Opinion: Pushing for PR

In a week which has seen the Commons Speaker lose his job over his part in the mis-handling of MPs’ expenses – which is merely the culmination of a less than satisfactory tenure in the prestigious position – surely it is time for other sweeping changes to be undertaken for the good of politics in the UK? In particular, now must be the time for the Lib Dems to be pushing even harder for proportional representation.

Voter apathy has been all too apparent in recent years and the disconnection between the public and the political process has been getting wider and wider under this Labour administration, as spinning, leaks and announcements on YouTube usurp the institution of Parliament and the credibility of those who serve within.

Add to this the latest debacle on MPs’ expenses and it is easy to see why some commentators and more to the point, the general public, see Parliament and politicians as self-serving and remote from everyday life.

The challenge for politicians and members of all political parties is how we should engage, enthuse and energise the wider population to become involved in the political process and see the link between their lives and the Parliamentary process.

The outdated first-past-the-post system and the arcane House of Commons procedures are, at best, quaint traditions – but are, at worst, obstacles to change which are often incomprehensible and incompatible with modern life. As such, PR is only one of the changes that need to be made, but it would at least be one way of demonstrating the political classes’ desire to re-connect with the voters.

As Nick Clegg has demonstrably stepped up to the plate in recent weeks in holding the government to account it must now be time for him and the party to make use of this historic chance to remind the government of the findings of the Jenkins Commission.

It is a distinct Lib Dem position which would be attractive to the disillusioned majority. It is unlikely that the Tories, who smell the blood of a wounded Labour beast and the whiff of power, will be enthusiatic supporters of PR but maybe the scales will fall from some Labour MPs’ eyes, or maybe some will undergo Damascian conversions as they worry about their political futures.

A referendum question as an appendix to the general election ballot paper would ensure that the Labour party bowed out of power on a positive note, and would fire a warning shot across the bows of an incoming Tory administration.

We are presented with an unprecedented opportunity to push our case for many of the reforms that have been central to our platform of beliefs for many years. So it is incumbent on us not to be wasteful and to try and help fix the political system in a way which would best serve the interests of politics, Parliament and the nation as a whole.

At the forefront of this must be the adoption of PR.

* Daniel Russell is a Liberal Democrat member in Brighton & Hove, currently living in Poland.

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  • Daniel is spot on here. PR would go a very long way towards shifting real power back to the electorate and giving greater opportunity for MP’s to represent their constituents rather than party machines. As Lib Dems we hold the high ground on this issue and now is the time to sell it to the electorate. We should bring electoral reform to the front of the debate now.

  • The main argument against first past the post for me is that it gives too much prominance to a relatively small number of swing voters in a few marginal constituencies. Parties naturally tailor their messages to appeal to these voters as this offers the best chance of winning enough seats to form a government. If we had a PR system everyone’s vote would count and therefore the parties would have to speak to ALL of us. This is an idea whose time has come…

  • Please, please, please can we be consistent about this. We want STV in multi-member constituencies. For Westminster, For Europe, For local councils. Nothing less.

    Going for PR without classifying it just leads people to think that we want a party list system (al la Euros) which would keep all the bad parts of FPTP and safe seats without the good parts. Understandably they then reject the idea out of hand.

  • Alix Mortimer 21st May '09 - 12:08am

    Gosh. Someone’s had TOO MANY SUGARY STICKY BUNS! 🙂

  • Let’s not kid ourselves, today’s papers on the expenses issues will soon be chip wrappers. Utopian solutions are not wanted, simple vengeance is all the public will look for.

    The next big news will be Brown’s replacement by Johnson after Labour come fourth in June. Johnson wants the Jenkins solution, and we should be big enough to accept an idea that…. well, it actually originated with ourselves!

    Jenkins is better than PR, because PR is not actually “fair votes”. PR (and STV, which is nearly PR) guarantee smaller parties an excessive degree of power. Now, it might feel nice to have excessive power, after a century of the opposite! But it wouldn’t work well, and so it wouldn’t last.

    The Jenkins solution is fair to bigger and smaller parties alike. Let’s settle for it.

  • ‘Daniel is spot on here. PR would go a very long way towards shifting real power back to the electorate’

    Wrong,all PR would do would let the tail wag the dog.
    More importantly PR is of zero interest to the electorate and doesn’t even register as an issue on any of the polls.

    Try winning under the existing system and then you can move the goal posts,you had the chance 100 years ago but didn’t I wonder why?

  • AV+ for the Commons, STV for the Lords, European Parliament, devolved legislatures and local government.

    This would meant that all votes were casted using a ranking system, so minimising voter confusion but that the Commons and Lords would look suitably different.

  • please can we stick to the principle & never, never use4 phrases/acronyms like AV+ or STV in front of anyone even vaguely normal. the idea of public choice between L-d candidates could be met by primaries if anyones that bothered.
    where are my sticky buns? i want a floating island with little duckies, when do i want it?

  • John Bruton 21st May '09 - 9:08pm

    Jenkins would do for me. It’s about democracy. If, like me you have been voting for 34 years and not once had even a hope of voting for a candidate who stood a remote chance of being elected you would accept any move towards your voice being heard. If we are involved in politics it is up to us to get the message over to the public that they are effectively disenfranchised if they live in any safe seat constituency. Thats means some people have a vote that counts and others do not. If we can get that over then we can discuss which system is best. The main thing is that we get out there and tell people how they are being cheated by Labour and the Tories. We should use this opportunity to start the debate.

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