Posts Tagged ‘Labour’

Electoral Systems For The UK (Part 2)

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

…This follows on from last week’s blog

Are these systems used in the UK?

First-past-the-post (“FPTP”) is the system that has been central to British voting in elections for many years and remains the status quo method for General Elections in the UK and local elections in England.  Alternative Vote (“AV”) is the main system used in Australia and for by-elections in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and is the proposed alternative to FPTP being proposed for UK General Elections.  Party Lists (“PL”) is used in Britain for European Elections, i.e. to elect MEPs.  Single Transferrable Vote (“STV”) is used for most elections in Northern Ireland and has been used for local elections in Scotland since 2007, as well as being the main system used in the Republic of Ireland.  STV is also the preferred system of the Electoral Reform Society.

Is it easy to understand?

Complexity is one of the arguments used to argue for the status quo.  However, I feel that it is an intellectually arrogant position to hold and which effectively says most of the electorate is too dumb to understand some of these alternative systems, so we must not use them; football league tables, betting odds, the rules of cricket, Strictly Come Dancing and how to use a mobile phone are all mysteries to me, but no-one has ever said that they should be stopped. 

From my point of view, the FPTP is undoubtedly the simplest system, but it is also a result the crudest – a truly blunt instrument.  However, I understand the rationale for AV, PL and STV and what these electoral processes are aiming for, and I can work out simple scenarios for how individual constituencies could play out, even if I would not want to work out the detailed algorithms.  Therefore, while the detail can get a bit complex, I do not think that the concepts are that difficult, and isn’t a bit of sophistication in order for such an important influence on our day-to-day lives?

Linkage from representative back to constituency

For me, this is an important one, and even though many MPs have no genuine affinity back to their constituents, it remains for me one of the crucial strengths of FPTP, and so would be of AV.  However, while I originally felt this was a make-or-break point, I now feel that it is really a matter of balance, so I would not want to see vast multi-member constituencies as in Israel where there is one constituency for the whole country nor would I want to see a closed party list where voters cannot make a choice for a particular individual, albeit we don’t really ever know that much about them in the UK anyway.  Whereas I am no longer averse to having two or three member constituencies that better reflect the political views of most of the people within a geographic area.

Are votes valued?

This question covers a number of issues, but at its heart is a very important problem – while we are all told it is important to vote, most members of the electorate believe that their vote has no real influence on which party wins the election.  This is because under FPTP the winner takes all, even if the winner gets less than 50% of the votes (in fact almost all MPs are elected on less than 40% of the vote); therefore, the views relating to the “losing votes” are discarded and their votes “wasted”.  Therefore, even if a party consistently wins 20% of the electoral votes across the country, it may get no MPs into parliament if it comes second or third in every seat.  This results in general dissatisfaction with the whole political system, but also creates many of the undesirable side effects of FPTP:

  • Small amounts of votes can have big impacts on election results, so many policies are targeted towards capturing these marginal “floating” voters rather than the greater body of public opinion, while boundary changes take on special political poignancy and can encourage “gerrymandering”;
  • Tactical voting can become the order of the day, whereby voters vote against who they dislike rather than for whom they actually want, i.e. voting becomes negative rather than being a positive choice.

Therefore, if voting is so important, it then must follow that everyone’s vote should be valued.  As a result, FPTP cannot be advocated as the most desirable system, because it ignores the majority of votes in almost all constituencies.  The questions then move on to which system best balances the need to give value to each vote, and so most voters political viewpoints, while keeping some physical link back to a geographic place.

There are many detailed points for and against individual systems, but the above are the key criteria for me, and I feel that the debate boils down to the following key questions:

  • Do the various proposed systems work? Yes
  • Can the logic of the systems be explained in relatively simple terms? Yes
  • Are most votes valued? No for FPTP, but yes for the other three
  • Is there a link from a geographic location to representative? Yes for FPTP and AV, and can be for PL and STV
  • Should we have a single member constituency or multi-member? Now this is the real question and this is where the political debate should really be, rather than on which system is best.  My own view is that we should have multi-member constituencies of three MPs which would give all parties the potential to get a seat in each constituency, so each part of the country would be worth fighting for.  More than this and you start to lose the linkage back to constituency.  But in the end it becomes a matter of individual judgment.

The big negative against PL and STV seems to be the argument about unstable governments and that you do not get a definitive result for one party.  However, my counter-arguments would be that surely it is more important to have votes that have value and are not wasted than governments that are voted in on low percentage votes of the electorate, and that the coalition in Britain at present happened under the FPTP system and it seems an eminently mature and sensible bunch of politicians.  My biggest issue with the STV and AV system is that I personally do not think that your second or third preference votes should have as big a weighting as your 1st preference, but then there follows a hair-splitting debate about by how much?

So let’s look at a practical example.  For my own benefit, I have assumed that you merge my three local constituencies and I have used the 2010 results:

2010 results for Thirsk, Skipton/Ripon and Harrogate/Knaresborough

  Thirsk/Malton Skipton/Ripon Harrogate Total
                 
Conservative     20,167 53%     27,685 51%     24,305 46%     72,157 49%
Liberal Democrat       8,886 23%     17,735 32%     23,266 44%     49,887 34%
Labour       5,169 14%       5,498 10%       3,413 6%     14,080 10%
UKIP       2,502 7%       1,909 3%       1,056 2%       5,467 4%
Liberal Democrat       1,418 4% 0% 0%       1,418 1%
BNP 0%       1,403 3%       1,094 2%       2,497 2%
Independent 0%          315 1% 0%          315 0%
Youth 0%            95 0% 0%            95 0%
Currency 0%            84 0% 0%            84 0%
      38,142 100%     54,724 100%     53,134 100%   146,000 100%

The first thing you notice are the variations in number of voters, however Thirsk & Malton was a quirk in that this constituency was more like a by-election in that voting was one month later, and so after the result of the General Election in 2010.

The second point is that while it is strongly Tory in this rural area, the Liberal Democrats do get a very good section of the electorate and are especially strong in Harrogate & Knaresborough.  So if you were to divide the enlarged constituency up to give 3 MPs, you would definitely give 1 to a Conservative and another to a Liberal Democrat, giving each one-third an MP to voice their political views, whereas currently you have 3 Conservative MPs.

The final point is what do you do about the third MP.  Now that’s where you need to get a mechanic that is fair in the distribution of the final chunk of votes.  Under STV, the balance of Conservative votes over the threshold (36,500) would be transferred to other candidates, which would go where?  There’s the rub, as they might actually all go to UKIP rather than Labour.  Under the PL system, I would have thought that you would get 2 Conservative MPs and 1 Liberal Democrat MP, but please correct me if I am wrong there.

Overall, I am pleased that I have looked in more detail at these different electoral systems as my point of view has changed.  Whereas I was an advocate of FPTP, I now feel that it is a broken system that must be changed.  However, I also think that this referendum is a waste of time, because while the sop is that this is potentially the start of changes to the electoral system, I feel that the questions being asked are wrong and do not really address the core issues.  Furthermore, I do not think that the detailed mechanics of the electoral system is actually something that should go to a referendum, rather it should be hammered out, debated and equations worked out by a committee of experts.

I think a referendum is needed, but that the question should be different, but absolutely fundamental to how Britain is governed.

All the major electoral systems have been devised and work, plus many of them are practised in the UK and other parts of the world.  Similarly, all systems have their issues, but none of them insurmountable, and while they are interesting for politicos, they are pretty boring for most people and (I believe) not crucial to the debate.  Therefore, whichever system is chosen can probably do a good job, so long as fair and sensible criteria are set for determining which system to chose.  So the electorate should not debate the intricacies of each system, but they should be asked to set the agenda for the bureaucrats.

So the question comes down to what should be the brief.  I feel that some of this has already been debated by the 1998 Jenkins Committee, which was set the following eminently sensible criteria:

  • The maintenance of a geographic link between MP and constituency
  • The need for stable government
  • The desire for broad proportionality
  • An extension of voter choice

I am not convinced by the last point as I feel that voter choice is pretty wide already, rather the issue is that, because of lack of proportionality and wasted votes, minority views do not get representation.  So I would change extension of voter choice to “minimisation of wasted votes”.

So you might ask what is there left to debate by the electorate.  Well there is one fundamental question and I feel this is the key question: 

  • “Does the electorate want multi-member constituencies, or not?”

We all want fair elections.  We all want our votes to mean something.  But the key systemic debate is should we have single or multi-member constituencies.  And while I believe multi-member constituencies would help fairness and proportionality, it would be a big change, from which would flow how best to run an election. 

A vote for single member constituencies would mean a debate between FPTP or AV, while for a multi-member system, the debate would be PL or STV.  Once you have decided on this key point, therefore, it becomes simply a matter of mechanics, so while the Electoral Reform Society prefers STV over the PL system, both work, are fair and provide proportionality, so would be better than the status quo.

My own view is for three member larger constituencies, but thereafter I am not especially concerned about whether we vote via the PL or STV system, so long as these work, which they do.  I find PL easier to understand, but am really fairly ambivalent between PL and STV.

I Just Don’t Get Proportional Representation

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

As we’re potentially heading for a hung parliament or a very closely matched parliament, I wanted in my mind to consider the idea of proportional representation as it is something that’s going to be on the table in any post-election discussions that involve the Liberal Democrats.  As I see it, the Liberal Democrats want proportional representation as they perceive it to be a fairer way to allocate power based on the proportions of votes received by each party, while the Conservatives are against it and want to stay with the first-past-the-post system as (arguably) they do better under that voting method; the Labour Party seems to be fudging their position as they are currently pro first-past-the-post but have been against it in the past.  This suggests that Labour would deal on it, so the possibility of a referendum or legislation on voting reform must rank very high.

Now in my mind, I see that first-past-the-post is a simple and logical concept.  You divide the country up into small parcels then get each parcel to vote for who they want to represent their interests politically; the smaller the constituency or parcel gets the more representative the elected person is of the wishes of the constituency until you get down to a constituency of 1 person who represents themselves.  What’s good about this system is that the constituents get who they vote for and in return the MP must look after the interests of the constituents firstly to ensure re-election and secondly as in the UK you vote for MPs and not for governments or prime ministers.  I know that most people believe that we vote for political parties and prime ministers but that’s actually not really the case as we’re electing our representative, i.e. MP, in the national parliament.

However, the third party (i.e. Liberal Democrats) argue that this is unfair as the number of MPs does not correlate back to the percentage shares of the vote.  This is because the Liberal Democrats tend to come second everywhere and so get a relatively high overall vote but don’t win comparatively many constituencies.  My quick analysis of the 2005 election is in the table below:

  First past post Seats Overall votes
Labour 55.1% 356 35.3%
Conservative 30.7% 198 32.3%
Liberal Democrats 9.6% 62 22.1%
Others 4.6% 30 10.3%
Total 100.0% 646 100.0%

So by going for an extreme version of proportional representation as you get in Israel, where there is one constituency for the whole country and then the vote is apportioned by share of total vote, the Liberal Democrats and the other parties would double their MPs within the Houses of Parliament.  The downside of this approach is that you allow the extreme parties to have positions in the corridors of power, as well as the more hippy parties like the Greens, so you get the big parties and the rough, smooth and cuddly of the smaller parties.  Also, you completely lose any linkage between voters and their representatives with your local MP being chosen from a central list – in my mind, this would be like having someone from Cardiff representing Harrogate or in an imaginary European Election having a Greek MEP looking after the Yorkshire and Humber Region.

As a consequence, parliamentarians have invented more complex versions of proportional representation that involves the idea of first preference votes where after voting for your initial number one choice the prospective candidate with the lowest score is eliminated and his/her votes reallocated to the next choice candidate on those ballot papers and so on until one candidate gets 50%.  This just seems to me to be a case of people being too clever for their own good in trying to slice and dice the voting system to get an answer that they want, rather than really meeting the needs of the people – a triumph of bureaucrats and the political class over normal people, the hoi polloi.

Then there’s the maths.  We all have been explained the iniquity of first-past-the-post versus proportional systems as in the table above.  However, there are mathematical issues with all proportional voting systems – if you read this week’s New Scientist, there is a good mathematical analysis of the voting system at http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20627581.400-electoral-dysfunction-why-democracy-is-always-unfair.html.    The key conundrum is that it is impossible to allocate a whole number of seats in exact proportion to a larger population, and so it is possible that, as you increase the total number of seats available, it will actually reduce the relative representation of individual political parties even when the population is unchanged.  In the end, none of the maths of any of the systems actually stacks up completely, so it simply comes down to your personal judgement about each voting system rather than anything to do with fairness or maths, i.e. no voting system is actually completely fair or perfect for running a country and we as citizens just have to live with whatever are the results that each election throws up –

“So we are left to make the best of a bad job. Some less fair systems produce governments with enough power to actually do things, though most voters may disapprove; some fairer systems spread power so thinly that any attempt at government descends into partisan infighting. Crunching the numbers can help, but deciding which is the lesser of the two evils is ultimately a matter not for mathematics, but for human judgement. (Source: New Scientist with above Internet reference)”

The way I have come up with to characterise the question is via a football team.  Imagine that you are to select a regional team to represent where you live, so I am looking for a team to represent the North East and I can pick people from Newcastle United (obviously the best, but I’m not biased), Sunderland and Middlesborough.  Now for simplicity’s sake, we have 1 player from each team for each position and there are 100 people who will decide on the team we pick to represent the North East versus a team from London, picked from Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs.  Each voter has to rank secretly each player as their first, second and third choice.  Now the way, they pick them is as follows:

Position First choice Second choice Third choice
1 Newcastle Middlesborough Sunderland
2 Newcastle Middlesborough Sunderland
3 Newcastle Middlesborough Sunderland
4 Newcastle Middlesborough Sunderland
5 Newcastle Middlesborough Sunderland
6 Newcastle Middlesborough Sunderland
7 Sunderland Middlesborough Newcastle
8 Sunderland Middlesborough Newcastle
9 Sunderland Middlesborough Newcastle
10 Sunderland Middlesborough Newcastle
11 Sunderland Middlesborough Newcastle
       
  Newcastle/1st Middlesborough/2nd Sunderland/3rd
Overall vote 45% 35% 20%

Under first-past-the-post, you pick the the team based on the First Choice, which is a mix of Newcastle and Sunderland with a Newcastle Captain.  Under first preference choice, you would pick a team of all Middlesborough players with a first preference vote of 55% (i.e. 2nd column vote + 3rd column vote), and under proportional representation you get 5 Newcastle players, 4 Middlesborough players and 2 Sunderland players. but note that you really are after them in order 4.95 : 3.85 : 2.2, but people and positions do not divide up into neat integers.  In fact, true proportional representation is weirder and you have to vote (in this case) for the team you want but without knowing the players, so in the end you just vote partially, i.e. I vote for Newcastle etc, and then the players are selected from a list that has the top Newcastle players, top Sunderland players and so on in order of preference, so you end up with a team of perhaps 7 forwards, 2 goalkeepers and 2 midfielders, which wouldn’t be much cop. 

Clearly you should go for a team of the best players and then really choose the best captain, so first-past-the-post is the right system while the other two are fraught with problems.  Not least of these issues is which players do you actually choose to represent you after you know that you need to squeeze them in to accomodate the voting quirks.

Now this issue of who represents the constituents is a big one for me.  There is nothing I hate more than to have a centrally chosen candidate foisted on me – I will always choose a local candidate over a centrally chosen candidate or will abstain from voting.  I want someone who knows and cares about the area, an ex-councillor is ideal; someone who will actually come back to the constituency and care about his/her constituents whatever the flavour of political party.  Our MP used to be Phil Willis of the Liberal Democrats and he was ideal – ex local teacher, ex councillor and then put up against Norman Lamont of the Conservatives, who lost resoundingly; under these so-called fairer voting systems Norman Lamont would have won. 

A proportional respresentation system will give you people you don’t know or want to represent you as your MP, plus you’ll never get rid of the leaders or inner cabals, because however the percentage votes are cast you will always get the senior party candidates being given their seats first and then the favoured central party people second, so it is the new blood and interesting non-standard candidates that will not be given seats.  In the end, the candidates will all be London groomed, party groomed and all the mavericks and free thinkers refused seats, so your politics will become greyer and unchanging except for an overhyped moving of the political deckchairs. 

What first-past-the-post gives you is candidates that need to look after their constituents and the chance for us – the electors – to kick them out (especially with changes expected to be put into place after the election) – every election giants are felled by their constituents and this election will see many political giants banished to the wilderness of the real world, or Europe, or the House of Lords.  Under proportional representation these political heavyweights cannot be easily removed, so you ossify a political oligarchy into place.  It is the crude cruelty of first-past-the-post that professional politicians hate as it creates a sort of lottery where the electors can punish sitting MPs and remove them, while political leaders like to be able to plan ahead and know that their key MPs are guaranteed to win, which is what true proportional representation does and so to a lesser extent does the first preference system.

Finally, while the politicians kid themselves that it is the political system that’s the issue, I think it’s the policies and the parties.  In the end, as a elector, I don’t like everything about every party, but rather bits and pieces of policies from each party.  So I like the Liberal Democrats over all, but believe in nuclear energy being important, I like a nuclear deterrent of some sort and hate proportional representation, while I am intrigued by the potential of genetically engineered crops; I like much of Labour’s policies but in the end I believe that an individual should be free and able to chose to keep most of what he/she earns to spend as they wish and then to pass on to future generations, with the individual and family coming way before the state; for the Conservatives, I like their starting point of individuals and families first then the state, but I hate their immigration policies as I come from a family that fled from Denmark from the invading Germans in the 1850s and I don’t know what this Big Society idea is really all about.  My ideal would be a patchwork party that doesn’t exist and I am not convinced that voting reform will create this fictional party, because my views on policies are not up for negotiation.

In the end, if it ain’t broke then don’t change it, so I think it’s best to leave the current system alone.  If the politicians do want to fiddle with our political system, then they must not just change the basic electoral system but they should look at the whole system of governance in the UK in its totality, so they must look at the House of Lords, the House of Commons, the Council Systems and the European Parliaments, including the Council of Ministers (all curently unelected), which of course they won’t do – will they?

Main UK Political Parties On Climate Change And Global Warming

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

There is a general political consensus that climate change is the number one environmental issue and there seems to be general agreement on how to address the problem, now that arch global warming skeptics like Boris Johnson and Nigel Lawson in the Conservative Party have been whipped into line for the election.  However there are definitely differences in emphasis and a big difference in whether nuclear power should be in the mix or not.  Here’s my overview as extracted from each party’s 2010 General Election manifesto.

Conservatives:

CO2 targets: presumably will keep to national targets of reductions of 34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 on 1990 levels, including 10% in central government carbon costs in 12 months (why not do it for whole of public sector, which would really be something)
Energy mix: 15% by renewables by 2020, but do state that nuclear is key to this as is clean coal, and Feed-in Tariffs for those doing home electricity generation; coal-fired power plants must have carbon-capture-and-storage with 4 already approved to be built; “smart meters” and “smart grid” to help households reduce energy use; allow local authorities to build local heating networks to use waste energy from electricity generation (Combined Heat & Power)
Transport: investment in public transport and looking at building national charging network for electric vehicles
Buildings: £6,500 per household to get home energy improvements paid out of energy bill savings (i.e. consumer pays I think)
Carbon economy: offshore wind farms and Green Investment Bank, but very vague in this area

Green Party

CO2 targets: reduction of 65% by 2020 and 95% by 2030 on 1990 levels, including setting annual carbon budget and allowing trading in carbon units where half of all carbon units are given to adults and rest to industry and public sector
Energy mix: 50% from renewables by 2020 and 100% by 2030; phase out nuclear power and no new nuclear power stations; £20 billion in one Parliament (ie 5ish years) on renewables and create 80,000 jobs; attractive Feed-in Tariffs higher than offered by Labour government for those doing home electricity generation; do not permit new coal-fired power stations; “smart grid, smart meters and smart appliances” to help households reduce energy use; encourage Combined Heat & Power projects
Transport: reduce speed limits everywhere in UK; stop road investment of £30 billion and invest in public transport; renationalise and re-regulate all public transport; congestion type schemes in more places and road user tolls for heavy vehicles; make more food bought locally and so reduce need to shift food around by road;  stop airport expansion to reduce pollution levels; oppose large scale growing of biofuels
Buildings: free insulation for all houses that need it creating 80,000 new jobs and costing £2 – 4 billion a year; introduce incentives for 1,000,000 solar panels on homes
Carbon economy: government intervention to invest in green programmes, some of which mentioned above; green investment bank like other main parties; £5 billion to create 350,000 new trainee positions offering places to 700,000 unemployed people to get people into green energy sector (not sure if these figures are additive or overlapping somehow)

Labour

CO2 targets: reduction of 34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 on 1990 levels
Energy mix: 15% of energy from renewables by 2020 and keeping nuclear in the mix (they talk about 40% from low carbon sources by 2020 but 25% will come from nuclear and clean coal), and Feed-in Tariffs for those doing home electricity generation; coal-fired power plants must have carbon-capture-and-storage with 4 already approved to be built; “smart meters” to help households reduce energy use
Transport: investment in public transport and looking at electric vehicles
Buildings: through regulating electricity companies, 6 million homes will get insulation by 2012 with every suitable loft and cavity wall insulated by 2015
Carbon economy: creating 400,000 new jobs including development of carbon economy with 70,000 jobs in offshore wind farms by 2020 and £120 million in a Carbon Investment Fund to support wind farms

Liberal Democrats

CO2 targets: reduction of 40% by 2020 and carbon neutral by 2050 on 1990 levels, including push for unilateral move to EU reduction target of 30% by 2020
Energy mix: 40% from renewables by 2020 and 100% by 2050 and no new nuclear power; community owned wind farms encouraged; attractive Feed-in Tariffs higher than offered by Labour government for those doing home electricity generation; coal-fired power plants must have carbon-capture-and-storage; “smart grid” to help households reduce energy use
Transport: investment in public transport, £140 million bus scrappage scheme to replace old buses with new ones; stop 3rd runway at Heathrow and further airport expansion in South to reduce pollution levels; through EU make cars zero emissions by 2040
Buildings: Eco Cash-back Scheme giving £400 back when you install new boiler, double glazing or put in micro-generation kit; £10,000 worth of green home improvements paid for by lower energy bills
Carbon economy: use central government pourchasing power to go for green technologies and products; cut energy and carbon emissions from central government by 30% by 2020
Globally: push for zero net deforestation by 2020, including ban on import of illegal wood into UK for any purpose

Reading the manifestos shows me something interesting – I reckon that New Labour has morphed into the Conservative Party and they are nearly the same thing, however much they argue about the splitting of policy hairs, while the Liberal Democrats have taken up Labour’s place, while the Greens have become the wackier Liberals of the 1970s and 1980s.  It will be interesting what actually happens when people get to vote and whether (because of the expenses scandal) we – the electorate – have the courage to shift from our historic group voting patterns, where we vote by “class” and “background”, ie rural tends to be Conservative and urban is Labour.

My own take on climate change is that the Liberal Democrats have the most practicable and ambitious set of targets, BUT (and it’s a big but), I believe their targets cannot be achieved without the inclusion of nuclear power in the energy mix. 

In some ways, the green movement is to blame for the rise in greenhouse gases because they stopped the growth – and research – in the nuclear power sector, while removal of acid rain gases has bizarrely increased short term potential for global warming, as these molecules have acted as a shield from solar energy – clean fuel will be soon used in global shipping which may result in global warming as their shielding impact is removed, so cleaner air more global warming (there’s always something else, isn’t there). 

So my ideal (from a green perspective) is a parliament that includes the Liberal Democrats with either Labour or the Conservatives, where the Liberal Democrats are given the Environment and Climate Change Portfolio but not the Energy side of things.

Environmental Policies from Key Parties – Part 1

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

I have purposely started by reviewing key environmental areas and international development other than climate change first, as they are just as (if not more) important than global warming.  In particular, I have looked at the following key areas – water, wastewater, pollution, solid waste, biodiversity and international development.

Conservatives:

  • Working towards zero waste – incentivising families that recycle and put a floor under landfill tax until 2020 to give business long term certainty to invest in new forms of waste disposal – that sounds like a cop-out to me that will not force businesses to reduce landfill waste
  • Introduce greater competition in water industry to reduce bills and improve efficiency and innovation plus reform to improve environmental standards – once again this seems a bit wishy-washy and may lead to reduced service unless it is linked to meeting specific environmental targets
  • Claims to have called for Marine Act that Labour introduced and wants further reforms to Common Fisheries Policy to protect fisherman and fish stocks even more
  • “Science led policy” on badger control in TB infected areas (whatever science led means!)
  • Broader ecosystem approach to landscape as a whole as well as targeted approach to protected habitats and species
  • Intends to introduce a system of conservation credits in England as “an incentive to invest in biodiversity”
  • £200 million of funding for local authorities to invest in greener transport such as bus and cycling from Transport Innovation Fund without need to introduce a Congestion Charge in regions.  The money is already ring fenced by the Labour Government, however removing the need to charge a Congestion Charge will create a marginal cost for Government were it to actually release the funds
  • Would seek to reverse bans on hunting with dogs and hare coursing via free vote for MPs
  • Committed to 0.7% of Gross National income as aid by 2013
  • Empower people in poor countries as to how to spend aid, and will spend £500 million a year to tackle malaria
  • Block GM crops until shown to be safe

Greens:

  • Has a zero waste policy with comprehensive recycling schemes and support the recycling industry with target of 60% recycled in 5 years (UK is already at 50% so this isn’t very ambitious)
  • Via a Waste Avoidance and Recycling Act impose differential charges for short life products, ie plastic costs more than glass to dispose, and legislate minimum recycled content into some products
  • Ban new waste incinerators and phase out old ones, but invest in anearobic digesters
  • Eliminate plastic throwaway bags from shops
  • Ban GM crops
  • Get out of Common Fisheries Policy, or at least shift to a more sustainable basis (difference between main website and policy website)
  • There is a 404 error on their “Environment and Animal Welfare Page” – however, from their main policy section, the Greens would ban factory farming, cruel bloodsports, badger culling and promote organic farming and vegetarian food
  • Energy: massive investment in renewables to create 80,000 jobs; retrofitting houses, schools and hospitals to make them more energy efficient; phasing out of nuclear power; removal of incentives from biofuels; shifting subsidies from nuclear and coal power to renewable energy
  • Transport: focus on walking then cycling then public transport, especially light rail and trams, then cars plus legislate to get more commercial transport onto rail and water and away from roads and air and congestion charging
  • International development: increase aid to 1% of Gross National income and cancellation of debt to 52 poorest countries – I think it’s “and” but I may be double-counting of debt cancellation as part of aid which is the case of most political policies, but frankly there’s not much detail here

Labour:

  • Biodiversity is important – 2 landmark acts the Countryside and Right of Ways Act and the Marine and Coastal Access Act, 2 new National Parks
  • £3.9 billion Rural Development Programme which includes an agri-environment Environmental Stewardship Scheme
  • Extended Green Belt and focused on developing Brownfield Sites for developments
  • Assess GM crops on case-by-case basis
  • Targetting investment in public transport, green technologies for cars with £400 million fund to develop new technology and invested money in schemes to get cycling into urban environment spending £60 million over last 5 years and getting 500,000 kids doing Bikeability training by 2012
  • Banned fox hunting and hare coursing; banned animal testing of cosmetics and barren cages for chickens – very committed to animal welfare
  • Campaigning to ban illegal trade in ivory, polar bears, bluefin tuna and bobcats, while consulting on banning of cages for gamebirds and wild animals in circuses
  • Working for fairer global society and committed in law to spending 0.7% of Gross National income on aid to support poorest nations, and working to address the 8 Millennium development goals to combate extreme poverty by 2015
  • Under Labour, UK has been world’s second biggest bilateral donor in fight against HIV/Aids, targetting malaria via delivery of 50 million bednets by 2013 and spending £100 million to fight polio around the world

Liberal Democrats:

  • “Zero waste” policy – no more landfill for solid waste, with a rise in recycling, changes to packaging regulations and increase in use of anearobic digesters
  • Introduction of smart meters in areas where issues of water availability
  • Target water companies to reduce wastage of water
  • Cancel third runway at Heathrow to target pollution
  • Ban commercial production of GM crops
  • Revenue neutral road user pricing to reduce congestion and pollution in urban environment (I know I am thick but I don’t know what this means, but I assume it is the same as the congestion charge for London)
  • They also hint at issues of bird, animal and plant habitats but don’t specify what they will do about it unless changes to local planning decisions is meant to address that.  This doesn’t really target biodiversity but does make the landscape more open and free.
  • Their policy on international development has not been specified and there is currently just a consultation document dated February 2010, so this is not reviewable.

In summary, there is some detail in place, however I was disappointed at how lightweight the Liberal Democrats were on this area when they really could have scored some good points-of-difference.  Perhaps it will come in later campaigning, but there was not much on their website on this, and it could be too late for me to change my vote. 

As a result, it was a contest between the Conservatives and Labour on this point as the Greens were good on some areas but less credible on the detail and the international perspective – a lot of negative and regressive policies rather than adaptive and genuinely practical solutions (in my opinion). 

I think much of the issue with the Greens is that their agenda was perhaps not very radical as the good policy ideas have been cherry picked by the main political parties already, so the only things they can show a difference on are minor areas and more radical stances, eg bringing buses under public ownership (I assume that’s what is meant by “re-regulation”) and banning nuclear power, while banning blood sports is good (if a bit late as a policy) but phasing out industrial farming and food production is a ridiculous policy in the real world.  Their positions on animal welfare are basically the same as Labour and the Liberal Democrats, and even the Conservatives have some interest in these areas, while recycling and pollution is already going quite well under Labour, so basically the Greens were not as visionary as I had expected nor as ambitious or aggressive enough for me with their “green” ideas so scored less well when compared to the Conservatives and Labour.  I wonder whether they are trying to seem more sensible and so electable, therefore they have lost some of their radical appeal.

As in many things in life, it depends what you think is most important – Labour definitely are strong on their animal welfare credentials while the Conservatives were better on the International Development – I liked the specifics of the malaria fund.  I couldn’t find much about waste management and recycling on the Labour website, except stuff in the Climate Change debate which I think misses a trick.   However, what it comes down to is Labour have very strong credibility due to what they have already done, but I was less sure about their future ideas.  I know Labour wants to be seen as a safe pair of hands and is campaigning on more of the same, but like many voters I pay little attention between elections so I need to be explained the future now, so Labour should not rest on its past environmental achievements, because that’s been and (I am sorry to say) had largely passed me by.

Overall though, I have to say all parties were a bit weak and woolly which just shows they are not really that interested in green issues, which is a disappointment for me.  So overall, a thumbs down to everyone here and I hope whoever wins will do a lot better than the little that is to be found on their websites, or the Minister of the Environment could be a really cushy, easy-going job for the next Government. 

If I had to give my vote on the basis of what I have read so far on these topics, it would be in the following order of preference: Labour, Conservatives, Greens then Liberal Democrats.  I score the Conservatives above the Greens because I think nuclear power has to be in the mix and factory farming (while often really horrible) does keep food prices down, but they do less well in my mind on animal welfare; therefore, you could argue that my view is coloured by a prejudice here against the credibility of the Green Party, and you are welcome to push the Tories down that list, although the Liberal Democrats have to come bottom as they don’t seem to have completed the work yet (which I cannot quite believe). 

Hopefully, there will be more of interest in everyone’s policies on Global Warming and Energy…

UPDATE 15/4/2010:

The parties have now all launched their manifestoes – why I don’t know as they seem to say just what is already on the web without the need to fell a few forests.  I have put a few notes below for any additional points of interest regarding green issues:

Conservatives: will stop restart of whaling, destroy stockpiles of ivory and stop trade in ivory, campaign to end deforestation of rainforests and ban illegal wood coming into UK under any guise

Greens: nothing new in their policies, but I did do their policy matchmaker and only scored 50% on it which I suspect means that I am not best matched by the Green Party’s policies as it was only my aversion to ID cards that got me up to 50%

Labour: ban illegal wood coming into UK

Liberal Democrats: work to stop deforestation to protect biodiversity (as well as climate change) and ban imports of illegal chopped down timber; 0.7% GNI on development aid; work to tackle HIV/aids, malaria and TB; target clean water supply in developing world (my comment: how about sanitation as well!!); cancellation of 3rd world debt; funds available to develop viable social welfare systems in developing world; stop loss of habitats and so biodiversity in UK

I think that this means that Liberal Democrats are no longer bottom of the pile and I would put them equal with the Conservatives but behind the Labour Party.

First Impressions On UK Political Parties From Green Agenda

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

As promised, I have started the process of looking at the main political parties from the perspective of the environment and international development.  I think I may have bitten off a bit more than I had expected with this, but I will continue.  Yesterday, I wasted an idle hour of my time looking at the websites for the Conservatives, the Greens, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the SNP, and downloaded background information about their policies on these two areas.  Here are my first impressions – I have not looked at a single policy yet so this is more about websites and general look, feel and philosophy taking into account the environmental agenda.

Firstly, the SNP.  Well I couldn’t find anything relevant on their website as regards the general election or environmental policies; their most recent Westminster manifesto is from 2005.  The best I could come up with was their section on Government, ie Scottish Government.  Unfortunately, this means I will not be going back to their website to get any more information; in this day and age, you need to have all the information up there all the time and it’s just not good enough to be waiting until a full official manifesto is launched.

Next, the Green Party.  Firstly, it would seem clear and bleeding obvious that central to the Green Party’s political philosophy is “taking into account the environment in all policy decisions”, but I was surprised that when I went to their policy section that there were no environmental policies.  Now I know where they are coming from being that everyone knows we are green but what they don’t believe we can deliver on is basic policy areas like Health and Housing and the Economy, so we’ll major on these areas, however why hide the Green Agenda?  Or as they say “We are not just an environmental party. Our policies extend across all areas of life.”  When Steenbergs first set up our website, our bank manager said to us that he was surprised that we never mentioned that we were focused on organic spices and herbs, so we realised that what’s obvious to us/them is probably less obvious to other people, so you need sometimes to keep on stating the bleeding obvious.  I did eventually find more detail about policies within the main website in the About the Green Party section hidden in a side bar, but to get those policy statements you keep needing to go back to this side bar.

To find the Green Party’s information on the Environment, you need to go to another website called Green Party Policies and download various pdf files across a range of topics.  Now this web site is truly horrible – it’s clunky, slow and really hard to work out what and where to get information.  Also, because of it’s structure, you end out having to print out loads of paper to actually read the policies because the pdfs are really hard to read.  While the web site had errors all over the place – the Policy Statements page comes up with a 404 Error Page Not Found.  As for detailed policies, I was surprised to find that many of the Policy Downloads were offline pending revision although they will be up in a few days.  So all in all this was fairly hard work to trudge through and really difficult to find stuff  about the environment and international development, which meant that you really had to want to find the detail to want to use the website.  Were I a teacher I would have to say “Could do better”.

Next, I am going to lump together the Conservative and the Liberal Democrats – that’s probably a first.  Both of their websites are clean looking and easy to use, and have a similar structure, so you can find the general policy stuff about the Environment and other policies by clicking on information bars on the left hand border.  All the information is there with detailed policy statements and backgrounders dowloadable quickly from links embedded in the relevant areas.  I liked both sites and found them similar in style.  As for general feel about the seriousness of the Environment to these parties, the Liberal Democrats give higher prominence for the Environment sitting at the top of their “What We Stand For?” section, while the Conservatives do not put the Environment or International Development in the “What We Stand For?” section but they do have a vast amount of detail as Consultation Papers and detailed policy papers – so the Liberal Democrats weighed in at 520g of papers when printed out and the Conservatives a whopping 940g (and I hadn’t even printed out their long report on “Rebuilding Security”).  As a negative for the Liberal Democrats, I couldn’t find anything within the main website about International Development and had to get to it via a search where I found a consultation paper for download, so that wasn’t great.

Now, for the Labour website.  Its structure is completely different to the other major parties.  They do not include the Environment within their Pledges on the Home Page, but it does come as a subsidiary pledge under “Ed’s Pledge“, which is all about Climate Change.  The Labour website is structured as a highly functional blog or social networking site, which means you can go from the Environment and then onto “Further Reading” or “Related Policies” in the right hand pane.  This gives you the ability to move around the website and through policy ideas and threads, but I quickly got lost and then would need to get myself back to the start and follow another line of thought.  Also, I struggled to find detail on any of the policies, and was (I assume) expected just to believe what I was being told on the website and that I wasn’t allowed to question and query, nor want to delve deeper into the philosophy and reasoning for the resultant policies that Labour is proposing. 

Now, I have to be honest here – I am 42 years old and don’t live in London and I am not massively computer literate and I hate social networking sites, nor do I have a mobile phone.  Also, I like to question and query things and am by nature a sceptic, and am very, very dubious about anything politicians say – unfortunately, I come from a viewpoint that all politicians are going to promise you the earth, feed you a load of cock and bull, then do something else when they get into power.

So while I get completely what Labour is doing with their website, I loathed it.  I want to find the information about policy areas in a simple format saying “Environment” or “Community Relations” or whatever area interests me.  Also, I want to be able to print out stuff and read it, rather than post it to Twitter or view it on by Blackberry (I don’t have one you’ll be pleased to know), or some other gizmo.  I am not interested in politics per se nor am I in the Westminster Village; similarly, I am not in the 18 – 30 year old bracket that has been brought up on Facebook or Twitter.  Hence, for me, the Labour website was a horror story, but I reckon it will appeal to lots of people who like that style of thing and it is really, really well orchestrated and controlled, which I assume will go for the whole Labour compaign – the Labour site is without a doubt an awesome website and the best party political campaigning tool of the three major parties.

So here’s my initial impression and order of success in giving me the right feel about their Environmental and International Development credentials:

  1. Liberal Democrats
  2. Conservatives
  3. Labour
  4. Green Party
  5. Scottish National Party

But as I have said, the Labour website is really effective, but just not conceptually for me.

Note to all political parties, none of you (and that includes the Greens) have a button to enable you to print the information on a page, so you get all the side bars and rubbish around the edges.  The result 3 or 4 pages of print, where most goes straight into the bin.  Yes, I could read it on screen, but I am too old for that – I like to read paper and scribble on it etc.

And now I will start looking in more detail at the individual party’s policies and statements on the Environment and International Development…

Review of Green Ideas in General Election

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

The UK’s General Election will be held soon – the weight of money is for it to coincide with the Council elections slated for 6 May 2010 but these could probably be shifted to coincide with a later General Election which must be latest of 3 June 2010.  My gut instinct is that Labour will call the General Election pretty soon after Budget Day on 24 March 2010.  Gordon Brown loves detail and he will feel that this gives him an advantage as he will be able to state that he has a fully costed programme and “where are the other parties’ costed budgets!”

However, I think he misses the point which is that Prime Ministers must have vision and focus on the “whys of life” rather than the details of the “what and how of specific policies”.  This made Tony Blair more inspiring for the electorate as a whole rather than specific Labour interested groups, i.e Blair could look outside to the wider electorate rather than just look inwards to his core voters – in fact, Blair perhaps made mistakes by sometimes appealing more to voters outside his Labour core base and hence got kicked out by his own. 

In fact it is vision that seems to be missing in politics generally at present and I need something to stop me joining the most popular party of all – the non-voters!  Even Obama in the US does not seem to be really living up to his hype, and may just be about to repeat the policies of former US Presidents by continuing with policies on nuclear weapons largely unchanged from the past. 

That’s a fairly waffly introduction to stating that the General Election will be soon whatever the details of the actual timing.  So we thought we would look to the Green Vision that will be hidden inside the main parties’ manifestoes and will read through the political programmes of all major parties plus a few extra, so that will be Conservative, Green, Labour, Liberal and SNP, doing them in strict alphabetical order.  That will be hard enough work I reckon.

We thought we would look at a few major things:

  1. How much space is given over to green ideas?
  2. How plausible are policies on the Environment, Energy and International Development?
  3. What money (if any) is given over to support Sustainable Development, Renewable Energy etc?
  4. Are there any surprises lurking in the text, eg on Afghanistan or Genetically Modified Crops or Nuclear Weapons?

We’ll have a go, but perhaps we will have bitten more off than we can chew on this one.