I’m sure we’re all aware that the older you are, the more likely you are to vote, with the effect that politicians often ignore the needs of the young in favour of the old. After all, you’re always going to be more interested in the views of the people who can put you in power rather than the ones who won’t.

This gives us an odd situation where not only are one group’s views and interests favoured over others, that group is the one who’ll experience the least of any consequences from the decisions made by government. Your average first time voter will be around for 50 to 60 years after they’ve voted, living with the consequences of what’s been decided, while an older voter is only going to be around for a fraction of that time. Partly because of their own decision not to vote, those who’ll be affected the most by the decision in an election are likely to have the least influence on it.

What this also means is that governments and voters end up giving much more consideration to the short-term than the long term. Voters who are still going to be around in 30 or 40 years time and dealing with the long-term consequences of decisions made today count just the same as those who won’t be, and the different participation rates effectively make their views worth less in the process than older voters. There are potentially huge social, economic and especially environmental changes happening in that period, but they don’t feature in election campaigns. How many times did politicians talk about things after 2020 in the recent campaign, let alone the 2040s and beyond?

So here’s a thought experiment to try out – what if younger people’s votes counted for more in elections? Not just in terms of getting them to participate at the same rate or higher than older voters, but actually giving them more votes, with your number of votes tapering off as you get older? Everyone would still get a vote, but the power of it would drop as you get older and your stake in the future that’s being decided gets less. Say 18-25 year olds get five votes, 26-40 year olds get four, 40-50 year olds get three, from 50 to 65 you have two votes and finally just one vote if you’re over 65.

How would that effect elections and the way government worked? Would the prospect of a greater say mean the younger you were, the more likely you were to turn out? Would governments have to look more to the long term to get those votes, or would it just reverse the direction of short term pandering with the young getting a lot of freebies in the expectation that those too young to vote (or not even born) would foot the bill?

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dictatorshandbookThe police have finally come for several FIFA officials, and yet the organisation seems set to re-elect Sepp Blatter for a fifth term as President. It appears to go against all our expectations of how the system should work – democratic processes should remove corrupt leaders – but it fits in with our wider experience of how the world works, where autocratic rulers and their regimes do tend to stay in power much longer than their democratic counterparts.

So, why do corrupt, authoritarian and undemocratic regimes tend to survive longer than those that aren’t? That’s where the selectorate theory comes in. This is a theory devised by international relations scholar Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and others that seeks to explain this process, as well as some other features of the international system. I’m going to try and explain it briefly here, but for the full theory you should read either The Dictator’s Handbook or The Logic of Political Survival which give a much fuller explanation. (The Logic of Political Survival is the original academic text, The Dictator’s Handbook is written for a mass audience)

The theory looks at how leaders stay in power, and the key to staying in power in any system is keeping the support of a winning coalition within the selectorate that determines who gets to hold power. In a democracy, the selectorate is usually quite large – everyone who votes – and consequently the winning coalition needed to stay in power is also usually quite large. Within an autocratic or authoritarian system, however, the number of people who determine who gets to be in power is usually quite small and thus the winning coalition is also quite small, especially compared to the overall population. If all a leader has to do to stay in power is keep the support of that winning coalition, it’s a lot easier for the leader to do so if the winning majority is small.

There are too many reasons for this. First is the leader’s positive power to effectively pay off the winning coalition with state resources, diverting what should be public goods into private goods. This is also possible in democracies, but the size of the winning coalition means that any payoffs to its members are relatively small on an individual level. When you merely have to ensure the loyalty of a few thousand people (or a couple of dozen, in the case of FIFA) it’s a lot easier to achieve, which is one reason corruption is a lot higher in autocratic regimes – it’s how the leaders maintain their power.

The second reason is slightly more complex and relates to the size of the winning coalition compared to the selectorate and the population. This is an important ratio because it helps to bind the winning majority into supporting the current system and not wanting to see it overthrown. If the winning coalition is only a small chunk of the selectorate, then it will not want to see the system overthrown, because when a new leader emerges, they could well be relying on the support of a different chunk of the selectorate and those in the current winning coalition will be out of power and not receiving any of the benefits they get from that. We can see that with FIFA – the winning coalition needed is a very small number of people to maintain control of the Executive Committee. If Blatter was to fall and be replaced in an open process, there are enough people out there with some power in football that the chances of an individual still holding their position within the winning coalition afterwards would be quite small, so they remain committed to supporting the present regime.

That’s why, once they’re established (they’re actually more likely to collapse in the first year than democratic regimes), autocratic regimes tend to stay in power because it’s in the interests of all those in power not to rock the boat. The winning coalition wants to remain as small as possible to ensure it gets the best share of the spoils, and it’s in the leader’s interest to keep it as small as possible compared to the selectorate to ensure that the risk of losing their place at the table is too great to risk overthrowing them – apres moi, la deluge, is the autocrat’s warning to his supporters. That’s why corruption appears to be rife in many international sporting organisations as they tend to be run by restricted oligarchies who are all fearful of rocking the boat because there are too many out there willing to take their position and leave them with nothing.

Autocrats survive because of the way they corrupt the system, not despite it, and it’s the lure of the benefit of that corruption (and fear of the consequences of losing it) that keeps their winning coalition onside.

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Lib-Dem-logoTim Farron’s given an interview to the Independent outlining more of his vision for the Liberal Democrats if he’s elected leader, the gist of which is in this quote:

“You need to motivate people. People vote for a political party because of what is in their wallet or issues that they weigh up in their head. But you join a political party because something gets you in your gut and it’s time we went out there and got people in their gut.”

It tied in with a thought I had reading this post by Alex Marsh earlier. The problem we’ve had – and it’s exemplified by the General Election manifesto – is that we’ve made liberalism look like a list of policy demands rather than an idea. That’s why the Economist can make the bizarre claim that the Tories have “swallowed much of the (Liberal Democrats’) ideology” when they’ve merely dropped their objection ot a few liberal social policies like same sex marriage, while remaining fundamentally illiberal and authoritarian.

When we identify liberalism as nothing more than a set of policies (whether those policies come from centrism or anywhere else) we make it easier for others to adopt a figleaf of liberalism by borrowing those policies while ignoring the ideas that drive them. David Boyle makes the point here that we’ve often chosen “an ecstacy of positioning rather than saying anything clearly at all”. If we let people think that liberalism means “whatever is in the centre ground at the moment” then we shouldn’t be surprised when people claim there’s little need for a liberal party when everyone else is fighting over the political centre. Indeed, we shouldn’t be surprised about our election performance when we define ourselves solely in terms of what other parties are and what we’re not.

That’s why what Tim Farron is proposing for the party is important, and why I’m supporting him for leader. We can’t just be a party that talks about individual policies, we have to be one that links those policies to a liberal vision and liberal values and that’s something Tim does brilliantly. A party that exists solely as a Parliamentary think tank that puts forward a few policies that may or may not be adopted be other parties isn’t one that’s going to have a long existence in the current climate. We might have survived like that when politics was less fragmented, but now there are plenty of other parties for people to choose from, and we have to be the party at the head of a liberal movement.

This will be a new direction for the party, because it’s not just in the last five years that we’ve often retreated to the comfort zone of talking about policy rather than pushing liberal values. If we’re going to recover and grow, we need to show that we’re not just promoting certain policies because they’re good ideas but because they’re linked to our liberal vision and ideology and so if they support one of our policies they’ll like the rest as well. If we don’t make the case for liberalism, no one else will, but they’ll happily brand some form of pseudo-liberalism as the the real thing and claim that real liberalism isn’t needed any more.

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Writing in the Guardian to argue for giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote in an EU referendum, Angus Robertson, the SNP’s leader in Westminster, also argues for what he calls a ‘double majority’ rule to apply to the result:

We will also seek to amend the legislation to ensure that no constituent part of the UK can be taken out of the EU against its will. We will propose a “double majority” rule, meaning that unless England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each vote to leave the EU, as well as the UK as a whole, Britain would remain a member state.

There’s a strong political and practical argument for a rule like this, as a close referendum is likely to bring up an interesting georgraphic array of results with some strongly in favour of staying while others are equally eager to leave.

However, setting all those arguments aside, one concern I would have about such a rule is the strategic effect it could have on voting. Assume that such a rule was passed as part of the referendum and that in the run-up to the vote, opinion polls were showing that Scotland was highly likely to vote to stay in, and Wales and Northern Ireland were too. Now consider that from the position of an English voter who’s still undecided in the campaign. However they vote, Britain as a whole won’t leave the EU, so they can effectively discount and ignore any information they’re given in the campaign about the negative effects of it. That leaves people free to cast a purely expressive vote without having to consider the consequences of it, because the effective veto from the other nations means that whether England votes to stay or go is irrelevant as the decision has effectively been made.

English voters would effectively be handed a free vote and given the chance to express a pure protest vote – a chance to vote against all the things they don’t like about the EU without having to weigh any of the positives from our membership. The question wouldn’t be ‘do you want to stay or leave?’ it would be ‘given that we’re staying, do you like the EU?’ and that, I think, would boost the No vote. Because England has the bulk of the UK vote, a vote to leave there could very easily dwarf any majority for staying from the rest of the UK, meaning that the overall result of the referendum would be the UK as a whole saying it wanted to leave, but staying in because of the ‘double majority’ rule. That’s a recipe for nationalistic rows to erupt across the whole country, even if the majority for leaving has only arisen because English voters ended up in their odd position.

Of course, this is just one of dozens of issues that are going to be raised during the passage of any Referendum Bill through the Commons (and the Redwoods and Bones of the Tory Party have been waiting for years for this to happen, so expect all sorts of fun) but it’s the sort of unintended consequence we could find ourselves facing at the end of the process, even before we get to discuss any of the actual issues of Britain’s EU membership.

The Inside Story Of “The Crystal Maze”, The Most Epic Game Show Ever Made – Another of BuzzFeed’s looks behind the scenes at a classic TV show.
Pro-growth, anti-business – Being good for the economy and being good for business are not the same thing, argues Chris Dillow.
If David Miliband had won… – An interesting bit of counterfactual history to ponder on.
Marketing the Liberal Democrats should mean setting us free – Ewan Hoyle has some good points on how to approach the future of the party without messages being set down from on high.
If Michael Gove Listens To Daniel Hannan’s Honeyed Polemic On Human Rights He Really Will Get Into A Muddle – Barrister Blogger carefully dissects a pair of arguments to abolish the HRA, and shows they’re completely wrong.

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I’m not going to make predictions about my own party’s leadership election, but I’m happy to guess the result of another’s four month before the result: Labour’s new team announced in September will be Liz Kendall as leader with Tom Watson as her deputy. I don’t have any solid psephological or political scientific grounds on which to make this call, but it’s a hunch that seems to fit with the facts at hand. Burnham and Cooper are increasingly portrayed as being part of the Miliband era which is now being routinely denounced as an aberration against the Party with all the fervour of a show trial, Mary Creagh likely won’t get the nominations to stand, and Kendall is being pushed as fresh, new, different and various other words used to avoid discussing any actual politics. (The Watson prediction is easier – Labour voters tend to balance across leader and deputy, and he’s the most obvious contrast to her. If I’m wrong and Andy Burnham wins, then Caroline Flint or Stella Creasy would likely be his deputy.)

The question this bring up for me is a simple one: where has she come from? The first time I can recall hearing her mentioned was back in February when one comment about private health care apparently made her a leading contender for the party leadership but I honestly can’t say I’d heard her name before then, and I’m someone who pays attention to politics. It feels as though she’s a Michael Rimmer or Harold Saxon-type character, where her leadership credentials appear to consist mostly of the media telling us about her leadership credentials which are that other people in the media think she’s a credible candidate for leader.

It’s not even as if she’s offering anything that seems strikingly new to me, with her pitch being that the electorate is supposedly moving to the right (a claim at odds with the actual evidence) so Labour must apparently pursue the Tories out to the fringes because “winning is too important and we will do whatever it takes”. I don’t see anything in her vision for the Labour Party beyond it being merely about winning for the sake of winning, not because you might want to win power to do something with it.

So, I put this out as a question to any Labour members or supporters reading this: Is there something there that I’m missing? Has she been assiduously working behind the scenes to raise her profile amongst the party members and offering them a vision of the future? For those of you supporting her, why have you chosen her as your candidate and what do you think she gives that others don’t?

These are genuine questions – I’m genuinely trying to understand just why a candidate who seems to have been come from out of nowhere, prepared and presented entirely by the current political consensus is so appealing to Labour members, because it’s baffling me.

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farronforleaderIt feels odd to recall that the general election was just two weeks ago. It was a campaign where nothing seemed to happen, and then an election that pulled the rug out from under a lot of us and radically changed British politics. Two weeks ago, I was thinking that we’d be arguing over coalition wrangling right now, not a leadership election. Instead, we find ourselves with the party in the worst position its been in for at least four decades and the question we’re being asked is now a simple one of how do we survive this?

Leadership elections are often focused on issues of policy, tactics and organisation, because they can assume that the fundamental questions of party strategy and survival have been answered. The election has shown that we can’t assume that the Liberal Democrats will remain around just because we always have, but the result has shown that there is a greater need for liberalism in the UK, and if we don’t fight for it, then who will? Other parties may occasionally adopt the odd liberal policy, but that doesn’t make their cores any less authoritarian, and some may adopt liberal rhetoric to argue for illiberal ends, imagining that freedom can be reduced to nothing more than consumer choice but saying nothing about challenging unaccountable power.

The temptation at a time like this is to turn in on ourselves, contemplate our collective navel for the next year or two and then gingerly step back out onto the political stage with a suitably tweaked message and image. We could do that, and find that while we were away the Government has swept away the Human Rights Act, introduced mass surveillance of the entire population, slashed the welfare budget, put Britain on the path to an EU exit, privatised everything that’s not nailed down, and set in place the break up of the country. This is a time that liberalism needs to be bold and out there, defending rights, standing up for a fairer and more equal society and championing internationalism.

Whoever is the new leader of the Liberal Democrats, their main job for the next few years is to lead the fight for liberal values and build a liberal movement (not just a party) that can fight for those values. For me, the person who can do that better than anyone else in the party is Tim Farron. Watch his 2014 speech at party conference where he sets out the importance of liberal values in dealing with the issues we face now:

More than that, Tim understands that liberalism needs to be a proactive force, not just a reactive one. His call to build a new consensus is an important one and an understanding that politics shouldn’t just be about adapting to the current political situation and tacking from side to side within the current consensus, but seeking to redefine the tiny frame British politics is conducted within. If we’re serious about making liberalism relevant, the way forward isn’t to jump into the rapidly narrowing space between the other parties but to be proud and unashamed about making the case for truly liberal values.

Tim fits in with my vision of what liberalism should be and what it needs to be in the 21st century: an idea that stands up for people against unaccountable power in all its forms and an idea that challenges the assumptions of the political consensus, arguing for real change, and a better life for everyone. Liberalism should be out there challenging the status quo, insisting that there’s a better way, and building a wide movement to win that fight. As a party right now we need a leader who can campaign hard and push forward those liberal values.

Tim Farron is the right candidate at the right time for our party, and that’s why I’m supporting him to be the next leader of the Liberal Democrats.

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