.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Defending the indefensible

Those who criticise the Assembly's Party list system are by and large right. It is a nasty hybrid that fails to advance accountability one iota. Even more damning it fails to do what it was designed for, namely to produce a proportional outcome to an Assembly election. That is because its New Labour architects could not help themselves. They stacked it in their own favour.

The problem with those who criticise the Assembly's Party list system is that by-and-large they or their party were responsible for introducing it in the first place. It is Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. They created it but they are afraid of it and they cannot control it.

However, instead of acknowledging this point and going back to the drawing board Labour choose instead to attack those who are elected on party lists rather than the system itself. The obvious alternative is to introduce elections under the single transferable vote system as advocated by the Richard Commission. This will retain the constituency link whilst ensuring that all AMs are considered as equals with the same responsibilities. That however is not on the table, simply because the critics are those who do not believe in proportional representation but prefer the old, unrepresentative first-past-the-post system.

It is worth noting in passing that to suggest that because we are on a party list means that the voters do not actually elect us a false one. However, if people are going to make that accusation then they should at least be consistent and apply the argument to MEPs as well. They do not of course because Labour have two MEPs who would not take kindly to being branded in this way. One rule for the opposition and one rule for Labour does not make for an impartial and consistent case. It is no wonder that many have concluded that this whole issue is a partisan one and as such Labour's case has little merit.

So what are the myths that regional Assembly Members have to contend with? Firstly, there is the allegation that we are not elected. This is patently untrue. All regional AMs appear on a party list on a ballot paper in the same way as MEPs. We need to secure sufficient votes to be returned to the Assembly in a separate election to that taking place for constituency members.

Secondly, the myth that regional AMs do not do casework. Not only do I have a heavy casework load and employ a caseworker but I also do surgeries and encourage people from right across my region to come to me for help.

Thirdly, the claim that list members have an ill-defined role. All Assembly Members are treated equally in the chamber and all of us have a right to participate on both national and local issues. As I treat my region as a giant constituency then I have more local issues than constituency members and arguably a need for more resources to support me. Because my work is shared by three other regional members then we accept that an equity of resources with constituency members is about right.

Fourthly, our opponents say that we are immune to public opinion. No politician can afford this luxury. Quite apart from the fact that our party members form part of that public opinion and that we need to be reselected in the same way as a constituency AM, we are often the public face of our party in our region. We all have ambitions for our party and we all want to do better. Therefore it is important that we listen to people and take account of their concerns.

Fifthly, Labour say that we campaign only in selected constituencies. This is simply not true. I have never concentrated all my resources on one constituency. I hold surgeries thoughout the region as can be evidenced here, I have my office in a different constituency to the one I contested in 1999 and 2003 and I campaign and undertake casework in all the areas I represent.

Sixthly, some say that we have too much time on our hands. In particular I have been accused of this because I write this blog. Those who make this accusation obviously are incapable of time management. I am not. There are 168 hours in a week. I often work on all seven days and on average put in 70 plus hours as an Assembly Member each week. Like everybody else I have recreation time. Unlike others I do not always take it as big chunks, simply because my commitments do not allow it.

Although it is recess I have spent the last few days at a number of meetings, doing casework, holding a surgery and talking to various local groups. This blog is a communication tool which I use to enable people to assess my views, to learn more about me and the Welsh Liberal Democrats and to comment if they wish. It is not there to make me accountable, that is what elections are for. But it does help with transparency and accountability.

Seventhly, it is said that a regional AM cannot be defeated in an election. That is patently untrue. At the last election Plaid Cymru and Labour both lost regional seats. It is possible under the distorted d'hondt system we use for me to lose my seat if the Welsh Liberal Democrats won Swansea West for example. It is also possible for another opposition party to do well enough to take my seat off me and my party.

Finally, it is said that if I do not like the system we use then why stand for it? I do not like the first-past-the-post system either but it is there and we have to use it to influence things and put our policies into effect. I have to get elected to change it. Simply, I believe that the Welsh Assembly is very important and has the potential to do great good. I believe that it has already achieved a lot. I am committed to devolution and to creating a liberal society where everybody has social justice. My work as an Assembly Member therefore is important to me and I shall continue to do it as long as my party and the electorate will let me.
While I would agree that the caricature does not match the reality, I don't think it is a particularly good tactic to defend the status quo. Far better would be to stick to attacking Labour's proposed amendments to the system and their outrageous hypocrisy.

Closed list systems are unsatisfactory regardless of how good individual politicians who are elected by it may be.
Absolutely, that is why I reiterated our position that closed lists are unsatisfactory and that STV should be used instead. Having said that as the status quo is to prevail it is right that I defend myself against attacks. I have posted before about Labour's hypocrisy and no doubt will do so again.
Who on earth thinks that communicating with the public (through a blog here, in a surgery elsewhere, or in a meeting) is not part of your job?

Soon it'll be unusual, not to say positively anti-social and politically suicidal not not communicate over the web - and a blog's not a bad way of doing that at the moment.

Wouldn't be the same people responsible for the terrible National Assembly website? They show no evidence of understanding the point of communicating clearly at all.

They're idiots, you get it, they don't.

Now, how about podcasting? It can be done very easily and with no bandwidth costs. What about a bilingual podcast? What's Welsh for podcast?
First-Past-The-Post is not unrepresentative, it is simply not proportional.
That's just messing with words. As a matter of fact, first-past-the-post can be unrepresentative in a way that I presume even you'd be obliged to accept.

For example, in 1951 Labour won 295 seats with 48.8% of the vote, Conservatives won 302 seats with 44.3% of the vote. Was that result representative?

Still, if you need to argue the toss, take a look at Arrow's Imposibility Theorem. No voting method is ever fair.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?