Twenty Questions to a Fellow Blogger Part IX: Neil Harding

(Neil Harding)
Neil Harding is 37 years old and runs the BrightonRegencyLabourSupporter blog.

What made you decide to start blogging?

I was boring all my friends by talking about politics all the time, I needed an outlet and blogging is an ideal way of letting off steam. I've also got a bit of an ego thing going.

What is your best blogging experience?

Realising that if you type 'I hate Thatcher' into Google, my blog is the first one listed.

And your worst?

Making a prat of myself with a couple of ill informed remarks supporting Blair's respect agenda. Sadly this remains the most hits I got in a day - 1015, must have put a lot of people off my site.

What do you regard as your best blog entry?

Proportional Representation (PR):- The best way to alleviate poverty.I know... I am an anorak. But seriously the more proportional the electoral system the better the society. If you don't believe me read the article..

Favourite blogs?

There are so many, I try to read as many as possible - including yours of course. If pushed, my top 5 are; Devil's Kitchen (just because his views are almost always the direct opposite of mine), Pub Philosopher (the thinking man's BNP sympathiser - which I find very honest of him to admit), Fruit & Votes (PR anorak blog - what a surprise I like this?), The Daily (very impresssed with the quality of writing on this new blog) and The Labour Humanist. I know it's sad they are all political blogs. Also a mention for bloggers4labour which has introduced me to many fine Labour blogs including yours and even meant meeting a few of you in person!

What do you regard as the downside to Proportional Representation?

Well the biggest downside is that so many countries don't have it and have crap government as a result. But I suppose that is not what you are asking. It is a shame that the benefts of PR are not more obvious for all to see and are not simpler to explain. Also PR advocates don't help the cause by disagreeing over small differences in the many systems of PR- (this is quite ironic if you think about it). We should unite in favour of any system that improves on first-past-the-post FPTP. If you are asking about downsides in comparison to (FPTP), I really don't think there are any (honestly). Maybe FPTP can be simpler than some PR systems in terms of only having to put an X on the ballot paper - ordering the candidates 1-2-3 is too complicated for some people I suppose. The biggest problem with PR is the transition, it can take several elections for a new system to bed down, in the meantime the hangover from FPTP can mean the latent far-right vote built up by the media and the complacency of the major parties (who can ignore large sections of the electorate under FPTP) can show up with the far-right winning a few seats and it takes time for the far-right vote to subside as exposure of their policies to rigorous debate and their candidates to true scrutiny soon shows them to be absurd and incompetent.

What caused you to become an athiest?

The short answer to this is probably - Richard Dawkins, Polly Toynbee and Science. I think when I was growing up I did believe in God - because it seemed like everybody told me there was a God and I didn't question it. As soon as I started to really question it - maybe in my late teens, early twenties, I started to think 'hold on, this is absurd'. Even then, I might have described myself as agnostic. It is only in the last few years that I realised I was an atheist. Many people think to be an atheist you have to reject the 'possibility' of a God, but you only have to think that God is 'unlikely'. I would now describe myself as not just an atheist but an anti-theist because the rise of the right-wing US evangelicals is absolutely terrifying, probably a bigger threat than Islam. But I think any religion is damaging because it discourages open thought and debate on many subjects. Religion seems particularly hung up about sex.

What sparked your interest in politics?

My dad used to 'inform me' that 'Enoch was right' and that 'Hitler did some good things', and I used to believe him. Only when I encountered more enlightened views did I start to think my dad was wrong. I think there is an analogy here with how my views on religion developed. I don't think my dad is an ogre, he is actually a really nice guy in a lot of ways and his opinions are sadly pretty much the norm for his age group in the area where he lives. The fact that somebody can be a nice guy but hold such bigoted views is a very important thing to remember when it comes to politics. Things are never clear cut. I think my interest in politics and disillusionment with religion stems from my dad making me question authority by making me realise that the given line can be wrong. Politics affects everything and I find it amazing that it seems to be a taboo subject with many people.

Is there anywhere abroad which you haven't been to, that you would like to visit?

Australia, the scenery of the outback looks amazing - though I do worry about all the deadly creatures over there.

Is there anywhere abroad you have visited, that you would love to revisit?

Perpignon in the South of France. To be honest and I know this is boring, I like the UK, I haven't been anywhere abroad that beats Cornwall, Wales, Western Scotland, the Peak and Lake District. The UK is a great place. I also love the towns and cities, Inverness, Manchester, Preston, Wolverhampton, Brighton, even Walsall has charm.

Who, excluding the present leader, do you regard as the best Prime Minister, and if different, the best Labour leader?

I suppose Harold Wilson must have been doing something right for the Tories to plan a coup against him. I have been told by a few people who remember Wilson that he was an awesome speaker and could swat hecklers away for fun. Also he had the sense to keep British troops out of Vietnam. I really don't know what to make of Attlee. As for the Tories, probably Disraeli, who although fairly backward by today's standards was enlightened at the time (apparently). I despise Churchill and Thatcher. Churchill in particular was a disgraceful bigot, as he said himself, history judged him well because he wrote it. The best Labour leader has to be Michael Foot. Just because he wore a duffel coat on remembrance day....

Which public figure has been your greatest inspiration?

Tough question, I'd go for John Peel.

Favourite Bond movie?

Sexist rubbish but I remember enjoying watching A View to a Kill.

Favorite Doctor Who?

David Tennant.

Chocolate, vanilla, or mint?


Which Band, past or present, would you most like to see in concert?

I never got to see The Smiths, although I've been told they were rubbish live.

In terms of visiting for the weekend, Oxford, Cambridge, or Barsby, Leics..?

I'd go for Oxford, though I've not been there for a while.

Favourite national newspaper?

Sadly, the Guardian.

What would you say your hobbies were?

Playing guitars badly- acoustic and electric, writing music, losing to my nephews at chess, getting drunk.

And what would you say were your three favourite songs and three favourite books (Bar the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare)?

**ck off Nazi Punks by The Dead Kennedys
Hupenyu Hwangu by The Bhundu Boys
Pushbutton Head by Strawberry Story
Hard Work by Polly Toynbee
To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
Animal Farm by George Orwell


Shaun (editor) said…
I have to question Neil Harding's optimism in believing any proportional representation (PR) electoral system to be better than our constituency system. I am currently studying in South Africa and there is great disillusionment here with their closed list PR system which means that MPs rely sycophantically on the party leadership for top places on the list to ensure that they have a seat after each election. This not only means that there is no accountability to the electorate, but that there is very little familiarity between MPs and the voters. Some of the most ardent political students will struggle to name more than 15 MPs in the parliament (and this is mostly party leaders and the cabinet ministers). I have a Capetonian friend who knows more British MPs from watching Sky News on their satelite tv than he knows MPs in his own parliament. And it's not just because the two-thirds ANC majority has reduced the national parliament to a 'talking shop', but all MPs' refusal to question party leaderships or rebel against their party's voting line, means debate and voting is always predictable and not worthwile. Leaders also stay in charge of their parties for a long time, because no MP is willing to 'rock the boat' and risk being removed from or moved down on the seat list for every election. As a consequence the media reports very little of what goes on in parliament and leads many to praise the virtues of the first-past-the-post constituency sytem which we have in Britain.
They can't implement an open list PR system in South Africa, because of its complicatory nature when so many voters are illiterate and only know how to vote on the ballot when they see the party logo and a picture of the party leader (at least with a constituency system one familiar MP would be able to connect to specific geographic areas).

Even though the South African PR parliament is fairly representive in terms of race, sex and religion, there is no effectiveness. Minority MPs have not managed to stop the ANC from reducing minority rights and South African feminists complain that the woman MPs in parliament are useless, because they are so sycophantic towards the leaders.

After what I have seen, our electoral system with some flaws looks like heaven when compared to some of the PR sytems I have seen.
Neil Harding said…
Cheers Paul for putting this up so quickly, sorry the grammar of my replies is a bit sloppy in places.

manic minarchist: South Africa probably has the best government in the whole of Africa. To compare SA govt with wealthy developed countries is unfair. You have to look at the context.

SA has done remarkably well for a 'new' country. To continue to make progress in a region dominated by despots and corruption is a remarkable achievement and I believe this stability has been helped enormously by the fair electoral system which has given more say to minorities. The dominance of the ANC would have been unbearable under FPTP - they would have won virtually every seat. This would have encouraged ANC arrogance and provided no check on their power at all.

As for your point on MP recognition. I would like to see hard figures. I would suggest that some of the most ardent political students in the UK would struggle to name 15 MPs. The vast majority of people in this country cannot name their MP and the majority do not vote for them. At least in South Africa everybody's vote has equal value and people know it makes a difference to the result.
Shaun (editor) said…
To compare SA govt with wealthy developed countries is unfair. You have to look at the context.

Yes, I can agree that fair representivity is important in a country with a divided history, but in the context of British politics, I value parliamentarian effectiveness and accountability towards the electorate more than I value representivity.

In the constituency-based system we have a balance between two influences on the MP: knowing that your seat depends on votes from your constituency and the rank patronage of the party leader. In a PR system, the party leadership influence becomes greater.
In terms of protecting individual and minority rights, you do not need a representative MP from that minority, but a MP with firm grasp of the law and constitutional matters. Long before people were talking about making our parliament more represenative, white middle class MPs were introducing laws to introduce individual and minority rights, because they had a sense of responsibility towards everyone in their constituency (a PR system does the opposite:you feel only responsible to the type of people as a proportion of the population who you believe would elect you). Thatcher did not become PM because she was given special treatment as a woman, she did so through merit.

Coming back to your point about South Africa. Yes, FPTP would increase the ANC's majority even further, but it would also speed up the ANC's breakup. The ANC is too 'broad a church' in its grassroots support, but these vast ideological differences are not reflected amongst ANC MPs, because of their sychophancy.
Anonymous said…
When did I admit to being "the thinking man's BNP sympathiser"?

Evidence please?
Neil Harding said…
Steve: I remember a debate on your site several months back (unfortunately I can't find the relevant post) where you expressed sympathy with those who voted BNP. I am sure it was on your site but without evidence to back it up I will withdraw the remark.
Anonymous said…
Hi Neil, this Katrina Anon
DAVID TENNANT?!?! Come on...Tom Baker! Tennant is absolutely one of the best, but dang when are we going to get more?

Baker had some of the best stories and themes of all the Doctors. The Keys to Time series, Tallons Weng Chi'ang, Pyramids of Mars just to name a few.

The fun thing about the Baker years was the creativity of the 'special effects.' They were very limited at that time and the producers concentrated on the stories instead of investing heavily in effects. As CG got practical after Baker they started playing with the graphics instead of focusing on the story. I always tell people don't forget the story.

The truth is we will never know if 'Moe' (I cannot remember his name) was better than Baker as so few of his works have survived. Why did so few survive? Moe looked like he had some great story lines and he had an interesting intepretation of his Doctor.

Tennant is good but he is not Baker. Considering some of the stuff we have heard about his troubles, I am sure Tennant is glad he is not Baker.

I am sure it is another oddity about America and GBR...Who is popular among kids in GBR and adults like it in America.

Now, what about Red Dwarf?