A lengthy and complex judgement …

Well today there was a glimmer of good news from the clusterfuck that is British politics at the moment: the High Court has found for the claimants in the Article 50 action, meaning that (pending Supreme Court appeal), Parliament’s approval is required to invoke Article 50. Cue, of course, all those who foamed at the mouth about “the sovereignty of Parliament” now foaming at the mouth because, um, Parliament has been held to be sovereign. This action was never about stopping Brexit—though I live in hope that will happen, and this is certainly an aid along the way—but about ensuring Parliamentary oversight of it.

No need to rehearse all of that here: but there is a piece of fallout from today that I think is worth noting: the statement made to the House of Commons by David Lidington, the Leader of the House, concerning the result. It is, he said, “a lengthy and complex judgement.”

I urge you to go and read this lengthy and complex judgement. It runs to 32 pages and 111 numbered paragraphs (probably about 150 in total). I read it in about ten minutes. Most of it is setting out the background and context: the findings themselves are a mere ten pages. Far from being complex, the judgement is remarkably pellucid (© Robert Jay, 2012): constitutional precedent and laws indicate that the royal prerogative (the government’s authority to take executive action) cannot overrule primary legislation regarding domestic law; that the European Communities Act 1972 is primary legislation that, by incorporating EU law within UK law, has granted UK citizens a range of rights under law; that invoking Article 50 would start an “irrevocable” process that would result in withdrawal from the EU and consequent loss of those rights (a point agreed on by the government prior to the judgement); that the government’s claim that it would replicate those rights in UK law was not germane and, anyway, there are some rights (such as appeal to the EU Court of Justice, and the right to elect MEPs) that UK domestic law could not replicate; and that the government therefore lacks the authority to invoke Article 50.

I have published case law. This is a concise and clear judgement: try wading your way through the various company law test cases in the late 1980s and the 1990s. To claim that the judgement is “lengthy and complex” is, quite simply, not true. What depresses me is how unnecessary Lidington’s lie was, and what it shows about the “post-truth” state of our politics, where a government minister can blithely misinform the House simply for the convenience of not being asked awkward questions (such as: “this is a pretty unambiguous finding, isn’t it?”) and not an eyebrow is raised.

 

On tactical voting

This is a politics post that is neither a rant not a funny. It’s something I feel extremely strongly about, so much so that I’m not even going to indulge in my usual rhetoric and hyperbole. It’s a simple proposition I have—directed at readers in UK, especially England and Wales—and it is the following: in the election on 7 May please, whichever party you support, vote for that party. Please do not tactically vote. Please never again tactically vote. Tactical voting is the curse of our political system and, as long as you tactically vote, you are supporting an unrepresentative pseudo-democratic system.

I currently (for a few more days) live in Oxford West and Abingdon, which gives me one of the most powerful votes in the country. I decry this situation, where one voter’s choice has more influence than another’s, but that is post for another day. Oxford West and Abingdon is a very marginal constituency: in 2010 the Conservatives beat Dr Evan Harris, the incumbent Liberal Democrat by 176 votes, and then only after a rather despicable and slanderous campaign in which pamphlets were circulated branding Harris “Dr Death” and claiming he had a “enthusiasm for euthanasia” due to his support for assisted dying. This Conservative seat is therefore ripe for over-turning. Not only that but, in an election where it is almost certain that there will be a hung parliament, and that Labour and Conservative will be seeking to form formal coalitions or confidence and supply arrangements with smaller parties, every MP matters to them.

Conventional electioneering will tell me that—though I am one of those who voted Liberal Democrat in the last election, felt myself entirely betrayed by their subsequent actions, and therefore have totally removed my support from them—I should hold my nose, and vote Liberal Democrat. Anything else, I will be told is a “wasted vote”; not only that, but if I vote anything but Liberal Democrat then I am effectively voting for the Conservative government that I dearly wish to see ejected from power. If I were in Oxford East, with its safe Labour majority, I would be allowed, according to this view, my “protest vote.” But here in Oxford West and Abingdon I must, apparently, vote Liberal Democrat.

I will have none of this, and I urge you not to either. I shall vote Green: my reasons for supporting the Green party are not relevant to this post, but what is important is that they are the party whose manifesto most closely reflects my political position and so I shall vote for them even though I do so knowing that my vote may well substantially contribute to a Conservative MP being returned for my constituency, and even though a single MP may make the difference between whether Labour or Conservative form the next government.

In every election of my life—and for many elections prior to that—the country had a choice between a Conservative or a Labour government; and this is, ultimately, the case in this election too. As a result, both parties have focussed their policies and campaigning on the “centrists,” the voters whose views fall somewhere between the two with the consequence that—especially under Blair’s Labour, though less so under Miliband—the differences between the two parties have all but evaporated. The UK, in the next parliament, will be represented by a government committed to monetarist, minimally-regulated free market economics. The UK, in the next parliament, will be represented by a government committed to scapegoating immigrants for the financial crisis caused by said economic policy. Privatization; free schools; negligible movement on renewable energy; in all of these and many other issues the country simply has no choice.

You may well approve of some, or all, of these policies, and as far as this post is concerned you are welcome to (though see me after); but I hope you will nevertheless agree that the absence of any real choice is not only not good for democracy, it is quite simply not democracy at all. Electoral reform, of some kind or another, is necessary to achieve better representation of the wide ranges of views within the UK electorate, but my argument is that as long as governments are formed within the context of tactical voting in a first past the post system, no incoming or incumbent government will have any interest in introducing any level of proportionality into the electoral representation, because every incoming or incumbent government will have achieved their position precisely because of tactical voting.

Not only this, but it is a myth that in the interim, having voted for Green, I will not only have elected a Tory but have wasted my vote. In 2010, the Green vote in my constituency was 1,184, and it is safe to presume that if everyone who had wished to vote Green but did not do so because of the tactical voting demands that dominate our election analyses actually does vote Green then this vote could be substantially larger; let us say maybe 2,000. Now, I may well end up returning a Tory MP; but if that Tory MP is returned against a larger Green vote in this election then that MP—and all other candidates—will realise that Green issues matter here and, in preparation for the next election, will be more likely to support ecological motions in the Commons in this Parliament; and other parties in my constituency will be more likely to select candidates with environmental credentials in the next election. That is, the triangulation and centrism that currently only happens at the level of the party and the country will start to happen at the level of the constituency. If the Conservative Nicola Blackwood is returned by a narrow margin again this election, and if the vast majority of the other votes are Liberal Democrat, she will have no knowledge of why people voted against her other than the fact that they wanted her out. Whereas, should she be returned on the same narrow margin but with a substantially increased Green vote, she will realise that, to gain those votes for a more secure win in the next election, she would do well to support environmentalism. She is more likely to go against her party whip on these issues than if she had an opaque, entirely Liberal Democrat voting opposition in this constituency. Voting for your chosen minority party, instead of tactically voting, will therefore have an immediate effect: your MP—whether of your desired party or not—is far more likely to be a good representative of you if he or she can see not only that they were opposed, but the issues on which they were opposed.

A tactical vote is a vote against democracy; it is a vote against local representation; it is a vote for a status quo in which the only foreseeable government for the foreseeable future will be one of two largely indistinguishable and centrally-controlled parties.

Vote democratically, vote for representation, vote for what you believe in, and do not, not, not tactically vote.

A to Z blogging challenge: T