Well, Brits? Did you vote to improve the voting system, albeit shallowly and a hell of a lot less proportionately than the Lib Dems said they would stand for before the last election?
I know a lot of you didn’t and the polls are showing a near certain landslide vote against leaving First Past the Post, which has delivered a succession of unrepresentative governments since the year dot. But why would this be the case? I have a few suspicions:
- Contamination by Nick Clegg. The man (and his party) have become so fundamentally discredited in government, propping up the cuts-happy Tories (and particularly shattering higher education in Britain forever) that anything he wants will be hated by the public;
- The lies that the #No2AV campaign have spread have been believed by a gullible public, much of whom rely exclusively on the far right tabloids which dominate the British media. £250 million to implement AV? Bullshit – even New Labour throwback David Blunkett admitted the ‘No’ campaign has relied on a pack of lies;
- The electorate is scared of a system they’re told they don’t understand. Check this out though (via Anthony Smith’s blog):
How bloody difficult was that, eh? So we get back to the age old question: is an ingrained apathy leading to a broken politics, or are broken politics leading to apathy? Off of this I just can’t judge – why would a country which didn’t vote for David Cameron (or according to polls even want to tolerate) side with him in this? For that matter why is Cameron against it at all when he defeated David Davis for the Tory leadership through a form of AV?! Why should London not vote for it when they’ve benefited from it since 2000 in its Mayoral elections? It’s almost as if there are too many competing attitudes and narratives in play to motivate people with, and an accelerating disillusionment in any politics in the era of savage cuts.
I can’t deny should the vote be lost that I’ll be pretty fed up. After all the referendum is about creating a fairer voting system (and for those who bleat on endlessly about Vince Cable’s desire to use it to create a semi-permanent left-leaning electoral bloc in power, most people have never voted Tory ever) to reflect more closely the genuine wishes of the British people. We didn’t vote this appalling coalition in, and although AV would more likely end up with further coalitions (which under FPTP is going to keep happening anyway), they would less likely be overwhelmingly dominated and controlled by senior partners.
Finally I agree that the issue of how to get rid of incompetent/corrupt MPs should be high up the agenda, but that’s a separate issue. Fail to improve the voting system and watch an entire generation of young people walk away from parliamentary politics entirely, to the delight of the many MPs in safe (what a appalling idea) seats and, no doubt, the Metropolitan Police.
Putative new Prime Minister David Cameron wants the electorate to think he offers Obama-style change (and look what happened there). Thoroughly disillusioned with New Labour, desperate for the change which Blair and Brown never delivered, the polls show the electorate thinks ‘Dave”s probably better choice; they’re not quite sure but they’re going to take the risk because he offers something genuinely new. They’re wrong:
After thirteen years of government, at least twelve in dedicated opposition to electoral reform, and just ninety days before a general election, he’s [Brown] suddenly decided to change the voting system.
But leave aside the cynicism of this move. Is it the right thing to do? I emphatically believe it’s not.
One of the things that works in our current system is that a general election gives people the power to get rid of tired, useless and divided governments like the one we have today.
The truth is that people don’t want a new voting system – they want a new politics.
They want change across our entire political system – the way it’s run, the people who run it, where power lies, and how much it costs.
That’s why next Tuesday, instead of Labour’s fiddling with the voting system, we will table an amendment cutting the size of the House of Commons and the cost of politics.
We will call for a ten per cent reduction in the number of MPs. And we will call for a change in the boundary commission with a view to levelling up the size of all our constituencies so that every vote weighs the same.
Cutting the cost and size of the House of Commons will address the symptoms of what has gone wrong in our politics, but we need to address the causes too.
People are fed up of feeling that Parliament is a powerless poodle, that politicians cannot change things, and that power is always being drained away from them.
Of course there are a number of arguments he’s making, whilst attempting to conflate them into one. People are fed up with the centralisation of politics, from the increasingly insidious database state through to the inefficient centralised control of the public services, people are indeed fed up that power is being drained away from them. Parliament is supposed to be the instrument through which the people have their say, yet the executive under Blair (and no less so under Brown) has become almighty – still prepared to sidestep the parliamentary process, still eager to put through Extradition Acts without a vote, and still eager to rig control of select committees. Who needs oversight after all, when you know you’re right? I’ll look at that in another blog post later today.
But Cameron’s argument is also self-serving – he suggests the failures of the political system are technocratic – save a little money here, cut the number of MPs there, manage the Commons a little better. It makes sense for him not to investigate the system’s failings too much when ultimate power is in his reach, but he wilfully ignores the fact that the voting system is unrepresentative of the people’s wishes. Merely cutting the cost and size of the Commons won’t address the fundamental problem of first-past-the-post drawing the wrong people in, and forcing them because of electoral arithmetic to ignore the wishes of the majority, instead catering only to a small number of floating voters in marginal constituencies. Making the intake into the Commons more representative must be the first of a number of steps to reengage the political system with the electorate – people realise that being able to change governments every 4-5 years isn’t enough, that there’s no other way to hold MPs to account, and that MPs in ‘safe’ seats needn’t invariably worry about their jobs at all; why should anyone other than their supporters bother to vote in such constituencies anyway? A genuinely proportional system would address this democratic deficit, and despite the normal complaints about countries such as Italy showing PR doesn’t work, the truth is for every Italy we have a Germany, which successfully absorbed a failed state without either the system falling apart or even significant social unrest.
Would a more proportional system allow the BNP into Westminster? Sure, probably. But if those are the wishes of the majority then that’s fine. We’ve seen throughout the world too though that when extremists enter a democratically elected lower house in a stable system with checks, balances and a free media, that they invariably fall away; Germany’s proven that too. So Nick Griffin would become an MP – so what? The number of Green MPs would impress everyone, and provide the backbone for healthy coalition governments of the future. That would change the entire tone of British politics, and how they’re conducted – that’s real change. Would AV+ address this current democratic deficit? In the first instance probably not, but pulling off AV+ would show the electorate that changing the voting system wouldn’t bring the damnation and ruin which Cameron and others have suggested. It may not be a talking point on doorsteps, but that’s never how progressive politics should be run. Our leaders must voluntarily relinquish power back to the people in order to stop the slide which has begun under New Labour. Cameron does appreciate this, but isn’t prepared to put his money where his mouth is for half the argument.
There will be a referendum after all, to replace Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system, which allows a party to become the government, even though a majority of voters have voted for someone else:
Jack Straw, the justice secretary, will introduce the change in an amendment to the constitutional renewal bill. This will amount to paving legislation for a referendum on whether to introduce AV, to be held no later than October 2011.
Ministers, who agreed the move at a meeting of the cabinet’s democratic renewal committee (DRC) yesterday, believe that the prospect of a referendum will have three key benefits. It will:
• Allow Labour to depict itself at the general election as the party of reform in response to the parliamentary expenses scandal.
• Make David Cameron look like a defender of the status quo. The Tories, who are opposed to abolishing the first-past-the-post system, would have to introduce fresh legislation to block the referendum if they win the election.
• Increase the chances that the Liberal Democrats will support Labour – or at least not support the Tories – if no party wins an overall majority at the election, resulting in a hung parliament. The Lib Dems have traditionally regarded the introduction of PR as their key demand in any coalition negotiations. While AV does not technically count as PR, many Lib Dems regard AV as a step in the right direction.
I’m not happy with the idea of AV, when AV isn’t really any more proportional than first-past-the-post. And it does look like a sickeningly cynical manoever, although if they manage to keep the referendum in place if/when they lose the election, it will indeed be quite an impressive achievement. Someone at least has understood that they have to present themselves as a party prepared to embrace change, but if this is as far as they’re prepared to go down that road then even then it doesn’t even count as a half measure. Britain’s surveillance culture is now completely out of control – we’re well down the road of everyone having to be checked so that they’re not a paedophile, merely in order to get a job. We’re in a time when photographers snapping a sunset are being stopped by police for fear of being terrorists, and when a government with a track record of screwing up databases reserves the right to hold on to your DNA, even if you are innocent of a crime. If they’re unprepared to think about tackling these terrible civil liberties and human rights abuses and are using a referendum promise to distract our attention, and to outflank the Tories for future electoral gain, then they really aren’t interested in change at all. I agree with Stephen Tall, who says:
Labour has had 12 years in which to renew the democratic fabric of this country. They failed to do anything about it because, quite simply, they didn’t care enough about it. If they care now, it is only because it’s expedient to; and expediency is the worst possible motive for reform.
Vote for a Change’s Gravy Train is travelling between constituencies, to inform people about their campaign for a referendum to decide for us to decide how we choose our politicians, rather than leaving it to the politicians:
I think Sal Brinton is right when she says that our current voting system too often means MPs know they aren’t going to be thrown out by their constituencies if they don’t represent them adequately – it’s contrary to what democracy is supposed to be about and people are stopping voting because of it. We need to move to a proportional system of representation urgently to make every vote count. Call for a referendum here. You want it? Make it happen.
Oh and tell Vote for a Change here where you think the Gravy Train should visit next. Your constituency?