Posts Tagged ‘electoral reform’

Will the legacy of moderate Labour be a country where only the hard right or the hard left can govern?

14/01/2018, 10:08:16 PM

by George Kendall

On most issues, I agree with social democrats and I disagree with the hard left who now control the Labour party. But not on all.

Paul Wheeler recently warned of Tory moves to entrench their political position by manipulating the political system. He called it “boiling a frog”, a great analogy. The Tories are indeed putting party interest before democracy.

But are Labour moderates much better?

At the last election, the two largest parties received 82% of the vote. If they genuinely represent the preferences of all but 18% of the electorate, that might justify a political system that stops new choices emerging. However, this is clearly not true.

In 2015, the two big parties received only 67%; in 2010 it was only 60%; and many who currently vote Labour or Conservative do so for tactical reasons. This is easy to confirm. Just go on social media and suggest to someone who opposes Brexit that they vote Lib Dem or Green. You will almost certainly be told that would “let the Tories in”, and that the only way to beat the Tories is to vote Labour.

Squeezing the third party vote has been a long-standing feature of British politics. Occasionally, if a third party builds up a bandwagon, they can use it against the Conservatives or Labour. Most of the famous Lib Dem by-election victories were built on persuading supporters of one party to vote tactically, to get the other party out. However, when it matters, in general elections, the squeeze favours the big two.

With the hard left takeover of the Labour party, some moderates must now be thinking the unthinkable, that if they are deselected by Labour, their only hope of staying in Westminster would be to stand as an independent or for another party. Yet they know that the electoral system would then crucify them in a general election.


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Modernising Chuka is so hard to please

15/12/2015, 05:28:41 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Is there anything about British politics that Chuka Umunna likes?

Hardly a month goes by without a pronouncement from him about how some institution or part of our political fabric is not hopelessly outdated and in need of massive reform – or scrapping entirely.

He was at it again yesterday, arguing that our first-past-the-post electoral system leaves voters “remote and unrepresented” and should be replaced with the Additional Member system used in the Scottish Parliament.

It follows his call in the summer for a federal UK, predicting, with a hyperbolic flourish that we are witnessing “the end of British electoral politics as we know it.”

Modernisation is Chuka’s favourite riff. In case we hadn’t noticed.

Prime Minister’s Questions is a “circus” while the Palace of Westminster is Ground Zero for everything that’s wrong with our political culture: “It’s a beautiful building and it often feels like you are in a museum. So why don’t we turn it into a museum?” he suggested back in July.

Pimp my parliament, so to speak.

But it’s not just the décor that so offends: “How can we continue with a chamber that nurtures the ridiculous tribalism that switches so many people off?” His solution? Introduce a passion-sapping horseshoe design instead.

Political partisanship is a regular target of Chuka’s exasperation. “I am not the most tribal politician” he once told GQ magazine (the kind of publication he seems to like appearing in).  “Party affiliation among the public is not what it was, so just putting on an old party label or old-style tribalism will not win you elections.” (Apart from the small fact that it so clearly does. Ask Mr. Cameron – he’s just won one!)

Political debate, meanwhile, is usually “ridiculously adversarial” and parties “urgently need to move with the times.” Yet tribalism is what binds politicians to their parties. It’s just another term for loyalty and shared assumptions. While seeking to stand apart from the party he (briefly) wanted to lead in the summer, is a strange signal to keep sending out.

It explains, though, his proposal back in 2012 to fast-track business executives into parliament. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging more people from business to play a part in politics, but to elevate their interests over those who have earned their spurs with years of campaigning for the party shows how little feel he has for the  grassroots or Labour’s traditions.

And reveals how unlike Tony Blair he is, despite the superficial comparisons. For all his modernising zeal, Blair took care to regularly touch base with the party he led. (His emotional final conference speech as leader being a case in point).

Chuka is certainly fluent and thrusting, but he is also impatient and rootless. If he ever hopes to stand for leader again, he needs to show he understands ordinary people, (beyond the rarefied circles where his tetchy hyper-modernism is lauded). Perhaps he would now be better off finding a few things about politics and the Labour tribe that he does like?

But if his quest to modernise all he surveys must continue, perhaps he could start a bit closer to home.

The ‘latest news’ section of his website hasn’t been updated since March.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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We need a truly proportional voting system

26/05/2015, 02:56:34 PM

by Reg Barritt

The outcome of the 2015 general election has placed the first past the post system of election of MPs to Westminster and local councils under greater scrutiny than ever.

Use of First Past the Post for both local and general elections now stands stripped of its main justification: delivering strong government, representative of the wishes of the electorate.

A great deal has been made of the claimed overwhelming victory of the Conservative party and the so called devastating loss suffered by the Labour party (a false interpretation by our media that even the parties themselves have been far too quick to buy into).

In fact, the swing in seats was influenced by relatively small shifts in votes in relatively few constituencies, only further skewed by the distortions of an unrepresentative election result in Scotland.

The time has come for change.

At this point in a discussion, the result of the AV referendum is often raised by opponents of electoral reform.

But AV is not a PR system and was never going to be what the people would want instead of First Past the Post.

As the facts of pluralist politics become harder to ignore the debate rightly turns to how to respond.

The answer lies with the Single Transferable Vote.


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Where next for the democracy movement?

11/05/2011, 05:00:07 PM

by Emma Burnell

The question of electoral reform is now closed for a generation. Anyone who disagrees with this statement is part of the much wider problem that the democracy movement has.

The movement likes to believe that it listens and that it represents “the people”, but, generally, what that has meant in my experience is that people who agree with the aims of the movement get a hearing as to how their aims might be achieved, while those who question the priorities of the reformers are dismissed as dinosaurs and not engaged with to understand their reticence. And while the movement certainly represents some of “the people”, who deserve a voice as much as anyone else, the inability to grow from a niche to a mass movement demonstrates clearly that it is not the voice of all the people.

At the moment, the blame game is moving quickly. So far we have the mendacious No campaign, the toxicity of the Lib Dems and particularly the childish tantrums of Chris Huhne, the intervention of the prime minister and the split in the Labour party. All of which did – of course – play a part in why the Yes campaign failed. But for my money, the biggest reason the campaign failed is because it was run by people who don’t know the electorate and don’t understand what they want and what they fear. (more…)

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The sad and soporific history of electoral reform

30/04/2011, 10:30:43 AM

by Alex Hilton

The debate on electoral reform has collapsed under the weight of its own tepid irrelevance. A dishonest and lowbrow No campaign has bested an insipid and directionless Yes effort and we will be left where we started – with a system of government that remains happily unaccountable. This is a missed moment in history and blame can be variously attributed.

To start, Tony Blair reneged on his 1997 promises of electoral reform as his weighty majorities were too good to lose. By the third term, when the old “progressive majority” arguments might have made some headway, Blair didn’t seem terribly interested in the future and may no longer have had the political capital to achieve reform had he tried.

The next opportunity came with the expenses scandal. The electoral reform society at that time could have harnessed a wave of public anger powerful enough to bring down the government and to force any new government into accepting the system had to change. But ERS was coaxed by the Labour factions, Compass and Progress, into  a “behind the scenes” negotiation which, after a number of months, delivered a manifesto commitment from Gordon Brown to hold a referendum on the alternative vote – a system ERS didn’t want – if he won the general election, which seemed clear wasn’t going to happen.

By that time, the anger over the expenses scandal had turned partly to boredom, the public becoming desensitised to the crookedness and low level criminality of their legislators. The Conservatives very much approached the general election as an opportunity for catharsis. Their subtext was that it was in some way the government’s fault and that by punishing the governing party, the public would have achieved closure on the issue. That would have been the end of the matter had they achieved a majority in 2010.

The prospect of coalition revived hopes for electoral reform and the Lib Dems were offered AV without plebiscite by Brown and a binding referendum on AV by Cameron. Though it wasn’t even an electoral system they wanted, they felt that coalition with the Conservatives was the only viable option and that if they pushed for a preferred system, the single transferrable vote, for example, they would be accused of using the upheaval for their own self interest. In short, they took a knife to a gunfight and left the negotiations with very little worth having, seemingly grateful just to have been invited.

The various groups pushing for reform then had to unify to campaign for a system they didn’t want, but while they were doing so, Labour was spending five months tortuously electing a new leader.

During the Labour leadership campaign, all the contenders backed the AV system, some more enthusiastically than others. Confused as it was with the on-going election post mortem, the issue was already in train in Parliament and government before anyone was prepared to show anything like leadership on the issue. Any one of the aspiring leaders, or indeed Harriet Harman as acting leader, could have pressed for the referendum to include a further, better, option, perhaps that of STV; but none of them was prepared to do so, not least because going to the Parliamentary Labour party offering a system that would really end safe seats would reduce MP support in the leadership election itself.

As 2011 began and the referendum campaign developed, the people of Britain were faced with the option of voting for a system so compromised that even its supporters were ambivalent. Our entire political system, left, right and centre, through cowardice or through calculation, ensured that the only reform available was one that has only very little to offer.

It seems likely the country will vote no, if it votes at all. And then those who rule us can go back to ruling, and the rest of us can go back to sleep. Maybe we’re the ones to blame.

Alex Hilton is a former councillor and Parliamentary candidate and was the original Labour blogger.

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Put aside the Cleggphobia and then vote No to AV

19/04/2011, 08:07:12 AM

by Jim Murphy

I have stayed out of the debate about the AV referendum until now. I have surprised myself because instinctively I usually know where I stand on all the big issues, but on this I have found it easy to sit it out. There are so many other more pressing issues – a view that I know those involved in both campaigns share. I have waited in the expectation that the pro-AV campaign would make a convincing new argument.  They haven’t, so when the referendum comes on May 5th I have decided to vote No.

There are many people I know who are voting No simply to spite Nick Clegg, but I’m not one of them. This was a really important point that Ed Miliband rightly raised yesterday. To vote against AV to get back at Nick Clegg is a churlish way to conduct politics. A change in the electoral system could be permanent, but say whatever you want about Nick Clegg one thing for sure is that he is certainly temporary – this is probably his last job in frontline British politics. If last year’s post-election political gamble of switching to the Tories’ macro-economic policies turns out to be as bad economics as it is bad politics then it’s questionable whether he’ll even lead his Party into the next election.

So let’s put all the Cleggphobia to one side. My decision is based on the merits of the case. The main reason I have decided to vote ‘No’ is that the supporters of changing the system haven’t made a convincing enough case that this is the right kind of change. They have struggled to make a persuasive argument about why the country’s politics would be better with AV. It may seem unfair, but in all these constitutional debates most of the burden of persuasion falls upon those advocating change – that is certainly my experience with devolution. (more…)

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AV is a small change – but it could have a big impact

01/02/2011, 07:00:51 AM

by Richard Burden

For me, securing a yes vote in the referendum is about helping to create a more open and participatory politics. A lot of people in this country find politics a really big turn-off – and I can understand why. They want to see a change in the way politics is done. I do too.

Introducing AV is a small change – but it could have a big impact.

It is hardly earth-shattering to suggest that if we MPs are going to claim the right to speak for our constituents, we should each secure the support of 50% of those who voted. Preference voting systems – such as AV – are already used up and down the country in the internal elections of membership organisations, businesses and unions. Labour and other political parties use them to elect their own leaders.

That preference voting for the House of Commons is sometimes regarded as an outlandish suggestion says a lot about the narrow culture of the existing political system. It will take more than a new voting system to change that culture. But it will certainly help. (more…)

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Sally Bercow prefers electoral reform to adult videos

22/12/2010, 08:07:07 AM

by Sally Bercow

It is hard to get excited about electoral reform. Indeed, mention AV to the proverbial bloke on the bus and he will look completely blank. And then perhaps he will think “audio visual” and start fantasising about the latest 52” Sony Bravia with Bose surround sound. Or maybe he will blush because “adult video” has popped into his head (though he only watched one, many moons ago, purely for research purposes – honest). Or, if he is a retired cardiologist, he might claim to be reminiscing fondly about aortic valves (believe this if you will).

Only if you have chanced upon a Liberal Democrat (increasingly improbable, statistically speaking) or your telltale cagoule-clad political geek, will he say, “aah – the alternative vote, the electoral system in which voters rank constituency candidates in order of preference”. Which, of course, is the right answer in the context. Please note if you have landed here after googling “AV”, this is Labour Uncut. No adult videos here. (more…)

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Equal-sizing constituencies is gerrymandering through ignorance, as well as cynicism, says Kevin Meagher

04/08/2010, 09:10:50 AM

In last week’s Guardian, Martin Kettle, accused Labour of ‘playing fast and loose on AV reform’ following the Shadow Cabinet’s  decision to oppose the bill paving the way for next year’s referendum on electoral reform. It got me shouting at the cat.

Of course the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill also has bolted on to it measures to reduce the number of MPs and comprehensively redraw parliamentary constituencies, hence Labour’s objection.

But in a passage that sent dear old Puss heading for the cat-flap, Kettle cited the Chartists’ call for equal-sized parliamentary constituencies and asked whether Labour ‘is any longer a party of reform at all’ given that it is ‘no longer willing to go into the Parliamentary lobbies in September to advance the equality of representation for which the Chartists campaigned.’ (more…)

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Clegg’s dream will crash and burn – Kevin Meagher predicts tears for the Yes campaign

15/07/2010, 04:28:39 PM

REFERENDUMS, the great Clement Attlee dismissively observed, are “devices for demagogues and dictators”.
There’s a third ‘D’. Desperate. They are a means of papering over political cracks; which is why a plebiscite is being dumped on the British public next year on whether we should scrap our first-past-the-post electoral system and replace it with the PR-lite Alternative Vote model.
Attlee’s successor-but-one, Harold Wilson, is the only leader to have held a national referendum. In his case on whether we stayed in the European Economic Community back in 1975. In that instance, collective Cabinet responsibility was suspended to allow a divided government to campaign on either side of the issue.


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