Ozzy's Corner

A view from the Libertarian Left. With no spin


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How PR could be Labour’s next radical reform

Unless the opinion polls are wrong on an massive scale, it’s likely that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party will be massively defeated by a coalition of Theresa May’s Conservatives and former UKIP voters fleeing their rapidly sinking ship.The Tory lead of 15-20% predicted could produce a landslide for the Prime Minister with a parliamentary majority of over 100.Labour MPs could be reduced to well under 200 in number.

It would easy to blame Jeremy Corbyn for this (and many Labour MPs surely will), but the truth is Labour has been suffering from a long term decline, at least for the last ten years. The big tent that held together Dennis Skinner and Tony Blair has fragmented and split.

Labour and the Conservatives stride across our FPTP landscape, one where only two parties can be in contention. The political ecosystem squeezes out smaller parties. Yet times are changing. These two predators once enjoyed over 90% of the vote within living memory, but have in recent years had to survive on slimmer pickings, with the support of barely two thirds of the electorate. There is simply not enough food for the two dominant dinosaurs any more.In addition to less votes to fight over, the political tectonic plates have been shattered by two earthquakes – the 2007/2008 banking crisis and Brexit.

The Labour dinosaur is dying. Once confident and strong, it is wobbling badly. Those previously willing to tactically support it are standing aside. If propping up a dying beast is pointless, perhaps the best thing is to let it die sooner rather than later. Westminster politics is a zero sum game. There are a finite number of MPs and a finite number of voters. If a great tree crashes down, on the exposed ground where it lay, fed from the rotting trunk and new sunlight, new life can form. Left and centre-left voters would be free to build a new party or parties, better equipped for the new world.

Labour has a great tradition of radical reform, and herein lay an opportunity to forge a new democratic future for the country, just like it forged the NHS and Welfare State. Instead of refusing to adapt or change, and just die away, it could become the party to create a new democratic system. Proportional Representation would undermine the inherent benefit the Conservative Party enjoys. Of course, we need a FPTP winner to bring this about, and it therefore must be led by the Conservatives or Labour. Conservative turkeys won’t vote for Christmas.

Labour could become the party dedicated to reform the system. By committing to PR, Labour would attract voters from across the centre left. A Labour Party asking for non-Labour voters to lend their vote, to win the election to smash our out of date system, would be fresh, exciting and relevant. Labour will always be remembered for creating the NHS – it changed Britain. The 1945 Labour Government was a radical reforming Government.
By promoting a radical change to our democratic system, Labour could do that again.

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Progressives must accept a Brexit world

If the UK votes to leave the EU, mark the evening of June 13th 2016 as the time when everything changed.

The news of two new polls broke last night. You Gov recorded a seven point lead for Leave, and ICM reported a six point lead. My social media stream, mostly populated by left wing people, was mostly silent. I think the reaction was one of shock and incredulity. The nightmare of Remain supporters could be becoming a reality very sharply.

Also, The Sun came out backing Brexit. That is of no real surprise to anyone, but The Sun does not lead opinion, it follows it. It only backs who it seriously thinks will win, and this can be judged by the way it has backed the GE winner for a very long period of time. If The Sun backs your horse, it’s probably favourite to win.

This morning, the social media streams that were stunned into silence last night, have gone into panic mode. You can smell the fear. Remain just might be heading for serious electoral kicking. The public could be about to reject a core belief of the UK’s mainstream progressive parties.

At this point it is vital all progressive parties think very, very hard. It has two choices.

Firstly, it can continue to run around like Chicken Licken, screaming the sky is about fall down should the vote go for Brexit next week. Will this help? Almost certainly not. All sorts of negative information about what Brexit could mean has been the core of the Remain argument for weeks, yet the referendum is going away from them. If the public has discounted the risks already, there is no sign yet further warnings will help either. The remain campaign looks like a collective group of Cassandras

Alternatively, it can begin to think how it could influence a post-Brexit United Kingdom. Occasionally politics goes through a sea change. In 1979, there was no going back for Labour. They had been heavily beaten. In 1997, when Tony Blair routed the Conservatives, the game had changed. Labour and the Conservatives spent a long time in opposition until they realised change was required, before the public would listen to them again. In the same fashion, progressive parties need to consider an independent United Kingdom, and how they can ensure they are part of the process that rewrites what is a brand new rule book.

If they can’t learn and adapt to the new political geography, they will simply be ignored, and the foundations of the country will be written by conservative and reactionary forces. It is time for progressive parties to move on from the apron strings of the EU and work out how Labour, Lib Dems, Greens, SNP and Plaid can cooperate and ensure they lay down the foundation blocks. Holding grudges about who voted for what during this referendum is pointless, and will result in wasted years of counter-productive arguments, while the electorate shake their heads and give their support to other parties.

The left needs to wake and smell the coffee fast. If the public vote to leave the EU, the left had better accept it or be irrelevant.


A Response to a Left-wing ‘Remainer’

Yesterday, an person who I will not name posted this on the Internet:

My warning to all Lexiters – and there are many on my timeline, unfortunately.
I’m afraid this is my vision. On June 24th we wake up to discover the UK has voted “Leave”. Soon after, Cameron resigns. We then probably get Boris as PM.He may call a General Election, because a) he can and b) he wants a full term to put through HIS changes. He will negotiate our exit, on his terms, not by referring to the country. Those terms will be followed by a gradual or not so gradual erosion of our rights at work, because there is no EU to protect them, and because that’s what he, IDS and Priti Patel have promised, under the banner of “a more flexible workforce”. He’ll also tear up our environmental protections, hastening the advent of mass fracking etc. And he’ll also continue apace with the project to sculpt our democratic system into a permanent Tory-electing one. One of the more exciting things he’ll do along the way is to get a TTIP-style deal with the USA – whether Clinton or Trump – which will almost certainly be on worse terms (is that possible?) than the current one. Come 2021, there’ll be another General Election. With the changes Boris will have made to the system, and despite our best endeavours, Boris will win a second term.
If that, or anywhere near that, happens, I shall hold each and every lexiter responsible for the disaster.

I post this, as it is very much typical of the doomsday prediction that is driving left-wing voters to vote to remain in the EU. I was challenged to respond with the scenario I think is likely to occur, to defend my position as a ‘Lexiter’.

Dear Remainer,

Thank you for outlining your vision.

I agree that a Leave vote would be terminally damaging to David Cameron. He has already given notice he will quit anyway, and as evidenced by Tony Blair’s departure, stating an intent to step down makes you yesterday’s man immediately. If Leave wins, he would not only have backed the wrong horse, he has stated many times the disaster that Leave brings to the UK. How could he lead UK negotiations after that? In addition, 50% of his MPs and the majority of his grassroots members will be against him.

Who follows David Cameron? Boris would like it to be Boris, but he has demonstrated on a continual basis to change his mind more frequently than his underpants, and suffers ‘foot-in-mouth’ disease. He’s great for rent-a-quote Journalists, but I can’t imagine enough MPs or party members trust him to be Leader. Even if they did, the public would quickly realise they have a buffoon as PM.

Therefore, I reject the idea that he would become PM.

Whoever follows will be keenly aware that the misery of being an unelected PM brought upon Gordon Brown makes it unlikely anyone else would try it. Also, even before the referendum, the Conservative Party had a small majority and simply couldn’t get controversial bills through Parliament without lots of U-turns. Given the massive fissures that would have opened up in the last few months – wounds that won’t heal quickly – leading the Conservative Party will be a nightmare akin to John Major’s last few years.

For all these reasons, I conclude a new Leader will quickly be established and an election will follow, probably in October. The Fixed Term Parliament Act can be easily be engineered to do this.

All the policy ideas of the Tory right (Priti Patel and IDS et la) are very controversial. Do you really think the public would vote for such a manifesto in big numbers? Who would vote for reduced holidays, the loss of maternity rights and so on? I think the chances of a big Tory election win in October looks slim, as the party will still be fighting over Europe.

Assuming that this hurdle is overcome, if a small majority Tory Government tried to reduced holiday entitlement etc, there would be too many Tory MPs in marginal constituencies with post bags full of opposition from their voters, to get such measures through. Conservative MPs are nothing less that practical, and they won’t vote in a way that threatens their seat at the next GE.

So what do I think would happen should Brexit occur?

  1. David Cameron would resign very quickly or get pushed out by his party
  2. A non-Boris Candidate would win – my personal tip would be Theresa May or Phillip Hammond
  3. The Conservatives would win a small majority at best (my bet would be a hung Parliament)
  4. The negotiation to leave the EU would be hampered from the Tory-side by lots of infighting and old grievances. The list of right-wing fantasy policies would be ditched to get something through Parliament that other parties could support

There would plenty of scope for a progressive alliance of Labour, the SNP, Lib Dems and Greens to ensure the shape of the UK as independent nation would be far from the right-wing nightmare you have envisaged. In fact I can see scope to improve the country, as everything would be down to the UK voters without reference to another supra-nation body.

Best Wishes,

A Lexiter

 


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For Hilda

DSC_0106Hilda Margaret Elizabeth Sanderson 1935 – 2013

Yesterday, on Tuesday 9th July, my dear mother-in-law died in Dewsbury Hospital.

After being severely affected by one stroke some days earlier, a week last Saturday she suffered a second one. This one did such immense damage that recovery was impossible.

With great sadness, she was placed on the Liverpool Care Pathway. Care is quite an odd description for a process where essentially a person is deprived of food and water, being allowed to slowly die while just being given drugs to ease the pain.

One cannot watch a loved one slowly die in such a fashion and consider it anything other than cruel. Watching them just waste and fade away, not knowing if they can see or hear you. You are torn between wanting them to hang on, and the guilt of wanting them just to let go and stop the suffering. Once she had finally gone, it good to know she looked in peace and at rest. No more suffering.

Hilda hung on for seven days.

I cannot escape the idea that once someone is deemed so ill to be put on the LCP, then surely for humanities sake leaving them for days to die is much worse than allowing a form of euthanasia. This should be severely limited, but someone on the LCP is going to die. In reality, the LCP is a form of euthanasia.

Hilda Margaret Elizabeth Sanderson was a wonderful lady who deserved more dignity at the end of her life, more dignity than the LCP offers.

Update 11th July 2013

Today, as per Hilda’s final wishes, her three cats were put to sleep. They died quickly, painlessly and with much more dignity than Hilda herself.


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Really, I want the Lib Dems to do well in Eastleigh…

On Thursday the most interesting by-election of this Parliament takes place.

Eastleigh, recently vacated by the disgraced Chris Huhne, sees the two Coalition parties fight it out. It is a Liberal Democrat stronghold, held since 1994. Even Labour’s 1997 landslide resulted in only a third place with 26.8 % of the vote.

Here is the 2010 result:

General Election 2010: Eastleigh
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne 24,966 46.5 +8.2
Conservative Maria Hutchings 21,102 39.3 +2.1
Labour Leo Barraclough 5,153 9.6 −11.5
UKIP Ray Finch 1,933 3.6 +0.2
English Democrats Tony Pewsey 249 0.5 N/A
Independent Dave Stone 154 0.3 N/A
National Liberal Party – Third Way Keith Low 93 0.2 N/A
Majority 3,864 7.2
Turnout 53,650 69.3 +4.9
Liberal Democrat hold Swing 3

This by-election raises issues for left-leaning voters. Who do you vote for when the only real contenders are in Government delivering policies that are diametrically opposed to your principles?

This is the dilemma that  First-Past-The Post poses across the country. It turns the decisions made in elections from working out the best choice to calculating the least worst. Framed in this fashion then, what is a Labour and Green supporters least worst option, assuming your priority to to remove this Government?

The answer is quite clear – vote Liberal Democrat. That’s right – vote Liberal Democrat.

In 2015 the Liberal Democrats will be fighting 57 seats. Of these, in 38 the Conservatives are the second place party and Labour are runners-up in 19.

Below is a table with the effect of different swings from the Liberal Democrats to the Conservatives and Labour on the seats that Liberal Democrats would lose.

  1. Liberal Democrat
  2. Conservative
  3. Labour
Swing Achieved Gain for Conservative Gain for Labour
5 % 15 0
10 % 30 2
15 % 37 5
20 % 38 18
25 % 38 34
30 % 38 38

For example, should the Conservatives get a swing of 5% from the Liberal Democrats in these seats, they would take 15 seats. Should Labour get the same swing in the same seats, even a static Conservative vote would result in no gains whatsoever.

Next, seats where Labour are second:

  1. Liberal Democrat
  2. Labour
  3. Conservative
Swing Achieved Gain for Labour Gain for Conservative
 5 % 7 2
 10 % 13 4
 15 % 17 9
 20 % 18 16
25% 18 18
 30 % 19 19

Here a 10 % swing from Liberal Democrat to Labour would gain Labour 13 seats, and the same swing the Conservatives with a static Labour vote would win 4 seats,

The end goal of removing the Conservatives in 2015 is hampered seriously if the Liberal Democrats lose ground in the south, south east and south west where Labour are not contenders. Every seat the Conservatives win makes the job of Labour harder.

By-elections since 2010 strongly suggest that the Liberal Democrats have suffered serious swings to Labour, enough to virtually eliminate them from most urban areas, the north and the regions. Labour have also gained on the Conservatives.

The pincer movement of Labour gains in the north and urban areas and Liberal Democrat holds in the south would be fatal to David Cameron’s attempt to even be the largest party. UKIP making taking Conservatives votes would simply compounds the Conservatives in a triple squeeze

So if you live in a seat Labour are a poor third, allowing the Conservatives win by not voting Liberal Democrat really is cutting of your nose to spite your face.

Perhaps you should try one of Polly Toynbee’s nose pegs?


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The Law Cannot Legislate on Taste

Today Matthew Wood was sentenced to 12 weeks in jail for sending grossly offensive electronic communications.

His crime was to post comments on Facebook about Madeleine McCann and April Jones.

Chairman of the bench, magistrate Bill Hudson, said his comments were so serious and “abhorrent” that he deserved the longest sentence they could pass, less a third to give credit for his early guilty plea.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-19869710

This is just one of a number of cases where comments on social media have led to criminal charges being brought.  As a libertarian, it is of great concern when the law steps in to adjudicate in what are matters of taste. A basic feature of human beings is to make jokes about current events. I can remember following various tragedies, the rounds of inevitable jokes flowed within hours. The death of Diana, the death of Freddie Mercury, the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry, the list is endless. In the age of text messaging, the internet and now social media these jokes  and comments spread faster than ever.

The question of offence often arises. Is it okay to offend someone?

The truth is that a free society that allows the freedom of expression, creates the chance to offend in equal measure. Removing the ability to offend removes the freedom of expression. What is offensive to one person is not the same as what is offensive to another. Any attempt to frame offence legally is bound to fail as a result. Surely judges cannot  be allowed to determine what is ‘grossly offensive’?

Offence can lead to serious consequences. The publication of articles and cartoons that depict the Prophet Mohammed has led to the death of people by others who feel their own beliefs justified the killing of them. Monty Python’s ‘The Life of Brian’ and Martin Scorcese’s ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ led to global protests by Christians claiming blasphemy. In a free society blasphemy should an alien concept. Blasphemy laws simply legalise the suppression the views of one group in society that another doesn’t like. This dilemma is currently causing huge issues in Pakistan, and the serious suppression of minority groups.

The freedom of expression is vital to our society. We balance the freedom hold our own values with the fact that others will disagree. Matthew Wood’s comments were probably unpleasant, but that is not the point. He has been criminalised for expressing them. We should be our own arbitrators of taste. I follow this in my own life. If there is a TV or radio programme I don’t like, I turn it off. If someone at work or on Facebook who says something I find offensive, I ignore them. For similar reasons I would never buy a tabloid newspaper. I would never, ever buy one. Period. However, banning and censorship should not be considered. Just pick something else.

Comedians like Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr are not everyone’s taste. They do push the limits of comedy, but they also serve a useful role in society. They remind us that freedom of expression is sometimes difficult to hear and very uncomfortable. They challenge our concepts at the limits. This is a useful thing to be reminded of. Of course, if you don’t like them, you have an off button.

Freedom of expression and speech are essential in a democracy. They are too important to be left to politicians or judges.


The Lessons of Nick Clegg’s Folly

I really do feel sorry for Nick Clegg at times.

When taking the Liberal Democrats into the Coalition, he must have known the history of minor coalition parties. He entered the fray with the calm of a World War 1 Officer – ‘chin up chaps, never mind the machine guns, shells and certain doom, we’re British you know!"

The Coalition has provided satirists with an endless stream of calamity and cock-up. Satire has so often been a key part of our democratic system from the writings of Swift, the etchings of Hogarth and the cartoons of punch to TV’s Spitting Image, Brass Eye and sharp-witted bloggers such as Tom Pride.

While this is humorous and politically important, it is also vital that the left seriously looks at the nature of the Coalition and learns from the problems it has.

As time passes FPTP looks worse and worse. In 2010 the Tories won the election with 23.5% of the eligible vote. In 2005 Labour secured a working majority with just 21.6% of the eligible vote. Our system is broken. FPTP simply does not deliver a Government that reflects the view of a majority of the electorate. The solution is to adopt Proportional Representation (PR).

The issue the left must face is that PR mostly leads to coalition Government. If the progressive left wants a better electoral system, coalition Government needs to work. The wholesale trashing of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats undermines the acceptance of PR. Many Local Authorities are run with parties working together. However, national politics is far too often tribal and shrill. Prime Minister’s Questions demonstrates this perfectly. Tribalists love seeing one side putting the boot into the other, but to the many non-aligned voters out there it looks like nothing more than points scoring. Nothing of substance is asked or answered – it’s an exercise in prepared lines, leading sycophantic questions and diversionary answers. In short, while people are sat home worried about their job, mortgage and school, Parliament looks like a sixth form debating society.

The truth about coalitions is that compromise is an essential element. Give and take is required. No one will get all they want, and will probably have to accept some things they don’t like. This is life at work and at home. Every work place and every family operates on these lines. The question is how this can work in national Government. In countries across the world where PR is embedded, they have years of experience, and are therefore more politically mature at dealing with this. The present Coalition is a novelty, and quite frankly we are metaphorically just learning to walk.

Ed Miliband hopes he can secure a majority in 2015. If he does, it will be under the same inequitable system that requires change. Will he have the will to change a system that unfairly benefits his party for the good of national democracy? I am doubtful. If Labour doesn’t secure a majority, it will have to work with other parties to some degree or another. The list of likely partners is very short indeed. The chance of a Coalition being required is substantial, so Labour had better consider how this would work.

Peering into the hole that Nick Clegg has dug himself into would be a good start.