Diane Abbott allowed me to follow her on Twitter for all of 15 minutes before she blocked me…

Diane Abbott's apology is welcome but silencing critics is an unhealthy sign in the age of social media democracy

I must confess I have never really been that much of a follower of the great and the good on Twitter and have only really got vaguely into it recently – I am careering towards my 400th tweet after being on it for 2 years.

However, I know a few mega-tweeters like fellow Electoral Reformer, Arnie Craven, and saw a mild storm brewing last night concerning the rather unfortunate comments made by the Diane Abbott, concerning her apparent belief that:

“White people love playing ‘divide & rule.'”

I must confess I was rather shocked that a mainstream politician, which Diane is nowadays, couldn’t see the danger in her comments. Ignoring the obvious comparison with what would happen if the opposite was said by another politician it just struck me as being amazingly crass. White people, and others, do have an awful lot to own up to concerning our colonial history and I am the first agree with Diane that our history is littered with cases of ‘divide and rule’, but the belief that somehow this attitude continues to the present day, as a tactic to create schism amongst an entire section of society is reckless.

Diane has thankfully apologised, as I did have a small hand in making sure that she felt the pressure from reasonable people, as well as those who seek to find offence. However, I suspect mine has been the shortest ever following of any Twitter account, as I started following her at just gone midnight and within 15 minutes I appeared to have been eliminated.

Politicians should be able to take criticism from reasonable people. It is concerning that when reasonable people identify a fairly gaping hole in a train of thought they are silenced for their criticism.


Tales from the Phonebank 2 – Learning the AV Referendum Lessons – Canvassing

The Yes to AV team hit the streets of Warrington with dramatic success - then we turned into the road where I was born

One of the key objectives of the Yes campaign was to make as many phone contacts as possible.

I, and the North West team, as well as all the other regions, put in a lot of time and energy in getting people into the phonebanks to try and get the numbers of contacts required to achieve the millions of identified supporters we needed if we were to affect the result.

Imagine our surprise when we discovered that the telephone script we were using was deemed ‘illegal’ by the Information Commissioner!

Unbowed by this important, if momentary setback, we set out to try and meet as many people as possible the old-fashioned way – on the doorsteps.

The first such evening was organised by the campaign organiser in Warrington. Myself and the national campaign manager in charge of making all the contacts duly arrived in the town to go canvassing. Armed with canvas cards, leaflets and posters we set out to test the waters.

After the first main road in Warrington we discovered a most astonishing thing – people thought AV was a good idea! In fact the longer we went on the more posters we were giving out the more we were increasingly bemused that lots of people were considering voting for us. Bearing in mind the polling data at the time it’s fair to say this was quite a surprise.

Then we are arrived in the very road where I was born – Sulby Avenue.

I knocked on the door of the house I was born in. They were in!

Having knocked on the doors of so many supportive people that evening I felt sure that the wise occupants of such a prestigious address (which no doubt will have a blue plaque on the wall one day) would be supportive.

I was wrong, they were voting NO. It was a sign of things to come!

No recount when the result is within 8 votes! We could easily have woken up to winner Santorum…

With just 8 votes in it our TVs could easily have been telling us that Rick Santorum was now the frontrunner

As the US presidential campaign continues to roll into progress in the minds of the political classes in Britain it has been well underway in the States for months. Possibly the most surprising aspect of the results from the Iowa Caucus last night is not that Rick Santorum came a close second, though he has spent a lot of time and money in Iowa over the past few months, it’s the fact that he wasn’t allowed to ask for a recount despite being within just 8 votes of winning.

It’s astonishing that winning 30,015 to 30,007 doesn’t strike the Republican Party that this might be within the margin of error for counting 120,000 votes.

As the Washington Post explains GOP officials see the count and as such they are verified by campaign officials from all the candidates, but even so a margin of 8 votes between two candidates polling over 60,000 votes between them would see a number of recounts in Britain with a genuine possibility of the result changing.

It’s entirely possible that instead of waking up to discover that Mitt Romney had won by a narrow margin this morning, maintaining (just) his front-runner status we would be waking up to the surprise news that Rick Santorum had achieved a shock success in the polls and was now the man to beat.

But this is not a public vote and the need to achieve party consensus in what is clearly a tricky contest for the Republicans to manage, over the future of the soul of their party, perhaps doesn’t need to be thrown into Floridian style chaos quite this early.

Labour need the Liberal Democrats to survive 2015 to make sure we don’t have permanent Tory government

If the Labour Party builds up support in rural areas where the Lib Dems are strong it could lead to a long term Tory government

With 2012 being another important year of elections across the UK, with local elections in England, Wales and Scotland it could be a very difficult year for Liberal Democrats. Although it’s difficult to see that the results in 2012 could be as bad as 2011.

However, possibly because it suits the two-party consensus, the Labour Party needs to be careful not to make their own chances of running the country in 2015 to the detriment of maintaining a pluralist democracy.

Whatever the pros and cons of the Liberal Democrats joining the Coalition government if the party performs very badly in the 2015 General Election it may also make the chances of Labour running the country after that election less likely too.

Because of the nature of the Liberal Democrat advances in the 1990s and 2000s the party has naturally made gains from the Conservatives in rural areas. Only in 2005 and 2010 did the party really make advances against Labour, and only to a fairly modest degree. Consequently if the Liberal Democrats do badly at the next election the main beneficiaries will be the Conservatives – in those rural constituencies. This will only make the chances of Labour winning the election lower (if the net beneficiary of Liberal Democrat losses are the Conservatives) as at the moment the Conservatives only need a dozen or so gains to achieve this result.

I don’t blame the Labour Party for attacking the Liberal Democrats and their recent affiliation with the Conservative Party, but by building up support in areas where it will not directly benefit the Labour Party themselves, such as the South East and South West of England, it will just lead to greater Conservative representation and the chance of a return to the 1980s and almost permanent Conservative government.

Something that I would personally like to avoid.

My personal New Year’s Message to Electoral Reformers from John Ault (Chair of the Electoral Reform Society)

My personal message to electoral reformers for 2012 - it could be an important year of change!

I became involved in politics 25 years ago and one of the main reasons I became involved was because I saw the way that our electoral system doesn’t fairly represent the wishes of British voters.

Becoming involved in the practice of campaigning for electoral reform has actually been a relatively recent thing for me though; when I was employed to be a member of the Yes to Fairer Votes team last year.

Of course 2011 was a bad year for electoral reformers with the failure of the AV referendum. And we are right to re-evaluate if the constitutional reform sector is fit for purpose to deliver its mission.

But 2012 will see, perhaps rather oddly, the first opportunity for all English voters to use a form of preferential voting to elect the new police commissioners across the country. The new voting system, Supplementary Vote, allows voters to rank their top two choices, rather than all of them in AV, and as such does mean there will be a slight, if notable, change in the way the English vote.

It is by no means perfect but if it gets voters used to casting their ballots preferentially that has to be good for the cause of electoral reform, as does the extension of the numbers of cities electing Mayors via the same system. Whatever the pros and cons of either of these new institutions the voting system will be more democratic than first-past-the-post and that has to be progress.

This, to many electoral reformers, will seem a modest change not worthy of attention, but the main prize for 2012 will be reform of the House of Lords. If we can add our voices to this major reform it will be a major, even historic, change. And, if Nick Clegg achieves his objective it will be elected by Single Transferable Vote. This would be a major prize for all of us in the constitutional reform sector and one that we should all put our efforts into over the next 12 months.

Happy New Year and let’s achieve parliamentary reform this year even though we failed in 2011 – it’s up to us.