Author Archives: Ciaran Morrissey

Is the Netherlands election the end for PR?

This week saw general elections in the Netherlands which led to the nationalist Partij voor die Vriejheid (PVV) or Party For Freedom as the largest party in the country’s House of Representatives for the first time in its history.

The PVV is led by Geert Wilders, who has called for, among other things, a ban on mosques and Qurans, and “Constitutional protection of the dominance of the Judeo-Christian and humanistic culture of the Netherlands”. While coalition talks could take months and there are a number of mathematically viable options, Wilders looks set to be the country’s next prime minister, in a rapid departure from the Dutch stereotypes of being liberal, tolerant Europhiles.

Wilders has managed to do this despite the Netherlands using a proportionally representative electoral system where all votes are weighted equally and parties are returned to parliament fully in proportion to the number of votes they received. So I think it is pertinent to point out that proportional representation is not a silver bullet; it does not stop far-right parties from reaching the levers of power. Indeed, in 2015, had we used proportional representation in this country and had voters voted the same way as they did in reality, a Conservative-UKIP coalition would’ve been the only viable option, with 49.4% of the vote between them.

I don’t think comparisons to Nigel Farage or Donald Trump are necessarily helpful and I don’t think lamentations about why the Dutch public voted PVV are particularly instructive to a British audience. I’ll leave that for the psephologists and the experts in Dutch politics, of which I am emphatically neither.

Rather, I want to tackle the sentiment that, because proportional representation does not fully prevent governments like this from forming, it is useless. I want to tackle the idea that we should abandon winning over a majority of the public and instead focus on winning over a majority of parliament.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 35 Comments

Why we need housing targets for local authorities

Complex systems tend towards inertia. We struggle to see things in terms of counter-factuals. When presented with cause-and-effect, we don’t compare negative effects against negative effects of inaction or of alternative action, we compare negative effects with what existed prior.

The ULEZ charge illustrates this. Paying £12.50 every day to drive your old car through London may be better than living in a polluted city, but it is still worse in an immediate and personal way than not having to pay that £12.50 at all. Sadiq Khan pressed ahead with this regardless, surely in no small part to him being relatively confident he will win re-election anyway in 2024. Do we think Nik Johnson and Dan Norris are looking at the ULEZ backlash in London and thinking it’d be a sensible roll of the dice for them, electorally?

Complex systems tend towards inertia. It is the job of campaigners, activists, and politicians to overcome this inertia. In aspect of British politics is there so much inertia, to the detriment of so many people, than in our chronic failure to build houses.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 10 Comments

Restriction is not empowerment

When I was in Year 5, Jamie Oliver confiscated our turkey twizzlers and re-vamped school dinners to stop us from getting fat. We learned about the food pyramid, about good fats and bad fats, and about the importance of a balanced diet. PE was compulsory and we learned about calories, kinetic energy, how to exercise safely. In PSHE we learned that around one in three cigarette smokers will die from smoking. We learned how harmful alcohol was for both physical and mental health. We had Talk To Frank, a government service which gave us the low-down on all the dangers of drugs. Which is why it’s always confusing to me when every new public health proposal is veiled in the language of empowerment.

If the goal was empowerment, then we hit that long ago. Empowering people to make their own decisions necessarily means understanding that some people will make different choices even when faced with the same circumstance. An empowered person is not forced into any particular choice but may exercise their own agency to make their own decisions as they see fit.

Removing these choices, placing barriers to them, or otherwise nudging, cajoling, and strong-arming people away from certain choices, is the opposite of empowerment. It’s telling people that they are not free to make their own choices, or that, if left to their own devices, they’ll make the wrong choices. The reality is that, when it comes to health, most people are making informed decisions which align with what they want to do.

You can make an argument that people cannot be trusted to make their own decisions, but it is not a particularly liberal argument and I’d hope this party would not entertain that at all.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 24 Comments

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