Dogfooding STV and the Board of Governors

The Pirate Party UK recently held elections for their Board of Governors, and with 12 seats up for grabs the fairest and most logical voting method to use was a Single Transferable Vote using the Electoral Reform Society’s 1997 guidelines.

The ‘dog food’ of the blog title refers to using the same tools and technologies that you advocate others to use – so close to but not quite the original meaning.

This election finished today, with not only the results being made public, but the ballot and count files too so that those that requested receipts can confirm their votes were accurately recorded, and so that all members can check to see the results match up with the ballot file. This is true democracy in action, and shows the beauty of the STV system for elections over other such systems as, say, AV.

I’m happy to say that not only was I a candidate in these elections, but I was successfully voted through in the first count of votes.

With the vote over, and my thanks to all those who had confidence in me, the hard work begins.

Rest assured that any constitutional amendments that may go through the Board do require full ratification by member vote, so you don’t need to worry about back-room dealing and any decisions made without member oversight.

As a newly elected Governor I invite any and all members to email me (and I am sure any of the other Governors would be happy to receive your ideas too) with any ideas and suggestions they have for the Board to consider.

Featured image – Preferential ballot – Rspeer at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Date of the AV referendum

David Cameron has been urged to rethink plans for holding a referendum on voting reform at the same time as the Scottish Parliamentary election.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond said in a letter to the prime minister that holding the votes on the same day could “overshadow” devolved issues.

To be honest, if the voters allow the referendum to overshadow devolved issues, they probably don’t really care enough about those devolved issues. For those that do care, how on earth is an additional unrelated vote going to confuse them?

Tell the electorate what you stand for, outline your policies, if you can’t get your message across to them the failure is yours! A message for any political party.

Featured image Open Science – some rights reserved by gemmerich

Open source and Schools

After reading Peter’s post on this subject I thought I’d weigh in with some thoughts.

In a previous life I worked at a school as a webby-techie sort. This was back in the days before fast internet and the school had serious problems with the speed of the internet with all the children surfing for the same things at the same time. In addition the ISP filtering (and this article isn’t going to discuss whether filtering is good or bad) was fairly rudimentary.

Being a fairly adventurous sort I snagged an old machine and installed Squid (a GPL licenced caching web proxy with filtering support) on it. The school then changed the proxy settings of all PCs to go through the new proxy and we gained a slightly faster system for frequently visited sites, and had the means to block other sites totally.

Once the system had proved how valuable it was, the school decided it needed something better than a random old PC to handle the web cache. Rather than buy a more fit for purpose machine for me to repeat my installation, they promptly paid through the nose for a black-box solution from RM. After basic investigation it turned out that this black-box solution was running nothing other than Squid. The school however had more confidence in a commercially obtained solution than some free thing downloaded and installed in-house.

It is this sort of “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM equipment” mentality that seriously hampers the take-up of free and open source software (FOSS) within schools. To some extent this isn’t surprising. The people making the decisions aren’t usually technical experts, and want to make a decision that they think won’t backfire on them.

What we need are trustworthy organisations to advise and guide schools away from closed proprietary systems and towards open source, and to do so consistently rather than give mixed messages. Maybe a focused single perspective on this issue that saved money could have helped BECTA from being closed down. Maybe not.

If you’re FOSS savvy and know how to install and support this sort of thing but you aren’t prepared to get a job in a school doing this (or volunteer many hours of your time) then it is easy (but not necessarily helpful) to look on the problem from the outside and say something must be done.

The real problem is how do we get the relevant expertise into our schools in a sustainable way? For this I really think the government needs to lead, and in a time of financial cuts across the board, I believe real savings can be made by guiding a lot of the public sector over to FOSS.

Featured image Open Science – some rights reserved by gemmerich

FPTP, AV, and PR

Yesterday saw the announcement of details of the coalition government’s plan for a voting reform referendum.

As suspected true proportional representation (PR) isn’t on the table. Instead the choice is between the current first past the post (FPTP) system and the proposed alternative vote (AV) system.

What is FPTP?

This is relatively simple, and is the current system by which MPs are elected to Westminster. Each member of the electorate has a single vote with which they can express a single preference. The candidate with the most votes wins. This is nice and simple, conventional, and results in, as its detractors would say, in a situation where the winner generally receives less than 50% of the vote. With a 3+ party system, the ‘winner’ usually has more people voting against them than for them. A further disadvantage is that minority views from the electorate are not represented in parliament.

What is AV?

This is a slight variation on FPTP in which the electorate have the ability to express a ranking preference. After counting first preference votes if no candidate has an outright majority (50%+ of the votes) then the last placed candidate is eliminated and any votes they received are redistributed according to the second preference. This process repeats until a single candidate has 50%+ of the votes (or I guess until there is only one candidate left). This system prevents a result in which more people voted against the winner than for the winner, but does still leave minority views unrepresented.

What is PR?

Proportional representation systems vary, but the intended result is to elect a candidates from parties as appropriate to the proportional vote those parties receive during the voting process. There is generally a minimum threshold of votes required, after which if a party receives 10% of the vote, they can expect to win 10% of the seats up for grabs.

This system ensures that (after the certain threshold) the views of the electorate are reflected proportionally in (for example) the House of Commons.

How could PR work in the UK?

This is the big issue. A PR system isn’t really compatible with our current system by which we have one winner per constituency, and would need to go hand-in-hand with other changes. This does present a good opportunity for wholesale democratic changes, though obviously the more you wish to change, the harder it is to get agreement.

Without going into too much detail, one way to incorporate PR into our constituency system would be to still elect one MP per constituency (based on a FPTP/AV system) and tallying up all additional votes nationally to get a sense of the proportion of the country voting for certain parties, and then to use a list system to elect parties to the House of Lords based on the proportion of the vote.

This would maintain the link between MP and constituency, and democratise the House of Lords completely. For those who object to minority-view parties being elected (by very fact that they have the minority of the vote and shouldn’t get to have any power at all – glossing over whether this is a fair perspective or not), there is some consolation that the PR elected candidates only get to provide oversight from the Lords rather than more direct influence in the Commons.

This also mitigates the problems of how to deal with a perceived mandate to govern for a wholly elected Lords – as the election occurs simultaneously with that of the Commons, it is the commons that has the clearer ‘majority’ mandate to govern. Whereas the Lords would only have the ‘minority’ mandate to make sure the views of minorities are heard and considered by government.

Turn about?

With the Liberal Democrats consistently being a strong proponent of proportional representation* it is very disappointing to find them settling for this compromise, especially as it does not seem like a compromise. If the Conservative element of the coalition are reserving the right to campaign for a ‘no’ vote, then why are the Liberal Democrats compromising at all?

Artificial inflation of turn-out

Another disappointment is that there seems to be more uproar over the timing of the referendum as opposed to the exact question of the referendum itself. There seems some concern that presenting the referendum at the same time as other elections is both insulting to those other elections (how?), and also will artificially inflate the rate of response. It is disgusting for elected representatives to be heard suggesting that taking advantage of a voter’s presence in a voting booth to ask for additional voter opinions is artificial. I want to hear our representatives looking for ways to increase voter turn-out, not decrease it!

Yes or No to AV?

If it becomes clear that the only choice on offer in the referendum in FPTP or AV, then it is clear what is better. You can only choose from the options available, and AV is fractionally a better system that FPTP, and as such would have by support.

*To the point where Straw recalled that Clegg, during the general election campaign, told The Independent that the alternative vote system was a ‘miserable little compromise’, and ‘I am not going to settle’ for that.

Copyright and Patent reform

I’ve just read a great post by a fellow PPUKer on Copyrights and Patents, which is well worth a read before you continue reading my post here.

Despite wanting to make non-commercial file-sharing legal, that doesn’t mean the Pirate Party UK wants to allow things such as counterfeiting and people profiting from other people’s works without proper permission. These will remain illegal, though the maximum copyright term will fall from it lasting 70 years after the original author dies, to a maximum of 10 years after the work is created. This is done to encourage the creation of new works, and prevent reselling and repackaging of old work for profit.

When it comes to the Pirate Party‘s copyright position the common counter is about fairness. How fair is it for someone’s work to be taken by others and used without payment? How fair is it for people to take advantage of the creations of others? etc. etc.

This talk about fairness is perhaps what frustrates me the most. How on earth did we reach a point where thoughts, ideas, words, sounds, and other intangible things are treated like physical limited goods that ought to be owned?

How can it be fair that use of an idea be artificially restricted to the person that first conceived it to the point of depriving the rest of society of that idea? The only way it can be fair is if that restriction is finely tuned to provide the perfect balance between giving the creator incentive to be creative, while at the same time making sure the creation eventually becomes free for all of society to benefit from.

Copyright terms of 70 years after the death of the creator very clearly are designed to benefit corporate entities that have copyrights signed over to them rather than benefiting the creator or society.

How can if even be fair if copyright terms were just 70 years even if the creator was still alive? Why should anyone deserve to be paid for 70 years after coming up with an idea? When I spend a year working in my job, I get paid for the year. I have to then keep working to keep getting paid. I recognise creative works can often take many years of unpaid work before being finished, and that’s why a fair balance needs to be struck that allows a creative person to get sufficient financial return for their work.

Frankly if a creator of a piece of work can not recoup sufficient earnings for their time working on an idea within 10 years of announcing it – then the chances are it’s not that revolutionary and useful an idea. At which point why does a capitalist society owe them anything?

It’s that fairness, and the desire to rebalance fairness in favour of the rest of society, that is one of the primary reasons why I am an ardent supporter of Pirate Party policies.

Featured image Books HD – some rights reserved by Abee5

First footsteps into regional administration

Having recently been elected to the august post of Regional Administrative Officer for the South East, I have been taking a more active role in the Pirate Party.

Last Sunday (and any reason other than the England v Germany result to remember the day by is most welcome) I chaired a South East regional meeting for the first time and took great pleasure in meeting some members I’d only previously gotten to know via the party forums.

It was actually a slightly tricky meeting: firstly it’s always difficult to sit around talking about actually doing something other than sitting around, and secondly with the South East covering quite as much geography (was approx a 3 hour drive each way to the meeting from home, and other meetings may take me further) as it does the next meeting is likely to be located such so that that same members are unlikely to be able to make it.

If I hold a meeting every 4 weeks, and if only every 4th meeting repeats a location, it will be quite difficult to gather momentum as in practice the first 3 meetings may have to cover the same ground (with different people), with the 4th-6th essentially just being the second meeting with the attending members. If it takes the third meeting before real productive activity is taking place, that may well be 6 months down the line from now (daunting and not really sounding acceptable to me).

Of course, discussing things on the forums is an alternative, but I really want to reach members who aren’t active on the forums (forums aren’t everyone’s cup of tea), but there’s a hurdle of persuading people to turn up for their first face-to-face meeting (we’re all internet weirdos after all, aren’t we?).

All in all, despite there being many challenges ahead for me, I feel greatly encouraged after Sunday’s meeting. I know that after every subsequent meeting I will feel more encouraged, because there is nothing like meeting up with like-minded individuals and getting into conversation with them to reaffirm my belief in both this party and our objectives.