13 August 2009

Gerrymandering Votes at 16

Last week, a documentary on BBC Three looked into lowering the voting age to 16. The presenter mentioned that in 2005 (yes I know it's nearly four years ago, but I think this is interesting), the House of Commons voted to reject suffrage at 16 by just eight votes. Public Whip shows the following breakdown of this vote by the major parties:

Con107 (+2 tell) 3
Lab26 73
LDem0 45 (+2 tell)

So out of those who bothered to turn up (and Labour should be ashamed of their pathetic turnout) nearly all Tory MPs voted against and all Lib Dems voted in favour, with Labour also heavily leaning towards lowering the voting age.

Now lets look at a Yougov/Telegraph opinion poll (pdf) taken on the 22nd - 24th November 2005; just before this vote. The overall voting intentions were Con 35, Lab 37, Lib Dem 20. However if you look at the age breakdowns, in the 18-34 bracket (the lowest age group) the outcome changes to Con 31 (-4), Lab 43 (+6), Lib Dem 21 (+1). Assuming that 16-17s would follow the same pattern, this opinion poll shows that at the time it looked as if adding more young people to the electorate would harm the Tories, but boost Labour significantly and the Lib Dems a smidgen.

So are any of the parties gerrymandering here? Well first I think we can rule out the Lib Dems, as only a +1 gain in their vote is pretty insignificant. Labour appeared to have the most to gain, however their weak turnout and their 26 MPs who voted No indicate that the Labour vote was not whipped, so there was no tactics coming from Labour HQ.

However for the Tories I raise an eyebrow. There were indications lowering the voting age would harm them electorally, and they came out strongly against it. Perhaps I am being cynical, but as Mark Reckons pointed out, they have form on manipulating the democratic process to meet their own ends. Is this another case of the Tories choosing selfish expediency over principle?

3 August 2009

Immigrants and Granting Citizenship

So once again the odious Phil Woolas has been blowing his twat-whistle with more tough on immigrants rhetoric. The plan is to require immigrants to accumulate points in order to gain British citizenship. Cultural activities such as voluntary work, political activism, and learning English, as well as economic factors such as earning potential, skills and qualifications, would earn points that would decide whether or not the person was worthy of a hallowed British passport.

Like all of Labour's restrictions of immigration, I am fundamentally opposed to this highly immoral move. Expecting one group of people to pass tests, gather points and take oaths to gain something, whilst giving it to another group without these restrictions, is discrimination. This particular discrimination is imposed on the basis of nationality, but it would be just as bad if it was imposed based on any other circumstance of birth.

While it is not racist, this is a technicality. It is just as immoral as racism.

Personally I can't see how any restrictions can be placed on immigration without being discriminatory. However, a policy of unrestricted immigration has consequences that must be addressed. As Milton Friedman said:
You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.
This is clearly a problem for people who aren't right-wing fundamentalists and see a need for a public sector that provides services and welfare. Do we restrict immigration, or do we abolish welfare? Neither of these options appeals to me.

Devil's Kitchen suggests this compromise which I find highly attractive:
no immigrant may claim benefits until they have been working—and contributing tax (i.e. cash in hand work will not count)—for four years.

But wait! The EU will not let us treat EU citizens any differently to British citizens. Great! The same thing applies across the board, for British citizens too.
In the comments, DK makes it clear that this isn't something that he finds ideal, and anyone acquainted with his views will know he advocates the abolition in the welfare state, as well as some restrictions to people's movement.

But for me, this idea ticks all the boxes: it gives people the freedom of movement, it allows for the fair provision of public services and welfare, and it treats all people equally.

This idea would mean there are effectively two tiers of British citizenship:

"Basic" citizenship, open to everyone, that gives the person the right to live work and trade in the UK, and protection from A&E, criminal justice and security services.


"Full" citizenship, giving access to free education, healthcare, and welfare. We may also decide that police or armed services officers may need to be full citizens in order to take up their post. Whether full status is gained based on time spent in the county, the amount of taxes contributed, or the cultural criteria put forward by Mr Woolas today, is debatable. I think I would prefer DK's suggestion as it there is a closer link towards what you give (taxes) and what you receive (benefits and public services paid for by taxes).

There is a need to provide welfare to people, and therefore a need to register people as citizens, this does not mean that immigration must be restricted. Without free immigration, people will remain shackled to their location of birth, which condemns many people to inescapable poverty and abuse. With some simple creativity about how we manage citizenship, we can address the economic concerns that hang over immigration, exposing those who seek restrictions based on their selfish or racist interests.