Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

I feel like an idiot for voting, and you should too

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017 | Religion & Politics

Tomorrow is the general election. Will you be voting? If you answer is anything other than “no”, you’re making bad choices with your life.

I usually vote. But I feel like an idiot for doing so.

Why? Because pretty much every economic model shows that voting is not worthwhile. Think about it: your vote is worth basically nothing. The British electorate is 45,000,000 people. You are just one of them. You don’t make any difference on the outcome.

And, presumably, you put some kind of value on your time.

An example: Leeds Central

I’m based in Leeds Central. It’s Hilary Benn’s Labour safe seat. Last time, we received 24,000 votes. His nearest competitor received 7,000 votes. That is a majority of 17,000. He has a 55% share of the vote.

This never changes. The last time Leeds Central elected anyone other than a Labour candidate was in 1923. 94 years ago. Before I was born. Before my parents were born. Before my grandparents were born.

So, no matter what I do, Hilary Benn will be re-elected as the MP for Leeds Central tomorrow.

Okay, so that established, I now have a choice. It’s polling day and I am sitting in my house. Regardless of whether I cast my vote, Hilary Benn will be re-elected. I can choose to spend 30 minutes going to the polling station. Or I can choose to spend the 30 minutes with my daughter.

What’s the rational choice here?

Voting costs time

Voting is a time-consuming business. You have to go to the polling station and get back. You might have to queue. I have had to queue for 40 minutes in a previous election.

That’s a big time-suck. How much is your time worth?

Probably valuable, right? I could be spending that time with my family or my friends. Or relaxing. Or cooking. Or getting some work done. Or learning something new. There are loads of valuable things you could do with that time.

And if your time is worthless, maybe you need to spend that time sorting your life out.

The rational action is not to vote

If you live in one of the 80% of safe seats, your vote is completely worthless. Nothing is going to change there.

If you live in one of the 20% of marginal seats, you vote is still worth practically nothing. Why? Because elections rarely ever come down to one vote.

We have a general election every 4-5 years, have done for around 200 years and currently have 650 constituencies. That is tens of thousands of constituency elections. Just once. In 1886. Seems unlikely you will be that one vote, then.

But voting is a right, and an honour

Which is the kind of thing we tell young men when we need them to go off and get themselves killed in a pointless war. “It’s an honour to service in the British military, and your duty to defend the Queen. I’d probably get some insurance for those legs of yours, though. And maybe freeze some sperm.”

When people tell me I have to vote, nobody can explain to me what that means. Or why. Why do I have to vote? It literally doesn’t make a difference to the outcome of the election. It doesn’t change anything. It is a waste of my time.

Those are concrete facts. The 30 minutes I lose spending time with Venla is a concrete outcome. “You’ll be participating in the great democratic process” is a nebulous concept with no clear value.

Yes, but if nobody voted…

People say to me “well, if everyone who wanted Bremain had gone out and voted, we would have won”. This is true. But they won’t. You don’t have control over them. You only control yourself and your one single vote.

It’s essentially the tragedy of the commons.

And if everyone thought like me and stopped voting, I would start voting, because my vote would suddenly become incredibly valuable. But until that happens, it isn’t.

If you don’t vote, you can’t complain

Of course you can. Not voting doesn’t somehow disqualify you from having an opinion when your human rights start getting stripped away or the government starts murdering disabled people.

Not voting merely shows that you have some grasp of basic probability. In short, that you’re not an idiot.

If anything, voting should disqualify you from having an opinion because you fail to grasp how the whole system works (or doesn’t work).

But Chris, you said you vote

It’s true. I’m not better than you. I’m saying that we’re all idiots together.

But young people don’t vote

You could argue “that’s fine, I am happy being an idiot, let’s all be idiots together and be proud of it.”

Fine. But young people don’t vote.

Most people say that they are disenfranchised and ill-informed. But is there any evidence for this? A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that young people should be more informed. They have more access to news, access to the internet, higher levels of education than ever before and a higher IQ (which moves up 3 points every decade). They should be the most switched on.

And I think they are. What if, rather than being ill-informed fools, young people are just smarter than us? They realise how pointless voting in a first-past-the-post system is and have realised that their time is too valuable to waste on such an endeavour?

Conclusion

Voting is an irrational act. Your vote will have no impact on the outcome of the election. It does, however, cost you valuable time. The sensible thing to do is not to vote.

That is why young people don’t vote. They’ve realised this ahead of the rest of us. Sure, if they all block voted they could change the election. But they won’t, and they understand that they won’t because they each individually only control one vote, and so they do the thing that makes sense and use their time more productively.

The rest of us have been brainwashed by words like duty or feel that it would somehow be offensive towards the ghost of Emmeline Pankhurst if we choose to spend the time with our family instead.

Maybe I’m wrong. The truth is, I would like to be proven so. I would like to think I am not acting irrationally. But your argument better be well-thought-out and articulate because nobody has been successful yet.

And you say “well, I’m happy to act irrationality”. But that in itself is not a badge to be proud of. We often chastise the electorate for failing to vote in their own self-interest. But what right to do we have to make these claims when we ourselves cannot rationalise our actions? None whatsoever.

Footnotes

Image courtesy of Man vyi via Wikimedia Commons.

Don’t forget to vote

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016 | Religion & Politics

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Today is of course referendum day. Many of you have postal voted already, but for those voting in person, now is the time!

I am very much looking forward to today being over so that I can talk about something else! I have some great posts about Iceland coming up, starting Saturday.

Some reasons to vote

Sometimes it might feel like it is not worth voting. However, there are some great reasons to make the effort today.

First, the result is on a knife edge. It is predicted to be incredibly close; closer than any vote we have seen foe a long time. With such fine margins, you vote will make more of a difference than ever.

Second, everyone else is doing it. YouGov are predicting we could see one of the highest turnouts for any vote in the last few decades (save the Scottish referendum). As a society, we really are all making the effort to get out there and vote.

Third, the consequences of this are huge. It is not just five years of one set of politicians before we vote again. It would be a most uncomfortable feeling for the future of our society having gone the other way than you wanted it, without having a say in it. At least if you vote you can say “don’t blame me – I voted x!”

Still undecided?

If you are still not sure which way to vote in the referendum, that’s fine. But consider this: if we vote remain, we can always choose to leave at a later date. A vote for leave is far less reversible.

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It’s time to speak out

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016 | Religion & Politics

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I have not been very active in campaigning for the UK to remain a member of the EU. The truth is, I don’t think I thought I really needed to. I thought when the time came, the UK would not be swayed by the torrent of anti-immigrant hated put out by a side that advocated a return to the good old days when we maintained our trade levels through invasion and empire-building, rather than dialogue and open borders.

Having discussed it with other people, I think many feel the same way. We did not realise our voices had to be heard. We assumed that the progress we had achieved over the past 50 years was safe. But now, only weeks before the referendum, the pendulum is swinging. Several polls put Leave ahead. Even the bookies have started slashing the odds, which were not that high to begin with.

We must speak out. The voice is the silent majority, our voice, must be silent no more. The time for being British and avoiding the awkward conversation with out friends and family has passed.

When I talk to people about the referendum, I don’t tell them about the percentage of immigrants in the UK (it’s lower than they think), the percentage of laws that come from Brussels (it’s lower than they think), it the net contribution we make to the EU (it is, of course, lower than they think). I talk about my fears for my wife and my baby daughter. Immigration laws tear families apart.

I talk about my fears of providing for my family when trade with other European nations becomes more difficult. At Sky, we’re expanding into Germany and Italy. If that growth is slowed, I will be the first out of the door.

I talk about my friends, who work on minimum wage, who will have to face a stagnant economy in which their pay does not rise, but their price of does does. Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage will still be millionaires whatever happens. It is the poorest communities, the communities of The North that will be hit the hardest.

I talk about my friends with disabilities and long term health conditions who face a bonfire of rights once there are no immigrants left to demonise.

And all of this for no clear benefit. There are no concrete benefits. We don’t know if leaving the EU will spare us some cash, or whether that will be lost in the economic shock. We don’t know if we will be able to gain any immigration controls while still maintaining business links with Europe. We do know that we almost certainly would have to contribute to the EU budget anyway, have no trade deals with other countries and make it more difficult to fight crime in a European level.

The only “gap” is our attitude

When the results of yesterday’s TNS UK poll were released, it put Leave 7 poins ahead. But listen to what their spokesperson, Luke Taylor, told The Guardian

It should be noted that among the entire general public the picture is more balanced with 33% supporting Remain, 35% supporting Leave and 32% undecided or planning not to vote.

Taking into account likelihood to vote and whether or not people are registered to vote, benefits ‘Leave’ over ‘Remain’. In particular, our turnout model penalises younger people and those that did not vote in the previous general election, as historically these groups are less likely to vote.

The Leave campaign does not represent the the majority view of British people. The reason they are ahead is because on Thursday 23 July, they are more likely to turn up and vote than everyone else. It is because of low turn out, especially among younger people, that the Leave campaign has the chance to drag us down down a road that the rest of the country does not want to go down.

Our voices must be heard, and our votes must be counted. It rests on all of our shoulders to make this happen.

Why I am voting Remain

Monday, June 13th, 2016 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

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On Thursday 23 June, we will have the choice for Britain to remain in, or leave, the European Union. I will be voting for us to remain a member, and want to explain why.

This is not a short term decision

Both sides have argued over what the short term effects on the country would be. But the truth is that that is not really important. This is a decision about our future and one that will affect our entire lives. We need to think about what kind of country we want 50 years down the line.

I know what kind of country I want. One that is open and inclusive. One that does not shrink away from being a part of the global community. One that builds relationships and tolerance by saying that we are a united continent, held together by an organisation set up to promote the common good.

Relationships are better in Europe

My wife is from Finland. Our marriage was easy. She can live and work over here, or I can live and work over there. When we visit each other’s families, travel is easy. Pretty much everything inside the EU is easier.

marriage-signing

Most of my friends are EU immigrants. They’re all awesome people, kind people, interesting people. They all have jobs. Not a single EU immigrant I know is on benefits: they are all contributing to our economy. They’re not cheap labour, they’re the best that their country has to offer. And they’re humans. Humans with feelings, and fears, left wandering what will happen to the country they live in and love.

Freedom to go where one wants

When I was going to move to San Francisco to work for a software company, we had months of complexities trying to sort out visas. I’m a high skilled worker with a skill that the United States needs, and still it was incredibly difficult and complex to get me the right to work in the country, let alone settle there.

I found this an incredibly bizarre experience. As a British citizen, my passport is normally a golden ticket to anything. I won the genetic lottery when I was born in the UK. Yet here was a country that wouldn’t let me even, even with a passport in which Her Majesty “requests & requires” the barer to be allowed free passage.

Right now I can go to any other European nation. I can live there, I can work there, I can use their healthcare system. I have that right because of the relationships we have with our European neighbours. Risking that would be only be a step backward.

Lead, not leave

27 countries send MEPs to the European Parliament. We send over 10% of them. The average country sends 4% of the MEPs, we send more than double that. Along with Germany and France, we have the biggest seat at the table.

And what a community to lead. The European Union is the world’s largest economy. It is bigger than the United States, it is bigger than China. It is one of the few powers in the world that can stand up to global corporations.

Europe sticks up for workers, and consumers

Europe is not making judgements and legislation to make our lives more difficult. They make a positive impact on our lives. They guarantee us holidays, rights, a limited working week and maternity leave.

Consumers benefit too. Take mobile roaming charges for example. It is literally free for operators to do this. The idea that roaming costs money is bullshit. The whole internet works on people sending data all over the world. There is no reason for these fees to exist other than for operators to take advantage of consumers. The EU are putting a stop to that.

There is no financial benefit

All countries that want access to the single market, which we would need to do to continue to trade with the rest of Europe, we would continue to have to pay into the EU budget. This is the reality Norway find themselves in.

However, even if we did save some cash after the new EU bill, and we somehow kept the economy going, and thereby ended up with in the black, the idea that that money would go to the NHS is dubious. As one meme pointed out, if you trust people live Johnson, Gove and Farage to take the money we save and put it into the NHS, rather than giving further tax breaks to the rich, then I have some magic beans to sell you.

Nor will leaving the EU allow us to avoid the European Convention on Human Rights or avoid the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights. These are part of the Council of Europe and leaving the EU will now exempt us from them.

There will be no immigration controls

The other major touted benefit of leaving the EU would be that we would have control of immigration. However, it has now been shown how this would be the case. Norway and Switzland both have free movement agreements in place and actually receive a higher proportion of EU immigrants than we do.

Summary

I am voting for remain because the European Union represents a better world. A world where we can go where we want, work where we want. A world where we welcome in our friends and our lovers, and do not worry about whether our relationships will be allowed to continue or rejected for visa reasons.

A world where we stand side-by-side with our neighbours to defend human rights, and the rights of workers and consumers across the continent. There is no economic argument for leaving: our economy will function best when we have open trading with our European partners.

United we stand, divided we fall.

Remain campaign nonsense

Thursday, June 9th, 2016 | Religion & Politics

stronger-in

When the EU referendum arrives, I will be voting to remain. I want to see an open, inclusive country that plays its part in the global community and helps lead the world forward at the head of the world’s largest and most powerful union.

However, I have been disappointed about the amount of bullshit being put out by the remain campaign. Tim Farron’s case for voting for the country we want is drowned out by the scare tactics being constantly pumped out by the remain-Conversatives. I want to challenge some of these.

£4,300 a year worse off

George Osborne made the claim that families would be £4,300 worse off. This is obviously is not true. Could you find £4,300 spare in your household? Most people couldn’t. Certainly someone earning £12,000 a year on minimum wage couldn’t. Many people live below though: working part time, being unable to find a job, being on long-term sick or retirees living on a pension.

I earn in the 90th percentile, so I could afford it. However, I couldn’t afford to subsidise it for the other nine people who earn less than me. There simply isn’t that much money going spare in the UK. It would be impossible for Brexit to cost households that much.

On the BBC Fact Check they explain he is actually talking about GPD, and not actual cost to families. However, it was explicitly not reported that way.

Nobody would sign trade agreements with us

US President Barack Obama claimed Britain would be at the back of the queue for a trade agreement if we left Europe. This could be true, but I very, very much doubt it. The UK is the United States’s 7th largest trading partner, second in Europe. If we left, having no trade agreement hurts them. Are we expected to believe they would cut off their nose? In reality, we’re likely to be first in the queue, being the most valuable trading partner now without a trade agreement.

Europe will send all the British expats back

Britain doesn’t have more people living abroad than any other country, but we do have a substantial population (somewhere around 1.2 million) of expats living in other EU countries.

However, it is unlikely that Brexit would mean much. Unlike Eastern European countries that are pumping out the cheap labour some people in the UK object to, British expats tend to be high-skilled workers or wealthy retirees. They also mostly live in Western European countries such as Spain and Ireland who most likely would continue to enjoy a good relationship with us.

The tragedy of Boaty McBoatface

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016 | Religion & Politics

boaty-mcboatface

Last week it was announced that the new polar research ship Boaty McBoatface would be named RRS Sir David Attenborough instead. True, NERC never promised they would name the ship after the most popular vote, but I think it still raises questions.

NERC is publicly funded, so you would think that they would want to serve the public as best they can. And the public had spoken. 124,109 votes were cast for Boaty McBoatface. The next in line was Poppy-Mai with 39,886 (which was the small child that married her father). David Attenborough collected only 11,203 votes, less than a tenth of what Boaty earned.

However, it was not to be. Jo Johnson said there were “more suitable” names, and that they would be selecting one of them. In the end, they settled on naming it after Sir David Attenborough. Attenborough is a British institution to be sure. However, if I was him, I would have sent a rather grumpy message pointing out that I was in fact not dead yet.

At the same time, we had our local elections. Turnout was around 45%. Most people did not even go out and vote. The situation is more dire in reality because it’s only 45% of those registered to vote: not everyone is registered, and some are even denied the right: prisoners and those under 18 years old for example. Only 69% of the population are registered to vote.

These are not the levels of participation on democracy that we would like to see.

Here is the tradegy: with Boaty McBoatface, people actually became excited about democracy. Young people were voting. People were sharing, and telling their friends to vote. It was worth basically nothing and yet people were engaging, excited and thought they would make a difference. Imagine if we could get that excitement about government elections.

There can be little argument against calling it Boaty McBoatface. Yes, it would be a ‘silly’ name. In what way does that affect the vessel’s ability to do science? The answer, is in no way. Nintendo named their console after taking a literal piss, and the Wii outsells both the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.

But then a suit stands up and tells everyone that they have made the wrong choice. Forget what the public wants, we will pick a “more suitable” name for you. The powers that be have spoken, and respecting what the public wants is not on the agenda. No wonder nobody turns out to vote, they’re not even allowed to name a ship.

2015 Local election results

Monday, May 11th, 2015 | News, Religion & Politics

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We fought a hard campaign and did our best. Well, I say “we”, I mean “I”. And by “fought hard” I mean I answered a couple of questions for South Leeds Life and did not really do anything else.

But I was there, to provide people with a true alternative. In the end Patrick Davey took a comfortable victory for Labour. However, at 104 votes I was close behind him, and the other four candidates in my ward.

I also met Green Party candidate Ed Carlisle at the count. He is a really nice guy and genuinely did fight a hard campaign, so it was a shame to see him finish so far behind Labour. Though at least he did push the Tories down into third! He also actually lives in the ward, unlike Davey, who lives in Bramhope.

The count was pretty funny. One of the tables counting our ward had too old ladies on it constantly joking to each other any time they got a Loony vote “oh look, another one that’s been smoking the wacky backy!” They were quite embarrassed when Ed pointed out I was stood right in front of them, though I found it absolutely hilarious.

I was a little disappointed that I didn’t pick up the booby prize for the least number of votes, but some of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidates got down to single figures. As Trevor pointed out, it’s not a good time to have the word “coalition” in your party name.

Elsewhere in the country Loonies did well. We fielded 16 Parliamentary candidates. Our glorious leader Howling Laud Hope smashed rival candidate Lord Toby Jug (who has formed a splinter party) with 72 votes to 50. We have won at least four local government elections too, as four of our candidates were running unopposed.

I was pretty fired up afterwards, indeed, I’m already planning my 2020 campaign. Next stop, Parliament!

2015 General Election

Sunday, May 10th, 2015 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

Well, that was unexpected.

Red Ed stood up for working-class people, promising to tax the rich and break big businesses strangle hold on the media. And the people of England said “no thanks”.

I eventually came down on the side of no for the Scottish independence referendum, mostly because without Scotland Labour would be crippled and we would end up with a Tory majority government. What a waste of time that turned out to be.

It’s a shame to see not a single independent won a seat on the British mainland.

On the plus side though, my buffet went quite well. Freshly baked bread, crisps, twice-baked potatoes, Sniff’s favourite meatballs (a Moomin recipe), chicken wings and Devil’s food cake meant that we were able to eat solidly from 10pm to 4am and still have plenty for breakfast.

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Revolution

Saturday, April 25th, 2015 | Books

I had some hopes for this book. Russell Brand and I are superficially alike. That is to say, we both have long tangled hair and a tendency to stand up for justice rather than kowtowing to authority.

However, the revolution that Brand proposes is perhaps-unalterably bound up in a movement towards a religiously-inspired spiritualism. Brand would argue that that is the point. They need to be connected together.

He opens the book with a prayer and talks about his belief in god. Which god you ask? Doesn’t matter. Brand seems to accept all the contradictory claims of various religions as true. But what does that matter when you believe that science cannot explain everything. Especially Consciousness. I’ll be writing to Dan Dennett for my money back then.

Some of the claims drift into the beyond ridiculous. Whether or not you think that the entire working class is being oppressed and knowledge of other alternatives is being carefully controlled and discredited, a group of people doing mediation does not drop a city’s crime rate by 20%. I couldn’t even find the study that Brand was referencing, but you do not need to know that it does not make sense.

That’s the bad stuff though. There is also lots of good stuff in the book.

He writes in an engaging style. It’s entertaining, it slips in and out of poetry and moves seamlessly between the fun and the serious. It is self-aware enough to realise that many will regard Brand as a champagne socialist.

Some of which is contentious. For example, he claims that the US election has been won by the side with the most money. He points out that isn’t claiming this always has happens. It is just that it has happened every time ever so far. Thought provoking, though you could argue that the side with the most support should be able to raise the most money.

Other points are less contentious. Wealth inequality is increasing. We are severely damaging the planet. The currently democratic process fails to engage people. We all know this he states again and again. And we do. That is to say, most people would accept these ideas (though not all). Few would argue that 85 individuals should have the same net worth as 3,500,000,000 others.

Every election we discuss low voter turn-out. People don’t seem to care. Except clearly, people do care about democracy in general. The nation phones into premium rate lines to vote for X-Factor every week. Even I voted in Eurovision. It’s the current political system, a feeling that they have no voice and no power that people are disenfranchised with.

Whether his socialist utopia will work is another question. His experiences with the Buy Love Here project does not bode well, nor does the evidence that human nature is rather unpleasant.

However, at worst you can argue that Brand becomes the reductio ad absurdum to his own ideas. That does not mean he doesn’t have a point.

Revolution

Standing for election

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015 | Religion & Politics

I wanted to document some of the challenges I had had registering myself as a candidate. It’s not impossible, but if you haven’t done it before, there are definitely some things you need to be aware of.

You do not have much time between the election starting and getting your forms in. Leeds City Council opened submissions on 1 April and closed them on the 9th. However, this was over the Easter weekend, so you actually only had 5 working days to submit them.

I downloaded the forms from their website and then went to the town hall to hand them in. The man on the front desk said I could give them to him and he would pass them on. However, the next day the elections office phoned me back saying that I had filled out the wrong forms and I had to submit them in person.

This was on the 2nd, and on the 3rd they closed for Easter, so I had to go down on the 7th and get the forms back and make an appointment for the 8th to submit them. This left me only the evening on the 8th to get them all filled out.

This is all doable, though it is very difficult if you have a job. They are only open 10am to 4pm and because they are busy during elections, you have to go down and speak to them if you want a response. When I tried to phone them back on the number they had called me on I got an automated message saying that the number was Leeds City Council, but you had to phone the “published number” and then hung up on me. The problem is they do not publish any numbers. I had to go onto their live chat to get their number, and then the number said it was going to be over 20 minutes before they answered it.

Again, none of this is impossible. However, it is difficult if you have a job. I am quite lucky that I work in Leeds and my current client is fairly flexible. However, there is clearly a lot more that could be done to make the democratic process open to ordinary working class people.

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