Pirate Party UK – 5 years old today

About four years ago I blogged about my first year as a member of the Pirate Party. Two years ago I blogged about the three year anniversary of the founding of the Pirate Party.

As I seem to be in the habit of blogging odd-numbered anniversaries, it is that time again!

Today the Pirate Party UK is 5 years old.

PPUK's official registration date - pefonline
PPUK’s official registration date – pefonline

Let me first deal with predictions. I predicted that the 2013 or 2014 conference would be huge. Well I’m wrong so far on that. The 2013 conference was still an intimate affair. Noticeably at this equivalent point in time the 2012 conference had already been scheduled, unlike the 2014 one which is still to be arranged. I suspect at this point the 2014 conference isn’t going to be huge. But there are a few reasons for thinking it might be the biggest so far.

I also anticipated a period of external quiet as we focused on building internal structures and rapid growth. We haven’t managed this. We have had problems attracting volunteers, with further problems in organising and utilising them. It is very much worth noting however that in the past two-and-a-bit months we had attracted the most volunteers ever. The bulk of these came from high profile campaigning during the EU2014 elections. We have had a dedicated person to deal with incoming volunteer requests, finding out where volunteers were best used and then passing them to the corresponding next points of contact. I worry that the second step of utilising the volunteers and turning them into regular active members of the team is still not the efficient process we need it to be.

From a personal perspective, I’m still a Governor. One of only three of the original group elected. I’m currently, reluctantly, heading up the social media team. Reluctantly because I’d like to pass this on to someone else to help expand the pool of people doing essential work. I am also, in the vaguest and weakest possible sense assisting with leading the Press team, which has been a bit of a mess for some time. If I make a list of priorities at some point in this blog post, getting the Press team sorted out with a new pro-active and efficient Press Leader will appear very highly upon it.

What has happened (in no particular order) in the past 2 years…

Snowden

The Snowden revelations have been a huge wake up call. For those who thought online civil liberties were irrelevant and/or not at risk, the leaks about NSA and GCHQ activities have blown this issue wide open.

It is in the digital online space that we have now seen the most significant attack on our privacy and rights has taken place. No longer can anyone argue that digital online rights are a second class concern, rather they should now be placed strongly at the front of the civil liberties we should be fighting for.

The Pirate Party hasn’t been alone in advocating for these rights, but it has been at the forefront and will continue to do so, showing how relevant and necessary the Pirate Party is.

PPI

After several, arguably incompetent and disastrous, PPI General Assemblies and a continued lack of progress from PPI in providing any benefit to its members, PPUK’s leadership believed PPI to no longer be fit for purpose and not only a waste of valuable time but also a liability.

With that in mind PPUK members were offered a vote to change the relationship with PPI. The options were to drop from full to observer membership, to leave completely, or the status quo. The members voted to continue to hold full PPI membership, though the vote was close.

This led to a renewed vigour in the relationship with PPUK officials seeking to fix several of the glaring continuing issues within PPI: namely having no control over its finances and not providing a useful role in getting Pirates together for collaborative work.

After significant investment of time and effort form PPUK’s side these efforts have largely fallen flat and there is fresh belief that if offered a straight vote between staying a member of terminating membership that PPUK members would vote for the latter.

Porn Filters

Last year the government got a bee in its bonnet about the necessity of filtering all internet connections due to their sudden knee-jerk ‘fear’ that children might be exposed to pornography. This led to heavy government pressure for a ‘default on‘ porn filter to be provided by ISPs.

This inevitably led to a confusion about adult filters actually covering a wide range of subject matter and not just pornography. Inevitably we then also saw the fallout with indiscriminate web blocking preventing access to certain charity’s websites (arguably blocking access to NSPCC’s website could do far more harm to children than not blocking porn) and even the website of the filters’ greatest advocate.

It will be no great surprise that this transparent effort to get all ISPs to provide a nice easy way to censor what their customers could access was opposed by PPUK. who’d rather leave parenting to parents and provide internet users with all the information they want and may desperately need.

Needless to say there was much opposition to these filters and they have been found to be largely unpopular with their intended audience with, in some cases, as few as 4% opting to enable them.

Manning Sentencing

The case against Manning leaking material to wikileaks dragged on and eventually had a result. It was disappointing, but not a surprise, to see a lengthy custodial sentence. Manning was sentenced to 35 years. Time served was credited against this with a further (pitiful!) reduction of ‘112 days in recompense for the harsh conditions of his initial confinement’.

As the news was released PPUK Leader Loz Kaye was actually being interviewed by Russia Today and was able to give his view on the sentence, which amounted to a clear attack on whistleblowers.

Changes in Leadership

While we have had a continued strong core in the Party leadership we have seen changes in some positions within the NEC. The regular churn of Treasurer continued with Shaun Daley resigning last year and Sam Clark stepping in as Finance Officer.

With regular full NEC elections due to clash with EU election work these were brought forward to the end of 2013. We saw the Party Secretary (Leanne Cooke née Ainsworth) and Nominations Officer (Phil Cooke) both stand down at this time.

With a view to including Deputy Leader as a fully elected NEC position ‘some time soon’ we included an elected but non-voting position of Deputy Leader in this election. This position was strongly contested and eventually won by Sephy Hallow.

With Sam standing for and being elected to Treasurer, Ed Geraghty being elected as Secretary, and Jason WInstanley being elected as Nominations Officer we had a new NEC with a good mix of regular faces (Loz and Andy respectively continuing as Leader and Campaigns Manager), new faces (Jason and Sephy), and new-to-the-NEC* but well established faces (Sam and Ed).

*not new to working with the NEC, but rather new to holding a voting NEC position for the first time

Regrettably after six months in post both Jason and Sephy have resigned. All NEC positions are high-stress and the breadth and volume of the work is not to be underestimated. It isn’t a surprise, given the nature of volunteers, that we can’t keep the same NEC for a significant length of time – but it is something we need to significantly address by taking as much advantage as we can from those who do volunteer.

We have in the past been bad at leveraging such offers of help. We do now have in place a better process for initially engaging with volunteers and steering them into the departments they can assist. I think things still fall down at that point with next steps still being ad-hoc and inconsistent.

On the Board side of things we have also seen regular steady turnover and currently have three vacancies. I’m pleased to be able to say that I am still on the Board, and even did a 12 month stint as the Board Chair.

NHS Care.Data

Earlier this year the government began a process to release NHS medical data. This was branded as NHS Care.data with information be be made available to the public via a leaflet to every home.

The communication about this roll-out was disastrous and completely mishandled. The concept of collating anonymised data and sharing to organisations who can data-mine for medical research purposes is laudable and beneficial. However the scheme as designed did not take sufficient care to fully anonymise data (tagging your record with date of birth, gender, and full post code is hardly anonymous) and information on how to opt-out was limited. The important information leaflet sent to every home didn’t even have an opt-out form leading some to design their own.

With this being an important privacy issue PPUK provided information about the scheme and actively campaigned to highlight issues with the implementation.

We were pleased to see that due to mounting concerns Care.data was delayed and hope that this doesn’t come back in the same form and slip in under the radar.

This is something to keep our eyes open for in the coming months.

Local Elections

With the fickle winds of fate Loz had the opportunity to contest quite a few local elections in Manchester (2012-11-15, 2012-05-04 2013-10-10 2013-12-05, and  2014-05-22).

We held our first ever local election in London (Mark Chapman). This gave me my first opportunity to get fully involved with an on-the-ground campaign from leafleting, to attending the count.It was a fascinating and rewarding experience and I highly recommend everyone to have the experience at some point. It really does reinvigorate one’s sense of the importance of the democratic process. Unfortunately it does also show how seriously disjointed the average citizen is from the political processes.

New Web Platform (NWP)

One of the highest profile changes for the Party has been the long-awaited change in our website. This year we finally switched over to our New Web Platform (NWP) which has seen many improvements, not least on the back-end swapping a confusing undocumented django set-up for a more mainstream drupal setup. The system is now far more integrated, press releases can be added to the system as content items and then get magically emailed to those subscribed to receive them. The one disjoint between the old system and the new one is the forum. We don’t have any replacement for the forum in the NWP, though the old one is still available on the legacy website and will eventually be available directly via NWP (though the user database will not be integrated and will require a separate login).

EU 2014

We (Maria Aretoulaki, George Walkden, and Jack Allnutt) contested our first European Elections in the North West region (both 2012-05-22).

The European Elections were a stark contrast for me. I was able to get heavily involved with that (at the same time as being involved in the local election in London), but in an online perspective only in my capacity of leading the social media team for the Party.

It was an amazing and tiring experience. I was shattered by the end of it, and knowing that others put even more time and effort in was frankly inspiring/horrific (take your pick). The back-office work to manage the reddit IAMA was intense and it was great to be part of that. We also ran our largest ever continuous social media campaign to date – another pleasure to be part of.

May was a busy month for social media.
May was a busy month for social media.

If we zoom in to May…

The closer to election day, the greater the activity. Until it went totally nuts.
The closer to election day, the greater the activity. Until it went totally nuts.

TTIP

TTIP is another one of those 4-letter acronym secret deals that, if you listen to proponents, will make the world a better place.

The obvious question is, who for?

If agreed this would be the biggest free trade agreement ever. If agreed it could boost the EU’s economy by £120 billion and the US economy by £75 billion over 10 years.

Sounds fantastic.

On the flip-side, recent reports suggest that the deal will end up focusing on non-conventional ‘trade barriers’ like cutting the regulations around fracking, Genetic Modification, and finance whilst tightening laws (e.g. copyright) that harm innovation and culture.

The agreement could also bring worrying legal processes like ‘Investor State Dispute Settlement‘ (ISDS) making it harder for governments to protect the interests of their citizens and legislate to protect the environment and workers.

Read this PPUK review of TTIP for more details.

Net Neutrality

With Net Neutrality under serious threat in the US it was refreshing to see the EU take an opposite approach.

In April 2014 the EU took a strong stance in favour of Net Neutrality with MEPs voting to establish Net Neutrality in the EU as part of the Telecoms Single Market Regulation.

It turns out the UK Government wasn’t so keen on this and trotted out the crazy argument that Net Neutrality would prevent them being able to block child abuse images.

This still doesn’t make sense to me.

Here’s Loz being interviewed by RT on this very issue!

Data Retention and Investigatory Powers

Bursting onto the scene from nowhere was the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) bill.

In April 2014, after CJEU ruled data retention laws were unlawful in their current state, one could be forgiven for thinking some sense had prevailed. The lack of response from the Government could even be seen as tacit admission that wholesale and indiscriminate retention of ‘meta’ data for all citizens was unreasonable.

Not so, it turned out.

Then in July, with little warning, the Government decided to table emergency legislation. With this having been agreed behind closed doors by the Government and opposition the process through parliament was ridiculously short on scrutiny and completely lacking in democratic character.

In one short week the legislation was passed and signed into law.

This was no way to legislate on such an important issue. The Government stressed that there were no substantial changes to what they regarded as already permitted, but the very nature of the rush leaves that in doubt. Already there are multiple challenges that suggest DRIP is incompatible with human rights.

VCAP

With the Digital Economy Act’s full power still to see the light of day those in the copyright industry had to make alternative plans. Thus we saw Vcap announced.

This is a scheme to send ‘education’ emails to those ‘caught’ engaging in online piracy. The plan is to send a series of letters, and if this doesn’t change behaviour… nothing. On one level this could be seen as a mini-victory, and indeed was incorrectly hailed by some as the decriminalisation of online piracy.

This is far from the case, and when these toothless warning letters make little change to the behaviour of ISP’s customers I am concerned how the copyright industry will act. It would not surprise me if they tried to claim access to the details of all those to have received ‘education’ emails.

With their being no judicial process involved to send these emails, to receive one of these emails and, no doubt, be added to a list somewhere, is a serious attack on privacy. This assaults the very basic expectation of being treated as innocent until found guilty by fair and transparent judicial processes.

 

Pirate Party a single issue party?

In this ‘blog post I would like to challenge the perspective that calls the Pirate Party a single issue party.

Upon cursory inspection, that seems the case, but I hope that I can persuade readers that when you dig a little deeper there is more to the Pirate Party. I do not just mean the public Policy 2011 consultation that took place on reddit, nor the policy 2012 process that came from it. Nor am I being a little trite and referring to their three core policies of copyrights/patents, surveillance, and free speech.

Instead I refer to the general Pirate philosophy which can be a lens through which to view any policy area (Rick Falkvinge has made efforts to define his take on this general philosophy that he calls a pirate wheel). In the same way that one might summarise in few words what a liberal, a socialist, or a conservative stands for, likewise you should be able to boil down a Pirate to our few core policies. That simple definition then helps inform a perspective on a much wider policy platform. There is a difference between having a core set of policies, and for those policies to be limited in scope. The Pirate viewpoint can be applied to any policy area, and as such Pirate politics is relevent to more than just a single issue.

Yes the Pirate Party needs manifestos covering a wider range of issues when they stand for election. They have created such manifestos in the past, and will do so in the future. But when trying to get their message across to those who have not heard of them, the most important thing they need to do is explain their philosophy as simply as possible.

Barring personalities and fluctuating popularity ratings many voters label themselves politically and vote accordingly, e.g. a ‘socialist’ constituent is likely to vote for a socialist party. They (I generalise) are not always ready to delve into manifestos and look at the details. They are looking for someone who advertises their party as socialist and expect to get someone who will (e.g.) tax the rich and build a welfare state.

So I say that the Pirate Party does not need a complicated in-depth manifesto to catch the interest of the voters (though I accept that they may need that to hold on to them after they have caught them). Instead they need to have such a simple message that voters redefine themselves.

Someone labelling themselves a liberal might look at the strong Pirate stand-point on individual rights and reducing surveillance and re-label themselves a Pirate. Someone labelling themselves a conservative may look on the Pirate copyright/patent stance and see a low-interventionist free-market approach and be all for it, re-labelling themselves as a Pirate. Someone labelling themselves a socialist might look on the Pirate copyright agenda as a redistribution of wealth from the few rich copyright companies to the many poor artists and decide to re-label themselves Pirate.

The Pirate Party needs to make it easy for a vast swathe of the electorate to be able to identify themselves as agreeing with core Pirate beliefs, and being ready to politically label themselves as Pirate. That does not come from having more policies. It comes from better explaining the core of what the Pirate Party stand for, and make it as easy as possible for the electorate to extrapolate for themselves how such a philosophy would deal with more diverse policy areas.

Pirates and Protecting Personal Privacy (a response)

In response to: http://ericjoycemp.wordpress.com/2010/12/18/pirates-and-protecting-personal-privacy/

As one of the Pirate Party members present for the excellent DEAPPG meeting (thank you!), I’ll try and respond to some of your comments Eric. I will emphasise however that my comments do not necessarily represent anyone else in the Party nor the Party itself 😀

I’m glad you were intrigued by us. I am glad you recognise that we are willing to engage in the debate, and that we do so intelligently rather than dogmatically. Holding a polemical view doesn’t necessitate an aggressive delivery of that message. Despite the name we are a serious political party (a phrase that sometimes seems to become our catchphrase), and by that I mean both that our issues are very serious and we wish to engage with national politics in a serious way.

I am happy to leave aside issues of copyright, because despite what some say we are not a ‘single issue party’, and I’ll try to respond to the 3 things which struck you about our argument.

Impossibility of stopping leaks

Taking a position that it isn’t possible to stop leaks – in response, I believe, to a straight question of ‘is it possible?’ doesn’t necessarily equate to a position on whether leaks are inherently good or bad. It is just a simple recognition of reality. My personal view would probably depend on context to some extent in the same way as the question about lying to and/or misleading Parliament.

If a full complete and truthful answer in Parliament might cause immediate harm (such as confession of an upcoming currency devaluation) then I could accept a misleading answer as long as it was followed as soon as possible by an honest and fully explained apology. If however Parliament was mislead over something that would only cause discomfort or embarrassment (keeping secret an agreement to allow cluster bomb munition on British soil in US) then no apology would suffice for the contempt with which Parliament was treated.

Likewise I would treat leaks the same way. If a leak would cause more immediate harm than good (admittedly difficult to assess at times), with no efforts to mitigate the harm (anonymising names or waiting for a vulnerable period of time to pass) I would likely regard that specific leak as ‘bad’. If however a leak reveals information that ‘is in the public good’ (again, can be hard to assess) even if it might be diplomatically or politically embarrassing, I’d be inclined to consider the leak ‘good’. This fairly arbitrary notion of good or bad doesn’t change whether we can stop it, and it doesn’t necessarily mean it should be legal/illegal to leak.

Arguing strongly for personal privacy

There are very clear conflicts between notions of pure free speech, and the respect of privacy, and I imagine that it is a fine line to legislate. I am reminded of something I read elsewhere once upon a time (regret to not remember where) discussing the outrage in the USA at the idea of their national flag being burnt despite it being legal to do under free speech*. The article discussed the dichotomy of this being a protected free speech while at the same time being abhorred by so many in society. The authors perspective was that the social outrage towards the flag burner was sufficient social punishment for the ‘crime’ and that the law didn’t need to provide further punishment, and thus could preserve free speech.

To my mind this is a way in which personal privacy and how to handle it could be dealt with.

Likewise legislatively there is a very clear difference between trying to criminalise the local neighbourhood gossip poking their nose into everyone’s private business, and having the position as a Government that the state should not intrude into the private lives of citizens by covering every square inch with CCTV cameras, holding DNA databases of innocent people, trying to impose national ID cards as well as integrating government databases with all sorts of personal information about us and then opening it up to everyone and their dog, and the list of government intrusions into our privacy could go on. Yes, we want our private data to be private. Yes, information can be easily leaked. Solution, stop putting all our private data into more and more government databases and start to respect our privacy as individuals.

The important thing to recognise is that it doesn’t matter if I, or you, or anyone else, thinks a leak is good or bad in terms of stopping that leak occurring in the first place. If someone is motivated to leak, they will. What is important, and needs more looking at is how you deal with leaks after the fact.

I would personally advocate in favour of a system where leaks and breaches of personal privacy can be prosecuted, because the law should not just be about what we can or can not enforce, it should also be about what we as society are asking of each other. That is exactly what I see laws as being, our social contract with each other over what we deem acceptable. I accept that leaks can be the right thing to do, I also accept that leaks can be bad, as such we need laws that are capable of prosecuting leakers when in the public good but with wiggle-room to protect whistle-blowers.

The very existence of laws to penalise leakers may be sufficient to stop those who may be inclined to leak frivolously. I personally believe that anyone that sees something bad going on and leaks despite the often harsh penalties of doing so is a hero.

Laws that punish leakers need to be crafted to accept that sometimes the public good trumps secrecy, needs to analyse motives and the intent of the leaker rather than just the embarrassment the leak may cause. Such shades of grey are hard to legislate, but we ought to aspire to manage it. We already have a system that is supposed to look at the public good before prosecuting a legal case against someone, so there is some ability to deal with the shades of grey between wrong/right before something comes to trial. I also have faith in the British public to judge between a good and bad leak.

More than any of this, I would prefer to live in a country where there were no nasty secrets being held back from the public, where the people and Parliament weren’t mislead for political/diplomatic convenience, where there weren’t any secrets that were in the public good to be leaked.

If the state should decide what is kept private

I don’t know that we ‘argued that the state did not have the right to decide what should be kept from the public’. In a sense we the public grant the state the right to make that decision. It is the state that has proven that it doesn’t respect the public to use that power fairly and responsibly. The rights of the state are rights that the public can take back. I think you call this anarchy Eric. I call it democracy.

You also mention Eric that there is a contradiction in the Pirate Party having policies that respect personal privacy while at the same time accepting and admitting that it is easier for information to spread than it is to contain it. There is no contradiction here. Recognition that information can be communicated is not acceptance that all information should be communicated. I think we all probably know people that gossip a little too freely with the private information of others. Gossiping is something we all engage in from time to time, but most people recognise that while gossiping can be irresistible, we’re not actually discussing matters of great intellectual significance, we’re not curing cancer, and we aren’t (no matter how much hot air we give out) sending rockets to the moon.

It is possible to distinguish between private and personal information about a person, and between information about the state, about that activities of government, etc. As to who should make that distinction, I agree with you Eric, it is the state. That is, the people that live in the state, the wider society, and not just those that choose to make the decisions behind closed doors. Governments should by all means have definitions of what they think should be public and secret, but those definitions should be open to society so we can choose if we agree or not. Government should then stick to those definitions and not deceive and manipulate us.

You wrote, Eric, that you put that question to us a number of times and we didn’t answer. I guess there are a number of reasons. Primarily I suspect it was because the discussion we were there to have wasn’t about the distinction between personal private information and state ‘secrets’. We were there to discuss the issue of state ‘secrets’ being put into the public domain and the clear revelation of quite how dirty some of those state secrets are. Those leaks have us question the honesty of those that purport to lead us and the real question was what should states do to deal with the threat of leaks. The answer is that states should behave with honour and dignity and have nothing to fear from such leaks. The secret face of our state should be one we aren’t ashamed to discover.

Of course, another good reason why you might not have been given an answer to your question is that some of us (or maybe just me) are new to that sort of environment and need to take some time to observe and absorb rather than actively participate right off the bat. Some of us might not be natural politicians, and tongue-in-cheek slightly, maybe that’s a good thing.

Just because one Pirate argues that all information will come out, doesn’t make that person (or others in the movement) an anarchist. Rather perhaps just a realist? I’m not sure any of us want to kill the state. As a Party we are trying to enter mainstream politics. Not to kill it from within, but to fix those problems we see. Why did you and your colleagues enter politics? Hopefully for many of you it was because you perceived a problem and wanted to fix it! As a motivation I respect that, even where I may disagree with the perceived problem and solution (though having been a life-long Labour voter maybe not as much disagreement as others might have). Likewise I hope mainstream politics will respect us in the Pirate Party for holding that same willingness to try and right those wrongs we perceive.

You are very right Eric that those ‘with political, commercial … power now have a responsibility to question their own assumptions about information, creativity, communications, [etc]’. You are also right that Pirates need to understand people as well as technology. I worry that there is an implication that you think we don’t. I disagree. Some of us (it pains me to exclude myself) may be young and (happy to include myself) more technology aware than average, but neither of these characteristics should assume a lack of knowledge or experience with the real world. Of course some of us fit stereotypes, but many of us do not. From my reading of what you wrote you are asking us to decide if we like democratic values or regard them as irrelevant. I hope you didn’t mean it that way, but I point once more to us entering the democratic political process, as well as restating that recognition of the inevitability of something does not equate to support of it. We very much want our ideas to be part of the solution. I don’t think that will happen until a lot of the mainstream parties throw away a lot of their perceptions and truly engage with our policies.

*Burning in fact actually being the preferred way to dispose of worn US flags.

Featured image – Would Like To Use Your Current Location some rights reserved by Kai Hendry

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

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.