Monday, May 17, 2010


It's a common complaint of employers that firing or laying people off, even when there is a very good reason for it, is far too difficult and bureaucratic a process.
What I never appreciated was that this works in the other direction, too. The High Court has granted the third injunction in six months to prevent BA workers striking. Now it could be the case that Unite are incompetent. That's possible, even though you'd think that if there's one thing a union should make sure it's good at doing, it's calling a strike.

I suspect that this will come as no surprise to anyone politically aware during the Thatcher-era, that the rules for calling a strike are as challenging as any that employers face.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

a diversified party system = a diversified media

I'm not a serious media-watcher, but it's hard to miss large sections of the media blowing their shit, first about the Nazi LibDems and now about the LibDem-Conservative coalition.

We expect this from the ever-angry Mail, suddenly finding some new important things to hate. However in general it upsets the media ecosystem. In the UK we have some newspapers that reliably back a particular party - the Torygraph and the Mirror, for example. This election has already shifted that system, when the Guardian belatedly came out in support of the Liberal Democrats rather than Labour. Then there are the Murdoch papers that throw their impressive weight behind one party.

Coalition government make these simple media positions hard to sustain. Not only that, but I would propose that a more diverse party system, such as the one we may well be edging towards, means a more diversified media. Each significant party means a target market of supporters looking for news and comment. Is a media conglomerate like Murdoch's flexible enough to support a number of different parties? At the very least, this seems to diffuse its influence. It may force a genuinely more diverse editorial line.

On top of that this kind of change would open opportunities for new media. British newspapers are financially and professionally troubled enough as it is.

So, if and when electoral reform approaches, expect a media campaign against it as vicious as any we've seen. Coalition government and a diversified party system is not in the interest of big media corporations.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Whatever happened to our liberal dream?

So, after all the talk of a path-breaking election, a new dawn for the liberal democrats, independents and small parties, what we get is the opposite. Despite a seat gained by the Green Party, independents and small parties have gone from three to two seats. Nationalist parties have remained much the same.
And the result looks like a terrible disappointment for the Liberal Democrats, losing five seats - almost 10% of their total. Their share of the vote went up by a meagre 1%, meaning they were more than usually screwed by the electoral system. But a significant jump in LibDem votes would have made a good jumping off point for reform.

To round off the disappointment, the combined total of Labour and LibDem MPs is 11 short of a majority. Even with Plaid Cymru and SNP votes, a coalition would still be two short.

So the LibDems are left trying to come to an agreement with the Conservatives, and not from a position of strength. A failure to agree a workable coalition would itself be a big setback for LibDem dreams of proportional representation, which almost always requires coalition governments. David Cameron needs to offer enough for the Liberal Democrat Party to vote in favour and to stop the party from sabotaging the coalition at some point in the future, and forcing a new election (not that this would necessarily be bad for the Tories). (Apparently LibDem agreement to a coalition would require 75% of the votes of MPs and 75% of the Federal Executive, or 2/3 of Voting Representatives.)

We'll find out soon enough what Cameron has offered, so there's not much point speculating. While the Conservative Party and the LibDems can certainly find common ground, it's unlikely that the Conservative Party would accept any major electoral reform though. (In the short-run it almost certainly means a solid Labour-LibDem majority.) Of course, the LibDems have been messed around on electoral reform before, after their electoral pacts with Labour. Labour haven't even managed to properly reform the House of Lords.

A House of Lords mainly elected by PR (or some alternative voting system) might be acceptable to the Conservatives, but could be a poison pill for the Liberal Democrats, stalling any further reform. Having both an upper and lower chamber selected in the same fashion is not a very good idea, so to get a reformed Commons would mean making another change to the Lords.

An all-party commission on electoral reform, along with a binding agreement to follow its recommendations, may be the best the Lib Dems can hope for. That commission may be hard-pressed to report before the next election (on the basis that the next election could be quite soon).

Failing that, what concessions could Cameron make to entice the Liberal Democrats without offering any significant electoral reform? That could be interesting to see; the Liberal Democrats getting their way on lots of other issues, but not on electoral reform.