Elected House of Lords? @electoralreform #electoralreform #lordsreform #sortition

The Electoral Reform Society and others claim that we need an elected upper house in order to be fully democratic. But I say that they have confused democracy with vote-ocracy.

Today’s papers are full of a periodic favourite: how the House of Lords needs to be reformed. Reports of one peer who left a taxi waiting whilst he went inside just to sign in for his £300 daily expenses only to then nip off again in his taxi (!) have (re)surfaced. The Electoral Reform Society, who I largely agree with and support, have called for an elected House of Lords.

But I disagree.

The House of Lords is a total mess. No doubt. Packed with cronies, those with conflicts of interest (taking EU pensions whilst voting on whether we should leave the EU!), and lazy sods who turn up for their dole. The place is an anachronism. And it’s a great pity that Labour could not finish the reform job they started in 1997; if they had prepared for government a bit more, maybe they would have.

But electing members of the Lords is not the solution. In fact, it would make things worse.

Why replicate the elected Commons? Why have yet more elected careerist politicians?

The Electoral Reform Society and others claim that we need an elected upper house in order to be fully democratic. But I say that they have confused democracy with vote-ocracy.

If not an elected Lords, then what?

The Lords is supposed to be a politically neutral, disinterested, body of wise counsellors, who have no vested interests, who are not career politicians, and who act as a sober check on any possible elected dictatorship of the Commons. But how to get such a House?

Clearly, elections corrupt the system and invariably lead to politicising. Not merely my words and thoughts, those of the founding fathers of the US. The ancient Athenians and Romans knew this, too, which is why leading figures were selected by sortition (out of a hat, as it were, like jurors are nowadays) and were limited to a single one-year term.

Thus, there are intricacies involved in reform, but I put forward the following as a sound basis.

  1. There should be far fewer Lords than there are MPs in the Commons. But currently there are 805 Lords and 650 MPs. I propose to cut the number of Lords to around half the number of MPs, let’s say around 300.
  2. Lords should not be elected (barring e.g. the Bishops), and should either serve life terms, very long one-off terms, or very short terms. Perhaps all three depending.
  3. Lords must forsake any political allegiance or conflicting interests as the Speaker of the Commons does.
  4. Around half or more (two-thirds? three-quarters?) of the Lords will be chosen by sortition (like jury duty) from a pool of eligible persons who have not opted out, representing equally the leading minds in all key disciplines such as science, technology, business, the arts, philanthropy, and so on. Such individuals should serve long single-terms/lifelong terms.
  5. Most of the left-over minority of the Lords should be chosen by nomination by the political parties in proportion to the seats they have in the Commons and for a single term, perhaps the length of the next parliament, no party in the Commons having fewer than one appointee in the Lord. For example, if 100 seats were to be made available this way, the Conservatives would nominate around 51 members, Labour around 36, the SNP around 8, the LibDems, UKIP, Greens and so on 1 each, all based on their current seats in the Commons.
  6. There should be an even smaller number (around half of the nominees) who are selected by sortition from the public at large, after having met various qualifications, and who should serve single one-year terms.
  7. The 26 Lords Spiritual should keep their seats.
  8. The 90 hereditary peers should keep their seats until they all die. Their seats will not be handed on. Eventually, there will be no hereditary peers left.

This sort of thing seems like a reasonable compromise which would achieve what we want of the Lords — and most importantly, doesn’t confuse vote-ocracy with democracy.

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/CE9F/production/_87559825_standing-lords.jpg

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The EU’s Democratic Deficit #brexit #changebritain @LeaveEUOfficial

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Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, has said that the oft-repeated claim that the EU is undemocratic is actually a lie. His view: we elect members to a European Parliament on a proportional basis, something we don’t even do in the UK, so how can the EU have any democratic deficit?

But in fact, his reasonable-sounding claim is not true. Being a smart man, Tim Farron must know this. Therefore, it looks like he must be lying.

But why is his view not true?

The EU’s democratic deficit has two majors points.

1. The numbers don’t add up. The UK gets 79 MEPS to represent the 65 or so million people of the UK. That’s one MEP per population the size of Birmingham, more-or-less. Whereas in the UK House of Commons, we have 600 or so MPs (the number has changed over the years) to represent the same number of people. Clearly, one elected representative per hundred thousand is more repesentative than one per million. Therefore, the EU parliament is less representative.

1b. The numbers really don’t add up. Remember that those 79 MEPs make up around 9% of the seats in the EU parliament. Therefore, even if all UK MEPs agreed that something was in the best interests of the UK, which is nigh-on impossible, they would still be in a 91-9 minority. Clearly, therefore, the people of the UK do not have control over their own affairs within the EU. The lack of a cogent European demos makes this point relevant not just now, but for the foreseeable future.

2. How are decisions made? Look at the chart at the top of this article. The European Parliament isn’t the prime mover within the EU, anyway. The Parliament oversees the Commission, but it is the unelected cabal-like European Commission which puts forward legislation, initiates policy packages, and imposes fines on national governments (p.45, The European Union: a very short introduction, 3rd edition, John Pinder and Simon Usherwood, 2013, OUP). The Commission is known as the “watchdog of the Treaty (p.44) and the “motor” of the community (p.45) for a reason.

Therefore, whilst there is an argument to be had that the House of Commons should move to a proportional basis (and, indeed, there a good arguments against this, too), this is not key to the issue at hand. The EU is, and by its very nature will remain, incapable of the representative democracy which it aspires to. It has a serious, inbuilt democratic deficit it cannot make up for.

© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

ELECTORAL REFORM: Ask Your MP To Support Proportional Representation @electoralreform #MakeSeatsMatchVotes

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Ask your MP to support Proportional Representation

http://action.electoral-reform.org.uk/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1754&ea.campaign.id=45033

This Wednesday, your MP will have a chance to support Proportional Representation.

Jonathan Reynolds MP is proposing a Bill to scrap our broken First Past the Post voting system for Westminster elections, and to bring in the system that has been used in Scotland and Wales for many years.

Whilst the kind of Bill being put forward rarely becomes law, we think it’s important voters let their MPs know that they want a fairer voting system – and this Bill is a crucial step in the right direction.

If it were to reach later Parliamentary stages, the ERS would support it being amended to move to the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system used in Northern Ireland and Scottish local elections. But the Bill still represents a vital move to a more proportional voting system for Westminster.

Please urge your MP to back the Bill – email them today.

featured image and text from the Electoral Reform Society

Voting Reform

vote-toss

The results of the General Election have thrown up some intriguing uncertainties. For example, will the SNP’s unprecedented success precipitate the break up of the UK?

But one thing is certain from the results: the voting system needs to be changed in time for the next General Election.

Consider this. The UK Independence Party received almost four million votes. That’s the third highest and a total 12.6% share of the vote. Yet the party only received one seat in Parliament. Yet 12.6% of the 650 House of Commons is 82 seats!

Whatever you may think of UKIP, this is a travesty and makes a mockery of any notion of British “democracy”.

But it’s not just UKIP who were done over by our voting system.

The LibDems got two and a half million votes, a 7.9% share. Yet they received 1% of the seats.

The Greens gained 1.15 million votes, a 3.8% share. They only received a single seat.

On the other hand, the SNP got 50% of the vote in Scotland, yet a whopping 95% of all seats! Not quite as dramatic, but the Conservatives won 51% of the seats on a mere 36.9% of the vote.

And bear in mind that 33.9% of the eligible population didn’t even vote! That means the Conservatives were only supported by 24% of the voting age population, yet got more than half the seats.

Our system really is winner takes all.

A lot of people I’ve been speaking to have been really quite confused. So I’ll explain our system.

The country is divided into voting areas (constituencies). Whichever candidate gets the most votes in any area wins that seat. Everyone else gets nothing. This was UKIP’s problem: they came second in 120 seats nationwide! But first in one seat is better than second in a hundred under our system.

Perhaps in the era of two party politics, our current system worked well (for example, in the 1950 General Election, the Conservatives and Labour respectively gained 40% and 46.1% of the vote and 35.2% and 46.1% of the seats). But we no longer exist in that era, and never will again. So it’s time to change.

The only arguments in favour our system are that it’s easy to understand and produces stable government. Well, I think the idea our politics is stable is now laughable. And easy to understand? How can anyone understand a party receiving 12.6% of the vote getting a mere 0.15% of the seats?

The system needs to change. That is clear. But change to what? There are so many alternatives that the mind boggles.

Luckily for us, however, the UK has been engaged in numerous pilot schemes trialling different voting systems for a while now.

  • In the London Assembly, Welsh Assembly, and Scottish Parliament, the Additional Member System is used. It is semi-proportional; winners are chosen as in the General Election, but there are extra seats for each area which are awarded proportionally.
  • The London Mayor is selected by the Supplementary Vote system. Everyone picks their first choice and second choice. If no one candidate receives 50% of the vote, then all candidates except the top two are eliminated, and all second preference votes are redistributed. The candidate with most votes after these supplementary votes are added is the winner.
  • European Parliament elections are done according to the d’Hondt method which, more-or-less accurately, gives a proportional share of seats based on share of vote. For example, in the 2014 European Parliament Elections, the percentage of votes/seats won was: UKIP 26.6/32.88, Labour 24.43/27.40, Conservative 23.05/26.03, Green 6.91/4.11, SNP 2.37/2.74, and so on.
  • In London council elections, each ward elects up to three representatives.
  • There are many other systems in use in the UK. See here for all the details.

Clearly, no voting system is perfect (this is actually scientific fact: just see New Scientist‘s article if you don’t believe me), but we need to make votes count. Some ways include more even-sized constituencies so each vote is equally valuable, instant easy right to sack any MP / call a by-election, direct voting by the population, easily triggerable referenda, and so on. But changing the electoral system is key.

My proposal

Whilst I don’t want to break the link between MP and constituency, nor introduce two kinds of MP, I think the best solution is either a proportional system based on voting regions, e.g., the four nations or sub-regions thereof, or a London-style Additional member system with the current system supplemented by proportional elected regional MPs.

The 2015 General Election results were a travesty and a miscarriage of justice. Indeed, they were a farce. Let’s move into the twenty-first century.

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry

References
Full results: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2015/results

Scottish Parliament Electoral System: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/visitandlearn/Education/16285.aspx
European Parliament Electoral System: http://www.europarl.org.uk/en/your_meps/european_elections/the_voting_system.html
Other voting systems used in the UK: http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/elections-and-voting/voting-systems/
European Parliament Election Results 2014: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Parliament_election,_2014_(United_Kingdom)
New Scientist on the impossibility of fair elections: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20627581.400-electoral-dysfunction-why-democracy-is-always-unfair.html#.VVYou2dFCM8

Featured image from http://www.silverbearcafe.com/private/06.11/images/vote-toss.jpg

 

General Election 2015 Predictions: Aftermath

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The 2015 General Election is almost done, with less than a dozen seats left to declare. David Cameron has won, and with an outright majority.

Huw Edwards on the BBC said, “Nobody predicted this”.

Well, not quite nobody, Huw:

https://doggerelizer.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/general-election-2015-predictions/

As you can see, a nobody predicted this. If everybody wants to come to this nobody’s house and offer me a top boffin job and / or fat wodges of cash in return for my god-like insights, I will consider your offer.

But how did I get this right when top bods around the country didn’t? Was it luck? Was it insider knowledge? Was it a time machine or a cellophane-sealed batch of NZT-48?

Actually, it was simply a matter of being realistic, objective, and following the ebb and flow both on the streets (as a political activist, myself; I’m not a drug dealer) and in the media.

But my supernatural gift of foresight comes as a small crumb of relief because the party I voted for did not win. Also, I didn’t put a damn bet on!

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from http://www.link2portal.com

Somaliland Petition: Outcome

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My official petition to make the British government officially recognise Somaliland’s independence has now closed. It didn’t quite get the 100,000 signatures required for an obligatory government response; it got 611.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. That 611 represents more than the combined signatories to all other Somaliland petitions put together.* So, when set against the 100,000 target, 611 is indeed a dismal failure; but when set against the past Somaliland petitions, 611 is an outstanding success — literally the best there has ever been. So I am both proud, and deeply disappointed.

So where from here? But first, why bother?

I do not have Somali family or any real interest in Somalia or Somaliland itself. I have no ulterior or selfish reasons for my campaigning on this. Rather, I am passionate about national liberal democracy: that a world organised according to a brotherhood of sovereign nations thoroughly exercising liberal democracy is the best and only way for a moral and free world to thrive and function. This view is grounded in the notion that all peoples have a right to exercise their freedom and join the brotherhood of soveriegn nations if they so choose. Somaliland to me represents a fairly non-controversial and unequivocal example of this principle. And our continued refusal to recognise Somaliland not only goes against the principles I just outlined, but it thoroughly jeopardises the democracy that Somaliland is building. Thus, the failure to support Somaliland by way of recognising its independence and all which that entails not only is morally wrong from a theoretical standpoint, but it is also an error given practical and pragmatic considerations.

But for more context and explanation, see here for my previous Doggerelizer article on the subject, and see here for the official government petition’s page.

So where from here?

Simple. I continue to campaign for national liberal democracy. Perhaps this time focusing on a different nation which may appeal to more people. And I will keep the fight for the recognition of Somaliland going. I will keep you all informed.

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry

 

Je Suis Charlie & The Pope’s Epic Fail

Pope Francis

It was only a matter of time before the contrarian intellectualist backlash against Charlie Hebdo began. The body of Charlie Hebdo‘s murdered editor Stéphane Charbonnier is barely even cold, and incredibly not even buried yet(!), but none-the-less one of the original founders of the magazine, Henri Roussel, felt compelled to criticise Chabonnier’s decision to post the now infamous cartoons.

What made him feel the need to drag the team into overdoing it? He shouldn’t have done it, but Charb did it again a year later, in September 2012 … I believe that we [were] fools who took an unnecessary risk. That’s it. We think we are invulnerable. For years, decades even, it was a provocation, and then one day the provocation turns against us … I know it’s not done … [but] I really hold it against you [Charbonnier]. [link]

This is, of course, bollocks. Nobody deserves to be shot dead for printing or saying anything. Roussel, could you have not waited a respectful period before spouting this nonsense (e.g. after the funeral, perchance)?

Luckily, organised religion is always nearby to save the day when mankind is in need of sanity. The Pope said this:

If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others … There is a limit. Every religion has its dignity … in freedom of expression there are limits. [link]

That’s right, folks: the Pope used the same justification that rapists and wife-beaters employ the world over. Well, look at how high her dress is: she was just ASKING for it! The stupid bitch MADE me do it!

Organised religion, you fail. Again. Why is organised religion never there when we need it, but always there AFTERWARDS to do the handwringing and soul-searching?

Yeah, we WERE complicit in the Holocaust, both directly through our support of the Nazi regime and indirectly through our constant stirring up of anti-Jewish feeling which exists EVEN IN OUR FOUNDATIONAL TEXT (!) [see the Gospel of John], but, ya know, we feel we’ve really grown from this experience. 

Some half-senile old crank cartoonist can criticise whoever he wants. He’s wrong, of course. But the spiritual and political leader of around a quarter of the world’s population, a man who wields both spiritual and temporal power as a head of state, a man who rannks among the most influential on the face of the earth — he should know better.

The thing is, organised religion is like all good scams. The pope and all his kind can say or do whatever they want and the mud just won’t stick. He kisses a deformed man once, and apparently he’s flawless.

Dear Francis:

You did not say that the Charlie Hebdo staff deserved to die, I grant you that. But by saying that nobody has the right to criticise religion, you (1) declare your ignorant pre-enlightenment mindset which has not quite grasped the basics of what makes a free and prosperous society possible, and (2) you offer extenuating circumstances to those terrorist, murdering scumbags — you do, in fact, offer the same justification as the rapist and the wife-beater. You are therefore both spiritually and intellectually incapable of being a leader to billions — although, ironically, perfectly suited to being head of the Roman Catholic church — and you gravely let down mankind with your unhelpful and hindersome words.

featured image fromhttps://res.cloudinary.com/the-news-hub/image/upload/v1411278325/sbzxjc7ncshusfczjhov.jpg

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry

 

#Je Suis Charlie 2

Charlie-Hebdo

The two runaway men who carried out the massacre on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, Said and Cherif Kouachi, have been captured and shot. Police forces stormed the Kosher butchers where they were holding numerous individuals hostage. In total, twenty people or more have now died in this tragedy.

Of course, the death of these terrorists does not mean the end of terrorist attacks on our free way of life (Oh, God help me, I sound like George W. Bush or some other improbable American politician there; at least I didn’t say “evil-doer” or “mission accomplished”). We need to remain strong and confident in our values and not allow the spectre of terrorism to either stifle our free speech nor be used by our politicians to restrict our freedoms.

Unfortunately, I am rather disappointed and disturbed by the reaction to these shootings.

Yes, the popular support for Charlie Hebdo has been encouraging and inspiring. Far less encouraging, however, has been the reaction of the press. So far as I can tell, not a single British newspaper has republished the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. Someone please tell me I’m wrong and that I overlooked a front page somewhere. I just cannot believe that all of our newspapers have failed in their duty so miserably… again! (2005 Danish Cartoon Controversy, anyone…?)

The respected Guardian newspaper “justified” not reprinting the cartoons at the centre of this massacre by basically saying, ‘We’re not a satirical magazine, so we don’t have to’. Well, sorry The Guardian, but you are a newspaper and need to report the news. None of this massacre has any context or makes any sense at all unless the cartoons in question — not other cartoons from Charlie Hebdo, but the specific cartoons that the terrorist shooters were “avenging” — are republished.

Please do read The Guardian‘s entire pathetic justification. The following extract is particularly telling.

In social media, the call has been loud – and aimed at several British newspapers, including this one – to take a stand by publishing the very images that made Charlie Hebdo a target. For the most vociferous, republishing a sample of the magazine’s usual fare, which the Guardian has already done, is not enough: they insist that true defenders of free speech would reprint Charlie Hebdo’s depictions of the prophet Muhammad, especially the crudest, most scatological examples.

That case is straightforward. Since these are the images the gunmen wanted to stop, the surviving free press is obliged to deny the killers that victory. No other gesture can show that we refuse to be cowed by their crime. By repeating Charlie Hebdo’s action, we would demonstrate our resistance to the edict the terrorists sought to enforce on pain of death. We show that Charlie Hebdo was not alone.

There is an appealing simplicity to that stance, but it rests on faulty logic. The key point is this: support for a magazine’s inalienable right to make its own editorial judgments does not commit you to echo or amplify those judgments. Put another way, defending the right of someone to say whatever they like does not oblige you to repeat their words.

Each and every publication has a different purpose and ethos. Charlie Hebdo is not the Guardian or the New York Times, nor is it the Daily Mail or Private Eye. The animating intention behind its work was to satirise and provoke in a distinctive voice, one that would not sit easily in other publications. Other publications can defend – and defend absolutely – the necessary diversity of press voices along with an editor’s right to offend. But the best response is not to be forced to speak in a different voice. The Guardian felt that at the time of the 2005 Danish cartoons controversy, and we feel it now. As Simon Jenkins argued on these pages on Wednesday, terrorists’ chief goal is to make us change our behaviour. It’s best to deny them that victory.

[emphasis in bold is mine]

Yeeeah… I could perform a media student-style dissection of that crock, but I’d rather save my time. I only need to say the following two things.

One: newspapers are supposed to report the news, and by not reprinting the original cartoons the newspapers deprive readers of the essential context at the heart of the news — imagine 9/11 being reported with no pictures of the planes going into the Twin Towers. Can you even imagine that such a thing would have happened? Of course not.

Two: note the Orwellian inversion of logic that, in order to not “change our behaviour”, as the terrorists want us to, we need to thwart the terrorists by persisting in our established behaviour of being cowardly as ever and not fighting back by printing the original images. What on earth?? Peace is war, cowardice is defiance — apparently.

Will it take the merciless slaughter of a British cartoonist, such as the Guardian‘s own Martin Rowson, before our newspapers stop sliming their way out of their duty? What is the point of a free press if they will not report the news — the core of the news here being the original cartoons?

Well, bollocks to our cowardly newspapermen! I suggest we plaster the offices of all of our newspapers with print-outs of the original Charlie Hebdo cartoons. I would also commit to not buying any of their papers anymore — except I long ago grew sick of the sludge that passes for news with these cretins, and so no longer read the mainstream newspapers.

P.S. Here’s a wonderful response to the media’s cowardice by Don Asmussen. Thanks to Jerry A. Coyne for posting it on his blog.

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featured image from http://eyedrd.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Charlie-Hebdo.jpg
Don Asmussen cartoon from http://www.gocomics.com/badreporter/2015/01/09

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry

Bryan Parry: Genius

The United Kingdom's New Flag?

The United Kingdom’s New Flag?

Scotland is going to vote on Thursday 18th of September. The outcome will decide if Scotland stays as part of the United Kingdom or becomes an independent nation. If the people in Scotland vote to leave the UK, that means that the left-over part of the United Kingdom might have to change its flag; the Union Jack gets it’s blue, after all, from the Scottish flag.

I came up with some alternative, Scotlandless UK flag designs. I believe this was 2012, but it may have been before. Either way, I posted my ideas up in July 2013, and then again more recently. Check out my posts here and here.

The Metro newspaper had an article (12th Sept. 2014) with what the Flag Institute believes should be the flag of a Scotlandless UK (below). Look familiar? As you can see, I think that qualifies me as a genius: yes, Bryan A. J. Parry invented the British Flag (kind of). I expect the cheques in the post any day now…

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© 2014 Bryan A. J. Parry