Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Irritating men

To fend off any accusations of mysogyny as a result of my post Irritating women, I list below some extremely irritating men:

1. Jeremy Clarkson.
2. John Humphrys.
3. Richard Littlejohn.
4. That fat populist slob on talk radio whose name escapes me. (Update: John Gaunt)
5. Chris Moyles.
6. Norman Tebbit.
7. Kelvin Mackenzie.
8. Piers Morgan.
9. Peter Mandelson.
10. Charles Moore.
11. Christopher Booker.
12. John Redwood.
13. Dennis Skinner.
14. Alan Titchmarsh.
15. Andrew Gilligan.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Irritating women

Iain Dale says on Twitter: "Mariella Frostrup is perhaps the most irritating woman on the planet".

Nonsense! Without a doubt, the top 15 most irritating women on the planet are, in descending order:

1. Esther Rantzen.
2. Margaret Thatcher.
3. Anne Coulter.
4. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.
5. Melanie Phillips.
6. Caroline Flint.
7. Hazel Blears.
8. Janet Street-Porter.
9. Harriet Harman.
10. Patricia Hewitt.
11. Hillary Clinton.
12. Germaine Greer.
13. Tessa Jowell.
14. Anne Robinson.
15. Anne Widdecombe.

Boris Routemaster plan is a non-starter, say experts

Transit magazine reveals that transport industry professionals are saying that Boris Johnson's proposal to resurrect the Routemaster bus is a complete non-starter:

A senior executive with a UK bus builder said a new Routemaster could not be certified, and would be too expensive. "It's not been thought through," he told Transit.

Other experts also cast doubt on the plan. Sandy Glennie, the former managing director of Volvo Bus UK, said that having an open rear platform on a new bus was a "non starter".

Andrew Braddock, the former head of access and mobility at Transport for London, estimated that the vehicles would cost the mayor more than £250,000 each, much more expensive than a conventional double decker or an artic.
And yet this was originally supposed to be the centrepiece of Johnson's mayoral campaign.

Is there any reason to think that any of his other proposals are likely to be any more soundly based?

Sunday, 20 April 2008

"Stop Boris" campaign song and video

If you can't follow all the lyrics, go here and click "More info".

Thanks to The Tory Troll.

More "green" support for Ken Livingstone

Geoffrey Lean is a noted environmental campaigner. In an article called The real green candidate is Ken in today's Sindie, he tells us that he doesn't like Ken Livingstone, the man.

He realises, though, that the issues transcend the personalities. Ken, he says, is "one of the world's greenest leaders":

It's not just the congestion charge. As Mayor, Mr Livingstone has introduced the world's most detailed and thought-out range of policies, including tackling vehicle emissions, boosting renewable energy, offering Londoners cut-price insulation, and persuading companies to green their offices. And, amazingly, he has reversed the universal trend to greater car use, achieving an unprecedented shift to public transport, walking and cycling.
In contrast, Boris Johnson "spent those years denouncing 'eco-moralists' for spouting 'mumbo-jumbo', and applauding Mr Bush for trying to kill the Kyoto Protocol".

The benefits of Livingstone's approach go far beyond London itself, Lean notes:

Jonathon Porritt says a Johnson victory would be "a massive setback". He's right – and not just here. For Mr Livingstone established a remarkable alliance of many of the world's cities to act on global warming, which looks to him for leadership.
Geoffrey Lean's conclusion:

Eight years is usually long enough at the top. But, such is the nature of the Mayor's green measures, they need another term to be embedded. Like him or not, London – and the world – needs him to win.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Paddick concedes defeat

People I speak to are shocked by Brian Paddick's descent into vulgar abuse against Ken Livingstone. Paddick called Livingstone "a really nasty little man ... very unpleasant".

This may or may not be what he actually thinks, but to say it publicly smacks of desperation. Presumably he thought he was trying to woo Tory voters who already hate Ken but think Boris is an idiot. But it is an inadvertent admission of defeat - a recognition by Paddick that he is not going to be running Livingstone or Johnson close.

Suppose these 3 candidates were getting roughly equal scores of about 30% of first preferences each. One might then see the following scenario, with the three only narrowly separated:

1. Johnson
2. Paddick
3. Livingstone

In that event, Paddick would need Livingstone's second preferences in order to beat Johnson in the second count. He is hardly likely to get many of them by being gratuitously abusive towards those voters' first preference. Paddick surely cannot be so deluded as to think he is going to win outright on first preferences, so he must have concluded that his campaign is failing to lift his score anywhere near towards the other two.

It looks so far as if, despite his heavy emphasis on the crime issue (which the polls keep telling us is people's number one concern and which is a subject he is uniquely qualified to address), he is not managing to expand much beyond the core Lib Dem support of 15% first preferences that Simon Hughes got in 2004.

Meanwhile, presumably Paddick's comments will have the effect, if any, of deterring his existing core supporters from putting Ken Livingstone as their second preference. So the net outcome of all this is simply to make it more likely that Boris Johnson will win. It's all rather depressing.

Dancing Korean Traffic Cops of the day

Friday, 18 April 2008

Toiling for Ken's re-election

Hard pounding on the streets and council estates of Lambeth and Southwark. I have the aching leg muscles to prove it. So far, I've encountered little open hostility to Ken Livingstone, and no open support at all for Boris Johnson. One or two people even asked for window posters for Ken. Of course, this is natural Labour territory, in so far as such a thing still exists. Probably most of these people have better things to do than read the Evening Standard.

But overall, I think the main enemy is apathy, and people's feeling that all of this has no relevance to their lives. "Getting the vote out" is going to be absolutely crucial.

Boris Johnson backtracks on buses

An interview with Boris Johnson in Time Out this week is worth reading. On bendy buses, he has changed his tune, and now concedes that they have some good points:

The bendy has some advantages. I like the fact it's disabled-friendly and buggy-friendly and it is a prodigious carrier of people and fits under underpasses. But it doesn't have that open back platform.
He also admits that his "new Routemaster" would take four years to produce. And I slightly doubt whether the Health and Safety Executive will allow any new bus to go into service these days with an open back platform. I don't think these exist anywhere else now outside the Third World. So if that is supposed to be the main point of it, the whole idea is even more of a nonsense than we thought.

Also, Johnson now describes moves by commentators and opponents to scrutinise and cost his Routemaster policy as "a hysterical attempt to focus on a small aspect of one policy". To start with, this proposal was his one big flagship idea. Now it's "a small aspect of one policy".

And he thinks Ken Livingstone should learn to drive, because "we all need to understand what it's like to overtake a bendy bus in traffic". But no, Boris, most of us don't actually. The vast majority of people moving around in central and inner London don't drive there because they know that driving motorcars in city centres is (a) pointless, and (b) a selfish use of a scarce finite public resource (urban road space).

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Roads vs. trains

Christian Wolmar raises a very pertinent question, Why are roads favoured by the right and trains by socialists?:

... a whole host of right wing think tanks in the US lobby strongly for increased spending on roads, while simultaneously trying to kill off public transport systems, arguing they are inefficent and expensive. (...)

What is it about roads that attracts the Right? Surely they must, by now, realise that the freedom afforded by the car is illusory, since, as usage rises, the extra societal costs of more people getting on to the road outweigh by far the benefits. And the simplistic view that roadbuilding is the answer has been widely discredited. There is a gaping intellectual gap in the Right's thinking which environmentalists and public transport supporters should be more adept at exploiting.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Thursday, 10 April 2008

The Newsnight mayoral debate

Dave Cole has a fair analysis of Tuesday's Livingstone-Johnson-Paddick debate conducted by Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight.

As Cole notes, transport is really the Mayor's biggest responsibility. And Ken Livingstone's track record on that issue, whatever else you might think of him, is pretty impressive.

Still, having just spent two hours leafletting for Ken on the mean streets of South London, I suspect our biggest enemy, at least in the inner suburbs, is not Boris Johnson, so much as apathy. Most people, of course, aren't interested in politics. How do we persuade them that voting on 1 May is actually going to make a difference to their lives?

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Train of the day

British Rail TV advert from the 1980s, featuring an HST 125 diesel or "flying banana". These were some of the best trains ever made and they are still going strong, albeit with new engines.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Stable doors and bolting horses

Tories outline rowdy pupils plan, the BBC informs us.

David Cameron proposes to "ban classroom troublemakers and give powers to protect teachers".

Another gimmicky announcement not properly thought through. The general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders [sic] explains, lower down in the BBC piece, why it will just make matters worse.

Anyway, it is much too late to do anything about this. Where obedience and discipline and respect for authority in schools are concerned, the pass was sold at least 25 years ago.

Yes, I'm mostly a lefty but I am a bit right-wing on this issue.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Is Brian Paddick credible?

Up early this snowy morning to find Brian Paddick on Steve Richards' GMTV sofa. Paddick seems to be getting his act together, and seemed less wooden and flakey than in some previous appearances.

Paddick certainly speaks with authority on crime and policing. Anyone can see that he knows what he is talking about when he dismisses Boris Johnson's proposals on crime as pure fantasy. He will also collect plenty of gay support. But he loses all credibility for me when he tries to claim that Ken Livingstone has a poor track record as Mayor. I doubt if anyone really believes that.

Livingstone's flagship achievement has been the congestion charge. Is it not revealing that hardly any of the other candidates, not even Johnson, are now proposing to abolish it? They thus tacitly admit that he got the one big thing right, yet try to pretend that he has a poor track record. It doesn't make sense.

Paddick's problem is that it will be amazing if he is one of the top two on first preferences. I have yet to find anyone who seriously doubts that it will be Boris v. Ken. So really the only interesting question about Paddick is where his second preferences go when he is eliminated from the race. Steve Richards tried several times to press him on his own second preference, but he clearly felt he had to maintain the fiction that he thinks Johnson and Livingstone are both equally bad from his point of view, to such a degree that he proposes (so he claims) to waste his own vote by not using his second preference. Of course, politicians always have to pretend they are going to win, but this seems to me pretty absurd.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Ken vs Boris, part 94

I am often a little slow catching up with who has said what. I've just come upon a piece from several days ago by David Aaronovitch called It's Horrid Ken v Chaotic Boris.

Aaronovitch -- no lefty he, these many years -- says he thought Ken Livingstone was going to be a lousy Mayor, and now admits he was entirely wrong. (I remember that Polly Toynbee went through exactly the same mea culpa.)

But it didn't happen. Instead we got the congestion charge, the most successful and courageous attempt to turn back the inevitable gridlock to which the city was condemned. London managed what Edinburgh and everywhere else flunked, and it was Ken who made it happen. The mayor got Londoners back on buses, Tube and bicycles at the expense of the cars that were killing the capital. Ken also helped to win London the Olympics, one of the most important and sought-after honours that any city can attain. Far from alienating the bankers and industrialists, Ken wooed them when necessary. Ken, wrong on all the things that don't matter in a London mayor, has been right on almost all the things that do.
Of Boris Johnson, Aaronovitch writes:

... a commitment to "rephase traffic lights", which is code for giving pedestrians even less time to cross the road, and motorists even more. This is almost the exact opposite of what we need to do, and might best be described as a uniquely anti-green and anti-child measure.
He goes on to point out that Johnson is completely unreliable:

There is hardly a senior soul in this business who hasn't turned up to an evening with Boris, to discover that it is an evening with anyone but. "I'm sorry," says the chair, anticipating the boos of disappointment, "but Boris Johnson is unable to be with us," followed by some lie.

The man is chaotic. The notion that a Boris administration will, as his website promises every few lines, subject London's finances and procedures to the most rigorous of scrutinies, is beyond parody.

Meanwhile, Neil Harding reminded us yesterday, in case we have forgotten, of a whole string of reasons why you have to vote for Ken if you want a greener London, better transport, affordable housing, etc., and pointed out that, on the basis of opinion poll evidence:

... if this election were being fought on the issues Ken would win easily. Most Londoners think Ken has done a good job as Mayor, only the Evening Standard smears and lies can explain why Ken is not ahead of bumbling Boris.
Harding returns to the fray today with a piece called True 'liberals' Will Vote For 'liberal' Policies Not Personalities, pointing out that:

Livingstone of course has built a coalition far wider than new Labour, his competence, vision and political bravery have won voters from Tory, Lib Dem, Green, trade unionist, muslim and other ethnic and minority backgrounds, but his 'brand' has been severely damaged by unfounded accusations from a London press that would shame North Korea in its levels of bias.
Ken Livingstone, Harding reminds us, has also garnered support from the gay movement, the anti-war movement, and anti-racism groups, not with vague gestures but through actual concrete policy measures.

Finally he draws our attention to a fascinating site called VoteMatch where you can take a survey that shows which candidates are closest to your own views. My results came out with Livingstone the clear favourite for my set of views, and I think the message is that you may not like Ken personally but you need to ignore that, and make a rational judgement about his actual policies vis-a-vis those of the other candidates.

Heathrow expansion vs. railways (again)

I never thought to see it, but the normally loathsome Evening Standard has come out with an editorial with every word of which I agree.

The subject is Heathrow airport, and the fact that its further expansion is both unnecessary and undesirable:

Plenty of capacity could be freed up by reducing services to
destinations such as Paris and Brussels which, thanks to the successful new Channel Tunnel rail link and St Pancras Terminal, are better served by high-speed rail than ever.

The same applies, of course, to the scope for abolishing most domestic flights and instead building new rail capacity within the UK, as I argued recently in my submission to the Transport Secretary, No to Heathrow Airport expansion.

Remarkably, the Tories have come round to my way of thinking on this -- not just Boris, who might have been accused of mere opportunism, but the party nationally, as explained by their spokeswoman Theresa Villiers:

She said: "The Government is set on building a third runway regardless of whether key economic and environmental questions are answered. However, they have failed to make the case."

She also questioned the thoroughness of the consultation document outlining expansion. "On page 55 of one of the annexes to the consultation document, we find them casually admitting that they have failed to price in the carbon effects of surface access to the airport... (...)"

She said the Government should look at a northsouth-high speed rail line linked to Heathrow and the Channel Tunnel as an alternative to expansion.

"We could dispense with the need for hundreds of the flights now clogging up the airport," she said.

She added: "The Government... has given us a consultation document which fails to make the economic case, fails to make the environmental case, and fails to consider the alternatives."
For almost half a century, from the 1959 general election onwards, I have been fighting against the Tories. Now, on this and some other issues, they are more on my side than a Labour government. What on earth is going on?

Where Are They Now, No. 94: Illtyd Harrington

Well, there's a name from the past.

And the answer turns out to be: he's alive and writing a column in the Camden New Journal.

Here's his comment on the mayoral election:
Is Ken the man to tackle our biggest challenge?

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Cleggover and male bonking

I am surprised at the fuss over Nick Clegg's interview in GQ where he says that he has discussed Ugandan affairs with some 30 people in his life so far.

My own figure is probably something of the same order, as far as I can remember after all these years.

Surely this is pretty unexceptional for most men? (Hughie Green, played brilliantly by Trevor Eve in a BBC4 biopic last night, is supposed to have slept with 1,000 women).

According to an article in yesterday's Grauniad, a 2005 survey in Canada found that men reported an average of 31.9 partners.

One expects Anne Widdecombe to be shocked, of course, but she has always been completely out of touch with reality, and barking to boot. Those of us who inhabit the real world must know that Clegg's figure is quite normal, and therefore the shock being professed in some quarters, such as this piece by Amanda Platell, is just hypocrisy.

Thank goodness, then, for Catherine Townsend, who in a piece called Sleeping Around in today's Indie tells us that her own figure is "between 60 and 100", and believes her experiences make her a better partner. She adds:

It seems that the people bleating the loudest about everyone else's morality are either seriously repressed or hiding sexual skeletons.
Whether any politician is wise to answer this sort of question in the first place, whatever the figure might be, is a different question, discussed here by Steve Richards, who finds that other commentators think it was a seriously unwise move.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

The end of capitalism as we know it?

The current world economic crisis has provoked various commentators recently to speculate that the rules of the capitalist game are going to have to change. These have, if memory serves, included such writers as Larry Elliott, Will Hutton, Naomi Klein, Polly Toynbee and Johann Hari.
The trouble is, those are just the sort of left-inclined people you would expect to say those things, and there is the risk that it is just wishful thinking.

Last night, however, the BBC gave an hour of prime-time television to a documentary called Super Rich: the Greed Game, explaining (I quote from the Radio Times) "how the super-rich were able to amass their fortunes, leaving the rest of us to pick up the bill for their avarice".

And this was not one of those "a personal view by ...." shows that they occasionally let people like John Pilger make. No, this was presented by the BBC's Business Editor, Robert Peston. Of the behaviour of the bankers and hedge fund managers, he says:

It has encouraged people to take foolish risks that are now endangering the financial system.

So, if it is now official that all this is a huge scandal, will anything be done about it?

Not here in the UK, I fear, as long as Gordon Brown is in charge. He has been buttering up all these shysters and crooks for donkey's years.

Read Robert Peston's blog entry about the programme here.

Ethnic shortlists

Over at Liberal Conspiracy they have been discussing whether political parties should have minority-only shortlists in certain constituencies. Apparently both Labour and the Lib Dems have been toying with this well-meaning but dangerous idea.

I have added a comment there, pointing out that, if we had STV in multi-member constituencies, this whole debate would be rendered completely unnecessary at a stroke.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

A grumpy old man writes ....

It's a little disconcerting to find myself agreeing with a Tory blogger on two separate issues within as many days, especially when it is a Tory (Iain Dale) who also says, with every appearance of seriousness, that he agrees with the preposterous Christopher Booker about anything (in this case windmills, on which Booker has lately produced one of his trademark hysterical rants, full of mendacious twaddle).

Issue 1 is the Tory press. Or at least the Murdoch and Mail press (I suppose Dale has to be nice to the Torygraph, since he writes for it). Most of us non-Tories have been fulminating for many decades about the way the right-wing press distorts our so-called democracy. Now Dale is complaining about Murdoch's and Dacre's "bully boy tactics" in trying to alter government policy in their own vested interest. This sort of thing is usually left to the likes of Polly Toynbee to say. It's great to find a Tory admitting up front that the behaviour of the Tory press just will not do.

Issue 2 is the collapse in standards of public behaviour. This is provoked by a Time magazine cover story about British youth, "Unhappy, Unloved and Out of Control". Dale heads his piece Britain: Again the 'Sick Man of Europe'.

Historically, Time's attempts to look across the Atlantic have not always been very convincing. But here they are on to something. The Time article begins:

An epidemic of violent crime, teen pregnancy, heavy drinking and drug abuse fuels fears that British youth is in crisis.
And they produce a load of statistics to back it up, to do with booze and drugs and fights and under-age sex and family breakdown, and not least the UNICEF study that placed Britain bottom of a league table of 21 industrialised countries for child welfare.

As Iain Dale observes, this is not mainly the fault of any politicians in particular, and possibly not much to do with politicians at all:

What we have now is a society in which permissiveness and a lack of willingness on the part of society in general to impose discipline on impressionable minds have caused a fissure between those who obey the norms of society and those who, despite having gone to school, haven't got a clue what those norms are. They don't conform because many of them don't know what they are supposed to conform to.
Mainly, Dale blames feckless parents, and "the complete failure of our liberal education system". He goes on:

I think 40% of children in Britain are born to single parents, many at a very young age. Many single parents to a brilliant job with their children, but others do not - can not. The lack of any form of male role model is to the detriment of any child's upbringing. The inability of parents to say 'no' nowadays is just as bad.
Well, do you know what, I agree with every word of all that.

I don't entirely agree with Dale that none of this is Thatcher's fault. I do think she made matters even worse by deliberately encouraging the idea that selfishness and greed are good, and "there is no such thing as society". But the rot started setting in in the 1970s, in my view.

However, the more interesting point now is what the present-day Tory party thinks about all this. David Cameron has sent mixed signals. On the day of his election as leader, he said "there will be no more whingeing about modern life; I am comfortable with the modern world", or words to that effect, and I thought straight away then, well, he's just chucked away the entire "grumpy old man" vote in one fell swoop. Since then, though, he seems to have changed tack, talking about a "broken society".

I have long been clear that I am completely out of sympathy with many aspects of the modern world, especially as regards what one might broadly call "the popular culture", and I do indeed think we have a broken society. What anybody can do about it now, though, is a question to which nobody seems to have any answers.

Time to prepare for transport without oil

A bit heavygoing, and not very sexy, but important: Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil is a new book by two Canadian academics. They note that we (i.e. the world) are going to have to find new ways of getting around as the oil runs out.

The only practicable answer is electricity, they say. Electric vehicles function independently from how their fuel is produced, which can be from numerous different sources, so electric traction fits well with the need to make the transition to renewable energy.

We have to get on with this urgently. The authors say that, with sufficient advance planning, there can be a "soft landing" into oil depletion. Without it, there could be a "hard landing" provoking economic and social disruption.

Here in the UK, I hope this book is being read by the retards at the DfT and the Treasury, who keep refusing to countenance further electrification of the railways (see e.g. this Modern Railways article last year by Roger Ford).

Unfortunately the book costs £45, but you can read the preface and the first three pages of each chapter here.

14 reasons why only STV will do

I don't want anyone to think I am some sort of lackey of Johann Hari, though I tend to agree with him at least 50% of the time. It just happens that he has written two very interesting and pertinent articles on two consecutive days.

I've already noted his piece about gay voters and the London mayoral election, in which he points out that, while Paddick is "One of Us", it is the straight but very pro-gay Livingstone who has the policies and the track record on gay issues.

Hari now turns his attention to electoral systems for Westminster, in an article entitled Don't fall for Jack Straw's electoral trap, the trap being the Alternative Vote system (AV). He explains why the present first-past-the-post (FPTP) system is completely unacceptable, and notes that AV, far from being a PR system, can be even less proportional than FPTP.

So far, so good. Sadly he then plumps for the hybrid "AV Plus" top-up system which David Lipsey cobbled together on the back of an envelope for the Roy Jenkins commission in 1998.

I bow to no-one in my admiration for Roy Jenkins, as a brave, reforming 1960s Home Secretary, a powerful and clever political thinker, and an urbane, witty and elegant writer. But unfortunately "AV Plus", while at first glance offering a quick and dirty way out of the mess, becomes less and less satisfactory the more you look into it.

For one thing, it isn't even particularly proportional. For another, you would have to completely redraw every single boundary across the land, because to achieve a House of Commons of about the present size you have to reduce the number of constituencies to about 500. This alone would take several years.

"AV Plus" has never been tried anywhere. It could produce quite perverse results, because of the way the county (top-up) seats are to be allocated to the parties most disadvantaged by the share of constituency seats, i.e. those with the highest ratio of votes to seats. This just was not properly thought through by Lipsey, and nobody else on the commission had any technical expertise in the matter.

If we really must have a hybrid top-up system -- and I would much rather not, for all the familiar reasons about creating two classes of members, but also because it still leaves too much power in the hands of the party machines -- we would probably be better off with AMS, the German system, now being used for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the GLA.

But there is a far superior solution, the single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies (STV). Among its many advantages:

(1) It is tried and tested, in Ireland, Australia and elsewhere.

(2) It is a British system which arises organically out of the British constitutional tradition (whereby we elect people, not parties per se), not an artificial "continental" concoction.

(3) As a preferential system (i.e. the voter puts candidates in order of preference) it allows the voter a much more nuanced and sophisticated expression of opinion, on whatever issues he or she rates as important.

(4) There is no need for tactical voting: the voter does not have to try and guess what other voters are doing.

(5) As with most proportional systems, there are few "wasted votes" and no "safe seats".

(6) There is no need to redraw the boundaries. The multi-member constituencies will be created by joining together existing single-member seats in groups of (ideally) about five.

(7) Boundaries would cease to be in a constant state of flux as under FPTP. When the population of an area rises or falls significantly, you just add or subtract a seat from the multi-member constituency.

(8) STV greatly reduces the power of party patronage. It takes power out of the hands of the party machine and puts it where it belongs, in the hands of the elector.

(9) There are no party lists. Anybody can stand, with or without a party label. If a "maverick" falls out with his party and is "deselected", he can still stand, and let the voters decide.

(10) Primary elections become quite unnecessary. The system incorporates its own "primary" by allowing voters to choose between different candidates of the same party, if they so wish.

(11) The great majority of electors will end up with at least one MP in their multi-member constituency with whom they will feel some affinity (party affinity, if they have a party allegiance, or affinity of views on various issues, if not) and this will be the MP they will want to contact on constituency business. So far from destroying the constituency link between elector and elected, this actually makes it more meaningful.

(12) Unlike some PR systems, STV has no inherent tendency towards party splintering. If anything, probably the opposite. Ireland, with STV, still has the same two main parties it has had for 70 years: the system has not particularly favoured breakaway parties (the PDs who broke away from FF have not prospered in the long run).

(13) STV encourages the election of women, ethnic or religious minorities, gays, etc. to the extent that significant numbers of voters want this -- but not if they don't. There is absolutely no need for parties to invent artificial quotas for women, or black people, or anyone else, for their candidate selection shortlists. Just the fact that the selection will no longer be for just one candidate, but for several, will force parties to put forward a diverse slate.

(14) It becomes much less likely that one party could have a monopoly of a whole region's representation in Parliament. At present the electoral map would lead you believe that there are no Tories in Manchester and no Labour supporters in Surrey. This is not in fact true. STV would allow those people to be represented.

Does STV have any disadvantages? None that I can think of. The Jenkins commission conceded its "unique practical contribution to voter choice", but rejected it as follows:

STV would be too big a leap from that to which we have become used, and it would be a leap in a confusingly different direction from the other electoral changes which are currently being made in Britain.
In my view this is quite wrong. In terms of constituencies, it is much less of a leap than AV Plus. From the voter's point of view, the only change is that there are more candidates to choose from, and you mark them 1, 2, 3 in order of preference instead of just writing a crude X against one of them. If this is a "big leap", it is surely one which most voters will welcome as giving them a lot more power.

If all this is too technical and anorakish, the overarching thing to bear in mind is this: most debate about PR takes it as read that we are talking about proportionality in purely party terms. Johann Hari, like nearly every other commentator, falls into this trap. STV is not absolutely arithmetically proportional to two decimal places in that narrow party sense. Uniquely, it offers broad proportionality of opinion in a manner that transcends party. The voter with no strong party allegiance (which is probably most voters these days) can express his or her preferences as between all the candidates, irrespective of party, according to their views on the issues that the voter him- or herself thinks are important.

April Fool

Liberal Democrat Voice has a spoof opinion piece which had me alarmed for the first couple of paragraphs, until I remembered today's date:

Opinion: Ditch PR in favour of weighted votes

Not really laugh-out-loud funny, but quite clever.