Monday, November 15, 2010

 

AV Referendum Bill at Risk of Defeat

Today the Lords debate the legislation on the May AV referendum and it is by no means certain it will pass. We learnt from The Observer yesterday that Lord (Charlie) Falconer is taking the lead in attacking the government, claiming the bill:

'excludes local people and increases the suspicion that our poli9tical system is being hijacked for party political advantage'

The allparty committee on the constitution:

Suggests that the changes, which are designed to create numerically equal constituencies of around 75,000 voters, risk diluting democracy by increasing the power of the executive at the expense of parliament. "We are concerned that the [reform] bill could possibly result in the executive's dominance over parliament being increased," the report states. "This is an unsatisfactory basis on which to embark on the

Falconer is trying to get the bill classed 'hybrid', a ploy to get it referred to a Lords committe where it would languish for months and prevent the referendum being held May 2011. The bill however, is definitely comprised of two differing elements: the AV bit and the bit proposing to reduce MPs by 50 and equalize constituency sizes at about 75,000 voters each. All these latter measures would reduce the bias in the system which presently favours Labour.

In the same issue of the paper Tony King from Essex University attacks the reduction in MPs as something which will be provide a second class service to voters and reduce the ministerial 'talent pool'. Meanwhile in the Guardian today Jackie Ashley argues that Labour should realise that AV is in their interests, firstly because if it's passed Cameron will have suffered a grievous defeat and secondly because:

AV makes a Tory landslide less likely and a hung parliament or an opposition victory slightly likelier. That's good for Labour. It also means that at some point Labour might find itself having and wanting to do a deal with the Lib Dems. For the first time since the election, Labour and Lib Dem activists would have found themselves fighting on the same side during an AV campaign. It builds a few bridges, which might be very useful later.

Comments:
For ease of pigeon holing, please consider this comment as being written in green ink.

There is a case for reforming our electoral method. The current system gives 72 per cent of MPs safe seats. Since the only people who can terminate these MPs’ careers are their party Whips, their rational course is to offer those Whips – rather than their constituents – their primary loyalty.

There is no case for whatever is the AV system. AV would widen the schism between Parliament and people. It is especially biased against small parties, and would make the House of Commons even less representative of the full spectrum of national opinion. And it can be less proportional than our existing system . In some circumstances, it is even less proportional that FPTP.

In a sense, though, all this is irrelevant. Neither of the coalition parties proposed it in their manifestos. The only party that did suggest it was Labour, which was taken down Gebroni avenue to the Checkout Motel by the electorate

If we are to change our voting system, it should be as a considered response to an identified problem, not as a coalition bribe. Why not a referendum offering people a choice between the Liberal Democrats’ preferred system and the current one ? Or even a three-option ballot paper, in which people are allowed to choose between STV, AV and first-past-the-post ?

But, before we start holding referendums that none of the parties proposed, let’s hold one that they did all propose, - one on the Lisbon Treaty. Neither coalition partner wants an In/Out poll. But if we are to hold a referendum on the voting system, how can we avoid one on whether the MPs elected by that system are our supreme law-givers? Answers on a postcard please.

Kind regards
Your sole reader (& commenter)
 
Let's see...

1. Fewer MP's

2. A system that ensures the party getting most votes gets most seats.

...is opposed by unelected and expensive Labour appointed Lords.

I can't see a showdown here doing the Tories any harm.

The only gerrymandering done here was by Labour after 1997. They presided over an electoral system that warped election results. Any attempt to preserve such a situation will only embarrass them even more. Bring it on.
 
Michael
Thank you at least for proving David Morris wrong re him being my 'only commenter', though I confess he does have something of a point these days.
 
'The only gerrymandering done here was by Labour after 1997. They presided over an electoral system that warped election results.'

The glorious irony is that actually it is always the Tories that have suffered under our electoral system in the last fifty years, with just two exceptions - 1983 and 1987.

In 1992, had the electoral system been evenly loaded to all parties, Major would have won a majority of around 70. In 1997, had the electoral system been similarly equitable, Major would have led around 270 MPs and Blair's majority would have been around 50 (and the Liberal Democrats would still have walked off with virtually nothing, begging the question of how 'equitable' it would have been).

In fact the real beneficiaries of the current system have always been Labour, who would have suffered truly devastating defeats, potentially irreversible ones, in 1983, 1987 and 2010 had it not been for the peculiar bias in favour of them built in to the system. This also split the opposition vote and handed Thatcher two enormous victories on a low popular poll.

To give some idea of how this works, on a purely proportional system Labour's seats would have been (actual figures in brackets) 1983: 180 (209) 1987: 229 (200) 2010: 187 (258). Meanwhile the Tories had: 1997: 203 (164) 2005: 211 (198 -much closer). That gives some idea of the way in which the system has allowed Labour to survive (just) while punishing their main rivals - but mostly on a Tory watch.

On the subject of AV, I think it is better than pure PR (which is a recipe for instability) but I have yet to decide whether it is better than FPTP. I shall make up my mind on that before the referendum, which is the right way to consult on this given it was in no manifesto of a governing party. And I think it is disgraceful that Labour are using the unelected chamber to try and block it. Have politicians learned nothing from 1910?

Incidentally Skipper, I always read your blog, but I only comment if I have something to add, or disagree with you. Despite our political differences, recently you have said nothing I particularly disagree with and I have had nothing useful to add. Therefore, I say nothing. I still greatly enjoy and value what you say.
 
Doctor Huw
Why thank you. I reciprocate such sentiments re your comments, which are always well made. I'm not sure Labour have 'gwerrymandered'. Given that urban constituencies tend to have lower turnouts and poorer voters, it follows that Labour are always going to get more seats per vote than the Tories, who appeal to the better off who tend to vote in greater numbers. The thing I dislike about the cioalition's bill is that it proposes to amend the boundaries of every constiutuency in the country without the right of local appeal. Had Labour done this in government this would have sent shivers up Conservative spines too don't you think?
 
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