Friday, April 29, 2011

and the really great news is the BRISTOL FOLK FESTIVAL, so there's more of this to come.

Just as well there's nothing on TV at the weekend.

Robin Williamson / John Renbourne

Bristol Folkhouse 23 April

You remember Robin Williamson. I've mentioned him before: described by the Archbishop of Canterbury as "sacred"; by myself as "holy"; and by Bob Dylan as "quite good". He really does just radiate warmth and joy from the stage. There are different kinds of Williamson sets; this one was quite heavily focused on the bluesy (Don't Let Your Deal Go Down, Whang Dang Doodle) the whimsical (Sweet as Tennessee Whiskey) with a bit of Dylan (Buckets of Rain). When you go and hear a singer more than once, you expect to hear the same songs. I could listen to him plucking out Dylan on the harp a thousand times over. I still can't tell if he's parodying the song -- accentuating Dylan's tortuous rhymes ("well everybody can be like me, obviously / but not everyone can be like you, fortunately") or just drawing out a humour that's already there. And I'd have been positively disappointed if he hadn't, with that twinkly voice, finished on "Will anybody tell me where the blarney roses grow?" ("set to folk tune number 2). I love the way he makes the audience speak the words before joining in the chorus; as serious and deadpan as when he was teaching us names from Irish mythology, the last time I head him. You do, however, after several gigs, start to get used to some of the jokes and in-between patter. However, the story about how Don't Let Your Deal Go Down was taught him by Tom Paley was new to me. (As he loves to say, the song is usually played on blues harp, but works okay on an actual harp.) He's changed the chords, the tune and some of the words from when he learned it, but its still bacislly the song that Tom Paley taught him. (Tom Paley's the old guy (must be 90) who played at the Folk Against Fascism gig in London last year, notable for having appeared in a duo with Woody Guthrie --or, if the biography I'm reading is to be believed, for playing by himself because Woody Guthrie hadn't turned up. I love it that there's a tenuous continuity between Woody Guthrie and the Incredible String Band.) John Renbourne's moody jazzy slippy slidey guitar playing is never less than wonderful, but I was surprised by how passive he was tonight: Steve said you could have mistaken him for an accompanist, even though he's at least as eminent and venerable as Robin. No Incredible String Band songs or story telling tonight. Just tunes. Magical, magical tunes. Quite good, indeed.


Chapel Arts Center Bath April 15th

That damn woman with the nasty sister. She gets about, doesn't she? This time the bad sister throws the good one in the sea rather than in a river, and it's three minstrels who fish her out, with no miller in sight. She still gets dismembered and recycled as a harp, and the harp limits itself to singing "Lay the bent to the bonny broom", as opposed to "bow and balance to me" or "oh the dreadful wind and the rain" or (more helpfully) "my sister dunnit".

"You obviously like songs about death and doom and killing" said Jaqui McShee after the very enthusiastic ovation that the song elicited. Well, yes, possibly: or possibly the audience were (like me) giving their approval to a very traditional song, given a very satisfactory make-over, without losing any of its narrative drive.

Pentangle were, of course, one of the very biggest names of the second (or was it third?) folk revival of the 1960s, and more or less invented "jazz folk". This group is, in fact "Jacqui McShee's Pentangle", with Ms McShee's astonishing unearthly voice being the only link with the original group. This incarnation seemed more jazzy than what I've heard of the original: several numbers had longish sax and flute interludes which sounded (to me, and you really shouldn't pay much attention to anything that I say) like fairly traditional jazz riffs.

I associate Pentangle with "jazzy, tinkly versions of old songs" and I could have wished for a little more of that this evening. The opening number, with a whirring, droning undergrowth over which McShee's crystaline voice comes over, first with a traditional number, then with a self penned piece about the very important subject, life, thrilled me with its strangeness.  But over the course of the evening, I felt perhaps I had had as much "ethereal" and "jazzy" as I needed, and would have liked some more, er folk songs.

The Old Dance School

Bristol Folk House April 8

Ah, yes. Eight horribly talented young people. They met at the Birmingham Conservatoire. All the boys were studying jazz and all the girls were studying classical music. One of the girls teaches classical violin. They all think Andy Cutting is wonderful. They finish the night with a long jiggy instrumental piece that leads into John Ball, which it will be remembered that Andy Cutting's friend Chris Wood sometimes plays. (It's almost compulsory for modern folkies to play at least one Sydney Carter song. What price a contemporary version of Friday Morning?) It's always an inspirational number whoever plays it. The jazz-classical influence is very obvious. I don't swear if you had played me the instrumental stuff, I would have instantly identified it as folk. Not that that matters. It's all music. The instrumental riff ends with two fiddles going "peep-peep-peep" like a string quartet, not "diddly-diddly-dee" like a folk group. There was something of Lau in the jazzy way the melody gets passed around, although it was more like melody and less about rhythm, and never stopped being music. The double bass provided some rhythm in lieu of percussion, like Miranda Sykes does with Show of Hands. It was clearly very clever indeed but for my personal taste, I couldn't help feeling that there were, er, too many notes.

Steve Tilston

Wed 16th Feb Jazz@ Future Inns

Don't seem to have taken any notes at this one.

Steve Tilston was every bit as good as he always is, and his sidesman and mouth organ player Keith Warmington is simpy charming. He was mainly trying out material from his forthcoming album: regret to say that I wasn't taking notes. He sang one about a Mexican rebel, and one about what this generation is leaving to the next. He carried off all his new songs with aplomb, and almost got through My Love She Speaks Like Silence withut a hithc. ("What comes next -- come on, there must be some Dylan-heads here?") .....and then managed to mix up the verses of Slipjigs and Reels on the encore. But no-one minded at all because he's so wonderful. What the correct procedure for getting the Queen to declare someone a national treausre?

Woody Sez

Arts Theater London

Not a concert, as such, but a play about the life of Woodrow Wilson Guthrie. Started life in America, but now touring Englandland.

The programme notes described the creation of the show as being a little like a jazz improvisation, with David Lutken, the creator, who also takes the role of Woody Guthrie, acting as a kind of conductor. That's certainly what the evening felt like. The four-person cast clearly know Woody's songbook intimately, and there was a sense of the evening being a tapestry; almost a symphony. It lacked the dramatic ingenuity of This Land at the Yorkshire Playhouse last year: but it was musically far superior.

The Arts theater is a very small venue -- thirty seconds from Leicester Square, but feeling like the "fringe". It wasn't full, but that allowed the cast to create a real connection with the audience. They come onto the stage as the auditorium is filling up and play some old time instrumental numbers. Lutken says high to the audience, asks them to check their mobile phones, apologise for the frog in his throat, tells us they'll be a "hootenanny" after the show on Saturday, and then starts to talk about how much Woody meant to him when he was first learning to play the guitar in Texas.

That sets the tone. The cast are telling the story, and singing the songs, and acting out some of the characters, but it's never really a play. More a concert with dramatic interludes. Some of the numbers are performed in full. Darcie Deaville  gives us Union Maid;  the entire company does So Long It's Been Good To Know Ya.  Andy Teirston, with his big, smiley, old-timer eyes takes us through Talkin' Dust Bowl Blues ("filled it full of that gas-o-line -- that's what you call PETROL...") as well as providing a cross-talk partner for some of Woody's jokes. Including the one about the one-eyed banker who bets the farmer that he can't spot which is his glass eye ("Oh, I just looked for the one that had glint of compassion in it...and knew that had to be the glass one.").

But other songs only come through in snatches. We're asked, cleverly if not quite convincingly, to see the Grapes of Wrath as a kind of template for Guthrie's life, and verses of the Ballad of Tom Joad run right through the evening, as a kind of chorus.

It's Lutken's night, of course. Everyone is on their feet, clapping, for the final reprise of This Land, although, in a way, the scene in Act 1 where Woody tries to sing about that big ol' sign saying "Private Property" and is kicked off the wireless (and replaced with a Pepsi commercial!) is more telling. The play's maybe a little coy about Guthrie's communism. We see him singing "Ain't Going Study War No More" with the left-wing Almanac singers. He pulls a clipping of one of his newspaper columns from his pocket, and reads that if the capitalists and land-lords didn't build walls and create borders, there wouldn't be no wars. But then he decides that "There's a difference between wanting something to end and wanting to end it" before going into the ultra-patriotic Sinking of the Reuben James. Well, yes: but mixed in with that pacifism was surely a disturbingly pro-Stalinist communist party line.

The most telling moment in the production isn't Union Maid or Reuben James or even Lutken's brilliantly melancholic account of the Great Dust Storm Disaster. It's Woody sitting on the edge of the stage, describing how he returned from a gig to find that there had been an electrical fire in his home and his baby daughter for whom --indeed, with whom -- he wrote Car, Car and the other nursery ballads, has been burned to death. Almost immediately, the narrator figure goes into the last line of Tom Joad ("wherever people are hungry and starve / wherever people ain't free / wherever men are fighting for their lives / that's where I'm a gonna be"). Woody replies with "nobody living / can make me turn back / this land was made for you and me"....and begins his long slow decline which ends with him in the mental ward of Brooklyn State mental hospital.

Woody Guthrie was a more complicated character than you can put into a two-hour play, and it isn't unreasonable to "print the legend" when you are dramatizing the life of a man who spent most of his short career inventing mythologizing himself. This was a pretty damn good play, and at absolutely first rate musical tribute.

Sid Kipper

7 April - Bath Comedy Festival

Lester and Mick used to periodically played Sid Kipper on Folkwaves, back in those glorious old days when we were still allowed to have folk music on the wireless. From his records, he appeared to be entirely mad, with a dangerous weakness for puns. ("On Feb 29th, the squire awarded a haunch of venison to any lady who successfully proposed to a young man. It was a case of meat buoys girl.") So I was pleased to have the opportunity to hear him live. He was originally part of a duo called the Kipper Family, and if you find that remotely funny, you'd probably have laughed at his songs as well. (*)

Well... You'd probably have laughed at at least one of his songs, in a very broad, carry-on style music hall way. A fair sample of the tone:

Now our Norfolk turkeys are simply the best,
They sure knock the stuffing out of the rest
And if you tried one I'm sure that you would
Agree that our turkeys are Norfolk and good.
Audience: Norfolk and Good! Norfolk and Good!
You'll say our turkeys are Norfolk and Good!

Beneath the silliness, there are some sharp folk in-jokes. "People debate whether or not women can Morris dance. Since they do, you'd think that would have finished the argument." (While you take part in this frolic / Remember that it's all symbolic.) I enjoyed the one about the young lady enthusiastically sending her young man off to fight in the wars, while he sings response verses coming up with excuses to stay at home. And the entirely daft cod Latin reworking of Gaudete

Troilus et Cressida, In Loco Parentis
Honi soit qui mal y pense, Harry Belafontee

And the entirely genuine 17th century protest song, played on a harpsichord.

How roads many roads must a dodo walk down
Before you can call her a dodo?
How many seas must the white Dodo sail
Before she rests by the road-oh.

In fact, rather than reciting the entire set list, I liked nearly all of it. And the way Sid (actually comedian Chris Sugden, but don't tell anybody) keeps up the endless stream of cod Norfolk patter and malapropisms, without stepping out of character once is actually very clever indeed. ("....or you can look at my webpage, or go on Myface and Twat me...but I digest...) But I did start to feel by the end of the evening that I had now heard the joke, and that 25 of the best Kippersongs (sung in order of their royalties: "this one has earned by £178 in the last ten years") is less funny than one of them.

Also worth mentioning the support act, a local duo called Man Overboard, which I can only describe as "quirky": guitar guy Martyn Dormer follows a comedy ukele number called The Phantom Wanker of HMV with a creditably bellowed Port of Amsterdam, interspersed with some perfectly straight jiggedy jiggedy jigs by the fiddler Brendan Jones. The mixing of the very silly with the not particularly silly at a gig being done under auspices of the Bath Comedy Festival was very courageous, but I thought really worked. Will try to track these people down again.

(*) English folk music was invented by a group called "The Copper Family": get it?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

O'Hooley and Tidow

Bristol Folk House March 11

I have been reading a book called Electric Eden. Apparently, Bristol Folk House was implicated in the abortive 1922 scheme to stage a series of Arthurian operas and establish Glastonbury as a sort of English Bayreuth. This isn't especially relevant to anything, but it gives me a sort of warm feeling of continuity.

Tonight's show takes place in the bar, rather than the main hall. Belinda "used to be in the unthanks" O'Hooley sits at the piano; Heidi Tidow stands and sings. They're both wearing masculine suits. (The BBC informs me that O'Hooley is a "lesbian icon".) They keep up a self-deprecating banter throughout the show. There's a man in the audience in a kilt, who seems to think everyone came to see him. You could easily feel that you'd blundered into a rather camp cabaret.

And they start singing. They run through the darkest and most depressing set I think I've ever heard. Oh, there are some bright moments. They open the second half with What Shall I Do If I Married A Tinker, lovingly ripped off from the Silly Sisters. (If you are going to imitate, imitate the best, as I always say.) But really. This is the sort of evening where a song about about child-victims of concentration camps ("they were like you in the same year/ but you grew up, they were scarcely even here") leads into one about the execution of Edith Cavel, and then into Whitethorn, a song in which an ancestor of the singer mourns the seventeen babies she gave birth to, not one of which survived. Things don't cheer up noticeably when we get to the duo's contribution to the the "Christmas single" genre. "She is the flower that I trod on when I went to post this card...She is the plastic I wrapped up for a child to undress She is the the shadow in the darkness, the object of my distress." God bless us every one.

O'Hooley has a highly expressive, sometimes almost violent style on the piano, and Tidow's declamatory, monolithic, by still highly emotive delivery put me slightly in mind of June Tabor. The encore is based around Belinda's day job, working in an old folks home. There is some banter about memory loss and wet seat covers, before going into a mercilessly bleak piece about old age and love and regret. ("She walks with the aid of a zimmer / to the chair on temporary loan / But then, she was a dancer / The quick step, the cha-cha...")

Truly, this was the kind of evening that might make you want to go home and slit your wrists, or at the very least, have several large whiskeys to cheer yourself up. I enjoyed it very much indeed.

Chris Wood / Martin Carthy

Feb 9 Kings Place London

On Tuesday, Chris Wood had been nonchalantly crowned "best folksinger" and owner of the "best song" at the Radio 2 folk awards. ("Hollow Point" had made me cry all over again. "Folk music is like a raspberry pip in the back tooth of the establishment" he'd said.) Tonight, he was "curating" the first night of a series of talks and concerts about "the anonymous tradition", at the Kings Place art center in London. ("Think of it as like a festival, but for grown ups" he explained. I only managed to get to the first night, because the series was unreasonably in London and I work annoyingly in Bristol. So I missed my chance to be in the crowd singing Butter and Cheese and All on Folk-Song a Day.) Chris never fails to say that he regards "anon" as the greatest song-writer who ever lived.

First half of the evening was a panel discussion, also featuring Simon Armitage (a man who writes pomes) and Hugh Lupton, the story teller and lyricist who wrote the words of Chris's contemporary fairy-tale tear-jerker One in a Million. Hugh didn't say a great deal, which was a shame. The net of the discussion was cast, perhaps, a little too widely: Mr Armitage talked about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which he has recently translated into Modern -- a poem by a single author, whose name happens to be lost to us; where Chris Wood and Martin Carthy were more interested in poems which don't really have authors, but which are the product of that nebulous thing called The Tradition. Chris said that occasionally, at sessions, he plays one of his own compositions without letting on that it is his, in the hope that other people will pass it on. "I've taken so much from the tradition" he said "I want to put a little back in" . That's about the only time I've heard him drifting towards the folk equivalent of luvviedom.

There was an opportunity for question from the floor, which, as is the way with these things, the audience interpreted as "could you say randomly whatever comes into your head for the next two and a half minutes." Chris said that he wouldn't quite regard his songs as "finished" until, presumably after he is dead, they start to circulate without his name attached to them. I asked from the floor how that could be possible: his songs are intensely personal: his wife, his children, his allotment. (@Sam: He really is married to a lady called Henrietta -- at any rate his second album is dedicated to someone of that name. She wasn't just brought in for the sake of a rhyme. Did Dylan ever really date anyone called Angelina?) He said that he thought that his song "No Honey Tongued Sonnet" which is, on the one hand, very specifically about English schools and particularly the daft and thankfully now obsolete 11 Plus examination, was actually more generally about being labelled as a failure and rising above it. He said he'd done a a song workshop with some sixth form kids, and many of them didn't know what "Hollow Point" was about. Six years is a long time: perhaps great injustices only get remembered in the forms of song?

In the second half, he and Martin took to the stage. Chris sang No Honey Tongued Sonnet and My Darlings Downsized, and part of Listening to the River, an absolutely extraordinary thing he composed for Radio2, in which he talked to members of the public who lived near the Medway and used their words to build up a sound portrait of the river: actually imitating the inflection of his informants voices on his fiddle, and then incorporating it into a melody. I think of him as an interpreter and writer of folk-songs: I sometimes forget that he's an absolutely first rate violinist. Martin sang Jim Jones, which on some days of the week is my favourite traditional folk song, and they sang Three Jovial Welshmen together. (Martin invariable introduces the song by saying "I'm going to do a song called Three Jovial Welshmen....why does that always get a laugh?" The Kings Place audience were far too respectful, and rather spoiled his punchline.)

At the beginning of the evening, Martin looked...very much like someone whose wife has been in intensive care for the last three months... but he seemed to uncurl and come to life to re-tell the story of how he was turned onto folk music by hearing a Norfolk fisherman at Ewan Mcoll's folk club singing a long ballad which appeared to obey no musical rules. The question of what makes Carthy such a uniquely special performer is one that's hard to answer. Gavin put it nicely in a review last year: he's not the greatest singer; his guitar playing can be awkward, but "some invisible magic sparks between them." Martin himself explained it poignantly and perfectly tonight. When he was a younger man, he was just singing the words and tunes. "But now" he said  "I believe them. I believe every word."

The most touching moment of the evening was Martin's warmly congratulating Chris after he's finished the set with an uncompromisingly nuanced meander through Lord Bateman. To steal a line from a review on Amazon: you can just see the torch of traditional English folk music being passed from the older man to the younger.

Steve Knightley/Jim Causley

Jan 29 - Q.E.H Bristol

It never stops amazing and delighting me, that performers like Steve Knightly who fill the Colston Hall and Wells Cathedral and the Albert Hall are quite happy to come and perform in a not-quite-full school theatre in front of I suppose 100 people. You might almost think they were in it for the sheer love of the music, or something.

Maybe I have started down a path in which all music -- and all political literature, and all episodes of Doctor Who -- can be neatly divided into "authentic" and "inauthentic"; maybe this will lead, inexorably, to me sitting in the back of the Albert Hall in 2012 shouting "Judas!" But I liked Steve better in this format than I have at any of the book showpiece Show of Hands gigs I've been to - just the words and the music. Take Galway Farmer: I only knew it from the "Best Of..." album, belted out in front of a big Irish band, with an audience that already knows the words and the punch line. Tonight, Steve presented it as nature intended. Unaccampanied. Almost....dangerous....just your voice and and a story and faith that the audience is going to care

But at the first she nearly fell
I cursed my farmers luck to hell
The second and third she took quite well
Way behind the leaders
Then moving swiftly from the back
Found the rails and caught the pack
Ten to go and from the back
Her hooves were drumming thunder

Steve is amused that the song now appears on website listing "tradtional" Irish ballads.

Similarly, his grim, murderous re-imagining of Widdecombe Fair "

But the landlord said that the last thing seen
Was a boy and a girl out on the moor
That was all he knew and he showed me the door

has a real intensity when you are only ten feet away from the singer.

It was clever idea of someone's to pair the rather grim and gravelly Steve with the sweet, baby faced Devonian Jim Causley -- no longer with Makwin, it seems, but more than able to to accompany himself on the accordian. Although I very much liked the the musical jiggery pokery in the Mawkin:Causley version, the solo Jim Jones seemed to do a better job of capturing the dramatic intensity of the piece. Jim stands on the stage with a sparkly, twinkle eyed persona, and then sings songs which are so much older than he is with total conviction: poor Dylan Thomas dreaming about the Summer Girls he's never going to get off with; the Radio Ballad about the old unemployed railwayman whose "given his whistle one last blow and swapped his old pole for a hoe". A survey once revealed that Mr Hitler was the most hated man in history, but that Dr Beeching came a close second.

Not everything works. I really think that the mighty Country Life needs the full amplified pop treatment to deliver its punch, although I could see the point of pairing it up with Downbound Train (written by some American.) But in between your angry songs, and the grim murder ballads and the worthy political torch-songs like Santiago and Cousin Jack he can be very very funny. He finished the first set with a daft number suggested when his kids started playing that infuriating "repeating everything you say" game. "Stop Copying Me", it's called, and, of course, its a call and response song with the audience repeating every line. (Which, come to think of it, manages to make some serious points about file sharing and selling exam papers.)

Yes, Show of Hands are ubiquitous, too popular to be kosher, sometimes drift into over-indulgent singer-song writer stuff and once blotted their copybook by writing a patriotic number, but this is the pure, raw story telling of a man who really does know what it is to stand in the street with an old guitar.

Olden Days

So, my extensive fanbase (Sid and Dorris Bonkers) is on tenterhooks (whatever a tenterhook is) to hear my answer to the question on everybody's lips. Namely: "Andrew: have you been to any folk concerts recently."

Well, yes. As it happens, I have...

If you really wanted to, you could have a whole book of this sort of thing.

How Many Folksingers Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb
On the news yesterday, there was a vox-pop quote from an American lady, referring to the Leader of the Free World and Commander in Chief: "He isn't even an American citizen."

Last week on Have I Got New For You, a Tory politician (such a minor one that she was preapred to appear on Have I Got News For You) said "A.V is such a bad system that only three countries in the world use it. All the rest use first-past-the-post."

I can sort of understand how someone can believe in Six Day Creation or Homeopathy or something. But these Tea Pots and Naysayers don't even understand their own arguments.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I spend a lot of time slagging off journalists and politicians for being evil lying pondscum. Because most of them are. I have really really really never been more annoyed about anything than I am about the  "In AV, the loser can win" poster campaign.

So could I draw everyone's attention to this piece in the New Statesmen, about what we're now pretending was a "war" which broke out at the bottom of my street last week.

It's a piece of sane, balanced, accurate, properly-sourced journalism that reports on what happened, and gives quotes about what people think about what happened.

And you know what the sad thing is: when I read it I was surprised and said "I didn't know anyone was still doing that sort of writing."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

This is England...

spotted in Brizzle yesterday...

several people with musical instruments, singing about how much better things were in the olden days

Girl Guides serving tea and cake...

Real live Morris Dancers!!!!!

and most importantly of all:
no riot

(do you think someone should have told them that it wasn't technically St George's day?)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Birthday William Shakespeare

this made me happy for a week

And Happy St George's Day

please stand for the national anthem...

...excuse me, i seem to have something in my eye

Friday, April 22, 2011

update -

we can look forward to the image of a severely broken tescoes with "closing down sale" scrawled across it adorning many a left wing bedroom over the next few years

there seem to be two distinct narratives emerging

a lot of ground level spectators seem to be under the impression that there was a concerted, deliberate attack on the shop by some lefty / anarchists which the police stepped in to stopped (ask someone what caused the fuss, and they will say "tescos"

on the other hand, other people are saying that seventy police with helicopters and horses converged to evict four (4) people from a squat, and that when they saw 70 police on their street, a lot of other locals emerged to find out what the hell was going on and things escalated from there

there is a film on the interwebs of tescos being "ramraded" (not firebombed -- it doesn't look burnt out to me) and this looks very much like spur of the moment vandalism -- not something pre-orchestrated

and now, here is a true story:

an old man became very scared, because he thought that there was an unidentified intruded in his garden -- whether a drunk, a burglar or a some kids fooling about, he did not know

he dialled 999, or, for listeners in America, 911, and asked to speak to the local police "I am very scared because I live alone and there is an unidentified intruder in my garden"

"it doesn't sound like he's committed any crime" said the officer "and at the moment, we really can't spare any officers -- we will send a car to check it out, but it might not be for three or four hours."

a bit late the old man phone the police again

"you don't need to bother with that police car" he said "the intruder was holed up in my potting shed, so i got my old shotgun and killed him"

five minutes late, the house is surrounded by panda cars, armed officers, searchlights and a helicopter is circling over head. in all the commotion, a very surprised looking tramp emerges from the potting shed, and his led away by a liason officer

The police officer in charge is absolutely furious

"You told us you'd killed him!" he said
"Well, you told me you didn't have any spare policemen" said the old man

Thought for the Day

ok : this is how it looks to me

-- tescos opens, after a long campaign by (some) local people to stop it from opening (Stokes Croft / Cheltenham Road / Gloucester Road are a characterful part of Brizzle, with cafes, independent shops, two bakeries, original Banksy graffiti, refreshingly free from all the faceless highstreet brands; the fear is that tescos will put the small shops out of business, and the empty small shops will be taken over by more subway and more startbucks. I rather like starbucks, but I think eight is probably sufficient for one town.

-- some campaigners stage a rather raucus but from what I could see peaceful and good natured demonstation outside the shop. although i use sainsburies, scumerfield and the independent one by the arches, I don't go in tescos if for no other reason than that you don't cross picket lines; you just don't.

-- meanwhile, there is a squat going on in a building near tescos, full of dangerous media studies students and sociologists. squatting isn't against the law -- it's a civil matter.

-- however, mysteriously, the State discovers that the squat also contains a lot of "potential" petrol bombs, or "bottles" as they are usually known

-- the State decides that the best thing to do is to evict the squatters -- i.e send lots and lots of bobbies onto a street where there is already a raucous, but essentially peaceful, demonstration going on

-- they further decide that the best way to do this is to close off both ends of the road so that even local people who have nothing to do with the squat or the demo can't get to their own houses (which is presumably why they surged towards my street)

-- they also decide to do this is on a Thursday before a public holiday, when lots of people are out, have been drinking, and don't have to get up the next day

-- whatever you may say about Chris Chalkley, and he's always been very charming to me, his think national act local campaign (painting murals on boarded up buildings etc etc etc) has either created a sense of a Stokes Croft Community or plugged into a feeling of community that was already there: I certainly have a "sense of place" and am pleased to live in the area in a way that I haven't felt about many other places where I've lived. so naturally, telling people that they can't walk down their own street in a street which has quite such a strong sense of identity was never going to be pretty

-- sure enough a riot develops, bricks get thrown and riot shields and truncheons get put into people's faces and tescos gets smashed up

-- in a fortnights time, when the windows have been repaired and tescos has reopened the peaceful hippies will want to stage another peaceful protest, and presumably the State won't let them because of what happened before

-- result!

this is just my impression: i don't know any more than anyone else does, and maybe there really was a bomb making factory and maybe V really was bussing anarchists in from Wales. the State controlled media is largely ignoring the story

off to the cathedral now

Literally three minutes from my front door

Basically, there has been a peaceful protest by environmentalist and community activists against a new branch of Tescos opening on Stokes Croft. Going on for about a year. The shop opened at the weekend, and there's been three or four hippies outside it ever since, with big "no Tescos here" signs, and giving away (I think) cakes they've baked themselves. ("I like the point you are making, and I like the good-natured way you are making it" I said to the man in the wooly hat yesterday.) Depending on who you believe, either a lot people from out of town who "like a bit of anarchy" descended on the area; or else the police decided that now would be a good moment to evict some squatters from a house over the road, and things turned excitable. This is only what I've picked up from the interwebs and chatting; I'll read the lies in the paper tomorrow. I was in the pub during the worst of it, and then in a friends house until late: all very quiet when I walked home, although we had smelt burning, and there were helicopters with searchlights (no batsignal that I could see). Did see a man with a mobile phone saying "That was absolutely fantastic" but for all I know he could have been talking about the party he'd just been too. I'm fine, no sign of anything bad having happened on Snandrews Road. (I haven't yet worked out how the police came to be baracading the demonstrators on Picton Street: if they were cross about Tescos, why would they have been surging away from it Stokes Croft (where Tescos is) towards some residential streets? Will report back tomorrow, assuming capitalism hasn't fallen. Meanwhile, I'm going to bed.
apparently, there has been a riot outside my house.  i didn't start it. in fact i was in the hill grove porter stores talking about 70s sitcoms and innuendo in batman with the bristol sci-fi group. we did hear a helicopter over head and wonder why the pub was so quiet. and then we noticed lots of young people outside the Croft (a nice pub where i sometimes hear folk music) and some police men with horses. and lots of cars. i am currently sitting in clarrie's house eating brie. if people start throwing potential petrol bombs, we shall potentially fiddle. honestly, nothing to see here, i'm fine, probably going to walk home in half an hour. going to church tommorrow and to see morris dancing on Saturday. but feel very spontaneous and immediate and cyber.

not actually literally outside my house, but if the police barricade had'nt been there they might have got to the bottom of my street, possiby

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What if they gave an election and no-one came (4)

So: why are the "no" camp putting forward arguments which they know (unless they really are lunatics) are not true?

The easy, cynical answer would be "self interest". The Fluffy Bunny party wants a system that will favour Fluffy Bunnies, and the Swivel Eyed Warmongers and Smug Posh Racists want a system which will favour the Warmongers and Racists party.

The Fluffy Bunnies currently argue that  a system in which 25% of the votes equates to 25% of the power is preferable to one where 25% of the votes equates to 0% of the power, but since that's not on offer, they'll settle for one where 25% of the votes equates to 1%, or 5%, or 10% of the power. But the Smug Posh Racists and the Mad Warmongers are quite happy with a system where 49% of the votes equates to 100% of the power. Why would they change it? But if the Fluffy Bunnies believed for one moment that they could win under First Past the Post, they'd abandon their principled commitment to P.R pretty damn quick. When it looked as if Labour could not win an overall majority, Tony Blair argued that a pact with the Liberals -- the price of which would certainly have been electoral reform -- was morally right: but once he looked like getting an overwhelming majority by himself, he mysteriously forgot that the Liberal party existed.

But I don't actually think that this is the reason, or the main reason, that most of the Red party and all of the Blue party hate the idea of constitutional reform. I think the real reason is simpler and sadder.

I don't think that most politicians really care, very strongly, about their parties, and certainly not about their parties' policies or ideologies. How could they? The Red party and the Blue party are now virtually indistinguishable -- which is to say, indistinguishable to anyone who isn't a member of the Red party or the Blue party. Oh, party animals who read this column will take up their pens to tell me that the Red / Blue party is evil in all respects and whatever the Blue / Red party may have done in the past, the Red / Blue party would have been far, far worse. Unemployment going up? Yes, but it would be going up faster under Red / Blue. Involved in three pointless foreign wars? Yes, but Blue / Red would have got us involved in five! Blue / Red party reintroduced stoning for adultery? Yes, but the Red / Blue party would have introduced crucifixion. Freud called it "the narcissism of small differences": as esoteric to someone who isn't a supporter of one of the two big teams as the doctrinal differences between Baptists and Methodists are to someone who doesn't believe in a god of any kind. [*]

I think that what politicians really care about is The Game. One politician may call the other a pinko Stalinist commie working for the abolition of freedom throughout the world, and the other may retort that the first guy is capitalist pig who'd start sending little boys up chimneys if you gave him half a chance. But that's only like one boxer punching another boxer very hard in the face, or one checkers playing huffing the other checkers players king. Once the bout is over, they are the best of friends. When a politician dies, all the others queue up to say how wonderful he was. If Cameron really believed half the things he says about...about whoever the hell's leader of the opposition this week, you can look it up as easily as I can....then he would refuse to stand next to him, have a cup of tea with him, speak to him. He would throw mud in his face whenever he saw him. As a matter of fact, I think that there are lots of people who should be spat on and have mud thrown in their faces if they appear in public: Melanie Phillips, Nick Griffin, people who drive bicycles on the pavement. But Cameron doesn't think that of Thingy, and Thingy doesn't think that of Cameron. It's all theater: like one of those wrestling tournaments where everyone pretends to have a personality but all the moves are planned in advance.  

Some people positively like going to church. They like the smell of incense, they like the music. They like old fashioned social events, home baked cakes and little knitted mittens and terribly old fashioned children's parties -- a social world that somehow got fossilized in the 1950s. Many is the vicar who has lamented that the most trivial organizational change within his parish is resisted with a theological zeal.

"Maybe more young people would come if we held the service at 2PM rather than 10AM?"

"But services have to be at 10PM. It's in Leviticus. Or even if it isn't, it should be. We've always done it this way. WE'VE ALWAYS DONE IT THIS WAY."

There may be some conservative theologians who can give you chapter and verse about why a lady man can preach a good sermon, run the Sunday school, sing in the choir but can't, for ontological reasons, be a priest. But 97% of those who sincerely regret the introduction of female clergy-people do so because it fundamentally changed the social role of the Vicar and the Vicar's wife. Church isn't like wot it used to be in the olden days.

There's nothing terribly wrong with this. Churches depend on people like this, and people like that do lots of good, unglamourous work in their local communities. They never start wars and they hardly ever set fire to Korans. But they do tend to alienate the kinds of people who are quite interested in God but have no real interest in jumble sales.

Similarly, some people like politics. That's why they make it their hobby, or their profession. Oh, doubtless some people join the Swivel-Eyed Warmonger Party because they studied the works of Marx and Spencer and decided to dedicate their lives to securing for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of the industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Doubtless some members of the Smug Posh Racist party originally joined up because they agreed with Milton Keynes that unfettered free markets are the only way to really establish prosperity for all, except the common people. But most of them aren't really in it for that. They're in it because they enjoy the game. They like standing on hustings and kissing babies; they love the noble traditions of the House of Commons, making funny "hear hear" noises and trying to remember exactly how honourable the member opposite is meant to be. At a lower level, they like running fund-raisers and putting leaflets though doors and organizing committees and canvassing votes. Asking three streets if you can rely on their vote next Thursday is great fun, if you like that kind of thing. (This is equally true of the big brave extra-parliamentary demonstrators. Oh, there may be a certain amount of genuine popular outrage spilling onto the streets. But there's also an awful lot of people who are secretly quite pleased that the Tories are back in power because protest marches are such fun.)

The Party is a finely oiled machine, not for winning arguments, but for winning The Game. It isn't enough for someone to support your party: they have to make a positive decision to walk down the road and vote for it. (It will probably be raining. It usually is.) An election doesn't tell you which party had the most supporters: it tell you which party's supporters were most willing to get off their bums and walk to the polling station.

Which may, for all I know, be a very good system: it may very well be that the person who can't be bothered to get out of their armchair doesn't deserve a say in how the country is run, in the same way that Robert Heinlien thinks that anyone who hasn't been in the army doesn't deserve a say in how the country is run, and Richard Littlejohn thinks that anyone whose first language uses a non-Roman alphabet doesn't deserve a say in how the country is run. But it has an unintended consequence:  elections are not about persuading people to vote for you: they're about mobilizing the people who were going to vote for you anyway to stand up and walk down the road. Who goes round to the largest number of supporters houses and says "we notice that you haven't cast your vote, would you like a lift to the polling station?" wins.

Change the system, be it ever so slightly, and the rules of The Game changes. Once my participation in democracy is extended from "put a cross next to the candidate of your choice" to "put the numbers 1, 2 and 3 next to your first, second and third choice of candidate" then it becomes harder for the Labour Candidate to say, as he once did, outside the convenience store at the bottom of Picton Street "Even though you think my leader is a swivel-eyed lunatic, and even if he really did lie about a war, I implore you with all my heart not to waste your vote on the Liberals, because that might let the Tories in." (I paraphrase, slightly. The Liberals were meanwhile sending me hand-written letters imploring me not to vote Labour, because that might let the Tories in.) They would have to start saying "I know that you are a Liberal Supporter, because you believe in personal freedom; but can I ask you to consider the many ways in which Labour has promoted personal freedom, and consider putting us in second place."

To campaign, slightly more, on the issues. And that changes the rules of the Game. And if the Game is what you believe in, that's a hard thing to swallow. 

Don't worry. It is most unlikely that the "Yes" campaign will carry the day in the referendum. Even if they do, it is by no means a foregone conclusion that a "Yes" vote will lead to the 2015 election being fought on AV. If the Yes team wins, I imagine Cameron will point out that the turnout was very low, and that a vote by 30% of the population doesn't imply a clear "mandate" for constitutional change. But he will have a period of contemplation during which he listens jolly carefully and then does whatever his intestines tell him. So the Reds and the Blues will retain their hegemony for few more years. The Great Game -- in which we all agree to pretend that Red are so evil that we have to vote Blue to keep Red out, and that Blue are so evil that we have to vote Red to keep Blue out will carry on.

And the result will be that it won't just be commies and anarchists and cynics who say that they can't be bothered to vote. Faced with increasingly indistinguishable horses more and more people will stop paying attention to the race. Disinterest will be come mainstream. No-one will be able to remember the name of the leader of the opposition. Oh, a few people will still bother to vote, just as few people still bother to morris dance and a few people still bother to renovate old steam engines. But it will be a weird hobby for nutters. And, sooner or later, the whole archaic muddle will get ripped up and chucked in the bin, and someone will thrash out something better. Compulsory voting? Voting via the internet? Regional assemblies? Decentralized power? Regular referenda on specific issues? A directly elected president? Two proportionally elected houses of parliament? Or maybe something more outre: non-professional politicians "called up" to serve a year or two in parliament, like jurors or magistrates? Who knows. But surely, surely surely, in an age of i-pods and interwebs, we aren't going to carry on walking down to a shabby church hall, standing in little coffin shaped urinals, secretly making a stubby little cross on a stubby little bit of paper and then folding it up and poking it in a box?

But change won't come as the result of a new chartist movement. It won't be initiated by the people we now think of as politicians. They'll just wake up one morning and find out that the rest of us have long since stopped paying any attention to their funny little "election" game.

[*] I don't say there is no difference. There is a difference. I believe I could explain it. It has to do with free will, like most things. But I wouldn't expect anyone outside the God club to care very much.

A useful summary of both sides of the argument

Why David Cameron Is A Liar

by Peter Bensley

published on Facebook on Thursday, 21 April 2011: reprinted with permission.

Here's the full text of Cameron's speech on AV:

I don't mean to give the impression that there is only one lie in this speech. This is not at all the case. But rather than enumerate and refute them one by one I want to focus on one and make it absolutely clear why I am convinced that the Prime Minister is trying to mislead you.

"Supporters of unpopular parties end up having their votes counted a number of times…

…potentially deciding the outcome of an election…

…while people who back more popular parties only get one vote."

Let's look at a sample AV Election:

First Round: E is eliminated.

■A 22

■B 21

■C 20

■D 19

■E 18

Second Round: D is eliminated.

■A 27

■B 25

■C 24

■D 23

Third Round: B is eliminated.

■A 34

■B 32

■C 34

Fourth Round: A is the winner.

■A 55

■C 45

According to David Cameron, E voters are counted four times: For their first choice in the first round, their second in the second, and so on, while A voters are only counted once.

This is a lie.

The fact is, the votes for all candidates are counted four times. The votes for A are counted in the first round, then again in the second round, then again in the third and fourth rounds.

If the A & B votes truly were counted only once, and weren't counted as many times as the C/D/E votes, the election would look like this:

First Round: E is eliminated.

■A 22

■B 21

■C 20

■D 19

■E 18

Second Round: B is eliminated.

■A 5

■B 4

■C 24

■D 23

Third Round: A is eliminated.

■A 6

■C 25

■D 25

Fourth Round: C is eliminated. D is the winner.

■C 24

■D 26

If you vote for a candidate who is never eliminated, your second choice never comes into play, but your vote is cast in every round, and keeps your candidate from being eliminated in every round.

So when the Prime Minister says that E voters get many votes while A voters only get one, there are only two possibilities:

1.The Prime Minister of the UK does not understand how runoff voting works.

2.David Cameron is deliberately lying to us all for political gain, and hopes that we will be too naive to catch him doing it.

We've all heard a lot of jokes about how lying is to politicians what swimming is to fish, so it's easy to be cynical and blase about this kind of dishonesty. It's easy to keep on voting for someone even when he clearly has this much contempt for you, because, hey, the alternatives are all politicians and therefore liars too, right?

By treating this behaviour as inevitable we've made it acceptable, and that's what I'd like to see change.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What if they gave an election an no-one came (3)


"I am on neither side in the present controversy. But I still think the abolitionists conduct their case very ill. They seem incapable of stating it without imputing vile motives to their opponents. If unbelievers often look at your correspondence column, I am afraid they may carry away a bad impression of our logic, manners, and charity." - C.S Lewis, letter to the Church Times 15 Dec 1961

So: come Thursday fortnight we all get to traipse down to the polling station and have a vote about how we want to vote. A sort of meta-vote. "Yes" if you want to go over to the first, second and third preferences system; "No" if you want to stay with the simple majority system. There is no way of indicating that you'd rather have Proportional Representation, or that you think that the vote-counting system isn't the main thing which is screwed up about our version of  parliamentary democracy.

If I could be bothered, I might make out some posters saying "Vote 'Maybe' On May 5th." 

If I were the "No" campaign, which I hasten to say that I am not, I could muster a number of perfectly sane arguments for sticking with the system we have at present, however crazy that system it may be.  [1]

1: The crazy system was not invented by anyone. It just grew. Gradually, and incrementally. Having an organic constitution that isn't written down in any one place is one of the special and unique things which make us British, like Morris dancing and the shipping forecast. We should, therefore, only change it gradually and incrementally, and there should always be a presumption to the status quo. "If it ain't broke don't fix it" is a good principle. "Even if it is broke, be careful of fiddling with it if you don't know what you are doing, because that may very well make things worse" is a pretty good principle too. Presumption in favour of the status quo does not mean "never change anything, ever" any more than "presumption of innocence" means "never find anyone guilty, ever". It just means "be pretty damn sure you know what you are doing". Wait until there is an overwhelming case. Beware of unintended consequences. The case for giving women the vote in 1928, or giving all men the vote in 1832, were pretty overwhelming. Counting the votes in a more convoluted way, not so much. 

2: Some people quite like the kerrazy system. Practically no-one likes the "alternative vote" system. The supporters of AV really want a PR: they are pretending to like AV because that was the only system that the people who don't really want any change at all were prepared to agree to a referendum on. [2] We're going to a great deal of trouble to replace a system which some people like and some people don't like with one which nobody likes. We're going to a great deal of trouble to replace the worst system imaginable with the second worse system imaginable. At best, there's a huge fuss and palaver, we conduct the 2015 election on AV, and in 2020 or 2025 we have to go through the whole process all over again. At worst, we spend the next 100 years saddled with a system that no-one wanted in the first place. (And the people who object to all change on general principles will, of course, say "You want ANOTHER referendum? Will you NEVER be satisfied?") 

3: The supporters of AV appear to take it for granted that an election result which accurately reflects the "will" of the people is the most desirable result. This does not seem to me to be self-evident or axiomatic. Granted, a minority of die-hard Black Party supporters don't really care what is done to the country, provided it is done by a person wearing a Black rosette and a minority of die-hard White Party voters don't care what is done to the country provided it is done by a person wearing a White rosette. But what everyone else wants is good, efficient, competent leadership -- a prosperous country, low rates of crime, clean hospitals, well educated children, Folk Waves returned to its Monday evening slot Radio Derby, et cetera et cetera et cetera. They don't actually care all that much about parties. Oh, we may have our own personal opinions on whether the Blue party policy on law and order is better than the Red party policy on law and order, in the same way may happen to have a personal opinion about whether the committee of the Little Gidding swimming club should spend this years subscription money on installing hair dryers in the changing rooms or on fixing the diving board, but what really matters to us is that the police catch criminals and the swimming pool stays open. It is at least arguable that a parliament with an overall majority of Red MPs -- even if the Red party does not command an overall majority of support among actual voters -- will do a better job of actually organizing the police force than a parliament consisting of equal numbers of Red, White and Blue MPs would have done, even though an equal number of Red, White and Blue votes were actually cast. Hung parliaments necessarily involve lots of messy compromises and back-room deals, and all three parties having to pretend to support policies which none of them actually agree with. You might very well think it best that the Red party gets a chance to put their policies into practice without being blocked all the time by the White party -- even though you yourself like the policies of the White party better. For most people, party politics is not like supporting a football team or signing up to a religion. It's more a set of vague preferences. The "Yes" campaign seems very good at showing that "first past the post" marginalizes smaller parties and tends towards two-party rule. It seems rather less keen to show why that is necessarily a Bad Thing.

However, the naysayers do not appear to arguing for the principle of conservatism; or that we are being asked to replace one unpopular system with another unpopular system, or even that single party rule is preferable to perpetual compromise. In fact, it is hard to work out what their real case is. They claim that AV is more expensive than FPTP. They point out that the referendum has cost £91 million, although it isn't clear if that money is refunded if everyone votes "no". They argue that the £130 million we are going to spend on voting machines to administer the new system would be better spent on hospitals, bombs and duck-houses, which would be a fair to middling argument if anyone had proposed buying voting machines, which they haven't. They argue that it would let extremist parties in, which is hard to reconcile with the fact that the extremist parties are against it. [3] 

Cameron's speech yesterday was beyond parody. He keeps appealing to a weird constitutional essentialism under which the Alternative Voting system is "un British." I think I understand what "un British" means. For example, Eric and Ernie are "British", and Groucho Marx is "un British"; bacon, eggs, and fried bread are "British", if consumed at breakfast time, but blueberry waffles are  in the same context "un British". I suppose, then, the present system is British because that's the system we currently have in Britain, and a different system is, at the moment, not British because that's not the system that we have in Britain at the moment. How's that an argument? He repeated the ridiculous claim that under the proposes system, some people get more votes than others which is. Just. Not. True. [4] And he said that " It could mean that people who come third in elections will end up winning." In case this concept is too hard to grasp, the Naysayers campaign leaflet [5] helpfully provides a photo of four sprinters crossing a finishing line. The man in third place is marked "The winner under AV".

"It is wrong that the person who came second or third can overtake the person with the most votes and be allowed to win because the second, third or even lower choices of supporters of extreme parties such as the BNP are counted again and again and again" it explains, a trifle breathlessly.

As an argument, this really is on the same level as saying that you ought to believe in God, because that's the only way to avoid being an atheist, or that we ought to reintroduce capital punishment because otherwise we won't be able to execute any murderers. If you define "the person with the most votes" as "the person with the most first choice votes" and "the person who came second or third" as "the person who would have come second or third under first past the post" then it is a no-brainer that the "person with the most votes" will sometimes come second and the "person who came second" will sometimes come first. That is, AV will sometimes come out different to FTP. That is the point of it, you ignorant little maggot. We have a thousand people: each of them with a different set of preferences between the Red Party, the White Party and the Blue Party. We have to turn those thousands sets of preferences into a single man -- a Red Man, a White Man or a Blue Man. Some people think that "the man who was some people's first choice, lots of people's second choice, a few people's third choice, and hardly anybody's last choice" fills that role better than "the man who was a few people's first choice, but the everybody else's last choice." Cameron has literally said "The only possible system is the one where the largest single minority wins, because in all the other system,s the largest single minority doesn't win." This is just not an argument. 

And Cameron must know that it is just not an argument because he resorted to possibly the weirdest thing ever said by a British Politician

"Politics shouldn't be some mind-bending exercise. It's about what you feel in your gut, about the values you hold dear and the beliefs you instinctively have. And I just feel it, in my gut, that AV is wrong."

Yes, of course, many of our most important and deepest beliefs come from instinct, intuition, or, if you insist, gut-feeling. I don't imagine that I could prove that you should never use force until all peaceful means have been exhausted; or that we should treat everyone as we ourselves would like to be treated; or that it's better to be kind than to be cruel. When you comes up against conflicting, irreducible gut feelings, then the argument is at an end. "You'd be willing to give up quite a lot of your freedom in return for security" I say "That's interesting. I'd rather live in a dangerous world provided I was free to go to hell in my own choice of hand cart. Well, then, we'll just have to agree to differ." But the person who invokes "gut feeling" and "I just know" to early in the discussion -- the person who says that he doesn't care what the boffins say, he just knows that global warming isn't happening; or that he doesn't care what the boffins say, he just knows that vaccination causes autism; or that he doesn't care what the boffins say, he just knows that human beings can't have evolved from monkeys -- is simply not worth talking to. He's a fanatic, a zealot, a fundamentalist, or, let's be quite honest here, a loony. [6] To say "I am opposed to this or that constitutional system because of a gut feeling" is really the equivalent of saying "LA-LA-LA! NOT LISTENING! NOT LISTENING!" The existence of politicians who resort that kind of argument is one reason why a lot of us think we need a better way of electing them.

Above: something essentially  British

Under the present system, choosing the government is often reduced to a kind of pesphological prisoner's dilemma. I like the Fluffy Bunny Party. I hate the Swivel-Eyed Warmonger Party. But I hate the Smug Posh Racist Party even more. I fear that few other people will vote for the Fluffy Bunny Party; but that quite a lot of people will vote for the Smug Posh Racists. Therefore, I must vote Swivel- Eyed Warmonger (who I hate) to prevent the Smug Racist Party (who I hate more) from winning. No-one votes Fluffy Bunny because they don't think that the Fluffy Bunny Party can win because no-one votes for them; the Swivel-Eyed Warmonger claims a popular mandate for whatever daft scheme pops into his head over the next five years because so many people thought he was the least worst option who had a chance of not losing.

In 2005, many disgruntled Labour voters threatened to shift their support to the Liberal party on the not unreasonable grounds that disgraced former Prime Minister Tony Blair had (as I may have previously mentioned) lied about a war. You might have expected the Labour Party to have responded by saying that lying had been the most honest thing to do under the circumstances, or that he hadn't actually lied, or that the war hadn't actually happened. But no. They argued that this kind of voting (voting Liberal because the Liberals were the only party to oppose the Really Stupid War) would be "self-indulgent" and indeed undemocratic since the Liberals couldn't possibly win because no-one was going to vote for them, even the people who agreed with them, because voting for them would be self indulgent and undemocratic because they couldn't win.

It's demented.

Some of the "No" campaign appear to think that AV would be a Bad Thing because it would make this kind of voting harder, or, as they put it, because people would not "understand" how to "use" their vote. It's easy to say "I like the Fluffy Bunnies, everyone likes the Fluffy Bunnies, but I am not going to vote Fluffy Bunny because I don't think that anyone else will vote Fluffy Bunny (because they also don't think anyone else will vote for them.)" It's much harder to say "I will put the Posh Smug Racists in second place, because, although they are really my fourth choice to run the country, putting Fluffy Bunny, who are actually my second choice to run the country in second place is more likely to result in a victory for Swivel Eyed Warmonger, who are my first choice, if, as I suspect, people whose second choice is really Raving Loony will be putting Fluffy Bunny second to keep out the Posh Racists...."

But this seems to me to be the scheme's main -- possibly only -- advantage. The idea of "using your vote" as opposed to "voting for the party you actually like best" seems to me to be undemocratic to be the point of wickedness. I've actually heard it floated, by people who believe in the "three cups of tea" theory, that the sensible thing for a Labour supporter to do would be to put Monster Raving Loony in first place and Labour in second , so that they can get a free extra Labour vote in the second round, which is Just. Not. How. It. Works.

Put your cross by the person you actually think would do the best job running the country. Under the new system, but 1 next to the best, and 2 next to the second best. Anything else and might as well not bother with elections.

"I am not producing arguments to show that capital punishment is certainly right; I am only maintaining that it is not certainly wrong; it is a matter on which good men may legitimately differ" - C.S Lewis "Why I Am Not a Pacifist."

[1] A very wise man once pointed out that the English language was crazy: if you can say that a retired teacher "taught" why can't you say that a retired preacher "praught"? But that's not necessarily an argument for wholesale spelling and grammar reform.

[2] So it is pretty shitty underhanded of the naysayer to say that only Fiji and Narnia use the AV system. Wikipedia lists 165 countries which use PR. The Liberals wanted a referendum on PR, but Cameroon wouldn't let them have one.

[3] Of course they are. Of course they are. They are a few peoples' first choice, and everybody else's last choice. That's what "extremist" means.

[4] Well: Mr Smith writes the numbers 1 - 7 by each of 7 candidates, in order of preference, while Mr Jones writes the numbers 1 - 5 by the names of the 5 candidates he wouldn't mind winning -- but nothing at all by the names of the two candidates he wouldn't want under any circumstances. I suppose it is literally true that, if the count went to the 7th round, Mr Smith would have voted in all 7 rounds, where Mr Jones would only have voted in the first 5 rounds, but that doesn't equate to Mr Smith having had more say in choosing the candidate that Mr Jones. (Or does it: can someone do the maths?)

[5] The No-To-AV campaign leaflet is quite the most hateful document I have ever read, and I speak as one who has made a special study of the works of Dave Sim, and once read the Daily Express every day for a month.

[6] "Thus, you may meet a temperance fantastic who claims to have an unanswerable intuition that all strong drink is forbidden. Really he can have nothing of the sort. The real intuition is that health and harmony are good. Then there is the generalizing from facts to the effect that drunkenness produces disease and quarrelling, and perhaps also, if the fanatic is Christian, the voice of Authority saying that the body is the temple of the Holy Ghost. Then there is a conclusion that what can always be abused had better never be used at all - a conclusion eminently suited for discussion. Finally, there is the process whereby early associations, arrogance, and the like turn the remote conclusion into something which man thinks unarguable because he does not with to argue about it." C.S Lewis "Why I Am Not a Pacifist."