May 8 2007


Musical chairs

As predicted ('tis an ill wind) (Swings and roundabouts), Labour's loss of seats in the first-past-the-post ballot opened the way for Cllr Joyce Watson to slip into the Welsh Assembly by way of the regional list.
No doubt, there will be those who regard this as unfair.
After all it was the constituency representatives Christine Gwyther and Tamsin Dunwoody who carried the party's flag during the campaign and it must be a bit galling to see someone else benefiting from your efforts.
That said, the list system is designed to overcome another source of unfairness: the mismatch between votes and seats in a first past the post system.
For instance, at the last General Election the Tories had 60,000 more votes in England than Labour, but 90 fewer seats.
Interestingly, despite their much improved performance, the Tories ended up with exactly the same number of seats (3) in the mid and west Wales region because the election of Paul Davies and Angela Burns in the two Pembrokeshire seats meant the loss of Glyn Davies and Lisa Francis from the list.
The upshot of this game of electoral musical chairs is that, in this region, Plaid Cymru gained one seat at Labour's expense.
The new distribution (former seats in brackets) is Plaid 5 (4); Tories 3 (3); Labour 2 (3); and Lib Dems 2 (2).
This highlights one the great weakness of this system of proportional representation: the difficulty, as Tony Benn puts it, of "throwing the blighters out".
Whereas, in first past the post, quite small swings can make a big difference in the number of seats won, PR systems usually require a political earthquake to dislodge the ruling coalition.
In this case, despite having its worst election result since 1908, Labour's strength in the Assembly only fell from 29 seats to 26.



For those still confused by the list system, the following table shows how the results are arrived at.
The principle is that the number of regional votes cast for each party is divided by the number of seats already won + 1.
So, on the first count, Labour's divisor is one (number of seats won in first past the post (0) + 1).
For second count, Labour, having now gained a seat off the list, has a divisor of two, and so on.
The numbers in brackets after the parties' names indicate the number of constituency seats won.
The winner at each count is highlighted in bold type.

 Party  Votes  Count 1  Count 2  Count 3  Count 4
 Labour (0)  39,979  39,979 (0+1)  19,989 (1+1)  13,326 (2+1)  13,326 (2+1)
 Plaid (4)  67,258  13,451 ((4+1)  13,451 (4+1)  13,451 (4+1)  13,451 (4+1)
 Tories (2)  49,606  16,535 (2+1)  16,535 (2+1)  16,535 (2+1)  12,401 (3+1)

Interestingly, had Labour picked up an extra 376 votes (less than two votes per thousand) across the eight regional constituencies it would have taken the fourth list seat and, despite losing three constituencies, it and the other parties would have been in exactly the same position as before.

Getting even

One small consolation from the Tory victory in South Pembrokeshire was that I was able to recover one of the bottles of £3.99 Chilean Merlot from SF.
As you will recall, he collected two bottles after I rather foolishly bet that Tony Blair would (a) be gone before the last Labour conference, and (b) failing that, by Christmas.
A second bet on the South Pembs result with another Labour loyalist means I am now breaking even.
I must say there was a bit of luck involved because I thought Plaid would take the seat with the Tories in third place.
Clearly, I underestimated the electoral pull of Cllrs Clive Collins and Robert Lewis (Closet Tories).
It seems rather strange that, with Conservatives now holding three of the county's four Parliamentary/Assembly seats, there is not a single (official) Tory on the county council.
Indeed, at the 2004 elections the party was only able to field one candidate, and that in the rather unpromising territory of Johnston.
I am told that attempts by the Tory hierarchy to to persuade county councillors, who are also party members, to stand under the oak tree have not been well received.
It seems that they prefer to bamboozle the electorate by pretending to be independents.

Listing to port

Labour leader Rhodri Morgan is desperately casting around for coalition partners to prop up his government.
Favourites are the Lib Dems, but, according to one report I heard, they are sticking out for proportional representation in local government elections.
Now, I am not in favour of proportional representation.
At least, I wasn't until SF pointed out that it would work against the Pembrokeshire Independent Group.
Assuming that Pembrokeshire's 60 seats were divided on the same lines as the Welsh Assembly (40 constituency: 20 list) and also assuming that the Independents held on to their present share (65%) that would give them 26 seats.
But unless they registered as political party they wouldn't be able to compete for list seats.
Result - IPG 26 - the rest 34, and bye bye to all those lovely special responsibility allowances.

Strange bedfellows

The Lib Dems in Wales are reluctant to go into government with the Labour Party because they fear it will damage their future election prospects
The Lib Dems in Scotland are refusing to go into a coalition with the Nationalists because they cannot stomach a referendum on independence.
John Reid is following Tony Blair out of office because he can't stomach Gordon Brown.
Meanwhile, the Rev Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness are sitting down to share power in Stormont.
It's a funny old world!

Manners mayketh man

On election day last week, I went to a meeting; called to allow residents to express their views on the proposed biodiesel plant at Blackbridge, Milford Haven.
Labour candidate Tamsin Dunwoody turned up and made a rousing speech denouncing the whole idea.
Politeness prevented me from standing up and pointing out that it was Andrew Davies a minister in the Welsh Assembly's Labour government who was pushing for the scheme.
I might also have mentioned that the same Labour-run Welsh Assembly was oiling the wheels with taxpayer-funded grants.
I'm glad I kept quiet because, as the voting figures clearly show, at 7.30 pm last Thursday evening, Tamsin's goose was already well and truly cooked.
Alastair Darling, the man tipped to be Chancellor of the Exchequer when Gordon takes over, was on the Today programme on Friday morning explaining that Alex Salmond doesn't have a mandate to rule Scotland because only 33% of of those who voted had supported the Nationalists.
It can only have been good manners that prevented John Humphreys from mentioning that this was not a great deal different from the 36% share of the vote that sent Labour back to Westminster with a 66 seat majority.
And, finally, last week a member of the county council's Independent Political Group was telling me of his disapproval of the way the Leader and the ruling clique go about the business of running the council.
As he clearly hadn't been able to work it out for himself, I decided it would be impolite of me to point out that it was the votes of people like him that kept the Leader's ship afloat.

Pass mark

Those of you who have been taking an interest in my bantam breeding enterprise will be relieved to learn that we had roast beef for Sunday dinner (The good life) - corn fed bantam being off the menu when seven out of the eleven eggs turned out to be fertile.
Wlile 63.3% is not an A* performance, it is a respectable score considering he's not yet a year old and, presumably, still learning.
It is now up to her indoors to do the rest, though I should say these small bantams are notoriously difficult to breed so I'm not counting my chickens.
I was rather surprised when one of my friends asked how, with the help of a torch, I could know that the eggs were fertile.
Well, after about a week, if you hold the egg between your thumb and forefinger and shine the torch through it, the developing embryo can be seen as a small dark spot about the size of pea.
At 10-12 days the torch reveals what looks like a large spider which is, in fact, the network of blood vessels, through which the embryo absorbs the egg white - sort of multiple umbilical cords.
And from 14 days on the main body of the egg appears as a solid black mass with only the airspace at the blunt end allowing any light through.
Just as a baby can be felt kicking in its mother's womb so, as it nears hatching time, a chicken can be detected moving about in its shell.
I remember as a child watching my grandfather testing goose eggs by floating them in a bucket of warm water and seeing them rock back and forth as the goslins wriggled themselves into position for their final assault on the shell.
Almost the last thing the chicken does before hatching is to absorb the yolk into its abdomen.
This will keep it going for the first couple of days of its life until it learns to forage for its own food.
And that is why, in the old days, it was possible to send day-old chicks long distances by passenger train without food and water.
Indeed, if you went into a country station at this time of year, you would find boxes and boxes of chicks stacked up awaiting collection.
And, though, on some occasions, they would be more than 24 hours in transit, it was very rare to find any that had failed to survive the journey.


Wise guys

On Thursday we will all trot along to county hall for a meeting of full council.
As an indication of the extent to which the Cabinet system has disempowered ordinary members, 26 of the 30 items on the agenda concern Notices of Motion and questions - 25 of which have been submitted by opposition members.
If it wasn't for these we would have apologies for absence; chairman's announcements; approval of the minutes for the last meeting; and a technical amendment to the council's constitution, and then we could all go home.
With the single exception of an item on climate change, all the opposition's NoMs are followed by: "This notice of motion be not adopted" or words to that effect.
There will be a token debate followed by a show of hands when the synchronized voters of the Pembrokeshire Independent Group will prove, yet again, that 39 is a bigger number than 22.
As it happens, I have just been re-reading Karl Popper's "The Open Society - and its Enemies", in which the great philosopher outlines what he considers to be the essence of democratic government.
According to Popper, any system where the most powerful group routinely uses its voting strength to get its own way is essentially totalitarian. He goes on to say that those in positions of power in a democracy, have a moral duty to seek out the truth when making decisions on behalf of the people they represent.
And that the best way to arrive at the truth is to listen to what other people have to say just in case they are able to fill in any gaps in your own knowledge.
Of course, it is always possible that the Independents have, somehow, acquired a monopoly of wisdom.
If this is indeed the case, it is difficult to see what is the point of education.
Popper describes philosophy as: "A necessary activity because we, all of us, take a great number of things for granted, and many of these assumptions are of a philosophical character; we act on them in private life, in politics, in our work, and in every other sphere of our lives -- but while some of these assumptions are no doubt true, it is likely, that more are false and some are harmful. So the critical examination of our presuppositions -- which is a philosophical activity -- is morally as well as intellectually important."
And, as Darwin said: "Great ignorance more often begats great confidence than great knowledge"

back to home page