Khalid Mahmood is not impressed with AV

Nick Clegg made his pitiful address to the House of Commons on electoral reform as though it were the greatest package of constitutional reform since the Great Reform Act of 1832. The truth, however, is a little more prosaic. Of the three main changes he announced, two are very much the work of the Conservatives and suit their political prospectus far more than they suit Clegg’s.

Even the planned referendum on the alternative vote (AV) is hardly the stuff of Lib Dem dreams. For those idealistic Liberal Democrats who have battled for decades for the promised land of proportional representation, their leader’s announcement must have come as a bitter blow.

I oppose the alternative vote system. I should say that this is not because I think it will do me much harm come the next election. I was, after all, elected with more than fifty per cent of the vote in Perry Barr. I oppose AV because, for one thing, it compromises one of the very best aspects of our democracy: its simplicity. I have never met a single constituent of mine who cannot understand the physical action of voting: one cross in one box.

For another, AV creates the risk that we fill the House of Commons with candidates who are the least offensive rather than those who are interesting and radical. I have no desire to campaign on the basis of not offending Tories. Instead, I believe that elections should present voters with a clear choice between competing political programmes.

David Cameron’s proposal, as spoken through the mouth of Nick Clegg, to reduce the number of MPs from the current 650 to 600 is little more than an attempt to gerrymander. We all know that it will be urban constituencies which will be merged together, leaving the Tories at a considerable advantage.

Inner city seats suffer from disproportionately low rates of voter registration. The solution to which is not to reduce to the number of seats, but rather to increase the percentage of people that register in these urban seats. MPs with urban seats already face a greater casework load than those in rural and suburban areas. A further increase in the number of constituents will push already hard pressed offices and staff into overdrive. This will not enhance people’s relationship with politicians. Far from it: the effect will be to create greater distance between MPs and the people they represent.

Such a reduction would also increase the percentage of MPs that are on the government payroll, leaving even fewer independent MPs on the government benches.

Finally, we have the farcical attempts by the Tory-Lib Dem government to create a fixed term parliament in the UK. We should be clear that such a change is a gimmick. In truth, if a government is repeatedly defeated by 51% of MPs then it will fall and new elections would have to be held regardless of any arbitrary process designed by David Cameron to keep his government in office. The chosen figure, 55% (although this may well change), gives away the real intention. It means that if a few rebel Liberal Democrats break away then the coalition will still be able to continue. It is nothing more than a safety net to prevent malcontents on the government benches from holding the coalition to ransom.

The coalition has tried to use the example of the Scottish Parliament to justify the 55% plans, but the reason for the 66% threshold in Scotland is that they use the AV+ system, which creates inherent instability and almost guarantees coalition government. There is no suggestion that we will adopt AV+ for Westminster elections. Therefore the comparison is manifestly false.

The use of Nick Clegg by David Cameron to front up these proposals shows us that the ruthless steak that enabled him to secure the Conservative leadership is still intact and should not be underestimated. He is committed to maintaining the stability and power of his shambolic coalition, even if that means undermining parts of the British constitution that have worked well for hundreds of years.

We hear a lot about new politics, but where are the meaningful attempts to empower Parliamentarians to provide greater scrutiny and accountability? My suggestion would be to increase the power and prestige of standing committees. Now that would be a genuinely reforming enhancement to Parliament. But it would also make life tougher for government, so I guess we should not hold our breath.

Khalid Mahmood is Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr

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2 Responses to “Khalid Mahmood is not impressed with AV”

  1. paul barker says:

    He beleives that a lot of his constituents cant count to 3 ? Typical patronising Labour shit.

  2. It is a bit shocking that you imply meeting constituents who don’t understand the simple act of numbering candidates. But I too have many doubts about AV.

    AV is not a form a proportional representation. It is designed to make it easier for Lib Dems to win more seats without making it any easier for smaller parties like the Greens or UKIP (check out the Electoral Reform Society projections

    You’ve missed the news that Clegg has been defeated on the 55 percent rule. The revised proposal for 66 percent and a two-week time limit will effectively take away the PM’s right to call an election at a time to suit his or her party interest. That’s a good thing.

    But essentially, the coalition has cherry picked those reforms that suit its narrow, short-term interests. (Like reducing the number of MPs is areas Tories cannot win.)

    This should be opposed by those who believe in reform as the constitution should be a balanced document, fair to all.

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