerns.

However, a party list system would mean that if we prefer to back a label then we get a parliament that reflects the aggregate preferences of more people than AV does. If we have to have this, then a D’Hondt method of allocating seats might make sense.

Another option would be to have a second preference, but not cast at the same time (and in ignorance of the choices available). This system, sometimes called “runoff voting”, is used in France where a candidate fails to get 50% support in the first round, as mentioned previously. It is sometimes described as a system where one votes with one’s heart in the first round and with one’s head (or wallet) in the second.

A third option, which I oppose for some of the reasons I oppose AV, is the Single Transferable Vote. It can be VERY complicated to count. If we want a proportional representation system, this is the one that delivers proportionality.

Consequences for freedom

The pandering to extremism that the AV system would likely produce, coupled with the outrage when an election “goes wrong” (millions of people discovering that their second choices were wasted) does not create a climate for pro-freedom policies to get enacted. Scapegoating, already a feature of British politics with attacks on immigrants, bankers, or people who went to public school. Any change to the voting system that is confusing to many voters and which encourages nasty populism is not one I can support.

I know that most people who support AV would not do so if they were convinced that the negative effects I’ve outlined above were true. I hope I’m wrong, or that I don’t get the opportunity to remind readers that I was right. We shall see.

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A test for the “Wisdom of Crowds”

January 10, 2010

Tomorrow (that’s Monday, 11th January 2010), I shall be giving a talk about James Surowiecki’s excellent little book, The Wisdom of Crowds, at the Institute of Education in London, at an event organised by “the other LA.”

Given the inclement weather, the fact it’s the first meeting of the year, there’s a new venue, I only told friends about it this evening, and the problem that either the speaker or the subject might not be as exciting to others as it is to me, I consider this a good test.

If no one shows up, how can I possibly argue that crowds lack wisdom? But then if I’m right, surely lots of people will want to know more about it.

I shall be talking about markets, taxes, voting, opinion polls and fairness. There will also be a little quiz.

If you cannot (or will not!) make it, I suggest Surowiecki’s book to anyone remotely interested in psychology, economics or epistemology, or to use less fancy language: how people think, work together and acquire and use knowledge.

It’s very readable, it has only one error of reasoning in my opinion [not fair to tell yet] and the only technical flaw is the lack of an index.

[UPDATE 8 Feb 2010: The flaw mentioned above is the claim that taxpayers consent to being taxed. The missing ingredient is the extent to which coercion (actual or potential) affect one’s decision to comply with taxation or not. If the various tax authorities of the world did not have the power to drag people before courts, confiscate assets and prison sentences weren’t relatively longer than say, for stealing food, I imagine that tax revenue rates would plummet.]

Late thoughts on bigotry

December 14, 2009

I’m publishing here my response to a Wonkette piece about Sarah Palin’s Down Syndrome child, Trig. The article was written in June by Ken Layne, though my comments are aimed at the blog’s founder, not her flunkies.

antoineclarke says at 2:53 pm, December 14th, 2009
– Reply

Is that the best you can do? Lame.

If the stormtrooper is some kind of hint of Nazism, how come the people who are accused of being Nazis are the ones AGAINST eugenics, and the people supporting eugenics are the ones calling out “fascist.” Seems like disinformation to me.

As someone who would possibly have been gassed by real Nazis, and who had a relative executed by them (he was a hostage that was murdered because a prisoner escaped), I find the attacks on a woman (for not having an abortion) at the very least silly. Next you’ll be supporting some idiot who calls for conservative women to be gang raped. I honestly don’t recall your stance on that story, but I hope you condemned it.

There was me thinking pro-abortion people were in favour of choice. I guess “choice” is just a propaganda tool for collectivists to chip away at individual rights.

I used to consider abortion of a Down’s Syndrome foetus an unfortunate idea but on the whole the right thing to do. Until I traveled to work every day for a year on a train in London with a young woman who had the condition. Most people in the train were grumpy, cramped, seemed pretty miserable. She on the other hand listened to her music and seemed happy. I certainly do not have the right to decide if she had the right to live. And I don’t think you do either.

However, call me a bleeding heart if you like, but I would not condone physical threats or any assault on you, simply for being wrong on an issue. Let’s see how sane your readers are.

Bring back Ana Marie Cox, I reckon.

[H/T ] William A. Jacobson

Quote of the day

November 4, 2009

A Hoffman win would have been the much needed shot into the bows of the GOP establishment.

Perry de Havilland

BBC smoking crack

September 28, 2009

Someone at the BBC has overdone the magic mushrooms or taken a puff on a crack pipe if this report of the German elections is anything to go by.

Also possible, though less likely, is the Christian Democrats teaming up with both the Free Democrats and the Green Party – creating a so-called Jamaica coalition of black, yellow and green.

And what about the reds – the Social Democrats? Well, their candidate, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the current foreign minister, is dreaming of a red-green government, in a tie-up with the Green Party. That is the combination that led Germany under Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder between 1998 and 2005. But opinion polls suggest that neither red nor green will get enough support to make that possible this time.

They could try to persuade the Free Democrats to join them, in a red-yellow-green government, a so-called traffic-light coalition.

I take it the drugs wore off a little, because we then get a disclaimer:

But the Free Democrats claim they are not interested.

Speaking of traffic lights, I hope whoever came up with this entertaining fiction didn’t drive home without having a lie down followed by several cups of coffee.

We can all be Iranians now

June 16, 2009

Fascinating how the mobilizing power of social media is being used to confront the Iranian government.

Meanwhile, in a sort of digital twist on that famous scene in The Thomas Crowne Affair, a new viral campaign is going around Twitter: Users from around the world are resetting the location data in their profiles to Tehran, the capital of Iran, in order to confuse Iranian authorities who may be attempting to use the microblogging tool to track down opposition activity.

Crying out for a blog: Sarah Palin and Joe Kinnear

October 4, 2008

This week, we’ve seen two people who are crying out for a blog: Sarah Palin, the Republican nominee for the Vice Presidency of the U.S.A. and Joe Kinnear, the caretaker manager of Newcastle United Football Club. Both have been the targets what one could call “the media narrative” or hostile bias.

Mrs Palin, the Governor of Alaska, let off steam in an interview on Fox News here.

Joe Kinnear vented with a lot of “c” and “f” four letter words here.

In both cases, they suffer from the need to communicate to an audience in order to succeed. But both are people that the media has decided must fail: one for being a Republican, the other for being old and not photogenic.

They both need to break out of the media box and interact with the public. Joe Kinnear bluntly announced he will not give press conferences again and will offer exclusives to two local newspapers, as a way of communicating to Newcastle FC supporters.

I’d like to think that Governor Palin is much too nice, but may have fantasized, to have this exchange with Katie Couric:

Joe Kinnear: Which one is Simon Bird [Daily Mirror’s north-east football writer]?
Simon Bird: Me.
JK: You’re a c**t.
SB: Thank you.

Funnily enough, I anticipated this sort of thing in 2003 when the Big Blog Company was starting up. I was asked by its founders to suggest some ideas for the types of businesses that would want to blog.

I said: “politicians and football clubs.”

I was very gently informed that I was completely wrong. Politicians could never tell the truth long enough to write a credible blog and football cannot possibly involve a communication, besides its sport and sport has nothing to do with blogging.

I regret to say that the Big Blog Company, despite some success, has never really made it as a major business. But, if instead of ignoring my suggestions, tBBC had taken the idea seriously, we can see where this could have led.

One cleverest use of blogging in the sporting world has been by the Association of Tennis Professionals to boost the popularity (and therefore commercial bankability) of tennis players. The ATP offered blogs for ALL ITS MEMBERS. Here are a couple of examples.
Daniela Hantuchova
Venus Williams

Today, the hardcore tennis fan reads the players views directly, unfiltered by the media. The media get their stories from the blogs too, but on terms dictated by the players. Someone, somewhere, has made a lot of money setting up these blogs.
It’s a shame that a silly bias against sport as a serious business meant that it wasn’t tBBC.

With politicians, to be fair, it would have been very hard to ignore the political blogging going on in the early 2000s. The business strategy I would have proposed would have been to offer all the political parties a deal to set up blogs for all parliamentary candidates. And I would have offered the Welsh Nationalists to do it for free as a demonstration for the other parties (about 38 seats in Wales last time I looked). But 633 seats in the Westminster Parliament.

As with tennis players under the ATP brand, a fair amount of standardization would have been possible. Lots of boot camps for politicians (tennis players I suspect don’t do group events quite as well).

But this wasn’t a business that tBBC wanted. Perhaps they should bid to do the PalinBlog and the JKblog.

The Big O: Oprah’s Obama Opera

September 10, 2008

Notice: I wrote back in February about Suzy Orman’s use of the “Oprah Effect” to promote her books. My only regret is that, because I wanted to focus on the copyright versus open source element, I did not make it clear that Oprah Winfrey was the vehicle for the million-copy giveaway. Despite the criticisms I have made, and which to her credit Oprah has allowed to be posted on her website, I’m more for her than against.

The story begins with this entry on The Drudge Report:

Oprah Winfrey may have introduced Democrat Barack Obama to the women of America — but the talkshow queen is not rushing to embrace the first woman on a Republican presidential ticket!

Oprah’s staff is sharply divided on the merits of booking Sarah Palin, sources tell the DRUDGE REPORT.

“Half of her staff really wants Sarah Palin on,” an insider explains. “Oprah’s website is getting tons of requests to put her on, but Oprah and a couple of her top people are adamantly against it because of Obama.”

One executive close to Winfrey is warning any Palin ban could ignite a dramatic backlash!

Drudge also claimed that both Oprah nor show producer Sheri Salata had “refused” to comment and that both had donated substantial amounts to Senator Barack Obama’s (Democrat, Illinois) campaign for the U.S. presidency.

So far, nothing much for me to comment on. It’s a straightforward case of political bias, but Oprah is only harming her own commercial credibility with some of her viewers, so what?

Here, the response by Harpo Productions, Oprah’s company, was like pouring petrol on a fire. Being posted to Oprah’s discussion community allowed a storm to erupt:

“The item in today’s Drudge Report is categorically untrue. There has been absolutely no discussion about having Sarah Palin on my show. At the beginning of this presidential campaign when I decided that I was going to take my first public stance in support of a candidate, I made the decision not to use my show as a platform for any of the candidates. I agree that Sarah Palin would be a fantastic interview, and I would love to have her on after the campaign is over.” – Oprah Winfrey, September 5, 2008

Now I decided to join in, focusing the point that either there had been no discussion, hinting at a Stalinist management style, or the statement was an obvious lie, which is bad for the “role model” business.

Here’s my response: (more…)

“Vote for me because the racists will…”

January 27, 2008

…seems to be the latest bizarre message from the Clinton campaign.

[cross-posted from Antoine Clarke’s Election Watch]
The Associated Press is not exactly where I normally go looking for dirt on Democrats, but this sums up the situation nicely:

Clinton campaign strategists denied any intentional effort to stir the racial debate. But they said they believe the fallout has had the effect of branding Obama as “the black candidate,” a tag that could hurt him outside the South.

Let’s just remember that we are talking about Democrats choosing their candidate for U.S. President.
How can being “the black candidate” hurt someone’s chances of winning Democratic party supporters votes?
Let’s leave aside the obvious point that one would expect racist bigots, who have “NO N*****s IN THE WHITE HOUSE” car bumper stickers, to come from Alabama (or South Carolina, come to think of it) rather than, say, Colorado, Hawaii or Maine.

Could it be that the party of affirmative action, of civil rights and political correctness likes to have its leaders photographed next to the hired help, but not;, you know, actually let the servants run the country? “The poor dears, they try so hard, but they can’t help it, you know?”
Until last year I would have found it barely conceivable. But the more “liberals” I have met who talk about their moral superiority because they demand that other people pay taxes to provide public transportation (for blacks), public schooling (for blacks), quotas for universities (for blacks) and corporations (for blacks), the more I see something ugly.
This is not “white guilt.” These are white people who have a visceral unease with ethnicity and who project this by blaming “society,” or “capitalism,” or “a right-wing conspiracy” for racism. They remind me of nothing more than those British Conservative Party members who shouted loudest about the evils of homosexuality, demanding that it be outlawed or “all the boys will turn into perverts,” only to turn out to be repressed gay men.
Is this really the Hillary Clinton base constituency? I hope not.
I like the bluff: “Me, a racist? No! no! I voted against having black candidate because I couldn’t let him be humiliated by REAL racists.”
Senator Barack Obama is not (in my personal view) the beautiful orator that Jesse Jackson was 20 years ago. On form, the Reverend is someone I would gladly buy a ticket to hear give a sermon. That’s certainly not true of any candidate this time round for me. Sen Obama is more like a bank manager with the common touch, I like his demeanour and his “winner” outlook, but that’s not the same. In fact, without Bill Clinton’s attempt to not make race an issue, by making it an issue, it would not have occurred to me to compare the two. Senator Obama has plenty of flaws: some of his policies and the dubious Chicago connections. But if it comes to a “which candidate has the worst criminal connections” I don’t see Bill Clinton as offering much constructive help. A list of the crooks he pardoned in his last day of office, and the one whose wife by an AMAZING COINCIDENCE gave a lot of money to Bill’s wife’s 2000 campaign, will make anything Senator Obama is likely to have done look minor.
I’m not impressed with the Republican line-up so far in this election campaign, but if Hillary Clinton wins her party’s nomination by pandering to racism, I don’t see how any decent human being could campaign for her in November, against what is likely to be a fairly moderate Republican candidate.

In pure election terms, we now know how black women voted in South Carolina: they’re misogynistic witch burners, apparently.

I’m talking at the Putney Debates tonight

January 11, 2008

The topic is ‘Change at the Top: How the US Election Process Works and What are the Opportunities for Ron Paul?’

My audience will mostly be British so it’s mostly about explaining just how decentralized the U.S. electoral system is. Because anyone turning up is likey to be a Libertarian, I shall be concentrating on Ron Paul’s campaign and what he can realistically hope to achieve. I shall try to post a summary of the talk somewhere. Details from the LA Blog.

[cross posted from Antoine Clarke’s Election Watch]