Roll on May 5th, 2011: the day pencilled in for the British public to vote on electoral reform. Proportional Representation (PR) will be up against the Alternative Vote (AV). But what does this mean? PR, is the system we have currently. It sees candidates who win the most seats winning the election.
PR is not necessarily democratic in the full sense of the word, as a party with a smaller percentage of the vote can actually end up winning the election. For example, Party A and Party B are contesting 10 seats. Party A wins 4 seats by 3 votes to 1, meaning they have 12 votes overall to B’s 4, but have won 4 seats. Party B wins the remaining 6 seats 2-1, meaning they get 12 votes and 6 seats to A’s 6 votes. Across the ten seats B has won 6-4, but they have actually lost 18-16 in terms of the number of people voting. So, despite receiving less votes than A, B is victorious.
AV is a preference system where voters mark their choice of candidates in order. This gives voters much more choice. If there were 10 candidates on the ballot they could choose to vote for as many or as few as they like, or the eternal option of spoiling their ballot. First preferences are counted up, and if there is no overall majority, the lowest ranked candidate is eliminated, before second preferences are added. This pattern continues until an overall majority is obtained.
This bill is very much a Lib Dem creation, and was the party’s main aim heading into the election back in May. It was believed this policy would secure the Lib Dems much more supporters than they ended up with, but was something I hoped myself would come from the election.
Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg stated, “the final decision should be taken not by us but by the British people.” I hope for all our sakes there is more to that statement than just crowd pleasing.
Comments from Conservative MP Gary Streeter that, “raging disinterest,” exists amongst voters is patently not the case. The Tories have never been a strong force in Scotland, but his comments do make sense when married with a tradition of acting like our country isn’t included in political happenings south of the border. Unfortunately for us, however, it is.
Mr Streeter said it was a, “referendum that nobody wants,” which would mean an, “outright Conservative government,” would never see the light of day again. I’m sure there’s plenty of fellow countrymen who would disagree wholeheartedly with me that the first part of that statement is a falsehood. While the denouement explains who doesn’t want it. And why.
Labour expressed concerns over gerrmandering (redrawing of constituency boundaries) which this new electoral system would bring. Nick Clegg was eager to state that this was to make the population of constituencies homogeneous. In so doing, votes would be evenly weighted.
The proposed date was attacked by the SNP’s Angus MacNeil, on the grounds that the decision undermines the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish elections on the same day. The endless game of political cat and mouse continued as Clegg defended this decision on monetary grounds, suggesting £30m could be saved, and implying MacNeil was disrespecting the capacity of the public to answer more than one question that day.
I, for one, hope the referendum goes ahead. And I hope it remains scheduled for the proposed day. Not only will this give the country the opportunity to have a truly democratic government, it will do so in a cost effective manner, and may encourage even more people to vote than normal. Not to mention the interest inevitably raised by gerrymandering.
Let’s just hope Eden isn’t burning once the mountains have been moved and the cards have been marked…
12th May, 2010 – the day Britain became governed by the third coalition since the Second World War. We got the hung parliament many – including myself – believed (and – somewhat – hoped) we would. The three main parties would class themselves as having underperformed. The Lib Dems were expected to make considerable gains, but lost almost 10% of their seats. Labour haemorrhaged seats across the board, while the Tories failed to secure the outright majority they had worked so hard – and spent so much money – to obtain. Coalition talks began, culminating in an agreement between the Lib Dems and the Tories. Despite there also being discussions between Labour and the Lib Dems over a partnership, it was the Tories and the Lib Dems who joined forces. A decision which was, by all accounts, “unanimous”. 13 years of Labour Government was over. Things Have Changed.
On the 20th May, 2010, the Coalition Agreement was published. The Foreword – apparently written by both Cameron and Clegg – states, “it is our ambition to distribute power and opportunity to people rather than hoarding authority within government.” Evidently the thinking behind Thatcher’s decision to sell off Britain’s public services is alive and well in the brain of David Cameron. Indeed, his insistence, “to pave the way, we have both agreed to sweeping reform of welfare, taxes and, most of all, our schools – with a breaking open of the state monopoly,” not only echoes Thatcherism, but hints at its return.
References are made to Global Warming, being told our, “Government believes that Climate Change is one of the gravest threats we face, and that urgent action at home and abroad is required.” Ironically, it was the Conservative movement in the US which did much to rubbish Climate Change theory, and position it as unproblematic, as previously discussed. Airport expansion is one area which our new government are seeking to clamp down on, cancelling the proposed third runway at Heathrow, and refusing additional runways at Gatwick and Stansted.
Most importantly for me – as a postgraduate student who works part time and faces the very real possibility of continued employment in this position after graduation – the first ten thousand pounds we earn will be tax free. A step which, we are told, is being prioritised over Inheritance Tax. A great Lib Dem policy, and one I am truly glad is being initiated.
That said, “you can’t win with a losing hand…”
Today saw the news that Kyrgyzstan, a country many of you may never have heard of, has been the subject of something many of you will only be familiar with from history books: revolution. For the people of Kyrgyzstan, however, this form of political change is currently the norm. Although his abdication is, as yet, unnoficial, it was revolutionary zeal which thrust Kurmanbek Bakiyev to the Presidency back in 2005.
Following bloody clashes, yesterday,“the opposition in Kyrgyzstan says it has dissolved parliament and taken power.” The uprising was referred to by the leader of the opposition, Roza Otunbayeva, herself a former foreign minister, as, “a people’s revolt.” She continued, “it is our way of saying that we want justice and democracy.”
Despite it’s relative anonymity, “Kyrgyzstan is a strategically important central Asian state and houses a Russian base and a key US military base that supplies forces in Afghanistan.” As such, it will be of no surprise when the US proffer their opinions on the issue.
For Ms Otunbayeva, and the people of Kyrgyzstan’s sake, let’s hope the following mantra is a falsehood: “Revolution even ain’t no solution for trouble…”
This may seem somewhat disrespectful. If it does, I apologise.
Journalism is not only an industry. It is also a commodity, and is offered for sale in an ever more crowded marketplace. As such, for journalism to be purchased by a consumer, it must have use and need values. These facts have had a considerable impact on the content, style and presentation of journalism in recent decades.
“[N]ews, as much as any other media product, must be tailored to what your competitors are doing, to the consumer’s shorter and shorter attention span, and to the needs of your particular news brand.” (Wolff, 2004) The technological advances which have impacted upon journalism in recent history have lead to a much broader spectrum of information sources, and the rise of ‘citizen journalists’.
Admittedly, “few studies [have been] conducted on online citizen journalism publications; however, differences in content may be attributed to the perceived variation in their consumers.” (Carpenter, 2010: 3) Although blogs do not have any independent economic values, their increasing mainstream prominence ultimately leads to their increasing reliance as news sources, detracting from the need for traditional journalism. As such, citizen journalists and their blogs have indirect economic affects. “Citizen-generated content is likely published for smaller, more homogenized audiences on a less regular basis, which encourages citizen journalists to produce content dissimilar from that of daily newspaper journalists.” (Ibid.) Online citizen journalists do not only provide greater content diversity than print publications. They even, “offer a greater diversity of content for news users than online newspapers.” (Ibid.: 12)
Carpenter’s study also showed what I will refer to as a ‘cornering’. “[O]nline newspapers were significantly less likely to link to outside content than were online citizen journalists. Instead, online newspaper journalists were more likely to attempt to keep users at their sites with the use of within-site links than citizen journalists.” (Ibid.: 11) There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, newspapers do not link to outside content because this is essentially pushing a customer out the door. By ‘cornering’ the consumer, they will navigate through internal website links, remaining on the site. Secondly, “[n]ewspapers may fear a hyperlink to an outside source means they are responsible for that content” (Ibid.: 13), potentially raising legal issues.
And thus to the part which may seem disrespectful. The Moscow Metro Bombings. Just look at the BBC’s coverage: a live feed giving updates as soon as they come in, as well as videos, pictures, and quotes from blogs, tweets and e-mails. Not to mention the form at the bottom urging eyewitnesses to get in contact. Yet more proof that the practice of standing back to look at a story is disappearing, bit by bit. Now, it seems, it’s not what you say, but how quick you say it. Quality is being replaced by velocity.
“Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again…”
Thus far, two thousand and ten has brought “the coldest January based on the CET (Central England temperature) measure since 1987 – making Dec and Jan combined the coldest on this measure since the winter of 1981/1982.” To the delight of climate change sceptics, no doubt. As any genuine, serious scientist will admit, there is much debate within the scientific community surrounding climate change, in relation to the specifics of – and reasons for – the change, as opposed to whether or not there are changes taking place. However, genuine, serious scientists are harder to come by than you might think.
As corporations have extended into the public sphere, science has come under threat. At the risk of sounding like Tim Robbins (of Team America: World Police fame), corporations are accountable. There is an inordinate amount of information available proving this to be the case. To name a few: Beder, S., (1997) Global Spin. The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism. Green Books; McCright, A., & Dunlap, R., (2001) Challenging Global Warming as a Social Problem: An Analysis of the Conservative Movement’s Counter-Claims. University of California Press; Rowell, A., (1996) Green Backlash. Routledge; Rampton, S. & Stauber, J., (2001) Trust Us, We’re Experts! How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future. Penguin Putnam Inc.; Stauber, J. & Rampton, S., (1994) Toxic Sludge Is Good For You! Lies, Damn Lies And The Public Relations Industry. Common Courage Press.
Indeed, as Stauber states, “if you ask me who is behind anti-environmentalism – it’s business, but if you ask me who is waging the campaigns, who is choosing the tactics, who is coordinating the fight, who are the field generals, it is PR practitioners.” (Rowell, 1996: 107) PR firms are not the only ones fighting against global warming theory. “The contemporary strands of the “green backlash” consist of industry opposition to environmental policy, as well as “grassroots” opposition as manifest in the wise-use movement, the county supremacy movement, and the property rights movement.” (McCright & Dunlap, 2001: 6)
Grassroots activism is used by PR firms to create seemingly independent mass public support for an issue, on behalf of their clients. Indeed, “Using specially tailored mailing lists, field officers, telephone banks and the latest in information technology, these firms are able to generate hundreds of telephone calls and/or thousands of pieces of mail to key politicians.” (Beder, 1997: 32) Letter writing, e-mail and phone campaigns serve to create the impression that the general public support a certain policy or a particular issue, so much so “that the lawmakers feel they are being besieged by a majority.” (Ibid.: 34)
Certainly, “Chris Crowley, of the Seattle-based Crowley/Ballentine public affairs consulting firm, wrote in Oil & Gas Journal that grassroots organising “may just prove to be industry’s best weapon” for countering environmentalists who oppose resource developments.” (Ibid.: 42) The American Petroleum Institute, for example, “paid the Burson-Marsteller PR firm $18 million in 1993 for a successful computer-driven “grassroots” letter and phone-in campaign to stop a proposed tax on fossil fuels.” (Rampton & Stauber, 2001: 271) A further example is that of “The “Global Warming Cost” website [which] focuses on generating e-mail to elected officials. Between September 1997 and July 1998, WFA claims the site generated 20,000 e-mail messages to Congress opposing the Kyoto treaty.” (Ibid.: 288)
Corporations lying and using underhand tactics!? Never!
“You hurt the ones that I love best, and cover up the truth with lies, one day you’ll be in the ditch, flies buzzin’ around your eyes…”
Amen to that.