Thanks to everyone!

9 05 2011

I just wanted to write and say thank you to everyone who voted for me and also for my fellow candidates (big shout out to Mark Collins, Rebecca Taylor, Brian Stone & Paul Elgood!) in the recent local elections.  On top of that, a huge thank you to everyone who voted YES to AV- it’s a real shame that the British public came out so strongly against electoral reform (I can’t believe Brighton voted no!).  I think Sam Power deserves great respect for his tireless efforts as the man “on the ground” for the local YES campaign.

I think we ran a great campaign- Mark & Rebecca really showed me a great deal about how to build and run a campaign (see Becky’s post on the result here), and I felt the enthusiasm and dedication of the YES campaign was really inspiring and made me feel happy to be a part of it.

A final, most sincere thank you to Lawrence Eke who (it felt at times) single handedly built and captained the Liberal ship in Brighton & Hove.  You’re  a champ!

And what next?

EDIT – here are the election results for the city and for my ward in particular

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Difficulties with evidence based policy

20 04 2011

I have been considering lately a significant barrier to those of us who strive for non-partisan, evidence-based decision making.  To wit: who do you believe?  Increasingly there is a survey, think-tank, nth study, countless headlines, magazines and blogs on either (or every) side of a given position.  As such, is it the case that all decisions must be ideologically motivated?  Not in the sense that they are made without reviewing the evidence, but more in the sense that the evidence reviewed is already biased.

As I have mentioned before, I think that independent bodies need to exist to provide neutral information to both the government and the public.  The leaders of these bodies need to have full bios providing insight in to their affiliations.  Perhaps also with these positions only being approved by cross-party committee approval.

I would very much like to see a source for information that has undergone serious efforts to vet it for neutrality, as well as providing (by law) all sources to be provided, in full.  Can you imagine a news site that was forced to quote officials in full?  Or a rating system for polls and surveys that includes (as part of its rating system): the breadth of the survey in terms of numbers, demographics, etc and also the historical bias of the originator of that survey.

I think people could have more faith in the information they receive if the different sources of information were striving for this “substantial” rating- where an A grade would mean they had policies in place and safeguards to ensure neutrality, that all their sources were provided, and that those sources were themselves A grade in quality & neutrality.





Your candidate for Regency Ward

1 04 2011

I have always loved Brighton, being raised in Eastbourne.  At first I thought it was the diverse and vibrant music culture that was so appealing, but as time’s gone on I realised it is the atmosphere of tolerance and inclusion that makes Brighton & Hove such a fantastic place to be.   I truly love this city and am proud & honoured to be a candidate to represent the people on the council.

If elected, I intend to work hard to increase transparency and accountability on the council, and am strongly in favour of not only publically available but also publically accessible information- i.e. in formats that are useful and informative to the public.  I am firmly localist and am happy to be supporting devolution of power to community groups as put forward in our manifesto.

I am very keen on promoting business development- Brighton & Hove has one of the country’s most qualified workforces, and it is on us to provide the environment that will both grow local business and encourage new ones so as to make the most of that workforce.  Unemployment is a serious issue, particularly among young people, and I think we need a serious and realistic business agenda if we are to tackle it.

I believe in promoting public transport in the city (i.e. expansions of cycle lanes, more competition and incentives for buses), further incentivising & expanding our recycling programme and helping Brighton’s vibrant culture expand and improve.  Our music & entertainment scene is a true asset to the city, as is the City’s unique culture of  not only acceptance, but celebration of diversity.  It was this culture that so drew me to live here, and I intend to work hard to see that it is valued and promoted.

 





Technological interrelatedness

28 01 2011

I recently came across an extract from David Landes on the self perpetuating economic cycle that drove the (first) industrial revolution, which I found so insightful that I felt it was too good to keep to myself:

“In all this diversity of technological improvement, the unity of movement is apparent: change begat change. For one thing, many technical improvements were feasible only after advances in associated fields. The steam engine is a classic example of this technological interrelatedness: it was impossible to produce an effective condensing engine until better methods of metal working could turn out accurate cylinders. For another, the gains in productivity and output of a given innovation inevitably exerted pressure on related industrial operations. The demand for coal pushed mines deeper until water seepage became a serious hazard; the answer was the creation of a more efficient pump, the atmospheric steam engine. A cheap supply of coal proved a godsend for the iron industry, which was stifling for lack of fuel. In the meantime, the invention and diffusion of machinery in the textile manufacture and other industries created a new demand for energy, hence for coal and steam engines; and these engines, and the machines themselves, had a voracious appetite for iron, which called for further coal and power. Steam also made possible the factory city, which used unheard-of quantities of iron (hence coal) in its manystoried mills and its water and sewage systems. At the same time, the processing of the flow of manufactured commodities required great amounts of chemical substances: alkalis, acids, and dyes, many of them consuming mountains of fuel in the making. And all of these products – iron, textiles, chemicals – depended on large-scale movements of goods on land and on sea, from the sources of the raw materials into the factories and out again to near and distant markets. The opportunity thus created and the possibilities of the new technology combined to produce the railroad and steamship, which of course added to the demand for iron and fuel while expanding the market for factory products. And so on, in ever-widening circles. ”

(Landes, 1972, pp.2–3)

I think this account is a fantastic example demonstrating the necessity of considering the dependencies of the economy.





#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.





Is sustainable growth an impossibility?

11 01 2011

Let me open with a small proviso: this post is far more theoretical in nature than the typical fare on this blog, so take as many pinches of salt with it as you wish.  I wrote it some time ago, but am prompted to post it now in response to what I feel is a complementary view on it by Paul Krugman on his blog over at the NY Times.  Whilst I don’t feel the fundamentals of the arguments are similar (they aren’t), I nonetheless feel that we are discussing the same idea: in short, that what people see as economic “growth” is, in my view at least, unnecessarily blinkered, when in reality it is people’s choices of what they value that creates wealth and growth.  Those choices are not pre-decided and can and will be revised as circumstances change.

Is sustainable growth an impossibility?

In short: no it is not.  While sustained growth of a given (real world) variable under certain conditions can certainly be shown to be impossible (or at the best existing only as a limit), the potential for as-yet-unimagined avenues for growth and change mean that growth can theoretically be sustained infinitely.

Example:

Malthus originally published his ideas in Europe at the end of the 18th century, and while his point that population increases in geometric progression (i.e. exponentially) has been borne out, that has yet to produce the implied catastrophe.  Now while the argument can be made that it either a) has occurred (or is occurring) but in non-obvious mean or b) is definitely going to occur, I purport instead that changes in human society which are impossible to predict will avert this outcome.

Fundamentally humankind is a highly adaptable organism, equally we are driven by the profit motive.  As the need for sustaining increasing population (i.e. preventing food riots/famine) outweighs the profit made by not altering the status quo (current cash crop profits, supermarkets forcing low purchase prices via monopsony) then humankind will veer towards alternative solutions, which at that point will be economically sensible and thus worthy of investment.

A second argument is that repeatedly throughout history technologically advancement has significantly changed the face of our civilisation, beyond what could have been imagined in previous generations.  While sci-fi authors of the 50s have accurately imagined some of the developments of the ensuing half-century, I nonetheless feel that people who believe in the “singularity” are validated by the notion that to people of Malthus’ time, we are already in a culture so totally different from their own that it would be impossible for them to imagine it; our “future” being unpredictable and qualitatively different from [their] “today”.  Thus it is impossible to say that growth cannot be sustained indefinitely, only that particular types of growth cannot be.

Humanity has consistently discovered deeper and more underlying fundamentals of the universe (or potential multiverse) in which we inhabit.  The eventual harnessing of those fundamentals generally involves a paradigm shift (an exponential increase) in the energy capacity of our civilisation.

Example: elements, underlying the development of chemistry, allowing for a huge increase in output of energy and economy.  Atomic structure, allowing us access to the strong nuclear force via fission and fusion, both of which pale in comparison to the potential energy output from matter/antimatter collisions.  However even our current understanding of the fundamental forces (which would imply an upper limit on energy production (e.g. harnessing all the energy from all stars in the universe)) may be flawed.  It may be that the creation of parallel universes via big bangs whose entire energy output can be channelled into our own is achievable.  I do not say this because I think it likely, but more to point out that history demonstrates that our understanding of reality, and what is really possible, fundamentally shifts, and with increasing regularity.

Example: if humankind digitises, our capacity for growth would increase exponentially- our requirements for sustenance would no longer be organic and thus the ability of the earth to produce subsistence level food would be irrelevant.  Developments in energy harnessing (fusion, high-efficiency solar conversion etc) would solve the “food” shortage.

The final argument is also technological, however it may not always hold true: historically advances in agriculture have consistently increased the world’s ability to generate subsistence.  It is possible that this may continue, although I would personally argue that the ability of evolution to increase the efficiency with which organisms transfer the sun’s energy into their own (i.e. by which food could be made more efficient to eat, or grazing animals to need less grass to live on) is on a geological scale compared to our own far faster rate of growth.  Thus eventually, unless something along the lines of an energy->matter converter is invented, food itself will eventually run out.

In conclusion- growth is sustainable, as long as our ideas about what needs to grow are flexible.





Engagement is a two way street

4 01 2011

Seems my comment over on Ben Duncan’s blog got lost somewhere, so I thought I’d repost it here, where I can ensure things don’t get…misplaced.

Hi Ben

I’ll start by saying I completely agree that it’s very positive seeing so much political engagement, but I must add I don’t think you’re really helping the situation with your commentary.

Whilst it’s true that pay freezes result in real-term losses of “real” earnings due to inflation, the VAT increase only affects luxury items and not essentials or “reduced” items such as (just for example- *public transport*- which is at 5%)

See: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/vat/start/introduction.htm#4

I can appreciate you’re trying to help, but as you say- not trying to “bring the office of councillor into disrepute”- perhaps accuracy with respect to VAT is in order? I don’t think scaring people unnecessarily is helpful do you?

Equally, you’re essentially saying “the silver lining” to people’s economic suffering is that your party will gain politically? I often wonder where the green party stand beyond green issues, guess that clarifies it.

Have to say I think it’s a shame that someone who openly encourages “engagement” in political issues would miss an opportunity to engage with a voter in his city.  It’s not the first time either.