Posts Tagged ‘Democracy’

Waiting for the people of Egypt to set up a secular democracy before the celebrations can begin

January 31, 2011

Many leftie friends and acquaintances are understandably excited about the revolutionary situation in Egypt. ‘Solidarity with the people of Egypt‘ is the Facebook status update de jour.

Of course, it is pleasing to see a peaceful, popular uprising against a dictator. But this must have been exactly how idealistic outsiders viewed events in Iran in 1978 and 1979.

If the ousting of Mubarak leads to the establishment of a Muslim Brotherhood government then there will be little to celebrate.

I suppose the supposed moderation of the Muslim Brotherhood may be proven true and Egypt could turn into something more akin to Turkey – a reasonably democratic state with an elected moderate Islamist party in power abiding by the constitution whilst the army remains a major political player.

But even a moderately Islamist Egypt would be an unwelcome development, considering Egypt’s border with Israel and Gaza.

For many years Egypt has been bribed by the US into accepting Israel’s right to exist. If that key foreign policy assumption changes then things could get even messier in the Middle East, which won’t be good for anybody.

Revolutionary situations tend to favour a military strongman (England 1648, France 1790s, Spain 1936) or ideological fanatics (Russia 1917, Iran 1979). It will be fascinating to see what happens next in Egypt.


Thoughts for Pride II – the struggle elsewhere

July 6, 2009
This is where we were

This is where we were

This time last year most of the Paintbrush Collective and various associates were visiting Budapest and enjoying a few days of baths, bikes, and Communist statues.

Everything was going well. The sun was shining; the beer was cheap; the Unicum was disgusting; and the comradeship was of the greatest quality.

I remember we were sitting in a cafe close to Heroes’ Square in central Budapest having a well-deserved rest after an arduous morning doing something or another when we noticed that the police were erecting metal fences in the street around us. In-fact access to the main thoroughfare of Andrassy Avenue was blocked off by multiple rows of these barriers.

Taking the hint that something might be going on, one of the more enterprising members of our group asked a nearby police officer what was happening. She was told that Budapest’s gay pride march was taking place and it was supposed to be ending at Heroes’ Square shortly.

My own experience of gay pride activities had been minimal but I associated them with carnival-like atmospheres, people wearing outlandish costumes and generally having fun. Sticking around to watch the parade therefore seemed like a good idea.


Analysis of the voting figures in Iran’s 2009 Presidential election

June 21, 2009

Chatham House and St Andrews’ Institute of Iranian Studies have published a preliminary analysis of the numbers.

The Iran boffins have been comparing figures from the recent elections with results in 2005 and with statistics from Iran’s 2006 census. Here is a summary of their number-crunching:

  • In two conservative provinces a turnout of more than 100% was recorded.
  • Previously stark variations in regional participation have almost disappeared.
  • In a third of all provinces the official results would require that Ahmadinejad took not only all conservative voters, and all former centrist voters, and all new voters, but also up to 44% of former reformist voters.
  • In 2005, as in 2001 and 1997, conservative candidates and Ahmadinejad in particular were unpopular in rural areas. It is a myth that Iranian rural voters are staunchly conservative and pro-Ahmadinejad. His enormously high support in rural provinces this year defies past results.

It all looks extremely suspect.

Down with the dictator!

Events in Iran…

June 15, 2009

…are getting heated. Let us hope things get resolved with minimal violence and that the end result is conducive to more democracy and freedom for the people of Iran. If you want an alternative to the mainstream media go have a look at Andrew Sullivan’s blog. He’s getting some amazing updates from people online in Iran.

The things I do for democracy

May 23, 2009

Today, I took a bold step in the name of democracy: I surrendered my vote.

How so?

I burned it.


First, some background.

I am registered to vote at two different addresses, in two different regions.

I should point out to non-election law geeks (apart from the fact that you’ve taken a serious wrong turn somewhere in the web-o-blag) that this is entirely legal.

In fact, it’s even legal to vote twice in some sets of elections, but only if you don’t vote twice for the same democratic body. Hence, whilst if you’re registered in both West Bumfluffshire District Council and Pimple-with-Acne District Councils, you can vote in the council elections of each – even if the elections are held at the same time, on the same day.

You couldn’t so so for a general election – because both votes are for representatives to the same Parliament – nor could you in a council election if both of your addresses were in West Bumfluffshire.

Usually, the question doesn’t arise, because my registered addresses are so far apart – my main residence is now in Saaaarf London, and my other registered address (that of my parents, and a slight hang-over from when I was a student, and was resident at each of my addresses for roughly half of the year) was somewhere distant and provincial. I couldn’t physically vote in each, and I was only a registered postal voter in one.

This year, however, I forgot about my old postal vote (registered at the address of Momma and Poppa VoteRedGoGreen), and also registered for a postal in a South London Borough.

Interestingly, both arrived at my South London flat on the same day.

What’s a politically engaged comrade to do? In practice, although illegal, nobody would ever know if I filled in both ballot papers and sent them to two different Returning Officers. And two votes for Labour is always better than one vote for Labour, especially in these European Elections.

However, if you will permit me a short pompous and moral outburst, there are principles at stake here. Comrades past fought for each man and woman to be enfranchized equally. If I believe in that cause, it stands to reason that I shouldn’t play the system, even if the opportunity arises.

So I took one of the ballots – the non-London one, if you must know. I tore it into little pieces. Then I took it into the garden, and set the small bundle of democracy aflame. I even took a picture.

The flame of democracy lives still

The flame of democracy lives still

My flatmate and fellow paintbrush comrade Durbinite (the blogging comrade formerly known as ElectionsProduceErections, who appears to be cleaning up his act somewhat) chastized me for “dicking about” and “making a mess in the garden”.

He was right, of course, and I still need to clean it up. But it’s a mess in the name of principle and democracy, and as such is a beautiful thing.

Oliver Cromwell’s guide to purging Parliament

May 18, 2009

This is a guest post by Oliver Cromwell

Your's truly.

Things are very different these days compared to when I was around. Obviously it would be impossible in modern Britain for a religious fanatic like me to take charge and start invading other countries. But when I hear talk of Parliament proving troublesome it immediately takes me back to the heady days of the mid seventeenth century. Want advice on how to deal with irritating, uninspiring, obstructionist MPs? I’m your man!

1. Get some heavily armed men to scare the MPs into behaving themselves.

Back in 1648 it was really obvious that King Charles was a deluded moron. Despite being beaten fair and square in numerous battles he kept banging on about his divine right to rule and refused to negotiate seriously with his Parliamentarian captors, i.e. me and my mates in the army. Yet the goodfornothing members of the Long Parliament still carried on as if the sun was shining out of his regal backside. What to do? 

Prides Purge - You can only come in if you promise to vote the right way

Pride's Purge - You can only come in if you promise to vote the 'right' way

Well, we army lads got organised, sent Colonel Pride along to Westminster with his regiment of mean, lean, purging machines, and made it clear that MPs who intended to support continued negotiations with KC were no longer welcome in the Commons. Conveniently enough the Commons then voted to put Charles on trial for treason. Result!

Then, as if by magic, I turned up in London the next day to make it clear that before Charles was to be found very guilty and to have his head very much removed from his neck it was important that he should receive a fair trial and all that jazz. So not only did I force Parliament to see sense with the help of a bit of musket and pike-wielding persuasion, I also managed to keep a safe distance from the immediate events so that nobody could accuse me of carrying out a coup. To this day historians can’t be sure of how much influence I had over the preparations for the purge. Genius or wot?!


Grateful for UKIP

May 15, 2009

Never thought I’d write that.

But given a choice between UKIP and the BNP, Farage and Griffin, EU-bashing and immigrant/homosexual/leftie/etc-bashing, I’d have to go for UKIP. And I suspect that a not inconsiderable number of voters will be choosing between the two when they’re in the polling booths in June.

None of the mainstream parties have been able to escape the ongoing expenses scandal. Our MPs are currently associated in the public mind with taxpayer-funded massage chairs, moat clearing, and swimming pool maintenance. Against the backdrop of rising unemployment, repossessions, and social inequality, as well as regular reports of British troops dying in foreign fields, disenchantment with the political status quo seems inevitable.

‘A plague on all your houses’-thinking might therefore be expected to aid the party most identifiable as the political outsider: the BNP. However, although the BNPers do appear to be especially energised and optimistic about their prospects in the upcoming European elections, the polls suggest that it is the UK Independence Party that is profiting most from the situation.

A plonker, but at least hes not a Holocaust-denier

A plonker, but at least he's not a Holocaust-denier

Obviously it is deeply depressing to see Labour apparently on the same level of support as the Lib Dems and UKIP. Yet for as much I vehemently disagree with the UKIP programme, and think it is ironic that they are doing well out of an expenses scandal considering their own experiences in this area, I’d still prefer them to be the protest vote beneficiaries of this situation rather than the BNP.

When I attended Labour conference in 2004 as a delegate I remember a trade unionist making a speech in which he claimed that “UKIP are the BNP except they’re wearing suits”. Even back then this statement was completely misguided. For one thing the BNP have been wearing suits for a good few years now and they can no longer be easily characterised as neo-Nazi skinhead thugs. It was also ridiculous to equate UKIP’s eccentric hatred of Europe and its staunchly right-wing policy positions with the fascist history of the BNP and its fundamentally racist constitution.

Perhaps we can rest assured that all the anti-politics anger will be channelled into UKIP. John Rentoul certainly thinks so and argues that Labour is deliberately playing up the BNP’s prospects as a desparate means of motivating its supporters to turn up at the polls. But Rentoul appears to have overestimated the difficulties involved in getting a BNP MEP elected. They only need to get around 7.5% of the vote in the North West to have a good chance of winning an MEP (this is where Griffin is standing). In 2004 the BNP got 6.4% in that region.

I would additionally like to learn more about how accurately polling companies measure BNP support. Rentoul confidentially announces that the vast majority of Brits would not consider voting for such an avowedly racist and unpleasant outfit as the BNP. Although I agree that most people see the BNP for what they are, is there not a danger that some people aren’t admitting their BNP voting intentions when being surveyed because of the social stigma attached to the party? Remember that only a few thousand extra BNP votes on a low turnout will see them win their first MEP, so the margins of errors in these opinion polls could make all the difference.

I thus find myself in the perverse position of hoping that UKIP’s strong showing in the polls accurately reflects the public mood. Labour’s kicking in June is probably unavoidable, but crumbs of comfort will be drawn if the BNP fail to capitalise on voters’ anger.

Obligatory MPs’ expenses post

April 28, 2009

There’s no doubt that this is a blow to the government. Coming when it does, it just adds to the unfortunate smell of death that is, unfortunately, pervading everything we seem to do at the moment.

To be honest, I thought the plans were a bit of a hash – they didn’t really address either the public’s anger, or the very real issues in MPs’ expenses.

As far as I can see, most of the 573 MPs whose constituencies are outside of London need to maintain two homes: if they didn’t, they’d either spend so much on London hotels or daily commuting that we wouldn’t save very much, or they’d spend so little time in their constituencies that we’d complain (rightly) that they were doing half of their job very, very poorly.

The problem, though, is in giving them an allowance (which, let’s face it, most are going to max out – wouldn’t you? I certainly would) to spend on purchasing a second property, and then allowing them to keep the property at the end.

It’s easy to see why this isn’t satisfactory: if Alan McBankbench became MP for Nowhereshire South East in 1992, and promptly purchased a 2-bed flat in Vauxhall, he would be sitting on a rather nice asset now. The public put up the capital, but the MP would be able to reap the capital gain from selling the property or borrowing against its value.

Some of the proposals that have been advanced would prevent MPs from using an allowance to purchase a property – instead, it’d only be available for hotel accommodation, or rental properties. But this isn’t actually that helpful – all this would mean is that rentiers or hotel proprietors would be the unearning beneficiaries of the public money, rather than the MPs. Even if most people would rather see money given to paedophiles than politicans at the moment, a cool, rational look says that this is little better than what we have at the moment.

Parliament House, Brisbane, QLD, with the Annexe (housing MPs accommodation) towering over it

Parliament House, Brisbane, QLD, with the Annexe (housing MPs' accommodation) towering over it

Last summer, I visited the State Parliaments of both Queensland and New South Wales, and they’ve got a rather nifty way of dealing with this problem. MPs are provided with accommodation on-side at Parliament House in both Brisbane and Sydney.

While it may not be practical to find or build a “hall of residence” for MPs, why don’t the House Authorities just start using the money that’s currently distributed in second home expenses to purchase individual flats and houses near Westminster themselves?

MPs could then enter a ballot, and select their property in the order in which they come – and, of course, allow them to swap (if, for example, an MP with a family wishes to swap a bedsit with a single MP who’s found themselves with a larger property).

This seems a lot fairer, and it means that the taxpayer would actually hold the assets accumulated using the expenses – a far better system, in my view.

You can’t opt out of equality

March 19, 2009

Michael Crick suggests that there’s a right brouhaha on the horizon in Airdrie and Shotts, the Scottish constituency of John Reid.

John is standing down at the next election, and a new candidate needs to be found. However, CLP Chair Brian Brady is warning of a “Scottish Blaenau Gwent” in the seat – a pretty safe one for Labour, with a majority of over 14,000 – if an all-women shortlist is imposed.

The reference to the identical case of Blaenau Gwent really turns the knife – the South Wales seat once represented by Nye Bevan and Michael Foot is still very much an open wound, for people on both sides of the row.

Yet for all of the bluster about “local party choice”, I cannot sympathize with Brother Brady. Our Party has decided that there should be more women MPs and candidates; that postive action needs to be taken to encourage this to happen; and that all-women shortlists are the way to achieve this.

This decision was reached democractically. In the case of Blaenau Gwent, I know because I was there – the Welsh Labour Party conference in 2002 voted more than 2 to 1 to have all-women shortlists, when I was a young and impressionable first-time delegate.

I was impressed by the arguments then – having been agnostic on the issue before – and I haven’t changed my mind since. However, once the party’s collective will has been expressed, what this is about is the ability to show solidarity with fellow members and adhere to collective decisions.

I’m sure Comrade Brady wouldn’t mind if there were any number of all-women shortlists in unwinnable seats in the South East – but what would be the point in that? The point in having them is to increase women’s representation in the House of Commons; to this end, it matters whether there is a woman candidate in Airdrie and Shotts or Blaenau Gwent in a way that it doesn’t in Surrey Heath or Witney.

This requirement to balance representation in the House, and not merely across all seats, requires central direction – particularly because, dare I say it, many CLPs in Labour’s heartland areas are far more traditional in their attitudes to candidate selection than are other seats.

As for Mr Brady’s bizzare conspiracy theory that there is some connection to Harriet Harman – I mean, come on! I’ll admit to not being the biggest fan of our deputy leader, but this stereotype of Harriet Harman as the great devil of aggressive gender equality is both wrong and uncomradely.

For all this, I hope that Airdrie and Shotts find a candidate they are genuinely happy with. However, they shouldn’t rule out candidates before the selections have even begun, and they should embrace our drive for greater equality in Parliament.

Steve Richards on a hung parliament

March 17, 2009

I think that we need to end the old Punch and Judy civil war of Roundheads and Cavaliers

"I think that we need to end the old Punch and Judy civil war of Roundheads and Cavaliers"

A good article in the Independent (I can’t remember the last time I said or wrote that phrase) by Steve Richards on the prospects for the Tories if there should be a hung parliament.

Steve’s point seems to hinge on three premises:

  • Despite the polls, Labour are likely to have more seats than the Tories after the election.
  • Lib Dem MPs are keener for a coalition with Labour than with the Tories.
  • The Lib Dem membership, which (apparently) needs to be consulted before a coalition as part of their “triple lock” system of approval from leadership, parliamentary party and membership, won’t go with the Tories.

It’s an interesting analysis, but flawed. (more…)