Posts Tagged ‘vote’

You are not just yourself

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

Sometimes people feel powerless, like their individual action does not matter. That is not true, it matters tremendously and it is enormously powerful, I am going to explain one of the reasons why.

When you make a decision it is not just you making that decision, it is also people like you making the same decision for similar reasons. No one exists in isolation or acts alone, every individual is part of many overlapping, interconnected, and interdependent groups, most of which they are not even aware of. When you make a decision you make it based on how you think and what you know (consciously or not). Other people like you will be in similar situations and make the same decision, you make it together.

This means that every action you take does matter because it is not just you, it is people like you doing the same thing. Your individual action might be tiny, but your collective action might be huge. If the only thing stopping you is that you do not think it will make a difference because it is just you, then do it, if you do it then other people will too, if you do not then they will not. You have the responsibility to make the decision and to do the thing, but in doing it, you will not be alone.

There are lots of reasons to vote and this is only one of them, but you should.

There is a dark side to the fact that you are not just yourself, you are a community, and that is that if others control the inputs to your community and target them carefully for every group, then you are not yourself, you are theirs.

Think carefully, think twice, install an ad-blocker and make your decision.


Now that sounds horribly patronising, which it is, and so this academic is going to get off his ivory tower with his simplistic notions and go and do some work.

The pursuit of peace

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

The primary purpose of the EU is peace in Europe (particularly between EU members). War is expensive and so the secondary purpose of economic prosperity is well served by the primary purpose.

The pursuit of peace makes he EU act in strange and seemingly inefficient ways: Parliament gets on a train and travels to a different country. Development teams are split in half with hundreds of miles between them. Research funding is contingent on moving to a different country or collaborations between institutions in multiple countries. All of which seems rather inefficient due to the overheads of travel and communication, at least when considering only the immediate purpose of each activity.

However, considering the pursuit of peace it makes perfect sense and is much more ‘efficient’. By mixing people up and having them experience different countries, barriers are broken down. It is much harder to dehumanise and demonise people you know well and are your friends. The EU tries to tie people from all its nations so tightly together with bonds of love and friendship (and commerce and mutual dependence) that they might never again go to war.

We could learn something from that within our own nation for addressing the deep divisions between our different regions and social groups.

We must also consider how we will actively and systematically pursue peace in Europe and the wider world from outside the EU.

Remaining feelings

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

A substantial factor in my feelings of despair at Brexit is guilt. I could have done more, and, given the result, should have done more. I voted, but more was required.

Anger with those who lied and misled, with those who failed to do enough. That leads however to being angry with myself.

Those who have made this mess have a duty to fix it, but that does not just mean Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. It also means each one of us. While those who behaved badly during the campaign should be held to account, the only people we individually need to hold to account are ourselves. For me at least that is painful.

You might say that no individual insignificant person like me could make a difference. However, in a democracy I am an instance of a group of people. There are other people like me and so we are both individually and collectively responsible for our actions. If I decide individually to act in one way then it is likely that, independently, other people like me will decide to act in the same way.

Hence, even though I voted to remain, I still have to bear some personal culpability for the overall leave vote.


Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

The United Kingdom of England and Wales will not be great in power but it could yet be great in love.

It will not be able to lead as it formerly could when it was a great power, but it could enthusiastically follow when other countries or supranational organisations like the EU lead in good directions.

It will not have the military power to wage war but perhaps it might help maintain peace.


It will be a long road back from fear and division, from racism and xenophobia, to tolerance, peace and love. Let us begin.

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.

Do you support the current occupation of the University Combination Room?

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

The Peterhouse JCR is currently holding a vote on the current occupation of the University Combination Room by students of the University.

In the process of deciding how to vote on that issue I should consider the demands that the occupiers are making and so that follows.

1. That the University completely oppose the increase in fees, fight against it and fight against all cuts to education, and use its influence to oppose the spending review’s threat to education, welfare, health, and other public services.

I think that the issue here is that it is not sufficient to simply oppose increases in fees it is necessary to coherently explain an alternative solution. Now the University does have influence but it is not an overt one – it is a behind the scenes one and so while I expect that the University is working behind the scenes to do what is best for the University and for Universities in general it probably won’t tell us when and how because diplomacy of that sort doesn’t work like that. With the latter points on welfare, health and other public services – the University is not a political entity. Its purpose is education and research not political change. Members of the University should indeed be encouraged to campaign for things which they believe in and to make their voices heard in government but that does not mean that the University itself can express one particular view and support it.

2. That the University use its influence to fight for free education for all.

There are principles here which I agree with but I think this statement too general in that it includes things I would disagree with. For example if students have parents who clearly can and will pay for their children’s university education then they probably should as this means more money available for those who can’t. (I am in the category of people who’s parents could and indeed do pay). Also if this ‘education’ doesn’t involve actually spending >40 hours a week working on said education (during term) then it is rather pointless and should probably not be paid for in full by the government as it it probably counts as an extended holiday. [1]

3. That the University acknowledge and take steps to combat the systemic inequality of access to this elitist institution and the danger of its intensification posed by the scrapping of EMA, a rise in tuition fees and removal of programs such as Aim Higher.

Here I worry as to the definition of elitist being used. Certainly Cambridge only accepts students with the best academic ability and so discriminates on the basis of academic merit and that is what it should do. However I fear that the definition being used here relates to discrimination on the basis of background. Cambridge does not do that. Cambridge is not elitist under that definition. It once was but it is no longer – we have moved on and so I don’t think that Cambridge could now acknowledge that it is an ‘elitist institution’ because that would be a lie. Yes Cambridge is greatly concerned to ensure that no financial hardship prevents or hinders students from studying at Cambridge but anyone at Cambridge knows that it is exemplary in doing so and provides bursaries and financial support better than that available anywhere else. I am confident that the University will maintain these bursaries and other financial support at whatever level is necessary. Hence I think this point is rather pointless in that it asks the University to admit a line and to do what it is already doing.

4. That the University declare it will never privatise.

This is a rather odd point. Yes I can see that there would be large issues which would need to be addressed before the University could privatise (in particular relating to access and funding) but it would be foolish to for the University to state that at no point in the life of the University will it privatise. In the hundreds of years of history which may yet lie in the future of this University circumstances may change such that privatising is the right thing to do. For a large proportion of its past the University was private and outside (at least to an extent) of the influence of government there are many things that the University has gained through being funded by the government but we can’t be sure that all future governments will not try and do something which would be detrimental to the University to the extent that the University was forced to privatise to avoid it.

5. That the University commit to ensure the autonomy of education from corporate interests.

What this means is not well defined. Yes education should not be commercialised – it is of intrinsic value to society quite apart from its standard economic impacts. However not all influence from all companies is necessarily bad just as not all influence from governments is necessarily good. Both can be both good and bad at different times and on different areas and it would be naive to exclude companies from all influence for all time. Yes they should never be allowed to run the University or its courses but they may at times be able to provide things of value and so can’t be ignored completely.

6. That the University recognise UCU (University & College Union). We urge post-graduates, academics and all university staff to unionise.

This seems rather irrelevant to the issue at hand. Yes unions have value and can serve a useful purpose however since the University is (or at least should be) run by the academics in a perfect world there would be no need for them to unionise as they are their own managers. My main concern with this point is that it is offtopic and to an extent partisan – unfortunately not all students like unions and hence making one of the points involve unions is not going to increase support. As far as I know the UCU has been fairly sensible and if I were at some point to be eligible for membership I would probably join. However some unions have done eminently stupid things at various points including the recent past which has unfortunately tarred all unions.

7. That the University ensure that no students who take part in any form of peaceful protest will face disciplinary action.

Here I agree save for that stipulation that I define peaceful to also include not causing damage to property as well as people. Should people commit criminal offences[0] while protesting then they will of course remain liable for the consequences of their actions.

8. That the University urge Gonville and Caius College to open their library, and allow Caius Students full access. (mission accomplished)

Of course I agree with this – I think the Caius rather silly to have closed it in the first place yes the conservative offices were rather badly damaged but Cambridge students are not in that kind a of a rage with Caius or the Caius library and suitable access controls could have been placed on it to prevent anything bad from occurring.

So in conclusion while agree with some of the demands raised and with the right of students to peaceful protest and consider that it is a good thing that they are doing this protest (and would indeed stand in front of tanks that they retain this right) I disagree with a sufficient number of their demands sufficiently strongly that I can’t support this protest. If they were occupying the local Conservative or Lib Dem headquarters then I would come visit, bring cake and ask what their proposals are for an alternative mechanism for funding University properly. (Clearly what we are being given is suboptimal but it is not sufficient to criticise it is also necessary to present an alternative).

[0]: Here I would also specify further that the laws under which these offences are committed are also good laws we have had quite a few rather bad ones in recent years. In the eyes of the law this is of course irrelevant but to my eyes it matters a lot.
[1]: If it doesn’t take three years of working really really hard then it is not a degree and should not be treated as such – instead it should be compressed into a shorter period of time such that that time is spent working really really hard and then it should be called a Diploma and offered by polytechnics – but I digress.