Posts Tagged ‘Lib Dem’

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) should be encouraged, not restricted

Saturday, June 2nd, 2012

One of the key differentiating policies between the Liberal Democrats and Labour at the recent local elections was that Labour were considering restricting the proportion of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) that could occur in a section of road of a certain length. Labour won (at least in my ward) and I think that imposing such a restriction would be a particularly bad idea. Hence it is my democratic duty to try and explain why this is the case and so help prevent this happening. Essentially this proposal is equivalent to a proposal to throw me or people like me out of our houses so I should probably take this reasonably personally.
A House in Multiple Occupation is one in which 3 or more people who are not of the same household are living where household is defined by blood or by marriage or similar.

As I understand it the main reasoning behind restricting HMOs is that they are bad for the community due to lack of involvement by the residents (and perhaps bad behaviour on the part of the residents) and that they tend to be poorly maintained and so be bad for the area (house prices etc.).
Now those things might be true, or at least there might be a statistically significant increase in poor maintenance of HMOs and of lower community involvement by the residents of HMOs or even a higher incidence of reports of antisocial behaviour against people living in HMOs.
While it seems perfectly possible that those things might be the case I have not seen studies that have shown that to be the case I have not seem them (to be fair I have not looked). If there are no such studies then clearly no restriction should be imposed because before you start throwing people out of their houses (or at least saying “no you cannot live there”) you should at least be sure that the reason you are doing that is valid. It would be rather embarrassing to find out that this sort of thing had been done on the basis of a lie.

However even if it is true that residents of HMOs are more likely to be antisocial/anticommunity and take poor care of their property that is still no reason to restrict where residents of HMOs can live. It boils down to a “We don’t want your type around here.” attitude. Sorry I thought we were living in a free society in the 21st century where anyone could come and live next door as long as they are not currently in prison and can afford it. Perhaps if there was some sort of causation between being a bad person and living in HMOs there might be some more justification but even then – really is that the kind of society we want to live in?
So who lives in a HMO, well clearly people who don’t have a big enough household to fill a house or enough money to have a house to themselves and have done so. So mainly single people, probably also mainly young people. So after high levels of unemployment and debt young people are put at a further disadvantage by being discriminated against when trying to find houses to rent not only by the letting agents and landlords who would already much prefer families (and make this clear) but also by their local government. That does not strike me as a good move and seems likely to further alienate a group of people who might legitimately feel let down by society and so rather apathetic about supporting it. There are already quite enough problems to deal with this century without further unnecessary building of inter-generational tensions.

Now I think marriage is important so I would not get married just to be able to get a house but if people start getting told “Well if two of you got married then you could all live here.” some people might decide otherwise. This renders the whole thing unenforcable.

Monitoring which houses are HMOs in order to prevent the concentrations of HMOs exceeding defined thresholds involves some significant bureaucratic overhead which will have its own cost, it also means that the information on which houses are HMOs must be publicly available in order for letting agencies etc. to be able to work this out and hence know who they can rent the houses to. This would be a violation of the privacy of those living in these houses and would be likely to allow targeted advertising (and perhaps political campaigning) based on this information.

So if people are not allowed to live in HMOs what is the alternative? Well they could live in a family house instead. So they could go back and live with their parents (and leave their job, sounds like a great idea) or they could get married but that is not something someone can necessarily do. Or they could live in a house of single occupancy. However that would be a really silly idea.

It is significantly more efficient for a house to have more than one person living in it because then the constant costs of a house (such as kitchen space etc.) can be shared out between multiple people this also reduces the rent, utility bills etc. per person. Leaving more money for other things like saving up for a house or paying off student loans. This also reduces CO2 emissions and so HMOs help save the planet. There is currently a significant housing shortage in the country and to a significant extent that is due to a reduction in the number of people living in each house rather than to a increase in the number of people. So our current housing shortage could partly be addressed by encouraging people into houses of multiple occupancy or at least to fill spare bedrooms with people.

In summary restricting the number of HMOs is discriminatory, unenforcable, bureaucratic, privacy invading and precisely the opposite of the kind of housing policy we should be encouraging.

So having rejected that policy as a thoroughly bad idea what kind of policies might actually address the problem?
People are more likely to invest in their local community if they feel they have a vested interest in its success and if they do not feel like they are outcasts from it.
If people are not sure how long they are going to be living in a location then it will not feel as worth while for them to get to know their neighbours when they might be moving in a few months or a year. Hence policies which increase peoples assurance that they will be able to stay in their present house long term are likely to encourage community involvement. Policies that make people think they might be forced to move by their local government because of who their neighbours are on the other hand…
Encouraging community is a very important thing to do and a very hard thing to legislate for because fundamentally it is a thing that people need to do collectively. Government can encourage it though and I am sure that there are many things that can be done by government to improve the situation. Society as a whole needs to decide it wants community and then to go out and do that. All of this is hard so we better get started.
Anyone for tea? coffee?

May 3rd Elections

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

I am mainly going to focus on the council elections in my ward but first a bit more on the top level stuff.
These are mainly local council elections and so while national issues and the politics of Westminster have an effect they are not the primary purpose of these elections, electing inadequate councillors locally in order to send a message nationally is unwise because the skill of the particular individual is more likely to have an effect at the councillor level than at the MP level. There is also a fairly significant divide between national party politics and local party politics and those involved at the two levels may not agree with each other and so should be assessed on their own merits.

In terms of elections where I can’t vote: In Inverness Millburn I would heartily recommend my mum, Anne Thomas, candidate for the Green party. Not just because she is my mum but because I know she really cares, has good policies and has demonstrated her commitment to the local community in various voluntary capacities. In Burley in Wharfedale I would probably vote for Matt Palmer (Conservative and my cousin) if he is standing because though I don’t agree with him on everything he is solid and will do his best to do his constituents proud. In London I would be voting for Ken Livingstone because he was Mayor when I lived in London and did a really good job and while Boris has also done some good things I think Ken would do it better.

However I get to vote in Kings Hedges, and so it is my privilege and duty to do so to the best of my ability.

In terms of the people who have attempted to contact me and persuade me to vote for them there are two candidates Nigel Gawthorpe (Labour) and Neil McGovern (Lib Dem). The latter is currently a councillor and has made at least 6 deliveries of election material (some of it rather repetitive) against Nigel’s two pieces. No other parties of candidates have made any effort so I am inclined to believe both that it is a two horse race between Labour and the Lib Dems. Either the Neil really cares a lot about our vote or he is desperate.

I am a big fan of evidence based policy so lets look at the policies being articulated.

Labour: more dog waste bins, full time dog warden, litter trail from Tesco to C.R.C, Motorist rat run on Ramsden Square and Northfield Avenue [I haven’t noticed a problem on Northfield], fly tipping on Minerva Way, two Lib Dem former councillors have joined Labour, more affordable homes, 20mph citywide, ensure drains cleared, help residents clear snow and ice, start an energy cooperative [nice policy], more public seating.

Lib Dems: saved local library, want new Post Office (claimed closed by Labour), stop Labour’s plan to restrict the number of shared houses in Cambridge [as someone who lives in a shared house that is a fairly major concern for me, Labour haven’t refuted this claim but I haven’t seen them proposing it either], ‘Heatseekers’ to come and help people reduce heat leaking from their homes, money for fixing roads and pavements (apparently Labour did not support increasing this, particularly for pavements [which are quite bad]), Labour taxed Council tenants £1500 to spend in big cities, been councillor for the last four years and hard working. Helpful map and reminder of when and where to vote the day before voting.

Based on all that I am inclined to vote for Neil McGovern (Lib Dem) on the basis that he seems pretty committed and hardworking (at least for elections, I hope that continues throughout the year) and has some good policies though I might send him a letter saying “These were policies that Labour had which I thought were good and were not on your list, please do them too”.

In any case if you can vote tomorrow, do. (07:00-22:00 at a polling station near you, there is no excuse)

Voting no to AV is just stupid

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

So that might seem a little insulting but it is a statement of fact rather than of opinion. A few days I thought that AV was simply better than FPTP and so “yes” was obviously the right answer. Further discussion and consideration of the issue moved me to the position that since there were no valid arguments at all in favour of FPTP over AV based on methodology (it is simply better in all respects) anyone voting no was either being stupid (believing the deliberate lies being spread by the no campaign) or immoral (voting no in the belief that by supporting an inferior more unfair voting system they were helping to rig elections in favour of their preferred party). Further consideration has led me to believe that even the immoral argument is invalid and so no one who has carefully thought out the issues can vote no.

Before I can explain why you will first need to have any questions you have about methodology addressed. Is AV actually always better than FPTP? Well yes and Tim Gowers (Cambridge maths professor) has written a rather good blog post about AV vs FPTP which has been getting a lot of mileage among the Cambridge students. Having read that and perhaps thought a little about it you will hopefully come to the conclusion that the only reasons you have left for voting no are the ones that I would call immoral – you want to rig the vote in favour of your party because it is easier to rig the vote so that they win with a minority than to actually persuade people that their policies are better than those of the other parties.

Actually those arguments are just stupid as well, at least in the long term – current MPs can perhaps vote no on the understanding that they are only being immoral and not stupid but for the voter that expects to be around (or care about) elections in 20 or more years time then the short term thinking which results in a no vote being a valid option for immoral reasons is no longer valid.

At this point some people might be thinking “Your a lefty I don’t believe anything you say”[0] to which I will make some Peterhouse specific comments: Nicholas Wilson, Nick Dixon-Clegg, Matthew Wells are Conservatives through and through, and are voting YES to AV because it is fair. Owen Woods is a Socialist and is voting YES to AV because it is better. I as a green/orange lefty kind of person who respects people on the right enough that there are even a couple of people in the Conservative party I would vote for am voting YES to AV because it is fairer and better and there is no other sensible option on the table. This campaign is not a party political one it is a campaign between those who are right and those who are afraid of change even for the better.

Consider the two cases where someone might be intending to vote no based on immoral reasons: they are either a Labour or a Conservative voter and think that AV might harm the chances of their party getting into power so often. Well if you are a Labour voter then as Tim Gowers so eloquently puts it “A LABOUR SUPPORTER VOTING FOR FPTP IS A TURKEY VOTING FOR CHRISTMAS”. However what of the Conservative voter?

Well first I will assume that whichever party you support you think that they are the best party, they have the best policies the best principles and are generally better than all the other choices. (If not why on earth are your supporting them.) Then since they are the best then surely eventually they should win under a fair voting system as it will be clear that their policies and principles are better when discussed rationally, over time historically it will become clear (or be possible to make clear) that if the policies of your favoured party had been adopted on a whole range of issues at a whole range of different points in time then the outcome would have been unequivocally better. What I am saying here is that under a fair system democracy should eventually produce the right result if you are correct in your assertion that your favoured party is the best one. It might take a long time, it won’t be easy and things are dynamic so who the best party is in your eyes might change as its current leadership retire and are replaced – but if you believe in democracy then hopefully you believe that given enough time and effort on the side of the best party then they win. (Perhaps I am assuming more faith in democracy than you have, hopefully you have enough that the rest of the argument follows anyway)

Currently the Conservatives might do better under FPTP than under AV in a (fairly small) number of constituencies because though the majority of people in that constituency don’t want them to win they are split between Labour and Lib Dems as to who they prefer first over the Conservatives though the majority would sill prefer Labour over the Conservatives and Lib Dems over the Conservatives. This is the general problem of split voting and is one of the places that FPTP fails really hard because it does not collect enough information from voters to be able to pick the candidate with the most support since FPTP is designed for and works perfectly fine in situations where there are only 2 candidates and fails utterly when there are more than 2 (and there are always more than 2 candidates in constituency elections – even in the speaker’s seat).
However when picking a voting system we are picking something for the long term, we have had FPTP for over 100 years and Australia has had AV for over 100 years. It is not something that we change all that often and so any time the question does have a chance to be decided it needs to be treated seriously with application of long term thinking.
Currently there is not much of a split on the right while there is a fairly large spit on the left, but who can say for sure that in 20, 50 or 100 years from now the situation might be the other way around. For example UKIP might gain support from Conservative party voters, the Lib Dems might move further right (they are currently in coalition with the Conservatives after all) and so pull voters away from the Conservative party resulting in a split vote on the right while Labour mops up everyone left of centre. Then we could have a situation where Labour gained power and were immovable from it for decades despite having only minority support while parties on the right fought over who was the true party of the right. A Conservative voter might hope that Conservative voters are too sensible to let that happen and perhaps they are right but no one can guarantee that.

So we get to make a choice on the voting system now, and we probably won’t get a chance like this again for a long time. While in the short term it might favour particular parties a little to remain with FPTP, AV is clearly better and no one can know the future well enough to be sure that voting no now won’t result in the party they hate jumping up and down laughing on them for decades with a minority of the vote.

Vote AV unless you are stupid, but then even stupid people should be able to understand simple logical arguments ;-)

[0]: Words to that effect were said to me yesterday fortunately there were some Conservatives around to do the persuading.

P.S. though perhaps you might have found this insulting I don’t make any apologies for that, however it doesn’t mean I don’t still like you as a person, I just think you are provably wrong or a little immoral.

Enforcing ‘fairness’ through reverse discrimination for Universities

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Recently there has been again a lot of media attention on Simon Hughes’ comments that universities should increase the proportion of their intake from state schools to reflect the proportion of pupils in the secondary school education system going to state and private schools.
While I accept it is really important for universities to make a particular effort to ensure pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who would thrive at university do go to university and go to the university which will stretch them the most. I also hold that each and every person who universities fail in this regard is being really badly let down. I think that it is correct that universities should be considering the quality of the teaching that pupils received when considering admissions as if someone managed to do the same amount with less then they have achieved more even if their grades are identical.

I am however going to say something which is possibly controversial – we are never under any sane system going to end up with representative proportions of people across all sectors of society and all types of school going to university and in particular to the best universities. We shouldn’t even try for that as it fundamentally isn’t going to work. What we should be aiming for is what the proportions would be if universities were doing their job perfectly – which would probably be significantly more representative than is currently the case. However it would not be and should not be completely representative.

Why? [Begin controversy] There are genetic factors which impact on the ability of students to thrive at university. If someone’s parents went to University then probabilistically they are more likely to have those factors. HOWEVER this does not mean that people whose parents didn’t go to university didn’t have those factors as not everyone wants to or should go to university even if they could. Additionally as humans we are not limited by our genes we may have natural tendencies towards certain things but with enough effort most of these things can be overcome. My argument is not that people whose parents didn’t go to university shouldn’t go – simply that you are not going to get a representative split there is going to be some natural bias and if we are making our assessments correctly we shouldn’t be upset about this. Of course universities should, can and are making an additional effort to reach those whose parents didn’t go to university as they are less likely to know that they can and should.[End controversy]

Additionally it is not the place of universities to make up for all the failings of all the previous educational establishments that students have previously been to – they make a great effort to do so and have great successes but if the Government really wants to make progress on making university education more representative of the population as a whole it really needs to look very hard at other areas first.

The differences in achievement between people from disadvantaged backgrounds and people from privileged backgrounds (like for example me) appears really quite early on in a child’s education and so the additional effort needs to be being put in there – in primary and secondary schools. Additionally people from privileged backgrounds are likely to be able to put time into learning the right kind of parenting methods and into implementing them that would increase the probability of their children going to university. This is not to say that other kinds of parenting are worse university is not that important in the grander scheme of things and there are far more important things for parents to focus on imparting to their children.

However parenting is hard (yes I find the idea slightly scary) and if there are things which can be taught which do help then they should be taught to those who want to learn them – people only get one childhood and it is important to get it right.

So in summary yes we should be doing better than we are but there are limits to how well we can do (and these limits are very hard to calculate and as limits can only be tended towards). It is unhelpful to say “lets just do reverse discrimination and hope this causes the private school system to collapse in a heap” that doesn’t solve the problem of differences in the quality of education provided by different schools it just gives middle class people even more angst about choosing schools for their little darlings. It causes sillyness like children going to state schools to increase their chances of getting into a good university but actually being taught by private tutors “off the record” which just make inequality harder to measure without actually solving this.

Again please bear with the fact that this won’t actually communicate what I want it to and is eminently capable of being misunderstood. Sorry. However I hope you can see through that to what I really mean.

(Yes as a Guardian reading lefty who went to two different private schools for my secondary education there is some ‘guilt’ that I have been given a better start in life than most people and so all I have had to do is make the effort to tuck in to the plate placed in front of me rather than having to go and fill the plate first. I do try and make an effort to help those from disadvantaged backgrounds through various different mechanisms – but that doesn’t stop my private sixth form school from asking me back to help their pupils but then they gave me a scholarship so I owe them something as well.)

Who should I vote for?

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Now I am a floating voter and my final decision will be made in the ballot box on Thursday (though I have a fair idea who it will be for). It is my duty and privilege to vote and to vote for both the best candidate(s) for my constituency and the best party for the country.
As someone who likes to think that they have half a brain I want to be making my decision based not on irrelevant details such as who my parents/friends support. I want to be voting based on the merits of the beliefs, skills and policies of the candidates and on the beliefs and policies of the parties they represent.
Now obviously it is necessary to do some tactical voting under our current first-past-the-post voting system (though hopefully we will have something better before the next election) and so that is another thing to take into account.

The Peterhouse Politics Society held a hustings which I attended and which allowed me to assess the MP candidates in person which was quite useful. I found it ruled out Daniel Zeichner (Labour), I wasn’t that impressed with Nick Hillman (Conservatives) either though he did a better job as a candidate than Zeichner: he was constrained by the policies of his party from doing well in my eyes :-).

I have watched the first election debate and the second election debate and I have downloaded the third debate which I will watch later.

This afternoon I have been experimenting with various websites which claim to be able to help you decide who to vote for. I have found the experience interesting (though it didn’t really tell me much I didn’t already know).

A comparison of the various websites I have tried in order of preference
Website Pros Cons
They Work For You’s Election website
Asks how much you agree or disagree with a series of questions and then shows you your candidates answers.
By far the best interface (and data) for determining what the candidates I can vote for think.
Weights all the candidates based on how close they are to what I agree with.
Very transparent on how it is working out which party I agree with.
Produced by MySociety who have produced some pretty cool stuff.
Not quite as good at dealing with national policies – it is focusing on local politics.
It could be extended to also cover councillors and party leaders to give it both national and even more local coverage.
Vote Match
Similar to the above in that it asks you whether you agree/disagree with a series of statements and then tells you how this compares with national party policies
Possibly better at national politics as that is its focus. Lacks transparency on how it is calculating the result.
Doesn’t tell you what each party thinks about each statement as you go along.
Vote for Policies
Gives you a selection of 4 policy areas (to pick the ones you care most about) and then presents you with a set of policy statements from each party showing their policies in that area.
Uses actual party manifesto data to help people determine who to vote for I was initially confused by the interface and filled the first page in wrong and had to go back and correct it.
It would be greatly improved by better granularity on policies within the same sub-area of policy.
It only allows the selection of the one you like the best from the available options and doesn’t allow any credit to be given to the policies which would have come second (or any pain to be served out to parties who have a policy which means that I would never vote for them in a million years (e.g. “we don’t believe in global warming” (RAGE))).
Who should you vote for?
Another how much do you agree/disagree with the following statements quiz.
Has a few other political quizzes which among other things determined that I am an idealistic lefty :-) (but then I knew that) Doesn’t say how much each party agrees with each statement as clearly as theyworkforyou (though this information is available in the onhover text.
Active History
Presents choices between policies from the three top parties.
Uses actual manifesto data Only chooses between the top 3 parties and so isn’t so useful in Cambridge where the Greens have a good chance. It also feels to simple (like voteforpolicies in that it only lets you choose the policy you like the most but doesn’t give any wait to policies you would have put second). People like me who know what policies parties have can guess which is which reasonably easily.

Vote For Policies’ constituency results are also quite interesting as it indicates that the Lib Dems are wrong in their two horse race (between them and Labour) claims for Cambridge. Rather it is a three horse race: Labour, Greens, Lib Dem. Of course this data isn’t that reliable.

The Guardian’s pole of the polls indicates that the Lib Dems have failed to make the breakthrough I might have hoped for.

But in answer to the question it is for me a toss up between the Lib Dems and the Greens who both have a reasonable chance of winning in Cambridge (though the Lib Dems are more likely to win). I think on average I agree with Lib Dem policies more frequently than Green policies (but I consider the environment to be very important) however Tony Juniper is standing for the Greens in Cambridge and he is the most qualified candidate standing. However if I vote Green and they loose then I am fairly sure that the Lib Dems will win instead and that is another result I quite like. I suspect that this is a fairly rare situation for voters to find themselves in. Hopefully we will get STV before the next elections and then everyone will have a better chance of their vote counting.

Election Day

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Today 4th June 2009 is the day of the European (and local council) elections.
This is the first election in which I can vote, and I will most definitely be voting.
If you are reading this and can vote but aren’t intending to I really think you should.

Part of the reason for writing this is to solidify my decision as to who I am going to vote for. Now at all previous elections since 1997 which is the first one I remember I would have voted Labour had I had a vote. At this election I will most definitely not be voting Labour. There are a number of policies on which Labour would have to make U-turns before I would consider voting for them, ID cards and centralised databases of far too much personal data about innocent people are a couple of things which mean that I can’t support them, there are other reasons such as various wars (I marched against the War in Iraq back at the beginning of that whole mess) and their Complete failure to do anything much about the Climate Change.
Now it appears from their election leaflets that the Conservatives are backward looking eurosceptics and as such they won’t be getting my vote either.
Now who does that leave? Well there are a whole pile of loony parties a few I have never heard of and two parties that appear fairly sane and which I have heard of. These would be the Liberal Democrat Party and the Green Party.
Now my father who has voted Labour since forever and been a member of the Labour party just as long is not voting Labour at this election but instead Green. (or at least I think he is). Things have changed.
Now what is the most important issue which we face? The most important issue that we face is Climate Change. Now Blair said that and he was right, but then he was good at talking but bad at actually doing things.
We have until 2015 to cause CO2 emissions to peak. That is a very tall order but when the alternative is the extinction of 90% of life on earth there isn’t really any choice.
Now I think that the Liberal Democrats understand that the environment is important but will my voting for them tell the other parties how important the environment is?
Now the European elections have proportional representation which means every vote counts in a way that first past the post doesn’t. So I think that for the European elections I will be voting Green.
And then I ask myself the question, how much do I care. And the answer is that I care a lot. I care if people live or die. I care about the future. I am going to find out what happens in this grand experiment we are playing with our world. I am going to see millions of people die due to Anthropomorphic Climate Change in my life time. That is something I can’t prevent. The choice is this: how many millions will I watch die. I live in the hope of a better world. I believe among other things that we should leave the world in a better state than we found it.

And so here at my first vote I shall make a choice between life and death. To that choice I have only one answer Life. For the sake of the children I hope to have one day. For the sake of my family and friends and of their children. For my own selfish sake and because one of our fundamental responsibilities is the stewardship of this planet.

I think I shall vote Green twice once in the European and once in the Local Elections.
I shall never give up hope, even through the horrors we will witness in this century we can make a better world. I care enough to cry for, I care enough to live for, I care enough that even this coward will stand up and be counted.

VOTE: For Life, Freedom, and Democracy.