Sunday, June 05, 2005

Electoral reform - not a chance, sorry


In the aftermath of the General Election, there has been considerable activity in the media and among fellow bloggers, demanding a change to the British electoral system. Indeed, the Who Should You Vote For? site has put up an FAQ of the various systems that might replace FPTP. They've even invented one called 'cellular constituencies', which is as convoluted and difficult to understand as all the others.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm completely in favour of changing the voting system so that it's more representative and doesn't deliver comfortable majorities to parties which only attract 35% of the vote. But let's be realistic. Blair's against the scheme (he's had two commissions look at it, and done nothing to implement their findings) so it's not going to get anywhere in this parliament. The Tories have always been against it, despite a few rumblings recently in the party, because they know they'll eventually get back in under FPTP and be able to be in a similar position to the one Labour are in now. Only the LibDems and other minor parties are in favour of it, and they are in no position to influence the government on it.

Only if the LibDems get somewhere under FPTP, by truly 'breaking the mould' (ie end up holding the balance of power), will the issue of electoral reform be on the agenda. There's no other way. Let's face it, does anyone imagine there's going to be a popular uprising about this? Can you see the people of Britain marching on parliament or manning barricades, demanding a change to Single Transferable Vote? War, yes. War is easy to understand, easy to see who's right and who's wrong (or, at least, it always looks that way). But voting systems?

And, frankly, even if the LibDems do make it into a power-sharing arrangement, electoral reform will be the first thing to be jettisoned. Blair doesn't support it, Brown doesn't support it. The Tories don't support it. The LibDems can't make it a bargaining tool, because no minority government will give it to them, and they won't want to squander their one chance of power by holding out over something that few people understand and even fewer care about.

So, those of you wasting column space blogging about your preferred system, or insisting (like Polly Toynbee) that the case for electoral reform is now beyond challenge - you're pissing into the wind. However morally justifiable it is, however strong the case for it, however it may benefit all those people in safe seats who are convinced their vote doesn't matter, it just ain't going to happen. Not ever. Get used to the fact, and move on. Be thankful we have it for the Euro elections and the Scottish parliament, and save your breath.


Anonymous Fair Vote Watch said...

That's what they said in New Zealand.

10:42 am  
Blogger Oscar Wildebeest said...

Yes, I seem to remember New Zealand being cited in one of the PR posts at The Sharpener. Unfortunately, I can't find the link, and I can't remember the detail of what happened in New Zealand. Any chance of a precis, Jarndyce, old chap?

(Incidentally, you did say of Jack Straw's anti-PR stance that "a turkey like him is hardly going to vote for Christmas", which sort of makes my point for me.)

2:48 pm  
Blogger Jarndyce said...

Good neutral (bit long) summary here. There is also a good piece by a former NZ Green Party leader floating around, but I can't find it for now.

Shorter summary: none of the main parties wanted it in 1980s, Labour govt. set up Royal Commission in mid-1980s to keep reformers quiet (sound familiar yet?), grassroots factors (esp. a dissatisfaction with politicians in general) contrived so all parties by 1990 election all parties promised if elected to hold a referendum (though still opposed change), referendum was won by over 80 percent to 16-ish. Another referendum to confirm it in 1993 won 54-46. First MMP (German-style PR) election 1996.

4:47 pm  
Blogger Oscar Wildebeest said...

Right... I think where it falls down is "all parties promised if elected to hold a referendum". Obviously the LibDems will say that. The Tories, being conservative types (for some reason), won't. And New Labour ... well, we know their track record on holding referendums, don't we?

Still, much obliged for the link.

5:29 pm  

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