Daily View 2×2: 29 May 2009

2 Big Stories

Moves towards voting reform gain momentum

As the MPs’ expenses row rumbles on – today’s Telegraph villain is that arch-Eurosceptic Bill Cash – the recognition of the need for electoral reform is gathering pace. After yesterday’s clarion call by Nick Clegg for MPs to embark on a 100-day programme to rescue British democracy, today Labour stalwarts David Blunkett and Peter Hain have added their voices to those clamouring to ditch the archaic first-past-the-post voting system. Neither though subscribe to the Lib Dems’ stated single transferable vote preference, nor even for the Jenkins Commission’s AV+ recommendation – instead they line up behind a straight switch to the alternative vote within existing constituencies, an option which could see even greater extreme skewing of the make-up of the House of Commons away from the national popular vote.

52 Labour MPs apply to sit in House of Lords

Can you hear that sound? It’s the sound of power ebbing away from Gordon Brown and the Labour party. As the Guardian reports, ‘Gordon Brown is facing an escalating ­crisis of confidence inside the parliamentary Labour party as record numbers of his MPs apply to sit in the House of Lords after the next general election. … the Guardian has learned that at least 52 MPs have formally approached Downing Street to be given places in the upper house.’ Which sounds like as good a reason as any to be thinking about replacing the Lords with an elected senate.

2 must-read blog-posts

Lock the Bastards In: The 100-Day Lose the Deadweights Programme (Alex Wilcock)

Nick’s two big Parliamentary victories [the Gurkhas and the resignation of the Speaker] show the dilemma that a radical reformer faces. Do you build a practical consensus between parties to get things done, as Nick did over the Gurkhas? Or should you be a radical anti-establishment voice, as Nick was in breaking all convention to bring down a rotten Speaker?

Nick needs to be both, yet building an anti-establishment consensus that the establishment might deliver is a paradox. That’s what’s the extraordinary gamble in his front-page Guardian article today – punching for a target somewhere short of what we’d do on our own, but well ahead of what either Labour or the Tories would do on their own, all based on issues that have some degree of cross-party agreement already. As Millennium says, politics is the art of the possible.

But what could be more appropriate for a Liberal Democrat Leader than punching a hole in the establishment at the moment when it’s most fractured, but in a reasonable and measured way?

Summertime – and reforming is easy (Caron’s Musings)

There’s no way on earth that any of this [Nick’s 100-day programme] goes as far as Lib Dems want. There’s so much more that needs to be done, but politics, as they say, is the art of the possible – and this lot really is possible if all parties get their backsides in gear and show willing. What are the chances? We’ll wait and see but if Labour and the Tories refuse the opportunity to take action to clean up politics, then they will have to justify themselves to the electorate when they finally do have their say.

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  • Matthew Huntbach 29th May '09 - 11:00am

    This is not a crisis over the share of seats for each party – that’s a separate issue.

    It’s a crisis over people feeling their MPs are out of touch because who gets in seems to be down to their party – there isn’t a way individual electors can distinguish between individual candidates they approve of or disapprove of.

    One solution I’ve already put forward for this is to re-invent the idea of political party as primarily a bottom-up organisation, there to give a mechanism by which people who are not rich or famous can club together and put forward one of their number for public election. This has been lost – if you try to explain to people that his is what political parties are all about they look at you blankly. They think that political parties are something ordained from on high, probably a branch of the state which is why they just expect candidates and campaigns to appear at election time and moan (“we pay our taxes for this, innit?”) if they don’t, and they think local campaigners are paid supporters directed by the leader, much as the people on the till at Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s do the job because they are paid to do it. I may greatly prefer one or other of these supermarkets, but I still wouldn’t work unpaid for them if I did, would I? This is what we get from selling ourselves as a “brand”, from employing marketing and public relations people to run the show, and from putting our Leader’s image on everything we do as if the whole thing is just a tool for his personal aggrandisement.

    However, apart from this, electoral reform will help – but it must be of the right sort. The proportional argument is another thing, so if we just introduce something which is more proportional but doesn’t give individual choice between candidates, we just aren’t responding to the crisis at all. We are just hypocritically using as an excuse to put forward something we want anyway for other – legitimate, yes – reasons.

    AV deals with the problem only in a small indirect way. It doesn’t offer the voter a choice between candidates of the same party, So it would not, for example, allow the voter to reward a candidate who played fair with expenses and punish one who didn’t. It does permit, if there is real dissatisfaction with the candidate put forward, an independent to be proposed instead since it ends the argument “that would just split the vote”. On similar grounds it makes voting for another party something that can’t be so easily ruled out in the way that FPTP forces people to rally to the the lead options, identified by the standard party labels, because that’s the only real way co-ordinate clumping to avoid the “split vote” syndrome can be organised.

    Fixed order list systems obviously don’t deal with the problem at all. Combining a fixed order list with AV doesn’t either – to put such a thing forward as the answer to this crisis is to insult the electorate by not answering their concern. We have something which answers their concern – STV – and it is madness, pure stupid madness, missing an open goal – when now we have the opportunity since what we always wanted is the answer, we don’t propose it and instead propose something else which benefits us as a party maybe but doesn’t solve the problem in the first place.

    Bloody eliminate AV+ – it is a disgrace for us to be proposing it and giving the impression that this is what we always wanted and is the magic solution when it isn’t.

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