Friday, May 20, 2005


Will we get voting reform?

Reforming the voting system is a cause dear to the hearts of many left of centre activists, not just in the Lib Dems but in other parties too. On the Conservative side Chris Patten, Douglas Hurd and Malcolm Rifkind are in favour and for Labour, Robin Cook and others support the cause. Blair, however, is famously 'agnostic'. The 1983 election saw the Alliance win 26% of the vote and only 3% or so of the seats: a clear insult to democracy. Labour, perhaps to keep channels of cooperation with the Lib Dems open, began to adopt the constitutional reform package of Charter 88 and when in power set up Roy Jenkins to report on a new system for the country.

His amended 'Additional Member System' was designed to maintain the link between constituency and MP via single member seats but to remove disproportion via a 'top-up' pool of members elected from PR lists. By 1998, when Jenkins had reported, those who disliked PR- probably a majority in the party- seemed to have persuaded Blair of their case and the matter was not acted upon. Since then opinion, if anything, has hardened, with Scottish and Welsh activists complaining at the loss of their hegemony which the new PR systems for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have delivered.

But the last election has produced another anti-democratic result. Labour won 37% of the vote on a 61% turnout yet a whopping 55% of the seats. A truly proportional system would have produced 213 seats for the Conservatives, 239 for Labour and 142 for the Lib Dems. Jonathon Freedland, Polly Toynbee, Robin Cook, not to mention the Electoral Reform Society, have raised their voices in favour of a reformed system but will they succeed? Have they got the best arguments on their side? In my view, yes, they have but I also think that they will not succeed. Why not?

Firstly Labour MPs are unlikely to vote themselves out of a job by supporting a system which would have made over a hundred of them redundant at the last election.

Secondly, Labour has the power now and that provides a riposte to any suggestion which might change that state of affairs.

Thirdly, the present system is skewed dramatically in Labour's favour, largely through the fact that Labour needs a smaller number of votes to win seats as their constituencies are smaller than than the average Conservative ones. This produces the wildly undemocratic situation in which both major parties could have polled the same number of votes on 5th May, yet, according to the Electoral Reform Society, Labour would have won 336 seats and the Tories 220. Poliitcal realities make short work of principles, however democratic, and no political party is going to give up such an advantage willingly. This is especially so as Labour officials worked so tenaciously and sucessfully to maintain this advantage during the Boundary Commission's last redrawing of constituency boundaries in the early nineties.

So for the foreseeable future it's undemocratic business as usual. On 13th May Charlie Falconer dismissed the need for any change of the voting system and in the Guardian on the same day Jack Straw rubbished the case for Proportional Representation.

PR is not necessary to alter the state of affairs to which you refer. The easiest way is to have a boundary commission whose sole remit is to ensure that each constituency has the same population when it is delineated.
Divide the electoral population of the UK by the number of seats and ensure each seat is as near that number as it is possible. You would need to split the constituencies into 4 groups, England, Wales, Scotland and NI and apply that principle to them individually and overall.
All the cant about "natural boundaries and "traditional" constituencies is exactly that.
Complete and utter bullshit!!!!Rigging constituency boundaries to balance the overall vote can only be done retrospectively.
This can never take account of any demographic public opinion changes which may have taken place by the time of the following election.
A genuine PR system would avoid the need to constantly adjust constituency boundaries.
Stable boundaries are essential if the relationship between a sitting MP and their contituents is to retain any meaning.
If you need any further convincing that you are talking complete and utter bollocks then please answer the following question.
If the Green party got 10% of the overall vote, how exactly would your pathetic scheme of boundary changes ensure that they got their just quota of 10% of the available parliamentary seats?
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