Thursday, 13 May 2010

The ConDem pact

We have a new government. It's not what many people wanted, but the vagaries of First past the post mean that is not irregular. I for one am cautiously optimistic. Yes we effectively have a tory government, and I can't say I trust them as far as I can throw Mount Everest, but that's beside the point. This coalition deal was one of only two realistic options on the table, the progressive 'rainbow alliance' was never an option. I'll explain more on that in a minute, first I'm going to pick out one or two things from the text fleshed out during the 5 days of negotiations. In doing so I hope I can explain my tentative positivity.

Political Reform
It isn't the first item on the list, but for many people that voted Lib Dem this election it is their number one priority. The coalition agreement is generous on Reform, with Fixed term parliaments coming into power immediately (A no-confidence dissolution vote will now require 55% of the house to vote in favour). Also in the mix is a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) system for Parliamentary elections, and a proposal to see a proportionally elected upper house.

This was one of the cornerstones of the Lib Dem campaign, and it is surprising how closely the coalition document matches their manifesto. The personal allowance will increase in real terms each year, with an aim to reaching the £10k target by the end of this parliamentary term. This will become the priority tax cut, moving ahead of the inheritance tax cut in the cue. A rise in non-business capital gains tax will help pay for it.

Civil liberties
Based on the Lib Dem freedom pledge in their manifesto a 'great repeal bill' has been touted.  Henry Porter makes the case for this far more eloquently than me. Also of note (though included in the immigration section) is the ending of detention of children for immigration purposes.

Those are my highlights. The full outline is available to view here.

So yes, the government is going to be tory lead. There is also a glaring problem with the deficit that makes spending cuts likely. Unfortunately Cameron's party is likely to do this with more relish, but at least with The Lib Dems looking over their shoulder hopefully thier priorities will more echo my own.

So for my mind this was probably the best result that could have occurred from a really dodgy situation. As a Lib Dem voter I'm aware that the party could be associated with a very unpopular government which could lead to their eventual downfall. So why the acceptance? It's probably best to look at the alternatves.

1) Confidence and supply -
There was the option for the Lib Dems to enter into a confidence and supply agreement with the the Conservatives. I explored this option in a previous post. However in hindsight, this would not have provided a government that lasted very long. Further, though they would have the power to veto elements of Conservative policy, they would have far less chance of getting their own policies enacted. The benefits listed above would have been vanishingly unlikely.

2) Progressive coalition
Well this was the holy grail to many a left-leaning voter, lock out those bastard Tories and get some good done. All wonderful in principle, however the Lib-Dems and Labour together did not hold enough seats to form a majority. That meant that other parties would have needed to jump on board, mainly the Welsh and Scottish Nationalists.
Fair play to them for effort, but the SNP and Plaid Cymru were campaigning on the back of spending increases for their respective countries. This would have been very hard to accept during budgets in which public spending had to be cut. Agreements on budgets were unlikely. Also, when negotiations began between the Lib Dems and Labour, Labour MPs made public their opposition to a coalition. When considering such a slender majority in parliament, any dissent would make the government untenable. For all our hopes and dreams, Labour and the Lib Dems combined just didn't get enough seats.

So there we go, agree? disagree? Let me know below the line.

Monday, 10 May 2010

No Women? Unfair or representative?

So today @hannahnicklin @davecoveny and others have been discussing the lack of female representation during the coalition negotiations. My argument in short was that if the Parties in question had no strong female negotiators, why should there be Women involved?

Let me make something very clear, I am not in anyway suggesting that women cannot be good negotiators or that female negotiators do not exist, I am saying very specifically that there may have been no women suitable for the role in the parties questioned. I am talking about the benefits of a meritocracy versus tokenism here. I firmly believe that in any situation people should be hired/selected/advanced on the basis of their ability alone. That means that Men, Women and so called ethnic minorities (I fucking hate that term by the way*) should all be judged on their talent in a scenario, not just flung in to make up the numbers. It's surely not fair on those people that may have been able to do a better job.

If I remember my numbers correctly there are 7 female Lib Dem MPs and 52 female Conservative MPs. The obvious question to ask at this juncture is why the ratios are so low? There are 362 MPs between these two parties but only 16% of women. Is that not unrepresentative given that roughly 50% of the UK population is female?

That all depends. As with the world of work, a better measure of what would be representative surely needs to look at the level of applicants for a role. When the ratio between number of applicants and number of successful applicants across all groups is balanced, then you can call the successful applicants representative. It would be easy to argue that there are talented women that are put off of entering politics for various reasons. For that reason I commend documents like this, which highlight those reasons, and try to help us break down the barriers.

What I don't like to see though is any bias built into a system, that may penalise a man via so called 'positive action' as much as I dislike to see unconscious bias (or even directed bias), rule out talented 'minorities' because they come from the wrong backgrounds. My answer as always in cases like this is that equality of opportunity is vital but selection must be fair. If that were to mean that 90% of MP's were women, I for one wouldn't complain.

*and I apparently am one.

The markets are jittery!

Don't under any circumstances expect this to be coherent or sensible, I just wanted to get something committed to 'paper' about the uncertainty of the markets, whether that be stream of consciousness or not.

I don't remember us electing a bunch of suited everything-phobes to run the country*. Why is it we are being held to ransom by the markets? The thinking behind this seems to be something like:
  1. A couple of people think 'ooh-er, not sure I like that government, I might just pull out some of my investment there.'
  2. Other people go 'Shit! look at that! some people are pulling out their investment! I might just go and try and make money out of this by taking up short positions against UK holdings'
  3. Further people go 'Oh, look at all those short positions in the UK! Market must be about to tank... Should probably reduce my exposure there'
  4. UK stock market tanks. 
You may have noticed that most of the work there was done by strategically shaved monkeys reacting to other monkeys going 'Oh shit!' How is that a guide to the formation of a government, and furthermore economic policy?

There is a running school of argument, that we are only in this position due to the level of debt we hold. That makes no sense to me. Even if we followed that argument to its (market driven) conclusion surely the cost of the debt should rise? Why would the state of the government effect the well being of the top private companies in the UK? 3 days after an election?

I could go on, so I will.

Only one trading day has passed between the election and now. Is that really too long to be making a decision? If I was a party leader, I probably would have slept the whole weekend anyway, what with all that campaigning. The impatience bugs me something chronic.

And what is with the news trying to make this a self-fulfilling prophecy? The BBC spent all morning, telling us how the markets were jittery. If I worked in the stock market, that would make ME jittery. Apparently the FTSE opened 100 points up this morning. Then started to descend, apparently in response to all the news stations saying that it should.

Or in short, this shit pisses me off.

*then again the Daily Express quoting Conservatives did get the highest share of the vote.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Hung parliament

So, I've been quiet for a fair old while. I didn't have much time to blog during the election campaign, and with my limited amount of followers I thought it unlikely that I would do much of an influential job here, deciding instead to go and campaign on behalf of my local Lib Dems.

So here we are, the votes are in and we are in hung parliament territory with one of the trending topics on twiiter for the last two days being #dontdoitnick. The don't do it, referring to potential deal with the tories to allow them to govern, either as part of a coalition or as a minority government.

I hold a lot of distaste for the tories, but cannot agree with this approach. Nick Clegg said prior to the election that the party with the most votes and the most seats would have first right to seek to govern if no party got an overall majority. The Conservatives are the party that are in that situation, so surely he should stick to his word.

There is a definitely a case for electoral reform, in fact it is probably the one issue that I deem most important. However, while Lib Dem supporters may consider themselves 'progressives' and therefore closer aligned with Labour than the Conservatives, it would surely been seen as a stitch up, if Clegg brokered any sort of deal that let Gordon Brown remain as prime minister, when only 29% of people voted for his party!

So what would I do? There is one issue of electoral reform on which the Tories and LibDems appear to agree, and that is the need for fixed term parliaments. If a deal could be offered on that basis, with an agreement to abstain from the Queens speech vote, the Conservatives would be forced to run into a 4 year minority government, with the Lib Dems holding the balance of power on a case by case basis.

There would then be a chance for the Lib Dems to put through a private members bill backing a referendum on our voting system. This would clearly be voted down by the conservatives, but if it was voted down by Labour also then it could be held up as proof that they weren't sincere about it's importance. If it was passed by labour then surely it would also have minority party backing, particularly from the Welsh and Scottish nationalists and therefore become law.

I voted Lib Dem, but I am a democrat first. Shouting 'don't do it Nick' because you don't like the Tories, isn't democratic, and if you want them to jump into bed with Labour, well you should remember how illiberal they have been these last 13 years.