Archiv für August 2010

Electoral Bias

Dienstag, 31. August 2010

A number of elements within a voting system can contribute to electoral bias (i.e. when two or more parties obtain similar levels of voter support but receive significantly different shares of parliamentary seats). Such elements include:
1. Unequal electorate size (mal-apportionment)
2. Voter distribution (geography)
3. Different levels of turnout (abstention or under-registration).
4. Competition from smaller parties
The current UK electoral system favours the Labour party (worth 63 seats at the last election) and the Coalition government sees an urgent need for new parliamentary constituency boundaries to remove the advantage Labour is perceived to gain from unequal electorate size (1. above). The Conservatives prefer a House of Commons reduced to 600 seats (-7.7%) – a smaller Commons also saving taxpayer money – and a single electoral quota of around 76,000 electors per constituency.
However, Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, directors of The Elections Centre, University of Plymouth, consider that the effect of such mal-apportionment (1. above) on the Labour advantage is much less than the way in which the Labour vote is more efficiently distributed (2. above) across the Country, turnout (3. above) in Labour seats also being lower. Labour is, therefore, accusing the Coalition of trying to fix constituency boundaries for political purposes and pointing out that of the around 3.5 million UK residents qualifying for a parliamentary vote but missing from electoral registers, very many are in Labour ?supporting areas, one reason why Labour MPs represent smaller constituencies on average.
In a reduced Commons, Labour could lose 27 (11%) of its current 258 seats, the Liberal Democrats 6 (11%) of their 57 seats and the Conservatives 13 (4%) of their 307 seats, the latter then still short of an overall majority (of 301 seats out of 600) despite being well ahead of Labour in the popular vote. It should be noted, however, that although the boundary review will solve the problem of mal-apportionment (1.), ignoring the bias produced by the other important elements (2. and 3. above) may result in Labour only losing around 10 ? 12 % (i.e. – 27 + 13 + 6 seats) out of its total advantage of 63 seats.

Alternative Vote (AV)

Freitag, 27. August 2010

The Alternative Vote (AV) system in Australia produced a hung parliament in their recent election, whilst first-past-the-post (in contrast to the UK election) would have resulted in a clear Conservative victory.
AV changes voter and Party behaviour. In the UK the Liberal Democrats would expect to win a lot of second preference votes under an AV system but AV can also encourage votes for other parties such as the Greens (now the third force in Australian politics with Labour owing 8 of its 70 or so seats to the second preferences of Green voters). This is because such voters have the luxury under AV of significantly reducing the possibility of a wasted vote by e.g. choosing a Green candidate first and a mainstream party as their second choice. The main parties also have more flexibility to move towards the centre e.g. the Conservatives could be more confident of securing most right wing second preferences and can compete more actively for the middle political ground. Similarly, Labour could count on being the second choice of e.g. left wing Liberal Democrat voters, as it targets voters in the centre.
Overall, therefore, although AV could still favour the Liberal Democrats in the UK, the party might also find itself pushed further from the centre ground by both Labour and the Conservatives, opening up the fracture between its right and left wings.

Sir Philip Green

Freitag, 20. August 2010

A division has emerged in the coalition over the appointment by David Cameron of Sir Philip Green as an unpaid financial trouble-shooter, tasked with making recommendations on how to make the public sector more efficient. Lib Dem MPs who campaigned against tax avoidance in the election are demanding a review of the tax arrangements of this businessman who has avoided tax on the personal fortune made from his business empire by handing ownership to his wife, now living in the tax haven of Monaco and legally avoiding tax on dividends from his companies.
Under pressure from his MPs, Nick Clegg has said that they are looking at the case for an anti-avoidance rule to ensure that wealthy individuals pay their fair share of tax. Lib Dem MPs add that tax avoidance costs the Country far more than benefit fraud, the latter of such major concern to the Conservatives.
In defence of Sir Philip his companies are registered to pay tax in the UK, his large number of employees all pay tax and his personal tax avoidance scheme via his wife is not illegal. He and his team will also only be making recommendations and he will not be in government making laws. He is unfortunately like Lord Ashcroft a prominent example of the flexibility that wealthy individuals have to minimise their tax exposure under the current UK
tax laws. However, the Coalition agreement also commits the government to make every effort to tackle tax avoidance including detailed development of Liberal Democrat proposals, although in principle no decision has been taken on whether to support a general rule outlawing tax avoidance.
It is good that the Coalition is pulling in such experience and talent to help sort out the Country and also moving away from the dogmatic politics of yesterday by inviting others such as Frank Field and Alan Milburn from the Labour party to provide their expertise e.g. on respectively poverty and social mobility. However, a further question has now been raised on the judgement of David Cameron with the resignation of David Rowland the new Conservative party treasurer, who was only appointed in June having returned from tax exile last year and given £2.7 million to the Conservative election campaign. Apparently Mr Cameron ignored warnings that he was not the man for the job. Whether the internal strains within the Coalition from the appointment of Sir Philip Green will prove to be worth it should be judged together with the practical effectiveness of the actual recommendations resulting from the efforts of him and his team.

Council Housing Reforms

Freitag, 13. August 2010

A Sunday Times poll on the reforms to council housing suggested last week by David Cameron, found 62% in favour versus 32% against. It was proposed that, in future, people moving into council homes could be put on short-term leases, renewable every five years.
The risk for the Conservative party is in alienating the type of person once won over as a voter by the chance to buy their council house and representing those with aspirations on the council estates. Without the stability from longer term security of tenure, there will also be no incentive for council tenants to improve and add value to their housing through their own efforts. There is a certain mismatch perhaps between those on one side who regard a house purely as an asset to trade profitably up the property ladder when the market allows and those for whom a house or flat is very personal and valued as their home, even a council home.
However, the council housing market would benefit from being made more flexible such as via the proposed freedom pass database of the reforms, to allow council tenants in complementary circumstances to exchange houses e.g. to find work elsewhere. Housing associations and councils already try and encourage tenants whose children have left home to exchange their house for a smaller flat. They also endeavour to cut down on abuses of the system such as sub-letting of council properties.
This council housing debate overlaps with the one on more control over immigration. One of the consequences of mass immigration doing the recent Labour years is that of the 1.8 million on the council house waiting list, rather a large proportion particularly in London are from immigrant communities. The positive contribution to society of such communities, therefore, also needs to be offset against the resources and services they require such as access to scarce council homes.

Trident Challenge

Freitag, 6. August 2010

France and the UK similar but now only medium-sized powers, still occupy two seats on the UN Security Council along with the US, Russia and China, the main and victorious allies from the second world war. Both have retained their own nuclear deterrent capability which would appear to be based on an assumed although non-existent Cold War threat of a surprise attack, but which also serves to reinforce their otherwise diminished claims to remain at the Security Council table, when challenged by e.g. the more economically powerful Germany or Japan and the rapidly emerging India or Brazil.
In the case of the UK, the defence strategy for conventional forces assumes the opposite to the nuclear option i.e. that there is no immediate threat of an attack by another state. Also, contrary to the independence of the French nuclear deterrent, the UK relies on the US for its technology and now faces a decision on renewal of its Trident seaborne deterrent, a £20 billion or more commitment over the next 15 years. The governing coalition has pledged to maintain this deterrent but both parties have agreed that the case for Trident be re-examined to ensure continuing value for money and that the Liberal Democrats can also propose an alternative for consideration. Trident itself has been specifically excluded from the Strategic Defence and Security review but the Conservative Defence Minister Liam Fox has been landed with the hot potato of not only producing budget savings of 10% or so within the Ministry of Defence but also finding an extra £20 billion to replace Trident. He is faced, therefore, with either budgeting for a straight Trident replacement and comprehensively cutting back on the conventional defence portion or choosing a cost-reduced, alternative deterrent and a new defence strategy.
The Trident challenge for Prime Minister David Cameron is that strong defence of the realm is the default position traditionally adopted by the Conservative Party and its supporters going back to Mrs Thatcher and her nuclear deterrent commitment in the 1980s.The harsh realities of coalition government have already meant that core Conservative beliefs in e.g. low taxes and first past the post voting etc. have already been compromised. The future of Trident could be viewed as challenging what the Conservative Party fundamentally stands for and Mr Cameron might do well, therefore, to spend more time reconnecting with traditional Conservative voters, activists and MPs on the issue of core Conservative values.