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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The earth moves

A minor earthquake has started to gather momentum in British politics and its epicentre is Wales. The Western Mail reports that the Welsh Conservatives are planning to commit themselves to the introduction of proportional representation in council elections.

A draft version of the party's manifesto for May's National Assembly election contains a section that advocates PR in local government. If the final version includes the commitment when it is published towards the end of next month, it will be the first time the Conservative Party has formally backed PR at any level in Britain.

The acceptance of PR will be hugely controversial within the party. Last Friday, for example, the Newport West Conservative Association passed a motion opposing PR at any level. But the matter will not be discussed at this weekend's Welsh Conservative conference in Cardiff.

A party spokesman would neither confirm nor deny the presence of the commitment to PR in local government in the draft manifesto, saying, "We are not saying anything about the manifesto at this stage, because it has not been signed off by the board in Wales. Although it is near completion, policies could still be inserted or taken out."

David Melding, who has drafted the manifesto, really does have his work cut out in getting his party to accept this reform but if he succeeds then we may well have a very interesting consensus developing here. It is no wonder that he is looking so stressed at the moment.
I had hoped that the Conservatives would have been converts to PR after 1997. It was undemocratic that in the 1980s we had Conservative landslide majorities with 42% of the vote and just as undemocratic in 1997 when there was a 179 Labour majority on the same 42%, and no Tories in Scotland or Wales (though I did savour the moment).

Then in 2005 when the Conservatives got more votes in England than Labour, but less seats, I thought that they would finally see the unfairness of the system. But no, the solution was to redraw the constituency boundaries to make it more fair.

I hope the decision on council elections is a first step to PR for Westminster. The councils certainly need it in Wales. I've always been against prolonged one party rule by ANY party. Hopefully, PR would change that.
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