11 June 2009

Voting reform: Yes please, but no half-measures or B.S.

Team Brown has been making some noises about electoral reform over the last couple of days as part of a wider move to reform Westminster.

If we get proportional representation out of this, somehow, then great, but I'm sceptical it'll come to anything under Brown. For various reasons.

First, I don't think Brown really likes PR. His statements about electoral reform have made it clear that he wants to keep the constituency link between and MP and constituents.

If I had to submit an entry for 'most overrated idea in British politics', the constituency link would be it. The reason is obvious from personal experience. For about 75% of my life I have lived in Essex. During those years, only between 2001 and 2005 did I have a Labour MP (Alan Hurst). The rest of the time I have been represented by a selection of the most dreadful Tory idiots going. What's the point of having a link to an MP if you don't agree with them on any issue at all? How are they going to represent your interests?

(This is not a party political point by the way - a right-wing Conservative living in inner London could make exactly the same argument, swapping 'Tory' and 'Labour', in the paragraph above).

Any constituency will have a plurality of interests, and a plurality of interests demands a plurality of representation. Which is why bigger, multi-member constituencies are the way to go. The model used for the European parliament works reasonably well in my opinion. Certainly a lot better than first past the post.

With (say) 7 MPs per constituency, you've a reasonably good chance of finding at least one MP who can represent your interests, at least to a first approximation. The current system is a lottery of parliamentary boundaries.

And please don't try and palm us off with the Alternative Vote system. This isn't even proportional. Sometimes it can be less proportional than First Past the Post!

Brown was one of the people who helped kill the possibility of PR in the late 1990s when Tony Blair commissioned Roy Jenkins to look at it. In something of a first for this blog, I will say something positive about Tony Blair here: when the guy was starting out, he was interested in electoral reform. Conversations were had with Paddy Ashdown and it's quite possible that a new system could have emerged if certain "forces of conservatism" in the Labour party hadn't put spanners in the works.

The other main reason I don't think electoral reform will get on the statute book is that there seems to be two faulty assumptions doing the rounds which have become established wisdom: (a) we need a referendum to establish PR, and (b) there isn't time to change the system before next June.

We DON'T need a referendum. The Euro elections voting system was changed in the 1990s without a referendum: before that it was first past the post. Why should the Westminster voting system be any different? If we need a referendum on that then there are quite a few other important issues I'd like to see referenda on: ID cards, or EU membership, for instance...

And there's plenty of time to change the system. There is easily enough parliamentary time between the Queen's speech and the dissolution of parliament for the 2010 election to get this on the statute books.

Some people have suggested a referendum on voting reform on the same day as the next general election. What's the point of that? Once Cameron gets in he will just ignore it, even if the result is

It's quite simple, really: Brown doesn't really want voting reform and is making it look like he's laying the groundwork for these reforms whilst claiming that he's being hemmed in by factors outside his control which make it impossible for him to deliver. It's a masterpiece of political manipulation and we'd be fools to fall for it.

No comments: