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Party Election Broadcast

It probably hasn't escaped your attention that we're going through a general election campaign here — and it's the most fascinatingly unpredictable one in a third of a century. British election campaigns are fast and furious; rather than happening on a regular cycle, an election is called at some point within five years of the previous one — either at the discretion of the prime minister, or in event of the House of Commons voting a motion of No Confidence in the government. The campaign then runs from start to finish in less than ten weeks. It's a sprint, rather than the year-long marathon that is a US presidential election campaign, and in the case of the current campaign there's a lot of drama and day-by-day surprises.

I'm currently sticking my fingers in my ears (at least metaphorically) because I've already voted. I applied for a postal vote a couple of months before the election, knowing I'd probably be away when the election was called; consequently I'm locked in now, unable to change my mind. Here, in case you're interested, is a discussion of who I voted for, and why.

For the past twenty years or so I've been a consistent Liberal Democrat voter, only considering alternatives if there was some reason to vote tactically. (I currently have the luxury of voting my conscience; I live in a Labour/LibDem marginal, with the Conservatives so far behind that they're in danger of losing their deposit.) This is not a matter of tribal loyalty, however. I've met (and lobbied) my MP, Mark Lazarowicz. He's an intelligent, conscientious, hard-working constituency MP; I am not comfortable about voting against him, and if I was voting for the person rather than the party I might well have abstained or voted for him on the basis of his strong local interest. Alas, he's a Labour MP. And I really want to see Labour banished from power or reined in by a minority coalition partner.

The first election I was eligible to vote in was the 1983 general election, and I came of political age under Thatcher. The experience has left me with a permanent aversion to the Conservative party, whose centralizing instincts, polarizing disdain for opposition, instinct for class warfare, bigotry, xenophobia and homophobia were a stain on the politics of the 1980s and 1990s. I have no great aversion to the conservative political philosophy of Edmund Burke, but the praxis of his latter-day inheritors gave us a range of happy fun experiences including mass unemployment, Section 28 (of the 1988 Local Government Act), the Brixton riots, the Miners' strike, the Poll tax and subsequent tax rebellion, the Westminster bribes scandal, and ... well, I think I'm going to stop there and lie down for a while. Thatcher's ideology was a stalking horse for bigotry, intolerance, and xenophobia — and a clampdown on civil rights exemplified by initiatives such as the Criminal Justice Act (1994).

(David Cameron, to his credit, appears to be making a sincere attempt to modernize his party and distance himself from the outrages of the past — and his avowed commitment to civil liberties is very welcome indeed. However, you don't have to look far to find that the changes are very far from being a done deal; the otherwise-admirable near-total autonomy exercised by Conservative Party constituency organizations acts as a strong brake on centrally-guided attempts to reform the party.)

The Labour party ... I didn't vote for them in 1997 or subsequently, although I did rejoice in 1997 when Tony Blair replaced John Major in 10 Downing Street. It didn't take long for disillusionment to set in, and today I'm barely more likely to vote Labour than I am to vote Conservative. Labour under the Blair/Brown axis — and for all the press magnification of their differences, there's vanishingly little room between them — have proven to be dull authoritarian managerialists with a fetish for top-down micromanagement and a total lack of commitment to human rights and basic freedoms. The roots of New Labour are to Stalinism as the American Neoconservatives are to Trotskyism; they've managed to create an average of one new criminal offense per day of parliamentary time since 1997 (over 3500 according to some measures), and seem thoroughly committed to creating a surveillance society that would be the wet-dream of any secret policeman. Perhaps luckily, they're incompetent at managing large-scale IT programs (a vital core competency in modern government), and seem to be as deeply in thrall to large corporate interests as the Conservatives before them. They've also, in the past 15 years, committed a huge political sin by casting their original base adrift; once the party representing the working class, they're now just as much a centre-right managerialist party as the Conservatives. Which leaves their traditional base with a sense of aggrieved abandonment, and largely accounts for the alarming growth of the BNP on the margins of British politics.

I happen to believe that on economic matters, any British government, regardless of ideology, will face the same constraints: we're locked into a transnational free trade framework, not to mention a pan-European regulatory and legislative framework. Whoever wins this election will face the same budget deficit, the same currency/exchange rate issues, the same challenge of maintaining a private sector economy that has been excessively biased towards the financial sector since the mid-1980s, while maintaining core services (including healthcare and infrastructure).

However, the big political-philosophical question hanging over the 21st century is how we, as a society, are going to deal with having complete access to information about everything and everyone under our noses at all times. This is a social consequence of the technological changes now unfolding, but it has barely begun to impinge upon our politics at a national policy level. The problems of maintaining privacy and human autonomy while living in a panopticon are very real, and the risks of getting it wrong are enormous. While I am sure the Labour cabinet have only the best of intentions in mind in commissioning systems like the NDNAD, NIR and ContactPoint, such databases would be among the most potent tools of social oppression ever created if power passed into the hands of a malevolent administration. While both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives seem to be at least partially aware of the concerns for citizens' rights that sustain organizations such as No2ID, The Open Rights Group, and Liberty, the Labour Party is not so much hard of hearing as profoundly deaf.

Which brings me to the Liberal Democrats.

As it happens, I don't agree with all the items in the Liberal Democrats' manifesto. (In particular, I think their position on nuclear power — no new construction is dangerously wrong-headed. George Monbiot seems to agree. Indeed, nuclear power appears to be turning into a litmus test among environmentalists — one that runs between pragmatists, who're willing to consider it with appropriate safeguards, and doctrinaire ideologues, for whom it still bears cold-war cooties. But I digress ...) There are other issues I don't see eye-to-eye with party policy on. I am not, therefore, willing to actually commit myself to them and campaign on their behalf.

However, I think that overall they're probably less wrong than either the Conservatives or Labour. They appear to be more flexible and pragmatic, and much more deeply committed to civil liberties and decentralization and reform of political power than the other major parties. They're committed to abolishing the National Identity Register (which alone would be enough to capture my vote for an election), and more importantly, their party framework is based on a value system I understand.

In my more cynical moments, I suspect that I can only support them enthusiastically because they haven't had a chance to disappoint me yet. Doubtless, if a miracle were to happen and they were to form a majority government, they'd disillusion and disappoint me in short order: that's inevitable in politics (as Barack Obama's progressive supporters in the USA have discovered). But I know that either a conservative or a labour government will offend my precious socially libertarian sensibilities; there's an outside chance that a Liberal Democrat government wouldn't do so, or at least would do so less often and less severely.

And most importantly, a strong Liberal Democrat showing will prevent either Labour or Conservatives from forming a strong majority government and implementing an ideologically driven program without regard for public opinion. I'd like to see electoral reform. I'd like to see a rollback of the database state, and more respect for civil liberties. I'd like to see less centralization of state power. A Labour or Conservative government in which the Liberal Democrats are a coalition partner is likely to have to act on some of these issues in order to buy their support.

Anyway, that hopefully explains why I voted Liberal Democrat.

I'm not going to advise you to follow my example. You've doubtless got your own political priorities, and they're probably different from mine. Its okay to disagree; human beings aren't identical cut-outs, and it's perfectly possible for sensible, well-informed, intelligent people to reach radically different conclusions on the basis of the same information — especially on matters of politics, which tend to depend on deeply held personal values.

But if you're voting in this election, I would like you to read not only the main party manifestos, but also to look at the party's backgrounds and the philosophical values that inform them: and then to question your own values, and look a little deeper into the matter than simply asking whether you like Gordon Brown's face or David Cameron's wife. It's okay to vote against people you wouldn't mind sharing a bottle of wine with if you think their policies are short-sighted. The political is not personal on this scale, whatever the tabloid newspapers would like you to think.



I've got to say, I wish the United States had three serious choices, rather than two. Ideologically, I'm a free market libertarian, and thus find the progressive left (using American definitions of "progressive," which I realize would be "middle of the road" in the UK) and theocratic right equally alien and repulsive; pragmatically, I live in California, and would not even consider moving to one of the states that habitually votes Republican, because I would find them too culturally alien, between the dominance of religion and repressive sexual morality. But in terms of voting, I have to decide whether I feel more strongly that the Republicans have abused their power and deserve to be put down (as I did in 2008) or that the Democrats have abused their power and deserve to be put down (as I do this year).

I'm interested in your comment on the Trotskyite roots of American social conservatives. It's not a completely new idea to me, but it's one I've never quite been able to get a mental grip on. Do you feel able to comment on why it made sense to people who started out with a Trotskyite perspective to go down that particular ideological road? It doesn't seem to me that the same thing happened to Trotskyites in the UK; what was different between the two countries?


Do you feel able to comment on why it made sense to people who started out with a Trotskyite perspective to go down that particular ideological road? It doesn't seem to me that the same thing happened to Trotskyites in the UK; what was different between the two countries?

Well, for one thing the USA hasn't had a real party of the working class since the 1920s; the socialists were suppressed very thoroughly. In the UK, the Labour Party -- originally a spin-off of the trades union movement -- actually became one of the major parties of government, by a combination of circumstances that included the Liberal Party (predecessors of the Liberal Democrats) screwing the pooch royally in the nineteen-teens just as the labour movement gained real traction.

So there was a mainstream, relatively moderate umbrella for all left-leaning people; only the extreme fringes would stay outside of Labour.

During the 1980s, in the wake of Thatcher's defeat of the Wilson/Callaghan Labour group (who were very right-centrist by Labour standards; almost interchangable in retrospect with Edward Heath's conservatives) there was a struggle for the heart and soul of the party between, loosely, the Trotskyite radical fringe and the centralizing quasi-Stalinist centre. See also: Militant Tendency. The MT faction lost, big-time, and the centralizers (under Neil Kinnock) began a program of consolidating central control within Labour. The Trotskyite activists either left, or saw the writing on the wall and turned their coats (see also: Jack Straw).

Now, in the USA, with no actual socialist umbrella group, the baby trots (students in the 1960s) had nowhere to go. So they either quit, or resigned themselves to a lifetime as crankish outsiders ... or the more pragmatic ones went looking for career options, put on suits, publicly denounced their former ideology, and got careers in Republican think-tanks.

There's a not-dissimilar phenomenon on the fringes of British left-wing politics, outside of Labour: you might want to read up on Frank Furedi, the Revolutionary Communist Party, and their post-1989 reincarnation as conservative/libertarian think-tank denizens. There's nowt so bizarre as a Trotskyite wearing Armani and driving a Porsche, the better to undermine capitalism from within ...


When I lived in France (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth), I asked my French landlady how they picked from so many different parties when they voted. (Totally alien notion to an American kid--more than two parties.)

She shrugged in their delightful Gallic way, "Moi, je vote les yeux fermes."

Fortunately, we have only 2 real parties to choose from, and one espouses hate frequently enough that I can vote with both eyes open.

The idiot running for governor of Colorado (my home state) says he wants to outlaw brown people here too if he gets elected. Twit. Note to self: send another donation to Hickenlooper.


I plan to vote Lib Dem this time around. I grew up during the Thatcher and Major years and have a strong aversion to anything Tory to start with, and David Cameron is one of the smarmy superficial politicians that have grown to dominate British politics over the last 15 years. So it'd be a cold day in hell before I vote Tory, unless it was for a candidate who really outdid themselves.

But I can't bring myself to vote Labour either - I consider myself to be fairly old-school Labour, and the party has swung too far to the right for my liking, so that rules them out to.

Add to that the fact that the Lib Dems are the only mainstream party who realised that the Digital Economy Bill was a complete shambles, and objected to the way it was pushed through during the washup period, and have further stated explicitly that if elected they'll repeal it.

So for me the Lib Dems are the most palatable choice. Not many of the more fringe parties bother standing in South Norfolk so my choice is fairly limited (Labour, Lib Dem, Tory, Green, UKIP and BNP) and of those, two (UKIP and the BNP) are options I would never, ever consider. I heard the BNP are making a strong push in East Anglia since apparently it's one of the areas with the most Eastern European immigrants.


Reminds me of this which rather amused me:

No one party has all the right answers. In my mind there are 60 million political parties in the UK, you just vote for the party that is the least wrong.


Voting the same way, and for much the same reasons. I really can't understand the people who don't vote then complain about the outcome.

Mind you, if there was a Pirate Party candidate in my constituency I might be tempted, but since there isn't Lib Dems are probably the closest to my interests.


Lib Dem for me again this time, though I wish they had stayed pure Liberal and avoided ten years of ridicule. I seem to agree with everything you wrote. 1983 was my first vote and I also rejoiced when Tony Blair was elected. Then despaired as he won the Conservative voters' hearts. Despaired so much that for one election I took my chance to vote Monster Raving Loony Party. The only party (allegedly) to have been set up using funds from LSD dealing.

I can't help feeling that if Cameron gets in one of the Old Guard will put a bullet in the back of his head and Boris Johnson will be in as PM.

Getting rid of nuclear weapons is a necessity for me. Pointless waste of money and scientists. They could all go into nuclear power generation. The Lib Dems say they will have a review on the subject at least.

Why do we need nuclear weapons if we are not going to use them first?

If we are hit hard enough to destroy the majority of our population the only sane response is to not use nuclear retaliation. Enough damage will already have been done to the world.

If we are hit with one official nuke then we send the SAS/SBS and Gurkhas in to decapitate the Government of the offending country.

If we are hit by a terrorist nuke we make an announcement that we are trying to be fair and just in our treatment of others. Hopefully this will be true by then.


I'll also be voting Liberal Democrat. All parties are equally guilty of dirty campaigning and the occasional lie (well, more so the conservatives), but the Liberal Democrats simply have the most progressive and liberal policies. And for me, as a left leaning liberal, that means the best.

Introduce a freedom bill to stop the police state and give enshrined civil liberties back to the people.

Repealing the digital economy bill for great justice.

Reviewing drug classification on a scientific basis rather than the current, 40 year outdated "war on drugs" model.

Scrapping the complete waste of money that is Trident.

These are all simply put; amazing ideas that will bring liberty and justice back to Great Britain.

Also, how can you not vote for a party with someone called Vince Cable in it? He sounds like a motherfucking x-man or some shit.


Unfortunately, it also matters WHO THE INDIVIDUAL CANDIDATE is, whichever party they belong to.
Here (Walthamstow constituency) with the long-standing ang popular and non-party-line-toeing (Labour)MP standing down, it SHOULD have been an easy choice.

Oh dear.

The new Labour woman, who will probably win has told seveal almost-lies in her election literature, and shows herself much too close to the local corrupt and incompetent (labour-majority) council - whose seats are ALSO up for election on Thursday.
The Tories stand no chance, because of a neat gerrymander boundary redistribution a couple of years back.
The Lem-o-Crats SHOULD, therefore be an easy choice.
Unfortunately, they have picked someone who appears to be not only a local wide boy on the make (and all the parties make this mistake in London) but who cannot be trusted as far as you could throw him when it comes to women's issues, or freedom of expression, especially where religion is concerned.
That's right, the idiots have picke a male muslim, and as a card-carrying atheist, I'm never going to support a believer in Dark Ages camelherders' myths.
There are other candidates, but you can forget them.
Green I won't vote for, anyway, because we NEED nuclear power, and they still start ranting on about "Chernobyl" the moment you mention the N-word.


Resistance @8 - I forgot about drugs (bad memory for some reason). When the UNODC states in its 2009 World Drugs Report that we should "Stop jailing petty offenders" why do we continue to do so? pp166 and following.


Lib Dem too, unless tactical. The answers to the Guardian science quiz swung it for me.

Also, I think you have to consider the theocratic tendencies. The Conservatives are home to the scary Cornerstone Group, and Labour seem driven by theist infiltrators, badly thought out PC urges and the desire to harvest the Faith vote.

Then there's the lunatic fringes. What would a Lib Dem lunatic fringe look like?


William, I understand just how you feel (about whom should be put down).

When I visited America in the 1990s, a very kind American who understood Canadian politics as well explained to me the American political system.

"Here, we have only two parties," he said. "We have the Republican party, which is the equivalent of the Tory party."

He continued, "And we have the Democratic party, which is the equivalent of the Tory party."


This site
is interesting - for those of you without the time to read all the manifestos. You put in your principles and priorities and it matches them with the parties.

I too am a Thatcher's child with same aversions noted above @4. This means that I get to vote tactically in my marginal constituency (at least my vote may count).


I am glad that the current election is a national (UK level) one.

Trying to explain Scottish politics to outsiders is a wee bit difficult. We've got: Labour (see also: Westminster), Liberal Democrats (ditto), the Scottish National Party (a nationalist party that's left-wing and anti-racist unlike, say, the British National Party, which is the opposite), Conservatives (a minority party with around <10% of the vote), the Scottish Socialist Party (to the left of the SNP), and the Greens (who have no-shit got MSPs of their own in Parliament). That's three major parties and three minor-but-holding-parliamentary-seats parties. The horse trading is ... amusing.


I'm not sure that there were any of us, of a certain age, who didn't sometime in the 2000s look back and think, "You know, Richard Nixon wasn't so bad after all."

What really worries me is that I can now contemplate that Henry Kissinger was not actually the least deserving winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

(Ok, not entirely true. Perhaps it's senility, but I'm starting to think that realpolitik may be the key to "peace." Read one too many Kissinger books, perhaps?)


Charlie, your comments make sense to me and seem like you have made a reasoned choice.

Like many others here, I will burn in hell before I vote conservative (first election i voted in - 1979, student in the early '80s, civil servant in the late '80s, nuff said). I will be voting tactically for the sitting lib dem MP as I am in a conservative "target" here in surrey. I would also consider voting green, esp. at local level (local elections also in greater London this year) where they have a chance, can't mess with nuclear issues and i happen to know the candidates personnally. In the past, in scotland, I have voted SNP, would be interested to know why you didn't consider them for your westminster vote . . .


In the past, in scotland, I have voted SNP, would be interested to know why you didn't consider them for your westminster vote . . .

For starters: because they're in distant third place in this constituency, while the Lib Dem candidate needs to gain only 2000 votes to unseat the Labour incumbent.

For seconds: I am somewhat disenchanted with the SNP who, since they formed the government in Holyrood, have shown themselves to have been exactly as prone to nannying the electorate as Labour. (I particularly dislike and resent their anti-alcohol campaign, which seems to make no distinction between responsible drinkers in real ale pubs and tanked-up neds on bucky .... but that's just personal preference. I also note that they've fallen for the anti-porn campaigners, although there's precious little to choose between them and Labour on that point.) Civil libertarians they ain't, and as I think I made clear, civil liberties are a very urgent priority for me (because until you get out into the wilds of the SSP or the Greens, the major parties are all playing variations on a common economic theme).


11: the Lib Dem USP is that we're all fringe:-)


[I'm not sure that there were any of us, of a certain age, who didn't sometime in the 2000s look back and think, "You know, Richard Nixon wasn't so bad after all."

What really worries me is that I can now contemplate that Henry Kissinger was not actually the least deserving winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

(Ok, not entirely true. Perhaps it's senility, but I'm starting to think that realpolitik may be the key to "peace." Read one too many Kissinger books, perhaps?)]

Sure, a wonderful man for peace and sane balance of power. Provided we're willing to overlook things like backing the Pinochet in '73 for Chile, killing thousands on the first day and lots more in the subsequent decades, with one of the more repressive and economically disastrous dictatorships of the century. The realpolitik crew don't have hands any cleaner than W. Bush's lot, they just were a bit more removed from the damage they inflicted.


@ 11:
"What would a Lib Dem lunatic fringe look like?"

I just TOLD you - like the Lem-O-Crat candidate here ....


Thanks, Charlie @2, for the very detailed explanation. It still seems a little odd that American Trotskyites would have sold out to the Republicans rather than the Democrats, but strange bedfellows, eh? I'm reminded of Jeffrey Tucker's essay (at on political geeks and wonks (which is sort of comparable to right opportunists and left sectarians, if I have the Marxist terminology right): people who are fascinated by political process, and people who are fascinated by political ideas and goals. Now I myself am a geek in those terms, or in yours I'm among those who have "resigned themselves to a lifetime as crankish outsiders." There are worse things to be than a crankish outsider, and we have a lot of those worse things in American politics, as I trust you know.


I, for one, have never said to myself "You know, Richard Nixon wasn't so bad after all." The "Southern strategy"? Pat Buchanan as a White House strategist? An honest-to-goodness psychopath in the Oval Office? We're still living in Nixon's shadow, truth to tell.


I too have already voted by postal vote for the Lib Dems in a seat in which they are very close to beating the labour incumbent. Electoral reform is my main concern and I would vote Lib Dem even if I disagreed with a lot more of their platform than I do.

Watching the pendulum swing back and forth between nutty ideological extremes is very annoying and I would like to see that ended.


@20 He just sounds inappropriate, not extremist.


New Zealand went to a proportional system in 1996 and most days (it's not perfect) I am glad we did; even with a single party government, other viewpoints are being represented.


Where I live, the Conservatives could put the proverbial monkey on a stick and get it elected (I won't say who the last incumbent was...) so nothing I do will make the slightest bit of difference, though I will probably vote Lib Dem on the outside chance (one less Tory MP = a Very Good Thing). However I don't trust them. They say one thing where the incumbent is Labour, the opposite where they're Conservative. And their leader seems to be cosying up to the Tories rather.

Ideally I'd like a LD-Labour government with enough LD to inhibit the worst anti civil liberties New Labour tendencies (my grandfather was for many years chairman of his Labour Party branch, and I have his tiepin with the Old labour emblem, emblazoned with the word "Liberty".) And prevent any more wars.


The best of luck to all you Lib Dems and disappointed core Labour voters upthread. I have a sneaking suspicion that you're all going to be disappointed next Friday morning, but am willing to keep an open mind on the outcome for now.

The Tories were never that toxic for me, well, once Heath got out of the way, but I can certainly understand folk in former pit villages and the UK rustbelts having a visceral, generations-long prejudice against them.

The Tories do seem to have some sort of a vision this time around and it may be possible to see some faint idea in their manifesto and Cameron and Gove's speeches of what "good looks like". I think I'd be willing to give them a chance at office, they couldn't possibly do a worse job than the current crowd, who may be managerial in outlook, but are utterly crap at it.

Glad to see Charlie's tip of the hat to the comrades of Spiked! Online. An amazing anabasis they've been on, all right, from revolutionary communists to free-market libertarians.


When I visited America in the 1990s, a very kind American who understood Canadian politics as well explained to me the American political system.

"Here, we have only two parties," he said. "We have the Republican party, which is the equivalent of the Tory party."

He continued, "And we have the Democratic party, which is the equivalent of the Tory party."

He got it a bit wrong. The Democrats are the equivalent of the old Progressive Conservative (Tory) party. The Republicans are the equivalent of the Reform Party (with the Wild Rose Alliance thrown in for free).

Unfortunately when the PCs and Reform merged into the Canadian Reform Alliance Party* the Reformers got the reins and they still hold them. When Preston Manning expresses doubts about how far right the party has gone, you know it's really shifted…

*Back before they realized what the initials stood for and changed their name to the Conservative Party.


Oops, that was "Conservative Reform Alliance Party".

Interesting that the Progressive parts of the party's roots got dropped, eh?


I'm intending to vote SNP. I went to an election meeting last week, where all the local candidates (bar the UKIP guy) were present and answering questions.
When it came to nukes, Trident and ID cards, the Labour, Tory and Lib Dem men all spoke with one voice; they were all for them. The SNP candidate was the only one who spoke against these, elequontly and passionately. I also liked pretty much all his other expressed opinions as well; the other three seemed to be repeating tired cliches memorised from their party literature.
OK, I can see how the SNP in Holyrood is conforming to type in some ways. But I'd like to give this particular candidate a chance.


Val, if your Lib Dem candidate was for nukes, Trident, and ID cards, he really needs to find another party, fast (because he's 180 degrees out of line with major party manifesto committments).


Last year, with the general election in Germany, there was a big debate about the consequences of going from the established 4-party-system (CDU = christian-conservative, SPD = social democratic, FDP = liberals, economic variety, Green = green) to a 5-party-system (including the former communist/socialist party of east Germany, now called LINKE, which didn't want to go away even after almost twenty years). The big German problem with the steo from 4 to 5 permanent parties is the breaking of established alliances. Formerly, it was clear that on the one hand you have CDU-FDP alliances, on the other hand SPD-Green alliances, and maybe, if nothing else works, CDU-SPD. The election in 2009 brought CDU-FDP to the power, but for a long time it seemed like it would either CDU-FDP-Green or SPD-Green-LINKE or CDU-SPD, i.e. "new" coalitions.

The same game was played around the 1980s, when the stable 3-party system (CDU, SPD, FDP) became a 4-party system with the new Green party.

So, from the German point of view, the non-proportional voting system in the UK only now seems to reach the 1980s normality with at least three parties ;-)

On a totally unrelated note: as a Green card holder, I still don't get what the pro-nuclear-power faction with an ecological consciousness wants to do with the nuclear garbage. Even the radioactive residues from the current generation of nuclear power plants is a really big problem. Germany still has no "Endlager" (final place to store radioactive waste), and nowadays it becomes increasingly clear that the proposed candidate for an endlager, Gorleben (BTW: one of the reasons for the switch from 3 to 4-party-system in the 1980s), was choosen in the 1970s and 1980s not because it is useful for savely storing radioactive waste, but because it seemed useful for the politicans then (near to the former FRG-GDR-border etc.). This becomes clear from the files about the selection process, which are unearthed now. So, what about the waste?


So basically, Charlie, you find the two real-world practicing political parties so sickening you decided to vote for an imaginary one.

I know how you feel - honestly, I do - but is it constructive?


Given the implosion of the ultra-left, it's Green for me. I can see where Henrik's coming from, but AFAIC, any party which leaves Mercer near national security, or indeed anything sharp, remains beyond the pale.

Prediction: Tory working majority inside a year, either following a period of minority government, or straight away. The only thing that can stop this is an almighty row about Europe some time next week, but UKIP appear to have self-destructed in a way (and with a speed) usually associated with the far left. I might get the sack, but at least I will be able to vote for a police commissioner, so it won't be all bad.


Tom: this is your yellow card for trolling. Do it once more, and (a) your comments will be deleted, and (b) you'll be banned.

For further details, see the moderation policy.


If I were British, I would probably be voting Lib Dem as well (since whatever axis you put them on, they stack up closer to my ideals than any other party). But I'm not, and I live in Texas, so I'm stuck voting Democratic--and probably futility at that. *sigh* It's tough voting when the choice is effectively between the Conservatives and the BNP...


Even in the face of crackdowns, the Socialist candidate (Eugene Debs) received almost a million votes in both the 1912 and 1920 presidential elections. . . and no electoral votes. As Charlie notes, orchestrating the system in favor of the top two parties is a feature common to both the US and UK.


these days I'd amend that to "We have the Repblican party which is equivalent to the BNP... and the Democratic party which is equivalent to the Tories."

I wish that was funny... sigh.


Till: the waste problem isn't exactly a non-issue, but it's a red herring. Compared to the problem we've already got with toxic tailings from coal mining, it's trivially containable -- especially if we start reprocessing fuel rods (current practice is to file them in the waste pile after one trip through a reactor, at which point around 95% of the fuel is still unburned). It's even more containable if we stop thinking in terms of solutions to long-term waste storage as a national issue, and start looking for a planetary-scale repository. And investigate techniques for designing reactors to destroy high level waste (for example, lead-cooled fast reactors and similar technologies).


Don't really want to start a debate on radioactive waste, but wouldn't a planetary repository mean lots and lots of radioactive waste transports? (The same is true for reprocessing - most of the castor transports in Germany happen because of transports to and from the European reprocessing center in La Hague/France). And even if it is more or less possible to secure a fixed location, every unnecessary movement of strongly radioactive material is a movement to much - even if one only thinks about the plot possibilities for terrorist thrillers coming true.

And of course, it doesn't work to ignore the current generation and look into the (bright or not so bright) future of new generations of reactors. Finland shows how difficult it is to build new reactors, just because of the technical complexity. And if we speak about technology-in-the-making and the goal of a no-coal, no/low-CO2-emission-society, I'd rather spent that money for high-power off-shore wind, next-generation photovoltaics, geothermics and smart grids.


Won't the Liberal Democrats just be in alliance with either Labour or the Conservatives? The last time this happened, in the late 1970's, there was little that the Liberal Party was able to do to influence policy.

I fear that you might get your disappointment with the party quite quickly.

It is interesting how the dominant parties on either side of the pond increasingly seem to offer less to their constituents as time progresses.


One interesting thing about nuclear waste is that it's the only place one can find a really cheap kilotonne of xenon. The most persistent xenon radioisotope is 133, and it goes 99 percent away every 35 days, so year-old fissiogenic xenon is clean unless contaminated with krypton-85.

What I'd like to do with it is an application where it doesn't have to be radiologically clean, and indeed is kept dirty: quick density-separation of fluorinated fission fragments. Metallic nuclear fuel would fall into MgF2, which is thermodynamically favoured to transfer its fluorine to several of the most neutron-hungry fission fragments but not favoured to do so with uranium and heavier actinides. Adjust the xenon density to a little over 3 g/mL, pulverize the MgF2 plus fuel plus junk under it, and the fuel stays down but the other stuff floats.


Won't the Liberal Democrats just be in alliance with either Labour or the Conservatives?

Possibly, but there are other possibilities. You need to consider the potential for a Labour-Conservative coalition (sounds outrageous right now, but what happens if the LibDems gain a load of seats?) or a government of national unity (spread the pain from the inevitable cuts) or a straight minority government, such as we currently have in Scotland -- not a coalition, but the SNP have to get cross-party support for anything they propose while in office.

It's not immediately obvious to me that we can rule anything out. The Lib-Lab Pact of 77 is no guide to the current situation -- for one thing, it wasn't a true coalition (the Liberals didn't get even a single seat in the cabinet), for seconds they had little leverage (13 seats). For comparison, see John Major's electoral pact with the Ulster Unionists from 1993 onwards. I suspect the 77 pact was, from the Liberal point of view, a blocking move to prevent a vote of no confidence being followed by a Thatcher victory; with a projected parliamentary representation of 75-120 MPs after this election, depending which swingometers and pollsters you believe, it's going to be a very different picture.


Long time no see, Chris!

Mercer's actually quite a nice bloke and knows his subject. Keep him in his box - say as MoSAF - and he'll be a huge assset.

My prediction is a majority Tory government next Friday. I think there are a lot of folk who don't realise that, except in a few marginals, a LibDem vote is a wasted vote - and my sense is that the LibDems are leeching votes from Labour just as the BNP are.


I read once that when asked what her greatest achievement was, Margaret Thatcher answered without hesitation, "New Labor."

I have been a very lone voice in pointing out that the deliberate shift in "American" politics has been so extreme that Bill Clinton was to the left of Richard Nixon (e.g., trade, China, environment, wire taps, "negative income tax"), and, unfortunately, Barak Obama seems to be somewhat to the right of Clinton.
Our recent pattern is that the insane/venal right rampages (Reagan/Bush1, Bush2), and then the sane right entrenches the gains of the previous administration(s) (Clinton, Obama).

As for Trots, there's no mystery: the posessors of all the truth in the universe have the duty to exterminate anyone who interferes with their establishing of the one true way.


Your post pretty much summed up my own position and the reason that I shall be voting Lib Dem again. Since I live in central-ish Manchester it would need a huge swing from Labour - they were 20 points ahead of the LDs last time, with the rest nowhere - but I suppose there's always hope.


I'm still floating. I'm normally Libdem but...

I'm desperate suspicious of Labour and my current constituency is over the last 30 years or so 40/40 Labour/Conservative with Libdem and others picking up the remainder. So a vote for the tories is worth twice as much in term of turfing Labour out. (in my niave analysis at least)

I was going to email both candidates and see what their response to a couple of questions about the Digital Economy (act no I guess) - and similar relevant topics - but there doesn't seem to be a contact address for the lib dem candidate findable online.. Which push me to the tories.

Unfortunately my partner works in local gubmint and is worried for her job prospects under the tories.

Sigh. There is always the science or pirate parties if they have a candidate in my constituency I suppose.


The Labour record on civil liberties is better than the Tories, they did pass the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Neither of these would have happened under the Conservatives who opposed them. While Labour's commitment to civil liberties is weaker than I would like it is stronger than the Conservatives. Other civil rights legislation like the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 (which extended the Disability Discrimination Act 1995) and the Civil Partnership Act 2004 would have been reasonably likely under a Conservative government although they might have taken longer.


I didn't think that Mercer came out of Jenveygate especially well.

Moving from discussing the election to the more interesting topic of reprocessing chemistry, can I just point out that as a (pro fission power reactor) lay person, I find the phrase: "fluorinated fission fragments" worrying yet strangely compelling. If you must do it on an industrial scale, please do it a long way downwind from me.

BTW Henrik, on another entirely unrelated topic:


I'm in the same constituency as Charlie and was somewhat surprised to see our MP Mark Lazarowicz had voted against the Digital Economy Bill. Then I remembered Charlie had been round to see him and things started to make a bit more sense.

Another SF-writing Englishman abroad in Scotland also came out for the Liberal Democrats this weekend: Michael Cobley.


The original neoconservatives (one group within the Republican Party) were Trots and other anti-Stalinist Marxists who decided opposition to the Communists was the most important issue. They kept moving farther and farther to the right. And the Republican Party was more vocally anti-Communist than the Democratic Party.


Charlie, surely the election is the only chance for about fifty years to deal with the biggest structural problem in British politics - the First Past the Post system?

FPP causes divisive and irrelevant politics, where the only game in town is to carve out 35% of the centre of the electorate. It gives you politics that resembles a glacial game of ping-pong.

Proportional representation results in governments that have to pay far more attention to the people. It means that we can't have another ideological Thatcher, electorally able to kick the shit out of 60% of the population.

You mention the amusing horse-trading in Scotland, NZ uses the same Mixed Member Proportional system, introduced after our version of Thatcherism gave most of the country a good hard beating. Proportional representation gives us a current government of Nationals (conservative) in coalition with ACT (market fundamentalist), the Maori party (socially interventionist) and United Future (centrist, in favour of people who vote for United Future). Opposition is Labour and the Greens are the third-largest party with 7% of seats after getting 7% of the votes. It works (not perfectly, as Soon@25 says, but better than FPP).

Or would you rather have Labour or Conservative getting 35% of the vote and getting 55% of the seats?


Comparing UK and US politics: Every US state's politics are as idiosyncratic as Scotland's and Northern Ireland's. However, the equivalents of UK minor parties are USUALLY factions within the Democratic and Republican parties.

In Minnesota, the Democratic Party is officially Democratic-Farmer-Labor; a merger of the Democratic Party and the Farmer-Labor Party (which existed only on a state level, and which doesn't seem to have left many traces in the coalition.)

In Minneapolis, the second party on the City Council is not the Republicans but the Greens. (Note: officially, City Council elections are nonpartisan. Just as, in theory, Chicago has a "weak mayor" system of government.) The Representative from the Fifth Congressional District (which is dominated by Minneapolis) is a convert to Islam.

Some suburbs are strongly Republican. Google on "Michele Bachmann."


It would have been lib dem before the debates put them more into the spotlight and shone light on their less than impressive policies. I might still go for them but i'm leaning more towards green of plaid cymru* as the latter seem to be reformed a lot these days. The lib dem's policies leave a LOT to be desired...

-no new nuclear power
-scrapping of trident
-a border police force(!)

Plus Clegg is private schooled and wants his kids to be too; it seems apparent that he would want to retain elitism in education and healthcare as much as possible. He wants elitism maintained, that's the impression i get certainly.



You know, I get seriously grumpy with more, more, more energy consumption. Last I heard, we could conserve at least 20 percent of our energy waste without trying to hard, at least in the US (it's called living on European standards--comments?). Sigh.

As for nukes, we need to submit them to the idiot test, not the litmus test. It's not just the disposal we have to be smart about, it's the siting. Nukes need lots of water, and ideally they should be located on a geologically stable area. These two are not mutually compatible on most of the Earth's coastlines or river valleys, especially with global warming and big, unstable dams upstream. That's one problem.

Second problem relates to your idea of putting a cloud server farm in Iceland. It sounds great, until you realize that Iceland has something like 130 volcanoes, and one of the smaller ones did that little number of European air traffic. How are we getting the replacement servers to Iceland when a volcano goes off and buries their cloud server? Make them on the island? Right.

The Icelanders are also the people who thought that you needed to spend a decade on a fishing boat to learn how to fish properly, but said confidently that "their viking heritage" made them instinctive, world-class financiers a couple of years ago. Right.

The problem is that a lot of the nuke pushers (this may apply to all power plant speculators) are like those Icelanders with their "Viking Heritage." They know how to bullshit, but they don't know what they're doing. Exhibit #1 currently is that sunken BP rig in the gulf. According to BP's published documents, a) that accident shouldn't have happened, and b) the well would be easy to cap if it did break. Wrong on both counts.

So my litmus test on nukes? Their promoted by bullshit artists. Safe? Who knows? It's your water they're pumping out. Feel free to drink it.

Why not make construction jobs in the conservation industry, and capture some of that 20 percent while reducing unemployment? People keep calling for it in the US, but the amount the US government was willing to spend on it was piss in the wind compared to their commitment to new power plants. Sad and stupid, AKA business as usual.


"can I just point out that as a (pro fission power reactor) lay person, I find the phrase: "fluorinated fission fragments" worrying yet strangely compelling. If you must do it on an industrial scale, please do it a long way downwind from me."

There's fluorine and fluorine. As it sits in the ground, it is typically in a very strongly bound form such as sellaite or the even stabler LaF3, which I seem to recall occurs as a mineral but I forget the name. Lanthanum is one of the fission fragments I had in mind. But since sellaite is MgF2, the proposed fluorine transfer is from mineral-like grain to mineral-like grain.


In reply to Jez Weston @52, I would not get too enthusiastic at doing away with the first past the post system. Just remember, the Italians have a very representational system.
Having lived in a place with a non-functioning government for the last twenty-five years (California), you come to appreciate the virtues of functionality.
The basic purpose of a government is to address societal problems, those functions that cannot be handled individually. The first past the post system has the advantage of giving a mandate to a clearly defined group of people and holding them responsible. The more you have a coalition form of government or a general consensus form of government (as here in California where a 2/3 rd majority plus the Governor must sign off on budgets i.e. basically both parties ) the more responsibility is diffused. And politicians are very good at muddying who is responsible.
A weak an ineffectual legislature does not result in more power to the people. Other parties step into the vacuum. In California's case, it's the Judiciary, Civil servants, and vested interests. The resulting failure to address social problems results in a gradual social break down while vested interests consolidating their power, and populist rhetoric leading to draconian legislation as the public tries desperately to shield themselves from the rot, in other words a society that is a lot less free.
So when considering "fairer" systems of representation, think very carefully about their functionality, in particular how clear will be the lines of responsibility.


Charlie, I'm curious about the trolling policy. It makes sense to me that Tom@33 deserves a yellow card. But why doesn't Greg@9 get one too? I mean ... sir ... he's getting some serious crazy on. No?


Charlie, I imagine you'd prefer that the UK had something closer to the Australian instant-runoff preference system. It would make voting for smaller parties free of the risk of vote splitting.

This would then allow voters to be a little more discriminating in which way they voted and permit even smaller parties a chance to grow into relevance.



@Dave Moore: but you still have a First Past the Post electoral system, do you not? A properly designed proportional system (as I am pleased to vote in in NZ) doesn't need all the ugly and ineffective clunkery you describe. Ask Teh Wiki about our MMP system and have a long hard think about how it works before you just assume that it doesn't.

@heteromeles: Google "desertec" for some interesting stuff. I think it's worth contemplating the possible future options of the Gulf States (and their nigh-on endless sunshine) once the oil runs low.


Dave Moore @57

California's electoral problem is bipartisan gerrymandering to ensure that all seats are safe seats, not proportionality (Seriously, Californian politics seems nuts

The Italian system is proportional, but also just plain weird. The lack of functionality seems to have little to do with being proportional and more to do with, well, with just being Italian.

I'd love to see a responsible and effective legislature that governs based on what 51% of the people want. Luckily, I live in NZ and that's what we've got.


Italy had more of a problem with a lack of any viable alternative government, once the communists and the fascists were excluded (as both had somewhat shaky commitments to democracy and human rights, the communists were too pro-soviet and the the fascists were, well, fascists) it wasn't possible to form a government that excluded many of the remaining parties, this largely eliminated accountability. Something similar could be seen in Weimar Germany and can still be seen in Israel.

The collapse of the entire centre of Italian politics in a gargantuan corruption scandal led to both the Communists and Fascists moving sharply towards the centre and pushing out their nuttier anti democratic elements (basically the actual communists and actual fascists) along with the emergence of entirely new parties. Italy has developed a more typical system with a fairly stable Centre-Left coalition and a fairly stable Centre-Right coalition, permitting alternation in power.


In reply to Jez Weston @52, I would not get too enthusiastic at doing away with the first past the post system. Just remember, the Italians have a very representational system.

And a very fragmented and corrupt political culture.

Italy is the exception rather than the rule. PR works well in most of Europe. It works well in NZ, which was a purer Westminster system than the UK. It works in Scotland and Wales. There's no reason to think it would not similarly work in the UK. Unless you think that UKanians are all secretly Italian.


Charlie, I imagine you'd prefer that the UK had something closer to the Australian instant-runoff preference system. It would make voting for smaller parties free of the risk of vote splitting.

It also produces unfair, disproportionate results. While pretty much the minimum for any electoral vote contest, its also the "reform" you have when you don't want reform.

(The Australians also use Irish style STV for their Senate, and in some state competitions. That produces far better results, but its PR with a fairly high threshold, and so unfair)


That is a valid criticsm of a proportional system and in NZ we have had close results where the support of a relatively minor party needed to form a governing coalition led to said minor party getting a disproportionately bigger influence. That said, in NZ (and elsewhere, I gather) proportional representation has given us governments based more on consensus than under FPP.


Soon @65: Yes, there have been abuses where small parties have threatened to throw their toys out of the crib and bring down coalitions. However, the NZ system at least seems to respond to this threat. NZ First pretty much invented this tactic here and completely got the boot in the last election, scoring a grand total of zero seats. ACT might fuss and bluster, but any votes they lose will go straight back to the more-moderate National, so they're only cutting their own throats. Both minor parties (United Future & Progressives) seem to be fairly neutered, UF with one centrist seat makes a big deal of being reasonable and won't kick up a stink, Progressives with one seat are pretty much absorbed into Labour. Thus it's a problem, but not a big problem.


Lest anyone get thoroughly bored by discussions of NZ politics, the point I want to get across is that the functionality of politics depends as much on the quality of the people involved as it does on the electoral systems used. But getting the electoral systems working is still a per-requisite for getting everything else working.


I think the major reason you are having an election now is that the present Labour government believes that if they hold the election next month it will be after the whole world economy implodes, and Labour might not have any MPs at all.
Happened in Canada. The ruling Conservative party went from a majority all the way down to two representatives.


Charlie, to pick up on your brief mention of your views of nuclear energy...

I recently had the opportunity to interview the author of a report titled "Nuclear Energy and Global Governance to 2030: An Action Plan".

The main points the report makes are the lack of flexibility of nuclear, and the low rate (in some cases all the way into the negative) of industrial learning that the nuclear industry has exhibited. This is contrasted with very promising industrial learning rates seen in alternative energy generation technologies.

By "lack of flexibility" I'm referring to the enormous outlay of capital and very long time frame required to design and commission a nuclear plant, while the one truly promising alternative -- small-scale, zero-maintenance systems we've been promised for at least a decade now are still as remote as they were when first proposed.

I'd be very curious to hear what you think on this subject.


Postal vote for me: I'm currently getting around on crutches after a fall. And it means I can ignore the media now: I've made my choice.

I don't agree with all of Charlie's reasons, but I agree with the conclusion. We do not want another government with a mega-majority, able to enact anything they want. I shall settle for one that has to work, where good constituency MPs know that their vote in the commons is important.

Like Charlie, I have a good constituency MP who happens to be Labour. Austin Mitchell, old-guard Labour, is in Grimsby. I would happy to see them still MPs at the end of the week. One local Labour MP, Elliot Morley, has quit because of the expenses scandal. There's also a "Blair Babe" who writes a weekly column in the local newspaper and regularly proves that, where intellect is concerned, she'd do better dancing the Charleston. (Austin Mitchell doesn't need to promote himself in that way.)

The awkward thing is that, if I hadn't had my fall, my father would have been pushing me into volunteering to support the Conservative candidate.

He doesn't quite approve of the BNP. I suppose I should be thankful for that.

Oh, and I like the idea of sending the SAS/SBS/Ghurkas after anyone who uses nuclear weapons. There's an old legal latin tag which applies to pirates and slavers, and seems to fit: translates as "enemies of all humanity".

Make that explicit, make it personal, and it might do some good.


Jez, I thought my support for electoral reform was a given?

I hate absolutist authoritarian governments, and a tightly-whipped party system elected by FPTP is the best way to get that short of a military coup.


1. NOT "trolling"; my statement in #9 was no more, and no less than the actual truth.
Come to this constituency and look - I STILL don't know whom I will vote for (nationally) on Thursday.....

2. Someone referred to the Trots killing off all "unbelievers" or something similar. Spot-on, but then communism is a religion, you can tell by the body-count.

3. Cameroon has just said that he will try to form a minority administration WITHOUT the Lem-O-Crats, if he has to, allied to the Ulster Unionists .... ARRRGH!

4. #54 - and what is wrong with "elitism" in education, please? As opposed to grinding everyone down to the dumbest possible level?
Do you realise, that in 1968, when the "Grammar" schools were first attacked, the private school system was dying on its tottering feet?
Many state grammar schools gave a MUCH BETTER education than about 90% of the private system.
Now, people are desperate to get their children into private schools, because the state system is crap - now.
Example: "Forest" school, near where I live - known in 1964 as for "Muscular thickoes whose parents are rich". Now supposedly, a "good" private school.
The Grammar I went to, one of the top dozen in the country is a failing VIth form college.
Go figure, as they say.

5. There are still some truly loopy nutters standing for parliament, just the same.


Noel: Greg is venting about a specific candidate who deters him from voting for his logical choice of party; his style is a bit over the top, but his content isn't unreasonable. In contrast, Tom is being insulting ("imaginary party") without adding any useful information content, in a context likely to get a rise out of a large subset of people on this thread.


Chris: my one big problem with Desertec is that the sunny places are mostly batshit insane -- having been driven systematically mad by the outside world playing oil politics with them over the past century. Dropping oil revenue into a developing economy seems to produce corruption on a massive scale, and political repression (as the incumbents fight to keep their wallets plumbed into the oil money pipeline). And you don't need me to lecture you about the iniquities of the post-Ottoman colonial carve-up, do you?

Replacing oil politics with a different kind of energy-export politics is not going to improve things.

There is at least one country that handled its oil/gas boom well -- Norway -- and arguably another (Hugo Chavez, for all his other shortcomings, seems to be spending shedloads on infrastructure and education), but I'd be a lot happier about accepting energy dependence on the middle east in perpetuity if the middle east was a bit less structurally inclined to export wahabbi remittance men. For which we (or our parents) choice of politicians are to blame, but even so ...


wkwillis: I think the major reason you are having an election now is that the present Labour government believes that if they hold the election next month it will be after the whole world economy implodes, and Labour might not have any MPs at all.

Er, no.

The British system requires that an election be held no later than five years (60 months) after the previous one. With no term limits, it's normal practice for a government to spring an election whenever they think they've got a best chance of winning without pissing off the electorate -- but if they're doing badly, they spin the process out as long as possible. This election was declared pretty much at the last minute; Brown had a few more weeks in hand, but as those weeks trickle away the pressure to declare rises: the incumbent has to balance an upward tick in the polls based on improving economic news against the risk of bad news showing up and taking their figures down. Hence an election at roughly 59 months into the 60 month term. (Thatcher used to pull the trigger around the 45-50 month frame. Common wisdom is that if you do so after less than two years in office, you'd better have a bloody good reason to get the voters out of bed or they'll punish you for annoying them.)


Hi, Charlie,

Your blog, of course, but AFAICT Greg's specific problem with the Lib Dem candidate is that the fellow is Muslim. He goes on to call the party "Lem-O-Crats."

That sounds trollish. Am I missing a context here?


@ 76
"Lem-O-Crat" IS unfair, but this IS politics. IIRC "Private Eye" used it first, many years ago.
And, yes, I do have a problem with ANY candidate who has imaginary friends, including Cameroon and Broon, as it happens.
This is NE London, not too far away from "Georgeous George" Galloway and, erm "Respect", and people who put up posters (the last time we had a local, as opposed to national) election proclaiming that "Voting is un-Islamic", because the "word of God" (meaning the Recital, of course) was all one needed.
A guy who lived in a house/flat less than 150 metres from here is still in prison for complicity with the tube bomb-plots.
We also have a "Christian" candidate - who appears borderline racist, going on about "Britain is a christian country". And I'm not going anywhere near that nutter, either .....

That is the "joy" and difficulty with British elections, circumstances really do alter cases, and local and regional issues can loom large.
See Charlie's posts on the viler aspects of control-freakery and nasty puritanism of the SNP, for instance.

And so it goes.


The word 'Brixton' in 'Brixton riots' up top is a bad link - I think the intended link was this:


I know where we could put a load of CSP plants, on roughly the same latitude as parts of North Africa, but in a nice sensible NATO and EU member state. Less work to upgrade the grid, too. Sicily. I can't imagine there being any unintended political consequences from that!

(Also, I'm surprisingly intrigued by the idea of a declarative nuclear policy based on individual assassination. There should be an SF novel.)


H: Not exactly -- there are three links in there, with a single quote/double quote typo. Now fixed.


I cannot agree more with your thoughts on people coming to different conclusions from the same facts. Whilst I abhor the violence that ensued I would have to say that Thatcher was right to break the unions. That Scargill was happy as larry in his big house whilst the miners he lead to defeat were on the breadline is perhaps something for his own conscience, but they (the unions) were in danger of being the tail that wagged the dog. And it's looking like it will be happening again as it would seem the Unions want control of the Labour party back ...
A very knowledgeable left-wing friend of mine would always rail against the Thatcher years and I asked him whether there was anything she did that he agreed with ... give me a list of 5 things she did. He was able to provide a much longer list than that because she wasn't all bad. Now don't get me wrong, she wasn't all good either! Far from it, but if anyone says she didn't do anything good (like pay off the debt from the previous Labour government for example, and be largely responsible for the healthy balance sheet handed to Blair for the squandering too) then I'd say it's not worth having an argument about it!
Now Labour are going to be in a similar pickle because all we can see is the lying, the sleaze, the spin, the smoking ruins of our civil liberties, the inane Blair grin and the heavily coached Brown one. But they must have done something good ... oh yes ... kicked out the conservatives.

The problem is, as you say, the Lib Dems look good because no one can remember what they got up to last time they were in power, but be under no illusion that these people are cut from the same cloth. They are building themselves into some Political Elite as they tear down the old class system and they're pulling up the ladder too (witness how difficult/expensive it is to get to stand against them!).
Do you think they WANT to go kissing babies, chatting with school kids and shaking hands with us ordinary people? Hell no! They're only doing it because they think it will get them more votes. The sad truth is, they're right ... the electorate is far too gullible and fall for these tricks every time.

What we need is electoral reform: Proportional Representation is the only way to call a halt.
Lets also enact some useful rules about wheeling out one's family and kissing babies. It should have no place in an election.

Me ... I'm going to be voting Lib Dem because my local MP is great. He wasn't caught with his hands in the till over the expenses. He pretty much always votes the way I would (ID Cards, Digital Economy Bill, etc). Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Ed Davey!
[The crowd go wild]

I just hope that people voting Lib Dem (UKIP, BNP, ...) doesn't split the vote and allow Labour back in. That would be a sad day ...


Also, whilst we're on "Political Reform", it might be worth mentioning what a HUGE mistake it is to make MPs rely 100% on their MP salary as their one and only source of income. The problem here is that then they're not just in parliament as 'our representative', they are there for their income which will make them fight tooth and nail to keep the status quo.
It should be recognised as a "temporary post" ... perhaps more akin to jury service than military service.


I agree with you -- in principle. In practice, there's a countervailing need to ensure that MPs aren't on the take -- for example, filling non-executive directorships of large businesses and then acting on their behalf as lobbyists. I don't know if you remember the last Conservative administration, but there was virtually a revolving door between the cabinet and the boards of the FT100, culminating when, in 1997, John Major walked out of 10 Downing Street and took up a directorship of the Carlyle Group (the world's largest private equity fund).

Another issue is that if MPs don't rely exclusively on their MP salary, then the MP salary will tend over time to fall behind inflation ... and there will be increasing pressure for MPs to have outside interests. In the worst case, you end up with something like the pre-Reform Bill situation, where IIRC MPs had no salary, so the only people who could sit in parliament were those with private incomes or Very Rich Friends (read: sponsors).


(small warning: I may get just a tad over-enthusiastic about voting systems.)

In Australia (which is also approaching an election this year) we have a couple of little wrinkles that the US and UK don't have. One of these is compulsory voter turnout - everyone who is an Australian voter is required to participate in the election process[1] by receiving their ballot paper. The other, which I find much more interesting to compare with the rest of the world, is the concept of preferential voting.

In Australian federal voting (and in most state elections as well) it isn't a process of "pick the one candidate you dislike least and vote for them). Instead, we're asked to order our n candidates for each lower house seat in order of our preference from 1 to n. This makes it a lot more acceptable to vote for a minor party, or an independent candidate as your first preference, because even if they don't get in, your vote isn't "wasted".

How it happens is like this: after the polling booths have closed (6pm local time on the Saturday which is election day) the ballot boxes are opened, and the ballots sorted in order of candidate chosen as number 1. In order to be elected, a candidate needs 50% of the vote, plus one vote more. If someone gets that on the first count through, well, they're home and hosed. But if nobody's got the necessary numbers on the first run through, the candidate who received the lowest number of first preference votes is eliminated, and their votes are divided up between their second preference candidates. If there's still no clear winner, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated again, and the next preference (2nd preference for the ones who had them first, third for the ones who had them second) is used to redistribute the votes. This continues until one candidate has 50% of the vote, plus that crucial one vote. They're the new member for wherever, and good luck to them.

In our upper houses and the federal Senate, things get a bit more complex. Since these houses (in the federal parliament and the states which have them) are considered "houses of review" they're counted on a slightly different basis than the representation-by-population lower house seats (which, depending on the population density, can range from being the size of a single Sydney suburb right the way up to the federal seat of Kalgoorlie, which covers an area larger than several European countries). In the federal parliament, there's twelve senators for each state, six of which are up for election at each regular federal election (the only time this changes is when there's a double dissolution, and neither of the major parties want to risk *that*). They're elected by proportional representation, so usually the smaller parties in Australian politics get their start by getting a senator or two elected... and usually they stop at that.

We also have the same sort of "limited campaigning time" rules that the UK does (with the slight proviso that federal elections have to happen at regular three year intervals, and thus federal governments do have an effective "use by" date). The campaign itself is limited to six weeks, and inside that six weeks, *everything* happens, from the registration of candidates right the way through to actual polling day.

Oh, and a quick rundown of the players on the Australian political field, and the games they think they're playing:

First up, there's the big two - the Australian Labour Party (ALP) and the Liberal Party of Australia. The Liberals are what we call our Tories - it's that great Aussie sense of humour again, same as calling a bloke with red hair "blue". Ideologically and practically there isn't too much difference between them. These two parties treat the whole business as a game of cricket with the electorate as the ball. Sometimes one side is in, sometimes the other. Co-operating in all of this on the Liberal side are the National party (formerly the National Country Party, formerly the Country Party; general platform "welfare for farmers and nobody else" along with "one vote one value is for wimps") who act as subs on the Liberal side for the general reward of being junior partners in any coalition government going. Also playing along in the cricket game are the Australian Democrats (motto: "keeping the bastards honest", policies mainly about middle class progressivism) who like to think of themselves as the umpires.

Those four have been pretty static in the game since about the mid-1980s. Some newer players are the One Australia Party (for people who think the Liberal party is dangerously left wing, and that the White Australia policy should never have been repealed. Formerly One Nation, formerly Pauline Hanson's One Nation, formerly the Queensland Liberal Party); the Family First party (Fundamentalist Christian, largely funded and run by the Assemblies of God); and the Greens (in various flavours from pale to rabid). All of these parties are rather like little kids running onto the ground in the middle of a cricket match and grabbing the ball on occasion - whichever party wants to gain possession has to give them something nice to distract them so they can get the ball back. There are also occasional independents (usually in the senate) who can cause all kinds of havoc if they have the balance of power - so they're like the occasional dog running onto the field and grabbing the ball out of the middle of things and hanging onto it.

[1] No, it's *NOT* "compulsory voting" - the compulsory bit is over when they hand you the ballot paper, and what you do with it afterwards in the privacy of the polling booth is up to you. You can, if you so choose, eat the wretched things.


I'm still fascinated by the difficulties a first-past-the-post system proposes to the voters. I guess, if I'd live in the UK, I'd vote Green anyway (especially in, say, Brighton pavillion). Or I'd vote LibDem tactical (from here, LibDem looks more like the "social liberal" part of the liberal movement, that could be ok).


It doesn't seem to me like it's so much FPTP itself which is the most important feature of this system (as in, the fact that winning is based on just a single-round plurality). It's rather the fact that constituencies are single-seat in the first place, and there is nothing but those.


Also: we have an appointed (not elected) upper (revising) chamber, the House of Lords, that still has some very questionable cruft in place (Bishops, the Chief Rabbi).


As a recent immigrant to the UK, I can't vote in this election. If I could, I'd be voting LibDem. The SNP has lost me with their sub-rosa religious/anti-gay agenda.

I'm getting my Indefinite Leave to Remain visa this year and will probably get UK citizenship early next year. I'm looking forward to it - not being able to exercise the franchise makes me itch.


Strictly, a UK Parliament has a potential life of five years after it is elected, and so could still be sitting until about new, get dissolved, and the electrion process starts with an election at the start of June.

The date we have coincides with local government elections, which makes the whole admin side of the election a little easier. That makes it a little bit of a sweet spot, slightly different from just being scared of a poll.

Gorden Brown might have been able to get away with pulling that trick if that volcano had shut down air transport, otherwise he'd just be looking scared.

There are other practical constraints, such as the annual Party Conferences discouraging elections in the autumn, and the timing of the State Opening of Parliament: it would be not quite done to have Her Majesty reading your speech about the legislation you plan, and calling an election a week later.

Gorden Brown missed the conventional chance, a year ago, and refused the option of starting a compaign at the end of the Party Conference season. The Queen's Speech set out a full schedule, even though an election had to come.

It doesn't matter what happens. The Tower will still be locked by Queen Elizabeth's keys.


And continuing from Chalries #83, what I have read over the years points to a revolving door that has been encouraged by new labour, between civil servants and businesses which they are supposed to be dealing with, and lets not forget all the ex-military people working for offence contractors.
One of the better known examples of a politician on the take as it were was Blunkett, who Private Eye caught out multiple times pushing ID cards and their database, without mentioning that he was employed by a company interested in bidding for work on ID cards and their database.

I am also gratified to find that I agree with/ he agrees with me that labour are a central /central right party; I've tried explaining this to people but not everyone agrees.


And no-one likes an election in the Autumn - campaigning is much nicer in the Spring/ Summer.

But there are other constraints. You have to have a Budget and at least a truncated Finance Bill: with no yearly Finance Act, Income Tax would lapse (it's a temporary tax, only levied while needed, and it has to be reintroduced each year). So this is about as early as you could manage an election unless you went for Jan/ Feb with a Budget to follow.



"However, I think that overall they're probably less wrong than either the Conservatives or Labour. They appear to be more flexible and pragmatic, and much more deeply committed to civil liberties and decentralization and reform of political power than the other major parties. They're committed to abolishing the National Identity Register (which alone would be enough to capture my vote for an election), and more importantly, their party framework is based on a value system I understand."

This was the best summary para for me. This will be my first LD vote: enfranchised in 1988, Labour until 2001, Socialist Worker in 2005. I vote in Milton Keynes (despite living in the US): the local Labour MP, Phyllis Starkey, is one of the very few with a science PhD and has some good local-support credentials, but is very much a follower rather than at all independent. The LDs control the local council, and have not proven to be the world's best in that capacity - but on a national level, I (i) think that the LDs manifesto is streets ahead of any other and (ii) very, very much want to get a PR-like system in place (so that my vote for Socialist Workers then means something, even if the price is a few Nazis).

Private education bothers me - I would abolish such, a stance that I realise is generally seen as insane - but I think on balance that the greatest need this election is to move away from 2 parties, if we can.


Also of interest, perhaps:
which discusses not only this election but potential effects five years further on, if LD voting this time is such to give them increased credibility as electable moving forward.


"Perhaps it's senility, but I'm starting to think that realpolitik may be the key to "peace." "

One thing that mystifies me is that people think that the Bush II administration was actually doing squat on the basis of ideology, or 'Wilsonian' ideals. IMHO, that was no more true for Bush/Cheney than it was true for Stalin. They matched Kissinger evil lie for evil idea for evil b*st*rds supported.


Barry, Please let's not rake over those coals here. (Hint 1: this is a British blog. Hint 2: the current US president's name does not end in "-ush".)


There is a very important downside to the idea of "temporary" legislators that most people who support them have not considered: A legislature of temporary legislators is a legislature of amateur legislators.

They become much more reliant on professional non-elected support. Permanent staff members, lobbiests, party officials, etc.

Modern government is too complicated and important to be managed by amateurs. If you come up with a scheme that ensures that your elected representatives are not experienced professionals all you have done is ensure that people other than your elected representatives are managing your government.

Also California has temporary legislators through term limits.


There is at least one country that handled its oil/gas boom well -- Norway

Well, we haven't been making a class of cleptocrats with it, but other than that the jury is still out on how well we're handling the oil money, IMHO. We've got a hell of a lot of money in the bank, but infrastructure and public buildings and stuff like that is so run down that by now it's probably cheaper to throw away the country and buy a new one.

It looks like we may need to hang^H^H^H^Hretire a whole generation of politicians before we maybe get a set who are willing to build rather than shut down.


I feel the same as you, Matthew. Aversion to the Tories, Labour too far to the right now, so where to go? I think many people would agree, and it seems to be having a big effect.
Sadly I'm working in California, and I failed to get my proxy vote form done in time, so I can't vote.

Charlie, paragraph 4 in the post sums it up very well.


1) I am in awe of the civility with which the British discuss politics.

2) From reading this discussion, I feel like I'm somewhat more clear on the missions of the various British parties than any of the American ones. Which is a feat.

3) There is no #3.


Charlie: I think the geopolitical implications could be more subtle than that, for two reasons.

Firstly, you can keep exporting oil with a certain amount of lunacy going on around the wells, because your export chain includes some physical reserves. Prices might fluctuate, but you can keep on making money. Electricity supply has to be continuous; nobody is going to buy volts off you if you can't keep them flowing 99% of the time. So there's more of a premium on stability in both production and transmission. This will depend at least in part on political and social stability (or military strongman-ism, but you get my point).

Secondly, sunlight is a distinctly spread-out resource. Countries like Morocco, Algeria, even Libya are just as well placed to exploit it as the Gulf States are (better, actually, they're closer to Europe and its microwave ovens). I take your point about dropping $HUGE_WEALTH into developing countries, but I suspect the dynamics of that are different when you don't have single point of supply like you do with oil.

Like I said, matters worth pondering on.


Grinding everyone down to the dumbest level? Certainly not in my opinion; the best writers, musicians, actors, sports people have come out of comprehensives, which is remarkable with all the cutbacks forced on it over the years. Yes it's a shame grammar schools have disappeared but i'm talking about eton educated / private school privileged people in power forcing the kind of elitism upon state education where it does not belong. I'm thinking in particular of league tables, poor funding for comprehensives and teachers under increasing pressure to meet impossible targets. No wonder the state system is crap.


You've missed the point entirely

The Grammar schools were the way out of poverty and underprivilege for everyone.

When my father was 11, in 1924, his father died, leaving my Granmother as a single-mother with two young sons to bring up. When my father retired, he was a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chemistry.
I repeat that the private schools were dying in 1968, and killing the Grammars reversed that trend, a result that was an EXACT OPPOSITE of that supposedly wanted.
And the political idiots STILL cannot or will not see this.
Meanwhile, in the schools, most comprehensives are ubelievably still mixed-ability, and any sign of intellectual ability by a child is ruthlessly punished by the other children, and sometimes by the so-called "teachers" in the name of inclusiveness. Believe me, I've been a teacher - this happens.

On another part of the planet, I've finally looked at all our Parliamentary, and some of the local-council Ward candidates, and it is even worse than I thought. The local population is about 10-12% muslim, but ALL the Lem-O-Crat candidates have allah as their invisible friend. Then the Tory thinks the Olympic "games" are a good idea, the Labour candidate is too close to our corrupt council, there is the aforementioned christian nutter, a Green (and we are going to need nuclear power), and a so-called "socialist" (read communist religious believer).
Oh dearie me.

I think I'm going to spoil my paper.


I think that we need some equivalent of Godwin's Law which calls 'non sequitur!' when posters draw general conclusions on the basis of their own educational experience.

(Comprehensive school -> Oxford University, if you're wondering. But this fact is meaningless outside a wider context.)


Greetings from the other side of the channel. This discussion has been very informative for me, partly because French media coverage of the UK election is totally one-sided.
Monday evening news on F2 ( state television, usually reflects the views of the political/media 'elite', second most-watched news ), interviewing three candidates for the major parties:
- Tory candidate ( Devon ): inbred moron holding forth about bringing back fox hunting, unflattering extreme close-up followed by a gory scene of a fox being torn apart by a pack of hounds.
- Lib/dem candidate ( West London ): Silly, upper-class lady with a hot-potato voice who apparently thinks that the whole lib/dem political program is about protecting her neighbourhood from some airport extension project, emphasis on garden-party atmosphere, cricket, cucumber sandwiches.
- Labour candidate ( Manchester ): Gruff, no-nonsense guy with a few interesting things to say about Europe and the financial crisis.
Of course, Tories have been hated ever since the days of the Thatcher/Reagan axis of evil and Tony Blair was very popular here until the Irak war ( Lib/dems are not very well known, and are supposed to be Tories Lite, like the FDP in Germany and the UDF in France ), but it's been a long time since I've seen such extremely skewed reporting on mainstream media.
So, you know who the French ruling class is voting for in the upcoming election.


Ah but did your comprehensive school have either streaming or setting by ability within the school?
If it did, then most of the worst effects will have been screened out.
Unfortunately, there are still plenty of comprehensives that have this educational disaster.
And, there are still large numbers of so-called "teachers" pushing the non-existent, and proven to be useless "merits" of mixed-ability teaching.
I heard one on the radio, about a month ago - breifly, before I switched to radio3 in wordless fury.


Pretty much everything I was going to say, has already been said, but I'm definitely leaning more towards the lib-dems purely because they're said that they will bring in some form of electoral reform (everything else can then wait until the next election).
However, I've been tempted by our local independent candidate, mainly based on this point in their manifesto:

"The Daily Mail should be forced to print on the front of every edition the words “This is a fictionalized account of the news and any resemblance to the truth is entirely coincidental.”"


Greg, it doesn't matter.

I've met people who were badly-educated at Eton; others who were well educated at hippy free schools, deeply crap secondary moderns, 4th rate private schools, etc. This means nothing: what may or may not mean something is the line on the graph itself, not the single data point.


The politics of solar are potentially worse than those of oil, since it would seem to depend rather heavily on a lot of cheap mirror cleaning, but more importantly, solar has failed to deliver again and again for decades, and given the current price point of a kwh of solar based electricity, I remain extremely skeptical that this round around the merry go around will differ - it is the vapor ware of renewable tech.

The politics and economic logic of nuclear, on the other hand is that the regulated utility, which is relatively non-toxic.
Note that nukes-as-a-solution-to-CO2 does not *not* play nice with a liberalized electricity market, since if enough nuclear capacity gets built to meet demand in a free and competetive market, the price of power will tend to converge on the marginal cost of production, at which point, absolutely everyone goes bankrupt, so "the market" will systematically not build enough nuclear capacity unless we get a bubble in reactors
(Headline: Electricity demand will rise without bounds forever!)


NB: George Monbiot pinned the tail on the New Labour ass today in The Guardian:

There's a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that colonises the brains of rats, altering their behaviour to attract them to the scent of their predators. The rats seek out cats and get eaten, allowing the parasite to keep circulating. This is New Labour. It has colonised a movement that fought for social justice, distribution and decency, rewired its brain and delivered it to the fat cats who were once its enemies.

Highly recommended.


I too have voted Liberal Democrat by postal vote this year. It is the first time I have done so in a national election, since I have previously considered a vote for them to be, essentially, a wasted vote. However, I feel that they now have sufficient critical mass to be serious players.

I am in rough agreement with your assessment of the key points in respect to the three major parties, although I don't have quite the same visceral loathing for the Conservatives that many commenting above have. I have voted both Conservative and Labour in the past.

Like you, I feel it is absolutely imperative that Labour are either ousted or reined in this time around, which made my decision a bit tricky, since a Conservative vote should theoretically have the best chance of achieving that. I have some real issues with some of the Conservatives Manifesto commitments though, which is why I decided to vote Lib Dem.

I wasn't entirely easy about this decision however, as I am not as sanguine about a hung parliament as some seem to be. While I wouldn't have a problem with such a situation in normal times (indeed I might normally consider a hung parliament to be a bonus), in the current economic environment I feel that swift and decisive action may be really necessary. My concerns about civil liberties issues however have trumped this concern for this election at least.


There was an interesting article in the New Scientist about various election methods and the degree of fairness which bears reading.

However my personal suspicion is that a hung parliament will end up like the last time it happened -ten months of sweet Fanny Adams and a new election. Both major parties are probably willing to trade the above to ensure the cosy two party machine stays intact.The only wild card is whether the financial markets are willing to finance the enormous cost and damage to the economy as a whole.

Out of perversity rather than any need I tried to put a bet on the inflation rate hitting double digits within a ten year time frame - I couldn't even get an even money wager -which suggests something nasty about their expectations!


There is a lot to be said for govt not doing anything (sweet FA, if you want to be disparaging). In some cases, it can be preferable to "doing something, in order to be seen to be doing something" which seems to be the default mode these days. As Charlie and others pointed out upthread, the likely hungparliament scanerio is very different from the Lib-Lab Pact days of yore.

And: I see Nick Clegg has said today that electoral reform will not be a prerequisite of LibDems joining a coalition, which is a bit worrying . . .


@91: "... with no yearly Finance Act, Income Tax would lapse (it's a temporary tax, only levied while needed, and it has to be reintroduced each year)"

This is the single most interesting thing I've read today. I hope it's even true.

The most amazing thing about the coverage of the UK election in the US (to me at least) is that it never states the actual date of the election. It's always "next week" or (now) "this week." I find that extremely odd.

My understanding from US coverage is that the LibDems were not doing terribly well until Clegg's performance in the debate. That makes me wonder if their support is based on him and his personality rather than the LibDem party manifesto. Alternatively it might be that his good performance legitimized the party as a whole and moved people who might vote tactically for the Tories or Labour to vote LibDem.


Replying to a comment on Germany way upthread at #32,

"including the former communist/socialist party of east Germany, now called LINKE, which didn't want to go away even after almost twenty years"

Former communist parties have not gone away the vast majority of the post-communist countries. Indeed, the communists' successors have held or shared power at the national level in practically all of the states of Central and Eastern Europe. Why should Germany be any different?


British elections are pretty much always held on a Thursday no matter when they are called, but it's not an absolute requirement in law as I understand it. That includes European and local elections when they are called, although they are on a fixed cycle.


It isn't that interesting and it doesn't mean that income tax is temporary. After Charles I tried to use ship money, a permanently authorised tax, to run an absolute monarchy parliament has refused to grant the government any permanent taxes all taxes depend on annual enabling acts. Supply depends on the consent of parliament and passing these acts is automatically a matter of confidence. For somewhat similar reasons the acts providing the basis of the armed forces are also annual.

Legally elections can be any day however the last General Election not on a Thursday was 1931, which was a Tuesday. The 1918 election was on a Saturday and the 1922 and 1924 elections were on Wednesdays In all Pre-1918 and in the 1945 election polling took place over several weeks.


"When my father retired, he was a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chemistry.

So are all Fellows of the Royal Institute of Chemistry not from comprehensives?
If there is even a single one; your point falls.


The airport-extension thing's actually quite a big deal: if the proposed third runway at Heathrow goes ahead (increasing by 50% the capacity of what's already the world's third busiest airport) then it will essentially wreck our chances of meeting our carbon emissions targets. Note, however, that the Lib Dems have supported airport expansion elsewhere. In general, they talk a pretty good fight on environmental issues, but don't act green when in power. They also have an unfortunate tendency to slash public services and privatise everything when in a coalition with the Tories. But hey, they're neither Labour nor the Tories, which counts for a lot; if they mean what they say about Trident, ID cards and proportional representation, then I'd be happy to see them gain power.

I still haven't decided who I'm voting for, mind.


I'm in Watford, which is a 3-way marginal. My main objective is to keep the Tories out.

I was considering a tactical vote for the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems themselves have talked me out of it:

(1) their local leaflets tell me that the Tories can't win here, using dishonest graphics in support of this,

(2) their leader has declared that his actions in a hung Parliamant will depend in part on the total popular vote for each party, meaning that my voting Lib Dem instead of Labour makes him more likely to support the Tories.


I also live in the same constituency as your good self and will be joining you in hopefully voting out the incumbent (as you say he is not the worst Labour guy about but that’s not quite good enough) and getting a local butcher into the Big Hoose on the Thames.

Previously I’ve voted SNP for the past 35 years with the conviction based on if we can get some sort of self determined power then life might have improved. Sadly my expectation has not been proven. It seems to me as if the SNP have joined the Labour party in aiming for the lowest expectations instead helping folk aim to look upward, take responsibility for there own lives, stop legislating against things, whilst shielding the poorest, weakest and oldest in our society.
I’m not for one moment thinking that the Lib-Dems will meet any of the above but they might, just, act as a catalyst for some better future.


[ Stupid American trolling deleted by moderator ]


I think this time I'm actually going to use my postal vote. I've been living away from the old country for nearly 20 years now but this election is too important to ignore. If it wasn't for the byzantine website you have to navigate through I might have re-registered before now but this time I'mm going to get it done.


You left out ..." with mixed-abilty teaching" didn't you?
You are avoiding the argument.
Comprehensives CAN be selective, internally, but far too many are not.

There is also the decline in standards at "A" level, especially in the sciences.
NOW: A*,A*,A,BorC
(Physics, Maths Pure, Chemistry, Applied Maths (for which I did no work at all)


You are, alas, much too late -- last registration date for postal votes was about two months ago; the ballots went out more than a week ago: the completed ballots due back no later than 5pm tomorrow.


Slight correction on postal votes (from someone disenfranchised by the volcano) last registration for the electoral register and last application for postal votes is much closer to the election than that, the cut off was(a democracy afirming) 20 April - i sent mine in (from Asia) the day the airspace closed - so it never got there in time.

Useful to know though since i suspect we might have another of these things comming our way this year (elections not volcanos)


Nicely laid out. I've swung between LibDem and Conservative over the years (I just missed out being old enough for the '83 election) and I think the best result this time around is a Conservative/LibDem coalition, the LibDems acting as a damper on the more extreme COnservative policies and injecting some reality.


Charlie, I'm curious, are the SNP likely to join a Labour/Liberal coalition if the result is close and they are needed for a majority? How about other minor parties?


krum: Charlie, I'm curious, are the SNP likely to join a Labour/Liberal coalition if the result is close and they are needed for a majority? How about other minor parties?

I don't know.

In the Scottish Assembly the SNP and Labour are at daggers drawn: the SNP/Labour dynamic replaces the Conservative/Labour dynamic in Westminster. They're not known as "tartan tories" for nothing.

In Westminster ...

Well, the Conservatives can probably count on the Ulster Unionists, reactionary/presbyterian fundamentalist types from Norn Iron. The Scottish hate the Conservatives with a livid, undying passion (thank you, Margaret Thatcher) so it would be unwise for the SNP to even be seen talking to the conservatives without a bloody good excuse. Horse-trading may ensue behind closed doors, but I strongly doubt that David Cameron, leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party (to give it its full name) would offer the SNP an independence referendum in return for their support (this would, to SNP supporters, probably qualify as the absolute minimum for an "acceptable excuse").

Plaid Cymru: I haven't the foggiest. UKIP (if they get any seats) are automatic Tory allies. And there are a handful of independent MPs.


The Tories have now actively merged with the Official Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, as UCUNF (no, really). They are a number of drawbacks to this move:
- The OUP has essentially been outflanked to the right by the DUP.
- The OUP's only sitting MP loathes the Tories, votes with Labour, and is running against them as an independent
- The NI Tories have failed to re-brand their alliance as sufficiently non-sectarian to attract any new voters from the OUP's old pool.

It might perhaps leave them less able to run the peace process, but Labour's relationship with the SDLP never got in the way of that, so we might be OK on that score.

The only advantage for UCUNF (no, really) is that the DUP itself is also in interesting times, being knifed from the back by the new ultra-Unionist split TUV (heh heh - see how _they_ like it for a change) and reeling from the Iris Robinson scandal.

I know all this because I read Splitered Sunrise - your first blog-port of call for all your Catholic Church, NI politics, UK ultraleft and Naxalite-related facty goodness.


Piss. - above read 'from _outside_ the OUP's old pool'. Soz.


What evidence there is, is that at primary level mixed ability classes with grouping within the class work better than anything else. With a setted or streamed class the teacher is too likely to use whole class teaching which means that more of the class are set work that is either too hard or too easy. While with mixed ability classes teachers tailored the work set to the individual pupils as the spread of ability within the class was far too large for whole class teaching to even be considered.

The 11 plus system was and is an evil method of preventing working class children from going to university. The number of passes was determined by the number of grammar school places not ability, if you didn't go to a grammar school you were not normally entered for a GCE O level, you got CSEs instead where the maximum grade was a C. This made it very hard to go on to do a GCE A level and then go to university. Working class areas had few Grammar Schools places while middle class areas had lots so of two pupils getting identical marks at 11 plus. One in a working class area is branded a failure and sent to a Secondary Modern. While one in a middle class area passes and goes to a Grammar School. With neither even being that close to the cut-off.

While Grammar Schools were mostly quite good Secondary Moderns were too often awful. The bad results from the Secondary Moderns meant that overall the split system performed poorly.


Wonderful discussion, thanks Charlie for sparking it off (and hosting it). In fact some of the best discussion on electoral issues I have stumbled across.

Interesting @13 brought up Has anyone tried it? I think the idea is great (I've found it very hard to cut through the BS and historical bias, living in NE England). But I have some serious concerns about the phrasing of the questions. E.g. "The UK's stock of nuclear weapons should be reduced". If you disagree with that, is the implication that you believe they should be increased? A digital yes/no answer rarely fits the question imho.

Thanks also to our host for providing some links/background on Tory policies in the 80s. I was born in '83 and grew up in London for the first 6 years before moving to NE England. I do not recall (doubtless in part due to my age) any negatives from that period, whilst I certainly do from when Labour took over (perhaps due to increased political awareness), so I've had a hard time coming up with a well-reasoned but firm opinion.



Mixed-ability classes result in a massive workload increase for teachers. Not in itself necessarily a bad thing, but at the extreme (no setting, no special schools) the workload 100% inclusion produces is not manageable. Also, the educational requirements of children differ across abilities: at the very bottom-end, it's crucial that children gain practical life-survival skills, which setting and special schools can put emphasis on, over more abstract skills which the bottom-end have no hope of grasping.

So the right answer is neither black nor white. The argument is what shade of grey is appropriate.

(disclaimer: my partner is a teacher-in-training)


Voting floaters go Lava-Tory...


As an Australian resident in the UK, I find I get to vote. I'm in East Oxford, which is a Labour-LibDem marginal, and will be voting Lib Dem for similar reasons to Charlie - civil liberties and electoral reform.

I second the comments about going to Australian-style preferential voting (which you guys call "alternative vote" system, I believe) being a less radical change than going to NZ-style PR. The Lib Dems would do pretty well out of an AV system, I think, and that might be easier to get support for.


The worse thing about Major stepping straight into the Carlyle Group was that this was payment for flogging off Royal Signals and Radar Establishment (one of our top military research establishments, responsible for the invention of radar among other things). Now known as Qinetiq and mostly owned by the Carlyle Group and other US institutions. Frankly I am still amazed he got away with it and consider this high treason.


Greg writes...

people who put up posters (the last time we had a local, as opposed to national) election proclaiming that "Voting is un-Islamic"...

I'm in Leytonstone, not far from you, and there are indeed some stickers up saying that right now. However, speaking from the perspective of an English convert to Islam (and having read the moderation policy, I'm quite aware of Charlie's position on religion - whether I'm wrong or right in my beliefs is a discussion for another place and time entirely, so I hope I can post here without triggering that conversation) I think that's probably one of the worst disservices that people can do to the image of our religion. Are they honestly proposing that Shariah law covers areas such as national energy policy, international trade agreements, transport planning, immigration regulation and everything else? I certainly don't think it does. As usual, it seems the loopiest voices are the loudest ones.

For what it's worth, I'm a dyed in the wool Green voter but I wish the Lib Dems luck.


Isn't this your Halting State scenario (which I now publicly apologize for heckling when you came to Google)?
Squinting at's latest projection, Conservatives+SNP could have a majority government alone, without UKIP or UU's.
Given a choice between the Lib Dems and a PR system or the SNP and cutting off Labour's West Lothian problem advantage, I can just about see the Tories giving Scotland independence, along with the constituency boundary redrawing, and having a UK permanent majority.


This is indeed a worry.

The two things mitigating against it are (a) the Tories role as the Conservative and Unionist Party, and (b) the SNP's previous model for independence -- Ireland -- having an economy that cratered last year; it makes the prospect for Scottish independence look a whole lot less attractive.


Ugh, I didn't realise you guys were talking about streaming at primary school. How absolutely vile.

I know far too many bright and capable people who were pigeonholed as dummies during school. My wife's fancy private school wouldn't let her take Calculus in her final year, lest she drag their average down. She now has a Masters degree in science and a way more intellectual job than most of her schoolmates. I personally know two high-flying post-docs who didn't even finish high school. I was in an accelerated class for my first two years of high school; the year ahead of us had all been pushed into taking their School Certificate exams a year early, they got indifferent results, and I doubt many of them even made it to university.

@Greg, how many people left school functionally illiterate in the years you're talking about? I'll tell you, because my mother runs an adult literacy program: a lot. Anything vaguely resembling a learning disability (hell, even needing glasses, some of the time) had you jammed into the slow class and probably caned once in a while for good measure. On balance, it's a failed model.


The great Johann Hari has his own take on the terrifying prospect of the "Big Society" that Cameron is currently peddling...


"In the UK, the Labour Party... actually became one of the major parties of government, by a combination of circumstances...".

One circumstance was the result of a little known feature of the electoral system in the late 19th century. It had proportional elements, since some constituencies returned more than one member. There, it worked as a poor approximation of cumulative voting, which gave some proportionality. That was enough to let minor parties get started and grow to be viable on a national scale. Of course, it was Labour itself that kicked that ladder away with electoral "reform" once it had climbed it, so the Liberals weren't able to use it in their turn. The Liberals and their successors actually have a small-c conservative argument for electoral reform that reinstates the former proportionality.


'@91: "... with no yearly Finance Act, Income Tax would lapse (it's a temporary tax, only levied while needed, and it has to be reintroduced each year)" This is the single most interesting thing I've read today. I hope it's even true.'

How about this, then: as late as the 1960s (I think it was), the British armed forces were run on the same yearly roll over basis. If the law wasn't renewed, military discipline would no longer have had a legal basis. Sure, troops could still have been controlled by confining them to barracks, and sailors by keeping ships in port, but then they couldn't have been used to control the country - which was the point.


Streaming in UK schools isn't rigidly enforced, it's just a method of concentrating teaching effort. I did poorly in primary (elementary) school but after a rocky start in secondary school (junior high) I was moved into the top stream for my second year and eventually finished third in my class academically, behind one guy who is now a world-class researcher in anaesthesiology.


"The 11 plus system was and is an evil method of preventing working class children from going to university"
I presume that included my father, did it?
It depended on academic ability, and NOTHING ELSE.

If you are going to raise the old-Labour class-warfare thing about proportions, I urge you to think in Evolutionary terms.
Over large populations, and large numbers, intelligent parents TEND to have intelligent children.
And intelligent parents, over large populations and numbers, tend to have better jobs.
However, if intelligent parents have thick children, they'll fail, and intelligent children from undrachieveing backgrounds will do well - like (20 years ago) Miriam up the road from me, who went off to U a year-and-a-half early to do maths and engineering. The rest of her family really didn't have too many brain cells to rub together.

See also 133.
@ 140
I wasn't talking about primary-school streaming.
Where did you get that idea??????

@ 137
You poor, deluded bugger.
La Il'allah
( "There is no god" )
We DON'T WANT OR NEED politicians with imaginary friends, of any sort.


Greg, evolution is my job (assuming I ever find another one here in the global sticks). The hereditary intelligence thing is EXTREMELY dodgy, massively confounded by social and economic factors and the preconceptions of the people doing the studies (I can haz eugenics?). There's bugger all biological evidence for it. In fact, the only really compelling study of that sort showed that two highly intelligent parents are more likely to have an autistic child.


Far fewer grammar school places were provided in working class areas, so many able working class children were sent to secondary moderns which were often pretty awful and were steered towards the CSE which made it very hard to go on to further education. While if they lived in a more middle class area they would have passed The grammar schools served a small proportion of the most able well but secondary moderns badly failed everyone else. Any system of selection where the number of passes is determined by the number of available places rather than the number of places that must be provided being determined by the number of passes is evil.

The Grammar school system systematically discriminated against the working class by making a mark that would have been a clear pass in a middle class area a clear fail in a working class area and then discriminating against all failures, including many who were perfectly capable of coping with university and in another area would have passed and gone on to university.


Quoth Greg: You poor, deluded bugger.

Greg -- this is your yellow card: I will have no ad hominem attacks around here.

(You're welcome to discuss your beliefs, and the relative merits of belief systems in general, but if you start being rude to other commenters you'll be banned for a while. Clear?)



There is a problem with your argument, and it is that you're ignoring the fact that overall educational outcomes are worse in areas where there is a mix of grammars and comps (like Kent, for example) despite the fact that the grammars themselves have quite good results.

Now consider what has changed since 1924 - whereas back then most of the population performed menial labour in factories with only a small elite in managerial or professional roles. In this situation it might have made sense to ration the best education.

But now a greater proportion of people work in white collar jobs.

This means we need genuinely comprehensive education to ensure a high standard of education for everyone, not just the top 25% (and, by definition, grammars were not "a way out of poverty and underprivilege for everyone" because they only took the top quartile of 11+ candidates.

So if private schools are a problem then advocate banning private schools, and don't assume that selective education is the solution.


Brett Dunbar: "The 11 plus system was and is an evil method of preventing working class children from going to university"

Greg Tingey: "Bollocks.
I presume that included my father, did it?
It depended on academic ability, and NOTHING ELSE."

My experience suggests otherwise...

I had the great good fortune to enter Whitcliffe Mount Grammar School in 1971 along with a whole bunch of other kids from nice, white collar (if not actually middle class) homes, this was A Good Thing because otherwise, like many of my cohort I'd have been consigned to South Parade Secondary Modern, a dismal, brutish institution dedicated to keeping thick kids from largely blue-collar households out of the way until they could be put to work digging holes, slotting widgets together on the assembly line or performing other such menial and intellectually undemanding tasks.

Now fast forward six years or so. Whitcliffe Mount Grammar School has been Whitcliffe Mount School (comprehensive) for three years. The thick kids have been reunited with the brainy kids and after an initial period of mutual suspicion and low level violence we've all settled in and found our intellectual level. Interestingly a good 25% or so of the sixth formers studying for A-Levels, reading University prospectives, and looking forward to undergraduate life are the same kids who'd been flushed round the U-Bend by the 11 plus. most of them were successful too. Meanwhile by a strangely pleasing symmetry a significant number of the former grammar school kids have flunked out at 16 with a handful of dodgy CSEs.

Whatever the 11-plus was selecting for, in my corner of West Yorkshire at least it wasn't purely intellectual ability, if that was the intent then it was doing it extremely badly with what I at least regard as an unacceptable high failure rate and it was consigning a [i]lot[i] of bright, capable kids to sub-standard educations. What it actually seemed to do was select for nice, well spoken children with parents who read a lot, who's jobs didn't involve getting dirty and who didn't live on council estates.

Anyone who wants to bring back grammar schools had better have a [b]damned[/b] good plan for not bringing back Secondary Moderns (or something filling the same niche under a different name) in the process and a better way of handling the inevitable failures of the selection process than I ever saw evidence of back in the grammar school days.

Incidentally I put my X against the name of my local lib-dem candidate this morning - I don't wholly agree with their national program but on balance it's less unpleasant than the alternatives on offer, the local candidate is a personable, articulate, and gives every appearance of caring about constituency issues. Possibly more important that that, in the current circumstances a lib-dem vote is I believe a clear and unambiguous vote for electoral and constitutional reform...


A few things - the Royal Institute for Chemistry has been gone for some decades now. The Royal Society of Chemistry has several Fellows who left school at 15/16 and became Chartered Chemists by following the LRSC/MRSC/CChem route.

Greg's also wrong on the 11+ - there was never a pass mark, but a number of places available at grammar schools in the same catchment area: so if your area had proportionally more grammar schools per primary school, you had that much of a better chance at a place.

Finally, Greg, populations revert to the mean - on almost every factor that can be measured and shown to have a genetic link (which knocks intelligence right out, anyway), when both parents are a certain distance away from the mean, their offspring will be closer (and in any case, who can be sure of their parents, as Prof Cohen used to say).


As a business person born and living in the US, I get a great deal of my news from publications that focus on financial and business perspectives. These publications tend to sound alarms over the UK's deficit problems and I was a bit surprised that it only merited one mention in your column and none in the subsequent comments. That leads me to ask the following questions which you are, of course, free to ignore.
Is the deficit and the government's deficit policy of any concern to you? If so, how would you like to see it addressed and in what sort of time frame? Do you think publications like The Economist (along with others) have made too much of the UK's debt problems? Can you foresee a situation in which a debt crisis in the UK might prevent the issues with which you are most concerned (presumably as outlined above) from being dealt with (as the debt problem has placed every other issue on the back burner in Greece and threatens to do so in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Ireland)?


Brant, there seems to be no election contest at all going on in respect of the national debt, insofar as all the principal parties have virtually identical policies on debt reduction.

There are minor differences over the rate at which they intend to reduce the debt load, and ideological differences will dictate where the axe cuts deepest in the public sector, but they all agree on the necessity for cuts in government capital expenditure and, to varying degrees, in the public sector payroll.

It's not a democratic election if the parties on offer are offering you a choice between jam tomorrow, jam tomorrow, and no jam today (but maybe tomorrow).

For what it's worth, though, I'll note that many of the worst infringements upon civil liberties by the current government -- ContactPoint, the NIR, and so on -- and the worst boondoggles on IT spending, all correspond to multi-billion-pound capital expenditures. The Liberal Democrats propose to axe most or all of them; indeed a LibDem program of scrapping the NIR and ContactPoint, massively scaling back the NHSpfIT, and scrapping Trident (or replacing it with something much more minimal) would save something in the range £30Bn to £150Bn, which is, as they say, a Good Start.


Thank you for your response. I've been doing a bit of reading on the BBC's website and it does seem like the major parties are in agreement that it needs to get done but vary somewhat on how to do it. At least your folks have a plan, we're in a mixture of denial and delusion over here. (See ).

For what it's worth, I find your elections far more entertaining than ours. Parliamentary style democracies leave so much more room for regional dynamics to be a factor.


@ 151
Apologies & corrections.
Royal Society and Institute of Chemistry - my bad OK?
11+ "pass-mark & No of places available. Correct - but I think you get my drift..
I never said, incidentally, that the old system was perfect - it wasn't, but I do maintain that it was better than the crap we have now.
One major failing of the old system was that it was never fully implemented, or funded, as the 1944 Education Act specified, and that the next level "down" (perhaps) "Technical High Scools" were especially starved of funds and resources, even where they existed.....
I dispute your statement on populations.
Surely, intelligence is a physical characteristic, and is therefore heritable in the same ways as eye-or-hair-colourations, or size, or ......

Getting back to the election.
I've voted, for a party I hate, Labour, in order to stop a muslim male being elected.
THIS, of itself says why the Lem-O-Crats (as a party) are right about electoral reform.
I've been forced to vote against my own interests, less a worse fate befall .....
The polls are closed, and at present, the showing is Tories largest party, but well short of a majority - they will NEED partners.


Hi Greg: inheritance gets increasingly less obvious the more complex a trait is (because there are more genes involved in development, and less chance of a single gene having a really strong effect). The brain is not only an incredibly complex organ, it's massively plastic. The way that kids are treated, and the environment that they experience, between say birth and the age of 12, is a much better predictor (in the rigorous statistical sense of the word) of academic performance than any genetic factor.

To give you a quick example: I was a prodigious reader as a child. What say I'd grown up in a house with no books, where no-one ever read anything or read to me, like some of my peers did? There would almost certainly have been measureable differences in my neural development.



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