GAYE: incidental charity

27 05 2011

I was very pleased to read that David Cameron is supporting the roll out of charitable donations via PAYE; I call it “Give as you earn.”  I’ve been a supporter of this idea for several years now as I find the main objection to charity isn’t the amounts involved, but the hassle (opportunity cost) of signing up.  People have money, but they don’t have time.  I am of the general opinion that instead of bewailing people’s lack of consideration for one another, they should focus on how to get the most out of people the way they already are.  People are busy, they don’t necessarily want to know, they don’t want to be stopped in the street.  But they do want to help, if it’s not too much trouble.  Some might find that cynical, but I don’t see the problem with it- there are ways of leveraging that human nature to the advantage of millions of people in need.

Equally, I’m sure that for many people, giving to charity seems like it won’t achieve much.  The Oxfam “£2/month or whatever you can” ads certainly had a strong impact on me as a child, although whether that was the awesome music is another question.  Nonetheless, it’s getting people to buy in to the idea that if we all just give a little, just a little, then on aggregate that’s a huge difference.

I would like to see by law, in every PAYE contract, a tick box granting 1% of your salary (or 0.5%) to a standard group or a rotating group of 5 star charities each month (or a given charity of your choice).   1% of net income (i.e. after tax) is, for reference, £10/month to someone earning £1000/month.  In 2010 UK GDP was £1474bn; 1% of that would be £14.7bn/year.

Charities received £52bn in 2009/2010 [source – The UK charitable sector: a snapshot, www.philanthropyuk.org], so we’re talking about increasing their income by almost 30%.  So 1% gives 30%, and all it would require is a change to employee contract law to include a tick box.

For reference, I’m already signed up to a scheme of this kind, via Bell Fundraising.  In order to run a scheme, a company needs to have an agreement with a PGA (Payroll Giving Agency), there are 3 main PGAs who all offer a similar service, CAF, Charities Trust and Charitable Giving.  If you’re reading this whether it’s as an employer or employee, I sincerely ask that you at least consider either signing on to this or a similar scheme, or emailing your colleagues and managers and asking that they do so.

This is a small change that makes a big difference, we’re talking about 1% less for you and me meaning 30% more for those in need.  As a Liberal, forcing people to give isn’t charity, it’s theft; but not including the option to give seems like indifference to the point of cruelty.

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#FPTP has no place in a representative democracy

19 01 2011

Assuming that the wrangling in the House of Lords doesn’t derail the legislation, this year may see one of the most significant reforms to our electoral system since universal suffrage was granted (fully) in 1928.  Ultimately the long history of political reform in this country (and elsewhere) has been driven by two fundamental urges- towards greater accountability of the executive (and thus a balance of power in government) and towards greater representation.

In 1928 the franchise was finally extended to all adults over 21 regardless of property ownership, qualification, gender, religion etc.  In 1969 the voting age was changed to 18, further extending the franchise.  I make the case that the drive for this was the urge for more representative government.  If more people are entitled to vote, parties seeking election must appeal to a wider audience to get their vote, the resulting government is then more representative.

One cannot fault governments of the past for not predicting the flaws of first past the post (FPTP).  Whilst it’s true that other voting systems were proposed throughout the 19th Century (if not earlier), the weaknesses of FPTP were not then apparent.  Equally, other voting methods were “untested” and thus unreliable.

Maurice Duverger (a French poltician & sociologist) observed in several papers in the 1950s and 60s that a system such as FPTP (known as a “plurality voting system”) tends to favour a two-party system.  That is to say, FPTP encourages a polarisation of the body politic, both in the minds of the people and the institutions of government.  This principle is referred to as “Duverger’s Law.”  In short:

i) smaller parties are unlikely to win, so voters desert them for larger parties
ii) parties with similar agendas split the vote, meaning neither get elected, this encourages parties to merge into larger parties

These two elements tend, over time, to a firmly entrenched two party system.  I contend that two party systems are, by nature, neither representative nor beneficial for their country.  The reason for this is simple- if there are only two options, neither has to be truly good to be chosen, only better than the alternative.  In effect, a two party system is a duopoly of government, and just as bad as any duopoly would be for consumers in the open market.  As for being representative, on the contrary a two party system means that you’re either “in” or you’re “out.”  As such:

i) supporters of the losing party are highly unlikely to have their views represented in government
ii) people whose views are not represented by either party are not represented in government (discouraging voter turnout)

Duverger himself argued that this was not a certainty (we here in the UK have bucked the trend), but merely that FPTP would both “act to delay the emergence of a new political force, and … accelerate the elimination of a weakening force.”  It has certainly done so, with coalitions, inherently representing a greater diversity of views, coming in to existence less than a handful of times in our history.

What’s worse is that this tendency towards polarisation is not the only downside to FPTP: the methodology of FPTP means that any votes for losing parties are discounted, resulting in millions of votes making no difference to the results of elections in “safe seats.”  As it is, the elections are decided by the minority of voters living in marginal constituencies.  This means that the potential governments are fighting to represent the views of these “marginal” voters and not of the electorate as a whole.  This map, based on 2005 electoral data, shows seats that haven’t changed hands for 40 years.

What’s more, the “winner takes all” methodology of FPTP, combined with ever-decreasing turnout means that MPs can be elected with only a fraction of the electorate supporting them.  Only three MPs elected in 2005 secured the votes of more than 40% of their constituents.  George Galloway polled the votes of only 18.4% of his constituents, yet ended up in the House of Commons!

Safe seats such as this reduce accountability of MPs to their constituents- as with monopolistic businesses, these MPs do not have to offer anything resembling a high quality service to continue in post- they are the only option.

So, in summary, first past the post is not fit for purpose as the electoral system of a representative democracy.  It discourages pluralism, restricting voter choice, it discounts the votes of millions of eligible citizens because they live in safe seats and weights unfairly votes from marginal constituencies.

As I said in my introduction, I strongly believe that electoral reform has always been driven towards greater representation of the people by their government.  It’s clear that first past the post only discourages representation.  For the same reasons we needed universal suffrage, we can’t have FPTP.  Democracy means power comes from the people- their views have to be taken into account.  Ours is a representative democracy, so let’s make it representative.





Why people should vote Liberal Democrat

10 12 2010

I’m sure that many seeing this headline will be enraged- the timing, coming so soon on the back of so much (well-earned) resentment towards the party, will surely make people irate.  Now partly that’s good for me- hopefully it means you’ve read this far- but truly, that’s not the motivation.

I’m writing this now because it’s as true now as it was when I joined, and perhaps now is the time when people will be most open to believing it- because they want change.  (If you don’t want to read further, just scroll to the bottom for the summary).

I used to be apathetic when it comes to politics.  I didn’t vote, and I didn’t care to, because I felt that to vote for someone was to give them my support- to say “Yes, I want you,” to represent me, to govern on my behalf.  And I felt that there was no party out there, no option on the ballot that would have given me a candidate that would represent me.  So I didn’t vote.

A good friend of mine said, “we should all vote Liberal Democrat” and I listened warily, expecting some extollment of the party’s virtues; why it was worth supporting.  He said, “if the Liberal Democrats get in, people will be willing to believe things can be different.”  I like to say, “I’m voting for more than just red & blue politics.”

If you are angry, if you think the system isn’t working, if you think that it’s isn’t fair, isn’t just, isn’t democracy as you’ve always imagined it, then that’s why you should vote Liberal Democrat.  Most people understand that monopolies are bad.  What our politics has been since its inception is a duopoly- only two players in the market.  The lack of competition meant that neither truly had to be “good” to win, only “not as bad”: not an ideal I can believe in.  If another party were to win, each of the then three would have to work all the harder to deliver to the populace government that was worth voting for, or they wouldn’t get in.  The Lib Dems had the best chance at this- the current coalition is proof of it.

So I joined, and I’m glad that I did- you might think having read this that I’m a tactical member, but no longer- that was why I joined, but truly, I’m a member now for three main reasons:

1) The Liberal Democrats are the party whose values most closely co-incide with my own

2) Their support of proportional representation means that a Lib Dem majority would allow a change in politics from the current “superparties” to smaller, more representative parties who then form loose coalitions.  This would then mean there could be a party whose manifesto I 100% agreed with- I could finally have my wish to be voting for a an option I felt represented me.

3) In my local party, I feel that what we are trying to achieve are good things and worth working towards.

I hope you’ve read this far, because this is an entreaty, not an article.  Here’s what I want you to remember:

—————————————————————

VOTE– if you’re angry, if you don’t like the way things are being done, please VOTE.  I don’t care who for, just VOTE.
VOTE for the party whose values are closest to yours
If you don’t like monopolies, VOTE for a party who support PLURALITY in politics.

I’m not saying I agree with everything the party does, or everything it wants to do; I’m not saying people should vote Liberal Democrat indefinitely & regardless.

People should vote Liberal Democrat because they represent the best option to achieve a system of government that is worth voting for.