AV and the Green Party – a case example of absolutist politics…

For all Caroline Lucas’s musings around the adversarial and absolutist political system, she was a key contributor to the discussion regarding whether the Greens should support the AV campaign, where she made it clear that she was fully in favour of the Greens doing so. Lucas argued that she didn’t want to be on the outside looking in, or fighting a no battle with the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

This ignores the fact that there will be trade unions and many a progressive person/group/affiliation fighting against the AV bill. But it also plays into the dichotomous view that you either have to take a for or against AV stance when it comes to campaigning time. Derek Wall made a good point when speaking in objection to the motion, that there are alternative forms of protest we can do, such as spoiling the ballot via placing a + on the AV option.

We don’t need to front a pro or an against campaign. We could have let the members decide and remained neutral as a larger organisational body. Alternatively, we could have forged a pro PR campaign, this could have helped us reinforce our distinctiveness to other so called progressive parties, such as the LibDems.

Caroline Lucas rightly, as she did at conference, has made some important comments regarding the out of date political system, such as in a recent Guardian article she claims:

“This adversarial system impacts on everything from the membership of select committees to the selection of amendments for debate. Everything is decided in a mysterious, opaque fashion. At first sight, it seems so laborious for any outsider, or novice, to understand – or influence – because parliament is so steeped in tradition and pomp. But the reality is that parliament is this way for a reason: it keeps power in the hands of the few. The main parties don’t want smaller parties to make use of the powers of the institution, whether to legislate or scrutinise the government.”

As, I and Darrell Goodliffe commented upon in our conference review, the amount of obstacles politicians have when it comes to getting on with their job is very worrying. Her comments are a damning indictment of absolutist politics. And quite a good and rightful one too. But then, as I have said above, why did we then feel obligated to have to come down on a for or against position regarding AV? Why heel to the first sign of electoral reform? Especially when it will be reform of little consequence.

We wouldn’t have looked anti-reformist. We could have fronted a campaign where the benefits of PR were emphasised, instead we are to waste time and energy (and some resources) talking up the benefits of AV to most likely see it be defeated. As many have said, those who believe in AV being the best option for change should have been given that chance to argue just that – but there are many skeptics in the party who rightfully think that the arguments for AV will undermine future reform.

The motion that passed through conference argued that AV removed tactical voting and the wasted vote problem. Some may then find themselves asking, well why do we want PR then. These factually incorrect arguments will only undermine any case for future reform, as we take a wrongly absolutist stance of which we are encouraged to do so by the very system that Caroline Lucas is rightfully defaming.

I am most  likely going to abstain from voting, as I feel a general sense of apathy towards voting for or against it (however, spoiling the ballot is also an option). Hopefully, I will be wrong and this wont undermine the Greens and future reform. However, it seems as though we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t – so instead of engaging in absolutist politics; a neutral stance – allowing individuals to pursue their own conscious based decision – would have been the most applicable option.

Note: There is soon to be a myth busting article regarding AV, by myself and Darrell Goodliffe on Broad Left Blogging, so watch this space.


The mistaken and unhelpful arguments for electoral change…

Ok, I have been writing rather a lot about the contradictions of certain arguments – such as pluralism and tribalism – and now another contradiction comes to mind. This time it is in regards to the electoral system. As we know, there is to be a referendum soon on AV (well if it actually passes the parliament stage, especially with the news that Tories and Labour will join to prevent the bill from happening – oh, how one-sided this coalition is increasingly becoming).

Whether to support AV or not is to be debated at the Green’s party conference. I am increasingly coming down on the side of anti-AV – we need PR, as for one – it isn’t proportional, and in some cases, less so than the current system. Furthermore, it is to be tied to self-interested boundary changes (even if it is not in name in terms of the question) – and this could even lead to our one MP losing her seat. Then there is the erroneous nature of arguments such as it will get rid of tactical voting. I mean, seriously? People I know in Labour are clearly thinking and promoting tactical voting in the leadership election, the election which uses AV.

Another argument that I came across the other day, promoted by a LibDem, is the view that AV would near remove the BNP. I mean, as if there is really any presence of them anyway (they failed to win an MP and their council seats was dramatically reduced). This argument also counteracts many of those who are pro electoral system changes – as what they are saying is that, well we only want electoral change to improve our own party ratings, we don’t want the electoral system to really reflect the voting, instead, we just want more seats for ourself.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the BNP, they are a vile party. However, people vote for them, and as we live in a democracy and they are (for the moment) a legal party, we shouldn’t be voting for electoral systems on the basis that it will eradicate the BNP. I mean, it rather undermines a strong argument for electoral change, that it would make the electoral system fairer and be a better reflection of popular voting.

The author of the argument above, believes that with the use of the AV: NO BNP argument, Labour couldn’t possibly front an opposition to AV as it would undermine their moral obligations. I seriously don’t see this. As I have said, this is a clearly mistaken argument, and actually undermines the need for electoral change. You can’t change an electoral system to stop parties you don’t like (even though most people don’t like the BNP), as then you are just replacing the FPTP system with another biased and undemocratic system.

But in truth, that is all AV would do anyway. It would do little to improve the electoral system we have, and it will hamper any future reform. Hopefully, parliament will listen to Caroline Lucas’ amendment to get PR options on the ballot paper – that will certainly put the Liberal Democrats in a difficult position. I think if people are going to fight for the AV system however, they shouldn’t be trying to pull on the heart-strings as the article I cited is – it isn’t helpful, and is actually counterproductive to the pro electoral reform arguments.

What this also does is reflect attention away from the reasons that people support the BNP. There is a real need for proper investment in jobs, capital spending and the like – these are the real reasons behind most people’s support for the BNP. So no wonder some LibDems would want to play this BNP card in an electoral vote, as it takes attention away from the hurtful spending cuts that they are initiating with the Tories.

The tensions between pluralism and tribalism….

Caroline Lucas on the Labour leadership election

Whilst I am much in accord with Caroline Lucas’s article and position regarding the Labour leader contenders and their need to become more pluralistic, there is still a possible contradiction relating to the desire to break away from tribalism and move towards pluralism, which needs to be considered for pluralism to succeed.

Before considering this contradiction further, Lucas’s summary of the Labour leadership is perfect:

The Labour leadership contest has hardly set politics alight. “Boring” and “predictable” are two of the kinder terms levelled against it. How has the task of filling one of the most important jobs in politics – of potentially selecting the country’s next prime minister – come to this?…

The leadership campaign thus reflects all that is worst in our politics: blandness, a lack of honesty, and a choice between slight variations on the same product, namely weak social democracy overshadowed by subservience to the market and international commercial interests. It is not a formula to restore faith in politics, help realign the left, or build a foundation for an assault on the coalition, let alone choose a future PM.

You couldn’t say it any better.

But what about pluralism?

Lucas is right to prioritise several aspects, which would help make up a so-called “dream candidate”. This candidate would understand that we no longer need Trident, and that the environment and climate change are pressing important issues. They would understand that inequality has only risen under New Labour’s tenure, and is set to increase once again due to the economic illogicality of the current government. They would understand that the economic system is fundamentally linked to the environment, and that the desire to keep producing beyond our means is a key problem for both the environment and the economy, as it feeds into the lack of sustainability but also the endless boom and busts. Furthermore, the candidate needs to have a desire for political and electoral reform, and has to have a real commitment to diversity. Central to all this is the need for pluralism.

I agree that pluralism is key to future progressive battles – this is clearly shown by the Coalition of Resistance (yes, I have mentioned the coalition again!). But, if you consider Lucas’s “dream candidate” – this isn’t what many people in Labour actually want, nor believe. Consider the sustainable argument, there are many within the Greens who want a zero growth economy due to sustainable matters, and also fairness. Furthermore, there are many in Labour who oppose the AV referendum, not on the basis that it is tied to unfair boundary reforms or that it doesn’t offer PR voting alternatives, but more on the basis that they don’t actually agree with voting reform.

So whilst pluralism is ideal, there comes however, a problem, a problem that I myself have been trying to grasp with in recent times. This is because I look at the Labour leadership, and much like Caroline Lucas, I think man is that it. It’s very disappointing and frustrating, and then us Greens and some within Labour start to construct the alternative candidate. We construct what we want to be ideally happening. As Lucas did in her article, we construct our own ‘ideal’ candidate for Labour – and this is based very much on our own tribalism ideological view of what constructs the most progressive way forward.

It can be detrimental to the need for us to also embrace positive progressions from the current candidates, especially more left leaning ones such as Ed Miliband – as they aren’t seen as progressive enough to us. Our frustrations with their inability to really break out and construct a much more appealing and progressive platform results in us casting the contest as a losing situation. We fail to see the positives and this is where the problem for pluralistic politics occurs.

Thus, whilst I am very much for progressive pluralistic cooperation – as this will be key to future fights against the cuts that are yet to bite as much as they will in the near future. We also have to be aware that with pluralism, there will always be almost a sense of well I want to cooperate but…. I guess this is what Lucas means when she says:

I have discussed the need for a more progressive, pluralist politics, based not on Blair’s suffocating “big tent”, but on a campsite of different parties and movements, sharing common values but maintaining their own identities.

So I guess we just have to remember this tension when furthering progressive alliances. Maybe we can move on from seeing it as a contradiction but more an adaptation and consideration. As there are many causes that the left do share, and even if we do have different aspects, when it comes to alliances to fight for a living wage, or to combat the cuts – well pluralism will become more and more important.

AV may prove to be a sticky wicket for progressives…

Both the Greens and Labour face a difficult situation (for different reasons) when it comes to deciding whether or not to support AV in the planned referendum on May the 5th. The Greens face a more progressive question of whether they should compromise, as the LibDems did, their desire for PR and support a system that can sometimes be less proportional than FPTP. Derek Wall contemplates the problems the Greens face rather well, discussing the need for a PR campaign. This relates to a key problem that I have discussed previously, that there will be a road work blocking implemented when it comes to reform, whatever the result; as if it is passed people will say, look you have had your change now please leave it alone, but if it doesn’t get passed – people will say, see people never wanted the change anyway. This all is without the chance to vote for a more proportional system.

The AV referendum has to get through parliament first, there may be a chance to table an amendment for PR electoral systems to be included. But I very much doubt the LibDems would even support this amendment, as they have been whipped for the AV deal as that was all that was agreed for the coalition to form – even if the LibDems supported a PR amendment, the Tories definitely would not.

Furthermore, Labour may not provide support for PR either. Labour are more divided in their opinions towards a new voting system. The furthest most of them seem to go is AV – as many are opposed to any change in the system. Therefore, it will pose problems for Labour in different ways – they don’t want to look as though they are supporting a ConDem move, but equally if Cameron is to support AV as reports suggest, they don’t want to look more regressive than the Tories.

A key problem however, one which may tilt Greens to opposing AV, is whether controversial constituency boundary changes are included within the referendum as a clause. This has to be watched with care. This is something Left Foot Forward missed out when arguing for Labour to support AV as they argue it will help Labour more than the Tories.

I want electoral change, but the problem the LibDems have got us in is that this referendum may kill electoral reform and progress dead before it has even begun. It is a complex issue, and each party will find it difficult when it comes to decisions of what to support and what not to support.

Update: News is that David Cameron will campaign against AV.