Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Electoral Reform

courtesy of Alex from the Electoral Reform Society
via Make Votes Count, 2005.

Judging by some of the comments I have read on the Internet there are an awful lot of toys being thrown out of prams up and down the country. Some people voted for the LibDems to keep the Tories out, so they are none too happy with the coalition. Others voted for the LibDems expecting them to insist on Proportional Representation for Westminster elections, but the Tories were never going to agree to that. There are others who advocate consensual politics (as opposed to confrontational politics) who are complaining and preparing to confront the new government simply because it’s not the brand of consensual politics they want. [Double Tut!] That’s democracy for you. Personally, I prefer to wait and see how it develops. If it is successful (putting aside one’s own political views) as a government and lasts a full term it will be much harder to argue against coalition governments and therefore Proportional Representation in the future.

But electoral reform is not just about changing the voting system. It includes things like a written constitution, fixed term parliaments, voting age, party funding and corporate donations and the role of lobby groups. There is also, so the psephologists tell us, an inbuilt advantage in the present system enjoyed by the Labour Party which is clearly unfair and needs to be addressed.

So, apart from the headline that we will be getting a referendum on the Alternative Vote system for general elections, which is not a proportional system, what else is on the agenda? Well, there is quite a lot to be pleased about!

They will be having a good look at the Lothian question with more devolution to the regions. This is really important given the disparity of support for the main 3 parties between the south and the north and west.

Fixed term parliaments, recall of MPs and a statutory register of lobbyists are all there along with a cut in the number of MPs and equalising the size of constituencies, and “non-doms” are being shown the exit door. Plus a fully PR-elected House of Lords – no more patronage. All good stuff, and you have to start somewhere if you want to improve on the status quo.

Everyone is going to look at the agreed program and find things they disagree with, but equally they should also look for things to approve of.


  1. There are already "fault lines" being spoken of - the right wing of the Conservative Party breaking away and the left of the LidDems defecting to Labour. The point about this Coalition is that it just has to work - the risks of failure are huge and will have long-term ramifications for both parties.

    It seems illogical for the Coalition to be spoken of as lasting five years. After two years (three at most)it will become clearer whether the big issue of the Economy is resolving itself and if it is not then cries for an election will drown out all other arguments.

    The other fascinating "what if?" is that the referendum on voting reform may produce a "NO" vote. This could well instigate the re-alignment of the parties as referred to above.

    Another critical factor in the success or otherwise of the Coalition is that the Labour Party will be possibly the most formidable opposition that we have had in Parliament for 60 years. Any opposition party can criticise the Government in power but this Opposition believes it has the answers and a huge unity of purpose.

    We shall see.

  2. Perhaps, just on 405 years later, Guy Fawkes was right after all!

  3. Jawal, on what basis do you say that Labour will be possibly the most formidable opposition for 60 years?

    We have had locally a Labour candidate who appeared to refute NuLab, calling herself 'True' Labour, Blairism seems to have now been recognised as hollow spin, and the overwhelming influence on Labour's rebirth in the 90's is resigning from Parliament.

    I would be interested to hear your views.

  4. The Conservative Parliamentary Party should not underestimate this Labour Opposition - "know thine enemy".

    Previously, parties losing elections have been riven by internal strife as blame is sought as to why they lost and heads roll. This Opposition, with over 250 Labour MPs and the former Front Bench pretty much intact, sees itself as a "Government in exile", with long experience, for better or worse, of forming policies and dealing with Government Officialdom. They will therefore be probing the Coalition Ministers, from a position of inside knowledge, as to how the Theory will be put into Practice.

    Generally, elections are for Governments to lose, not for Oppositions to win. The Labour MPs can regroup, sit tight and be ready (as they see it) to 'cross the border' when it all goes wrong for the Coalition.

    Support for all the parties was patchy throughout the UK and Labour will definitely regard the next election as winnable. So, the Coalition has to be at the top of its game.

  5. OK, I see your reasoning. My response is that a new Labour Leader will assemble his/her own Front Bench, and many of the Old Guard have either resigned or been lost.

    And the new Government has about 2 years in which they can legitimately blame the old one for problems - bear in mind that up until last month, Labour were still blaming Lady T for anything and everything back to the Norman Invasion!

  6. No - Tebbitt. [Did you forget that one?]

  7. Yes! What a lapse! Who could forget his Spitting Image? Me, obviously. I shall be having a check of my memory circuits forthwith! I don't like the look of this.

  8. Clearly insufficient recent alcohol consumption to stimulate the brain cells......

  9. Electoral Reform
    Does that also include changing the rules which have been in place for 200 years by changing the rule which would automatically trigger an election on a vote of no confidence from 51 percent to 55 percent. As Parliament has not yet sat how (I wonder) did they get that agreement from their members, Sorry I forgot the troops are not consulted are they just do as you are told and don't rock the boat.
    The poor bloody infantry who slogged the streets and those members (most of whom) probably believe in their new vocation have been screwed.

  10. John. Have you only just woken up to what has been common practice [from whichever party of government] for the last 40+ years? Or are you simply miffed because the party you support is no longer the one doing it?

  11. Morris, in response both to your missives to me regarding the treacherous Lib Dems and your reply on B21 no you are wrong in one respect. the last and I think the only time certainly in the past 70 odd years was When Jim Callaghan (1979) lost the vote in Parliament which automatically triggered 18 years of Thatcher and Co. This is different the goal posts have been moved which COULD allow Cameron and silly Clegg to remain in power beyond their time knowing that NO PARTY or amalgamation could unseat them unless there was a massive rebellion from their respective parties, and that wont happen. As you said never trust the Lib Dems .
    Miffed!! a bit but only because my party even contemplated going along with Clegg he was the real loser politically having lost all credibility and now his supporters are flocking to join Labour he has betrayed them and joined the Tories.

  12. Are you aware, John, that in the Scottish Parliament a vote of two-thirds of the members supporting a "no confidence" motion is required for the administration to fall? I seem to recall that, initially, Labour was its largest party when the rules were set.

  13. Hmmmm! Is it not also the case that a two-thirds majority is required on the London Assemby to reject the Mayor's budget? And who designed that system?

  14. Presumably Morris and Alan, you are both also aware that The British or English Parliament (whichever you wish to call it) set the rules long ago, the Scottish System was mooted way back in the 80s are have you forgotten Morris? and I seem to recollect that Labour was not in Power but both you and I were in the Civil Service albeit in very different departments with different responsibilities. We saw a lot and heard a lot you plainly didn't
    And as for the GLA there is no comparison totally different system, Parliament has always set its own rules (or at least it has since the monarchy was divested of its powers to interfere with it) Maybe there should be changes but this smacks of the thirst for power at any price and it ain't good, and of course the game will only be played out on May 23rd or shortly after.


  15. John. Facts. It was NOT the 1980s!

    The government of 1974-1979 (which party was that?) passed the Scotland Act in 1978 leading to a referendum for a devolved assembly. The result was narrowly in favour, but turnout failed to reach the threshold set by the government in the Act. That threshold was 40% - not 50% plus 1 of those voting - but 40% of the electorate - a minority - required to vote.

    On the same day a referendum in Wales saw the proposals overwhelmingly rejected.

    As the result of the Scotland vote, the SNP MPs (and there were 11 of them returned in October 1974) tabled a motion of no confidence in the government. That was passed resulting in James Callaghan resigning as PM - of a minority government.

    So, governments do what governments do....

  16. This is rather a strange discussion about a decision which, until now, has rested with just one person, who could call an election as and when they wished, for whatever reason.

    Any involvement of Parliament has to be better than what we had before! A fixed term agreed by Parliament and a hurdle (as there is in Scotland, as Morris says) to underline that the term is intended to be seen through except in exceptional circumstances, is a huge improvement. After all, on the Council we're stuck with making the best of things for a fixed four year period.

  17. Excellent and thoughtful post B21. A good antidote to too much daft commentary. Sad to say but Radio 4's Any Questions was some of the most shameful knee-jerk negativity yet.