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I’ve been in the USA since Wednesday, for work. Because my work has a political aspect, I always end up having to explain the UK’s political system to Americans. This is difficult, because the US political system was designed by lots of clever people meeting over a period of a couple of years, based on defined values and principles.
The British constitution, however, has evolved from a series of fudges, equivocations and deals. The Westminster System, replicated all over the world, is actually a spectacular piece of doublethink:
On the one hand, all power emanates from the Sovereign. Judges are appointed by the Crown and the Royal Courts are just that. The Queen appoints and dismisses Ministers, and the Cabinet is technically a subcommittee of the Privy Council. And Parliament itself is a Royal Court: the Speaker of the House of Commons must be appointed by the Queen (or the Crown in Commission) and it is the Queen-in-Parliament that legislates, not Parliament itself.
On the other hand, Parliament can impeach a monarch and change the rules of succession. A government can only govern with the confidence of Parliament. Only Parliament can levy taxes and pay them over to the government. Ministers must be Members of Parliament.
The power of Parliament grew in opposition to - and as a check on - the power of the Monarch. Having Ministers in Parliament meant that they were accountable to Parliament as well as to the King or Queen.
The development of organised political parties changed this. Rather than a Government of a few ministers continually seeking the support of hundreds of MPs, a Government was only able to take office once it effectively controlled, via the Party system, roughly half of all MPs in Parliament. In other words, in order for a Government to take power, it must have already seized control of the oversight system.
At the same time successive Governments have gradually divested the Monarch of any real powers, taking control of both the Royal Prerogatives and the natural powers of the Crown, which are not subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.
Everyone knows and accepts that the Queen’s powers are ceremonial. I doubt that the public is generally aware that the same is largely true of Parliament’s.
The Government controls the Parliamentary timetable. It initiates almost all successful legislation (private Members’ bills are withering away) and is rarely defeated in the Commons. A Government won’t usually survive if it loses control of the Commons.
This means that the most important role of the House of Commons is as an electoral college, selecting the Government.
In the States, everyone gets two votes - for Congress and for the electoral college. In the UK these two votes are combined. We vote in a legislature election but the primary political act is the indirect election of the executive. It’s a mess.
Why can’t we directly elect our Prime Minister? That would create real legitimacy for the Government and free up Parliament from Government control to act as a true legislature.
This may look like a digression in a blog on the AV/FPtP debate, but it isn’t. The relationship between Government, Parliament and the electorate is surely the most important question in discussions of political reform.
There are others: Why should we have to draw Ministers from the pool of MPs (and the odd Lord)? What happens to the legitimacy and primacy of the Commons - under FPtP or AV - if the Lords is reformed into an elected chamber based on PR?
I think these are all fascinating and critical questions but the whole referendum debate has led to a public perception that Political Reform = Electoral Reform = FPtP vs AV
The problem here is that the difference between the two is so marginal. Strip away the hyperbole of the two campaigns and I think that AV is a tiny bit better than the current system, but not better enough to justify changing it, let alone the intensity of feeling on both sides of the debate. Even the constituency boundary changes are more significant than the voting system proposals.
This was the part of the blog where I was going to write that I’d be voting ‘no’ in tomorrow’s referendum. But something’s changed. ‘No’ isn’t just going to win, it’s going to win big, with polls showing something like a 6-4 split against AV (some show a 2-1). It’s gonna be a rout.
A close win for ‘no’ would have kept the debate on political reform alive. A massacre will kill it.
So I’m voting ‘yes’ tomorrow. Not because I want to see AV win (though I wouldn’t care all that much if it did) but because I don’t want to see it lose by such a large margin that it hurts the broader cause of political reform.
It won’t be a tactical vote; tactical voting is so narrow. It’ll be a strategic vote, a vote against landslides and in favour of real political reform - when someone actually offers us some.
I wrote in my first blog on Av that I’d voted, campaigned and stood in more than a hundred individual AV elections. Those elections were for roles in Jewish youth organisations, my Student Union, the National Union of Students, trade unions and voluntary groups.
Despite the fact that these elections happened at different times in varied forums, one candidate appeared on most of the ballot papers: my old mate Ron.
RON stands for Re-Open Nominations, and runs as a candidate in many forms of AV election. RON is treated like a real-life candidate. Voters can vote for RON as their first choice or transfer to RON in later rounds as is usual for AV.
When the votes are counted, RON is also treated list a real candidate. Votes are transferred to him in the usual way as candidates are eliminated. If he’s eliminated then his votes are redistributed and he won’t receive any future transfers.
If RON wins, then the election is declared void and nominations are re-opened. In many systems, candidates who have been RONed are not eligible to stand in the re-run election.
(By the way, only women can stand for election in the NUS women’s’ campaign, so instead of RON they have TESSA - This Election Should Start Again.)
RON is especially useful in Student Union elections because many of the minor roles are not contested; only one candidate may choose to stand. RON ensures that even in this case, the electorate is given the opportunity to elect (or reject) that candidate.
No General Election seat will ever be uncontested. In contested elections, RON is a way of saying “I don’t want any of these guys”. So as a voter, you could do three simple things:
However, a vote for RON doesn’t have to be your last vote. You could keep transferring if you want:
One common criticism of AV is that it can’t measure strength of preference. You might think that Candidate A is a good second choice if candidate B doesn’t win, and that even though candidate C and D are both awful, candidate C is marginally worse. Under AV, your best option is to vote:
Candidate A - 2
Candidate B - 1
Candidate C - 4
Candidate D - 3
This vote won’t detect that if A or B don’t get elected, you don’t think anyone’s suitable. It treats the gap between your first and second preference as being as wide as the gap between your second and third.
RON introduces a way of separating your preferences between candidates you consider suitable and those you’re only backing as the lesser of two evils. In an election with RON, you could vote:
Candidate A - 2
Candidate B - 1
Candidate C - 5
Candidate D - 4
RON - 3
Equally, if you think all the candidates are rubbish, you could vote RON 1 and then transfer onwards to other candidates if RON is eliminated.
RON doesn’t usually win. If fact, it’s pretty rare. But it does happen. The contested election for the Chairman of the Union of Jewish Students - a full-time paid sabbatical role - ended in RON being elected in December 2004. The election was reopened and ran again a few weeks later, electing an excellent new candidate who only put himself forward after the RON vote.
Even when RON doesn’t win, it’s a useful measure of public discontent. Candidates that are eliminated RON look pretty silly. Winners who win against a large RON vote are tainted.
Despite what some claim, AV doesn’t actually ensure that a winner has 50% support, because many voters don’t transfer all the way down. In AV with RON, the winner isn’t just the least worst option, but also more popular than ‘anyone else’ too.
The AV system being voted on at the 5th May referendum does not include a RON option. It hasn’t even been part of the debate. Nor have other technical issues like whether the deposit threshold should be changed, or whether John Rentoul’s preferred AV variant - the London Mayoral system where all candidates except the top two are eliminated in Round 1 - would be better. There are only two options: to support AV in the form it’s being offered or to keep things as they are. I think this is a shame. I much prefer AV with RON to AV without it.
As I said when I first blogged about AV, both sides of the campaign are using weak, wrong and misleading arguments to advance their cases. A perfect example this week was Lord Ashdown’s Sky News interview, where he manages to squeeze at least four incorrect claims about AV in a couple of sentences. He said:
“…no more safe seats, ever; politicians will now have to fight harder to get elected; every vote will count; no MP will get elected unless they get at least 50% of the support of the people in their constituency. Never again will we have more people voting against their MP than actually voted for him when he was elected”“
Today I want to look at safe seats and how to achieve Lord Ashdown’s wish for “No more safe seats, ever”.
AV doesn’t remove safe seats. I was originally planning to explain this in detail in this post why it doesn’t, but too many others have done that job too well in recent days and weeks. This post on Fullfact sums it up well. Basically:
Dr Alan Renwick’s briefing paper (pdf) for the Political Studies Association says that AV will slightly reduce the proportion of safe seats, but I suspect it might actually slightly increase them, depending on how many voters feel strongly about keeping out a particular opposing party and how the boundary review comes out.
Either way there’s not much in it. There are many valid reasons to support AV but stopping safe seats isn’t one.
What do we actually mean by a ‘safe seat’? Leaving aside technical definitions of majority etc, I think there are two slightly different meanings of the term ‘safe seat’ being used:
Let’s consider the first sense above, where a safe seat as a seat which is the natural province of one political party. A mannequin with a blue rosette would win in Richmond, and if Labour ran a turnip with a smiley face drawn on it in Knowlsey it would still get 70% of the vote.
Political tribalism isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and nor is the fact that some parts of the UK will have concentrations of people with similar political beliefs. That’s the basis of a representative democracy in the first place. But some people object to the idea that particular constituencies should be seen as the natural property of one party.
One way to try and overcome this would be to enlarge the seats to take in bigger areas. For example, we elect MEPs in huge regional constituencies. But the system we use to elect MEPs - the regional list system - also guarantees some safe seats to the first candidates on the lists of the major parties. Whoever’s at the top of the Labour and Conservative lists are going to be London MEPs. Whoever’s second on their lists will also be London MEPs.
Pure PR systems without constituencies, like the system mooted for an elected House of Lords, suffer from this problem even more. A 100% elected House of Lords with closed party lists would effectively be an appointed House, with only the proportion of appointees per party being decided by the electorate. Given that parties will have a fairly good idea of how they’re likely to do in an election, each party will have a huge number of safe seats to dole out to sitting Lords and eager new loyalists before a Lords election.
I don’t think there’s any way of stopping this sort of safe seat, sort of gerrymandering to create marginal constituencies. Safe seats like this are an inevitable consequence of a functioning and stable party system.
The second sense of ‘safe seat’, though, is a different prospect. This is the safe seat as a job for life, where once you’re elected you’re very difficult to boot out. An MP who’s caught robbing a Post Office or putting a cat in a bin could lose, but an MP who simply kept quiet, took holidays and didn’t bother trying could win one of these seats again and again.
Again, neither FPTP nor AV can do anything about this if the sitting MP is from a party that’s locally popular.
The way to stop this sort of seat for life isn’t to change the election system; it’s to change the selection system.
At present, a very small number of local party members - rarely more than a few hundred, sometimes less than ten - select who will run against the sitting MP or replace them if they’re standing down. In a safe seat, those few people can effectively chose the MP.
In the United States, most candidates at all levels of Government are selected by primary elections (primaries), where the public select who will be the candidates for the major parties. People can vote twice - once in the primary and once in the actual election.
The Conservatives have used the primary system a few times: Boris Johnson was selected as the Conservatives’ candidate for Mayor of London in 2007 via an open primary, and primaries were used for a couple of Parliamentary seats in 2009-10. The New Labour pressure group Progress supports the use of open primaries for Labour selections too, and some prominent LibDems also like the idea.
There are lots of pratical differences that make primaries harder to run in the UK than they are in the USA. In the USA, most voters openly register as Republican or Democrat so it’s possible to open a primary election to a mass defined section of the public who support the party doing the election. In the UK, primaries aren’t institutionalised so have to be fully financed by the party holding them, which has to take on the role normally filled by the local council - printing ballots, getting notices of election to potential voters, organising hustings, running the actual election and counting the votes.
There’s one crucial difference though between the US primary system and that which has been discussed and trialled by UK parties:
The incumbent has to stand in the primary
This is the real mark of America’s primary system. A candidate can’t win a safe seat and sit pretty until they choose to retire, because ambitious party members will challenge them in the primary election. In the UK, it is very difficult for a local party to stop their sitting MP from running again.
None of the debate over primaries here has seriously suggested that incumbant MPs should have to run in primaries. Boris Johnson, who was selected in a primary, is not having to stand in another primary to run in 2012; he’s automatically the candidiate.
(Parties sometimes have different practices in multi-candidate constituencies. Labour, I know, holds new selections for MEPs regardless of incumbancy, probably because voters at Euro-elections vote for the party rather than individual candidates)
The primary system isn’t all good news. It leads to a polarisation of politics because candidates have to play to their base rather than focus on the centre. Moderate candidates can be picked off in co-ordinated campaigns like that run by the Tea Party movement in 2010. It can also be easily abused; now, Democrats in the USA are registering as Republicans so they can vote for Sarah Palin in the 2012 presidential primary, calculating that she’s unelectable as President. Similarly, LibDem activists in Totnes voted in the Conservative primary for the candidate they considered the “weakest”.
But if, as the Yes2AV campaign suggests, safe seats are a major problem that creates lazy MPs, then primary elections would be a much more effective solution than AV.
The background presumption here is that safe seats are bad, are undesirable, and that a good election system would stop them or at least minimise them.
MPs in marginal seats have to devote more time to the constituency; they may do more casework or deploy more staff to their constituency office. Perhaps they’d champion local issues in Parliament.
On the other hand, MPs in safe seats may be able to devote more time and energy to Westminster and may be more independently minded.
Which sort of MP is better is partly a matter of preference and partly the start of a profound discussion about the structure of our democracy which we’ll get to in a couple of blogs’ time.
Tomorrow is the first day of the National Union of Students’ annual Conference. It’s also five years since I last attended an NUS Conference myself, either as a voting delegate or as a balcony-based observer.
I went to my first NUS Conference in 2003. I was elected by the narrowest of margins in an STV election and joined eight of my fellow Bristol-university students on the trip to Blackpool.
NUS conferences are unusual because elections for NUS’s full-time officers happen at the Conference. This is an archaism; Trade Unions and Student Unions used to elect their officers in the same way, but labour laws and the Education Act 1994 respectively, meant that these Unions now have to legally hold a ballot of all members. NUS is not legally a Student Union and its members are other Unions not individuals, so didn’t have to change away from the old-fashioned system.
NUS has political groupings of varying formality, often disparagingly called ‘factions’: Labour Students is the formal student wing of the Labour party and organises openly. Various groups of ‘Independent’ students run slates of candidates, sometimes openly and sometimes less so. Groups on the Far Left are active, sometimes running joint slates as allies and sometimes opposing each other. Conservative Future sometimes organises for NUS and sometimes decides not to bother. Other groups like the Union of Jewish Students also attend the Conference but don’t usually run candidates for the full-time officer roles.
That particular Conference, held only days after the formal start of the Iraq War in 2003, was the year that Labour’s Mandy Telford would win re-election as President by three votes, beating Kat Fletcher, then the candidate for a unified far-Left slate . Fletcher would go on to win by only one vote a year later.
But the relevance to this blogpost and to the AV debate is that running in a few of the officer elections was a new faction that called itself Students Against the War on Terror (SAWOT). SAWOT were standing in three officer elections.
At each election, the SAWOT candidate took the podium and made a three-minute speech: two and a half minutes about the evils of the War on Terror and the West, and then 30 seconds in which to announce their withdrawal from the election in favour of one the far-Left slate’s candidate who was definitely the best person to do all the things they mentioned in their speech: overthrow the Government, free the oppressed etc.
Actually, one of them, Sukant Chandan, didn’t even turn up to the Conference so technically couldn’t withdraw from the election. He got twelve votes out of 930 cast. But if he’d been there, I’ve no doubt that he would have withdrawn too. The SAWOT slate existed solely to get their manifestos included in the official documents and time at the podium in order to endorse other candidates in the election.
Of course, General Elections don’t happen in a big hall with speeches. Any candidate who withdraws at the last minute stays on the ballot paper, potentially pulling votes away from the person they’re trying to help. Also, it’s not that easy for a candidate in a General Election to tell all their supporters to vote for someone else. There aren’t the same opportunities as at an NUS Conference.
AV, though, at least opens up some interesting possibilities. This is because votes under AV aren’t necessarily rival - a vote for one candidate doesn’t always mean a vote against another candidate. That vote might only be with your first choice for one round, but could stick with your second choice all the rest of the rounds until the end.
Imagine that at the next election there was a ‘no to cuts’ party which opposed Government spending cuts. All the party would do is talk about how bad the cuts were and how much better it would have been if they didn’t happen or were slower. They’d also call for a second-preference vote for the Labour party. It would get Election Broadcasts. Its candidates would appear at hustings and be interviewed on the TV where they’d put their messages across and call for people to vote Labour (second).
A new party like this probably wouldn’t win any seats, but that’s not what it’s trying to do. If people voted through all their preferences then a new party like this could help the Labour party get its message across and pick up more votes. Equally, I could have given examples that would benefit the two governing parties instead, e.g. a Taxpayers Alliance Party.
I haven’t seen any guidance yet on party finance rules when it comes to campaigning for second preferences. Candidates and parties and third-party campaigns have to stick to electoral spending limits during the Short Campaign. How will these rules apply to second-preference campaigns?
It’s not hard to imagine a real-life scenario where one party openly campaigns for second-prefs to go to another to keep out a third - some parties, like the Greens and Respect, already have an electoral pact under the current system. Respect didn’t field a Mayoral candidate in 2008 and campaigned for Ken Livingstone instead. Ken himself campaigned for Tower Hamlets mayoral candidate Luftur Rahman instead of the Labour candidate Helal Abbas, but escaped punishment by the Labour Party by claiming that he was only calling for people to vote Rahman as their second preference.
A candidate from a minor special-interest party calling for second preferences to a major party could be a valuable endorsement, even to voters who weren’t going to vote for the first party at all. Who are UKIP asking me to transfer to? Who’s the Greens’ next-best option? What about that Independent who wants to save the local hospital, what’s his second choice?
It could also work the other way round. If the BNP call for a transfer to a candidate, it could actually harm that candidate’s chances to get the “racists’ choice” tag.
And there is another possibility.
Instead of the major parties creating supportive proxy parties, they could just run more than one candidate of their own in elections. Imagine a ballot paper as follows:
Under the current system, it would be unmitigatedly stupid to run two candidates from the same party in the same seat.
NB: one of the reasons that Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections was that Fatah did exactly this, mainly because they couldn’t decide which candidates to run.
But under AV, there are some positive reasons to do it. Your party gets more space on the ballot paper, more exposure at local hustings, more mentions in the newspapers. Your candidates can be more balanced to appeal more broadly: a woman and a man, a white candidate and an ethnic minority, and old one and a young one. The party won’t be able to decide which of the two candidates gets eliminated first and which, therefore, might actually win. But this could also be a positive thing, acting as both a primary and general election at the same time.
The only drawback I can see to this approach - apart from cost - is that votes for one party candidate might not reliably transfer to the other one. So in the ballot above, Diwani might not get all of Ames’ second-preference votes or vice versa.
According to John Curtice, figures from Scottish local by-elections suggest that between a half and a third of people don’t transfer their vote at all and more than three-fifths don’t list a third-preference. At first glance this might suggest that people aren’t very reliable at transferring in AV.
But it could also be that voters are being sensible and rational. The incumbent in an election almost never comes third, so a vote for the incumbent will almost never transfer. Many seats are two-horse races, so a vote for the second-placed party also won’t transfer. Listing a second-preference in these cases is sheer vanity. At the 2008 London Mayoral election, there was really no point in Boris or Ken voters casting a second-preference vote because neither was ever going to be eliminated.
This effect becomes even stronger at the third-preference stage. A third-preference will only matter if both the first and second preference aren’t for one of the top two parties in a constituency. Relatively few votes will ever have their third-preference counted
So perhaps most voters do transfer efficiently. If they do, then sometimes the benefits of running two candidates for the same constituency might outweigh the drawbacks. This really would be a big change in the way we do politics in the UK.
I don’t know if any of the major parties are considering this if AV is adopted at the referendum. Someone should probably ask them.
I have no particular view about the AV referendum. I haven’t decided which way to vote yet, but it’s not ambivalence as much as non-valence. I don’t feel strongly either way.
But weirdly, I still want to explore the arguments anyway, especially as public debate on both sides has been pretty poor.
One reason for this may be that lots of the people leading the debate don’t actually know what they’re talking about.
A confession: I have probably voted in over a hundred AV elections; I have run in AV elections, been a campaign manager for AV elections, and counted the votes in AV elections.
But I’ve also voted and run and organised several dozen Single Transferable Vote elections. I’ve even counted some small ones.
STV is not AV (though strictly speaking AV is a special case of STV). STV elections are ‘block elections’, where there’s more than one position being elected at the same time.
From the point of view of the voter, STV and AV look and feel almost identical. You get a ballot paper with a bunch of candidates and you rank them in order of preference.
What happens next is very different.
Counting STV elections is incredibly complicated because STV tries not to waste votes at all. Supporters of AV have used the term ‘wasted vote’ to refer to a vote for a small party under the current system. But in a block election, it’s also a wasted vote to vote for a popular candidate who’s going to be elected anyway. If Candidate A gets elected with 1000 votes but less-popular Candidate B gets 500 and both are elected to the block, then votes for Candidate A were only worth half of those for B.
STV works out the minimum quota of votes a candidate needs to get elected (say, in the example above it’s 500). If a candidate meets quota, they are elected and their surplus of votes are redistributed. So 1000 people voted for Candidate A, so 500 votes are ‘kept’ and the equivalent of 500 are reallocated. this is done by looking at the second preferences of all 1000 votes and transfering them across but at only half their value (because they’ve been half used already to elect Candidate A). If no candidate makes the quota, then the lowest candidate is eliminated and their votes reallocated at full value like in AV.
In effect, one person’s vote can split into several pieces, all helping different candidates get elected. You might split your vote down much smaller: if Candidate A had only got 505 votes, then transfers would only be worth one-hundredth of a vote each. And that hundredth can break down further.
If you’re confused, that’s because it’s confusing. It really is.
Big STV elections are usually counted by computer, because the maths is too fiddly. The order in which candidates is elected and eliminated becomes crucial, meaning a few votes can radically change the outcome of the election.
None of this is AV. AV is much simpler to count because there are no partial votes, no surpluses, no quota apart from 50% and only one candidate to elect. You don’t even need a calculator.
Here’s my theory:
Student Unions run elections that use AV (for single candidates and STV (for blocks). NUS uses both too. So do Trade Unions. National elections in political parties often use both systems too. Some even add exotic twists called ‘constraints’ that ensure there’s a gender balance.
Politically active people have probably voted in loads of AV and STV elections in these forums without really knowing which was which. They all look the same: you rank the candidates in order of preference and then a magic answer comes out at the end.
Only a small number of them - of us - really understood what was going on behind the curtain: the election geeks, a political subculture. We were always being called on to run models and work out surpluses and transfers; we sit in on counts and double-check the results (I once helped a friend take his rightful seat on a Trade Union executive after a miscount); in small elections, we work out that we can lend another party or faction twelve 1st-prefs in return for their transfers and get both of us elected - but not fifteen because we’d both lose.
As one of these select few, I’ve always been surprised how difficult a lot of highly intelligent political people find AV and STV.
This, I think, is why the debate is quite shallow. It’s not dumbing down, but a genuinely poor understanding of the issues by many of the key advocates. When No supporters use anti-PR arguments against AV or say it will let extremists in, some of them are just confusing it with STV. When Yes campaigners say AV will get rid of safe seats or will ensure that MPs get 50% of the vote, it shows that they don’t really understand how AV will work.
I also think that among the political classes, these different experiences of AV (and STV) are probably at the back of people’s minds and shaping how they respond to the whole question.
We’re hurtling towards a referendum at full speed, and we’re about to crash into it. Despite not having a preference yet, the least I can do for now is to talk a bit about it.
So this is the first in a series of posts on the AV referendum. The next titles are below. Maybe by the end I’ll have decided how to vote.
Changes to Facebook comments today took away the ‘Post’ button. Instead, pressing Enter posts your comment automatically. This means your comments can’t have paragraph breaks, which is ugly and annoying, especially if you have a lot to say.
As a Twitter user, I know that short can be beautiful. But it’s not the only way. Often, long well-reasoned discussions on Facebook can be fascinating and informative. This change seems to be designed to prevent them.
But there’s a workaround. Instead of Enter, push shift-Enter. This is the ‘new line’ command, which will put the cursor on a new line without automatically posting the comment.
Shift-Enter works in lots of useful ways, especially when you don’t want to start a new paragraph in Microsoft Word.
Leftlist is a private mailing list for NUJ members. Its members are not happy about the recent BBC Panorama programme on the flotilla to Gaza.
So what do members a Trade Union dedicated to journalistic freedom and independence do when they see piece of journalism they don’t like?
Well, the NUJ’s Vice President Donnacha Delong calls for NUJ members to protest outside the BBC, and for BBC NUJ Chapels (ie branches) to put out ‘a statement’, presumably condemning one of their own members for writing something they disapprove of.
And another senior NUJ activist wants the NUJ to force the BBC to commission another Panorama that is more politically acceptable to them.
It’s a real shame - but no a surprise - that senior activists in a journalists’ union are prepared to throw out their founding principles in favour of attacking Israel.
First email -
Date: Wed, 18 Aug 2010 00:26:54 +0100
Subject: [leftlist] Demonstration called at the BBC
Ken O’Keefe and (one of) the Muslim Defence League(s) have called a demo on Sunday at BBC Television Centre.
Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it, but it would be really good to have NUJ people. A statement from some of the BBC Chapels wouldn’t go amiss, particularly with the prospect of a strike at the BBC. The last thing we need is people attacking the BBC in its entirety as a result of this, and I’ve seen a few examples of that already on Facebook.
The National Union of Journalists runs a discussion list for people working in new media, join the debates at:
From: Larry Herman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tue, 17 Aug 2010 22:27:23 +0100
To: Tim Gopsill<email@example.com>
Cc: ‘Vicki Morris’<firstname.lastname@example.org>; <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: [leftlist] Israeli propaganda machine
On 17 Aug 2010, at 15:25, Tim Gopsill wrote:
… And the issue is not religion or ideology but western militarism and imperialism, …
Our legitimate reaction to the BBC Panorama pro Zionist programme has thrown up profound questions and has, once again, labeled those of us who fight for self determination of all the world’s peoples, including for those who live in the UK, closed - minded bigots and specifically, in this case, Jew haters. Those who sneer and seek to denigrate our views are wrong, but we don’t fear their slander because it shows our strength. Our responsibility is to determine how we better organise to take on the enemies of humanity and their apologists who live their lives giving the politics of reaction credibility.
There are many explanations why Zionism was organised in the 19th Century and why it was able to establish its state after the Second World War, why this State was violently inserted into Palestine and why Israel has carried on a sixty-year war to defend its interests. Israel is the form that imperialism takes in the Middle East. The Apartheid governments in South Africa were another, and equally unique, form of imperialism. The support of all American big capitalists, their governments and military, since the mid 1950’s (and before) for the Zionist state is because it defends Imperialism and Israel is its imperialist beachhead in that part of the world.
American imperialisms has always fought wars to extend its interests, whether in The philippines in 1898, in the First and Second World Wars and now throughout Western Asia and North Africa ( of course, on other continents, too. The biggest military base outside of the United States is in Honduras!). It’s not the very active and well funded lobbyists in the United States that cause the American Government’s defence of the Zionist State; to argue this is playing into the hands of anti-semitism. The nefarious activity of pro Zionist organisations and individuals throughout the world exists because of the historic weakness of imperialism. That’s why they are compelled to do what they do.
I enthusiastically acknowledge that anti - Zionism occupies our political activity today because of several decades of Palestinian resistance. But, it’s not what we are against that defines people, but it’s what we are in favour of. If there were ever a crises of leadership it is there, in Palestine, for all progressives to see. As activists, we are in harmony with the Palestinian people in their struggle for self - determination. We are transformed into anti imperialist fighters through building this solidarity. We, as NUJ activists, have struggled to be heard in the past and will continue to organise against bigotry. Perhaps, beginning with a demand, supported by a Union - wide campaign, that the BBC fund a ‘Panorama Two” putting the different view. The Leftlist should convene an immediate meeting, with an agenda, open to all who are opposed to the the content of the Panorama film, to initiate this demand within the Union.