28 Apr 2011

A last word on AV

This two and a half day week has worn me out, so, after a good lunch with PW I've bunked off this afternoon to write this....

In a week's time the nation decides - well about 40% of it will - on whether or not to change the voting system from First Past The Post to the Alternative Vote system of proportional representation. Having swung from undecided to No and back to undecided again, I got in touch with my good Scrabbling friend Jan in Australia, where, depending on the type of election being held, they have had various AV systems in force for years, and asked her for her views.

Jan, who has a long association with Oz politics, having served as a local councillor and as a State government employee, and has run election campaigns using AV, knows a thing or two about this PR business, as I found out. The long but highly informative reply she sent me (see here for the full text) was quite an eye opener.

The No campaign like to tell us AV is too complicated, and although the basic version we are adopting is only difficult to understand if your brain leaks info like a dunked teabag, reading Jan's missive it can be as complicated as a legislature wants it to be. One particular example is that when faced with a choice of say six or more candidates, most voters will not bother to rank beyond three so the "optional preference" system is adopted. Say Labour tell their voters that if you put 1 by the Labour candidate it is then taken as read that your other preferences are in line with whatever Labour has negotiated with other political parties. This sounds somewhat dangerous to me, as it panders to intellectual laziness. I want to make my own mind up what my preferences are not have them determined for me by my first choice candidate's Head Office, and if I refuse to rank the BNP what of it?

Staying with the Monster Raving Fascist Party, why should their voters' second and third choices suddenly become relevant to deciding my MP? They are currently disenfranchised under FPTP, but hey, so what!

I have heard it said that we who feel royally (to use a topical word) shafted having voted Lib Dem in 2010 as a protest against Gordon Brown's woeful tenure should vote Yes simply because Cameron wants us to vote No. That is far too simplistic a view in my opinion. You could equallly say vote No because obsequious fawning Eton fag Clegg (yup, I'm not a fan) wants you to vote Yes, or, conversely, retaining FPTP will reduce the Lib Dems to the rump they deserve to be after the next General Election. I want to vote for or against something purely on its own merits, not beause it might piss off one or other party leader. We are talking about permanently changing a voting system for national government to a method that produces just as many anomalies. I say permanently because it will not change again in my lifetime that's for sure.

If the Lib Dems had thought this through, they should have insisted that the referendum was on PR as a concept and not restricted to AV vs FPTP, and if the Yes vote wins to introduce it first on a trial basis for local government elections to see how it works. That way the Yes campaign would gain far more support, me included. The way the referendum is set up strongly favours the No camp, but having said that, I've finally decided that's how I'm voting because we are being asked the wrong question. There, I've made my mind up at last!

PR - A view from Down Under

From my good Australian Scrabble buddy Jan...helped me write my missive on the upcoming UK AV/FPTP referendum.

To the best of my knowledge, this (AV, or preferential voting as it is known in Australia) is the only system used officially here in Oz. It is used in elections at all three levels of government; and in many other things too, like union elections, and for many company boards. In fact, I’ve just run an election for our board at work using this system.

In a past life I worked as a ministerial minder in Canberra, I served as a Councillor on a local council, and I and was actively involved in politics for decades – including running a number of campaigns for other people standing for office. So I know a bit about stuff like this.

There are constant grumbles about the outcomes of preferential deals – especially in more recent times when the emergence of the Greens has led to a number of hung parliaments. At the moment, Labor/Green alliances have delivered hung parliaments in nationally in Canberra and here in Tasmania.

However, I’ve never heard any serious discussion about changing from preferential voting to a simple FPTP system. The only discussion around the traps of recent times is whether there should be a consistent system of preferential voting used across the board – and I don’t think that has any legs.

At present, different systems are used in different jurisdictions:

See here: http://www.australianpolitics.com/elections/features/preferential.shtml

Optional preferential is when you only have to indicate a first preference. In the jurisdictions where this is used, the electoral commissions have decreed that in this instance preferences will be allocated in line with the voting card issued by the first preference recipient. So, if I’m happy to vote in line with a preference card (or lazy, and couldn’t be bothered filling in all the squares) I only have to mark my first preference and someone else does all the work. Depending on where you are, first preferences can be shown by a number, a tick, a cross or anything that shows you’ve picked that candidate. For this reason, this is the easiest system to use for voters; but a bit harder for counting, as there is more opportunity for subjective interpretation of whether a vote is formal or informal.

Full preferential (sometimes referred to as exhausted preferential) means that your vote is deemed to be informal if you do not number every square. Very straight down the line and unequivocal. No grey areas. (Well, almost none – but let’s not go there.)

Partial preferential is midway between the two. You have to indicate a minimum number of preferences – which can vary according to the jurisdiction. In federal elections, this allows something called ‘above the line’ voting – or sometimes as group ticket voting.. At Senate elections (our national upper house), candidates are grouped in columns across the ballot paper ie all the Labor candidates in one column; all the Conservatives in another; all the Greens in another and so on; right down to the ungrouped single issue candidates. The order within the columns is fought out behind the scenes in party rooms. A thick horizontal line runs across the ballot paper, and voters have the option of voting above the line for a single group (ie filling on one number only); or voting below the line indicating preferences for all candidates on the ballot paper (ie you have to fill in every box). Roughly 95% of voters will vote above the line: for major parties, the rate is 98-99%; and for minor parties, 80-90%. I always vote below the line – I don’t like anyone telling me who my preferences should go to and I really don’t like some of the dodgy preference deals that the major parties do! Clearly however, in this as in many things, I am in a serious minority. *sigh*

I’m not even going to mention that in elections for the House of Representatives (the lower house) in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, they use the Hare-Clark voting system. It is a preferential system, and it is used in smaller jurisdiction to deliver a number of candidates in each electorate. Beyond that I glaze over – even though I have lived and voted in both jurisdictions, and I am what could be classed as a politically aware voter – and life is too short for me to even think about trying to fathom it.


Here is a link to a fascinating article on preferential voting written by Antony Green, one of Australia’s leading psephologists. He prepared it in response to the discussions you guys are having about your referendum. Some of the comments at the end are interesting too. See especially comment in response to Chris Rootes @ 13 May 2010 0932am


I strongly support both compulsory voting and an optional preferential system. Turning out once every three or four years to vote is not a big ask for an informed democracy. Parties (and voters) can manipulate first past the post voting. It can be argued, with some justification, that a preferential voting system has a better chance of measuring voters’ real preferences than a system of FPTP voting. But I think a full preferential system is too complicated for the average voter and can actually disenfranchise a large proportion of the electorate.

24 Apr 2011

Frown Man - Urban Worrier

I had to go shopping for a few bits and pieces yesterday morning, and as it was a glorious sunny day, I thought I'd go to the shops via Abington Park, one of the few jewels in the crown of Shoesville. My route took me round the ornamental lake, primarily so I could photograph the tree I currently have as my screensaver at work.

Summer version

Winter version

So far, so good, the lake was full of various kinds of our web footed friends, sundry folk were walking, some with dogs, one guy had his full blown fishing kit laid out lakeside, including comfy chair!

Once I've crossed the road bisecting the park and got to the bandstand area, it was as if I had entered another universe. The grassy area around the bandstand, probably about the area of couple of football pitches, is where the kids congregate, and on warm days such as we've been having, they come out in their hundreds, rightly so. The problem is very few of them appear to have any social conscience where litter is concerned. I arrived early enough to see the rubbish collection from the previous day getting underway.

Now admittedly all the available bins were full to bursting, and the more thoughtful of the revellers had left further bags of rubbish around each one. The grass area was strewn with all sorts of detritus, and an area that size covered in litter is an appalling sight indeed, and ruined my peace to all men mindset from the first part of my stroll.

What, in the name of Jesus H Christ is so bloody difficult about taking your crap home with you in a carrier bag, rather than just leaving it where it lies? Jools & Jim obviously suffer no peer pressure to take home their beer bottles, crisp packets, spent chewing gum etc, bleedin' etc, as all the other retards around them are just as tawdry in their social behaviour. I reckon the park wardens should just leave the rubbish where these fuckwits drop it until those same idiots no doubt complain about the state of the park, without the slightest hint of self realisation.

Happy holidays!

22 Apr 2011

Quantum Tolerance Threshold

Last night saw the usual Thursday evening couple of pints (and an extra half this time) being imbibed at best pub in town, The Queen Adelaide. Feeling unusually adventurous, I strayed from the usual 3.9% strength beer and had a 4.5, followed by a 5.5, the half was back to the 3.9. All this I thought would be soaked up by two mini pork pies kindly put in front of me by Dave the barman. Today I have a hangover! Bastard and double bastard. This is on two and a half pints of beer, average strength 5.56%, which although about 1.5 above the usual average strength for me, is still indicative of an ever decreasing tolerance to something I love. Life is so unfair.

The solution? More beer at lunchtime, and possibly a bacon and black pudding bap. Sorted!

19 Apr 2011

Rose of The Shires

Having told of my intention to revise my interest in Northamptonshire County Cricket Club a few weeks back, the 2011 season has got off to an uncharacteristically promising start. In recent years NCCC have relied on a motley collection of ageing Kolpak players (footy fans read Bosman) and T20 apart have been somewhat lacklustre, never threatening promotion from League 2 of the County Championship or reaching the latter stages of the one day contests. However this season the squad is a promising blend of experience (Chaminda Vaas, Andrew Hall, James Middlebrook) and younger players like number 4 Alex Wakely, fast bowler Jack Brooks, and wicketkeeper Niall O'Brien.

After two games NCCC sit on top of League 2 of the County Championship, having drawn against Surrey and beaten Kent by an innings and 159 runs! Star performers so far are James Middlebrook who made 103 against Surrey and 74 not out against Kent, all the more remarkable as he comes in at 7, sharing a stand of 127 with captain Andrew Hall (146) against Kent, and Jack Brooks whose 4 for 36 helped skittle Kent's second innings.

Things are looking up at the County Ground at last.

The former co-tenants of the County Ground have an important game tonight, even though they are not actually playing. Bradford City host Burton Albion, the latter playing their game in hand over the Cobblers. Both clubs currently languish on 44 points, 3 above the drop zone, Burton having a worse goal difference by 4 goals. Bradford themselves are only a further 3 points in front on 47. Needless to say, but "Come on you Bantams!"

According to BBC Breakfast this morning, Tescos had the benefit of 14 years of year on year increases in UK profit and targets met under Everton fan Terry Leahy, and his replacement Philip Clarke has seen the UK targets not met for the first time. Clarke is a Liverpool fan.

Terry, buy Blue Bill out, now....

For some reason BBC Breakfast sent the lovely Carol to the Bournemouth beach this morning to present her weather forecasts, and the 7:45 bulletin began with her introducing us to "..the sun, the blue skies, the waves crashing on the beach..." while behind her some two inch breakers were struggling to get a yard up the sand. Made me larf that did!

14 Apr 2011

Melchester Rovers bought by Martian zillionaire!

The 2010/11 football season is nearly over, and as Everton drift into a nondescript 7th place finish, my only remaining footballing point of interest lies in the fate of the Cobblers, my local team, and the team I have followed as a real as opposed to sofa fan.

In February 1970 my dad took me to my first football match, the famous 8-2 thrashing at the County Ground by Man Utd in the 5th round of the FA Cup, where I witnessed a certain George Best (the best player of all time imo) score six goals, and to my 10 year old mind thought we were on a comeback when we pulled two goals back! Since then I went through a spell from the late 70s to the late 80s where I watched hundreds of Cobblers games, home and away, and in all my years on this planet the Cobblers have always had full league football status. They have survived re-election three times back in the days when there was no promotion from or relegation to what is now the Conference, and escaped relegation on the last day of the 1992/93 season by winning 3-2 away at Shrewsbury having been 2-0 down and relegated at the break. The Cobblers actually managed to finish bottom the following season, but avoided relegation due to Conference champs Kidderminster Harriers' ground not being up to scratch. Phew!

Has the Cobblers' luck run out this season? Well, with 5 games to play they are a mere two points above the drop zone, and the run-in looks ghastly. Current bottom club Stockport County appear doomed, being too far behind, and using the good 'ol BBC Predictor, this is how I have the remaining fixtures going, comparing the Cobblers with Burton Albion & Barnet, one of whom will join Stockport in the Conference next season. The actual scores are largely irrelevant, it's the results that matter:

Sat 16/4 - Wycome 2-0 Cobblers, Burton 1-1 Cheltenham, Bury 2-0 Barnet, Tues 19/4 - Bradford 1-1 Burton, Fri 22/4 - Cobblers 1-1 Rotherham, Sat 23/4 - Aldershot 1-0 Burton, Gillingham 2-0 Barnet, Mon 25/4 - Barnet 1-1 Oxford, Burton 0-1 Torquay, Stockport 1-1 Cobblers, Sat 30/4 - Accrington 2-0 Barnet, Cobblers 0-2 Stevenage, Southend 1-0 Burton, Sat 7/5 - Barnet 0-1 Port Vale, Burton 1-1 Accrington, Morecombe 1-1 Cobblers.

If, and it's a big if, as it relies on the Cobblers rediscovering their once endless ability to draw matches, it pans out as above the final table will be:

21 Cobblers 46
22 Burton 44
23 Barnet 42
24 Stockport 37

That'll do nicely, fingers crossed!

Congrats are due to Spurs and 'Arry Redknapp, who although they went out of the Champions League with a bit of a whimper the other night, have provided all us neutrals with some fine entertainment this season. 'Arry should be a shoo-in for Manager Of The Season, assuming he's not being detained in "The Big House" by the time the gongs are handed out! While we're on awards, another shoo-in for Comedy Keeper Of The Season had to be Manuel Almunia, but Hilarious Gomez sure runs him close with a howler in each leg of Spurs' tie against Real Madrid. If Spurs manage to get 4th spot from Citeh, and jeez have they got a hard run in, then 'Arry will have to buy a keeper who can actually hold on to the ball as well as a classy striker if Spurs are to stay on the upward trajectory. I predict a clear out of about 23 of their under-used squad players this summer in order to splash out on those two positions.

My Predictor thingy for the rest of the Premiership season has the top 8 finishing in the exact order they are in now, with Spurs still 3 points off Citeh. Mind you with the fixtures Spurs have got left, in particular their game away at Citeh on 10th May which I have down as 1-1, you never know what might happen.

9 Apr 2011

The Servile Customer Strikes Back

Remember when all DIY shop staff wore brown coats and went out of their way to be helpful, even to the point of hunting in the storeroom for an age for that double-sprocket 2 and 2/16ths wassname you wanted? It was an oft repeated and genuine example of what is now euphemistically referred to as "Customer Service", something that back then did not have to be advertised as such because it was ubiquitous and taken for granted.

Right, rose tinted spectacles off, it's back to the here and now. Today B and I made our annual visit to B&Q specifically to take advantage of their much advertised "20% off" day. I wish I'd stayed at home. Firstly as we don't drive we always have the bulky items delivered. This entails going to a separate order point and have the sales assistant punch in the order details. Well, she would have done if the computer terminal had not frozen. A trek to another terminal which worked produced an order sheet which we take to the checkout. At this point it has to be said that the ignorance and rudeness of Joe & Jemima Public was starting to grate. At both computer points we were interrupted by various noobs butting in to ask where the gardening section was or somesuch. Why couldn't they bleeding well wait until we'd finished? I could sense B getting slowly more wound up, but I have learned to control my once instant temper by taking an almost Zen-like outlook. It's only after the event that I tend to go a bit wibble!

Anyway, we reach the checkout with our delivery order and sundry smaller items to take home, only to be told that the woman who had processed our delivery order should have put the 20% discount with it, but hadn't, so checkout woman rings other woman - no answer. Instead of sorting us out she then serves another customer - un-fucking-believable! We're then told to stay where we were while she slouched off to find our original helpful lady. Eventually she comes back and I tell her I was on the verge of just leaving everything and walking out, to which she says cattily "Well, I'm only helping you get your discount" as if it was my fault first woman had left it off the form. I bit my lip. B had steam coming out of her ears. Checkout woman now interrupts her reprocessing of our order to answer another queue butter's question. Iwasthisclose to telling him to fucking wait his turn, but remained in "Zen" mode amazingly. I paid for it all, she gave us our receipt which I instantly felt did not look right.

Having eventually paid for everything we went for a coffee to chill a bit and while sitting there I discovered we had been overcharged to the extent of half the discount due on the delivery order - it's a good job I'm an accountant, as I'm sure others may not have noticed, at least until they got home, if at all, such was the complicated nature of the receipt. I decided I would sort this out on my own, as I could see B was ready to "have a go"! After another twenty minutes I had been given a refund for the missing discount, and the guy who sorted it seemed to become much more helpful once I told him my profession - can't think why!

In the end the "shopping" part of the visit to B&Q took less than half the time spent paying for it and sorting out the various cock-ups. It may seem on the surface that all the staff at B&Q speak English, but don't be fooled, as none of them appear to understand a word each other are saying.

In the words of John Cleese, "if you want anything done in this country you've got to complain until you're blue in the face." As he said that over 40 years ago, he doesn't know the half of it!

If anyone from B&Q Northampton reads this, how about you invest in a computer system that doesn't crash at the slightest hint of hard work, and tell your staff to treat discounts in a standardised manner. It's not rocket science surely?

When I got home the release valve flew open and a good stream of invective poured forth from yours truly, but was soon tempered by the fact that something had told me earlier in the day to have a flutter on the Grand National for the first time in years, and Ballabriggs won! Yee and indeed ha, times one hundred!!

8 Apr 2011

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

As you all know there's some local elections coming up. Here in Shoesville, with its unpopular LibDem council, who like the other two major parties have a long history of ineptitude, self-interest and inertia where running the local authority is concerned, it simply beggars belief that Labour, as the party most able to make large gains, is not putting up candidates in 14 of the 45 seats up for grabs! According to independent councillor Tony Clarke this is due to a collapse in the organisational capabilities of the Northampton North Labour Party since the defeat of Sally Keeble at the last General Election.

If Labour can't be arsed then why should the voters? The good thing is that Tony is predicting a hung council with the Independents/non-aligned holding the balance of power. Could be interesting. Read more here.

The other issue to appear on the ballot papers on May 5th is the voting reform referendum. I still can't make my mind up on this. Proportional Representation is probably a good idea, but the option we're given in place of First Past The Post, namely the Alternative Vote system, is to put it mildly, bollocks. I've given scenarios on this before (second article) but here's another showing that AV is just as if not more unfair than FPTP. A seat that say has Labour at 40%, LibDem 30% Tory 20% Others 10% at first showing - after the Others drop out you've got Labour 42% LibDem 31% Tory 27%. The Tory voters are almost certainly going to put the LibDems above Labour on the list, so the outcome here would be a LibDem MP who started out 10 points behind the Labour candidate. Is that any better than FPTP?

You can also see why the Tories are dead against it because in any three way marginal there is no scenario under AV where they would get in as Labour voters will almost certainly put LibDem higher up the list than the Tories, and LibDem voters, despite their party's current unholy alliance are still more likely to put Labour above the Tories. As for Labour it's a case of swings and roundabouts for them, so maybe aligning themselves with the LibDems on this issue is a sweetener for possible future partnerships?

Although I'm generally in favour of PR, AV is a very poor system so I think I may vote No, as in addition it could be the start of the end game for the coalition if the LDs lose this core issue.

Happy voting!

A Cautionary Tale

Whenever I mow our lawn I am always perplexed by the strange Health & Safety warning signs staring up at me...

Perhaps it's trying to tell me something...

Warning, warning...

....Books! We'll have nun of your educashun round 'ere, mate, like....

...or you will be swallowed into a vortex and end up being one side of a 1970s Atari Pong game.....

....just to remind you, it's a simple game of man vs paddle....

Meanwhile, back on earth, always unplug the machine before you look at the book with the nice pictures, as you can't read, remember?

If indulging in a spot of tickling to coax out debris while the blade is moving does not do the trick, and although you've already lost your fingertips, resort to slicing your toes off with the blade....drastic, but it works.

If it all gets too much, run around in circles, and try not to overbalance due to lack of toes, but remember to eventually stop, or you'll be sick.

...and whatever you do, do not under any circumstances wear a hair grip.

All perfectly reasonable advice I'd say!

4 Apr 2011

Let's talk utter bollocks...

See if you can guess what this is about........

"A lot of fruit flavours, maybe even cherry pie. I get a lot of ink, sort of ballpoint pen ink, and I've heard others talk about the phenolic, gluey, sticky notes"......

.....it's actually a quote from a bloke called Dave Kahle on the merits of a bottle of lager, brand unknown. Dave, who is described as "one of the world's first beer sommeliers" (arf arf) is clearly so far up himself he can see his own tonsils swinging (if that's what tonsils do) before his very eyes.

This little gem inspired me to search out that never ending fountain of bollicky verbiage, wine tasting. Here's a few of the more larger testicled and pseudo persuasion:

"Medium-weight and freakishly evil white. Throws out whole-wheat bread, hopeless frosted pop-tart and semi-weak sweatsock." Ah, wine like old socks...lovely...and the "..hopeless..pop tart.." must have been the one "cooked" by Bolton footballist Kevin Davies!

"Tightly wound but over-ripe Dessert wine. Starts with roasted meat, open-ended onion and semi-weak raisin." A raisin with a semi! God forbid!

"Powerful and aggressive Rhone. Starts with strawberry jam, french-oaked tangerine and hopeful chutney." Hmm, I've often thought that my glass of plonk was missing a spoonful of Branstons...

"Pineforest nose, early warm rain, summer fruits, then bongwater, latterly sweet oily slippage. Drink through 2004." Can't argue with a bit of oily slippage...

"...sufficiently young to make my molar fillings ache." When it grows up it'll knock yer falsies down yer throat...

"On the nose, this is very lactated at first. As it opens up, you can smell delicious sour cherries. On the palate, you can feel the youth of this wine...it's really rich, poised and complex but still tight." Make your nipples explode it will....Oooer, missus...

"Heavy-weight but longingly elegant Barbera. Forcefully bites you with currant, astounding blackberry and corpulent clay. Drink now through Tuesday." Barking mad....

"Well worth the suicidal hangover achieved by drinking it." One I understand, at last!

One of these was made up my moi, and one was concocted using Silly Tasting Notes Generator, the rest are supposedly genuine!

Facebook continues foisting shite on the world with it's "Which Is Best?" rubbish, where some cove (you know who you are) puts up some nonsense like Which is Best? Yorkshire or Lancashire? Like me, if you're gullible enough you vote for one or t'other (heheh). Lancashire, obviously.

One came up today asking which I considered to be the best James Grant solo album. Utterly impossible to answer, as I'd never heard of him. The choices I'm presented with are "Sawdust In My Veins", "My Thrawn Glory", and "I Shot The Albatross", titles so daft I thought the whole thing had been made up. I particularly liked "Sawdust In My Veins", Mr Grant's concept album about erecting a shed in his back garden, so that gets my vote!

Our quizmeister summed it up by asking us all to vote Yay or Nay on whether or not "This "Question" cobblers on Facebook is a pain in the 'arris, just clogs News Feeds with irrelevant and worthless muppetry and is a waste of Bandwidth." I must admit I ruined the irony by voting Yes - doh! But Mr Quiz then spoilt it too by answering the James Grant question. ;)

Having checked on Amazon I'm confounded to find that the Grant albums actually exist, and by clicking on some sound samples my curiosity is roused as his voice has a lot of the Scot Walker about it. Hmmmm...This was meant to be a rant on some useless Facebook app, but as it might mean I've discovered a singist whom I could actually like, I eat my words...chew, masticate (upmarket chew), chew again, spit, splutter.....