Monday, 24 January 2011

Another reason why the ConDems are criminally negligent over weakening our DNA databases

In this harrowing case, the pervert paedophile was only apprehended after the DNA he left on his 10-year-old victim matched a close member of his family already on the DNA database.  Don't Clegg and his weak-willed colleagues in the Government get it - this man would probably have remained at large - a threat to all young girls, had it not been for the DNA database.

We do not know if the man's family member was a convicted criminal (whose DNA would automatically be on the database - something even Clegg and co. would agree is acceptable) or whether their DNA was on there due to having been arrested (but not convicted of an offence).  The latter category is the one the ConDem Government wants to eradicate from the database.


Thursday, 6 January 2011

Luke Akehurst claims today in an article for Progress (online) that support for the Alternative Vote in the forthcoming referendum is part of the "optimistic, positive and progressive worldview" which "drives Labour reformers."  He goes on to argue that the AV system will be beneficial to Labour because there is a "natural  centre-left majority in Britain that has been held back by a divided party system".  He claims that under AV, the Labour PArty will be "capable of attracting many more first preference votes, and second preferences from other centre and left voters".  He also says that "more democracy and more voter choice is something a centre-left party should embrace, not shy away from".

I  disagree with him on both the merits of AV in itself and of the purported benefits its supporters claim it will bring to Labour's electoral chances.  Firstly, the AV system is not "more democratic".  Many proponents of AV routinely claim that 'it will mean victorious candidates will have won over 50% of the votes'. It will not. It is a perverse system in which the 2nd, 3rd etc preferences of people whose first choice LOST are added to the tallies for those candidates remaining. Why is this regarded as being democratic?  There are numerous other anomalies and flaws with AV but there isn't time to list them here.

Secondly, as Danny Finkelstein pointed out in Tuesday's Times (no point hyperlinking to the pay-wall), the fact that parties will be keen to develop policies and field candidates most likely to appeal to the 2nd, 3rd etc preferences of the supporters of their opponents is likely to emasculate policy development and result in candidates becoming ever more clone-like.

Given that as a party we are currently bemoaning the gerrymandering being foisted upon us by the Coalition Government, we hardly bathe ourselves in glory nor can we take the moral high ground if a large part of our argument in favour of AV is that it could benefit us electorally.  We should not consider such a fundamental move as to change the voting system for Westminster elections for any other reason than that the new system proposed is a marked improvement upon First Passed The Post (FPTP).  A lobbyist for AV tried to convince me of its merits at Labour Conference and as he failed to do so on technical grounds, ended up saying that it was a stepping stone to full proportional representation without which PR would never be achieved.

This again seems a weak argument.  We as a party ought to have the strength of our convictions to argue that of course FPTP is clearly flawed, but that we shall not tinker with the constitution of Britain unless the alternative is a significant improvement.  The debate to be had about whether full proportionality would lead to permanent coalition is an important one.  But that is the debate with which progressive Labour thinkers ought to be having.

  At least FPTP requires voters to put their money where their mouths are and actually back the candidate they think is the best.  There are alternatives out there which we would do well to study.  The German system seems to me to have things about right. In the Bundestag, the constituency link is retained through half its members being voted by FPTP, but the remaining half are selected by a proportional system such that the number of seats won matches the proportion of votes for that party. Before people start bemoaning party lists, perhaps they might take a look at the House of Lords, or ponder for a minute just how 'democratic' party selection procedures are for the Commons.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Simon Jenkins on the VAT rise

Writing in today's Guardian, Simon Jenkins skewers the Government over its policy of raising the VAT rate.  He rightly points out that ministers have chosen a regressive tax which disproportionately affects lower income-earners when powerful vested interests avoid tax increases.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

VAT rise - ConDems progressively more duplicitous

We know that Messrs Osborne and Cameron intended to de-toxify the Tory brand when they assumed control of the party in 2005.  Cameron made several brazen attempts to park himself on areas of policy which were former no-go areas for the Tories, such as the environment (huskies and "Vote Blue, Go Green") and liberal law and order policy (hug a hoodie) and  to name but two.  These and other stunts succeeded to some extent in showing that he was a new kind of Tory leader.  Unlike Tony Blair's efforts to reform the Labour Party in the early 1990s however, there was little substance behind the style.  This has been borne out by events since the financial crisis, which was God's gift to a Tory party ideologically intent on stripping back the state and ushering in the 'age of austerity'.  

Cameron's PR background gave him a good grounding.  He realised that if the Tories were to win back power, they must appear to be in the centre-ground of politics.  His advisers were willing to go to almost any lengths to show this, hence we were treated to the fallacy of the claim at the General Election that the Conservatives were the "party of the NHS".  All this spinning happened while the Tories were in opposition.  Such dissembling is harder to pull off in Government.  Now they're in in power and taking the 'tough' decisions which they'd salivated about for years, they wish to continue applying the formula of airbrushing and PhotoShopping their policies to make them sound progressive.  Hence the claim, repeated ad infinitum by the Chancellor that "we're all in this together", and that the measures in his Budget and the Spending Review were "progressive".   As the IFS pointed out, the CSR was not progressive, yet it remains convenient, from a PR perspective, to continue to make such dubious claims.  

So we read today that the Chancellor, with breathtaking chutzpah, has described the VAT rise as "progressive".  VAT affects lower income earners disproportionately.  Fact. Therefore, a VAT rise is not progressive, it is regressive.  To suggest so is to stretch the truth almost to the point of destruction.