In this episode, Mark Little will be leading us in 20 seconds of hate, we’ll hear part one of The Meaning of Life according to Chuck Hamilton, Teresa Durran will remind us that seven weeks is a long time in politics, Joe Solo talks about how optistic he is feeling in the run up to this electionRed Raiph reminds you that if you vote Tory, you’re a Tory, Artist Taxi Driver shares his poem on the zombification of Britain, Nick Durie discusses “nationalism” in the UK, and Victoria Pearson asks people to think carefully before throwing the vulnerable people under the Brexit bus.
Neil Scott will be giving us a short reprieve from the election by talking about the red Elvis, Debra Torrance talks Scelection scelectrix and playground politics, Steve McAuliiffe gives us a #fakenews Conservative party political broadcast, Eric Joyce draws parallels between May’s brexit mandate and Scotland’s independence mandate, George Collins discusses his part in the struggle, Simone Charlesworth talks about staying engaged in politics, despite voter fatigue, and why the Scots are the most political aware country in the UK, Mara Leverkuhn talks about the importance of nagging with people outside of your echo chamber, Derek Stewart Macpherson gives us the Hitchhikers Guide to Local Elections, and we have an Independence Live interview with Roza Salih and Euan Girvan.
Since 2013 these ‘Hitchhikers’ electoral guides (for both Scotland and Australia) have become a bit of a tradition on my blog. I’ve now covered two Australian federal elections, a European Parliament election, a Westminster general election (No.2 coming soon), a Scottish Parliament election and of course two very different referenda. This will be the first time I’ve written a guide to local elections, and the first one I’ve also shared with ‘Ungagged’ readers, but it would appear the need is great, so time to step into the breach.
People are unsure of how best to use their vote. I’ve already been answering questions on social media. What’s become clear is that the parties still don’t understand the system, and their confusion is confusing everyone else. Now in the lead up to publishing an election guide there is of course a bit of research involved. I have a number of pollsters and psephologists I look in on, the better to advise on tactical and strategic options. One of the latter is James Kelly of Scot Goes Pop, where I found this rather frustrated sounding article. He’s getting a bit sick of fielding questions about it. Well, I’m here to help.
You see the thing about this STV (no, not the TV shannel, Single Transferable Vote) is that it’s a system I’ve been using for 30 years. It’s the system for all Australian state and federal elections. What’s more, in recent years (and at successive elections) both my kids turned 18 and got to vote for the first time. Both came to me for advice, so I have been thinking about this. It’s really not as complicated as it seems. Let me walk you through it.
When I was a kid my father once said a properly wise thing to me. He said his job was to teach me how to think, not what to think. I’ve always taken the same view with my kids. They’re smart, they know what they think, they didn’t need me to tell them who to vote for, just how to use the system to get to their desired outcome. So what I needed to work out was the simplest, most explanatory thing I could possibly say about it, and it’s this: It’s not who you put first that matters, it’s who you put last.
Now in the UK we’ve been used to a very simplistic voting system known as ‘First Past The Post’ (FPTP). We get one vote, which we indicate with an ‘X’ (as though it was designed a very long time ago, for an illiterate electorate). Whoever gets the most Xs wins. Simple. It has it’s disadvantages though. It makes it very difficult for minor parties and independents to get a foothold, and it often allows an extremely unpopular candidate to be elected. How? Because it’s designed to elect the most popular candidate, and in a three or four-way contest, the most popular candidate can often be the most unpopular too. Think of the Tories. STV, on the other hand, is designed to elect the least unpopular candidate.
Here’s how it works. You get your vote, and let’s say you vote for Candidate A. FPTP says ‘Right, next!’ STV says ‘Right. But if you couldn’t have Candidate A, who would be your second choice? And your third? Your fourth?’ and so on. Now, the No.1 question seems to be, ‘Do I have to number all the boxes, and what difference will it make?’ To which the answers are ‘No’ and ‘Potentially quite a bit.’ I have seen some major party candidates asking their supporters to vote 1 for them, and leave the rest blank. That is bad advice. No, you do not have to number all the boxes. But number all the boxes!
To understand why, you need to understand the counting process. To make a preferential system (that’s what we call it in Australia, if you call it STV nobody will know what you’re talking about) work, counting has to be a process of elimination. So they count all the first preferences, the 1s. Now with FPTP that would be it. And if everybody took that bad advice I mentioned, only voted for their favourites and left the rest blank (which won’t happen), that would also be it. But in an STV system that’s not it. The candidate with the highest first preference total hasn’t won yet, unless he/she has over 50%, which is rare.
What happens next is that the candidate with the least first preferences is eliminated. All first preference votes for that candidate are then redistributed to whoever each voter put at No.2. Then they update the tally and repeat the process, eliminate the new last placed candidate and redistribute all their votes, including the ones they gained from the first candidate to be eliminated, which now go to those voters’ 3rd preferences. Repeat the process until only two candidates (or 4, if there are 2 seats – I’ll come back to this) remain. You then have what we call a Two Party Preferred (2PP) tally, and that is the result.
One important point about all this is that the candidate who was ahead in the first preference count, the one who would have won under FPTP, may well be overtaken by preferences flowing from defeated candidates. Another is that your vote cannot possibly end up with your last preference. Second last is the lowest down the order it can possibly go, because by that time you’re down to only two remaining candidates, and in order for it to get that far all of your other higher preferences would have to have been eliminated. It is, remember, a single transferable vote. It can’t be counted twice. It stays with your first preference as long as they remain in the contest.
Does STV Lend Itself to Tactical Voting?
Yes. Very much so. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this system is that it allows you to be far more flexible about expressing your true preferences than FPTP does, because as I said, it’s not who you put first that matters. It’s who you put last. Let’s imagine an example. Let’s say there’s a great local independent you have your eye on. And maybe you quite like a minor party like the Greens too. Realistically however, you think it’s probably going to come down to a battle between the major parties. With FPTP the logic is that you have to vote for the major party you want, not your wishlist candidate, because that would probably be a wasted vote, and might help the bad guys.
With STV there are no wasted votes. You can afford to give your first preference, or your first few, to whoever you like, as long as you put your major party preference ahead of those you definitely don’t want. Once they get used to the system, the parties will work out how best to direct their preferences to their advantage, preference swap deals will be done between them, and they will distribute ‘How To Vote’ cards showing exactly how they’d like you to fill out your ballot paper, just like they do here. Of course, by then you’ll be getting the hang of it too, and you can do what I do – refuse all their cards and work it out for yourself.
However, they don’t understand it yet. The SNP, Labour and the Tories seem to be following three different tactical approaches, all of them wrong. It’s now that we have to discuss multi-member constituencies, but don’t worry, it’s basically the same. In Australia we have single member constituencies in the House of Representatives, and multi-member ones in the Senate. Senate elections are usually for six members, or twelve in the case of a Double Dissolution (don’t ask if you don’t need to know, it’s very boring). I’ve been using the single member example for the sake of simplicity. In Scotland wards have two or more councillors, three or four in Glasgow for instance. That just means it’s your last two, three or four preferences your vote can never go to, instead of your last one. Now, this is where it starts to get a bit weird.
Remember I said back at the top that the parties don’t understand the system? Well, it turns out I didn’t know the half of it! Certain things have been pointed out to me since then (thanks Steve) which make that the understatement of the year. I was hoping to avoid talking about the Senate, because if you think next week is going to be complicated, this will give you the heebee jeebees. At the election last July my Senate ballot paper was well over a metre long. There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is important, so bear with me.
In a normal election we have a House of Reps election and a half Senate election, because the HoR has a three year term, but Senators have six year terms, so half of them go up for election every time the HoR does. However, in certain circumstances (again, don’t ask if you don’t need to know), the government can call a Double Dissolution election, which means HoR plus a full Senate election. That’s twelve Senators to be elected for each state. But that’s not the important bit. This is – every party or grouping which has the resources to do so fields a full slate of candidates. Six in a normal election, twelve in a DD. That’s why I found myself wrestling with a four foot ballot paper with about 90 boxes on it. But that is how you do it. Not to field a full slate is at best incompetent, at worst it’s running up a white flag. It breaks a political golden rule, namely never to concede a seat, not a single vote, until the polls close.
And yet none of the parties are doing this. Apparently when the STV system was introduced, nobody thought to take a look at a country that already had it, and where political strategists have had decades to work out the optimum approach. The Tories are only fielding one candidate in many wards. That makes some sense for them I suppose, as they are unlikely to be in a position to win two anywhere in Scotland, and they know that, and we know that, and they know that we know it. Labour are typically fielding two, which is the white flag option. Even if they were all to get elected, which isn’t likely, they still wouldn’t have a majority.
The SNP seem to be fielding three candidates in the four member wards I’ve looked at. That at least gives them the possibility of forming a majority, but it’s far from ideal. It makes no sense not to run a full slate, and I’ve never seen anyone do it here, apart from independents and minor parties who lack either sufficient members or sufficient funds for the deposits. But if you are going to do it, you’d better be 100% sure that all your supporters know what order to rank them in, otherwise you’ll split your own vote, and it will cost you seats. Perhaps what one friend suggested was right, and they are trying to adapt their (spectacularly unsuccessful, as I predicted) Holyrood AMS strategy of SNP1&2. Just… be really careful. Remember, it doesn’t matter whether you put them first, as long as you put them ahead of their unionist opponents, but it very much does matter that you put them in the right order. Similarly there is a tactical advantage in putting your opponents, if they’re fielding more than one candidate, in reverse order.
Is There A Strategic Angle?
Always. In Scotland, in the interests of consistency with my previously stated strategic objectives, I’d like to see the unionist parties removed from the political scene. The basic strategy for that would be to put all pro-indy parties and candidates ahead of all unionists. But consider also the value, especially in these local government elections, of a greater plurality of pro-indy representation. If we are to wipe out the unionist parties we’ll have to replace them with something. These elections are a good opportunity to get some good local independents and maybe some minor parties elected. You can take the chance, and if they don’t make it your vote will end up with the SNP anyway. In some cases you might even get, say, a Green and an SNP member. They clearly should be doing a preference swap anyway, but you don’t have to wait for them to realise that. And it might increase the overall number of councils with a pro-indy majority.
Tactics vs. Principle
This is perhaps the No.2 question I’ve been asked. What if there’s a UKIP candidate standing? Should I put them last on principle (many people, including myself, consider them a fascist party after all), or is it more important to put the Tories last for tactical reasons? The answer is that in Scotland it’s highly unlikely to matter, but the elections aren’t only in Scotland. They are taking place in some parts of England and Wales too, and it might matter there. The thing is, it would only matter if it came down to a contest between a Kipper and a Tory. That would mean you’re down to your last two preferences and all your others have already been eliminated. I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen to you, but it just might (see local polling I suppose). Then it might matter, but only if the Tories are running a full slate. And there I’m afraid you’re on your own. Personally I think I’d put the Kipper last, but it’s ultimately a moral question, isn’t it? I can give you tactical and strategic advice, but moral issues are between you and your conscience. The third option, not making a choice, by leaving them both out, would be abdicating from that moral judgement. Of the three, I’d say that would be the least morally justifiable choice. But that’s just me.
Theresa May is in hiding, too scared to appear in public, refusing televised debates, public appearances or questions from the electorate, asking that we judge her on the Tories record instead. So let’s have a look at that.
May has been PM for nine months, and during that time she has consistently insisted she is a strong, safe pair of hands. The reality does not match up to May’s fantasy, however, as during her time as PM we have seen absolute chaos.
Under May we have seen zero hour contracts rise by one fifth, putting nearly 900,000 people in positions of insecure working hours, but struggle, because they are in employment, to qualify for any help from the state. This has pushed almost a third of the UK population below the poverty line.
Obviously people not having money in their pocket has knock on effects to our economy. We aren’t spending, because we’ve nothing to spend. Businesses are collapsing, so more people are going into insecure work, and round and round we go. Add that to the instability in the markets in the US due to Trump, and Sterling tanking due to Brexit, and we’ve all the ingredients for a global financial crash before Christmas. So go far, so stable, I guess?
The knock on effects, unfortunately, don’t just stop at destabilising our economy. We have seen a massive rise in foodbank usage, with Trussell Trust reporting a million people being forced to feed their families donated food this Christmas. Period poverty has soared in the UK, with girls being forced to skip school due to inadequate sanitary protection and women risking infection using tissue paper, socks and old rags because they can’t afford pads or tampons. Health visitors are also reporting parents struggling to afford nappies, leading to babies being changed less frequently and ending up with serious health complications through infected nappy rash.
Rather than helping desperately struggling families, Theresa May – who promised a society that works for all just a few months ago – has capped tax credits claims to just two children. This will save virtually no money, due to the administration – but will see families already struggling become even poorer. The cap not only means that a mother will be forced to fill in a form stating that her third or subsequent child was the result of non-consensual sex if she needs the extra £13- £20 per week, but also that she will have to name that child on the form, and prove she was raped. This move is not just heartless, it shows wilful disregard for advice from women’s charities and the low reporting and conviction of sex crimes.
The child cap doesn’t just attack rape victims though – it also places yet another barrier on parents trying to escape violent or abusive relationships. Someone with three or more children who are already claiming tax credits can continue to claim, but if their circumstances change, they must submit a new claim, and will only receive support for their first two children. That means that parents who already have more than two children are effectively trapped in their current relationship, unless they can afford to make up the shortfall. If you are in an abusive, controlling relationship with more than two children, you now have to be able to find very well paying work before you can get your children out of a dangerous situation. If nothing else, trapping children in abusive households is a mental health time bomb.
The Tories like to see themselves as strong on the economy and good for business, so while our economy is crashing down around our ears, and they have tripled the national debt to £1920billion despite promising to wipe it out, the Tories have lowered corporation tax again, making us by far the lowest corporation tax in the G7. Having borrowed more than any government in the last 70 years, and reduced corporation tax to a trickle, there is now no money to spend. Still the Tories have decided we have £370million available to refurbish Buckingham Palace, £200million for Johnson’s garden bridge vanity project, and suggested that we spend tens of millions from our foreign aid budget on a Royal Yacht.
Jake Berry, the Tory MP who is leading the campaign for the yacht said
“But here in Britain – the fifth largest economy in the world – we feel it [a royal yacht] is something that we can’t afford. I feel that is a national disgrace.”
Personally, I think it is a national disgrace that, in the fifth largest economy in the world, we have an NHS that is so underfunded that doctors were forced to leave a two year old with suspected meningitis in A&E on two plastic chairs for 5 hours because there were no beds. I think it’s a national disgrace that paediatric surgeons have been forced to cancel babies heart operations because there are no paediatric intensive care beds available in the country. I think it’s a national disgrace that people are being discharged from hospital because there are no beds and dying in the hospital car park. I think it’s disgrace that people in severe mental health crisis are calling up hospitals for help with suicidal thoughts only to be told there are no beds, try again next week if you are still alive. I think it’s a national disgrace that over Christmas The Red Cross described the chaos in NHS as a “humanitarian crisis”.
But the Tories have never cared about the NHS, many of their parliamentary party have argued for an insurance style system in the UK. The Tories have always prided themselves on law and order though. After seven years of a Conservative Prime Minister we should have a strong, well functioning justice system.
Instead we have a prison system in absolute crisis, with overcrowded conditions and inexperienced staff, radicalisation and drug issues worse than they have ever been. We saw five major incidents in six months, culminating in Birmingham prison seeing the worst prison riot since Strangeways 25 years ago. The Tories will argue that this is due to factors they can’t control, but the fact is they have repeatedly ignored pleas from front line staff for mobile scrambling equipment to stop the use of drones bringing drugs, weapons and mobile phones into jails, they’ve sacked the majority of experienced officers to replace them with cheaper, inexperienced staff who don’t know how to deal with the problems, and cut funding for mental health programs and drug rehabilitation in prisons. Things are at such crisis point, prison officers are threatening industrial action, a catastrophic blow for the prison system.
The justice system has been further undermined by Liz Truss’ refusal to back the Article 50 judges when certain ‘news’papers branded them “Enemies of the People”. Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said;
“I can understand how the pressures were on in November, but she has taken a position that is constitutionally, absolutely wrong.”
It is was Truss’s duty, as lord chancellor, to defend the judges, he said.
One of the most senior judges in the UK agreed.
“The Lord Chancellor has a particular duty to speak up in those circumstances”, Lord Neuberger said.
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd has since butted heads with Truss again, saying she had misrepresented changes to the law surrounding victims of sexual violence giving evidence in court. Lord Thomas said her department had “misunderstood the thing completely”, forcing him to write to all judges to correct the mistake.
“It was a complete failure to understand the impracticalities of any of this. And that is very troubling,” he told an inquiry by a House of Lords committee.
Despite this breathtaking incompetence, Downing Street not only backed Truss, but insisted her misrepresentation of events was in fact correct, with their spokesman insisting the Prime Minister had full confidence in Ms Truss – and that he believed the legal profession had full confidence in her.
The Tories aren’t just failings on the economy, NHS, and law and order though. Schools have been hit with the biggest cuts in 20 years. 99% of schools have had their funding cut, by an average of £103,754 in primaries and £470,433 in secondaries.
Schools have been asked to find an extra £3billion in funding, and many are writing to already squeezed parents to beg for help – by fighting Tory cuts and by funding everyday necessities like pens and paper. One deputy head in a well off area, who wished to remain anonymous, told Ungagged exclusively that she hasn’t seen a crisis like this since Thatcher’s day.
“Its heartbreaking to see.” She said “there are children coming to school hungry, and I’m having to ask their parents for money. We don’t have adequate books, pens or paper, let alone computers or enrichment equipment. These children are being failed and there is nothing teachers can do about it.”
Helen Ingham, head of Ivydale primary in Nunhead, south London, told parents in a newsletter that the school faced a 14% cut in its budget by 2019-20.
“To put this in context, that is 30% of what we spend on teachers each year or 65% of what we spend on TAs.” She said, “Since staff costs make up 70% of our budget a reduction in funding of this magnitude leaves us with impossible choices which will inevitably impact on your children’s education.”
Despite protecting school budgets being in the Tories manifesto, the Tories firmly have their head in the sand, with their only “solution” to the crisis bring to propose new grammar schools, which of course disproportionately advantage wealthier children and draw scarce resources from where they are needed.
The Tories ask you to let their record speak for itself, and hope you’ll just focus on their shambolic brexit and ignore all the real problems in the country. I say I’ve looked at your record, Mrs May, and I’m appalled. The Tories have failed on health, social care, education, welfare, the economy, the justice system, and inequality. Everything that we can be proud of has been neglected, sold off or run into the ground. If May really wants us to judge her on her record, I can only assume she is unaware of it – or is hoping we are.
And so Theresa May has made yet another u-turn, calling a snap general election just 7 weeks from now, despite promising not to just 4 weeks ago.
There has been much speculation over the timing of her announcement, with many saying she has chosen this moment because she is ahead in the polls, and believes she could win. On the surface, this would seem like a reasonable explanation, however, a closer look quickly makes this narrative collapse.
Just hours after the announcement, the CPS told Channel 4 news that they are considering pressing charges against more than 30 individuals regarding election fraud. The allegations were passed on by the Electoral Commission, after they fined the Tories £70k, and, if proven, may result in criminal charges and even jail time.
Any investigation would have triggered a wave of by-elections which could have seen May’s already slim majority drastically reduced. The CPS has said a snap election will not halt their investigation, but May has today refused to say, when pushed by Denis Skinner MP during PMQs, whether MPs currently standing are implicated in the fraud scandal. So much for her assertion that the electorate have a right to know what they are voting for, her reasons for denying Scotland an Independence referendum just a few short weeks ago.
May has found it nigh on impossible to control the dissent from her back benches, facing constant back-biting for being unelected – even by her own party – despite criticising Brown for not calling a GE as soon as he took over leadership of the Labour party. As she loses control over her own party in regards to her hard Brexit, the income based child cap that sees rape victims forced to name and shame their children as being the result of non-consensual sex for a pittance (as low as £13 per week, depending on circumstances) and traps vulnerable parents and their children in abusive homes. Her own party forced her into u-turns on NI contributions, leaving a budget black hole she has yet to bridge. It seems increasingly likely May had to jump into a snap GE, or be pushed out of the leadership.
The Tories are doing their best to present a strong and confident face to the electorate, but less than 24 hours after the GE was announced, the wheels already came off the their campaign. Despite crowing about Labour being weak and the SNP being a single issue party, May has refused to debate the other party leaders on TV. If Corbyn is so weak and the SNP are so ineffectual, why wouldn’t a strong, confident PM want to debate them? It’d be the ideal opportunity for May to showcase her Debating skills, which will ultimately underpin what kind of deal a post-brexit UK will achieve. If May is too afraid to debate party leaders she has spent months disparaging as weak and incapable, what does that say about her leadership? Or her ability to debate with and persuade all 27 member states of the EU?
It says she knows she is weak on schools, housing, poverty, inequality. It shows she is not up to the task of doing the day job. During May’s time in office we have seen the income based child cap come into force, seen £30 per week taken from disabled peoples pockets, zero hours contracts rise by 1/5th, doctors cancelling babies heart operations because there are no recovery beds in the whole country, they’ve even started stealing people’s wheelchairs. May knows that all of these points, every single Tory failing, would be brought to light and scrutinised. She knows her only chance of forming a government is to keep the conversation firmly centred on brexit. She is hoping that by keeping the campaign as short as possible, all of her many, many failures will be kicked under the carpet.
May is clearly hoping that holding a general election at such short notice will allow her to avoid scrutiny. The Conservatives even said they won’t participate in the televised debates because “The choice at this election is already clear.” It’s clear to me the Tories think they are entitled to your vote. That they can mercilessly crush the poor and vulnerable as long as they keep brexit red, white and blue. They think that will be enough to get them a majority. Maybe they are right. But I don’t think the electorate are that stupid, or that apathetic.
Screeching “Brexit means Brexit” and having tantrums because the opposition are opposing you, and our legal and political safeguards are keeping you in check is just not good enough, Mrs May.
We deserve a government that will respect our laws and look after the vulnerable. That’s the day job. Trying to dangle Brexit like a shiny bauble to distract from the appalling human rights record of the Tories is not going to work.
We’ve never had a PM with such breathtaking arrogance. We’ve never had a PM show such open disregard for the poor, the sick, and the vulnerable. We have a chance to pull back from the brink. We can end the Mayhem now. Let’s make June the end of May.