Polly Toynbee makes an excellent case for making the general election all about reforming the voting system. Shame it won’t happen:
With a chance of a hung parliament, a Labour party sincerely committed to reform – not merely putting up a show bill it knew would fall – will be considerably more attractive to the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives will never relinquish first-past-the-post, and Cameron couldn’t get such a change past his MPs if he tried. But he might consider that a referendum already on the statute book makes a deal with the Lib Dems easier. Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, must stand his ground and demand full proportional representation without fearing that it makes him look self-interested. It’s the only hope on the horizon for political change. Conservatives had better stop warning that coalitions cause dangerous financial indecision: on the contrary, across Europe coalitions have created most financial stability with the broadest public agreement. Greece and Britain (with its IMF and ERM crises) are the ones with “strong” one party government.
Voting reform does mean turbulence and uncertainty for Labour, but most Labour MPs swallowed hard and voted for it, knowing that we can’t go on like this. It was a moment when Labour threw off some of its worst tribalism and opened the window to co-operation with others. Brown was accused of cynical positioning, but he can prove he is a serious reformer by making this his fight to the end, even at cost of losing other good bills. This is his legacy moment.
And it is a shame it won’t happen – a shame for all parties. I sincerely believe they’ve all underestimated the fury which remains out there about the expenses scandal, and of the political price which needs to be paid for that. But the thing is that there’s noone out there making the case for electoral reform to stop that sort of easy corruption happening again. Rather there is – pressure groups like Vote for a Change are doing sterling work – but the media on the whole are ignoring them, and there’s an easy case to be made in saying that it was the House of Commons’ traditions and culture which led directly to the expenses scandal; PR might never have made a difference. I don’t think that’s true, but I’m not hearing that one at all…
What someone needs to do is to show how stronger government (as Polly points out in her comments about Greece and Britain) does come from PR – Germany for example successfully absorbed a failed state after less than 30 years using PR; Britain in contrast has all three main parties now largely undifferentiated from one another, all offering a variation on a theme which noone even wants. Point out that discrepancy and see if electoral reform suddenly races up the list of priorities. Until then this will remain an idealistic article, which will fall on deaf ears.
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