The Problems with First Past the Post Voting Explained

The Problems with First Past the Post Voting Explained

In Praise of the Independent: Finding strengths in the Lib Dems

The Independent asks if the Lib Dems are irrelevant and finds many positive aspects for the party being in Government which can be seen as strengths for the party.

If anything the influence of the Liberal Democrats on the Coalition is growing, and exceeds what they might have expected on the basis of their relatively small number of seats. They are, in theory, the rather pathetic, junior partners in a coalition of the radical right. Yet in reality they are important and substantial partners, at times almost co-equals.

Their policy contribution is distinctive and significant. Beyond the referendum on electoral reform, Clegg can credibly claim that in several areas his party has helped to make the Coalition more progressive and less reactionary than it might have been.

Lessons from successful politicians: Helen Clark gains success from relationship-based politics

Success stories exists in politics which offer great learning for anyone who follows politics. Where a party wants to learn about how to do well in coalition politics then we need to look at successful politicians in coalitions and see what there is to learn and New Zealand offers some good lessons for the Lib Dems.

Helen Clark, leader of the Labour Party and ex-Prime Minister, forged a reputation as a tough operator capable of making the hard decisions but  never had bold or visionary intentions to fundamentally change New Zealand, seeking to evolutionarily reform society. She was never considered a conviction politician and was regarded as a particularly cautious and moderate prime minister by her colleagues.

Yet she was phenomenally successful. She held the position of leader of the New Zealand Labour Party from 1993 until 2008 having lost 1 general election and then winning 3 in a row. She was the Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1999 to 2008 becoming the first women to become prime minister in New Zealand as a result of a general election, being one of the longest serving Prime Ministers and the most successful female politician the country had seen. So what why was she so successful where others had before her had not achieved as much.

Success to Clark was about winning, and about staying on top, which she was very skilled at. Part of Helen Clark’s success in winning power and retaining it was found in her highly managerial political style. Helen Clark used extensive use of opinion polling, focus groups and all sorts of other political market research to inform her political decisions. What she lacked in visionary politics and personal charisma, she made up in managerial skills and tactical cunning.

But the essence of Helen Clark’s skill was her excellent relationship-building capacity. She was a pragmatic politician par excellence, almost always knowing how best to effectively deal with a situation to obtain the most beneficial outcome for her party and government. So this wasn’t so much about pursuing a particular policy agenda, but about growing her support base in her party, in the parliament, and in society at large. This often meant that she was incredibly conservative. She was not inclined to push any policies that might endanger her political relationships or popularity.

Clark never attempted to be a ‘great’ politician. She sought to be a ‘successful’ politician, which is not the same thing

While many will see this it as a weakness not to push a more ideological agenda she believed in the importance of being in power to effect change. In a world of coalitions, building on the relationships you have, gives you the power to effect change. Clark and Labour worked with a variety of different parliamentary support and coalition partners including the Alliance, the Progressives, the Greens, United Future, and New Zealand First. By all accounts, Helen Clark was extraordinary at keeping all of these forces together.  Possibly the most significant achievement of Helen Clark’s 9-year rule was making MMP (mixed member proportional representation) work.

Managing the competing relationships i.e. stakeholders, was therefore at the forefront of her approach. She had her own party, the other parties in government, those who voted for her and those who may potentially vote for her. To do this she could not be a conviction politician and

the times Clark followed her heart rather than her head, were the times she lost voter support

However, there were times when she did not care for sections in her own party and some decisions played a key role in producing a split between much the Maori members and the Labour Party. A new party was created, the Maori Party, Labour lost most of the Maori electorate seats and the Maori Party went on to form a coalition with the National Party in the 2008 election.

The key to her success was her ability to make, manage and build on relationships with key stakeholders. It kept her in power and a centre-left government for 9 years (following a 15 year conservative government). It produced no defining moments but allowed for many social and liberal reforms. In a world of coalition politics, relationship based politics seems to be a successful strategy.

The golden rule of governing: How the Lib Dems have repeatedly broken it and what they need to do to start building support again

Politics is littered with lessons and the Lib Dems are finding that what made them successful in opposition is not what will make them successful in government. They need to start learning some lessons fast. So what lessons can they learn from 3 Labour leaders in 3 different countries about the golden rule of governing?

Tony Blair won an unprecedented 3 consecutive election victories for the UK Labour Party in 1997, 2001 and 2005 and in the first half of his premiership enjoyed healthy opinion poll ratings. The Australian Labor Party, under Kevin Rudd, won one of the most sweeping victories in Australian election history in 2007 and during their first two years in office, Kevin Rudd and his government set records for popularity in opinion polls.

Many consider Tony Blair to be a master politician yet he was forced to stand down by his own party to be replaced by Gordon Brown. Kevin Rudd and his party were buoyed by their landslide win in 2007 yet within 3 years he found himself forced to step down as leader and was replaced by Julia Gillard. So what went wrong and could it have been avoided?

For Tony Blair many feel he never recovered from the decision to go to war with Iraq. No one supported Saddam Hussein, yet the decision to go to war without UN sanction shocked many, not only in the nation but around the world. As the war progressed, people became shocked and surprised at both the information that was used to take us into the war and what was happening in the war.

For Kevin Rudd many feel he made a mistake in how he handled the issue of tax reform where the Australian Government made an announcement to impose a 40 per cent tax on Australian miner’s profits. The tax announcement was described as “shocking” (Tom Albanese, CEO for Rio Tinto), a “shocking idea” (The Australian), and “a surprise attack on us” (Andrew Forrest, CEO of Fortescue Metals). It resulted in the mining industry spending millions in adverts against the tax which affected public opinion of the government and the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.

Of course these were not the only reasons as to why they were forced out by their own party as they were indicative of their premierships. The United States diplomatic cables leaks reveal that the former US ambassador to Australia described Rudd as a ‘control freak’ and considered Rudd’s mistakes to have arisen from his propensity to make ‘snap announcements without consulting other countries or within the Australian government’. Tony Blair took bolder and bolder decisions as his tenure progressed resulting in allegations of cash for honours and the lowest opinion poll ratings for a Prime Minister since polls began.

The tale of these two men provide a good example of the golden rule while in government: The no shocks and no surprises rule. There are many examples of this rule being broken on many levels such as Gordon Brown’s abolition of the 10p tax rate or Margaret Thatcher’s Poll Tax. But the tale of a third leader of a Labour Party shows how to make this rule work.

Helen Clark won the leadership of the New Zealand Labour Party and kept it for a record 15 years and then led her party to three victories in general elections. She consulted widely, people knew what she was going to do and when and as a result is the most successful politician in New Zealand ever.

[and] that’s Clark’s modus operandi. Take a bit here. And do a bit there. Move cautiously. Flag what you are doing before you do it. No shocks. No surprises. And if something does go wrong, fix it. And quickly. All of which makes the Labour-Alliance coalition a difficult government to attack. (see here)

A surprise can be seen as an unexpected occurrence, appearance, or statement while a shock is a sudden disturbance of the mind, emotions, or sensibilities. Clark managed to avoid these for much of her premiership which resulted in few confrontations with any stakeholders involved in keeping her staying Prime Minister.

This golden rule goes some way to explaining why the Tory vote is holding up in opinion polls while the Lib Dem one has not. While the decisions that have been made have been unpopular, and in many ways have been Tory policies, they do not surprise Tory voters as these decisions were discussed before the election or are within their political philosophy. Where they may come unstuck are NHS reforms, which have shocked even some in the Tory party.

Now the Lib Dems have shed a dramatic amount of support which has worried many in the party. But it is not necessarily the shedding of support which worries party members and voters but the decisions that have been made in the Lib Dem name. This can be seen through the golden rule where the Lib Dems have already broken this on several occasions:

  • Entering coalition with the conservatives has surprised many on the left of the political spectrum
  • Nick Clegg changing his mind on the economy shocked many
  • The Lib Dems voting for a tripling of the tuition fees for university has been a shock to everyone

Entering the coalition is one which would not have been too damaging as people understood the political situation and many believed it would benefit the party. However, taken with the change in stance on the economy, created shocks which began to effect the poll ratings more dramatically. And then we have tuition fees. We have to acknowledge that these decisions have been devastating for the party and have made people question what the party is for and whether they want to vote for them again.

If the Lib Dems want to survive in government they need to stick to the golden rule: No Shocks and No Surprises. We need more consultation and more dialogue; more predictable Lib Dem decisions that fit in Lib Dem philosophy; more announcements of what is going to happen, announcements of when it is going to happen, and announcements that it has happened. The Guardian highlights this point and it is a lesson worth learning. Only by sticking to the golden rule will the party build back the support that it has shed by breaking the golden rule of governing.

How to help the public from Labour councils: How the Lib Dems can take the initiative in saving jobs in local councils

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The Lib Dems have tried to make headway about the fact that Labour councils are cutting more jobs than Lib Dem or Tory ones with Clegg and Cameron calling them politically motivated moves by Labour councils. Yet the reality is that these councils have a problem which the people living there will not see as a Labour issue but a government and a Lib Dem one. In a climate of cuts there is no political capital to be made out of a comparison of job losses or the perception of a decimation of front line services. What the Lib Dems need is a different way to produce results in these councils and there are some lessons to be learnt here from the Swedish speed camera experiment?

One solution to some Labour councils’ cutting more jobs or front line public service workers is to tell them what they should be doing. However, this would be disastrous as the new introduction of the presumption of competence of local authorities, means that this principle would be undermined before it has even got off the ground. So this has left the government and the Lib Dems briefing to the press how bad it is. But authority can be used in many ways and we should not give up looking for a solution because we can’t make them do it anymore.

Stockholm ran an experiment to see if they could get speed cameras to be more effective at reducing speed. The speed camera was set up and those who passed it under the speed limit were registered for the lottery to win about £3000. The result was that it reduced the average speed from 32 km/h to 25 km/h in a 30km/h zone.

This shows that a system can be made more effective by appealing to a different side of human motivation. So could this be used in the local authority job loss problem?

If the Lib Dems and the Tories genuinely believe that the Labour cuts are politically motivated then they are saying that they are not necessary. So they could offer an incentive to those who cut fewer jobs and fewer front line workers. What this means is that local authorities could decide to continue to cut jobs at the rate they decide or choose to change priorities. This keeps to the principle of competence while saying that the government has priorities on keeping jobs and protecting the public services. Locals would have a genuine reason to be angry at the local council rather than central government as the local council would have had a choice to change priorities and secure local jobs.

For all the reviews, reports and those who have worked in a local authority, people know that there is plenty of room for efficiencies, yet it seems too hard to achieve the savings. Maybe it is time to think of a different approach?

Improving campaigning: What the research says about what works in political campaigning

What works in political campaigning? How many leaflets have been delivered, letters sent, doors knocked on? Remember the prerecorded message from Nick Clegg to 250,000 voters? Is this a reflection that the Lib Dems don’t know what works? Randomised experiments producing reliable evidence in politics are rare and so it is difficult to get the strategy as effective as possible for the resources you have. However, there are some experiments which give us some very specific results to improve our campaigning.

The get-out-the-vote campaign in the states has made extensive use of randomised experimentation since 1998 and have developed what they call the bottom line. While this is focused on increasing the number of people to vote it still offers parties some important lessons. So what does the research say?

Statistically significant results:

Door-to-door: This is considered the most effective method of influencing people to vote with one vote per 14 voters contacted (plus spill over effects).

Phone, volunteer: Getting enthusiastic volunteers and setting up a phone bank results in one vote per 38 contacts.

Commercial live calls: Getting a firm to make calls for voters produced some good results. For those who were trained it produced one vote per 35 contacts and for those who weren’t trained it produced one vote in 180 contacts

Election day festivals: This raised turnout in area by 1 – 2 % (but is based on only a few studies)

Not-statistically significant (in no particular order):

Leafleting: A high intensity job is an ineffective campaigning tool producing one vote per 189 voters reached.

Direct mail: direct mail advocating for a particular party had no detectable effect whereas non-partisan mail produced an increased voter turnout of boarderline significance.

E-mail: No detectable effect

Television: Raises postcode wide turnout by 0.5%

Radio: Raises city wide turnout by 0.8%

Robo calls: One vote per 900 called

The results show that what works is where some sort of rapport or relationship is built up between the voter and the campaigner. Where there is no relationship the results are insignificant and yet we spend a significant amount of time, money and effort on non-relationship based political activities.

Effective political campaigning is relationship based: it builds relationships between the party and the party members;  between the party members and party supporters; between the local party and the local community. Relationship based politics works by building a relationship between the party and the country.

Improving local campaigning: Does canvassing increase voter turnout?

With limited resources, few volunteers, and restricted time it is important for a party to know what is effective in increasing the vote. Large amounts of time and money have gone into knocking on doors, posting mail, and organising events but do we know how effective these are, if at all? Looking at some experiments which looked at this question may give us some answers and how to make canvassing more effective.

There are many opinions as to why electoral turnout has declined and what to do about it. Social-psychological explanations often focus on demographic trends that have introduced large numbers of young voters with weak party attachments into the electorate, whereas more contextual explanations have stressed the decay of parties and civic organizations that formerly mobilized voters through personal canvassing. If voting is primarily a matter of individuals’ enduring propensities to vote, little can be done about declining turnout rates short of changing the ways in which children are raised by their parents or socialized in schools. On the other hand, those who stress environmental factors propose to ease registration requirements or reinvigorate parties and other mobilizing organizations.

However, an opinion is really on worth something if it produces a useable solution and so focusing on what works in increasing voter turnout and increasing votes for a party is very much needed in this opinion swamped world. An experiment was conducted in 1998 as a large-scale voter-turnout experiment that attempted to stimulate turnout by means of a personal canvass of randomly selected households, using a variety of different nonpartisan appeals

During each Saturday and Sunday for 4 weeks before the election, they sent canvassers out to contact randomly selected registered voters. All canvassers worked in pairs, and canvassing ceased at 5:00 p.m., when the sun began to set. This procedure constrained both the pool of available canvassing labour and our ability to contact people who were out during the day.

The result was that canvassing door-to-door typically raises turnout by about 6% but the estimated effect of canvassing was slightly higher for unaffiliated voters. The experiment also looked at whether asking the question “Can I count on you to vote on November 3rd?” had an effect and concluded that it did increase the effectiveness of canvassing.

They then looked at whether the effect of personal contact varied with the content of the canvassers’ appeal. They used three political messages during the canvassing experiment

(i) by voting, you provide evidence that your neighborhood is politically active, which will increase its political clout (neighborhood solidarity);

(ii) voting is your civic duty (civic duty); and

(iii) the election is close, and thus there is a chance that the outcome might depend on your participation (election is close).

They conclude that the ‘election is close’ message boosts turnout rates by nearly 10%, compared with the 5% boost observed after delivery of ‘civic duty’ or ‘neighborhood solidarity’.

Making very brief appeals at voters’ doorsteps raises voter turnout by 6% and in elections where turnout hovers around 40%, this effect represents a significant increase in political participation.

The question the Lib Dems need to answer before the polls will rise

Many people now say they don’t know what the Lib Dems stand for (again) (see comments in this post). So it is our job to let people know. So how would you describe it today on the doorstep? What would you describe was the purpose of the Coalition? of Nick Clegg or of David Cameron? What can you say which will influence the polls? There is a technique to help with this which poses a question, which once answers will make this a lot easier.

Great leaders and governments’ achievements are often described in one sentence and they often had a clear focus at the start to achieve this. This one sentence is vital. It not only gives a clear focus and an easy way of communicating the party’s purpose but can also distinguish between the purposes of the leaders and the two parties in Coalition. This video shows how this technique is used to motivate people and this is a good technique for the Lib Dems to use:

So what would you say was David Cameron’s purpose? He says it is to create the Big Society (taking community action from the Lib Dems). The Coalition’s purpose? They say it is to get the economy on track (taking away the economic judgement the Lib Dems had built up). Nick Clegg’s purpose? To give electoral reform to a system he doesn’t want? The Lib Dems’ purpose? to get some of our manifesto enacted? Neither very convincing.

Once we can answer this question better, and with one voice, the polls will rise.

The parties purpose could be ‘to stop the Tories from wrecking the country with policies which haven’t been properly thought through’ but then the party would need to stop some of the more reckless policies e.g. NHS reform. So it could be ‘to make this country more liberal’ but then people don’t really get liberalism yet (not as a vote winner). Or ‘to change the voting system’, which is not popular enough so the fact that it is difficult to get, is the reason the polls are low.

The Lib Dems need to be clearer on our purpose in government.

Improving local campaigning: How to motivate your volunteers so they are more effective campaigners

The Barnsley by-election result has given the Lib Dems much to think about and it gives some interesting lessons for local parties where there are limited resources. Local politicians campaigning have the unenviable task of trying to get other people to adopt particular goals. Without activists supporting the campaign plan, the campaign will not succeed. However, if you want your volunteers to live up to their full potential, it’s not enough that they do what you tell them to. Again and again, studies show that the greatest motivation and most personal satisfaction comes from those goals that we choose for ourselves.

Self-chosen goals create intrinsic motivation, the desire to do something for its own sake. When people are intrinsically motivated, they enjoy what they are doing more and find it more interesting and are more likely to persuade voters and leave a good impression on potential voters. They persist in the face of difficulty – just look at Dominic Carmen

“There is much to be learned from the people of Barnsley and, despite the insults, it’s valuable experience. Would I do it again? Of course. If you believe passionately in something … then you ignore the personal abuse and fight your corner at all costs.”

Autonomy is particularly critical when it comes to creating and maintaining intrinsic motivation. But in a campaign, goals have to be assigned. So what can local campaign teams do?

It turns out that it isn’t so much actual freedom of choice that matters when it comes to creating intrinsic motivation, but the feeling of choice which gives us some options:

  • Explain why the goal they’ve been assigned has value. Too often, people are told what they need to do, without taking the time to explain why it’s important, or how it fits into the bigger picture. No one ever really commits to a goal if they don’t see why it’s desirable in the first place. Don’t assume the why is as obvious to people on your team as it is to you.
  • Allow your volunteers to decide how they will reach the goal. The freedom to tailor their approach to their preferences and abilities will also give them heightened sense of control over the situation, which can only benefit performance. If you can’t give them total free reign, try giving them a choice between two options for how to proceed.
  • Invite your volunteers to make decisions about peripheral aspects of the task. For those who have to attend meetings where the goals are predetermined, choices such as the topic of the meetings or even what kind of lunch will be ordered, create a feeling of choice. Even when the choices aren’t particularly meaningful or relevant to the goal itself, they can add to a person’s motivation about the task.

An excellent example of this has been Gisela Stuart in the General Election. Sure she would lose, she gave her volunteers tasks and told them they could do it how they wanted and asked them to come up with ideas of their own. With a small volunteer group she managed to buck the swing away from Labour and win the seat. She showed that motivating your small activist base is a an excellent tactic and one the Lib Dems could learn from.

In Praise of the Independent: Finding stengths in Nick Clegg

Following Clegg’s speech at conference the Independent give him a good review and show that there are some out there who see he has some strengths

Instead of running the same tsunami footage over and over again, BBC News would have done better to broadcast the Lib Dem leader’s speech in full. For Clegg actually made quite a strong fist of defending his part in the Coalition. Of course, he didn’t get all he wanted on tuition fees, but had he gone into coalition with Labour, he would have faced exactly the same problem. It was Labour that first brought in the fees, and Labour that commissioned Lord Browne to suggest ways of increasing them. As Clegg admitted in his Q&A session with activists on Saturday, the Lib Dems were in a pretty weak negotiating position…

As long as he chooses his battles carefully, he genuinely can make Tory policies better.


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