Wednesday, 11 December 2013

How to Boost the Power of Your Vote

Despite the disappointment of the recent referendum on electoral reform in Jersey, where a poor selection of unsatisfactory options led to an inconclusive result, there remains an imperative to make overdue improvements. Thus, a proposal has been made to overhaul another aspect of Jersey elections.

Although the referendum failed in its purpose of giving The States a mandate for change, or even a mandate for no change, it did succeed in being a demonstration of transferable voting in Jersey. While such a system had never been used in an election for office here, the referendum offered first and second choice voting for the three options, so that, if there were no clear majority in the first count, as indeed happened, the third placed minority would drop out in the run-off count and their second choices added to the others. This had to produce a majority. Sure enough, it established that the Option A, which I personally preferred, was marginally less acceptable than the Option B to the overall voters, although commanding the largest minority of first choices, so B was the democratically chosen winner. At least the derisory turnout vitiated the referendum to the point that it could be ignored with clean consciences by The States. However the mechanism of the voting was vindicated.

One of the conundrums (the pedant in me thinks I want the word conundra, but my spellchecker doesn't!) of first-past-the-post voting is whether to pick one's honest choices or whether to attempt to game the system with tactical voting. If you fear that your preferred choice will not command enough other people's votes to succeed, but one you are strongly opposed to will, there is some sense in voting for a third candidate who is less desirable, but has a worthwhile prospect of victory. This may help to keep the wrong one out, but it fails to send a message of support and approval to your real choice, and tend to discourage future candidates from offering a similar manifesto.

By contrast, transferable votes mean ranking candidates, so that you can give your honest first choice your primary vote. If they fail, then whoever you ranked next receives your vote, and so on for however many rounds of run-offs it needs to obtain a final result. This delivers the most widely supported, or at least accepted candidates, without posing any pressure to understate the true level of support for the also-rans.

Rather than attempt to go into detail myself on this subject, I would recommend anyone interested to go to the excellent article my fellow Jersey blogger “Tony The Prof” has written at He says everything I would want to, and in better English than I can manage.

Anyway, variations of transferable voting systems have been widely used in many countries around the world for decades. The advent of cheap and easily used computers has taken the hard work out of the necessary “number crunching” that is the only real drawback, so there is no longer any sound argument against the introduction here, too. It would also facilitate the success of another large multiple constituency system based on the rejected Option A, which is probably the most urgent electoral change Jersey needs to revitalise the democratic legitimacy of its government. Even if this particular attempt to introduce it fails, (and despite the proposal's inherent merit, it is not unimaginable that The States will reject it simply to spite its proposer), it needs to be returned to again and again until it does prevail.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Bald Truth and Bare-faced Lies

The Bald Truth Jersey, as linked in my blog list, is a witty title for the blog of my friend and erstwhile political colleague, Trevor Pitman, who has a bare scalp and a passionate commitment to calling things how he sees them.

However, he has cross-branded the title to a Facebook group, run by one Steve Southers, whom I believe to be Trevor's brother-in-law, although I may be mistaken. The Facebook group does run links to Trevor's blog, but otherwise, it has evolved its own identity, and become a very different kettle of fish.

Any Facebook group can only be as good or bad as the people who bother to join it, but the group administrators can, and usually do, shape the group to some extent, by constraining the content the members post, and controlling who is allowed in the group. I have volunteered as co-admin for a couple of the groups I am in, myself, and have been surprised at how many ethical challenges arise.

The Bald Truth Facebook group was initially populated with Trevor's Friend list, and has attracted others with an interest in Jersey affairs, until the thousand-plus membership has made it the largest Jersey discussion group, that I know of. Unfortunately, as the membership has grown, the proportion of posts from members with profoundly counter-factual worldviews has also grown. The headline posts letting us into the secret that humans were genetically engineered from apes by extra-terrestrial visitors can be enjoyed as comedy in small doses and the resident climate change denier's obtuse failure to absorb the resident environmental expert's patient debunkings also has a comedic dimension, reminiscent of the Monty Python sketch where an inept swordsman continues to bark challenges sans limbs after a comprehensive hacking.

The glimpses of an alternative reality get worse, though. There is much evidence of conspiracy theories on the page. Trevor Pitman's own political career has been hampered by a closing of ranks against him, so I can see why he would be inclined to sympathise. The tone of Steve Southers' Facebook group, however, is an anything-goes credulity towards suggestions of sinister forces secretly manipulating the world to their own benefit. (I am old enough and worldly enough to realise that great wealth does carry power, and the private and informal relationships of the very wealthy and powerful do play in counterpoint to the overt and formal structures of law and government. I am also wise enough to know that key words like Illuminati flag a need to engage extreme scepticism at least, if not ignore altogether.)

What has become the most worrying feature of the group, though, is that in spite of its links to a serving legislator, it has begun promoting the dangerously false legal advice of the Freeman On The Land movement. This is a Canadian variation of a scam that has been circulating in the USA for some years, in which dishonest legal advisors sell misinformation to to laymen on how the law is not legitimately the law of the land, and they can repudiate their obligations by declaring their independence from it. Although, they often assert that the state does have massive counter-obligations in their own favour. All untrue, of course.

Were the FOTL (Please yourself whether you read that as Freemen On The Land or Fruitloops On The Loose!) links posted as genuine discussion points, in the way most things are in topical Facebook groups, then at least the more rational members of the group could attempt to steer the more vulnerable members away from taking an unhealthy interest. Alarmingly, Southers, in spite of presenting himself as a defender of free speech when he turns up on other discussion groups is prepared to protect FOTL posts with active steps to suppress dissent. 

Note Southers' minatory response to criticism of a link to a FOTL video

The offending comments were rephrased in a way less open to misinterpretation as a slur on fellow group members.

But, it seems that the problem must have been disrespecting FOTL because Southers answered that question with a ban.

Not that that saved the piece from further attack from one of the other group admins.

So, there is one admin on the group not prepared to go along with it. Even so, it must be cause for concern that a Facebook group riding the coat tails of a current Member of The States of Jersey is actively fomenting disregard for the law, and doing so under false pretences, too. You may disregard my opinion as that of a layman, although I seem to know more real law than the FOTL gurus. You may even feel that Sam Mezec's LLB is not a sufficiently lofty qualification to impress you. Never mind, if you have a few hours to devote to some heavy and slightly repetitive reading, Chief Justice Rooke, of the Canadian Province of Alberta, has written the definitive debunking of the FOTL and all related “Organised Pseudolegal Commercial Agreements”:

I don't like to write blogs without points, so this one is coming to two. The first is that despite the links to Deputy Pitman, the actual Facebook group may promise Bald Truth, but abounds in Bare-Faced Lies, and should be viewed with caution and suspicion, if at all. The second point, incidentally arising, is that FOTL and other like OPCAs are utter buncombe beneath the mock-legal phraseology, and if they seem interesting, just remember that their facts are simply untrue, and don't be tempted to act on their advice.