Wednesday, February 10, 2010

13 years too late

Yesterday's farce in the Commons highlighted one thing alone: electoral reform is one of Labour's biggest failures.

In theory, the news that Parliament finally agreed to back a referendum on changing the voting system is something to welcome with open arms.

In theory, again, voters will be asked whether they'd rather keep the current First Past the Post system, or the so-called AV (Alternative Vote).

The choice is expected to be between more of the current winner-takes-all (meaning Labour or Tory winning by a landslide for periods of ten to twenty years), or something a little (though only a touch) more reflective of the popular vote.

As it is, millions of voters are literally wasting their time. The last two general elections were textbook in the way they highlighted the enormous disproportion between popular vote and allocated seats. In 2005, Labour received only 35% of the popular vote but were handed 55% of the seats. 22% of the electorate cast a ballot for the LibDems but all they got in the Commons was 9.6% of the seats.

In practice, however, the debate may prove futile. As it comes in the dying stage of this Parliament, the whole motion was tabled way too late. Also, it's yet to go through the Lords. A referendum wouldn't be held before October 2011, and the Tories already said that, if they win in May, a popular vote on the subject will be given the elbow.

Yesterday's speech by Jack Straw in the Commons was actually infuriating. As he called the referendum "a fundamental plank of our democracy", he said that "the alternative vote takes on the considerable strengths of our system and I suggest, builds on it. We propose a referendum because we believe it is not for us to decide, but it is important the people should have that choice". What a cheek.

So much do Straw and his party believe in it that they waited thirteen years to propose a referendum on the subject. Thirteen years. Reneging on promises, playing dumb and procrastinating, saying no but and maybe, dragging their heels, kicking and screaming. Thirteen bloody years, squandering massive majorities, to stage this belated, half arsed attempt at wooing the LibDems before the curtains are drawn.

Yesterday a Tory MP was right when he said that Straw is the same person who "has so successfully and personally obstructed [electoral reform] for over a decade".

Electoral reform remains one of the biggest failures of Labour's time in office.

More on the subject on Make My Vote Count.


James D said...

I reckon the most interesting fallout of AV (if it ever happens) will be in Wales, thanks to there being four main parties, not three -- in fact it might back-fire for Gordon Brown, although he'll probably be long gone. It would mean that nationalists in the south could put Plaid Cymru first, then whoever they would usually have voted for tactically second, knowing that they will not have wasted their vote. This could lead to some quite surprising gains for the Pleidwyr.

Stan Moss said...

I think you're being a little too pessimistic here, Claude.
Ok, the bill is yet to go through the Lords but, if it does, the Tories won't be able to scrap it so easily.

They may say so now, but it won't look good on them to be seen as the party thwarting "the will of the people", especially after reneging on their Lisbon treaty referendum promise.

Finally. It's at least the first time in, like, 80 years, that there's at least something lined up in Parliament that may lead up to electoral reform. The ball is rolling.

Ceri said...

Stan, if the Tories do get in (if?), they can say that the will of the people has spoken through their victory- based on a commitment against electoral reform.
With little media pressure, and the novelty of a new Tory government, I think it will be quite easy to ignore any objections.
But the debate will have started, the ball is rolling as you say, I just think it might need to roll for quite some time.

As for Wales and AV, well I don't know if there are enough nationalists in the South to make that much difference- most votes Plaid get in the South are lost Labour votes moving to a more left-wing party, although this could still see gains for Plaid.