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Are we seeing our political future?

Nick Robinson | 10:30 UK time, Tuesday, 29 March 2011

There they sat. Altogether. Side by side. Supporters of the government and its bitter opponents. Political enemies united by a common goal which excites few - the campaign to change Britain's voting system - but which has the potential to change much.

Ed Charles Kennedy, watched by Caroline Lucas and Ed Miliband at the event

This morning Labour's leader took to the stage with the man some dream of as the Liberal Democrats next leader, the party's President Tim Farron. Alongside them the former leader, whose distaste for his party's coalition with the Conservatives is well known - Charles Kennedy.

Absent was the current leader, Nick Clegg, who couldn't be there for personal reasons - he's in Mexico, which is handy since Ed Miliband didn't want to be seen anywhere near him.

There too today a woman who could tell them all about the power of referendum campaigns to re-shape politics - Shirley Williams. The last UK-wide referendum - held in 1975 on membership of what was then called the Common Market - was the first step toward the splitting of the Labour Party, the creation of the SDP and, eventually, the emergence of the Liberal Democrats.

Now, unlike then, the referendum does not split Williams or, indeed, her Lib Dem colleagues from their leader or the rest of their party - who are united in wanting a Yes vote for the Alternative Vote (AV). Changing the voting system does not, unlike Europe, excite passions. However, it is Farron and Kennedy and Williams - and not Clegg - who today have the chance to chat behind the scenes to Ed Miliband, to swap mobile numbers or to "liaise" about future campaigning opportunities. It is they who will be pondering whether, and how, they could work together one day in government - if, of course, that was what the British electorate made possible.

Miliband will have made that all a little easier by re-stating his belief that there is a progressive majority in Britain which has allowed the Conservative to dominate government by failing to unite.

If all this feels a little far fetched or overstated it's worth recalling what David Cameron said in a documentary about the creation of the Coalition. He revealed that he had first got to know Nick Clegg when they were left together for 45 minutes at the formal opening of the Supreme Court seven months earlier. They didn't discuss a deal or start negotiations but did something much more important - they found out that they got on.

If Ed Miliband is ever to lead his country, and Tim Farron his party, they will have been wise to linger behind the scenes a little today.

Update 1218: If you're one of the many who don't know what the alternative vote is or how it works my report for last night's 10 o'clock news was made for you. It was filmed at a racecourse to highlight the differences with the current first Past the Post system.

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  • Comment number 1.


    Shirley Williams. Yes Ed, fill your boots. Take on any of her ideas and you're guaranteed electoral oblivion in perpetuity.

    I wonder who'se shoulders Ed is going to be standing on today?

  • Comment number 2.

    Of course they (Cleggmeron) got on. Is there anyone who doubts that Clegg is a Tory in political drag. What Miliband could discuss is how like minded people in the fractured Lib Dems could defect to the Labour party under Ed and Ed with the imminent prospect of a rout of their party at the polls in May. The monotone of the returning officer will concentrate their minds wonderfully.

  • Comment number 3.

    I am not averse to coalition style government if it encourages a more consensual approach, there are undoubtedly some areas of policy where the LibDems have exerted a benign influence.

    However I don't sense that all parties are willing to forgo the antagonistic nature of the present system and the right wing press have been particularly vitriolic about the current arrangement, making every effort to destabilise it with their targeting of the hapless Vince Cable.

    A smoother type of government without the ideological swings we have seen over the past few decades and where issues have to be properly debated and presented to parliament to get them passed can only be an improvement.

    My only proviso would be that the party with the largest vote should always have the first opportunity to form a government, so that the politics of a small minority does not determine the outcome of an election, that would be undemocratic and undermine the whole process.

  • Comment number 4.

    "What Miliband could discuss is how like minded people in the fractured Lib Dems could defect to the Labour party under Ed and Ed."

    Yeah... They could join an equally fractured Labour party being steered in the direction of nowhere by two of Gordon's premier trustafarian bag carriers with a blank sheet of paper for a roadmap.

    They're welcome to each other!

  • Comment number 5.

    Yes indeed, Ed Miliband and Tom Farron - a dream ticket if ever there was one. This is the sort of Coalition, as opposed to the current sad affair, that people of taste and distinction could really get behind.

    Who is Tom Farron?

  • Comment number 6.

    Hasn't been a good few months for Nick Clegg, has to be said. Has he gone into excile? Can't think of any other reason he would want to go to Mexico this time of year, especially with the AV issue being so close.

  • Comment number 7.

    Just in case you needed reminding of the vacuum of talent at the 'top' of British politics today, we give you: Ed Miliband, Shirley Williams and Charles Kennedy.

    None of them could manage their way out of a paper bag.

    One of them confessed it was wrong to introduce comprehensive schools.

    One of them confessed to ahving fromn row seats at the Blair/Brown car crash.

    One of them resgined from frontline politics and the leadership of his party to dela with 'personal issues'.

    What a bunch of washed up has beens.

    And Miliband has the front to declare he doesn't want to share a stage with Nick Clegg; he should be so lucky.

    We live in a world populated by political pygmies.

    If Ed Miliband thinks he can win back the electorate with (in his opinion) a few well chosen phrases, then good luck. People have long memories when it comes to who sunk the British economy and last time they remembered for eighteen years what a shambles the labour party had made of it.

    Clearing up labour's mess...

  • Comment number 8.

    I wonder if it was the 45 minute meeting between Clegg and Dave that confirmed the 'Old Etonian Clown's' view that Nick was the 'biggest joke in British politics'.

  • Comment number 9.

    fubar @ 4

    I see you've now taken to describing any Labour politician who doesn't race whippets as a 'trustafarian'.

  • Comment number 10.

    What we should really be discussing on here is the fact that the latest political direction is from none other than Paddy Ashdown who is keen to take the liberals in the direction of the alternative to the tory party, leaving labour as a union sponsored irrelevance on the sidelines. Now, that's a story.

  • Comment number 11.

    Mr N @ 6

    Yes, Clegg in Mexico. That has a 'break for the border before they catch me and bring me to justice' feel to it, doesn't it? Not entirely inappropriate.

  • Comment number 12.

    Is that fair, Robin? - @ 7 - calling Ed Miliband, the newly elected Labour leader, and a man who moved millions in the park on Saturday, a 'washed-up has been'?


    So, if it isn't fair, what exactly is it? Is it maybe just your staggeringly cock-eyed prejudice on show again?

    Yes. Yes, it is.

  • Comment number 13.


    If the cap fits, Saga... and it suits you beautifully. Very dandy

  • Comment number 14.

    #5 sagamix.

    No idea who Tom Farron is. Tim Farron is Lib Dem MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale (aka south Lake District - very pretty). He's someone who Miliband should most definitely be speaking with as he is an MP with genuine integrity who works hard for his local area. You may not have heard of him because he has wisely kept quiet as his leader snuggles up with Cameron.

  • Comment number 15.

    The picture says it all!

  • Comment number 16.

    Living in Denmark this all comes off as a strange thing to discuss. The alternative voting system proposed here will not fix the fundamental democratic flaws in the 'First past the post' system which the proportional vote system has already done here.

    I realize that the main argument of the FPTP system is stability, but if stability is needed to the point where the democratic process is no longer viable, why not simply institute a totalitarian dictatorship? That'd provide Britain with a much more stable footing.

    I do not hope that the AV system comes through, because it seems at best like a patchwork solution, leaving the hole in the democratic process in place while giving the appearance that it has been fixed instead.

    I do hope Britain opts for the proportional system instead at some point. I do not find myself in tune with the British, but they deserve to have their voice heard all the same.

  • Comment number 17.


    "Moved millions"????

    Sorry, my monitor is now covered in coffee. Ed couldnt even move his own bowels.

  • Comment number 18.

    Will the BBC please stop saying that AV guarantees MPs have the support of at least 50% of their constituents? It absolutely does not guarantee that at all. At best you can say it means those directly *opposed* by 50% cannot win - but this is not the same thing at all.

    Your piece on the ten o clock news last night was a very shallow puff piece for AV - a system no decent democracy uses or would use.

  • Comment number 19.

    clegg reminds me more of les dennis.who.s last name is heseltine.
    while in panto as a double act cameron could play moercambe and unwise in up the
    creek without a paddle,alternatively, were all in this together er. ed

  • Comment number 20.

    12 Saga

    Millions? Perhaps you're following the lead of Ed who I understand has lost the scale of what's going on by likening the marches to the great freedom fighters of history (

    The difference for me is that I'm undecided on whether Ed is just playing games or whether he really believes this, whilst I know that you are just a windup merchant playing to the masses for fun.

  • Comment number 21.

    I'm disapointed that the AV debates that have toured the country over the past few months are ending this week.

    Only now, through the reporting of people like Nick, are people getting introduced to the idea that there is a referendum.

    Both sides should agree that these debates need to continue and not only be open to people within the political sphere (on the inside) who knew about them.

  • Comment number 22.

    It's interesting to watch clegg's fall from grace.

    Just before the election when clegg was the golden boy - popularity and trust ratings well ahead of the other party leaders.

    Now he is at the bottom of the ratings. He is so unpopular that he has to visit parts of his own country in secret. He is so unpopular, other people don't want to be seen with him. His party is so unpopular that if we had an election today they might well disapear as a parliamentary party.

    The liberals need to look carefully at this and understand the effects of allying themselves with the tories - conspiracy with the party of evil may have gained temporary power, but the cost is likely to be high unless they change track soon.

    Ditch clegg, distance themselves from the tories - may be people will have forgotten clegg by the time of election.

  • Comment number 23.

    I (AnotherEngineer) am not averse to coalition style government if it is an honest coalition put together before the election so that someone has actually voted for it. Usually coalitions are knocked together after the election and we get a government (like now) which noone voted for! Also in this system the party which got the least votes gets the most power. The LibDems chose who would be the government although they got the fewest votes. The AV system may well make it worse; why are only the votes of the people who voted for the loony parties redistributed. Surely all the second, third etc. votes should be taken into account.
    I prefer the French system where they have a run-off the next Sunday between the top candidates. And another thing, why do we vote on Thursday with attendant disruption? Rant over.

  • Comment number 24.

    AV will be a disaster for strong government in the UK. We need merely look to the Scottish example to see what happens when the first past the post system is withdrawn.

    Look at the budget of the Scottish governement in 2009 and see that the SNP almost came close to getting no agreement and then see all the back room deals that were done and saw so many policies watered down. Do we really want that here?

    I can't stand Cameron and his side kick Clegg and what either of them stand for, and the weak way in which Clegg has back tracked on policy has merely highlighted the desire he has for power. I don't buy into this tosh that he's doing it for the good of the country, and here we have a perfect example of a man and a party only too willing to get into bed with policies that they fundamantally opposed 12 months ago. That is what AV would bring, perhaps not at every election but certainly more often. I can't stand either party, but I'd rather have a strong Tory governement that a wet, weak two party alliance of say anything do anything nobodies.

  • Comment number 25.

    John Reid says that AV is a "threat to the very basis on which we have always held our democratic system" and that it "completely undermines and corrupts" the principle of "one person one vote", claiming it would allow voters who support "minority parties" such as the BNP to have more of a say in election results than the supporters of mainstream parties.

    Asked if he would join Conservative leader David Cameron on a No to AV platform, he added: "This issue is much bigger than any political party... I will share a platform with anyone who stands for safeguarding the right of the people of this country to have equal votes."

    Am I hopelessly biased, or is it really the case that the No2AV arguments are astonishingly weak? John Reid's comments are just plain false.

  • Comment number 26.

    AV is a tory sop to the wibberals
    AV is just plain stupid and to complex for a large number of the population
    Give us PR, that's what we really want.
    One person/one vote, only this time my one red vote in a blue sea would count towards the national result rather than being wasted.

  • Comment number 27.

    AV is a rotten system and much less fair than FPTP.

    Depending on the re-drawing of constituency boundaries, about 25% of voters will see a candidate they don't want elected without ever seeing their second preferences counted.

    Others will see their third, fourth and fifth preferences affecting the result; these voters will become as disproportionately significant as the swing voters in marginals under FPTP.

    I am sure you enjoyed your day at Plumpton, Mr Robinson, but as a piece of prime time political analysis it was a woeful example of the dumbing down of the BBC.
    Please remember that not all of the audience for BBC news are just waiting for their videotape of 'Teletubbies' to rewind to the beginning....

  • Comment number 28.

    "Ed Miliband...a man who moved millions in the park on Saturday"

    Yes, for those that missed his speech, here's a summary:

    "Let me make it clear, Labour are totally opposed to any cuts at all except for all the cuts we'd have to make."

  • Comment number 29.

    Reading the posts so far and it seems that the centre right commentators here are a little worried about the AV vote. It's understandable, I guess, because there is no centre right majority in the UK. Ed was right to say that the split of the progressives allows right wing governments. With AV and the potential for large numbers of a party of the centre MPs then a centre left coalition is a much more likely prospect. No wonder they are worried.

    Having said that the reduction of the number of MPs to 600 just by chance a figure that favours a centre right party, purely by accident you understand, the Tory's and the orange bookers have addressed the rights worries a bit.

    I also think that people here are wrong if they think that the electorate will remember what Labour did to the economy at the next election. People will vote on how they feel at the time. Given that the trade figures today are the worst since records began in the 50's; following on from a Feb deficit figure that was higher than expected; inflation higher than expected; growth figures downgraded by the OBR (based on the effect of GOs budget measures); unemployment forecast to be a lot higher; the budget for growth as part of the economic strategy that relies on an export led recovery is looking a tad difficult to achieve. If the GO economic expriment fails or only partly works then they will be history with either first past the post or AV.

    I'm still undecided on a yes or no vote and will look at the arguements and then decide. I'm not swayed too much by which politician is supporting it -although Cameron's spinning and half truths on every topic is starting to get a bit tedious so a vote to annoy him is attractive but then again there is Nick Clegg...... :-)

  • Comment number 30.

    How WAS the march, Saga, or were you put off as it was a little chilly. I hear that almost as many people marched as watched the boat-race. Shows just how strongly the people feel about things.

  • Comment number 31.

    'red' @ 14

    Right, thanks, is he (Tim F) your MP then? I also have one who has integrity (and an oscar!) but can integrity survive real personal political power? Yes, I think perhaps it can - Andy Burnham? - although surely easier to retain when not tested by office.

  • Comment number 32.

    AV is yet another example of a LibDem compromise to keep the Tories happy; this isn’t PR; not even close.
    People aren’t going to vote on a botched up, middle of the road voting system when they really wanted PR.
    The LibDem’s have sold out so many times now; I don’t think they will get the Public support that they need for this one.

    Are we seeing our political future?
    Oh I wish.

  • Comment number 33.

    'sighs' @ 20

    Okay, maybe not quite 'millions'. Not literally. But a rocking big crowd and Ed was there to address them, this is my point. 'Washed up has-beens' (Robin's bizarre phrase) don't tend to star at monster gigs like that. It was noticeable, for example, that David Cameron didn't speak at the rally and neither - which did surprise me, since it was a chance to bask in the limelight - did George Osborne.

  • Comment number 34.

    wonder what the left will then do when they do not get the mandate that they want even with AV.

    Because people might just start to really think about where the precious vote goes and they might not want it to go to the labour donkey that has been put up.

    Maybe you might find more BNP MP's as well

    is it right that a person can vote more than once when other only get one vote ?

    I'm with Churchil on the AV system.

    Maybe we do need reform but not sure AV is the promised land

    On the left be carful for what you wish for it might not be what you thought.

  • Comment number 35.

    16. Istvan

    Well said.

    You have hit the nail on the head there Istvan; this is a political compromise & nothing else.

    The Politician’s aren’t interested in better democracy, only furthering their own causes.

    The LibDem’s might have been unable to support the Student fees issue because of economics, but this is a botched up sell out by a bunch of political chickens.

    Keep FPTP if you haven’t got the guts to push for PR; don't tell us what we want, just ask.

  • Comment number 36.

    #12 250,000 on a march so what 59,750,000 did not bother to join in maybe they want the cuts, I do.

    CUT deep and then CUT Deeper too intill the pip squickers in the union coffers.

  • Comment number 37.

    I don't see how this referendum can be deemed to be fair. The turnout will be different all over the UK, as on the day it is held, the Scottish etc will be turning out to decide who actually runs their Country. Therefore, the vote is inevitably going to be higher in the devolved Governments who will almost certainly vote for AV. The rest of the UK has not really had the implications of changing the UK voting system explained to them, nor are they very interested at this time of cuts. Under these circumstances it could be that AV would come in without the real consent of a great deal of the public.

    Just looking at the line up who are in favour of changing out voting system is enough for me. Has beens, opportunists and Caroline Lucas for goodness sake. Clegg has been sent away because he would be the kiss of death to this voting reform campaign. Besides who cares about changing our voting system at this time when there is so much more important issues that should engage the electorate.

    Robin 10

    No Robin what we should be discussing is whether the Coalition are about to make another U turn on health reforms.

  • Comment number 38.

    A no vote to AV will be a tactical vote to bring the coalition down and then a GE
    in october with a proper campaing on Europe,Voting,Tax and Spend etc not like the same of last time

  • Comment number 39.

    But it doesn't fit, does it Fubar (13)? Neither the cap nor the 'trustafarian' description. Trustafarian means a person born to significant financial privilege who, because of this, feels no great pressure to work for a living. It's a derogatory term and, as such, ought to be used precisely rather than be thrown around willy nilly. It loses its power (as an insult) if employed gratuitously - e.g. to describe anyone of left wing political views who's blessed with an indoor toilet.

  • Comment number 40.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 41.


    No.... the organisers were too busy sucking up to UKUncut and the rest of the middle-class self loathing hooligan element to invite anyone who actually had any idea as to what policies to carry out.

    Interesting that whilst the theme of the gig was meant to be that there was meant to be an alternative to the so called "too hard too fast" 3% reduction of spending over the lifetime of a parliament, that Ed didnt actually tell anyone what the alternative actually was....

    Maybe because he didnt have a clue what the alternative is, if there is one and he was too busy comparing himself to the suffragettes, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela (and anyone who may have actually lost their lives for their cause, unlike Ed or any of the TUC) while more people watched the boat race than went on the rally.... and the champagnies like Saga were, to use the words of one of their own "too busy munching hummus and listening to a few speeches".

    What a surreal day.

  • Comment number 42.

    Oh and also to put Saturday into perspective, its less than half the number of people who voted for the BNP at the last election.

    Really been moving millions has Red Ed. The only millions that he and his brother moved were the ones that should have gone to the Exchequer in Inheritance Tax when his Marxist old man shuffled off the mortal coil from genteel North London into their own pockets.

  • Comment number 43.

    5 sagamix
    Yes indeed, Ed Miliband and Tom Farron - a dream ticket if ever there was one. This is the sort of Coalition, as opposed to the current sad affair, that people of taste and distinction could really get behind.

    Who is Tom Farron?

    I've got to agree with you here - I've never heard of him myself.

    I also think it's amusing to see a photo of Charles Kennedy under a title of "Are we seing the political future ?"


    PS from the previous blog, it closed before I had a chance to respond to your postings.

    253. "Like how I became a 'guitarist' soon as I got the chords off pat for House Of The Rising Sun."

    279 "Can't do vibrant progressive analysis - that's 'VPA' to you - without a plethora of facts."
    459 "Don't know if you ever saw 'Spinal Tap'? ....... the lead guitarist ... he's got this new amp and he's massively excited because the volume dial goes to 11 rather than the normal 10. 'Look, it's louder than other amps, it goes up to 11,' he tells the interviewer, proudly.

    Interviewer tries patiently to explain how it's probably not actually louder, just a different unit of measurement, that 11 on this amp is probably the same as 10 on another.

    'But this one goes up to 11,' he says. 'Look.'

    I sometimes feel just like that interviewer when I'm doing my work on here, exploding Reactionary Myths - and particularly the 'Labour's mess' one."


    From the previous blog - no I hadn't seen "Spinal Tap" but I enjoyed reading your anecdote . I have to say though, that anyone reading your posts would probably arrive at the conclusion that you were much more akin to the guitarist in the story, and not the interviewer as you stated. This is much more in line with your previous comment in post 253. The guitarist sounds like a real progressive and an avid advocate of VPA with both "Very Powerful Amplifier" and "Vibrant Progressive Analysis".

    This is further supported by your strumming the "House of the Rising Sun" mentioned in post 253. I've written a verse for you for this song - called the" House of the Black Swan" - it suits your way of thinking and you can simply repeat the same verse over and over again, and one verse is all you need. It's pretty much what you do on here anyway. So turn you amp volume dial up to 11, and strum away ....

    House of the Black Swan (To the tune of "House of the Rising Sun")
    There is a financial crisis,
    And it's a global one,
    It's not the fault of Gordon Brown,
    It was caused by a Black Swan.

  • Comment number 44.

    Am I correct in saying that AV or something similar is what Labour used in its leadership election? And we got Ed Milliband, the whiney little brother. Not a great example of AV in action.

  • Comment number 45.

    Fiasco of the day .....

    Tories trash the armed forces then days later start a war.

    Tories told us it was a good idea to cut pilot training numbers by 25% and make trainee pilots redundant.

    It transpires Tornado fighters operating over Libya have enough pilots to fly them until a routine rotation of pilots is required in a few months time. At that point the units due to replace them do not have enough qualified pilots to make up a full compliment (18).

    Yes, thats right, we have multi-billion pound aircraft with no pilots to fly them but snooty still starts a war that needs those aircraft.

    Anyone would think we had a bunch of public schoolboys with no experience of the real world, let alone running a nation, ruling over us ... oops, we have.

  • Comment number 46.

    Would it not be better to spend all this time and money engaging with the people who do not vote currently persuading them why their vote counts? Until you have more people who use their vote than those who don't we cannot say we have a real democracy.

    Or lets spend the money revising out local electoral system - that's who really impacts on our day today lives not Westminster. Why can't we vote for council chief executives? Or at least on their pay? The specifics of the cuts are down to councillors not MPs but who holds them to account?

  • Comment number 47.


    You seem to spend an awful lot of time on these posts convincing yourself, but no-one else, that you are right.

    A bit like Ed Miliband...

    It's grim up north London...

  • Comment number 48.

    14. At 12:07pm on 29th Mar 2011, RedandYellowandGreennotBlue wrote:
    #5 sagamix.

    No idea who Tom Farron is. Tim Farron is Lib Dem MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale (aka south Lake District - very pretty). He's someone who Miliband should most definitely be speaking with as he is an MP with genuine integrity who works hard for his local area. You may not have heard of him because he has wisely kept quiet as his leader snuggles up with Cameron.

    Integrity and hard work didn't help Geraldine Smith next door in Morecambe and Lunesdale, where I dwell. And she didn't always keep quiet, so she didn't get much help from GB either. We now have a Tory enthroned and it's all terribly sad. There were only 800 votes in it out of over 43000.

    AV isn't perfect, obviously, but I prefer AV to real PR, because I believe that PR removes at least one layer of local representation, and the further out in the sticks the more important that is.

    I voted Labour because I felt that Geraldine Smith wasn't afraid to go against her party (and the local Labour, later Independent council) in order to better represent her constituents.

  • Comment number 49.

    "Labour are totally opposed to any cuts at all except for all the cuts we'd have to make." - andy @ 28

    This, if you think about it, is a perfectly logical position - support only those cuts which Labour themselves would have made if they were still in office. And which cuts are these? Well we don't know (do we?) and neither do we have a right to know. We could have found out - by re-electing them - but in our wisdom we decided not to. This was our choice, not Labour's.

    Re the March: yes it was very enjoyable, thanks for asking. (More stimulating than the Boat Race, I'd imagine. That was a bit of a non-event, apparently - one toff boat was a million miles quicker than the other toff boat, is what I heard). Anyway, regardless of respective numbers, far greater political awareness amongst the March crowd than the boat crowd, I think it's fair to say. That's what struck me the most, actually. How thoughtful the participants were, and what a broad cross-section of the population (many of them ordinary people) turned out to voice their opposition to what's going on in government right now. If unemployment keeps rising, Cameron will need to change course if he knows what's good for him.

  • Comment number 50.


    Add to the ridiculous spectacle of Miliband's efforts, the Guardian's extraordinary acceptance before Satruday that 'there will be violence' (P. Toynbee) we then have the suggestion by Brendan Barber that 'middle England' had spoken.

    If Brendan Barber calls bus loads of Liverpuddlian public sector workers 'Middle England' the labour party needs to rethink its political strategy as well as finding an economic policy (for which the cupboard remains bare).

    Never has there been such a tribal event stage managed in the history of British politics.

    Let's not even go into your 'millions' - a number supported by absolutely no-one.

    Clearing up labour's mess...

  • Comment number 51.

    FPTP, AV, PR, STV, wibble, wardrobe …

    This discussion (or regurgitated grandstanding by proxy) is death by a thousand (coalition) cuts …

    Clegg - invisible, risible and miserable - should be careful; things happen to politicos in Mexico (so perhaps, as the too – sensible Susan hyphen Croft says, he’s been sent there …) …

  • Comment number 52.

    The AV referendum makes for strange bedfellows. Did I ever think it likely I would wake up one fine morning to find John Reid and Susan sharing mine?
    Nick. Your racecourse piece was far from clear. No mention that only voting for one candidate is still allowable - you don't have to rank everyone on the list. (What would happen if everyone did this?)
    Seems like one of those 'would you prefer to be shot or guillotined' type questions. They are both FPTP systems. If we are going to vote on this it would be reasonable to have all the options available. If you really want to find out what people would like that is.

  • Comment number 53.

    37 Susan

    Sorry, if you arrived late on Saturday because of traffic and you missed us. We couldn't stay until the very end because I promised Mrs N. that we would pop into F&M for afternoon tea before making our way home. Anyway, I'm sure there'll be a next time. bfn.

    btw - "Just looking at the line up who are in favour of changing out voting system is enough for me. Has beens, opportunists and Caroline Lucas for goodness sake."

    Not just 'Has beens and opportunists' are in favour of changing our voting system. I read somewhere, that Nigel Farage is also in favour. Good enough for me and possibly Fubar!

  • Comment number 54.

    5. At 11:20am on 29th Mar 2011, sagamix wrote:

    "Yes indeed, Ed Miliband and Tom Farron - a dream ticket if ever there was one. This is the sort of Coalition, as opposed to the current sad affair, that people of taste and distinction could really get behind.

    Who is Tom Farron?"


    ^ I think you might be guilty of 'Southernness' here Saga! Just don't tell Robin... he has enough problems with north London, let alone the north of England! ;-)

    Tim Farron is fairly well known oop north. He's the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale; nice bloke by all accounts - straight talking, savvy and fairly charismatic, without coming across like some ex-PR man from Carlton TV.

    Certainly a good contender to replace Clegg.

  • Comment number 55.

    #23 Anotherengineer

    It is true the LibDems chose who would be the government although they got the fewest votes, however in this instance the combined vote of the Tories and LibDems made them by far the most representative coalition. If the Libdems had announced their intentions before the election to support either party they would automatically have lost a fair proportion of their votes.

    I suspect we are too tribal to embrace coalition government, as is evident from the backlash against the Libdems - compromise is not something that sits well with our psyche.

    Of course one day the Tories and Labour may decide to cut the Libdems out and work together with each other ....LOL!

  • Comment number 56.

    Even after watching the video accompanying this article, can anyone give me an answer to this question: Do I have to rank the candidates in my order of preference, or can I just put a '1' against my main preference? Like most people, I have a definite preference for one particular party, and wouldn't vote in any order for the rest. In short, if I have to rank them, I won't be voting in future.

  • Comment number 57.


    Ed Miliband is not only a washed up old has-been but he is the face of an administration that polled labour's wost result since 1983 under Michael Foot - 29%.

    If that's the bloke you want stirring your mythical (and discredited) 'millions', then good luck.

    He represents a smaller and smaller tribe, he is a puppet of Unite and the rest of the union movement and you are turning yourselves into a minority party faster than Ed Miliband can mutter''Nelson Mandela'.

    Come election day in four years time, the cameras will roll back to 2011 with Ed Miliband standing before a crowd in Hyde Park one Saturday shortly before certain sections of this crowd broke off to vandalise central London. Is this who we want to govern Britain? They don't even appear to be the less fortunate in our society.. that the labour party courts so wantonly; they are a mixture of violent criminals and well educated rich kids... exactly the toxic combination that has always ensured the labour party electoral defeat.

    Clearing up labour's mess.... (in Regent Street, Picadilly and Oxford Street)

  • Comment number 58.

    Focussing on AV (rather than personality politics and sniping at other posts): AV is an improvement on First Past the Post but is only a very small first step on the road to PR. However, politics is the art of the possible, and noone is offering PR at present. We have a say on AV on May 5th (due to the Lib Dems back room deal with the Tories). If you want PR sometime in the indefinite future, vote for AV in May. It's good to see a variety of politicians from the progressive centre-left standing together on a single issue - that's the sort of coalition I like.

  • Comment number 59.

    #31 sagamix

    No, not my MP, but one I've become increasingly aware of in his role as Lib Dem president and, more interestingly, how he manages to keep his distance from Clegg.

    However, he may be tainted with hypocrisy by supporting this AV referendum. It seems disengenuous that the Lib Dems are all for a fairer system when the referendum itself is unfair in its exclusion of PR, and because of the probable low turn out in England (where only 79% of the population will be eligible to take part in local elections).

    Miliband has already been branded a hypocrite in his backing of voting reforms because of the ridiculous way in which he was elected party leader. Unless he includes this unfair system of Labour leader elections in his reforms he is going to alienate a large swathe of centre-leftists.

  • Comment number 60.

    I don't see the fuss for people like Margaret Beckitt. What is proposed is an option to use Alternative Vote, not an obligation. If she wants to stick a 1 against the Labour candidate and not use the transfer option she can still do so, but why deny the rest of us that chance. If you live in Harpenden, say, and vote anything other than Tory, you might as well never in your life bother to vote at a general election. Hertfordshire has ten seats and they are all currently Tory; do you think everyone in Hertfordshire votes Tory? Of course not. That's hardly democratic and hardly encourages people to participate. The majority of us are forced to waste our votes in this way because of where we live. With AV, you have a chance to influence the outcome, even if your first preference loses. Plus if one candidate gets 50%+ on the first ballot they get elected regardless, which ought to placate the NO campaign. And if you think AV is more complicated than FPTP, follow this link and think again!

  • Comment number 61.

    42. At 13:31pm on 29th Mar 2011, Fubar_Saunders wrote:
    Oh and also to put Saturday into perspective, its less than half the number of people who voted for the BNP at the last election.

    .... and how many were out on the streets demonstrating in favour of the cuts?

    If tories are so sure of their support, hold an election.

  • Comment number 62.


    Just for once admit Miliband made a real error of judgement at the anti-cuts rally. Likening this display with the suffragettes and anti apartheid movement was not only embarrassing but untrue. It demeans what these people really did achieve, and with the World watching, what must they have thought of the Labour leader. Furthermore, it associates Miliband to the violence that went on, with all these hooded people, too cowardly to even show their faces. I don't recall any suffragette who was afraid to show their face.

    It is also hypocrisy, because Miliband knows very well he would have had to make cuts as well. In fact there is no difference in the approach the Coalition are taking than Darlings original plan to cut the deficit. Misleading the public in this way is a very dangerous thing to do.

  • Comment number 63.

    "what a broad cross-section of the population (many of them ordinary people)"

    You seem fascinated by "ordinary people", saga. Did you take a picture or two of them so you could show your chums that you'd met 'ordinary people'?

    As for the 'toffs' and their boat race, wonder which category you'd be put in by those 'ordinary people' on the March. Ex city-trader with no need to work for a living and owning a property he doesn't need. Would they catagorise you as a 'toff'? I think they probably would.

  • Comment number 64.

    The House of the Rising Son (of the Manse).
    (meldrew remix)
    There was a crash in banking firms
    A truly global one
    It's not the fault of Gordon Brown
    Tory stories are dumb.

    It scans better saga and avoids any 'jarring' notes.

  • Comment number 65.

    49 - "Re the March: yes it was very enjoyable"

    Did you wave your little banner and chant your little chants? Must have been jolly exciting for you.

  • Comment number 66.


    Completely agree with RedandYellowandGreennotBlue Tim Farron is a Bloody Good Bloke and an excellent MP. He isn't mine (unfortunately) - he represents the next door constituency. If you have any doubts about his integrity look at what he did to his majority in the last election and (more importantly) ask his electors - you will rarely hear a bad word even from those who didn't vote for him.

    On the main point - any system which even starts to move us away from 'safe' seats gets my support. I don't think AV is perfect - there are no perfect systems - but it is move in the right direction.

  • Comment number 67.

    "Political enemies united by a common goal which excites few"

    Except of course it excites (nay sends them into a state of apoplexy) those in the know, those with a vested interest in ensuring the status quo.

    Doubtless there will much rhetoric below the line in response to this article so some hard facts may not go amiss.

    In 1951 and 1955 the UK had two general elections in which the precursors to today's Labour and Conservative Parties gained more than 95% of the active vote and unsurprisingly a similar share of the seats contested - essentially we had a two party system and First Past the Post (FPTP) worked fine.

    Now fast forward to 2005 and 2010 and we've had two successive general elections in which the LabServative duopoly secured approx 2/3rds of the votes cast yet, courtesy of FPTP's warped electoral mathematics, they still secure more than 7/8ths of the seats up for grabs.

    In short Britain has moved on and evolved into a multi-party democracy yet just like a life support system, FPTP artificially sustains the living corpse A.K.A two party domination - the "tweedledum-tweedledee", "me to you, you to me" see-saw of power swapping between the usual suspects. Hardly democratic is it, but of course those usual suspects want to keep the tried and trusted (at least for them), yet utterly discredited FPTP voting method in-situ - are we really that surprised - but more to the point, are we going to let them get away with it?

    Talking of "usual suspects" @Susan-Croft (comment no.37) complains that "looking at the line up who are in favour of changing out voting system is enough for [her] me. Has beens, opportunists and Caroline Lucas for goodness sake."

    Really, Caroline Lucas (first ever Green Party Westminster MP) is a "has been" whereas Margaret Beckett, John Prescott, Lords Lamont, Falconer et al, ARE the real new kids on the block?

  • Comment number 68.

    The fundamental error in this whole debate on the voting system is an assumption that democratic participation by the majority begins and ends with electing MPs to parliament.

    I would suggest to you that the age of representative democracy has had its day,we need to move to a more active participatory system.

    At present the opposite is happening,the local state is being stripped of powers through spending cuts,in its turn local government can no longer sponsor the smaller organs like youth clubs and theatres which give life to local areas.

    The period of representative democracy suited a social structure now dated where a small elite made rules the majority followed.Now in workplace and mess,on facebook and Twitter,in advertising and media a far more interactive style has taken root.While we remain very unequal structurally,our culture has moved in an opposite direction.This has to be reflected in our political arrangements.

    To start with our MPs should reflect our society more closely.More women and minorities,and if a right wing government can impose class quotas on ancient universities, they can do so on an ancient parliament.More park keepers,squaddies, ratings who know about the sharp end. We have been governed by the officer class too long and what a mess they make of it.Time for the others to have a chance.We can then begin the work of political change.

  • Comment number 69.

    Jon112dk at #45

    Last year the redoubtable Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe of the Welsh Guards predicted the likelihood of incidents such as that which led to his death in Afghanistan for want of troop carrying helicopters. Sergeant Roberts of the Royal Tank Regiment died in Iraq after lending his body armour to a colleague. Two examples of many of the chronic equipment shortages that our overstretched troops have coped with through 2 wars in 10 years. So please don't accuse David Cameron of leading a fiasco as it is inaccurate and offensive. The rot set in under Blair when he lied to us all and took our under resourced armed forces into Iraq. Chippy Brown was no doubt starving the armed forces of money in order to fuel his own personal feud with his slightly more charismatic neighbour. He belatedly found that this went down very badly outside his own narrow militant constituency (Ed Balls) and pretended to send "re-fitted" helicopters to Afghanistan. So if the Tories spent a great deal of money re-equipping our armed forces (as I would prefer) to include aircraft carriers, squadrons of F-18s and a revamped army then one of your pet schemes would have to suffer. Now I'd cheerfully take the money from the benefits bill but I doubt you'd approve. The only fiasco is that people like you thought that Liebour would ever be competent to manage our country and our international affairs - never have been and never will. Don't blame David Cameron and the Tories for making us live within our means to clear up Liebour's mess.

  • Comment number 70.

    9. At 11:47am on 29th Mar 2011, sagamix wrote:
    fubar @ 4

    I see you've now taken to describing any Labour politician who doesn't race whippets as a 'trustafarian'.
    Are any Labour MPs quick enough to race whippets?

  • Comment number 71.

    @ Robin (50)

    I don't suppose you'd appreciate the sweet irony of you using the word "tribal", would you Robin? I have to say you're something of a "true blue" cartoon character on this blog. I sometimes wonder whether you are in fact a Labour activist doing his damndest to smear the Tory party by masquerading here as some kind of sitcom character...if so, hats off to you, sir - you're doing a fine job of it!

    As for the March on Saturday... I didn't attend myself; a hearty dose of 'man flu' saw to that. But my father in-law did and said it was a very amiable day. The idea that those present were somehow 'limited' to Liverpudlians with axes to grind is both elitist and rather ignorant, I must say. The Times newspaper ran a story about a lovely bunch of ladies from Gloucestershire who marched to campaign against the closure of their local library (nothing like a humanitarian issue to rally middle England, what?); and there were also swathes of "blue" protesters marching in response to the proposed rail link; a few still seething over the proposed sale of woodlands; many more protesting about the impacts of education cuts on their darling childrens' future, and so on.

    So you see, Robin, beyond the shores of Daily Mail Island, the real world really isn't quite as simple and polarised as you'd love to believe. And like it not, Coalition policy is angering people on both sides of the political divide. Try chatting with any chums you might have in the armed forces, for example; the Colonel at the bridge club perhaps?

    You'll be enlightened, I'm sure. Then again, maybe not...

  • Comment number 72.

    51. At 13:51pm on 29th Mar 2011, The_Concept_Of_Mind wrote:
    FPTP, AV, PR, STV, wibble, wardrobe …

    This discussion (or regurgitated grandstanding by proxy) is death by a thousand (coalition) cuts …
    It may be but its jolly funny; there's been some great wit.

    Cheered me up, no end!

    Thank you one and all.

  • Comment number 73.


    And how did you know that I wasnt using it in precisely that manner?

  • Comment number 74.


    Whilst we're on the subject of songs...

    Maybe you'll recognise this one, which I heard on Sunday....

    There's a little ditty
    They're singing in the city
    Espeshly when they've been
    On the gin
    Or the beer
    If you've got the patience,
    Your own imaginations
    Will tell you just exactly what you want to hear...

    "They all suppose what they want to suppose......"

  • Comment number 75.

    "It demeans what these people really did achieve, and with the World watching, what must they have thought of the Labour leader."

    Completely agree Susan. Some of the suffragettes gave their lives for what they believed in.

    Labour just gave away other peoples lives (about 350 of them) to keep them in power on their own personal crusades in the middle east and elsewhere...

    Equating a bunch of middle class snot nosed Islington kids (who'll be working for the very same organisations in two years time who'se windows they were breaking on Saturday) is hardly the same.

    Hysterical Soundbites & Hyperbole.... its what Labour does best. Apart from trashing the economy.

  • Comment number 76.


    Of all the stupid questions you have ever asked jon (and God only knows, there have been many), that one is surely is straight in at number one with a bullet.

  • Comment number 77.

    Pickled @ 43

    Glad you enjoyed the 'Spinal' scene - it's worth a look if you haven't seen it. Not great all the way through, but the good bits are really good.

    But no, I'm definitely more the interviewer and you 'tory story' guys are definitely like the guitarist. Hence the point of my posting it.

    One key quality I share with the interviewer, for example, is almost limitless patience and I demonstrate this again here and now (with your ongoing 'black swan' misdemeanours).

    So ... one more time ... for an event to be described as a black swan event, it must be something which pretty much comes out of the blue, can't rationally be expected to be included in any predictive model. One fairly obvious example would be a post on here from a 'tory terrible' propaganda merchant which demonstrates some understanding of why we have such a severe fiscal crisis.

    Since that would be a genuine shock (!) to the system. To my system, anyway.

    And, of course, the implosion of large parts of the western financial system (infected by a proliferation of mis-sold and mis-valued US mortgage-backed securities, and of credit derivative contracts) is another example.

    But now see, Mr P - and here is where you seem to be getting the wrong end of the stick, so to speak - to describe this black swan event as being a 'black swan event' in no way absolves a certain Gordon Brown of a fair amount of responsibility for allowing an unfortunate degree of banking excess and personal credit proliferation in the UK. One can (rightly) believe the latter point and (rightly) recognise the black swaniness of the global financial crash. Not just 'can', in fact ... one must.

  • Comment number 78.


    Interesting isnt it, that AV is supposed to be all about plurality and yet, the one party who they could and arguably should invite to their campaign, but who they have run a mile from, is UKIP?

    Could it be that because theres a possibility within the next 5 years of UKIP becoming the 3rd Party if the Libs continue their slide, that because they're seen as right wing, this would not be acceptable? For trendy, vote hungry, gravy train riding lefties to be seen on the same platform as Nigel Farage?

    Enough to give them an attack of the vapours!

  • Comment number 79.


    Funnily enough there was noboldy walking in support of the cuts because they didn't feel like mixing with violent criminals intent on smashing up central London.

    Labour were alwasy going to lose their self control and Saturday is just the beginning.

    If you support street violent criminals and toffs defacing buildings and shops fell free to make your appeal to all out there to supprt your anti-cuts (and pro what, exactly?) agenda.

    Clearing up labour's mess... all over the streets of central London...

  • Comment number 80.

    I notice your picture includes Caroline Lucas in the group. She is, I know, a late convert to this cause, but it might be interesting to get her take on the state of play, as it were. As for me, I've yet to be convinced, and until one of them, any of them, produces a realistic ballot paper example, one with at least nine candidates on it - the Oldham by-election had that many - and show how they might fill it in and say what happens if you accidentally miss one out, then I'm just not buying this and will wait and see how the new constituencies work out before considering any changes to the voting system. Mind you, if it's adopted that would kiss goodbye to that nonsense that is the election night 'special'.

  • Comment number 81.

    "(More stimulating than the Boat Race, I'd imagine. That was a bit of a non-event, apparently - one toff boat was a million miles quicker than the other toff boat, is what I heard)."

    And yet.... and yet... you advocate, do you not, more admissions of the underprivileged, the poor, the disenfranchised and their brats to such an institution, do you not, by hook or by crook?

    Why would you possibly want to tarnish their solid, salt of the earth, working class credentials by being sent to a place like that?

    Apart from the fact that it might just, in the end, dilute the value of the qualifications gained there down to absolutely nothing thereby giving what is left of the rich and the aspiring a poke in the eye on behalf of the proles, just to satisfy your own self loathing?

    Completely logical position, for a loony lefty.

  • Comment number 82.


    Stilll blathering about subjects over which you have absolutely no idea, eh jon?

    Keep up the good work mate. That hole you're digging will be up past your ears within 24 hours.

  • Comment number 83.


    The only thing he's strumming is his own one-stringed banjo.

  • Comment number 84.

    Skol @ 54

    No, not that, I assure you! - there's no North South divide at my place. I had mushy peas the other evening. Try anything once. Anyway 'Red' (14) has filled me in, thankfully. Sounds like one to watch then, Tim Farron, doesn't he? With Clegg on his way out, there's a chance for someone in LibDemland if they can play the right notes.

  • Comment number 85.

  • Comment number 86.

    Ed's speech proved one thing... he's little different from most of our other white bourgeois career politicians. Why is it that he and his contemporaries still find it necessary to quote so freely and inappropriately from MLK, the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-Apartheid Movement in order to lend themselves some gravitas?
    What struggles has he had to endure? Cereal or toast for breakfast? I can see the tenuous parallels of political disenfranchisement, but that's all they are... very tenuous. We're not beaten and jailed for straying outside of our suburbs. Not yet.

    Contrary to the whining RW press he had every right to address the rally, despite the distinct irony of his and his party's role in the creation of the current political and financial morass. But FGS Ed, create your own soundbites. Avoid the cheap opportunism.

  • Comment number 87.

    The notoav campaign seems to have no arguments except for repeating untruths about how many hung parliaments we would have under AV or how so complicated it would be for the poor electorate. hearing Douglas Hurd today on radio 4 debating was like hearing someone from the 19th century arguing women shouldn't have the vote - quite pathetic.

  • Comment number 88.

    # 56. MikeS

    Yes you can just put the first preference if you want. You can list as many preferences as you wish, so you don't have to vote for people you don't want.

    I've used it before in university representatives elections, it's actually a very good system once you get to grips with it.

    I imagine most people will only use 1 or 2 preferences anyway, either voting for a major party straight off, or voting for a minority one first then their 'back up' choice

  • Comment number 89.

    outrage @ 48 and red @ 59

    Re the voting change, I'm undecided. I like certain elements of FPTP - May 97, for example - but it also brought us April 92. No matter how you slice and dice it, you always get a fair few places returning tory MPs and that seems wrong. I think on balance I would go for PR but this 'AV' isn't it, so I'm not very enthused. Are we more likely to (eventually) get proper PR with a 'no' or a 'yes' vote, I wonder.

  • Comment number 90.

    Just for you Fubar.

    "It's the same the whole world over
    It's the poor what gets the blame
    It's the rich what gets the pleasure
    Ain't it all a bloomin' shame?"
    [Traditional Music Hall song]

  • Comment number 91.


    All three main parties are guilty of elitism, in an attempt to improve the quality of MPs they have mistakenly assumed theory and education can replace real life experience. Cameron/Clegg & Miliband could be clones produced from the same egg - although as a disgruntled labour supporting friend of mine commented Miliband sounds like an upperclass twit, Cameron just sounds upperclass.

    The great advantage of the likes of Alan Johnson and John Major was that they worked their way up from their ordinary backgrounds, graduating from the university of life - yet instead of admiring their achievements both were vilified for their ordinariness by the chattering classes.

    Local communities have candidates imposed on them, who have no local knowledge and the constituency is merely a platform from which they can propel themselves into the fast lane.

    Parliament is losing touch with the electorate, they need to work harder for our votes and not assume that our tribal loyalties allow them to fob us off with another party political apparatchik.

  • Comment number 92.

    68. bryhers

    Good post b, food for thought. Certainly more than just the voting system that needs changing.
    (re previous blog. Will endeavour to refrain from further 'owl' comments.)

    62. Susan-Croft :
    'Furthermore, it associates Miliband to the violence that went on, with all these hooded people, too cowardly to even show their faces.'

    Don't disagree with your previous point, Susan, but how do you associate Miliband with the destructive element who were clearly not part of the main rally? Because they were both in London?

  • Comment number 93.

    Should we assume that it is inevitable that Big Ed will lead his party into the next election? I sense that he has some ambitious comrades around him who are waiting for him to slip up on more banana skins like his rehtoric on Saturday last. And he is still wandering around with a blank piece of paper for policy. That is not winning him support in the country at large. I think that he is vulnerable.

  • Comment number 94.

    56. MikeS

    Oh and your stubborn attitude (that you sadly share with many people in this country) of only voting for one party regardless is the root cause of why we are stuck in an inescapable rut in this country. Many people in this country that are willing to listen and make judgement on their vote, based on the current situation, are incredibly frustrated that there are so many people like yourself out there that just blindy follow tradition, which inevitably stops us progressing at all. So I'm not sure that you not voting anymore would be of any great loss.

  • Comment number 95.


    Hear, hear. No disagreement there.

  • Comment number 96.

    Not bad Victor (64), not bad at all. Just serves to remind that we are still waiting for that first hit single all about the global financial crisis. Thought popular music was meant to speak for the times. Where are our radical troubadours? Where's our Bob Dylan? Why isn't someone writing something like 'Talkin' US Mortgage-Backed Securities And Credit Derivatives (Subterranean Homesick) Blues'.

    Georgie's in the basement, mixing up the medicine.

    I'd buy it, definitely I would.

  • Comment number 97.

    For once i agree with Robin...........Young people in silly clothes trashing restaurants around London.....It's a disgrace. Just who do they think they are.......the bullingdon Club!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 98.

    BBC moderators, if you insist on butchering the end of my post at least leave a full stop on the end. I don't like to come across as having sloppy grammar just because your delete key finger is overly trigger happy.

  • Comment number 99.

    79. rockRobin7 wrote:
    'Labour were alwasy going to lose their self control and Saturday is just the beginning.'
    'If you support street violent criminals and toffs defacing buildings and shops fell free to make your appeal to all out there to supprt your anti-cuts (and pro what, exactly?) agenda.'

    Your attempts (and those of the RW press) to associate Labour and Ed M. with the violence that occurred in central London is lame, rR.
    The same group now hijacks any such event.

  • Comment number 100.

    You now seem to be mumbling entirely to yourself, Fubar (81). Inventing ridiculous propositions which nobody (and certainly not me) has put forward and then pointing out that they're ridiculous. Good game, I suppose - if you're on your own in a locked room and need to pass the time.


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