I am a politics geek.  I studied political philosophy and psychology at uni, and did a lot on democracy, elections, voting, and political indoctrination.  I’ve jotted some very rough thoughts on how this election has turned out so far, resulting from the coverage and some of the discussions on Twitter.  140 characters is not enough, so here they are:
  • “Cleggmania” took us all by surprise in the last few weeks of the election.  Nick Clegg was very clever in how he presented himself in a sophisticated, presidential-style campaign.
  • However I think this failed to filter through to a constituency level.  The Lib Dems have fewer campaign funds than the other two parties and in contrast to the leadership campaign, local campaigning was much less sophisticated.
  • Clegg engaged very well with young people and the party as a whole has been quite good at youth engagement.  However young people tend to have a much lower level of participation, not to mention those too young to vote, so this probably did not translate into more votes for the Lib Dems.
  • Lib Dems got 23% of the popular vote but only 6% of the seats in Parliament.
  • The Conservative Party got 36% of the popular vote and 45% of the seats. (on latest figures – not all counting has been completed yet)
  • Digest that for a minute.  That is what we get under first past the post.
  • Nick Clegg has said that the party with the most seats should seek to form a Government.  I think this is the correct view, however distasteful to many.
  • Normally in a hung parliament situation the sitting Prime Minister gets the first shot at forming a government.  However in this situation Labour has clearly lost the election.  Faced with such a huge defeat most Prime Ministers would resign.  That is why in this instance I agree that the Tories should have the first shot at forming a government.
  • A Lib/Lab coalition would not have a majority in Parliament.  It is difficult to imagine the Liberal Democrats and the Tories finding enough points of agreement to form a coalition.
  • Whatever happens, I think we’ll all be voting again in the not-too-distant future.  Firstly in a referendum on electoral reform.  Then in another general election, under a proportional representation system.
  • Proportional representation means that the percentage of overall votes a party receives determines the proportion of seats they receive in Parliament.  There are different voting systems designed to achieve this.
  • The Liberal Democrats favour an alternative voting system.
  • AV, or Single Transferable Voting (STV) as it is also known, requires voters to rank their preferred candidates from first choice to last.  The candidate who comes last has his or her votes reallocated among the remaining candidates, and so on until a winner emerges.
  • This means you are still voting for the candidate you prefer rather than the party.  I don’t really think this addresses all of the problems with the current system.  However in situations such as this election where the left vote is split between two parties it could still result in a very different outcome.  It does not necessarily end up in a truly proportional outcome though.
  • I think a mixed member proportional system such as that in New Zealand and Germany would be preferable.  This system gives each voter two votes: one for the local candidate, and one for the party.  The party vote determines how many seats a party gets in Parliament.  There are some MPs with no constituency known as “list MPs” who top-up the numbers, so for example if a party wins 25% of the electorate seats but 30% of the vote, it will still receive 30% of the seats in Parliament.
  • Therefore you could vote for a candidate from one party and give another party your party vote.  It is useful in situations where you have a very hard-working local MP who you would like to support, even though you don’t necessarily agree with their party.

…whew!  The key question over the next 24 hours is what will the Tories offer?  It is difficult to imagine them agreeing to electoral reform, but Nick Clegg would be an idiot to budge on that one.

Funnily enough I am due to vote in another referendum on electoral reform, on whether New Zealand should go back to first past the post.  The new National (Tory) government got in on a promise to hold a referendum, even though they no longer oppose proportional representation themselves.  The referendum will occur next year, probably at the same time as the next General Election.  If I have a holiday in New Zealand between now and then I will be eligible to vote in both countries.

Rainbow Warrior

I just discovered this video.

I’m absolutely seething, but will try to get some words out. That man, Godfrey Bloom, is a member of the UK Independence Party and a member of the European Parliament. At the end of the video, he congratulates the French for sinking the original Rainbow Warrior.

France began testing nuclear weapons in its Pacific territories in the 1960s, and particularly on the atoll of Mururoa. In 1973, New Zealand took France to the International Court of Justice and won a ruling that France should cease all nuclear testing. France ignored the ruling and in 1974, the tests continued underground. New Zealand took France back to the ICJ in 1995. 147 underground nuclear tests were carried out between 1974 and 1996 when France finally stopped the tests.

In March 1985, NZ’s prime minister David Lange – in a brilliant speech – won the Oxford Union debate with his argument that nuclear weapons were morally indefensible. Lange then went one step further by banning all nuclear-powered ships from New Zealand waters and ports. The United States took this to be a repudiation of New Zealand’s obligations under the ANZUS treaty and ended the alliance.

Four months after the Oxford Union debate, on July 10, 1985, the Greenpeace ship the Rainbow Warrior was moored in Auckland Harbour. Two French secret agents dove under the ship, attached two limpet mines, and then detonated the bombs. A Spanish photographer, Fernando Pereira, was killed in the attack. He had an eight year-old son.

This was an act of state-sponsored terrorism in New Zealand territory and was seen as an act of war by France, a country which was supposedly a friend of New Zealand and which many New Zealand citizens had died fighting for only forty years earlier. In the months and years which followed, France showed just how “friendly” it could be, first denying responsibility for the attack, then trying to pin the blame on MI6, then trying to block imports of New Zealand products into the EEC. Unfortunately for France, they underestimated our police force and the vigilance of ordinary citizens and two of the estimated nine agents involved were caught (thanks in part to a Neighbourhood Watch group), tried, and pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

The US stood by and did nothing – fair enough, perhaps. But the UK did nothing either. New Zealand severed its last constitutional ties with the UK parliament and became fully independent in 1986, the year I started school. Apart from a love-hate relationship with Australia, New Zealand was alone in the world – a tiny little outpost in the Pacific, its traditional allies gone, but all the same not allowing itself to be pushed around.

My childhood was full of anti-nuclear symbols, rainbows, and Greenpeace bumper stickers (and, by the by, Neighbourhood Watch groups). The environment movement was huge. We were all indoctrinated to “be a tidy Kiwi” and were already experiencing first-hand the effects of climate change due to the ozone hole (pre-regulation of CFCs). New Zealand truly came of age in the 1980s and was a world leader in nuclear and environmental issues.

Godfrey Bloom needs to understand that his comment not only condones terrorism and murder, but he has managed to offend a whole country. Which is a bit hard to understand given that his party is calling for closer relations with Commonwealth countries.

Yesterday was New Zealand’s national day. This year I skipped the celebrations – a pub crawl on the Circle Line from Paddington to Westminster ending with a big party in Parliament Square (though in recent years the Circle Line has always been inconveniently closed on the day). It seems appropriate somehow – a bit of an “up yours” to the Empire. I am proud to be British (though there is a lot in our history to be less than proud of). But I am also proud to be from a country that stands up for what it believes in, even to the extent of losing its friends. The events of the 1980s didn’t just shape New Zealand’s national identity, they shaped my identity as an individual.

Age of Stupid

Just a quick post to say The Age of Stupid is going to screen on BBC4 tonight at 10pm. The film stars Pete Postlethwaite, was directed by Franny Armstrong of McLibel fame, and was produced by my friend the incredible Lizzie Gillett.

If you didn’t catch the UK cinema release, this is your chance to see this incredible film. I first saw it at a Kiwi Greens screening over a year ago now, and it blew me away. To be completely honest, I fell asleep in An Inconvenient Truth. Al Gore giving a very dumbed down powerpoint presentation about stuff everyone knew already and I’d studied years before in uni. Yawn. Stupid on the other hand holds your attention from start to finish. Even if you know all the climate stuff already, it’s the people’s stories that hook you in and keep you there. The two Iraqi refugee kids who mend American cast-off shoes to scrape a meagre living; the Shell oil man turned Hurrican Katrina hero; the smug git of an Indian low-cost airline baron… they are all real people, with incredible stories. Stupid does a really good job of presenting the complexity and urgency of the climate situation, but still holds out hope for the future.

Well this was meant to be a quick post but I could go on about the film for hours. Watch it. Then please tell me what you think.

While we’re on the topic of the climate, I’d like to point you in the direction of my young, gorgeous and talented friend Claire Waghorn. She’s recently started a really excellent blog. She writes brilliantly about the green issues that affect her life, and her blog (and especially the comments) is inspiring. Right now she’s in Copenhagen watching events there unfold, and her commentary makes for very good reading. It’s people like her who are going to save the world… along with people like you and me, of course. Keep it coming, Claire!

Eating Fido

I read an article the other day from my other home country, New Zealand. The article was full of outrage at a Tongan man who had attempted to eat his dog Ripper. The dog, a pitbull-terrier cross, had been given to him by a family member. But as the dog had a nasty habit of biting any visitors to the house, he decided to hit Ripper on the head (thus knocking him unconscious), slit Ripper’s throat, and then put him in an umu (a fire pit) to cook.

He had just done this when the SPCA turned up and stopped him. According to the SPCA, it’s totally unacceptable to eat dog in New Zealand, although it may be normal practice in the islands. They think the law should be changed so it is illegal for people to cook and eat dogs.

HANG ON, thought I. What authority did the SPCA have to stop this man? By the SPCA’s admission the dog was killed humanely. It wasn’t against the law. So what right did they have to march onto this man’s property and ruin his barbecue?

The whole tone of the article disturbed me. It came across as hypocritical and, frankly, racist. The suggestion was that we should be educating these island savages not to eat their pets, because that’s just not done in New Zealand.

Which of course is crazy, because white people in New Zealand have been eating their pets since they settled there. In Spring, plenty of children hand-rear pet lambs (often known by names such as “Mint Sauce” and “Gravy”) that later end up on the Christmas dinner table. No one has a problem with that. Why this special status for dogs?

Although I don’t eat any meat I don’t really see the difference between eating dog and eating any other animal, provided the animal is not endangered of course. In fact, dogs are probably one of the most sustainable animals I can think of. Once the Christmas lambs are gone, you could go down to the SPCA and select one of the hundreds of puppies that are abandoned after the festive season. These puppies often end up being euthanized if there is no one to claim them. What a waste! Why not take them home, fatten them up, and pop them on the barbie? According to our Tongan friends they are very good eating!

In fact, I would be happier to eat a dog that had had a pleasant life with a family that had played with it, fed it well, and given it a good life, than for example a pig that had been stuffed into a crate too small for it to even turn around. Bacon is pretty much the national food of New Zealand. You can’t order a salad, soup or sandwich without it being full of the stuff. So the national demand for cheap pig meat has led to these poor animals (which are more intelligent and sensitive than dogs) being kept in horrific conditions. Ok, some people have a problem with this, but is bacon off the menu? If it’s not bacon then it’s chickens packed in tiny cages, debeaked and featherless. It seems the message is that animals raised in suffering are ok to eat, but happy animals raised with love are a no-go.

I wonder if the real reason the country has reacted so violently to this issue is that the entire economy of New Zealand is built upon the raising and slaughter of animals. I suspect no one wants to think about that too hard, or examine their own personal guilt. So draw an arbitrary line, animals on one side of the line are perfectly ok to kill and eat, animals on the other side are not ok and if you eat them you are an uncultured savage. How does that make sense?

Today the media seems to have realised that perhaps it was a tiny bit hypocritical and one-sided in that last article, and have finally presented the other side of the story:

Cultural experts in New Zealand have spoken out against a proposed ban on the eating of dog meat, saying to do so would be culturally insensitive and deprive people of a viable food source in tough economic times.

Euroasia director Kenneth Leong, whose company specialises in cultural consultancy, said the uproar was “a demonstration of cultural insensitivity bordering on ignorance and hypocrisy”.

So, what do you think? Would you eat dog (or have you eaten dog)? Would you stop someone else from eating it?

Carbon Action #2

Lightbulbs! About eight months ago I replaced the incandescent lightbulb in our hallway with another incandescent bulb I found in the hall cupboard. The other day it burnt out. Digging around in the hall cupboard again I actually found an energy-saving bulb to replace it with (and got Jason to do it actually, as he can actually reach the thing!)

Anyway, my point is of course, when your incandescent bulbs blow out, replace them with energy-saving bulbs! Use up the ones you still have though as there’s no point creating extra landfill before you need to. Also, should your energy-saving bulbs ever blow out, make sure you dispose of them safely.

I watched an interesting program the other night on the BBC, called Earth: Climate Wars, which examined both sides of the climate change debate.  It went into all of the arguments by sceptics that climate change is either a) not happening at all or b) not caused by human activity.  I was really surprised by the strength of my reaction to this – I really, really wanted the sceptics to be right.  I wanted to be convinced by the arguments, so I would stop having to worry about flying, or buying too much stuff, or buying energy saving light bulbs.  Unfortunately, attractive as the arguments were, they were soundly demolished.  The next episode focuses on what we can actually do about it, and I will be watching with interest.

Carbon action #1

To start off with, I thought we would calculate our carbon footprints and see where our starting point is.

I’ve shopped around a bit and there are many different calculators on the internet. Some measure more than others.

BP has a carbon footprint calculator here.  It only measures household energy use and travel.  Mine came out at 3 tonnes.  My actual footprint must be much higher however as it did not take into account food and consumer items.  My household energy use is fairly low as we use gas for heating and cooking, which actually burns far less carbon than electricity, I don’t have things like TVs or stereos, and our flat is so warm we barely use the heating anyway.  Travel was the real kicker.  I came out at almost zero for ground travel as I don’t own a vehicle and never take taxis so it’s public transport or walking everywhere.  However, I fly a LOT.  I’ll look at what I can do about that in another post.

So, what’s yours?

Tyne Cot




In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918 )
Canadian Army

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


Earth Hour

Well, someone left the heating on last night and I woke up all groggy and dehydrated, a full two hours early. So as I’m drinking my water here I thought “well, what a gift of time! I will use some of that time to update my blog!” (that is perhaps not what I actually thought. But I am trying to practice the positive thinking, peoples!)

Anyway, I remembered Earth Hour is this weekend. Who’s going to be sitting in a darkened room?

What with the excessive use of fossil fuels that’s happening in my flat I feel like we should turn the lights out for a week… but I have a confession to make. I will be sitting in a darkened room… at the theatre. Oh well. I did Lights Out London last year though!

I heard an argument not long ago that Earth Hour and little everyday things like turning lights out when you leave a room, fixing dripping hot taps (I wish my landlord read this), turning appliances off at the wall etc make people feel good about themselves without actually making any real differences to the root causes of climate change, and that people should instead be focusing on the Big Picture. Whatever, I say. Anything that raises consciousness has got to be a good thing, right?

With that, it’s time to turn my lights out once more and get another hour and a half’s sleep!

Death of a hero

As I write Sir Edmund Hillary is being laid to rest.

He had a long, fulfilling, sometimes incredibly tragic, amazing life. His passing symbolises the end of an era that in truth ended long ago. His legacy seems to already be forgotten among calls for a “Hillary Day” (shame on you Greens, what happened to a public holiday for Matariki? That campaign was gaining popularity but have you abandoned it in favour of capitalising on the death of a legend?) and anger at the lack of any Royal presence at the funeral*, which seems to be largely stirred up by the media.

Even so, it is a telling sign – Hillary and Tensing’s conquest of Everest was announced on the morning of the Queen’s coronation, and was hailed as much a victory for the Empire as for New Zealand. It was after all an English-led expedition.

Nevertheless the ascent of Everest stirred a national pride in New Zealand as distinct from the Empire, as New Zealand as a state entered its teenage years. Now one wonders whether a new era of national sentiment is dawning. Hillary’s life left so many legacies, and I predict his death will leave one more. Prince Charles, I think, will never be King of New Zealand.**

RIP, Sir Ed. Let’s hope we have only temporarily forgotten what you truly stood for.

* Who would they send? Charlie? Can you imagine the carbon brigade on that one? William? His first solo flight has made for more headlines than Hillary did, and some good PR to boot. My personal pick would be Zara, but it’s an Olympic year.

** Bang goes my invitation to the Garden Party.