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Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Welsh Tories and PR

Conservative Home reports on a new book by Vernon Bogdanor in which he records that during the coalition discussions in Wales in 2007:

'There had been serious negotiations between the three non-Labour parties – Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats – with a view to forming a "rainbow" coalition. But these negotiations foundered, in part because the Conservatives would not countenance the introduction of proportional representation for local government elections. The Welsh Conservatives were, apparently, prepared to consider this proposal, and David Cameron, the Conservative leader at Westminster, was prepared to allow them to do so, but the shadow cabinet would not hear of it.'

There is no doubt that there was a fairly weak commitment to PR in the All Wales Accord. The three parties agreed to seek the power to change the system of elections for local government and to hold a national referendum on the use of the single transferable vote early in the term of the Assembly for implementation in 2012. However, one of the stumbling blocks for many Welsh Liberal Democrats was over the level of commitment from the Tories to this pledge.

Many of us questioned the need for a referendum, when that had not been necessary in Scotland, whilst we were also sceptical about which side the Tories would campaign on in such a plebiscite. As I discovered later, although the Welsh Tory manifesto contained a commitment to holding local referendums on changing the voting system on a Council by Council basis, a number of their AMs seemed unaware of this.

As a result when I brought forward a proposal for a Legislative Competence Order to draw down the powers that might implement this Tory manifesto promise, the Conservative Group abstained en bloc. It seems that only a handful of their AMs actually supported us having that power even though they had been elected on that basis.

We also knew that the LCO process was going to be lengthy and worried about the priorities of a government, which included a party historically opposed to reform. Would a referendum be a priority and could it all be done in time for the boundary commission to put in place workable wards for the 2012 local council elections? I, for one, did not think so.

In the end the apparently flaky Welsh Tory commitment to this small advance in democracy was accepted on the basis of a confidential letter from their leader Nick Bourne in which he gave his personal guarantee that he would do everything in his power to bring it about. I wonder in the light of events if he would have been able to do so.
You say that PR would be an advance in democracy, but how democratic was it for you and the Tories to be discussing, behind closed doors, the shape of the next Government of Wales? I'd rather the voters decided that, not individual politicians in confidential discussions.

Do you agree that it's essential, at the next Assembly election, for the parties to line up as coalition groups in advance so that the people know what they're voting for?
Bogdanor is being spun a line. The Shadow Cabinet signed off the Rainbow deal - including PR
Actually Bob all four parties were talking to one another in some combination or another, that is what happens when you get an inconclusive election result. This can happen under any system including first past the post. Personally, I consider a system that ensures that a government has the support of 50% plus of those voting to be more democratic than one that gives us a majority Labour Government who only secured 35% of those who voted, 21% of those eligible to vote.

I think it would be presumptuous for parties to try and pre-determine coalitions without listening to the verdict of the voters. It is their votes that determines the dynamic of a Parliament and which issues should be most prominent in a Government's programme.
I'm aware that all parties talked to each other - I mentioned yourselves and the Tories because that was the subject of your blog above.

I think most voters imagine they have a rather more direct say in electing a govt than simply casting votes as bargaining chips for politicians to use in forming coalitions. Ireland had an election at roughly the same as the Welsh Assembly, and their main parties lined up as coalition groups so that the voters could decide: Fine Gael and Labour stood as an alliance, and Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats formed the rival group.

Isn't that kind of arrangement much preferable to the politicians disappearing from the public eye for a month while they bash out the shape of the next govt among themselves? After all, in May 2007 the only party that was guaranteed a place in govt was Plaid Cymru, the party that finished second.

That 'kingmaker' factor puts off voters like me who believe the govt should be chosen by the electorate, and not politicians. If we introduced STV for next year's general election, Nick Clegg would presumably be the man who chose whether to make Cameron or Brown PM - and yet Clegg's party will have finished third.

Why concentrate so much power in the hands of the party that has effectively come last among the main contenders?
As is evident from both Wales and Scotland it does not need to be the third or fourth party who dictates who will form a government, nor does there need to be a coalition at all.
tories, lab and sepratists just weighed it up that it would not be in there electoral interests for PR and a coalition of sorts
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