Tag Archives: democracy

Why I voted in a safe seat

A little while ago I posited the argument that not voting is a proxy vote for the winner. Now I’m going to suggest that it’s worth voting even in a safe seat where you’re voting against the incumbent.

In Lichfield I’ve voted for Rob Pass, the Green Party candidate. He won’t get anywhere close to winning. He might not even retain his deposit. But voting Green is my way of telling MPs my views. When they see what sounds like will be a big uplift in the green vote it’ll send a message about the kind of politics and policies I and fellow Green voters want.

No, it won’t change a lot but if UKIP has taught us anything it’s that the big parties will respond to a threat to their power. I also believe that lots of people who are thinking of voting Green won’t do if they feel their vote won’t count. That’s a self fulfilling prophecy. Those of us who do help increase the Green vote will show others they won’t be alone next time.

Just voting once every five years is going to do fuck all though. We should vote but also follow up that action with more action to try and get the politics and society we desire. As Andy Bennetts said, organise.

That’s why I’m starting #365daysofpolitics. Every day, starting today, I’m going to so something political (or with a political purpose) to help push towards the kind of society and democracy that I want to see.

I’m going to blog every day what I do. Feel free to join me. Let’s organise and be the change we want to see in the world.

Dispelling the myth of “unelected and invisible” police authorities

Amongst the media coverage of the PCC elections, both in 2012 and last week’s by-election in the West Midlands the Government has again trumpeted it’s “unelected and invisible police authorities” line in defence of the indefensible reform.

Police Authorities

First, some facts. Police authorities in England and Wales were;

  • Comprised of seventeen members
  • 9 were elected representatives of the local authority (i.e. councillors voted in by the electorate, hardly undemocratic). Those 9 members would also be reflective of the political make up of the authority, reflecting the vote share of the parties, a further acknowledgement of the will of the people.
  • At least 3 other members were local magistrates (i.e. people we already trust to pass judgement in our courts, and as such have a good handle on the justice system itself) appointed for fixed terms of four years.
  • The remaining five members (if there weren’t more than 3 magistrates) would be elected by the police authority itself for fixed terms of four years.

A fraction over half of the police authority were elected, then. Not only that, but the political make up was reflective of actual votes cast in the actual county council elections.

Clearly, the rest of the police authority was ripe for reform, but replacing them with a single person elected on a tiny proportion of the electorate’s say so is not an improvement.

West Midlands

Let’s look at the West Midlands in particular.

Note that West Midlands Police Authority didn’t follow the make-up outlined above exactly, from what information I could find (given their website is now gone), but did resemble it. This may be that Wikipedia is out of date, or it could be that the authority was changed as part of the move towards PCCs. I’d appreciate any clarifying information on that, if you have it.

Of the 14 members of West Midlands Police Authority, 7 were county councillors.

As the above shows, the locally elected councillors serving on the police authority commanded much more public support than either of the West Midland’s PCCs have done.

We can’t accurately get an overall turnout but every single turnout for each candidate is miles higher than the recent (and previous) PCC election for the West Midlands. I include vote share above for completeness rather than comparison, as the PCC elections use a different electoral systems that requires the victor to gain over 50% from a “run-off”.

Unelected Parliament?

Half of the police authority was elected, and half not. If this is the basis of the Governments dismissal of police authorities, it would be yet another shameful show of hypocrisy. Our Parliament is comprised of two houses: the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The former contains our 650 directly-elected MPs and the latter has 850 unelected Lords, many of whom are party donors. Just this simple fact arguably makes our very Parliament less democratic than the police authorities were.

Deceit

So while the police authorities could have been more democratic, they were certainly not the “unelected and invisible” authorities the Government’s deceitful rhetoric claimed. It turns out, as the above turnout figures show, that PCCs are less democratically accountable than the police authorities ever were.

We should abolish the democratic abomination now.

Restoration, or renovation

Restoring the police authorities as they were is clearly not an option – they had issues. But here’s some ideas that would all be far more representative and accountable than the Police and Crime Commissioners;

  • Simply remove the non-elected members
  • Replace the non-elected members with a citizens panel (randomly-selected citizens panels have been shown to be reflective of the population in many cases)
  • Have the members selected from local councillors based on proportional shares of the vote at the last local council elections
  • Replace the entire membership with a citizens panel.

Perhaps some of those would be good. At the moment, almost anything is better than Police and Crime Commissioners.

No mandate: PCCs need to go

One of my biggest gripes about UK Parliamentary elections is that successive Governments claim they have a “mandate” to introduce their ideological reforms (whatever the flavour) as if every single vote in their favour is a full and unconditional endorsement of their entire manifesto.

That is, of course, an absurd assertion but the ruling party invariably rolls out the “mandate” claim when challenged over the lack of evidenced need for new policy. It’s one of the many reasons we need a better electoral system for the UK. Instead, we have an elective dictatorship.

Mandate, or lack thereof, is the prime reason why the shambles of Police and Crime Commissioners must be abolished.

Last week’s PCC by-election in the West Midlands further demonstrates that nothing any PCC does has an appropriate mandate from the electorate. Before last week my own county, Staffordshire, had seen the lowest turnout for a PCC election at 11.63% but the West Midlands has now reduced that record to 10.38%.

Only 102,571 electors voted for the successful candidate, David Jamieson, out of an electorate of 1,974,518. That’s a ‘mandate’ of just 5.2%. David Jamieson is now free to make incredibly important decisions about policing throughout the West Midlands based on the support of a tiny proportion of the people who will be affected by those decisions.

Surely no one who supports the principle of policing by consent can possible contend that this pathetic election is in any way good for the people of the West Midlands. Couple that with the fact that PCCs cost more than the previous police authorities and you have an incredible insult to the electorate.

Tomorrow: Dispelling the myth of “unelected and invisible” police authorities.

UK may have no say on EU top job, frontrunner warns

Re: UK may have no say on EU top job, frontrunner warns

European Commission President hopeful Jean-Claude Juncker suggests British people aren’t getting a vote on who becomes President but ignores one fundamental problem: the British people never get a vote and neither do the rest of Europe’s citizens. Ridiculously, this is the first time that the Commission President has been installed by elected members (MEPs). Former Presidents have all been selected by state leaders, a woefully undemocratic process.

But the new system isn’t very democratic either. Parties with MEPs form “super-parties” in the European Parliament and it’s the controlling “super-party” that gets to decide who is the Commission President. In this instance, that’s the European People’s Party

With 274 MEPs out of 766 in the European Parliament belonging to the EPP, it’s quite obvious that the decision on the EC President lies with a group of MEPs who have been voted into their roles by a tiny proportion of the electorate.

Here’s the maths (approximate, based on data from Wikipedia);

  • Electorate: 500 million
  • Turnout: 43.24%
  • Number of people who voted: 216.2 million
  • Percentage of vote won by EPP: 36%
  • Number of votes for EPP: 77.832 million
  • Percentage of electorate who voted for EPP: 15.57%

So, less than a fifth of the electorate voted for the EPP who get to make one of the most important decisions about the governance of the entire European Union. This is clearly not a very democratic system and so Juncker’s claim is baseless. The EPP hold too much power without sufficient mandate from the electorate. If Juncker wants the people to have their voice heard, he should concentrate on making the Commission Presidency a more democratic appointment, perhaps even directly elected by the people themselves.

4 years and 2 months later… TheyWorkForYou plugin gets an update

Shocking it’s been so long really, but I’ve finally revived my TheyWorkForYou WordPress plugin.

When I first released it, all the plugin did was supply a TheyWorkForYou widget. Nothing’s changed! That’s for good reason though… At the time, the latest version of WordPress was 2.8.6 and we’re now on 3.8.1 so a lot has changed!

Crucially, the way plugin developers add widgets has changed so that needed to be updated.

Also of huge importance was that the original plugin hard-coded my own TheyWorkForYou API key and was a key reason why the plugin never made it to the WordPress.org plugin repository. There is now a simple settings page for you to enter your own API key, and the widget isn’t even available to you until you do that.

I have a bunch of other enhancements I want to add, all of which are listed on the GitHub issues page for the plugin. If there’s something you’d like to see in the plugin, please add it there too.

Given the amount of functions provided by the TheyWorkForYou API there are probably loads more things the plugin could do – please think of them and ask me to add them. Or, even better, fork and pull on GitHub and to add them yourself.

Finally, to use the plugin you can;

  1. Go to Plugins > Add New in your WordPress dashboard, search for TheyWorkForYou and install
  2. Download from the WordPress.org plugin repository and install manually

One important note: if you are using the original plugin, you’ll need to remove that first.

Enjoy!

Updates to WriteToThem WordPress Widget

I’ve given my WriteToThem WordPress plugin a well overdue refresh this evening.

You can download the latest version from the WordPress.org plugin repository now.

Here’s what’s changed;

  • Re-write: For those technically minded it now uses the WP_Widget class as it should do, which makes it much tidier.
  • Translations: I’ve also added support for translations so, if you want to make a Welsh or any other language version you can!
  • Filters: There are some filters in there (search the code for apply_filters to see them) for you to tweak the output if you’re looking for some advanced customisation.
  • GitHub: The code is also on GitHub so if you want to contribute, please do!

If you have any issues with the plugin, please post in the forums over at WordPress.org where I can better help you.

Filming council meetings – my progress in Lichfield

So, after Chris Taggart was asked to leave a meeting of Windsor & Maidenhead for trying to video it, while SE1 managed to get permission to record Southwark Council meetings I decided to see what I could do in Lichfield. Here’s what I did.

  1. I sent an e-mail through Lichfield District Council’s generic contact form.
  2. I was then called by Richard King, Strategic Director of Democratic, Development and Legal Services who asked me a number of questions such as why I wanted to film and where the resulting video would end up. I explained that I work on The Lichfield Blog and it would probably end up there but would likely be embeddable (sic?) to other sites. Richard promised to talk internally and get back to me.
  3. A few days later I received a call from Richard in which he said that in principle it would be acceptable and we agreed that I would meet him and Elizabeth Thatcher, Communications Manager, before a Cabinet meeting to discuss the specifics.
  4. Before the Cabinet meeting Richard and Lizzie showed me the meeting rooms and we discussed where I could position myself to get a good shot of the proceedings (outside the public/press ‘pen’) and we chatted about making sure I could be discreet so as not to impact the meeting itself. We agreed that in order to get councillors and any visitors used to the idea I would begin filming as soon as I had the equipment to do so but without publishing the video. The idea is that this will ensure any concerns are ironed out before the film is made available to the world.
  5. I will now attend Cabinet, Full Council and Planning Committee meetings (maybe Overview & Scrutiny, too) just to see them in action so I get used to the format. Once I have a way to record video I will begin to record them and we’ll work out the specifics through learning by doing. Although, I’ve sent Richard and Lizzie a link to Paul’s recent post talking through Southwark’s guidance which should help & offered my own take.

I’ll blog again with further significant updates, as they come along. For now, I encourage everyone running a local blog to do the same in their area and contribute to the investigation.

WriteToThem.com WordPress plugin

As if the TheyWorkForYou.com plugin wasn’t enough I’ve also created a plugin for WriteToThem.com as well!

The plugin adds a new widget which your blog readers can use to get in touch with their politicians from councillors to MEPs. There’s a demo video and instructions on how to set up over on the Talk About Local blog.

You can download the plugin now and subscribe for future updates.

TheyWorkForYou.com WordPress plugin

As part of some work for Talk About Local I have just developed a WordPress plugin using the TheyWorkForYou.com API.

For this first version the plugin creates a single widget which shows the latest activity for your MP. I hope to add more in the future and if you have any suggestions, please add them to the comments below.

I made a demo video and wrote instructions on how to set the plugin up which have been posted over on the Talk About Local blog, as well as instructions on installing the plugin.

All that’s left to do now is download the plugin (ZIP).