» elections ¦ What You Can Get Away With

Do we want fewer councillors, or should we make better use of those we have? – Andrew Coulson of the Institute for Local Government Studies asks a few questions about just what local government in the UK is for.
Argonauts of the incredibly specific: anthropological field notes on the Liberal Democrat animal – Some interestingly accurate assessments of the party from a departing member.
UKIP: The victory of the ruling class – A typically incisive post from Chris Dillow, pointing out that UKIP are anything but anti-establishment. “The discontent that people might reasonably feel against bankers, capitalists and managerialists has been diverted into a hostility towards immigrants and the three main parties, and to the benefit of yet another party with a managerialist and pro-capitalist ideology.”
This Other England: The Inevitable UKIP Post – “A significant minority of voters who hate everything about this country except the past. It’s a depressing vision – but one that we now have to confront.”
How can we reform local elections? – A proposal from Unlock Democracy to allow councils to determine their own electoral system locally.

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If you’re a conference representative for the Liberal Democrats in the East of England, you should have received (or be about to receive) the voting pack for members of regional committees. I’m a candidate for Regional Policy Committee, and as we only have a limited space in the manifesto booklet to talk about what we want to achieve on the committee, I wanted to expand on my ideas.

Read the rest of this entry

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Petition watch

A couple of petitions to the Government that people who read this might be interested in signing:

Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Nov 15th elections : My vote was a “No” vote – I plugged this a lot during the week on social media, and it’s a very good way of making clear that people object to the concept of police commissioners, and the low turnout last week wasn’t just apathy.
Add legally binding ‘Reopen nominations (RON)’ & ‘Leave position vacant’ options to all ballot papers – It would be an interesting addition to voting, and give people who don’t like any of the candidates an option to choose beyond spoiling or abstaining. Personally, I’d go for None Of The Above, rather than Re-Open Nominations. From personal experience running elections at Essex SU, many people didn’t understand ‘re=open nominations’, but ‘none of the above’ makes a lot more sense to people.

And an old petition that you can still sign and I think deserves support: put Alan Turing on the £10 note.

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Despite the fact I think that we shouldn’t be having Police and Crime Commissioners, I’m finding it hard to ignore the announcement of results that’s going on today. The electoral geek in me has come out, especially as the news I’m hearing from the Essex count is very interesting – the Conservative candidate has a lead after the first round, but the independent Mick Thwaites might be able to close that gap with second preferences. Results from across the districts show that the other independent candidate, Linda Belgrove, has also done well.

The problem, though, is that this information is coming from what people who are at the count are tweeting. Officially, none of this is available to the wider world until the result is announced, and even then the announcement will just be the basic result for the whole county, not the breakdown by district. (As happens with European elections, the district-level results may be released later)

This is the way all our elections get counted, with all the votes cast for a post announced together, and from what I understand it’s another way in which Britain stands alone. In other countries, votes are counted by where they’re cast, these results are announced and then aggregated together to give an overall result. This is what we saw in the US election a fortnight ago, with results being declared by precinct (roughly equivalent to a British polling district), and most of those announcements being made online on an official election site. This is why US media have the ability to call states before counts are completed – from seeing the results as they come in, they can project the result for the rest of the state.

Over here, though, that information isn’t announced, and we all must wait until the full result is announced. Surely it’s not beyond the ability of returning officers to arrange counting and announcement by polling district, and for the Electoral Commission to create a site or sites for these results to be announced on? (Indeed, researchers and academics would probably find a single database of all local election results very useful, rather than having to scrape them from individual council sites)

Declaring results by district would give everyone a lot more information – not just who won where, but how turnout varies across an election – and would likely make election counts and declarations more interesting. What would we need to do to make it happen?

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Quite a few from the US this time, but it’s been a busy week there.

Doing politics in plain sight – Written from a Labour perspective, but I think relevant to everyone. “We all talk about wanting politicians with some experience of life outside Westminster. That shouldn’t be simply the first act of your life before giving oneself over to politics completely. All politicians should have the option of having a normal life outside of politics, and we need to look at how we change the way we do business to make that happen. If we don’t we will only be represented by – and representative of – the obsessed. Making politics a more attracticve option will also help to reduce the barrier between those who involved and those they represent. At the moment, few people can see why anyone would want to put themselves through it, other than for financial gain.”
When quants tell stories – A look at how the Obama campaign got its message out, and how much it tailored the different messages different groups received.
Why Americans actually voted for a Democratic House – Another triumph for First Past The Post in the US. Democrats get more votes; Republicans keep control of the House of Representatives by a large majority. (via)
Inside Team Romney’s whale of an IT meltdown – Another look behind the scenes of the US election, this time on how Romney’s much vaunted wonderful IT system for getting out the vote failed.
Attention henchmen! Voting machines and other flawed conspiracies – From before the election, but an interesting look at the problems of voting machines by David Brin

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There’s been much joking recently about how part of the wake of the presidential election would be a wave of ‘why the US election means we must support my politics’ columns and blog posts. Lo and behold, you can probably find one on most comment sites in the country, but I wasn’t expecting David Cameron to jump on the bandwagon.

He made clear that the Tory right, which is putting pressure on him to campaign on more traditional Conservative themes, should take note of Obama’s success. “I believe that elections are won in the common ground – the centre ground,” Cameron said. “That is where you need to be, arguing about the things that matter to most people – that is making sure they can find a good job, they can build a good life for themselves, that if people work hard and try to get on you are behind them and helping them. That is the message loud and clear from this election as it is from all elections. You win elections in the mainstream.”

The hard right in the US and the UK share a common theme. Namely, that all electoral failure by right-wing candidates has one common cause – not being right-wing enough – and therefore, one common solution – being more right-wing. (The basic principle seems to have been taken from the hard left sometime in the 1980s) Although it manifests itself differently because of the differing media cultures in the two countries – there’s no Fox News or conservative talk radio in the UK, no Telegraph, Mail or Conservative Home in the US – the principle is the same: a right-wing echo chamber proclaiming that success comes only through ideological purity.

The problem is that the promise is false. In the US, right wing talk radio (as exemplified by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and the like) began its rise from around 1989-90 after the Fairness Doctrine was revoked by the FCC. Since then, the Republicans have won the national popular vote in just one presidential election – 2004. In comparison, the advent of the British right began after the fall of Margaret Thatcher in 1990. Since then, Tory leaders have been regularly informed that the path to success lies in going further and farther to the right than Thatcher ever did, and they’ve had a similar sort of electoral success – one majority election victory in 1992, and one plurality of seats and votes in 2010. After William ‘save the Pound’ Hague and Michael ‘are you thinking what we’re thinking?’ Howard, the Tories only got some measure of success when Cameron started shifting them towards the centre.

One interesting dilemma that this does pose is that the call of the hard right can deliver some electoral success, though not in major elections. In the US, they have often delivered electoral successes in the midterms (1994 and 2010 are probably the best elections) and over here, UKIP have been successful in European elections. However, the link there is that these are low-turnout elections, and while the right may be good at getting their people out to vote for these, any effect they have is swamped when moderate voters come out to vote in the major elections.

That’s why, just this once, I agree with David Cameron. Salvation for the Tories doesn’t lie in them flying headlong to the siren call of the Tea Party. Their influence comes from the fact that they’re more organised and better funded than the moderates, not from their electoral sway.

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