Opinion: The Labour Party hold the key to electoral reform

At the 1997 General Election, Labour swept to power with a mandate to reform British politics. Tony Blair’s cooperation with Paddy Ashdown’s Liberal Democrats from 1995 to 1997 centred around a progressive agreement to introduce a proportional voting system for election to the House of Commons. Unfortunately for advocates of electoral reform and for progressives more widely, the resulting Labour landslide appeared to remove any thoughts this once great reforming party had to lay claim to the 21st Century progressive mantle. Labour could have held (and won easily) a referendum to introduce PR, but they didn’t.

Over a decade on, the coalition government’s proposed referendum on changing the voting system will be one of the defining constitutional events of this parliament. Its outcome may or may not prove particularly decisive for the future success of the Liberal Democrats; indeed the adoption of the Alternative Vote is not likely to alter the composition of the House of Commons in any significant way. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the referendum will be the approach of the Labour Party. With the Conservatives and others set to launch a well-funded ‘No’ campaign, a lukewarm attitude from the Official Opposition would surely see the ‘Yes’ campaign doomed right from the outset. Labour may well determine the outcome of the AV referendum.

Even more significantly, a radical move from the new Labour leadership could spell disaster for the Lib Dems and the coalition before the referendum even takes place. If Labour decided to revert to their pre-1997 stance and support proportional representation, an amendment to the referendum legislation proposing this an as option on the ballot paper would usher chaos into Downing Street. The Lib Dems would either split the coalition right down the middle by supporting Labour’s amendment, or they would honour the coalition agreement and reject the option of PR being included in the referendum – flunking the only chance of a PR they will probably ever get. Either option is fraught with difficulty for Nick Clegg and will leave many, either in his own party or in the Conservatives, furious.

The Labour Party, as in 1997, hold the key to both whether electoral reform takes place, and if so, in what form. If the party were to persuade their MPs and wider membership to support PR once more, they would surely lay claim to be, and probably succeed in being, the home for all progressives once more. In doing so, they might well bring down the coalition government, or at least severely weaken it, at the same time. If they do not, they will continue with their record of minor, directionless constitutional change demonstrated so aptly in government over the last 13 years. An interesting choice for either David or Ed Miliband to consider after 25 September.

Nick Lane was the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Redditch at the 2010 General Election.

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46 Comments

  • Captain Chaos 5th Aug '10 - 1:32pm

    “minor, directionless constitutional change demonstrated so aptly in government over the last 13 years”

    The first Scottish Parliament in hundreds of years, Welsh devolution, the NI assembly, scapping the right of heriditary peers to take seats in the Lords.

    We’ll see how that compares to the next 5 years of Tory govt.

  • We’ve already had this article. Six or seven times.

    PR isn’t a progressive step anyway, it promotes coalitions, so it’s an anti-democratic step. Manifestos tailored for backroom discussions in which cabals of leading politicians decide the programme between themselves without reference to the electorate. Promises made and never intended to be kept can be ditched without consequence and called “compromise”.

    PR practically ensures that manifestos are drawn up dishonestly. Why would Clegg admit to being for cuts this year to the electorate when pretending he wasn’t would give him a bargaining chip with the Tories?

    FPTP is very flawed, but PR even more so.

  • Interesting article. If the AV referendum goes forward in it’s current guise, tied up with the boundary changes designed to benefit the Tories, Labour ambivilence will surely lead to a “NO” vote in the country.

    I am still suprised the Lib Dems got into bed with the Tories so quickly, mainly on the offer of a referendum on AV. Surely it was not beyond the realms of possibility for Labour and Lib Dems to get together and go for a proper PR referendum?

  • Andrew Suffield 5th Aug '10 - 1:45pm

    it’s an anti-democratic step

    Your ideas are intriguing and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

  • @Andrew Suffield: Imagine this scenario:

    Politician A- Vote for me! No cuts this year!
    Politician B- Vote for me! No cuts this year!
    Politician C- Vote for me! Cuts this year!

    People go to vote. It’s a hung parliament.

    Talks between A and B-

    A: No cuts this year!
    B: Cuts this year!
    A: But you campaigned on the opposite!
    B: Changed my mind before the election, just didn’t tell anyone. Now agree with me, it’s called compromise.

    Talks between B and C-
    B: *Snicker* No cuts this year!
    C: Cuts this year are important!
    B: Oh, ok, but I want something extra in return….
    C: Done!

    It’s doesn’t matter what the people who voted for politician B wanted. Their votes may be proportional to their seats, but if a party is aiming at coalition those voters are basically gambling on what that party is actually going to deliver, and this is muddied further by the fact that party B was telling the electorate the opposite of what it intended, knowing that to do so would put it in a better position to bargain with party C, whose policy they really wanted to see implemented rather than party A but didn’t want to give it to them for free.

    That’s not democratic. The people speak and the politicians get to work rearranging the letters to make an entirely new word.

  • “PR isn’t a progressive step anyway, it promotes coalitions, so it’s an anti-democratic step. Manifestos tailored for backroom discussions in which cabals of leading politicians decide the programme between themselves without reference to the electorate. Promises made and never intended to be kept can be ditched without consequence and called “compromise”.”

    I think you need to do a little more research in to how countries who usually have coalition governments go about it… you’ll soon see that it’s quite an open process, with parties setting out how they would go about negotiating in a coalition in their pre-election information.

    Just because we have a system where party’s are so arrogant and childish they refuse to accept the notion of working together, and thus don’t make any provision for it in their manifestoes, doesn’t mean that’s the way it always is or has to be.

    A coalition government is by far more democratic and representative of the population’s views. How can a single party ever claim to speak for everyone.

    Coalitions also promote more reasoned and balanced governance, without the ridiculous, costly and damaging sudden policy switches you see in our system, liek now for example. When party’s can be expect to have some input to policy over a long time, negotiated between several other different party’s it creates a very different outlook on policy formation, a more longer lasting, rational view, where specialist advice and actual knowledge holds more importance than media scare opinion.

    True and balanced coalitions would be the best thing to happen to this country for a very very long time.

  • @Captain Chaos – doing something doesn’t make it have a direction. Devolution was because Labour thought they could hold on in these areas – as ever, ‘reform only if it favours Labour’.

    @Mike this is definitely different as a post – PR specifically as an amendment would be an interesting move by Labour. And your line that coalitions are somehow ‘undemocratic’ simply doesn’t hold: What is perhaps more staggering is a) how much of its manifesto Labour is throwing out in opposition without any negotiation or coalition, and b) how much they threw out in 1997, 2001 and 2005 despite getting a majority.

  • Peter Venables 5th Aug '10 - 2:01pm

    If coalition goverment is the future, then i would like to see the process of negotiations opened up.
    Maybe televise them, see how hard they actually fight for their side.

  • Colin Green 5th Aug '10 - 2:04pm

    I agree that Labour hold the key to the referendum. AV has been in their manifesto for more than a decade and should campaign for it – it would be a big U turn to abandon it now. Sour grapes at losing the election or dislike for the Lib Dems siding with the Tories may well lead them to a No campaign.

    If Labour do table an amendment to add PR to referendum the party will never forgive its MPs if they vote against it. I doubt that the amendment will be raised or that Lib Dem MPs would vote against. There will be a referendum on AV or FPTP and some within Labour and Conservative ranks will campain for and some against. Whilst Labour will be the key, Lib Dems working hard for a Yes vote will lessen the effect of Labour opposition.

  • If Nick Clegg and David Cameron had made any sort of attempt to be inclusive and consult widely on the various changes they are planning then your point would be very valid. However they havent, they are attempting to rush through, with minimal consultation, a set of electoral changes which seem, at best, to serve their own partisan interests at worst are an attempt at gerrymandering. In these circumstances it is hardly surprising that the Labour Party seem set to oppose elements of the bill (I suspect they wont be alone, the SNP, PC, some of the NI parties and elements within the Tory Party would all seem likely to agree). It would also not be surprising (assuming that a referendum is actually held on whatever date) that it is turned into a referendum on the government not on electoral reform, setting back this much needed change for another generation.

    Do not assume that any referendum will be easy to win (or would have been for Tony Blair). The Welsh assembly referendum was only won by the narrowest of margins and the one on regional government for the NE England lost, the electorate dont seem to actually have any great enthusiasm for constitutional change.

  • @Henry: All parties have to confront circumstance. But where Labour has broken its election promises, it has no choice but to face up to it and see what the voters think.

    Nick Clegg originally tried to say that he changed his mind after the election, and so hadn’t been lying to the electorate- he tried to say that early cuts were a compromise with the Tories that he later came to support. If he’d have managed to keep his mouth shut he could have gotten away with having lied to the electorate.

    Come on, please answer how that scenario is at all democratic. If a party wins seats on a promise they secretly don’t *intend* to keep at the time people go to vote, and then use the power granted by those votes to work against their electoral promise while pretending it’s a compromise with another party so that it doesn’t have to face up to its actions- is that democratic, yes or no?

  • That comment is @Alex, too. How are manifestos tailored for coalition talks rather than what a party actually intends democratic?

  • Captain Chaos claims there has been the “scapping the right of heriditary peers to take seats in the Lords” under the Labour Government of 1997 to 2010. I assume you mean scrapping. But most significantly I think you will find that hereditary peers were not actually abolished under the last Labour Government. Some 90 of these Peers actually remain and serve as a reminder of Labour’s failure to truly modernise the constitution in this country.

  • @Mark: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Lords_Act_1999

    You talk of compromise when it’s something that Clegg always intended but just didn’t tell you, but genuine compromise- open compromise that the Labour party acknowledged and never pretended it was anything but- you sneer at.

  • And by no hereditary peers taking seats I assume he means new ones, the remaining hereditary peers don’t pass on their seats.

  • Andrew Suffield 5th Aug '10 - 2:59pm

    It’s doesn’t matter what the people who voted for politician B wanted. Their votes may be proportional to their seats, but if a party is aiming at coalition those voters are basically gambling on what that party is actually going to deliver

    If you voted for a representative without knowing what that representative would do then that’s your own incredibly lazy and stupid fault.

    I knew what Clegg was going to negotiate for and he did it. Heck, he got more than I expected. Your ignorance is not my problem.

  • @ Mark .” But most significantly I think you will find that hereditary peers were not actually abolished under the last Labour Government. Some 90 of these Peers actually remain and serve as a reminder of Labour’s failure to truly modernise the constitution in this country”..There used to be over 700 hereditary Peers in the House of Commons, but after stage one of the House of Lords Act 1999, passed by the Blair government, there are 92 hereditary peers left. However, some peers have died recently and their number is around high eighties.
    You are talking the typical lib dem politburo nonsense,i suggest you research your veiws before posting.
    Did you read what Nick Lane said “you can’t get the result you want WITHOUT LABOUR HELP” so maybe you should using lib dem deception and dark arts to attack us all the time,labour did actually get a huge chunk of the hereditary peers out so maybe you should wait and see what your party actually achieves in this area before letting your misconseptions get in the way of the facts after all it achivements made at the end of a full term that matter.

  • @Andrew Suffield: Your contempt for the electorate is disgusting.

    Please, tell me how I’m supposed to hear this-

    “Self evidently I think, we think, that merrily slashing now is an act of economic masochism,” Clegg said. “So if anyone had to rely on our support, we were involved in government, of course we would say no, do it sensibly.”

    And come out thinking that Nick Clegg would be making early cuts a condition for coalition with Labour and agreeing to them with the Tories. How am I lazy and stupid for thinking that “of course we would say no” might mean they would say no?

  • I fully agree with your propositions. It is another way out of the conflated AV and Boundaries dilemma served up by the Tories to Labour people who support Electoral Reform which I have already posted on under Simon McGrath’s recent thread.

  • Actually, the 92 hereditaries were voted for by the other hereditary peers, so you could even argue that the hereditary peers in the House of Lords are the only ones with anything approaching a democratic mandate!

    @John Ruddy – why? If anything, the Labour Party in Scotland hate the SNP even more than the Tories, so if there’s a chance to kick Salmond out with a Lib Dem coalition my guess is they’ll take it.

    @Captain Chaos – OK, so your list covers pretty much the first year of the Labour administration. What happened after that?

    @Mike – why is PR “undemocratic”? The current system means that 35% of the electorate can impose their views on the other 65% who disagree. That’s barely more than an elected dictatorship. PR means that, for a party to govern outright, it has to have at least 50% of the votes cast. If it doesn’t, then it has to seek agreement with other parties. Is it something they put in the tea at Labour Party meetings that makes their supporters forget the meaning of “compromise”?

  • paul barker 5th Aug '10 - 3:58pm

    Its hardly surprising this post has attracted so many Trolls, it was pretty stupid in the 1st place.
    I dont know if we will win the AV referendum, I do know that whatever position the Labour “leadership” adopts will make little or no difference. Labour MPs & activists will campaign on both sides while the remaining core of Labour voters will mostly vote No or not at all.
    On the Bill itself, its very doubtful if there would be a majority for a PR question even if all our MPs voted for it. At least 60 Labour MPs will vote against any reform whatever their whips say. AV will be hard enough.

  • @KL: I’m just going to repeat what I’ve said because no one has addressed it-

    “If a party wins seats on a promise they secretly don’t *intend* to keep at the time people go to vote, and then use the power granted by those votes to work against their electoral promise while pretending it’s a compromise with another party so that it doesn’t have to face up to its actions- is that democratic, yes or no?”

    Yes or no. It’s not a compromise if the parties never intend to go through with their promises before the vote, promises made only to put that party in a better position with which to bargain behind closed doors.

  • FPTP always produces coalitions they just happen to have a single label – Tory or Labour. Both these parties are in reality a collection of groups in uneasy alliance for the purpose of trying to amass enough votes to get over the finish
    line. We should have 5 or 6 major parties for a more representative, open and honest politics. The process of compromise would be much more transparent and people would be far more likely to be engaged in the political process. At present large sections of the population are poorly represented or reluctant, unhappy, nose-pegged supporters of one the big free. We need PR to renew democracy.

  • Oh, and these ‘betrayals’ we’ve seen from Blair, Cameron and Clegg are largely just the natural consequence of them leading the fundamentally artificial entities the environment of FPTP produces.

  • Replica says: “There used to be over 700 hereditary Peers in the House of Commons,” – again an inaccurate claim

    If people want to defend the fact that Labour failed to completelyabolish hereditary Peers is it too much to simply get their facts right.

  • @AndrewR: Those Labour and Tory coalitions at least spell out what they intend to do with what power they win before the election and then if they stray from that have to face up to it.

    Someone, for Christ’s sake, address this point: How represented should a Lib Dem voter feel with this scenario:

    Lib Dems (pre-election): We would say no to early cuts! Vote for us!
    Lib Dems (post-election): Early cuts are a condition for coalition with Labour. We agree to them with the Tories.

    Say 20% vote Lib and 30% vote Tory- it isn’t democratic to have 20% of parliament Liberals if they never intended what the campaigned on and use their power to fight against the stance they campaigned on is it? Seats may be proportional to votes, but votes no longer mean a thing.

  • @Mark: Once again, Labour had to compromise. They held their hands up, said “this is a compromise”, and did what they could.

    That bears no relation to Nick Clegg fighting for the opposite of what he had campaigned on and then tried to pass it off as compromise when it was no such thing.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Aug '10 - 4:35pm

    Mike

    PR isn’t a progressive step anyway, it promotes coalitions, so it’s an anti-democratic step. Manifestos tailored for backroom discussions in which cabals of leading politicians decide the programme between themselves without reference to the electorate. Promises made and never intended to be kept can be ditched without consequence and called “compromise”.

    That is how Parliament is meant to work.

    We elect people to represent us. We put someone there who we can trust will do as we would do in decision making had we the time and knowledge to do it. We do this because it obviously would not be sensible to have a Parliament consisting of everyone in the nation (a system of governance still observed in cantons Glarus and Appenzell Innerrhoden in Switzerland). The person we elect is not a “delegate” in the sense that s/he must vote exactly as we tell him/her.

    That is representative democracy, democracy is about coming together and reaching the compromise which satisfies the most people, doing so through debate and discussion.

    You, Mike, appear to favour a different system of government. In your system, the people choose between competing five-year plans, and then which ever five-year plan gets the most support – most not necessarily over 50% – must be rigidly adhered to, come what may. In your system of governance Parliament is really just a technicality, like the USA College of Electors. Unlike the USA College of Elector, it carries on meeting once the government is in place, but you seem to regard it as wrong that it should do anything to interfere with the five-year plan, so I suppose really it is there as some sort of ritual since you don’t seem to like the idea that its members might actually think for themselves or be advised by interaction with their electorate and so change their minds or do anything except say “yah yah” if they supported the five year plan in progress or “booh booh” if they didn’t.

    Now, Mike, there is a name for your favoured system of governance, that name is “Fascism”. The whole idea of fascism is that discussion and reaching compromise agreements in that way is weak and, as you yourself say, undemocratic. It is much more democratic, so fascists say, to have one all-powerful leader, who is the person in the country most trusted by the people, who has all control over implementing the government’s plans. You need to be aware that fascism is not necessarily racist, it only became associated with that because the German movement of that form mixed it up with racism in the way the original Italian movement did not.

    You say that FPTP is flawed, but PR is worse, so I suppose you would favour something like the system of election introduced by the Italian fascists, which gave an automatic majority in Parliament to whichever was the largest party. That allowed that largest party to implement all its plans without any of this nasty debate and compromise which you so despise. FPTP, of course, does not give any guarantee that the largest party will have an absolute majority in Parliament. It is partly just an accident of UK geography that it has tended to do so, though it has been moving away from that in recent years. FPTP was put in before the days of parties, intended to produce the sort of representation I describe above as representative democracy and which you despise. With the party system, the “split vote” effect, which was not really thought about in the days when it would be rare to have more than two candidates for a constituency, tends to have the effect of forcing people to vote for one of two alternatives and to be scared of deviating from that.

    You appear to believe that people who have voted for one of just two alternatives, and that because of a system which forces them to do so rather than make it safe to consider others, may nevertheless be deemed to have given their assent to every aspect of whatever five year plan is associated with the one they voted for. Therefore to you, the very idea of any further discussion which might amend it is wrong. OK, that’s up to you if that’s how you want politics to be, but please be honest to use the correct term for the governance system you support.

  • @Mathew Huntbach: Stop talking crap. You know all those statements about how you suppose I must prefer such-and-such? I suppose I think such-and-such? Don’t bother. You’re not a mind reader. “Fascism”. Christ. Answer what I say, not what you imagine I must surely think.

    What I don’t like about coalitions is this-
    1)Nick Clegg can campaign on a stance of no early cuts.
    2)In coalition discussions hours after the vote he can argue behind closed doors for early cuts, against what he had told people to vote for him for.
    3) Because it’s a coalition, he can claim to have “compromised” and absolve himself of any blame.

    It is not democratic for PPCs to say “Vote for me, I will of course say no to early cuts!” and then be able to secretly ensure that early cuts happen. Up until the point that Clegg admitted he changed his mind before the election a couple of weeks ago, the narrative was that he had compromised and only later changed his mind.

    PR means the parties would tailor their manifestos both-

    1) To win votes for policies they don’t want, and can easily get out of.
    2) To include dummy policies to trade away and leave out policies they agree with other parties on in order to bargain them in.

    Manifestos become created to play mind games with other parties during secret discussions, not to show people what a party intends to do. So how can a person vote for a party if that party won’t indulge its real intentions, and can get away with it by pretending its a compromise?

    Answer me this- if the Lib-Lab coalition had worked, if Labour had accepted the Lib Dem demand for cuts this year, how would that have been a compromise that the voters could respect?

    So answer what I’ve actually said. Don’t strawman.

  • David Boothroyd 5th Aug '10 - 5:08pm

    PR is not going to be on the ballot paper, AV is. I support AV but not PR. But the thrust of the main post is correct: the Conservatives will almost all campaign for a No vote (some with the deliberate intention of breaking up the coalition). To get a Yes vote you need Labour campaign help for the Yes campaign and Labour voters to see the advantage to them of voting Yes.

    The approach of the Lib Dems so far, as seen on this forum, has been the best way to ensure that Labour will do absolutely nothing to help in the referendum. I advise you to ponder on that one.

  • I think that the AV referendum is unwinnable. I don’t know of many people who support AV, Labour did in the past but it is hard to know what they’ll do now. Most Liberal Democrats do not support AV, we support PR STV or another form of PR. I, and those like me, could argue passionately for STV, but not AV, which is a problem seeing as the Lib Dems are going to be seen as the main supporters of electoral reform. If the best thing we can say about AV is that it’s slightly better than FPTP then the Yes campaign doesn’t stand a chance against passionate argument from those in the No campaign.

  • @Mike
    Clegg is a liberal Tory by instinct and upbringing – a political animal in short supply in the Conservative party during his formative years. It’s really just a bizarre quirk of history and the madness of FPTP that he is leader of a party with a large social democratic wing. Really he and Cameron should be in the same ‘Liberal Conservative’ party. His u-turn on timing of cuts doesn’t rank particularly high on my list of episodes of political parties fudging or abandoning their manifesto commitments. If you accept the case for huge cuts in public spending then its really just a question of economic judgment/guesstimate as to when you make those cuts, not political principle.

    The leadership of all three of the major players are signed up to the same broadly neo-liberal agenda. What choice did the electorate really have? Under PR I would expect we would have seen a proper alternative being put forward from a real socialist party. Whatever your views we would have at least got a real choice and a proper debate. This for me is far more important for democracy than the issue of the mendacity perceived or otherwise of Nick Clegg.

  • I was using Nick Clegg as a concrete example of what a party will do when it expects to be part of a coalition rather than have a majority government. PR means that parties are *rewarded* for lying to the electorate, because it enables those parties to mislead their potential partners.

    If Clegg couldn’t bet on coalition talks, yet really wanted early cuts, he would have to say that he wanted early cuts or obviously and overtly be breaking a promise.

    If, as was the case, Clegg could only enter government through coalition talks, it makes more sense for him to have lied. If he was open about agreeing with the Tories over cuts, he wouldn’t be able to use it to get concessions out of them.

    Say this is the situation-

    Labour wants a referendum on AV and no early cuts.
    Conservatives want no referendum on AV and early cuts.
    Lib Dems want a referendum on AV and early cuts.

    It makes sense for the Libs to campaign on a stance of “referendum on AV and no early cuts”, and then tell the Tories that they can have those early cuts in exchange for a referendum on AV. Whereas if they were honest they wouldn’t have that as a bargaining chip with the Tories.

    And remember that PR, in making all parties plan for coalition talks, would have all the parties faking policies and pretending not agree with certain things- everyone playing mind games with everyone else. The voter can never be sure what their party actually wants because the only true test would come behind closed doors.

  • I had a lot of respect for the LibDems till they joined this coalition.Now I will not vote for electoral reform.The LibDems were always left of centre and the Conservatives far right.Joining them is leading to your drop in the polls.Nick Clegg as led you on the road to destruction.We all know the Bankers caused this crisis but the coalition is hurting the poorest in society most.You show some old bloke fiddling DLA on T.V.But by the DWP’s own Data the amount of fraud for DLA is.06%.So 99.04% are honest and not cheating the system.The Beeb is also promoting this this Propaganda.I say Propaganda because the other side of the argument is not shown.No mention of the real disabled.
    To cut Housing Benefit for those on JSA after 12 months unemployment is mean and spiteful in these times of mass unemployment.To through sick people of ESA and onto JSA while a lot are still evidently sick by using the private American firm Atos and its Lima programmed computer is a disgrace.Atos was even banned in some USA states because of its methods.

  • @ David Boothroyd.

    “The approach of the Lib Dems so far, as seen on this forum, has been the best way to ensure that Labour will do absolutely nothing to help in the referendum. ”

    Yes, particularly as there is a well supported Labour Party Campaign for Electoral Reform chaired by John Denham. http://www.electoralreform.connectfree.co.uk/

    You might be surprised at the number of its supporters.

  • So if we had PR, Labour would not have been able to run up such a big deficit, and the issue of when the cuts were made wouldn’t be so exciting.

    The sad truth is, even if the Lib Dems had got a pledge from Cameron to have a referenudm on STV, it is very unlikely he would have been able to deliver all his MPs in support of it, or the Lords, let alone the Labour Party.

    Similarly, David or Ed Milliband will be unlikley to deliver their supports for a PR referendum either, at leats not until they been stuffed under AV a couple of times and relaise that PR is more democratic.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Aug '10 - 8:48pm

    Mike, I am not reading your mind. I have explained in very thorough detail giving my arguments why the attitude you express to how government should be is a form of fascism i.e. a belief that government should have absolute power and a contempt for the alternative idea of government through discussion and compromise.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Aug '10 - 10:00pm

    J Smythe

    I had a lot of respect for the LibDems till they joined this coalition.Now I will not vote for electoral reform.The LibDems were always left of centre and the Conservatives far right.Joining them is leading to your drop in the polls.

    Yes, but what else could the Liberal Democrats have done? What, realistically could they have done following the election reults which would not have caused you to lose your respect for them?

    A coalition with Labour was not on, firstly because there were not enough Labour MPs elected to give it a majority, secondly because Labour was not willing anyway. So, either the Liberal Democrats went into coalition with the Conservatives, or they let David Cameron form a minority government. The Queen had no alternative anyway to ask David Cameron to try and form a government, not once Gordon Brown had resigned and it was clear no-one else would command a majority in the House. Had the Liberal Democrats not agreed to a coalition, David Cameron would have led a government unstable because it lacked a majority, this would have caused a panic reaction in the financial markets. In consequence, Cameron would have made it a 1974 sutuation- called another general eelction in months saying “this time give us a majoritty” and saying “the presence of the LibDems caused this – vote them out and we’ll have a stable single-party government that the markets will have confidence in”. And I think people would do that.

    You say, J Smythe, that you will not vote for electoral reform, but it was the current electoral system that caused this. If we had a proportional system, there would have been more Liberal Democrats and fewer Conservatives. A coalition with Labour would have been viable, the Liberal Democrats would hacve had a much stronger negotiating position in the coalition. So isn’t the position you are taking extremely stupid? You say you have no respect for the Liberal Democrats becaue of what our current electoral systenm has forced them to do, yet you say you oppose changing that electoral system. Instead you support the current electoral system, which is the one that boosts the power of the Conservatives and allows them to be as right-wing as they are. So shut up, stop complaining, you have what the FPTP electoral system you support gave us.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Aug '10 - 10:17pm

    Mike

    PR means the parties would tailor their manifestos both-

    1) To win votes for policies they don’t want, and can easily get out of.
    2) To include dummy policies to trade away and leave out policies they agree with other parties on in order to bargain them in.

    Parties can do this anyway. Governments must in any case react to the situation they are in, a manifesto cannot be a five year plan that is obeyed regardless of circumstances. Governments should also be aware of popular reaction – your idea that someone who votes for candidate X of party P is automatically a supporter of eveyr line of P’s manifesto is stupid.

    As I have already tried to explain to you, the idea of representative governemnt is that it tries to find policies that have majority support. If party P has a policy, but it cannot find another party Q that has that policy with P and Q together having 50% support, then it indicates that is not a popular policy, doesn’t it? So why do you think there is something wrong with party P deciding to drop it and concentrating on what it can find in common with Q?

    Look, this is democracy. The Tories won, I didn’t want them to but they did. The electoral system we had left the LibDems with some influence, but not much. It looks to me like your real compaint is that the election didn’t give you the result you wanted. Well, sad, yes, the people of Britain were mistake I too believe that, but the Tories is what they voted for. In particular, every vote for Labour was also a vote for the Tory government, because Labour support FPTP on the grounds it’s better to have an electoral system which distorts representation in favour of the largest party in order to get one party government. Given that the Tories, not Labour, were the largest party, Labour’s support for FPTP means they wanted either a Labour governement or a Tory one, and since they were the smaller party that means a Tory government. So Labour supporters, stop moaning – you have what your FPTP system you so love gave you, and surely by your support of that system the more Tory that government is the better because then it approaches your ideal of government all by one parttyy, none of this nasty compromise you so despise.

  • @Mathew Huntbach: You’re ridiculous. “a belief that government should have absolute power and a contempt for the alternative idea of government through discussion and compromise.” I certainly don’t have that belief, stop putting words into my mouth based on your own prejudices. Not everyone who disagrees with you is a fascist, just grow up.

    PR would not be able to find the policies that have majority support, for the reasons I’ve already outlined that you’ve chosen not to address. Majority governments can break their promises- but they have to hold their hands up. They can’t go “Oh well, I tried, but we had no choice but to compromise with the Tories and we did believe what we said” when they never, in fact, believed what they said.

    PR rewards parties for lying about their intentions. Where two parties agree, the one who agrees less earnestly is rewarded for lying to the electorate and pretending they don’t agree, because they can then “concede” the policy they secretly agree with in exchange for something else that they want.

    In my example above, the only way that the Liberal Democrats can have both electoral reform and cuts this year is to lie about one. That’s not democratic.

    “your idea that someone who votes for candidate X of party P is automatically a supporter of eveyr line of P’s manifesto is stupid.”

    Again, stop making stuff up. I don’t think people support every line of a manifesto- but that doesn’t mean parties shouldn’t outline what they actually intend in their manifesto for people to decide. Tell me- what is the point of a manifesto if the party doesn’t intend to actually do half of what it says?

    “If party P has a policy, but it cannot find another party Q that has that policy with P and Q together having 50% support, then it indicates that is not a popular policy, doesn’t it? So why do you think there is something wrong with party P deciding to drop it and concentrating on what it can find in common with Q?”

    You’re not listening at all. Read my posts for my actual disagreement with PR, don’t answer nonsense from your own head. The problem is that P and Q may gain over 50% of the popular vote, but if Q never intended that policy before the election and uses the coalition talks to secretly get out of it and pretend they had to compromise with party R then the public aren’t represented as they voted at all.

    “It looks to me like your real compaint is that the election didn’t give you the result you wanted.”

    Again, answer what I’ve said not what you imagine I must think instead.

    I’m getting sick of your strawmanning. Answer what I’ve written.

    PR means parties fight campaigns planning for coalition, and such a circumstance *rewards* parties for lying to electorate- and they can get away with it by pretending they had to compromise. Read my posts, don’t stop at “I don’t like PR…” and then invent your own reasons for why you think I don’t.

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Aug '10 - 11:21am

    Mike, I am sorry, this is not “prejudice”, it is a very carefully thought through position.

    I know the word “fascist” is commonly used as a general political insult, but I am not doing this at all. I am using the word “fascist” with its original meaning, the ideology of governance that was first proposed by Benito Mussolini and his followers in 1920s Italy. To be sure, the form of it you implicitly support is weak, but many Labour Party members call themselves “socialists” despite endorsing a form of socialism which is very weak and liberal compared to the sort of full-blooded socialism that was seen in various places in the 1920s.

    Fascism gained support in 1920s Italy for all the reasons you say you oppose Proportional Representation – it was in many ways a reaction to the weakness of governments elected by proportional systems, which we know was an issue in Italy once again when it reverted to this form of government after its experiment with fascism. Indeed, this has resulted in Italy once again having a sort of fascist-like government under Berlusconi. Berlusconi is popular in Italy because after seeing governments made up of squabbling factions always changing and compromising, the people of Italy seemed to like the idea of a government which was under form control of one person with a strong personality.

    I am putting the point that we can see systems of governance on a spectrum. At one end of the scale is fascism, though Leninism is another variant – the idea that it is best for government to be “strong”, so there should be in place a mechanism which puts one party in complete control, it is accepted that party needs to have popular support but it need not be majority support, so it can just be the party that has more support than any other party. The whole point of fascism/Leninism is that policy generation should be done internally within that controlling party, and not externally through the elected government system, instead Parliament is there just to rubber stamp what the party has decided. This, Mike, is exactly the form of governance you have endorsed, and you have explained very well why you think it better. You have, in fact, hit on the same sort of arguments that Mussolini and his followers used against proportional representation and its consequences. That is why I am saying what I am saying, it is based on my study of this period and consideration of forms of governance, and most definitely not just on throwing around the word “fascist” as a general term of abuse.

    At the other end of the spectrum is democracy. As I suggested, the most extreme form of it might by the idea of governance by the whole population meeting together, as is still observed in two small rural Swiss cantons I gave as an example. Of course, this is impractical in a large scale unit of government, so instead we have representative democracy. This means the populace elects an assembly of members in a way that makes them representative of the whole, and it is this assembly that generates policy. As part of this process, candidates seeking election may put forward manifestoes, but these are not five-year plans to be rigidly endorsed, rather they are statements of position, starting points in the negotiation.

    You have explained why you don’t like representative democracy, fine. All I am doing is noting the company you keep in this and suggesting you use the correct terminology for your position.

    OK, if you can carry on and actually think through what I am saying rather than react with shock because you just can’t accept being told the reality of your position, we can discuss this further.

    Part of the problem is that the fascist/Leninist ideology has leaked into our representative democracy, so we tend to think of political parties in somewhat fascist/Leninist terms. That is why in political debate in this country there is too much focus on leaders, and there is this idea that parties have rigid policy lines which all members must endorse. Sadly, that is how most of the general public view political parties, it is why it is hard to recruit new members. Of course, this top-down leader-oriented form of organisation also fits in well with the thrusting modern capitalist model of organisation, in which the big companies are also directed in this way.

    The whole point of the Liberal Party as it developed in the 20th century was to oppose this, to oppose top-down politics of the fascist/Leninist sort, to oppose top-down organisation of business, to oppose power being in the hands of the few and to give instead equal say to everyone and as far as is possible bearing in mind the need for concentration of control in modern technological society, equal control of society to everyone. That is why PR is fundamental to what we stand for, and why it MUST be PR in the STV form, which is PR about people and not PR about parties. Unfortunately, liberal democracy became somewhat despised in the early part of the 20th century, it was seen as weak and 19th century. The term “modernisation” was used to mean the introdcuition of fascist/Lenist styles of governance – as it still is today, a good example being the call for the introduction of local government through executive mayors, which is essentially fascist government. Why were Blair and the Blairites so keen on elected mayors? Why were most Liberal instinctively against? It is this fascist-democracy spectrum, Labour falls more towards the fascist end and so has less problems with facsist forms of governance.

    When I, as Liberal Democrat Leader of the Opposition in thoroughly New Labour LB Lewisham, the first local authority to go for directly elected mayor, was fighting against it, I made these points, and it helped me clarify the position on politics I have held throughout my adult life, it is the same position that led me to oppose the merger of the Liberal Party with the SDP as the SDP was bringing from its background some of the fascist/Leninist assumptions from Labour and modern thrusting capitalism. I was actually very angry to find at that time an obscure newly-elected Liberal Democrat MP had written a paper for Centre Forum which supported elected executive mayors, despite the opposition to the idea otherwise throughout the party because Liberals could instinctively see what was wrong with it. I contacted that MP and argued with him a little about it. I was not very impressed by that MP, I found him rather shallow, just the sort of person who would jump without thinking onto whatever was the latest trendy bandwagon. That MP’s name was Nick Clegg.

    The Liberal form of a political party is that it is an enabling mechanism for its members, a network of like-minded people co-operating, not a top-down organisation controlled by its leader. The members of a party do not change who they are just be joining it, they do not become automatons who accept whatever their leader tells them to accept – that is the Leninist/fascist model of political party, but not the Liberal model. That is a guarantee against a party’s Parliamentarians opportunistically changing their minds in a coalition – there should be no “my leader right or wrong” supposition, instead there should be a culture where members feel free to depose leaders who they feel are no longer doing what they want their pary to do. The leader should be the servant of the members of the party, and not vice versa. The point of a party is that it enables ordinary people to put themselves forward and be elected as Parliamentarians without necessarily being rich or famous, and from there to reach all points in government.

    The other guarantee against what you fear is an electoral system which does not place any special advantage on party labels. The idea is that individual parliamentarianism really are representatives of individual voters, which is waht STV gives – anyone elected is elected by a quota of individual voters. Clearly, any parliamentarian must justify himself or herself in front of his or her voters over any compromise made in order to reach an agreement to gain government policy which has majority Parliament support. The party mechanism should work against Parliamentarians being some special class of people, instead it should result in them being people that the party members who are just ordinary members of the populace, can trust to do the right thing. Should a political party work in a way that breaks that, STV gives the populace an easy way to bring it down.

    Mike, do you now comprehend the point I was making?

  • @Mathew Huntbach: And you’ve not actually addressed my point. The point you were making is a nonsense one for the reasons I have laid out and you have ignored.

    Now answer, or kindly stop with your huge walls of nothing-very-interesting-or-relevent.

    PR puts power out of the hands of the voters and into the hands of the professional politicians in an insidious way. It isn’t the case, as you have deluded yourself, that I think PR is more democratic yet don’t want it regardless. I don’t want it because I disagree with your opinion that it is more democratic. And I have given my reasons why, which you haven’t answered.

    PR almost guarantees coalition government. Parties planning for coalition are both rewarded for lying to the electorate, and coalition talks give them the means to change to their real opinion without alerting the electorate to the fact that they lied. Majority governments, if they change their policy direction, have to justify it.

    Don’t go off into a spiel about how I’m a fascist because PR is more democratic. My opposition is not based on wanting less democracy, it is based on the fact that I think PR delivers the opposite of more democracy. It is a criticism of PR as a method of delivering democracy not of democracy itself, so don’t pretend its anything but.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Aug '10 - 11:19am

    Mike, yes, I fully understand your position. It is that politicians can’t be trusted because politicians are bad people, and that therefore it is better to have government by one party even if that party does not have majority support, because that is more honest, that party can’t hide behind having to compromise with others of different positions. Fine, fine, fine, I am just noting that this line is what motivated Benito Mussolini to develop fascism. He used very much the arguments you used, this way of thinking was very popular in the early 20th century, it was also popular when the likes of Lenin said similar, and it gained the endorsement of very many people who we would still think of as good people, Shaw, Gandhi and the like all expressed admiration for Mussolini, while of course the Webbs, founders of the Labour Party, hugely admired Stalin.

    The German form of fascism which brought into it racism led people to forget what fascism was originally about, and, yes, it became just a political swear-word. I don’t use the word in that way, I have explained why. Perhaps if you don’t like the word I use, you could try another – “monarchism” is a good one, though that tends to be treated as if it means hereditary government rather than just the government by one which you endorse.

    What you say is a matter of opinion, I’m happy to agree to disagree. My view is that the safeguard against parties doing what you say they do is 1) party leaderships being accountable to their members 2) parties having a mass membership basis and 3) an electoral system which enables voters to punish parties that behave in an unprincipled way i.e. one which, unlike FPTP, does not force voters to vote for one of just two parties for fear that anything else would “split the vote”.

  • No. It is not monarchism, it is not fascism, it is the belief that an electoral system shouldn’t both encourage politicians to lie to the electorate and give them the means with which to get away with it. You might think that you understand, but you do not.

    To your number 1)-
    The leadership of parties seeking will only be tested on their actual beliefs in secret. They need never pretend they have done anything but compromise with an opposing viewpoint.

    To number 2)-
    A mass membeship does nothing, it will always be the leadership in discussions. The Lib Dems may have decided on policies through a long and thorough democratic process within the party- it took the negotiating team a click of their fingers to undo it, and undo in secret.

    To your number 3)-
    It allows them to act out their lack of principles within their own heads. No one else need ever know that parties never intended what they allowed themselves to be bargained out of.

    Now for the last time, address my actual criticisms. I do not care about your mental little theory as to where opposition to PR has sprung from. I don’t take kindly to your condescending crap about how ideas similar to mine were popular in the 20th century among fascists and Bolsheviks.

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