Cometh the hour, cometh PR?

It’s quiet in LDV Towers this afternoon as all the responsible editors have day job responsibilties.

We can always tell when we’re not talking about something our readers want to have their say on, because you kindly have your say on it anyway on whatever was the top post.

And today’s topic is clearly Call Me Dave’s speech on parliamentary reform, in which he sets out a series of Lib Dem policy proposals and pretends they’re new.  There’s no zealot like a recently converted zealot, but hang on a minute, Dave?  Power to the people?  Small government?  All of that is Liberalism 101, the first chapter from An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Liberalism.  We’ve long held it dear, and we simply don’t believe you when we hear it from your lips.

As Lynne Featherstone said earlier today on her blog

There is stuff that Cameron’s said which I agree with – as you would expect given that many of the ‘ideas’ he puts forward in today’s Guardian are long-standing Liberal Democrat policies! Fixed-term parliaments, reducing of the power of the executive, cutting the number of MPs, devolving power to councils and empowering individuals. Transparency and accountability – definitely. Shame Cameron has had to be dragged kicking and screaming on these. But – to be fair – at least he is going out there.

Meral Ece went one step further and noted that Cameron’s words are not all that dissimilar from Nick Clegg’s speech to conference last Spring:

“They say it takes a village to raise a child. It will take a whole nation to raise us out of these turbulent times. That’s why, if we’re to build a better tomorrow.It must be driven by a different kind of politics. Winner-takes-all politics will only ever deliver boom-and-bust economics. So, to make sure growth is driven in every part of Britain, not just London: we will devolve power. To stop vested interests from controlling the economy and holding back reform: we will bring an end to big donations. And to create an open balanced politics that includes, engages and involves every citizen of this great country: we will secure fair votes for all. And you know what else? We need to give people back their rights. We need to stop people being bullied and chivvied by a state that invades every corner of our private lives, putting our DNA on a database, fingerprinting our children at school and losing their private data on commuter trains. Our freedom is a hard-won inheritance: Liberal Democrats will get it back”

But much of the comment on the LD blogosphere this morning is reserved for David Cameron’s outright rejection of PR on the basis of a straw man paragraph at the end of his speech:

[…] a Conservative Government will not consider introducing proportional representation.

The principle underlying all the political reforms a new Conservative Government would make is the progressive principle of redistributing power and control – from the powerful to the powerless.

PR would actually move us in the opposite direction, which is why I’m so surprised it’s still on the wish-list of progressive reformers.

Proportional representation takes power away from the man and woman in the street and hands it to the political elites.

And you m’colleagues have been quick to put him right on where’s he’s wrong with this.

Millennium recaps why we’re here – from Mark Reckon’s analysis that “safe seats equals sleazy seats.”

Jennie Rigg joined Millennium and explained it’s not any old PR we need – not the bad PR we have at European elections, or the messy AV+ Scottish systems, but genuine single transferable vote in multi member constituencies.  (Oh – and David Cameron didn’t answer Jennie’s question about a return to traditional British multi-member constituencies.)

When the revolution comes, my placard will read “STV MMC FTW!”

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  • Matthew Huntbach 26th May '09 - 2:59pm

    I read Cameron’s article in today’s Guardian. I had intended to respond in more detail, write a letter to the Guardian and write something somewhere on line, but crises at work meant I had no time.

    But essentially, the article had me banging my head on the table (ALMOST literally) saying (well thinking) “sweet Jesus, if this is what passes for political sophistication, God help us”.

    I’d give it A- as an essay from a bright sixth-former who’s read the books, knows the theories, but isn’t quite so clever as he thinks he is, and whose lack of real-world knowledge and experience is very obvious.

  • I’m surprised anyone’s letting him get away with his dismissal of PR on the basis of his fairy story that adopting it will suddenly pitch the UK into Italian-style political chaos. It’s just standard issue twaddle.

    Critics of PR never say: “Ooh, don’t adopt PR because it might turn us into Sweden/the Netherlands/Denmark”, do they?

  • Forgive me for my cynicism. Brown has long been a critic of PR. Brown is about to get slaughtered in the next general election. The scale of the slaughter would be diminished by PR. Brown becomes an advocate of PR. Principled stand or crass political opportunism – you decide.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th May '09 - 4:15pm

    Critics of faith schools similarly never say “Ooh, don’t allow faith schools because it might turn us into the Netherlands”, do they?

  • For me, the more interesting question is this.

    If Brown DID decide to propose PR in the dying months of his government – or fixed-term parliaments, or complete the reform of the Upper House – what should Lib Dems do?

    Do we say that it is what it is – crass opportunism to rescue some form of legacy – and oppose it?

    Or do we take the rare opportunity to get something of a liberal policy platform passed into law and vote in favour?

    What would be best for us in the public eye and coming election and, indeed, what would be best for the country as a whole?

  • 3rd option – Loudly say it’s crass political opportunism…
    and endorse it.

  • David Allen 26th May '09 - 5:45pm

    If it is seen as opportunism, it will fail. If Brown were to pass a law in his dying months and then hold a PR election, Cameron would win on the platform of an instant repeal of Labour’s gerrymander. And then where would we be?

    Johnson’s approach makes much more sense. By proposing to hold a PR (AV+) referendum alongside a normal FPTP election, he is conspicuously playing fair-ish.

    Betcha Cameron would still win the election (narrowly?), and PR would also win. Leaving Cameron a tough decision!

  • Marc Bénier 26th May '09 - 6:49pm

    Am I the only member who is really angry at the way the Conservatives are being allowed not only to be seen to be setting the agenda for change, but also stealing some of our policies for himself?
    What are our MPs’ up to? This is the time when they need to be busily promoting our policies and pointing out that we have been arguing for change for the last twenty years!
    Come on Clegg & co! You must do better and seize the initiative away from the tories!

  • The stuff about giving power back to the man and woman in the streets is just twaddle if you want, as Cameron does, to go further down the road of destroying local democracy by imposing elected mayors.

  • I am totally with Marc Bénier. We should be shouting louder and making some headlines with some dramatic statements showing up Dave Shameron for the plagiarist he is. The home page of should be changed daily, if not every few hours with a press release from Clegg’s office. At the moment it is really short-selling us.

    Sorry to whoever puts it together, they surely must be underworked and underpaid, but it needs to step up the VOLUME.

  • AV is not PR. And its likely to make Labour’s defeat more pronounced. So it baffles me why Johnson is proposing it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th May '09 - 11:01am

    Tony Hill

    The stuff about giving power back to the man and woman in the streets is just twaddle if you want, as Cameron does, to go further down the road of destroying local democracy by imposing elected mayors.

    Indeed. I have asked, many times, why it is that so many people, some of them with a modicum of intelligence, seem to believe that directly elected mayors is some sort of devolution or power-to-the-people idea. The DIRECT EQUIVALENT of this idea when applied to national politics would be to abolish voting in Parliament and instead give unlimited power to a directly elected dictator. Why isn’t this obvious? Why isn’t this said every time someone puts forward directly elected mayors as the solution to political malaise? Why do we find political commentators in the press solemnly intoning that this is a very good devolution etc idea? And why did Nick Clegg write a paper supporting the idea?

    It is an absolute rule of mine – assuming these people aren’t all closet fascists (I don’t think they are) – their adoption of the directly elected mayor idea is a sign of flakiness. Do not trust anyone who supports the idea – they are just jumping on a trendy sounding bandwagon and showing by doing so their incapability of real deep thought on political issues.

    Almost everything else in Cameron’s recent speech/article (as I read it in the Guardian) is similar contradictory flakiness. It is appalling stuff, as I said, it would be good from an 18 year old, but from someone who will probably be Prime Minister soon it is embarrassing.

    Sorry not to have more time to pull it to pieces – left as a exercise to the reader.

  • Mike Falchikov 27th May '09 - 11:47am

    Another reason to oppose Cameron’s opposition to PR is that, if it’s considered alongside reducing the number of MPs by 10-15% as I think he’s suggested,
    then FPTP distorts the situation even more (e.g. the earlier directly elected Euro polls)

  • We need to remove from our minds the slightest silly notion that Cameron is interested in “reform”. Cameron is a servant of the US military-industrial-petro-chemical complex and once in Downing Street will follow Washington’s orders with utmost servility – just as Blair did. (Anyone who doubts me should recall that Cameron’s election to the Tory leadership was engineered by the Republican neocon pollster, Frank Luntz.)

    Cameron doesn’t want more democracy, he wants less. Hence his opposition to PR, his call for fewer MPs, and his unwillingness to have a 100% elected House of Lords. When Cameron says he wants to give MPs more power, I laugh. MPs already have plenary jurisdiction. The problem is that MPs don’t use the powers they have and are content to be supine puppets of the party system (and its North American puppet-masters). Cameron is an oleaginous PR showman with a silver tongue, and the key in his back is turned in Washington.

    What is so frightening about the media frenzy over MPs over-claiming expenses is the ease with which the neocons and their media marionettes have turned the people against democracy. What comes next? War with Iran? The micro-chipping of the population? And how soon? After all, almost all of the poeple can be fooled almost all of the time, as the Barclay brothers, Murdoch and Desmond have demonstrated.

    Who is going to stop this country being turned into a semi-fascist police state governed by the mega-rich for the mega-rich? It is unlikely that our elected representatives are going to be able to do much, even if they felt so inclined, because the people have been conned into hating and mistrusting them.

    Alix Mortimer – when are you going to throw the wool off your eyes?

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