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Friday, 4 March 2011

Why extremists love First Past the Post

The Yes to Fairer Votes Campaign is highlighting seven particular flaws of First Past the Post (FPTP) and is encouraging supporters to pick a favourite, as it were, and tell others about it. The one that most resonates with me is the argument that First Past the Post makes it easier for unrepresentative extremists to get elected with a minority of the vote. As the Campaign argues:
Most of us have MPs most of us didn't vote for. Because First Past the Post enables candidates to win with the votes of 1-in-3 people in a constituency, extremist parties such as the British National Party have more chance of being elected under FPTP despite most people in an area opposing them. They've snuck into town halls across Britain and they'd like to repeat the trick at Westminster.
With AV, no-one can get elected unless most people in an area back them. The risk of extremist parties being elected by the back door is eliminated; that's why the BNP are campaigning vigourously for a "No" vote in May.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Nick Clegg on muscular liberalism in an "open, confident" society

I very much enjoyed reading the speech that Nick Clegg made today in Luton, on "An Open, Confident Society: The Application of Muscular Liberalism in a Multicultural Society". This is a very impressive statement of where the Liberal Democrats and the Coalition Government stand on these matters. Among many interesting passages, I was particularly struck by the following sections:
The Prime Minister has recently argued that we need to assert confidently our liberal values. I agree. Politicians have a huge responsibility to lead by example, and engage in the often difficult arguments around immigration, multiculturalism and liberty. That is why I think the PM was absolutely right to make his argument for ‘muscular liberalism’.

I also think the Prime Minister was right to make a sharp distinction between religious belief and political ideology. Religious devotion is completely separate from violent extremism. The overwhelming majority of devout people of all faiths reject violence and terrorism. There is some evidence that those Muslims who do turn to violence have a shallower understanding of Islam than Muslims who may have radical views, but reject violence.

This is the background against which we have to consider the issues of multiculturalism. We have to be clear what we mean here. Where multiculturalism is held to mean more segregation, other communities leading parallel lives, it is clearly wrong. For me, multiculturalism has to seen as a process by which people respect and communicate with each other, rather than build walls between each other. Welcoming diversity but resisting division: that’s the kind of multiculturalism of an open, confident society.

And the cultures in a multicultural society are not just ethnic or religious. Many of the cultural issues of the day cut right across these boundaries: gay rights; the role of women; identities across national borders; differing attitudes to marriage; the list goes on. Cultural disagreements are much more complex than much of the debate implies. If you will forgive the phrase, they are not quite so black and white.

Yes, that's what I've been trying to say...

Keep me covered, I'm going in. I'm linking to Jonathan Freedland's article on antisemitism in today's Guardian, and I am asking everyone reading this to please do me a favour, that being: to slowly read Jonathan Freedland's piece, think about what it has to say and then draw your own conclusions. By calmly writing what he writes, and by not exaggerating the extent of the problem, Mr Freedland has succeeded in making some points that I have, on various occasions, tried to make. Nobody is arguing that it is wrong to criticise Israel or its government, just as it is not wrong to criticise any other country or government. It would be OK for me to criticise Saudi Arabia or its government - but if I did so in language that smacked not of reasoned criticism but of anti-Arab prejudice, would that be considered acceptable by all of the people reading this? Surely not.

So, it cannot reasonably be said that Jonathan Freedland is arguing that all criticism of Israel is antisemitic. He is arguing no such thing. On the contrary, he writes:
What most Jews object to is not, in fact, criticism of Israel itself, but when that criticism comes wrapped in the language or imagery of Jew-hatred...What makes all this terrain so tricky is not only that every inch of it is vigorously contested but that many of those who resort to anti-Jewish tropes when tackling Israel do so apparently inadvertently, even at the very same time as they fiercely denounce antisemitism. Because they don't lapse into Galliano-esque abuse, they believe they must be free of all prejudice. To many, it comes as a shock to discover the provenance of the imagery they have just deployed...We may want to see the likes of Galliano as relics from another era or as mere eccentrics, but they are expressing a set of attitudes that remain deep in the soil and which have never been fully shaken off. They can appear in the most respected institutions, voiced by the most respectable people.
So what do people think? Can we have a debate here about whether or not other people agree with what Jonathan Freedland has written?

My dinner with David Cameron

I was at a dinner with the Prime Minister last night. Admittedly, the intimacy of the occasion was somewhat undermined by the presence at the dinner of more than a thousand other people, and I didn't actually meet Mr Cameron, but I was privileged to hear him deliver this very interesting speech. The dinner was organised by the Community Security Trust and the attendees included Parliamentarians from across the parties, including such Liberal Democrats as Chris Huhne, Andrew Stunell (particularly relevant as the Minister for Community Cohesion), Lord Dholakia and Lord Palmer. I strongly urge everyone to read David Cameron's speech from this event.

Were I to quibble with what the Prime Minister had to say, it would be to say that while I (literally) applauded him for saying that the UK had voted for a UN resolution about Israeli settlement building, I was struck by his matching that with a commitment to equally oppose the imprisonment of Gilad Shalit and the firing of rockets into Israel. But one problem with the UN has been that while it has (sometimes rightly) been ever-ready to condemn any abuse committed by Israel, it has tended to be silent on things like the bombardment of Israeli civilians by rocket fire - creating doubts as to the UN's willingness to seriously address all the issues, rather than just one-sidedly condemning Israel. So while the Prime Minister is right that it can be useful for the UK to vote for UN resolutions on Israeli settlements, it would be nice if the UK had, over the years, also had the opportunity to vote for UN resolutions condemning the constant firing of rockets at Israeli civilian targets. A further quibble would be to suggest that, in calling for more Palestinian economic development in the West Bank, and a greater flow of goods in and out of Gaza, the Prime Minister is doubtless aware that he is rightly calling for a strong continuation of things that are already very much happening.

But those really are just quibbles. Mr Cameron made a very good speech at what was a most enjoyable and successful event.