Three Cheers for Our Republic

The logo of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee

Even this is a better logo than the logo of the 2012 Olympic Games…

One of the things I particularly admire about the UK is how good it is at being a republic.  For a country apparently run by a monarchical dictator, it does a remarkably good job of ignoring this and getting on with the business of democracy.

There are probably many reasons for this, but I’ve pinpointed two that I think are especially important.  The first is surely obvious:  we are far too lazy to get rid of the Queen simply for some upstart republicans, and she doesn’t really make enough of a difference that we are forced to.  Ultimately, this is the laziness option, and it’s something we have done well at for a long time now.  While it does mean a gentle loosening of certain ideals, it does mean we have less of those horrendous civil wars.

The second reason is slightly less obvious, because it tends to get bogged down in numbers and meaningless statistics.  It is the fact that the Queen is actually beneficial to the United Kingdom.

Let me explain.  Take the Jubilee we’ve just had.  What a party, eh?  Ignore the fact that it cost so-and-so much to the economy in lost revenue for the businesses that would normally be running on that day, and remember the faces of the people who were part of each of the individual celebrations.  The crowds at the concert, the millions watching the boat pageant, and the face of my friend who stared blankly at the camera waiting for an interview, and then was cut due to a lack of time.  Even the most reluctant of enthusiasts must admit that it was an impressive logistical achievement.  And all these people were happy.  They had a celebration, a day of rest, a good night out bonding with the rest of the workforce.

But does this matter?  Well it has been said that a happy workforce is a more productive workforce, and you’ve probably all experienced this for yourselves.  This is the reasoning behind many public holidays and events.  No-one is a machine, and we all need the break.  To quote another overused, pithy saying, a change is as good as a rest.

The effect is visible around the world.  America celebrates Independence Day, Australia celebrates Australia Day, and France celebrates violently killing their leaders, their leaders’ friends, their leaders’ friends’ pets, and anyone else who had the nerve to politely disagree with the concept of killing anyone who politely disagreed with anything.  These events create a national identity, a sense of common existence.  It allows members from all walks of life to mingle in a metaphorical way, if not in actuality.

But then every once in a while, this mere yearly celebration becomes just another thing.  Bank holidays can be fun, but they can also be that time every year where you queue for hours on the motorway in order to queue for hours in some tourist trap on the coast.  This is even more evident in times of recession, where people simply don’t have the money to go anywhere nice, and so end up queuing for hours to go somewhere that they won’t be able to do anything at for fear of money.  The solution comes in the form of these extraordinary bank holidays (where extraordinary simply means more than ordinary, although you wouldn’t think it).

Does the monarchy really do anything for us?  You could ask the manufacturers of bunting.  You could ask the Queen’s fans throughout the commonwealth and the wider world.  You could ask those for whom the Queen is a vital diplomatic tool.  Or you could simply ask the people of the country that she rules, who would tell you that she doesn’t really do much harm.

Yes!  Johz is back, after many, many exams.  This blog will hopefully be moving to a new address (got any ideas?  Comment below) and there will almost certainly be slightly more activity happening.  However, I thought, as a self-righteous British person, I should try for once to celebrate the fact that America has done some good stuff for us.  As luck would have it, it’s the Fourth of July next week.  So from Wednesday, for the next seven days, I’m going to be posting a short essay on one of the greatest achievements of the United States of America.  And there may even be a guest blog, so you don’t have to listen to me constantly…


My Letter

Steve McCabe looking impressive

Stevey boy stares deeply and passionately into your soul. You know you're going to vote for the right candidate.

It was a certain amount of bemusement that I received and read a letter that was addressed to me in the wishful hope that I’d be someone else. It was from my local MP, a Mr Steve McCabe, who, now that I was eighteen, wished me to consider himself one of the better candidates for souls in my predicament. Sadly, however, I am not in the predicament that he described.

You see, to an MP attempting to garner local votes, there are two types of eighteen year olds. There are the ones who will be leaving very soon, to get to a university, and will thus be outside the MP’s constituency. However, there are also the ones who, if they have not already left, will probably stay in a similar area and commence to begin entering the world of employment. The former almost certainly not have a chance to vote for you. The latter almost certainly will. It should be fairly obvious which one to write your letter to.

Nonetheless, it was an interesting letter. I only saw one spelling mistake, and it was one that spellcheck doesn’t pick up (in/if). I enjoyed the advice that if I returned the letter freepost, this would be ‘at no cost to [my]self’. I wonder what sorts of freepost one has to pay for.

However, while my MP has tried to be helpful in this area, he has been downright obfuscating in others. ‘Last year I introduced a 10 Minute Rule Bill in Parliament calling for a fairer deal over youth employment.’ I understand that, as a busy and intelligent politician, Mr McCabe is a whizz on the parliamentary terminology. I suspect that many of his constituents, however, are not. Certainly, I’d expect many of the people who did know to be studying PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics), and thus to be in the ‘moving out’ group.

What old Stevey-boy wanted to tell me, I think, was that he worries about me getting a job. I don’t think this was meant personally, but was more a general comment on employment in society. I was disappointed by the standard ‘cost of Higher Education‘, by which I can only assume he means the £9,000 tuition fees. However, he seemed a lot more concerned about the ‘lack of job, training and apprenticeship opportunities’. You’ll note the lack of an Oxford comma in that last sentence, but that’s not too bad. He also doesn’t believe that one in five of us should be left ‘without a chance’, although I’d love to see some sort of source for that statistic.

But in many ways it was quite a positive letter. Despite not explaining what his 10 Minute Rule Bill was, he is quite keen that it should make a difference. Equally, he is quite happy to provide what he thinks to be good solutions, and practical, local ones at that, such as the Future Jobs Fair. Indeed, for every criticism he made of the situation, he made at least one positive suggestion about what he was trying to do to improve it. It’s honestly quite nice to have an MP who wants to make a difference so clearly.

I also noted that he didn’t once mention a political party. He mentioned the Government once, when he apparently called upon it to act in some way. Other than that, it was a local letter about local issues. In part, I suppose this is due to the reasons outlined at the start, that his target audience is clearly not the people who aren’t going to be especially affected by the local area. (I realise this is extremely cynical. I apologise – one of my friends is involved in campaigning for the Conservative Party, and for him politics really is like this.) I also understand that the Labour party in general may be considered to have ‘hit a rut’, as one could say. However, I’m sure he could have won some easy points by insulting Nick Clegg, who is universally hated. Even Nick Clegg’s mother hates Nick Clegg. [CITATION DESPERATELY NEEDED]

In all, I think it was a very honest letter. Mr McCabe writes ‘For me, unemployment is the biggest single issue facing young people in this area although I also recognise that many of you will be worried about […] other matters’. There was something quite enjoyable about the way that he was quite happy to accept that not everyone is passionate about unemployment. It throws young idealists (like me) who are more concerned with civil rights off guard. Equally, I was grateful for the slightly trite line ‘I can’t pretend that you’ll always agree with everything I do or say’.

All in all, it was a good letter. Mr McCabe underuses his comma, so the punctuation was a bit scarce, but it was legible, and simple, and the parliamentary letterheads were nice. It had a simple, yet detailed writing style, and it tackled issues in a positive manner, raising suggestions, and things that had already been done.

What am I going to do? Well, I’m going to fill in his questionnaire, and I hope that there’s room. I think I will also e-mail Steve McCabe, and ask him some questions of my own. And ultimately, if anyone happens to live in Birmingham Selly Oak constituency, I would thoroughly recommend voting for him. To be honest, the alternative is Nigel Dawkins, who writes newsletters about how glad his daughter is to use the play area. He’s a bit weird.

A Sensible Referendum?

English: United Kingdom's Deputy Prime Minster...

He may look cute and innocent now, but inside he's a raging fit of demonic passion.

This post is dedicated to that most indomitable of NS’ers, the one whom you can always rely on to find himself in trouble with the mods, and the one who is a constant supporter of this blog. Yes, I’m talking about St George, or SGoE, or Cromarty, or maybe Wanjestay, or really whichever of is puppets he’s using.

So we’re having another referendum. It seems that the Coalition’s speciality is referenda, ignoring the fact that this one has been mandated by the devolved Scottish Parliament. Whatever the causes of these national catfights are, the coalition certainly knows how to deal with them. I thought we might run through some of what appears to be David Cameron‘s top tips for fighting a referendum.

Tip 1 – Find someone to hate. It can be anyone. Indeed, it doesn’t really have to be a bad person. Take Nick Clegg. He is quite nice, and he does, we can only assume, earnestly believe in some of his policies. Ultimately, he probably is trying to do the best for the Liberal Democrats. However, as a figure of abject hatred in the British psyche, he probably ranks only a place or two below Sir Fred Goodwin. That’s just Fred Goodwin to you. So, as we saw in the AV referendum, if you can truly get to grips with hating someone, you might well have a chance. In this referendum, look out for the SNP demonising Cameron, who is technically slightly Scottish, but is also a demon from the worst social circles of Hell’s southern, middle class surburbia.

Tip 2 – Pick your facts carefully. It’s not hard. Did you know that only three countries use AV? Is this important? Of course not. Most countries use some sort of Proportional Representation, and the rest are generally ex-colonies, and so have had FPTP thrust upon them in much the same way that a parent thrusts upon their children extra tuition with the supposed reasoning that it’s ‘good for you’. Is this important? Of course not. What really matters in a referendum is tht a population are getting the chance to make up their own mind about what’s best for the country itself. However, if you get the opportunity, of course you can note that there are only a couple of other islands that have split into seperate countries. And most of them are suffering economically.

Tip 3 – Be gratuitous with you calculations. How much is Scottish independence going to cost the Scottish people? Well, there’s the cost of the referendum for a start. Then there’s the upkeep of all those military units that the UK aren’t actually going to give to Scotland, but can pretend to do so if it suits the figures. Then there’s the cost of completely revamping Scottish public transport. It isn’t needed for Scottish independence, but it’s worth adding it onto the price, just because it shows everyone how good you are at maths. Add onto that the cost of the Gulf of Mexico cleanup operation, and a random number between £9,999,999 and £10,000,000. Convert the whole thing into Euros using a bad exchange rate, then put it all into Dollars because it sounds worse. Is it any wonder that a true Scottish nationalist would vote to stay in the UK due to the sheer price of the whole issue?

Tip 4 – Be united. It’s all very well when the leader of a party tells you that the correct answer to the referendum is to XYZ, but when the deputy leader of the same party gets up on the same stage as the leader of another party to tell you to vote UVW, what are yoou to think? The answer to this problem is to beat your party into a frenzy. Bring a new meaning to the term ‘parliamentary whip’. Stand together and stand firm to say that the opposition is a complete mess, in total disarray, and also probably still live with their own mothers. This applies to both sides. If possible, get some of your members to become MPs for the opposition, and then get them to very firmly break ranks. Cause diversions. Anything short of actually shooting the opposition is almost certainly legal. Man, it’s like Modern Warfare 3 out there.

Tip 5 – Drill your arguments deep into minds of your audience. If you want people to remember you, make sure they remember what your points are. It’s all very well saying ‘down with independence’, but why? If you’ve used a good argument, use it again. Abandon lost arguments very quickly. Forget Common Sense, your stalwart wife of fifteen years, you should be bedding down with your beautiful mistress Rhetoric. Repeat, repeat, repeat, rinse, and then repeat the whole thing again. If people haven’t got the message that independence will cost/save lives, cheer/sadden the national psyche, or improve/worsen national crime rates, then you clearly need to send out at least three more rounds of leaflets telling them these things. Paper is very cheap these days, and if you’re running out of ink, use the dried blood of Fred Goodwin’s corpse.

I leave you with some ideas for an alternative referendum, this time one on abortion. My thanks to Angleter for posting these.
“Abortion makes fetuses work harder”
“Abortion abolishes safe wombs”
“Abortion is good for business”
“Banning abortion would cost £250mn”
“Banning abortion is a miserable little compromise”
“Nobody wants to ban abortion”
“Nowhere else bans abortion”
“Most civilised countries have abortion”
“Nick Clegg wants to ban abortion”
“Abortion gives you a second chance”
“Abortion has worked for a very long time, so why ban it?”
“Banning abortion will lead to more twins”

Risk Assessment

Update Risk Game Map

Image via Wikipedia

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the game of Risk. I am probably not imagining things if I hear stifled groans from your direction, although I probably am, as I know that my readership extends as far as Australia, and I can scarcely hear what happens in the next room from me. Anyway, Risk. It is a game that is perhaps best known for being intolerably boring and for taking three weeks to complete. This is an exaggeration. I managed to complete a game in only one and a half weeks the other day.

Indeed, the dullness of the game provokes a challenge among popular games designers like myself. Well, I call myself a popular games designer, I should confess it would be an exaggeration to call me popular. Or a designer. Or even to say that I have anything to do with games. This may shine through as I attempt to explain my game.

The challenge of course is the infamous quest to create the most boring derivative of Risk. Again, you may be questioning just how infamous this quest is. I just made it up. I’m really failing at my new year’s resolution not to exaggerate the truth at all. That wasn’t my new year’s resolution. However, it is not hard to imagine that this is a real challenge, with Risk being modified to be associated with everything from Star Wars to Narnia.

So I thought, as a not-very-popular un-games anti-designer, I should try out this challenge, and, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to present to you Risk: Assessment. Enjoy…

The object of Risk: Assessment is to be the first to establish stable democratic governments in far-flung places that are constantly loyal to one’s own regime, while also keeping the fickle public in an appropriately war-like mood, and ensuring that no-one can sue the leadership of your army for malpractice and placing your citizens in unduly harmful situations.

To set up the game, each player chooses a ‘home’ country to start with. All of the other countries are declared to be backward-thinking tribespeople. Use the black backward-thinking-tribespeople counters to represent this. Each turn has multiple stages, beginning with the reinforcement stage.

Count up each country with your people in, and add on your public relationsTM score. Divide the result by five. This is the number of reinforcements you will receive. Then calculate the amount of money that your government is willing to spend on the military using the Patent Risk: Assessment Money Calculatron, and work out how many sets of equipment you have. If you have fewer sets of equipment than you have reinforcements, write an open letter to the member of your government in charge of the defence budget complaining about this, then give the excess reinforcements to the local chapter of the UN Peacekeeping Force.

Secondly, you move into the attack stage. Choose a nation to attack, and a nation to attack from. If the nation you are attacking is populated by backward-thinking tribespeople, pick a like-minded candidate for leadership from an especially backward region of the nation, and promise them that you will make them Emperor For Life if they help you. Then give all your equipment to this person and their crack team. When you finally realise that he has been playing the ends against the middle, invade the country using your advanced military capabilities.

If, however, you are attacking a ‘home’ country, immediately announce your actions to the United Nations Security Council. If you own the most nations overall at this point, you can choose to ignore anything that United Nations Security Council says. If not, your actions result in immediate expulsion from the United Nations, meaning you can ignore anything that the United Nations Security Council says. Either way, a large portion of your budget must now be taken up by ambitious yet ultimately flawed projects like space lasers and remote-controlled dolphins. You are now prevented from actually attacking the country by your government, who approves of removing their evil ideology from the face of the game board, but wants to fight them in a more psychological way. From now on, every time your opponent attacks a nation populated by backward-thinking tribespeople, you must attempt to do so too, resulting in a disastrous stalemate for both sides.

Then move into stage 3, the stage of the game that the whole game is named for, although not for any particular reason, just because it sounded catchy. It’s the risk assessment stage. Anyway, count the number of troops that you have. For each one of these, spend fifteen minutes writing down all the possible things that could happen to them during a war zone. These things include tripping over the body of a dead civilian, being crushed by a tree that fell as a result of a drunk soldier driving a tank into it, or being shot. Also write down whose fault it would be if these things were to occur, and evaluate the likelihood of them happening. Then use the Patent Risk: Assessment Risk Assessor to work out what accidents have befallen your troops this turn. If you have successfully insured against the accidents, continue to the next turn. Else, spend twenty minutes fighting large, costly legal battles against the families of the injured.

The next stage is the education-of-backward-thinking-tribespeople stage. For each country originally owned by backwards-thinking tribespeople, spend lots of money attempting to create some sort of structured military, government and economy. Don’t forget to fill the tribespeople with lots of propaganda against your enemies. Deduct the sum from your budget using the Patent Risk: Assessment Calculatice.

Stage 5 sees you work out your public relations score for the next turn. Take the number of battles that you have won this turn, and add on the number of feel-good success stories that you have taken part in. Subtract the number of legal battles you have taken part in. For each public recruitment campaign, add fifteen, then divide the whole thing by the number of turns you have taken.

During the final stage, take a card for each battle you have won. Do nothing with these cards. They constitute a health risk to your troops.

So, having seen that brief outline of the rules, who wants in? And I’m going to write to all the big retailers immediately, so don’t think about stealing the idea…

What Would Jesus do?

What, I ask you, would Jesus do? In part, I ask this question because I really need to get a WWJD bracelet for a friend, and I’ll forget if I don’t bring it up every so often. More importantly, I ask this because, once again, the Christian Church has managed to put her beautiful foot in the middle of a growing controversy, and is now struggling to get free.

I say growing controversy. What I mean, of course, is the Occupy LSX (that’s London Stock eXchange) protests currently camping outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London. This may not be quite up to major controversy yet, but in some circles it’s causing a stir, and I quite like discussing the Occupy movement, so I’ll count it as one, and you can disagree later.

For those who have been living in some sort of hole (America, Australia, or anywhere that isn’t Britain, really) the Occupy LSX protestors were driven back from the stock exchange itself on the first day of their protests, but managed to find a nice bit of grass to put their tents up on in the grounds of St Paul’s Cathedral. St Paul’s tolerated their presence temporarily, with the Reverend Dr. Giles Fraser (who’s a bit liberal and weird, even for the Anglican church) even preaching a sermon that some might describe as supporting the Occupy protests. However, the higher authorities in the church decided to close the church due to health and safety, and the trouble began. Suddenly, the church was discussing throwing the protestors out (as were the City authorities), and old Giles decided to resign due to untenability. A few days down the line, and at least one other person has also resigned, if I understand the situation correctly, and the protestors have been asked to leave.

So what would Jesus do? It’s a question that has been raised many times, mainly by supporters of Occupy LSX, and the usual answers tend to hint towards ideas of siding with the protestors. And this is an extremely plausible answer. Going right back to Reverend Dr. Giles Fraser’s sermon on the story of giving to Caeser what is Caeser’s, we can see immediately that Jesus was not interested in money. Indeed, Jesus thought that money, while not bad, was certainly very unhelpful. “You cannot serve two masters”, he helpfully tells us, and the most common interpretation is that he is talking about money, although, depending on the sermon, the answer could also be cars, work, drugs, and of course sex. This is the Christian church we’re talking about.

Equally, there’s no doubt that Jesus was a revolutionary. He threw the moneylenders out of the temple in a very dramatic manner, and was certainly considered dangerous enough by the authorities to be killed. However, more interestingly, he was also a man of peace, who rode into Jerusalem as King of Kings on, of all things, a colt or young donkey. He certainly did not lead the revolution that the Jews of the time expected, and it’s suprising that his influence fizzle out as soon as he died, considering his sum contribution to the world was a bit of theological wrangling about what happened after people died. But he came as a messenger of peace, and of course, parallels can be drawn between the peaceful protests (supposedly) that Occupy is producing.

But is this the full story? Would Jesus approve of the protests? I don’t know. While he clearly demanded that the world’s priorities change to suit God’s priorities, would he really have wanted so much of a lynch mob? We can all accept that Jesus came to save the poor and the needy, but surely his main aim was to minister to all of the persecuted? It was, although don’t call me Shirley. Admittedly, calling the bankers, stockbrokers and other assorted members of the new world order that is the financial industry ‘persecuted’ might be pushing things, but I think we can settle for vilified. Certainly, one cannot entirely fault them for merely following the gifts that God gave them such as their ability with mathematics and numbers. Indeed, we could argue all day if they were ‘only following orders’, a phrase which has echoed through history, with many terrible ideas attached to it.

More importantly, are they to blame for the main thing the protestors are so angry about, which is the consumerist society? I would certainly say not. That is a culture that we must all blame ourselves for, and I am fairly sure that Jesus would give short shrift to those who would blame the whole issue on others. The parable about the brothers with specks and logs in each other’s eyes comes to mind. You might struggle to blame the bankers for the commercialisation of, say, Christmas. We’ve all lusted after that cool RC car, or the amazing doll that really wets its nappy.

So I don’t know. Jesus is Jesus, and, while I strive to be more like him every day, I’m still but a fallen sinner. I suspect he would disagree with the handling of the whole situation, and I’m sure he would be shocked that the church are actually about to serve an eviction notice. However, I doubt he’d be one of the protestors, either, or if he was, the movement would have a lot more focus on helping others, rather than blaming the rich. More likely, I imagine him acting with the church, and washing people’s feet, helping them, providing them with facilities that they might struggle to find elsewhere. Indeed, much like the Reverend Dr. Giles Fraser, I can imagine Jesus being the one to invite the protestors onto neutral ground, and offering them a spot of fish sandwich.

The Anglican church today believes strongly in the power of the spirit, and this means that we are all going to have views based on our intepretations of the scriptures and the world around us. However, it seems to me that the church is failing to respond to a brilliant mission opportunity, and I can honestly say, I am disapoint.

On a slight tangent, has Bishop Sentamu said anything about this whole situation? He’s usually fairly quick to react to things like this. I haven’t really heard much since he went and camped in the church for lent. Is he still around?

Occupy, and Worshipping an Ideology

Liam Fox, British Conservative politician.

Dr. Liam Fox

Rejoice, people! Soon we will be freed from the bonds of corporate oppression, the healed from the scars of injustice and greed and given back our freedom, our lives, our humanity. Yes, the Occupy movement has taken grip of the world, and they will bring about change, if only in the amount of leeway the police are going to give to demonstrators. And what are they fighting? They are fighting our old arch-nemesis, the cruel and villianous face of Capitalism.

I can’t say I followed the story massively. Apparently it was quite large in America, and, of course, the internet’s various forums are burning with righteous indignation against the fact that ‘hackivist’ (read bored pubescent teenagers) group Anonymous had something to with the whole operation. However, it hasn’t really hit the worldwide scene until Sunday, when, all of a sudden, people from all around the globe attempted to occupy their national stock exchange and perform the various actions of the free love dance that they learned about from their parents who went to Woodstock. And at this point I suddenly perked up.

Now, while I don’t necessarily agree with capitalism as an economic theory, I am of the opinion that I cannot see a better alternative, and it generally works if there are enough checks in place. However, to see so many people campaigning against this age-old ‘enemy of the people’ was more than slightly heartening. I am of course sure that most of those shouting, waving placards, and taking drugs in the wild demonstrations are simply attending for the chance to meet ‘fit birds’ and other such vulgarities that we must accept from the feral underclass. However, one had to understand the power of so many people, while small against the measured, considered, and completely impartial opinions of such political figures as Dr. Liam Fox etc, is important to show that we do not, as a society, and as a group of Western powers, believe that Capitalism is perfect.

Let’s face it, the form of capitalism that we use now isn’t perfect. We saw that in the crashes of the 2000s. When economics breaks down most often is when we have to consider the population at large. However, our current system is a lot better than anarcho-capitalism, the ultimate destination of true free-market capitalism. The problem here is that suddenly we take humanity out of consideration completely. While anarcho-capitalist (AnCap) ideas generally bring about extreme efficiency, much of that efficiency is based on a sacrifice of the rights of the human population. Indeed, it is hard to see in a true AnCap society how lawlessness, poverty and slavery do not develop, at least in the underclasses, while the rich stay rich and in control.

However, the ‘traditional’ solution is communism, and we know from experience that complete equality is something to be worked for, not given, if it is aquired at all. To find perhaps the most obvious example of this, we should travel back to the days of the Berlin Wall, and the Soviet influence over East Berlin. Here there was a direct contrast between the one-size-fits-all ideas of communism, where everyone was equal and government-owned, but choice was extremely limited, and the pick’n’mix attitudes of capitalism, where there could be huge disparity, but competition ensured that there was constant innovation.

So we know now that neither of these ideals work in their extreme limits, and we’ve been able to move on, perhaps still tainted by our memories of the Cold War and war of ideologies, but nonetheless ready to try out what the future offers us. And that has lead us to the various melded forms of socialism and capitalism that we see around us. Many western countries have some sort of healthcare, and almost all have a handouts system, but in the same way, no western country is complete without a stock exchange controlling their finance situation. So we balance these ideas in the way that seems most appropriate.

But what the danger is, and what the Occupy movement is reminding us about, is the way we can fall into the trap of worshipping our chosen ideology. Let’s not forget that the current meld of ideas has produced a major financial collapse. But stock exchanges are treated, in some circles, as centers of worship for all that is good about society. The problem here is that we are worshipping something imperfect.

We have a tendancy to worship many things in our lives. The usual ones are cars, food, drugs, a better lifestyle, public opinion. We pander to the needs of these ideals, and look up to them, with adoring eyes, jumping on every bone offered, and ultimately attempting to become the best, most fanatical worshipper. It is, if you will, human nature. The problem is that, all too often, when we worship the imperfect, it breaks down. And this is something that, when it happens, can cause great damage to the worshippers. An example of this could be Stockholm Syndrome – with nothing else to put their faith in, a victim can end up worshipping their captor. Upon release, they have to deal with the major psychological issues of finding out that the thing that they worship is not perfect.

So what Occupy are doing is reminding us that our current economic beliefs are not perfect. They are probably still acceptable, workeable, useable, but not worshipable. They are not worthy of our unadulterated praise and belief. They are merely our tools. Even if we do eventually find a new idea or system to make everything work slightly better, we should remember this: Economics is not to be worshipped. It is to be used.

Yes? No? What actually is AV?

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 29JAN10 - David Cameron, Le...

Image via Wikipedia

On May 5th 2011, the UK’s first legally binding referendum will be held. It will ask the question “At present, the UK uses the “first past the post” system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the “alternative vote” system be used instead?”, to which the answers will be Yes or No. It is arguably the most important political event of the last century.

Yet no-one seems to understand what AV actually is.

It’s not just the traditionally apathetic. A while back, my school (which prides itself on producing well-rounded, politically-savvy students) had a debate put on by the students asking if we should vote for AV. It was a dismal failure because neither side knew what they were talking about. And now, with less than three weeks remaining, I’m not sure that anyone’s really got much more of a clue.

So here’s a handy guide. You can cut it out and stick it to the back of your local No! campaigner. He’s probably a Tory anyway.

AV, or alternative vote, is the idea that for someone to be elected to serve a constituency, he or she must have 50% of the vote. To this end, you rank the candidates in order. You can put as many numbers down as you like. The first votes get counted, and the bottom candidate gets lost. Anyone who voted for the him or her gets their second votes counted. And so on. If your second vote has already been counted, your third is. Etc.

The major benifits are that at least 50% of a constituency want that person in power. In the 2005 elections, only three people got over 40% of the votes in their constitency. The rest had even less support. It would also prevent tactical voting. There would be no need to vote Labour just to ensure that the Conservatives didn’t get in, or vise versa. It would ensure that the people you vote for would be more accountable due to the fact that, without the default vote to prevent xyz getting in, they would need to ensure full support. On top of this, it would penalise extreme parties such as the BNP, hence the BNP agreement with the No! campaign. It is used in a variety of situations, incluing certain Oscar awards, leadership contests for all three major parties, and, notably, in Australia.

The No campaign supports FPTP. This is perhaps the simplest electoral system, where one marks a cross by the person you want to represent you, and whoever gets the most crosses wins. Advantages mainly revolve around simplicity, and it being the way we’ve done it since we first bothered with a parliament. The negatives are widely known: ‘safe’ constituencies, where one’s vote counts for very little; an unequal spread of representation for smaller parties; and that David Cameron supports it.

So who should you vote for? Well sadly I can’t tell you. Apparently it would be wrong. However, I would like to stem the flow of some of the misinformation on the side of the No! campaign.

For a start, we are told that AV will cost much more than FPTP. Well, this has now been confirmed, by the treasury, as false. See? This report was based on a look at Australia’s voting system, which is the size of Western Europe and runs twice every three years. A fair comparison? Perhaps not.

Secondly, the idea that the an election is like a race, is, well, nonsense. An election is a popularity contest. A popularity contest with far more hanging on it than a plastic cup at the end, but with that same sort of style nonetheless. The winner should not be whoever manages to make it through first, but who deserves it the most. AV is an attempt to do that, and it is certainly an improvement on FPTP where one can get into power with less than half your constituency supporting you, as happened last year with over two thirds of elected MPs.

A third frequently spouted myth is that FPTP supports one person = one vote, while AV doesn’t. FPTP supports one person who lives in the correct area, away from safe seats = one entirely tactical vote. AV, however, prevents this by ending tactical voting, and breaking down the effect of safe seats. While neither is perfect, AV improves the situation as far as possible without ending constituencies.

Or maybe AV is too complex. I doubt it. Pretty much everyone I’ve met has managed to grasp it fairly easily. Okay, maybe there’s a slight misunderstanding to begin with, but considering we’ve grown up with FPTP, AV has come remarkably easy. So when Baroness Warsi next patronises you, please tell her to shut up.

Other myths include the fact that AV encourages extremist parties (Nick Griffin is certainly voting against AV); that it weakens the constituency link (indeed, it strengthens it by making the elected MP someone that more people actually want); and that AV encourages coalitions (Australia have had fewer coalitions with AV than we have without it in the past 90 years).

Please vote how you want in the referendum. I hope that this post made you think about what you want out of your government. I tried to do it really impartially, but I struggled, and my phone deleted it twice, so I treated it as a sign. You may not believe in AV, you may want PR, or STV (my real favourite). Vote Yes in this refendum to show that our electoral system does not have to be set in stone, and should be changed to ensure that we have the best government ever. And if you weren’t going to vote at all, please at the very least vote for the people like me who have no voice. Thank you.