Find Your Dr Evan Harris and Vote For Them

Tomorrow we will be voting.

If I lived a few hundred yards North, just over the river, I could cast my vote for Dr Evan Harris.

I envy my neighbours. They have a real choice  in candidate and their vote will count.  The constituency of Oxford West and Abingdon is a marginal where it is not clear cut who will win. My own constituency is a pretty safe seat and my vote is, therefore,  unlikely to influence the result.

Evan Harris is a candidate I could vote for wholeheartedly. We need not get party political to understand why. He brings passions and expertise, and a commitment to reason and evidence. Such attributes are uncomfortably rare in British politics. Instead, we see convictions and commitment to dogma as being heralded as desirable traits. We also see ignorance of science as being no bar to becoming  a parliamentary representative. Evan has championed many causes that are important and he has done so with a constant integrity and intelligence.

But his stance on such issues as the funding of homeopathy, scientific research with animals, womens abortion rights and the legalisation of assisted dying for the suffering terminally ill of sound mind have created many enemies. Indeed, his constituency has been heavily leafleted by Christian right wingers and animal rights extremists. He is standing against Nicola Blackwood, a young Conservative candidate who is a member of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, an organisation that seeks to put prayer at the heart of government.

As I say, this constituency is lucky. Thinking voters, who live in the real world and not one occupied by magic pills and sky fairies, have a chance of electing a rational and committed individual and not someone who will be consulting their invisible friend before inflicting their warped sense of morality upon us.

But, for most people in the UK, our votes will not count. We will not be able to find a candidate who we believe will be outstanding and hard working and, even if we did, our vote would mean nothing.

The Liberal Democrats, if they have influence in the new government, have long held a commitment to change the voting system so that votes can no longer be wasted in safe seats. Proportional representation holds fears for many. We like being able to put our vote against a specific name so that we can have the chance to bypass party politics, if we so wish, and vote in individuals who are exceptional and will enrich parliament in their own way. The problem is that for most, this ideal is just a fantasy. Our candidates are chosen by party bureaucracies and we end up with  apparatchics and dullards who have been good party players. Our parliament ends up, on the whole, with occupants who are good at playing politics and not being free thinking politicians. We rarely end up with people who understand science, technology, education and health – but with lawyers, union leaders and those born with silver spoons in their mouths.

I attended Evan’s campaign kick off in Oxford recently and was sat next to an American physician who described herself as an “allopath” and was a big supporter of acupuncture and Chinese medicine. We had a good chat. I am not sure if she liked all Evan had to say but was so impressed with the informality of the hustings, its humour and the obvious intelligence of debates. It would be nice to think that if she could vote in the UK, she would feel a vote for Evan would be positive, despite their differences of opinions on the merits of alternative medicine. It is a shame that more people do not take part in such political events and get to see their politicians for who they are. But we have been put off politics by self-serving politicians who cheat their expenses and then retire to a fat director’s salary. And again, for most people, there is nothing we can do about it.

Politics would be reborn if our votes counted. If our votes could be placed against names that meant something to us. If our votes could help oust the lazy, ignorant, bigoted or corrupt.  And that is why I feel the most important result from tomorrow’s election would be a parliament that was committed to a fairer electoral system. Proportional representation need not remove the intimacy of voting for local people we can meet on the street – there are many forms. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats, I believe, favour a form of Single Transferable Vote in multiple MP constituencies, and this would be a good balance and achieve these aims. It  could help ensure quality candidates persisted and thrived whilst the ineffective suffer.

I am not confident, that even in the event of a hung parliament, such an outcome would be easy. There are too many vested interests who will want to stop this. The main two parties themselves could no longer assume all political control despite only achieving minority support. The press could no longer connive and scheme to enrich their proprietors coffers. The power shift from the political elite and the billionaire party backers to individual MPs and voters would be huge and we could expect massive resistance.

But the prize would be a richer parliament with most voters having a say in its make up. I would hope we would see more candidates like Evan Harris – albeit many you would not agree with. But the scrutiny of our governments could only be improved, the likelihood of corruption diminished and the quality of our candidates enhanced.

I know which way I will be voting tomorrow – even if it counts for nothing. I hope, however, your vote counts.

On this theme…

12 Comments on Find Your Dr Evan Harris and Vote For Them

  1. Aye. I have the privilege of being an Ox West/Abingdon resident and will certainly be casting my vote Evan Harriswards. But oftentimes I’ve thought: ‘How much harder a decision would this be if I were living in another constituency?’

  2. And this is why I’ll be voting for a change in electoral system when the referendum comes round in my country soon.

  3. A prominent local Doctor (NHS Consultant Psychiatrist) is standing in my local area. There is nothing in the law to compel him to put his title as Doctor on the ballots. So people will be voting for him unaware that, if they get him in, they will be further over-loading the schedule of a Mental Health Professional. Did I mention he makes a big deal about being religious? He makes a big deal about being religious. And he loves his patients so much he burns himself out, every time it comes round, by stomping around trying to get himself elected.

  4. Unusually le canard noire, on this occasion, also resorts to mumbo jumbo with a political twist on the most misrepresented but topical subject of PR. Much of the content just isn’t true and the expected results fairyland thinking.

    Just a note of realism here; giving even more power to politicians wouldn’t by itself fill the chamber with honest and humble geniuses, quite the opposite in fact. I particularly like the phrase ‘richer parliament’ for the self serving bureaucrats that make up most PR groups. We can at least change the government and possibly the direction which is something that most PR countries have difficulty in doing.

    I also quite like the rather bizarre view that just because your guy hasn’t got any meaningful support your vote is ‘wasted’. Quite the opposite I would have thought as the miniscule parties need every vote they can get. The bloke who wins has the ‘wasted’ votes as he only needs 1 more than the runner up and usually has thousands.

    If you want the same government forever, don’t care who your representative is or even who the prime minister is then PR is just the tool for that. STV just complicates counting and doesn’t really feature on most PR supporter’s radar as a real PR system. Like our present but at least understandable system it favours the larger parties and won’t change much at all. Why else do you think the last government suddenly favours it?

    You might also ponder as to why there are a multitude of PR systems currently in use all with special variants and all with the same absolute priority of me first, duty later with the added incentive that you need a computer to work out the results. If PR was so great wouldn’t they all use the same one?

    Quite woolly thinking by the author this time.

    • Would have been helpful if you’d spelled out Proportional Representation the first time you said it. I was reading it as Public Relations until I read through your comment a third time. Most proportional representation systems don’t give a vastly different result from each other, so your comment that everyone uses different systems doesn’t really mean much. Argue against STV all you like, but I want a system where I can vote against a fraudulent candidate or a candidate in my preferred party who stands on the opposite side of issues that are important to me.

    • I agree that PR won’t make Parliament full of better politicians, but the second half of your comment doesn’t make that much sense. You say that STV isn’t looked upon favourably by PR supporters, but actually that’s not true, it’s the preferred system of the Electoral Reform Society, to name one. PR also won’t produce the same government forever, it’ll produce the government that the people voted for. You know this thing called democracy? Maybe you’ve heard of it?

      You also say that under PR you don’t know who your representative is, but that’s not true of STV. Under STV you have a multi-member constituency so you’re more likely to have an MP that you voted for. Compare this to the current system where a Lib Dem voter living in a Conservative constituency is essentially not represented. The MP-Constituency link is actually strengthened under STV, not weakened. What I don’t get is why you think STV favours large parties. It does a little bit, but nothing like as much as FPTP. Look at the results for the Northern Ireland Assembly elections, they’re only a couple of percentage points off full proportionality.

      Of course your last point is ridiculous. No electoral system is perfect and there has to be compromise. It depends on what a society values most in an electoral system, so just because there are different systems in use doesn’t mean that they’re all bad.

      Personally I think the introduction of a more proportional system could be very good for the UK, but other things could (and in my opinion should) come with it, such as more compromise and inter-party agreement in government, a weakening of the party whip system, a less adversarial style of politics. Let’s do this like grown-ups.

    • I am not so sure. We may vote for the same party in the end but for different reasons. Mr of Kent clearly states his preference for single member constituencies. What I am writing about here is more to do with the dilemma that creates – yes, it creates an intimacy and local focus for representation, but most often at the expense of the majority of voters having no influence over who represents them. Most people get represented by people they did not vote for and there is little scope to elect people on merit rather than strict party allegiance.

  5. Not exactly evidence-based, this post.

    Candidates are chosen by party bureaucracies? Really, how many? And how many are chosen by the parties’ members?

    The current system of single member constituencies results in MPs who are good at playing politics, not so good at being “free-thinking” members, who love all things sciencey? Is a move to multiple-member constituencies (as required by PR systems), where your place on the list dictates whether you get elected, really less likely to result in MPs who are good at playing politics? Really?

    Also, while noting the “billionaire party backers”, we might as well make reference to the convicted fraudsters too.

    Evan Harris seems an admirable MP, and I hope he’ll be re-elected, but let’s not kid ourselves that the 2nd oldest party is that much different from the older or younger one.

    • Single Transferable Vote, even in multi-member constituencies, is emphatically not a list system. You vote for your preferred candidates, in order of preference. This is the system promoted by the Lib Dems.

      To see what voter power means, I suggest you visit http://www.voterpower.org.uk. And thank your lucky stars you don’t live in Bootle…

      • STV sounds like what we have in Oz but we just call it “preferential voting”. Essentially you number your candidates in order of preference. If no candidate gets a clear majority (>50%) then second preferences of those who voted for the least popular candidate are added to the others and so on up the chain. When all second prefs have been distributed, if there is still no one with a clear majority, third preferences are counted (excluding those of the least popular since they are no longer in the race, iirc) and so on until someone gets a clear majority.

        Like most things in politics, it makes absolute sense to some and frustrates the hell out of others who can’t understand why someone with “the most votes” didn’t win just because they only got 40% of the total.

        In simple terms it’s a case of “if I can’t have the representative I really want, I’d rather have this one or this one or this one before that one.” Makes sense when it’s understood but if you end up with the pillock you most despise then no system seems sensible 🙂

  6. As another who lives close to Evan’s constituency but not part of it, I also regret extremely those 176 votes between him and election. The House of Commons will be far poorer without him.

    On PR: Many times I have heard it said, that “first past the post” gives strong government. Not today it doesn’t! You couldn’t ask for a more hung parliament than we will end up with today. the only way Cameron could form a government is with the Lib Dems backing him – the maths doesn’t stack up any other way. And the Lib Dems would drive a hard bargain. But that is what is meant of course, by the word “compromise”.

    Such compromise will stick in the craw of many Conservatives, and also very likely many Lib Dems. But to deal with the issues facing us in the next few years, no other option is really open, unless we have another election in a few months. So one has to hope that the party leaders will stick socks in the mouths of their more outspoken nutters, if I can use that word, and engage properly with the situation the electorate and the electoral system has dumped them in.

    Curiously, over a long period, PR (with just a few parties – it gets unwieldy with a larger number) gives more stable government than FPTP. A few percent change here and there won’t make a significant difference except perhaps in the unseating of unpopular MPs (through voting systems like AV or STV). The reason the Conservatives don’t want PR, is very likely to be that the Lib Dems would quite likely form a longer-term coalition with the (nowadays much more moderate and reasonable) Labour party, and by this means the excesses (of both sides!) would be moderated, and long-term adherence to one clear set of agreed policies based on some compromise, would give stability.

    The Conservatives would then be relegated to long-term opposition. Clearly, they don’t want that! It seems likely, that the Labour Party might finally be realising this…

    …By the way, congrats, Andy, on the recent addition to your family!

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