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Today DPM Nick Clegg has released an apology over breaking his party's pledge to oppose any rise in tuition fees. There's the serious version:

And then there's this utterly hilarious autotuned remix that's been done of it set to music:

Firstly, just to get it out of the way, the remix has had me in tears laughing and I think it's brilliant! Also, Nick Clegg has been quite a good sport by allowing it to be released as a single on iTunes, as long as the proceeds go to a Sheffield children's charity. The cynic in me half wants to say he only agreed to it to try and get people to like him again, but I honestly think he agreed to it because does actually have a sense of humour and is quite a nice guy. I genuinely don't think he deserves all the hate that he's getting, and this is actually what I wanted to post about.

I was one of the people who was initially angry with Nick Clegg when he broke his pledge not to raise tuition fees by introducing a bill in Parliament that would raise the cap to £9000 per year in November 2010. I thought by breaking that pledge he'd destroyed his integrity and credibility, and even though I could understand his reasons for it, I still didn't think it was justified. However, I'm also saying this as someone who met him on the day the bill was announced, within thirty minutes of him appearing at the despatch box, no less, and there was no way he was happy about it. He even said to me he wasn't happy about it in that many words, and even though again it is tempting to be cynical, I believed him. The reason being, he never publically admitted to anyone else that he wasn't happy about raising fees. He said he wasn't happy about signing the pledge, repeatedly said he had to compromise with the Tories because the Lib Dems made up such a small fraction of the government, but he never said he wasn't happy about actually raising fees. At the time, that would have been a bad political move because people were so sceptical about the future of the coalition anyway and the media were jumping on anything they could get that suggested there might be "cracks" in the coalition, but he said it to me one-on-one when there were no cameras about, which is why I think he was being honest and wasn't even saying it to try and improve his popularity again.

Now, two years later, he's apologised. I honestly think it came far too late, but better late than not at all. Many politicians would never admit they were wrong. I think Clegg was irresponsible for signing that pledge when he didn't for sure he could keep it, and only signed it because he never expected to get into government or have any kind of real power. Although I can understand he was in a very difficult situation when it came to making that decision when in government, it was his own fault for putting himself there and I don't think it excuses what he did. This apology should've come sooner and he absolutely should've done more to get a better deal from the Tories at the time if he truly regretted what he was doing, but that said, I still believe him. I absolutely buy that this apology is genuine, because I talked to him at the time and I got a very, very strong sense that he was unhappy about doing what he did. Not saying I forgive him, because I still don't think he won as good a compromise with the Tories as he could have done if he'd made a greater effort, but I think he is sorry about what happened, and not just because of the impact it's had on his popularity. My feelings towards Nick Clegg are that he is a generally decent guy, if a lousy politician, who made promises he didn't know if he could keep and didn't know how to fight for them when it came down to it. He was too much of an idealist and too irresponsible, which aren't good things for a politician to be, but I think it was brave of him to actually apologise even when it's two years in the past by now.

I can't say it has entirely restored my faith in the party, because I held out with them for a very long time and supported them when nobody else did, and repeatedly saw them cave in to Tory demands when they could have held their ground a little more, but I agree with what Nick Clegg said in the video about learning from mistakes. If he demonstrates that he has actually done this and never makes pledges that irresponsible again, then I might be prepared to accept that this party has actually learned something from being in government. If that's the case, I'll feel more inclined to believe they'll keep their promises in future because they won't make the same mistake twice. But I suppose that remains to be seen. (Not that I imagine I will be seeing it again for a very long time...)
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I've just managed to catch up on yesterday's PMQ's and I've got to say I'm getting really irritated by Ed Miliband. Normally I find Cameron can be very annoying as well, but this week I think Miliband really was the worst. I didn't have a problem with the first question he asked, actually I think it was a good issue to raise. He brought up findings from Macmillan Cancer Research UK about how the government's proposed welfare reforms would cause cancer patients to lose up to £94 a week in support. It's a perfectly valid point and he was right to bring the issue up, and I think if it's true then that's a major flaw in the government's proposals. But the problem I had with it is that Miliband wouldn't let the issue drop.

Cameron gave him an answer along the lines of 'we haven't changed the criteria for who qualifies for this support and it will be provided for at least twelve months to cancer patients, and from then on it could be provided indefinitely on a means tested basis'. Ok, I normally get really wound up with Cameron because of how he always avoids giving a direct answer, but on this occasion I thought that was alright. I don't know if him saying cancer patients wouldn't lose their support is correct, or if Ed Miliband quoting Macmillan Cancer Research and saying they would lose up to £94 a week is true, but nobody watching PMQ's is going to know for sure unless they go and do the research for themselves. The two main party leaders simply asserting that the other is wrong over and over again isn't going to get anybody anywhere.

If Ed Miliband really thought that was a poor answer, he should have let it speak for itself and moved on to another issue. Instead, he basically asked the same question again but rephrased. Ok, I can sort of understand saying it once more just to reinforce his point, but he used up all of his allocated questions talking about the same issue, and he continued to get the same answer. It was just going round and round in circles and was wholly unproductive. Why did he have to waste all his questions talking about the same thing? He's supposed to hold the government to account, and there are so many other issues he ought to have brought up as well. I'm not saying support for cancer patients shouldn't be debated, but I don't think Cameron and Miliband were actually debating it - they were just repeating themselves and asserting they were right using the same points over and over.

Honestly, I do think there have been occasions when Ed Miliband's put on a good show at PMQ's at really managed to challenge Cameron, but yesterday was not one of them. Do better next week, please.
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UK Justice Secretary has got himself into rather a lot of trouble today after comments he made in an interview on BBC Radio5 Live about rape sentencing. There's been quite a lot of backlash against him, even from members of his own party, and several people, including Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband, have called for his resignation. I can understand why people have reacted this way. Ken Clarke's comments showed insensitivity and ignorance towards the feelings of rape victims, and it was particularly shocking when he started talking about 'serious rape' and 'classic rape' as if they were significantly worse than 'date rape'. However, I don't think he meant to imply what he seemed to be implying. He later clarified that he considered all rape to be a serious crime, but would not apologize. He doesn't seem to understand quite how offensive what he said was, saying that he was amazed at the way people have react and that he thinks it's been blown out of proportion. On the one hand I can understand this, since he seems to be unable to make sense of people's reactions in the same way he couldn't see what was wrong with it in the first place. On the other hand, he should be able to see that in order to get people to react so strongly and to have his own party leader fail to defend him at PMQs he must have done something wrong. But I think his refusal to apologize just displays more of the arrogance that he showed in the original interview, as he kept trying to assert that his proposals for plea bargaining would benefit rape victims, although he admitted he'd never actually consulted any rape victims for their thoughts on the issue.

The interview can be found here:

Listening to it, I don't get the impression Mr Clarke is actually a misogynist or is trying to imply that there is such thing as non-serious rape, I just think he doesn't really know what he's talking about and is struggling to express himself clearly. He's probably thinking in legal terms when trying to draw the distinctions between different kinds of rape, but is unable to realise that to a broader audience it's coming across as if he's trying to trivialise some cases of rape and imply that rape is only serious when 'violence is used against an unwilling woman'. That suggests he doesn't understand the definition of rape, but I think it's just an error of expression and he hasn't made his meaning clear. He seems to be trying to draw the distinction between rape and a minor having sex with someone just over the age of consent, but that shows he's missed the point the interviewer is trying to get at. I could be wrong, but I thought that was classed as indecent assault rather than rape anyway, but I don't think that's the issue at hand. The issue is whether or not it is right for people who have committed rape should be able to plea bargain to have their sentence reduced. We aren't talking about teenage partners having consensual sex when there's an age difference between them: if that's considered rape then I think it needs to be reclassified. We're talking about when a man violently attacks a woman and forces sex on her. That is always serious, whether it's date rape or not, and whether or not he actually thinks it is always serious Mr Clarke seemed to be implying that sometimes it's not. I was particularly bothered by the way he was talking to the rape victim who phoned in, as he seemed to be rather insensitive towards her and didn't seem to actually be listening to what she was saying about his proposals. That said, I still don't think he's a misogynist or a 'dinosaur' like some people have been accusing him of, I just think he was ill-prepared, failed to understand the real issue people were getting at and communicated his meaning very poorly.

On the issue of whether or not he should be sacked, I'm still undecided. If I thought he genuinely meant what he seemed to mean then in my opinion he should most definitely lose his job, but I don't think he actually believes that not all rape is serious. However, I still think the fact a Secretary of State was so unable to explain himself or his proposals adequately and caused so much offense is a major issue. What's more, he's refused to apologize, and was even chuckling about the issue when interviewed about it by Nick Robinson. I think this shows how he isn't taking it as seriously as he ought to, and the attitude displayed in the interview towards rape victims' opinions on his proposals shows how he may not be up to the task of dealing with such an important issue that requires a lot of thought, sensitivity and needs to be taken seriously. However, if we look at this issue as just being an isolated case of Ken Clarke displaying a degree of incompetence, it may not really be enough to merit sacking him. I'm still undecided on the issue, but I do believe at the very least he should apologize for the upset and offense he's caused through being so thoughtless and tactless, and unless he's sincere in his apology I'm definitely going to be leaning much more towards him losing his job.

UPDATE: After watching BBC Question Time last night, Mr Clarke has admitted that he used an appalling choice of language, seems to understand why people were upset and has apologized for it, and has now explained what he meant better when discussing aggravating factors in rape trials and average sentences. I think this is all fair enough and he should be allowed to remain Justice Secretary. Even though he was quite clearly ill-prepared for the first interview, I'll admit Victoria Derbyshire can be hard to handle and I don't think he should pay just for being tactless and clumsy with his job.
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Since it’s now less than a week to the referendum, I thought I’d post some of my thoughts on the Alternative Vote system. Since I’ve lent some degree of online support to the Yes campaign, I’ve been getting quite a few emails from people telling my how I can do more to promote AV and help win the referendum. The problem is, even though I would like a yes outcome in the referendum, I’m struggling to be enthusiastic about it. The referendum only gives voters the choice between First Past The Post and the Alternative Vote, and even though I do prefer AV to FPTP, it’s not my first choice and not something I really want to make a fuss over to switch the voting system to.

I think the main issues with these choices come down to this: First Past The Post seeks to please the greatest number of people possible, even if the greatest number of people is still a minority; whereas AV seeks to disappoint as few people as possible, even if it means the most popular first choice candidate doesn’t always win. Neither of them is truly proportional. We're being asked to choose between a bad system, and one which is only better in some ways, and worse in others.

If this referendum was going to be done properly we'd be given a choice between FPTP, AV, Single Transferable Vote, AV+ and maybe other voting systems, but since David Cameron is so determined to keep FPTP that was never going to happen. So there's only a choice between two systems, each of which falls short of true proportional representation. In my view, proportional representation is the only way to get a parliament that is truly representative of how the country voted, but I accept the simplest form of PR isn't the most practical when it comes to allocating seats. Therefore, I think it's important to consider which out of FPTP and AV is is most proportionally representative. I think that depends on whether you consider a system that gives as many people as possible (which may only be a minority of the constituency) their ideal choice of candidate to be more representative than a system that guarrantees at least 50% of the constituency get a MP they are satisfied with, even if the candidate wasn't their first choice. Personally, I come down on the side of the latter, although I can understand why other people would see the former as being a better system. I particularly support the optional voting method where voters don't have to rank every available candidate, which means that if they only vote for the candidates they would actually be happy to have represent them they are more likely to get one of those candidates, whereas under FPTP there is the possiblility of a majority of constituents being dissatified with the MP they get. (I don't know whether or not ranking all candidates will be made optional or compulsory if the voting system were to be chnaged to AV, but if it were optional I think this strengthens the case for making the switch.)

Another issue that's been raised by both the Yes and No campaigns is the equality of votes. I've got to say it's annoyed me somewhat how both sides have been insisting the other side is completely unfair, while failing to acknowledge their preferred system has flaws as well. Under FPTP, the weight of a person's vote depends on the size of their constituency and whether they live in a marginal or a safeseat. Under AV, one person's second or third choice may count more than another person's first choice. Again, I'm not entirely comfortable with either of those scenarios, although if I have to choose between one or the other I would go for AV. For example, voters in marginal constituencies under FPTP have more influence over the distribution of seats in the House of Commons that voters in safeseats, whereas giving people the chance to rank the candidates in order of preference would mean everybody's vote has an impact on who gets to form a government. (I think this would be even better with AV+, but we're not being given that as an option.) I accept there are still issues with some votes having more weight thatn others, but I think that there is less variability in the weight of votes under AV than under FPTP. I don't think it's ideal, but it is preferable.

Regarding some of the claims the No campaign have made about AV leading to more coalitions, I'd like to say, "Yes. And?" Many people on the No campaign are dissatisfied with the current government and think that's a reason to believe all coalitions are bad. There are plenty of countries in the world with coalition governments that manage fine (I believe Finland hasn't had a single-party government since it gained independence, and it seems to have gotten on better than some countries that have had single-party governments). There have been plenty of bad single-party governments in the UK and elsewhere in the world, but nobody's using that as an argument against single party governments. Therefore, I think No's argument that AV would lead to more coalitions is pretty stupid. Coalitions aren't a bad thing per se, so I don't see why that should be seen as a negative consequence of AV. I'm trying to look at the pros and cons of both AV and FPTP, but I think the fact that one of them makes coalitions more likely is neither here nor there, so I haven't taken that into account when deciding which is better.

Deviating slightly from the issue at hand now, I'd also like to mention how I have been a bit irritated at the way both the Yes and No campaigns have been attacking each other's integrity over the past couple of weeks. At the start of the campaign they were actually arguing about the merits of each of their preferred voting systems, but recently they seem to have been focussing more on accusing the other of conducting a dirty campaign. I think they each would have served their cause better if they'd just stuck to focussing on the issues surrounding changing the voting system rather than trying to make it an issue about the people conducting the campaign. Really, the manner in which each side has campaigned shouldn't be considered when people vote on what system they would like to have on May 5th. What should be considered is the impact changing the voting system would have on the outcome of future elections, and whether or not this effect would be positive or detrimental. There are up sides and down sides to both FPTP and AV, and I don't think either really comes out as clearly being a much better system than the other. Even though I'm supporting the Yes campaign to some extent, I can still understand why some people are against it. I would however hope that in this referendum people vote on what they genuinely think would give the best outcome in terms of electoral reform, rather than voting tactically either against Nick Clegg or David Cameron (even though I accept that, in reality, most people don't really care about voting systems and simply want to use the referendum as a chance to show their dissatisfaction with the government. Understandable, I suppose, but it's not often the government gives you chance to vote on something that will directly affect you so it would be good if people made the most of it.)

As I said earlier, I would like a 'yes' result in the referendum even though I'm not hugely enthusiastic about it. My main reasons for this are that even though AV is far from ideal I think it is an improvement on FPTP, and if the voting system is not changed now then it's unlikely they'll be any chance of changing to a genuinely better and more proportional system any time in the near future. That said though, even if the outcome of the referendum is a 'no' then at least the voting system won't have been made any worse.


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July 2013

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