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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Great Reformer?

My first reaction on hearing that Gordon Brown now wants to introduce proportional representation for Westminster elections was that after 12 years what he was proposing was too little too late.

It seems to me to be very peculiar timing to announce a reform such as this, tied into a referendum, when there is virtually no chance of introducing it before a General Election he seems certain to lose and when his motives will be rightly questioned. It could be portrayed as a last ditch attempt to save his political skin by changing the rules or a cynical attempt to cosy up to the Liberal Democrats and the Nationalists in the event of a hung Parliament.

The Prime Minister's timing sucks and so does the form of Fair Votes he is proposing. The Alternative Vote, with or without a top-up list is not proportional and does not deliver improved outcomes for the electorate. Gordon is posing as the great reformer but in actual fact on this issue he remains as immersed in the conservative mainstream as he and the Labour Party have been for some time.

That is not to say that we should not welcome some movement towards our agenda. This is an opportiunity for the Liberal Democrats to push hard at the boundaries the government have set themselves on this issue. We should be buoyed in that endeavour by the other parts of our proposals that the government have adopted and which, actually stand out as more prominent priorities for the PM than electoral reform.

Gordon has also promised some movement towards an elected House of Lords but as with electoral reform he is only offering to look for cross-party consensus on the issue. Instead, we are told that the Prime Minister will use today's announcement to outline a new bill to clean up parliament that will include a legally enforceable code of conduct for MPs, an end to parliamentary self-regulation, and greater powers for backbenchers to scrutinise laws. It is possible that MPs found to be in breach of financial aspects of the code could be subject to recall by their constituents, a means of triggering a fresh election, a key Clegg proposal.

As ever this is the politics of the possible and as practical politicians we will need to make compromises but it strikes me that an opportunity is being missed too. Most people accept that Parliament should not police itself, so why should it be allowed to dictate the way that it is reformed. We have a chance to engage with a disenchanted and disillusioned electorate and allow them to run this agenda, not through referendums but genuine consultation and empowerment.

Unlock Democracy are promoting a Citizens’ Convention (Accountability and Ethics) Bill to do just that. Perhaps Gordon Brown can take the politics out of this debate and demonstrate just how much of a reformer he is by backing that initiative and while he is at it, throw down the gauntlet to the so-called 'man-of-the-people', David Cameron to do the same.
This is a hard one to call, there's obviously no doubt that this is Labour's last ditch attempt to cling to some sort of power. On the other hand, genuine reform is so overdue that I have often argued almost for ER at any price ... hold our noses and move toward democracy?

if we, the Greens, assorted Nats etc all joined a clamour for ER would it make the Tories think twice aboutsticking out for the current discredited system.

It's the first real hint of change in my lifetime (I never believed Blair;s teasing) - be worse than s shame to pass it up, it could doom the country to decades of more of the same.
You may not agree with AV, but you're wrong to say it "does not deliver improved outcomes for the electorate".

The party system is fragmenting. With first-past-the-post, that means it requires ever fewer votes to win a seat, with an increasing number of wasted votes. AV overcomes this consequence of fragmentation because it allows everyone to cast an honest vote without sacrificing the opportunity to alter the outcome.

AV also encourages a less adversarial politics because political parties know they must reach out to the supporters of other parties if they want to attract second preferences.

While an obsession with the Single Transferable Vote is undoubtedly hardwired into every Liberal Democrat, it's a shame that this is apparently an obstacle to a sensible debate on the topic. Proportionality is not the be-all-and-end-all. Electoral systems must achieve other objectives too, and even defenders of First Past The Post have perfectly valid reasons for doing so. Why is it impossible for Liberal Democrats to debate those arguments, instead of just acting to type on the issue?
Has he said that, it's not what he has said at PMQ's
I think that the Liberal Democrats would be prepared to compromise, in fact Nick Clegg has said as much. But that should not stop us arguing the case for STV at this stage. The main issue with AV, apart from its lack of proportionality, is that it puts too much power in the hands of political parties. The point of this post however was not to discuss methods of election but to argue for greater citizen involvement in reform.
like many disillusioned labour voters my brother voted ukip this time and was delighted that because of the system of PR used for the euro elections in wales his vote actually counted, in that his vote in swansea helped ukip to get a euro mp in wales!

Im no expert on PR im afraid but couldnt a similar system be used for britsh general elections? A system that would mean a voter would know that their vote would actually count wherever they lived in in wales or the uk and whoever they voted for!

Leigh richards.

The system used for the European elections gives proportionality between parties, so your brother's vote for the party of his choice was effective. However, he has to take on trust UKIP's choice of people on the list and their ranking order.

John Bufton may well be an effective MEP (and he certainly came across on radio & TV as more reasonable than most of his party colleagues), but few people had a way of judging him before the election.
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