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June 7th, 2004

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04:59 am - How does a European hold an election?
Web site of the day - at least, for Europeans - is surely http://www.votematch.net/ . It's a version of those "answer the questions according to your preferences and tell you which party to vote for" quizzes for the European Elections this week. Specifically, answer 25 questions, emphasise your answers to some of them if you like, and it tells you which of the seven party groups would suit you best. From there, you hope there's a party in your country that would send its MEPs into your chosen party grouping, hope that the party you would have to vote for really matches up with the policies that this web site claims and vote away.

There are seven party groups in the European Parliament, plus an eighth catch-all of independents. From approximate left to right, you have these six:

  • European United Left / Nordic Green Left who fulfil the militant wing and live up to their reputation by having two names and needing to claim to be united in their title because you know they ain't going to be united in real life.

  • The Greens / European Free Alliance - fair play, you know where you are with the Greens and they have a pretty good manifesto on their web site. Which is a shame because it makes it very easy to see how you disagree with them. Unexpectedly, the Scottish National Party's MEPs are part of this group, as are Plaid Cymru's. Well, I wasn't expecting that, at least.

  • Party of European Socialists who I have put to the right of the Greens mainly for the reason that the British Labour Party here are in the group so they really can't be all that socialist after all

  • European Liberal, Democratic and Reform Party who are neither in this sketch nor in that sketch but somewhere in between. (Remember Spitting Image when it was funny?)

  • European People's Party - European Democrats, which the BBC describe as a "broad church" including both "euro-enthusiast Christian Democrats and eurosceptic British Conservatives".

  • Union for Europe of the Nations, apparently so right-wing that no British party will affiliate with them. (Let's hope we don't have to find out where a BNP MEP might go.) Their web site doesn't give any specific policies at all, which is ominous.
The seventh group is the charmingly-named Europe of Democracies and Diversities, who are the Europe-will-eat-itself group of sundry nationalists and power-diversifiers; it's logical and pleasing to see such a self-defeating group can exist in the system. They win the coolest logo and stupidest logo competitions hands down.

So the big question for me is who to vote for. The knee-jerk response is "either the Liberal Democrats or the Greens", the usual choice I face in an election. But, you know, VoteMatch says that I am a closer match to the European Socialists than to either the European Greens or the European Liberal Democrats. With the Greens, I know I'm not with their stance on nuclear energy, their balance on human rights, their air traffic views or their views on Europe's position in the world. (The Greens do get kudos for proposing a Tobin tax to punish currency speculators, though. Yes, yes!) The European Liberal and Democratic Reform Party actually seem to be more free-market than I am comfortable with, which I wasn't expecting. So it's looking like the European Socialists suit me best, which means voting Labour. Blimey.

In a sense, it doesn't matter. The North East zone, being puny small (less than two million, pah!) will elect three MEPs this year. daweaver and I have discussed the electoral system at great length already, but the quick version for the North East is that "the three parties who get the most votes will get a seat each, unless the top party is miles ahead of third place in which case it'll get two seats, or miles and miles ahead of second place in which case it'll get all three". It's a bit hand-wavey about "miles ahead" but when you start talking about "number of times as many votes" then eyes start to glaze over.

Last time the North East had a split of Labour 42%, Conservative 27%, Lib Dem 14%, UK Independence 9%, Green 5%, Sundries 3%. The same result this year would produced 2 Labour MEPs and 1 Conservative MEP, and this result looks very likely again. Last Euro election, Labour polled 27% nationally to the Conservatives 34%, so to get the 8% Labour-to-Conservative swing on top of that would require Blair to have started to eat babies.

Now some swing from Labour to Conservative in the North-East is likely - more likely than elsewhere in the UK, I'd have guessed - and it's conceivable that the Labour vote might go down to as low as perhaps 36%; this is the level where "miles ahead" is defined such that a third party might be able to pick up the third seat by getting over 18%, but the competition for third place apparently looks as hot as for first place, so it's not looking likely. Surely the Lib Dems will do better than their previous 12% as the natural home for anti-Labour pro-Europeans, but there don't seem to be many of them around these days.

Incidentally, the fact that our region only has three seats (the same number as Northern Ireland, I might add) means that fifth place and onwards are really only playing to try to save their £5,000 deposit. Happily the score required is just 2½%, so the Greens will be OK, Respect might be, the BNP will die horribly and the local independent Independent will at least have had a good time. I idly wonder whether a combined Yorkshire-and-North-East region, possibly bequeathing Humberside to the East Midlands, would have practical advantages other than permitting more accurate representation of substantial-minority viewpoints.

So, the question again: Greens to make sure they save their deposit, Lib Dems because they have a pipe-dream of the third seat or Labour to make sure the region doesn't collapse to the Conservatives? The Tories are resurgent because people seem to like Michael Howard for a reason I cannot begin to understand. No matter who's in charge, the Conservatives remain the party which want to make rich people richer and they don't care how they do it, people. Labour may have taken several dubious steps on the war, but Conservatism remains as repugnant to my tastes as ever. (I know there are some proud conservatives, of either capitalisation, on my Friends list, though; a good-natured rude hand gesture to you all.)

Labour have a glossy document, but it mostly concentrates on what Labour MEPs have done (to be fair, there's lots of stuff I like here) and weak anti-Tory scare stories. The bottom-right of page 16 has a list of some of the things that "Labour MEPs are continuing to press for", but no detail, no specific policy proposals. The Liberal Democrats' manifesto: mmmm-mmmm. I don't like the scary Charles Kennedy picture on the front, don't much care for the information about MEP's past achievements or the reasons why Europe is good for the UK. We get to the beef, though, the LibDem aspirations; lots of detail, but tiny writing. Unfortunately there's a tendency to slip back to "the EU should" rather than "Liberal Democrats will" or "Liberal Democrats would" in a few places. It's often disappointingly waffly and non-specific, but the best of a bad bunch.

Let's think about the domestic consequences of the vote. The Conservatives don't really care about how well they do, they just need Labour to "do badly". Despite everything, I still like Tony Blair and think that he is the best leader for the country from the realistic candidates at the moment. I don't follow him blindly and don't support his party with all its mistakes, though I have sympathy for many of its principles. The Conservatives cannot be permitted to think that they're getting any sort of momentum. The Liberal Democrats can be pleased with even modest gains and Charles Kennedy should continue to be a popular leader, which is what they need. As much as I hate saying this and like supporting smaller parties on principle, the Greens will not get significantly more respect from polling 6%-8% in this region rather than 3%-5%, so I'm tempted to linger longer on the aspects of the manifesto that I don't agree with.

Crikey, this is tough.

(Other comments: with the postal vote, you can put your ballot paper into envelope A upside-down "by mistake" and the barcode and number will still be visible as requested. Hooray! Additionally, interesting to note that the turnout is still small even in countries with compulosry voting.)
Current Mood: confusedconfused
Current Music: "CD for my love #1" - mixed by dezzikitty, yay!

(13 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:June 6th, 2004 11:55 pm (UTC)
Tobin tax is broken. Currency speculators perform a useful job by matching people who want to turn currency x into currency y without there being a big gap between the 'buy' and 'sell' prices.

All a tobin tax would do would be massively reduce volume in the market, increase transaction costs for people dealing in multiple currencies by increasing the spread, and not really raise very much money. What amuses me is people who support both a Tobin tax and a single currency, and haven't yet spotted the problem...

UEN is odd, it includes post-fascist groups like the Alleanza in Italy and the Folkeparti in Denmark, but then also Fianna Fail, the governing party in Ireland, and the RPF, who are fairly mainstream French Gaullists, similar politics to our Tories.
[User Picture]
Date:June 8th, 2004 08:58 pm (UTC)
I'm inclined to believe on principle that you know more about this than me, but I don't really get sentence two. Isn't there quite a big gap between the two already? How can we know (OK, for economics, "know" is a bad word - but how can we feel moderately comfortable believing) that fewer currency speculators would exacerbate the problem?

Part of this is jealousy of George Soros, of course, but moderate disincentives to going into the practice (not least making it a harder game to play and win) would seem to me to be a good thing in general. Even if Soros does happen to be massively anti-Bush.

I've been Googling for "tobin tax" disadvantages and "tobin tax" "arguments against" and, for me, the arguments in favour (or, at least, the ones I've seen) seem better argued. http://www.globalpolicy.org/socecon/glotax/currtax/2001/2012tobin.htm has arguments against; the one which worries me most is the last about the extent to which such a tax could be implemented in practice or not. There are rebuttals within http://www.globalpolicy.org/socecon/glotax/currtax/2003/11debating.pdf (big PDF file) - see papers 7 and 8. I understand perhaps 20% of papers 7 and 8, but it's interesting to see the arguments and rebuttals on either side.

I dunno. I'm happy to leave it to Gordon's economists and if Gordon's economists have looked at it and said "no" then I'm prepared to believe that there is better data which I cannot understand that strongly makes the case for "no". I am about to say "On balance, I think I'd rather have Charlie's economists making the decision" but I know very little about Charlie's economists. I like what little I do know about them, but it's not a lot...

Para 3: the obvious questions are why Fianna Fail and the RPF have chosen to position themselves within UEN rather than EPP-ED, but I suppose that (1) I probably had too simplistic a viewpoint to dismiss UEN as being far right in the first place and there may be other ideological differences between the two which suit FF and the RPF better and/or (2) there might be other parties in EPP-ED in Ireland and/or France already.
[User Picture]
Date:June 9th, 2004 12:16 am (UTC)
No, the gap isn't very big - it is in tourist shops for changing small amounts of money, but not on international markets. As things stand, if I want to turn my euro into a pound, I get 66.6 pence. If I want to turn my pound into a euro, it will cost me 66.7 pence.

This means that it's worth me buying euros I don't need if I expect their price to increase by any more than 1/66th of 1% - if they do that, I will probably change them back. Consequently, in the absence of shifts in the fundamental economic data, the price of the Euro and the Pound is likely to remain quite stable, or at least change gradually over time.

This is the useful thing that currency speculators do, their higher volume reduces this gap (look how the gap between 'back' and 'lay' on betfair narrows on betting exchanges when the volume of bets rises - more people offering to buy or sell forces both prices towards the centre). In addition, they assume the risk of shifts, meaning that businesspeople can get on with trade without worrying about short-term shifts too much.

This means that companies which trade in Euros and Pounds can hedge against the risk of currency shift by betting on a move in the market in an unfavourable direction - much as I have a betfair bet on interest rates going up - I'll be perfectly happy if I lose.

A Tobin Tax, small though it sounds, would therefore increase the transaction costs of currency trading massively - in this instance (at 1% on War on Want's figures - I appreciate smaller ones have also been reduced) from .001 pence to 1.334 pence. At that point it only becomes worth me buying Euros I don't need if I expect the shift in price to be of the order of 2%, which is very rare.

Ultimately you would reduce currency speculation, certainly, and you would raise some money (though if, as Tobin claims, 95% of currency trading is speculative, I think you can expect that people would largely get out of currency trading unless they expected big swings).

This is not the end of the world for large countries, where there would still be some volume, but you could expect that for small countries - where the gap is already bigger, eg compared to the .0014% Euro-Pound gap, the cost of converting a Cambodian Riel into a Zambian Kwacha is 2.1% already - the cost of converting between the currencies and back would therefore rise to 4%, and consequently there would be no speculative market, and the full cost plus the risk of change would be borne by businesspeople. In addition, when changes did come, they would be much more sudden, because frustration at the 'wrong price' would have been building up for some time, but it wouldn't have been economical to do anything about it.
[User Picture]
Date:June 7th, 2004 02:04 am (UTC)
Right, woken up now. The other main issue you have to consider, I think, is whether you are most interested in voting in order to have your views represented in the European Parliament, or whether you are most interested in using your vote to express your opinions on the Westminster government. To an extent that depends on

a) How much power you think the European Parliament has
b) How seriously you think Blair will take the results.

Incidentally, the UKIP recorded one of their highest votes in the country in the North-East last time, at almost 9% - I don't know how hard they are campaigning, but I would expect 1 Labour seat, 1 Tory seat, and the third seat to be a close thing between a second Labour vote, or one for the UKIP, with a shade of a chance for the Lib Dems if they are campaigning hard in the local elections, but I'm not sure how much of the North-East is actually voting this time, I suspect not a lot.

I'm off to do that test, but I bet actual money that it tells me to vote Green, and that's certainly not going to be happening. Oh no, questions were more focussed than I had hoped, so apparently I should vote EDD, with UEL a little way behind. So that's really helpful. UEL is certainly how I would vote in Sweden or Denmark, but hardly really an option here.
[User Picture]
Date:June 8th, 2004 09:07 pm (UTC)
Para 1: the case for "voting in order to have your views represented in the European Parliament" seems overwhelmingly stronger to me than anything else. Surely this things have to be taken to at least some extent to face value?

UKIP popularity in the North East - true, that. I used the '99 results heavily in my pin-sticking. I reckon that the UKIP won't do so well this time in the NE relative to most other regions based on a notion that Con-to-UKIP is more likely than Lab-to-UKIP. We're doing all postal votes and have smaller postal vote distribution problems than the NW, which will supposedly bolster Labour's chances, so I am pretty confident about our seats going LCL.

Can I take you up on your actual money bet about whether the VoteMatch test will suggest you vote Green or not? ;-)

The thought of you voting for a UK party which will affiliate with the EDD makes me chortle. Da-diddly-DEE-daaaaaaa...
[User Picture]
Date:June 9th, 2004 03:22 am (UTC)


If you vote (or have already voted) in the European elections, will you be voting (or did you vote) mainly...?

To influence the composition of the European Parliament 18%
To express your views on the political scene here in Britain 24%
To express your views on Britain’s relations with the European Union 37%
Don’t know 11%
Won’t vote 10%
[User Picture]
Date:June 7th, 2004 08:34 am (UTC)


Does this match up to the rhetoric/manifesta of the parties, or their voting/policy track record?

I mean it's all well and good that you use this tool to help guide your vote towards a Party that pledges the sorts of actions you support/believe in, quite another as to whether the Party does try to achieve those pledges, and still another if it even can - given the oppositional & compromise politics.
[User Picture]
Date:June 8th, 2004 09:16 pm (UTC)

Re: Ummm...

True. My outlook when making that posting last night was unashamedly idealistic rather than pragmatic.

Much as I would prefer an electoral system which minimises the ability for tactical voting and encourages people to vote with their hearts rather than their heads, I admire the occasions when people use it under our current flawed system (*) - at least, when they use it to help the parties and candidates I support!

(*) As opposed to all the other flawed systems, but I think there are at least some which are at least a little less flawed.

daweaver, now I understand your point about a vote for an Independent wasting (n-1)/n of your vote: see para 8 for an explanation that convinced me. To me, this is a greater incentive to vote for one of the Independents, though, to show that the system is broken and needs fixing.
[User Picture]
Date:June 7th, 2004 06:15 pm (UTC)


Of course, if you're Czech, how couldn't you vote for the Porn Star MEP??? ;-)


Nora Baumbergova - her real name - is standing for a party called the Independent Initiative, formerly known as the Independent Erotic Initiative.
[User Picture]
Date:June 8th, 2004 09:21 pm (UTC)

Re: Observation...

What took them so long? ;-) We long had dominatrix Lindi St Clair (I misremembered her name as Lindsey, and other sources suggest Linda...) standing under the so-named Corrective Party a few times in the '80s and early '90s. I happily remember she got bored, gave it up and told her supporters to vote Lib Dem instead. Which is why I do.

Shouldn'a' said that. Joke! Joke!
Date:June 7th, 2004 08:58 pm (UTC)
Sad but true fact: in the grand scheme of things, you might as well pull a name out of a hat or throw darts on your ballot paper. The world will still turn and no-one's life will be affected. Horrible thing to say given that x million people have died fighting for democracy, but it's true.

What they should do is take a leaf out of the National Lottery - Everyone votes in the usual way but the winners are decided by the crosses on the first valid, relevant ballot paper drawn out of the big tombola. That way every vote could count and it's perfectly 'proportional', of sorts.

Was interested to find out I'm strongly pro-Green, I have to say.
[User Picture]
Date:June 8th, 2004 06:36 am (UTC)
Bring on Henry Potts' Single Stochastic Vote!
[User Picture]
Date:June 8th, 2004 09:38 pm (UTC)
I saw a fascinating argument linked to from some LJ somewhere as to why constituencies in the UK are organised geographically rather than by some other partitioning factor. (This was a theoretical argument rather than a pragmatic argument - the pragmatic argument is going to win in practice every day of the week, mind you.) I'm sure it started based on the theory of the Single Stochastic Vote, as you suggest, but can't remember quite how it gets from there to where we are.

I have very idly wondered whether, if we are to elect (some proportion of?) a second chamber, the constituencies for the second chamber need to be along geographical lines; we could have MPs representing geographical areas and revisers representing pressure groups, presumably being expert on the topic that they were selected on by the pressure group. Imagine this:

Every voter in the UK gets to submit an integer from 1 to (say) 10,000,000,000,000,000. The (say) 500 most frequently submitted integers become the constituencies for the election; all the people who submitted the single most popular integer get to vote amongst themselves for one representative, all the people who submitted the second most popular integer get to vote amongst themselves for one representative, and so on.

All those who submitted an integer which was not one of the most popular 500 suggestions, or who did not submit an integer, have a second chance to pick which integer of the final 500 to register under, but cannot stand for election themselves.

The idea is that all sorts of categorisations will pick a number, any number, and try to get sufficiently many people picking that number to ensure that one follower gets elected. People will also presumably have several constituencies that they would like to vote in and will have to choose which one constituency will get their vote.

For instance, John Bull might work at McDonalds, support Manchester United, wear stripey boxer shorts, smoke cannabis and is strongly pro-monarchy. McDonalds workers might have their own integer (say, 299), Manchester United supporters might have their own integer (say, 199919991999), there may not be an integer for stripey boxer shorts wearers, cannabis smokers might have their own integer (say, 420) and there might be two or three different integers for monarchists (say, 1926, 1953 and 1982). He would then have to decide which one of those integers to register under and eventually have a say in deciding the representative for one of his constituencies.

Some constituencies will be bigger than others, but that's OK, because it becomes in the interest of large constituencies to split themselves up into many sub-constituencies, each of which is just in the top 500 in size.

I haven't thought this through fully, or the implications of nine different groups all trying to claim the integer 69 for themselves and 69 ending up being a composite group of nine different groups with potentially different motivations.

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