Monday, 10 May 2021

Why the Tory plan to switch to FPTP for Mayoral elections won't do them much good

 Priti Patel's plan to use First past the post (FPTP) rather than supplementary vote probably won't give them much, if any advantage, and actually may hurt their cause of getting more Tories in office.

See the report at: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/may/09/government-to-change-english-voting-system-after-labour-mayoral-victories

It's seductive for the Conservatives to look at the London Mayor election and see how an FPTP lead by Khan over Bailey was doubled when it came to counting the second preferences, and a light switches on in their heads and they think, let's make it FPTP!

But things don't work quite that way. Of course us greens would like to think that a vote for the Green Party will always be a vote for the Green Party come rain or shine, but in reality it isn't. If people sense that their Green vote could end up letting in a Conservative by default then a lot, if not most, of the London green voters are likely to peel off and vote Labour in a FPTP contest. Result - Bailey loses by much the same margin as he has done. Moreover if the seat allocation for the London Assembly itself is decided by FPTP then there will be a straight Labour majority rather than the current 'hung' position - not much help for a Tory Mayor there either!

In general the sometimes-talked-about disintegration of the non-Tory vote (which weakens Labour) could actually be staunched if the Government purges the current electoral arrangements in the cities and sets up straight FPTP elections. It's called unintended consequences. There's a lot of it about!

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Book launch event for ‘Nuclear Power in Stagnation - A cultural approach to failed expansion’ published by Routledge, March 2021

The event is by zoom, noon – 12.55, Wednesday March 31st - if you register to attend this FREE event you will later be sent the zoom code for the meeting. Register for the event through Eventbrite by clicking here 

The book focuses on the role of nuclear safety issues in curbing nuclear power development. See book details by clicking here

The authors will talk about the book and there will be a keynote talk by Professor Benjamin Sovacool on the subject of the cultural dynamics of decarbonisation 

Itinerary:

11.45 Webinar opens for networking

12.05 pm David Toke, the lead author of the book,  introduces the book and the event (3 minutes)

12.08 Professor Benjamin Sovacool (Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex ‘Cultural Dynamics of Decarbonisation’

12.18 Antony Frogatt (co-author and Senior Research Fellow in the Energy, Environment, and Development Programme at Chatham House, London, UK) will talk about  Nuclear Power: The Missing ‘Renaissance’

 12.24 David Toke (Reader in Energy Politics, University of Aberdeen) Outline of scope and main conclusions of the book

12.39 Geoffrey Chun-Fung Chen ( Associate Professor of Political Economy at the Department of China Studies at Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University) Nuclear Power and Safety in China

12.49 Richard Connolly, Senior Lecturer in Political Economy and Director of the Centre for Russian, European,  and Eurasian Studies at the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Birmingham, UK. Nuclear power and Safety Policy in Russia

12.55 close


Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Invitation to tender to do a model/scenario for 100 per cent renewable energy in the UK

Attention energy academics and consultants! Invitation to tender to do a model/scenario for 100 per cent renewable energy in the UK. There is little work on this topic because for the most part the only finance available to do energy modelling or public policy reports comes from the big energy companies themselves who, because they have financial interests in either or both fossil fuels or nuclear energy won't fund work to research 100 per cent renewable energy scenarios. Hence this initiative. Best Wishes, David Toke, Director, 100percentrenewableuk Ltd (a non-profit company limited by guarantee)

Thursday, 28 January 2021

Why 100 per cent renewable energy is better to balance solar and wind power compared to using nuclear power

 Video: Why nuclear power is a bad way to balance renewable energy. Toke, Fairlie and Eppel from 100percentrenewableuk discuss how a 100percent renewable energy system is much better for the UK than one involving nuclear power https://100percentrenewableuk.org/blog 

The Government says that its vision for a 2050 electricity system is for the majority of electricity to be supplied by wind and solar power, but around 20 per cent will be supplied by nuclear power. Nuclear is supported because it is called 'despatchable', but the Government avoids the fact that it is, at least on financial grounds, unswitchoffable. This inflexibility will mean that lots of nuclear generation will be counterproductive in that it will waste large amounts of renewable energy which will have to be switched off to protect the electricity system.

Would it be better to utilise such (effectively zero cost) production instead to produce energy that can be stored for the long term for generation when there is not enough wind or sun? I'm sure it would. Certainly it is better than churning out many times more nuclear power at ultra-high cost. 
We need some smart thinking from Government to seriosly look into the best ways of organising a 100per cent renewable energy system - as opposed to merely dismissing it or loading studies with pro-nuclear assumptions from the start.

AND........You can download and listen to a nuclear versus renewables debate on Radio 5Live Science which featured myself batting for renewables. You can tune into the debate from around 35.40 minutes from the download at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p09674b1

Sunday, 24 January 2021

Why Boris Johnson cannot say 'no' to a second Scottish independence referendum

In the face of polls showing increasing desires in Scotland for an indyref 2 Westminster is busy trying to sound as stern and pompous as they can in saying 'never, never, never'. But Boris Johnson must know that so long as the firm majority of people in Scotland want a further referendum this will, ultimately, be impossible to resist.

Why do I say that? Well, it's not because the SNP, having increased their majority in the forthcoming Parliamentary elections, may decide to hold their own unilateral vote. I hope they decide not to do this simply because the unionists will boycott the vote rendering it meaningless, and no, I can't see the Scottish Government seriously attempting to declare unilateral independence, though they might joke about it. That's because in practice it would end up being a joke.

No, the problem for Westminster is that after the Scottish Parliamentary elections, if Scottish sentiment continues to increase in favour of a vote, then. to cut a long story short, English voters will start piling on the pressure for Johnson to agree to an independence referendum. First we shall see demonstrations in Scotland, maybe then civil disobedience campaigns (more and more likely as things drag on), and of course the Scots will descend on Westminster in large numbers. The only barrier to all of this I suppose, is the extent to which social distancing criteria will still apply. But then it didn't deter the BLM protesters in the USA last summer. Oh yes, and suggestions that anyone in England who has some connection with Scotland will also get a vote in the referendum will be simply blown away by Nicola Sturgeon. In the end the Johnson Government will have to deliver a referendum on terms which are mutually agreeable.

Now as to whether another referendum will actually produce a Yes vote, now that's another question, and I'm not going to make a prediction on that. We have to remember way back in 1995 when the Quebecois had a second independence referendum. The Yes vote was leading by a large majority in the polls but ended up losing by one per cent in the actual vote. But maybe it is actually in nationalists' interests for the whole argument about Westminster granting a second referendum to drag on for a while since the sense of indignation at Westminster's stubbornness may encourage more Yes voters to turn out and deter the unionists. 

Westminster can forget any argument that it is too soon after the last one to hold another vote - after all everyone knows that since then Brexit has happened which fundamentally changes relationships. On the other hand of course it is simplistic to argue about how soon an independent Scotland would be able to (re)join the EU. This is simply because Scotland, in practice would, for a time at least, join the European Single Market, like Norway, rather than be a full member. That is because Scotland would not, as a full EU member, be able to negotiate its own trade agreement with England that was different with the now current UK-EU agreement.

But of course, for political scientists not to mention everyone else, we're in for an interesting time ahead!

Monday, 11 January 2021

Could there be a fascist takeover of the US in 2025?

 It is now possible to conceive a plausible scenario where there could be a civil conflict followed by fascist takeover in 2025 following the 2024 elections. NBC has published an opinion piece concerning the alarming propensity of new Republican lawmakers to support the over-turning of the elections on January 6th and how in a close election in  2024 a Democrat Presidential victory could be overturned at the ensuing joint session of Congress. Yet the NBC's scenario may leave out further possibilities for undermining an election result.

The NBC, drawing historical parallels, points to 1860 when lawmakers from the South walked out of the joint congress in opposition to the election of Abraham Lincoln in a move that foreshadowed the civil war. Of course it is quite possible that if the Republicans win the mid term elections in 2022 then they could have a majority to enable them to refuse to certify a Democrat Presidential victory at the joint session in January 2025. That would require all or most Republicans to go along with this, which did not happen this time.

But another plausible scenario is that Republican officials or administrators at a state level refuse to certify election results which could simply lead to them not being counted when the Electoral College met in December. Indeed there was a threat that this might happen in Michigan last November when Republicans initially refused to certify results in Wayne County (with a very large batch of mainly pro-Biden votes). Such actions could swing the electoral college, certainly in a close race depending on one state's votes, towards giving the Presidency to the Republican challenger (Trump or Trump-like?).

If a Democrat win was reversed this way at the Electoral College then it would be the Democrats who would be mounting the (probably unsuccessful) challenge at the following joint session of Congress. This would be attended by rising civil disturbances as Democrat supporters mounted demonstrations against the election chicanery. A new Congress, perhaps with a Democrat majority in either or both the House and the Senate could refuse to cooperate with the new President alongside some Democrat-run states. There could be a mounting civil conflict which may give to rise to increasing interventions by the National Guard and, ultimately,  the military. Arrest of Democrat leaders accused of formenting civil unrest could follow....................

The effect on the world as a whole of development of autocracy in the USA would be dramatic. The UK Government (Labour or Conservative) usually has a pretty craven attitude towards whatever the US President wants, for example. But there could be much worse outcomes than this. The world would enter a terrible phase in which it would be dominated by effective dictatorships in Russia, China and the USA. Much worse could follow.

Clearly it is time to call out the conspiracy theorists for what they are, but have rising levels of fascist-style intimidation already risen too high for many Republican politicians to resist? A key problem is that many closet racists in the USA simply regard any US Government formed on the basis of a multicultural ideology as being illegitimate. This overrules democratic norms. They yearn for the old times when civil rights were, at best, accorded minorities on the assumption of a white supremacy which is now seen as being under threat. It is a fundamental problem with US identity politics which makes the drive towards populism and the undermining of democracy especially severe in the USA. 

The argument is not really about patriotism or whether America should be first - otherwise so many of the right wing politicians wouldn't be arguing for secession by Texas and other states! It is about whether the USA exists as a white supremacist state or a multi-ethnic, multicultural state. It is a deeply existential struggle.

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Yes, the USA is heading towards autocracy

Until very recently comparing contemporary events in the West with the 1920s was little more than a joke that one could make but gradually bit by bit some key indicators are becoming comparable. The first most obvious sign is the reluctance by leaders of one or more major parties to recognise democratic outcomes as being legitimate. The second sign is the increasing activism of armed militia associated with political parties. The third is the socio-economic environment. All three, at least in the case of the USA, are showing uncomfortable signs of mirroring what happened in 1920s Europe. So far the similarities seem to go only so far, but the danger is the direction of travel, and the likelihood that background economic conditions will worsen in the coming years.

The first point is the refusal to recognise the legitimacy of elections by the defeated candidate Donald Trump.  The danger now is that anyone who does recognise as legitimate elections won by Democrats are going to be purged from the party. Those Republicans willing to recognise a future Democratic Presidential victory may simply be forced out of office. In addition to this is the tendency towards Republicans refusing to certify elections that have been won by their opponents. For instance in Pennsylvania Republicans were very reluctant to certify Biden's victory (he won by 80,000 votes in Pennsylvania), and are now refusing to certify an otherwise elected State Senator. Will Republicans adopt this strategy in the 2024 Presidential elections, but more thoroughly next time?

The second point is the growth of armed militias. In the 1920s there were the blackshirts in Italy, the falangists in Spain and the brownshirts in Germany. True, they faced militant factions from the left (until they were crushed by dictatorship), but in the USA there is also rising militancy from the left. In the US interventions by armed 'Trumpist' militia are, as we all now know, becoming more significant. In the 1920s the far right militias had sympathisers in the police, and it seems there is no shortage of sympathy for Trump amongst the US police.

The third point are deteriorating circumstances for lower middle classes and increasing inequalities of income. Whenever we emerge from the current coronavirus crisis there will be a debt laden public and private sector. With this is likely to come rising inflation that cannot be tamed by increases in interest rates because of the effect on householders and businesses. 

Of course there are various dissimilarities. Niall Ferguson has talked about some of these, though as he recongises, in the shadow of recent events the extent of the dissimilarities have narrowed. As one Guardian columnist has recorded, Hitler's putsch in 1923 may have been unsuccessful, but he was all too successful a decade later. Will history record the storming of the Capitol Hill as a turning point? Quite probably - but maybe in the wrong direction as far as US democracy is concerned. It could even lead to a much wider civil conflict involving, ultimately, the military. The left tends not to do well out of these conflicts in modern capitalist states. If the elite fear being controlled by neo-fascist tendencies, they tend to settle for charismatic strongmen who rule an attenuated democracy, or not all. This can range at best from a limited democracy as in Orban's Hungary to outright dictatorship as in Dolfuss in Austria in the 1930s.