Suggestions for constitutional changes after Brexit and Chilcot

The EU referendum was both democratic and dictatorial.

This form of democracy was, is and will be profoundly self-harming of our nation. It destroyed opportunities, such as negotiating for a more democratic and less finance controlled EU, and precipitated unnecessary difficulties, such as having to deal with a massive range of trade negotiations from a position of weakness.

It was imposed unilaterally by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, in an inept and selfish attempt to cohere his party and keep in his job. It has cost us our powerful place in Europe and may cost the United Kingdom the kingdom of Scotland and lead to problems resulting from an intensified Anglo-Irish border.

The Chilcot Report proves that Great Britain was misled into a bloody war by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and an unaccountable clique of cronies and apparatchiks. Its dangerous and cruel consequences increase daily. The costs to our armed forces were, and are needless death, mutilation and mental damage.

The role and powers, direct and indirect, of Prime Ministers need to be reviewed, clarified and subject to impartial and rigorous monitoring. Our Country is still significantly, and usually covertly, run by the powerful device of “an order in council” which is basically a written instruction which has to be carried out and which bypasses constitutional procedures.

The case of Mr. Blair demonstrates the need to legislate for an effective, human rights compliant, legal mechanism so that any and all leaders who break their duties of trust know for certain that they will be called to public account.

The referendum was divisive, precipitating verbal and physical violence. In part, this was a consequence of the ways in which the principal campaigns and the Mainstream Media managed the matter, but much of the cause lies in our constitutional theory and practice. Here we need to change too.

Many voted “Out” because of apathy and/or resentment – economic, political and social. With “first past the post” voting so many are deterred from voting and deprived of appropriate parliamentary representation and its associated MSM voice.

Look at the 2015 vote/seat correlations:

Conservatives got 50.8% of MPs with 36.8% of the vote, Labour- 35.7% with 30.5%, SNP-8.6% with 4.7%, LDs-1.2% with 7.9%, UKIP 0.2% with 12.7%, Green 0.2% with 3.8%

The Did Not Vote Party could have won 345 seats: the governing Conservative Party won only 330 seats.

A lively and responsive form of PR would give every significant group—political, geographical, economic, social, religious etc. clear and proportionate representation and attention. More would be motivated to vote and fewer inclined to be detached and/or resentful. PR would also demonstrate the attitudes of our Nation as a whole, thus removing the excuse for self-serving referenda.

The predominant, two-party, system no longer works because it no longer can. We have many groups with different views, which they want heard and heeded. This cannot be done with the current “de facto” parliamentary duopoly, especially in its two party favouring chamber and the marginal policy differences between the duopoly duo of Conservative and Labour.

We have a duty to promote Prime Ministerial responsibility and PR.

Without constitutional change, the £10m + spent on Chilcot will be a sorry waste of money, time and hope.

 

* Steve Trevathan is chairperson of Lyme Regis and Marshwood Vale Liberal Democrats.

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15 Comments

  • “A lively and responsive form of PR”

    And yet just 5 years ago 68% voted in a referendum for first past the post which creates a close link between the electorate and their representative. If my MP annoys enough constituents he is kicked out. Two of mine in the past, Tories both, were given their marching orders only to immediately get on the European Parliament list and rejoin the gravy train without the bother of electorates being able to reject them. One went on to become the official laziest MEP ever. Infuriating beyond belief.

    FPTP also keeps the BNP out. What is the biggest British party in the European Parliament? So on 2014 votes you want PM Nigel Farage, leading a Coalition with the Tories and Unionists? On the 2015 vote we’d still be looking at that same trio. Be very careful what you wish for. I used to support PR, and I think there is still maybe a case for it at every level except the Commons. Now I think FPTP protects us from extremists. As the SNP prove, minority parties with the right balance of policies and personalities can win under FPTP.

  • Steven Rose: The alternative to FPTP on offer in the 2011 referendum was another system involving single-member constituencies, and certainly not one of proportional representation. There are a lot of possible reasons why people voted the way they did, but the constituency link cannot have been one of them, as AV would have preserved it exactly as it is now.
    And FPTP would not necessarily keep the BNP out. actually I think that extremist parties are more likely to do well under FPTP, due to their tendency to have relatively concentrated shares of the vote.
    What the SNP has shown is simply that minority parties can make a breakthrough under FPTP, and once they do they can easily make a clean sweep on perhaps less than half the vote. Why do you suppose that the BNP, or perhaps more likely UKIP, could not make a similar breakthrough given the right circumstances? FPTP can make it easy for extremists to win at constituency level against a split opposition. Why do you think the BNP opposed AV in the referendum? Because they knew that most people who did not vote BNP would vote anyone-but-BNP and would use their preferences to vote the BNP out.

    And the principal reason UKIP does well in European elections is that UK voters have been conditioned over many years to believe that the European Parliament doesn’t matter so it’s safe to vote for loonies and fruitcakes there as a protest against the government of the day. And Clegg debating with Farage played right into Farage’s hands, validating a vote for UKIP and UKIP’s take on the EU. In 20145 Clegg AGREED WITH FARAGE that MEPs don’t matter and that the EU is a binary choice between uncritical support and withdrawal.

  • Richard Easter 23rd Jul '16 - 12:39pm

    Proportional Representation is becoming more and more relevent, as there is now significant ideological differences and splits within all major political parties.

    * Labour are hopelessly split between those wanting socialism / trade unionism, soft left politics and a US Democratic style global corporate liberal party.

    * The Lib Dems have significant differences over Orange Book economics.

    * The Tories are split over Europe but also over social liberalism, corporate power and nationalism and traditonalism.

    * UKIP appear to promote left wing economics when targetting Labour seats, whilst promoting Thatcherism when targetting Tory ones. And their only MP is more of a libertarian.

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Jul '16 - 12:40pm

    David Cameron agreed to votes at 16 for one referendum and disagreed for another, even though it would have been in his interest.
    MEPs are elected by STV in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland. First Past the Post is a broken system, as was said in a ten minute rule bill this week. AV is not PR.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Jul '16 - 12:47pm

    PR is needed. However I sill think the Cabinet should reserve the power to launch airstrikes. There’s a problem, in my opinion, with the way we debate airstrike plans in public via a parliamentary vote, giving people a chance to hide their military targets and possibly put more innocent lives at risk. We need an element of secrecy when it comes to military strategy.

    We can’t security brief 650 MPs and expect it all to stay secret. Cabinet responsibility and power needs to be defended.

  • Stevan Rose 23rd Jul '16 - 1:37pm

    “AV is not PR.”

    Ask people who are not aficionados of voting systems what they thought they were voting for in 2011. Most thought they were voting for / against FPTP / PR with the non-FPTP option being the Lib Dem / Clegg choice. If you ask them to vote again because you got the question wrong first time, guess what they will say second time. It is only Lib Dems that obsess over PR and its flavours. It distracts from productive stuff that might have a chance and it makes us the party that doesn’t care about referendum results and will always have a dozen reasons to ignore them, from wrong question to the other side telling fibs to it was only advisory to we need a second one because the idiots voted incorrectly first time.

    There’s a difference between PR in the Commons and PR elsewhere and it does no harm to have different levels of government elected via different methods.

    Sorry Alex, I’m not buying it. As Carswell proves, it is possible for an extreme party to get a seat but 10-15% spread nationally gets you nothing other than some incumbent success. I agree AV also prevents extremes getting through so no good for the BNP. But PR doesn’t. I’d be happy withany system in the Commons that retains the constituency link. But no to lists and unstable central government caused by having too many narrow interest parties.

  • Mick Taylor 23rd Jul '16 - 8:53pm

    Actually Germany and many other countries have a threshold (often 5%) below which you cannot get seats when they use PR.
    The system favoured by Lib Dems is Single Transferable vote (STV), which preserves a constituency link in multi-member seats and allows voters to choose their candidates in their order of preference. It has been used in Ireland for decades and is used for local elections in Scotland. It has not led to the rise of extremist parties, partly because the people elected actually are representative of the views of the electorate and almost everyone ends up with an MP of their choice to whom they can turn with problems or to represent their views. What’s not to like!

  • Matt (Bristol) 23rd Jul '16 - 10:29pm

    I have come to see that 3-member STV (which I know is smaller constituencies than many would prefer in this party) could be quite workable and wouldn’t necessarily be too much of a culture shock from our existing small-constituency system.

    If I’m honest, it’s not the strict proportionality of STV that attracts me as such, it’s the potential for a reduction in the impact of one-member ‘safe seats’ and sudden ‘landslide’ moments resulting in excessive majorities that take multiple terms to whittle down. There’s also the issue of minority representation, but you don’t necessarily need total proportionality to deliver that.

    But I can see that there are a myriad ways our voting system could be different that might appeal to those who have been sold that FPTP allows you to ‘vote the government out’ (I don’t think a single MP in South Bristol, where I live has been ‘voted out’ since the 30s … MPs retire, they don’t get ‘voted out’) and who value the concept of the constituency link. For eg, two-member Borda count, anyone?

    But the stasis we have so far is so great nothing will happen without an alliance of parties (and probably come form of compromise), or a crisis so horrific we’d hate to live through it. But any alliance has be genuine and sincere, and not a marriage of convenience based on a half-hearted compromise.

  • When you guys knock on peoples doors or work the telephones does anyone ever bring up the subject of PR without being prompted? People care about the cost of living, local services and many other things, but I’ve not met many – if any – that worry about electoral reform. It all seems to be a bit of a Lib Dem pipe-dream when everyone else is OK with the current system.

  • Andrew McCaig 24th Jul '16 - 11:05am

    Most people who voted in 2011 thought they were voting in a referendum on Nick Clegg, as far as I could see… meanwhile lifelong supporters of PR like me could not bring ourselves to campaign for such a minimal reform… Even though the blatant lies told by FPTP advocates was perhaps a harbinger for how to shift public opinion in a referendum campaign….

  • Andrew McCaig 24th Jul '16 - 11:16am

    Malc
    Polls showed 60% wanted reform after the 2015 general election..
    I agree that electoral reform only comes to the fore after yet another ridiculous election result, but that does not mean people do not agree with us on this issue.
    Personally I think we should focus on getting STV in local government like they have in Scotland. That would get people used to a system that gives them real choice, but would not need a referendum which as people point out would likely be lost…

  • PR makes sense, but my instinct is that much better devolution is needed. Where things have to be done nationally, that is fair enough, but another source of dis-empowerment is things being done nationally that don’t have to be: this easily feeds a sense of being dictated to.

    The other things that is really hard to get my head around is now to take account of how networked we are and how much we move around. Our system of constituencies grew up when people didn’t travel much — the Bon mot about the invention of the bicycle meaning the end of the village idiot actually refers to the fact that being able to marry someone from the next village meant less in-breeding. Today most of us travel a lot. Many live in one constituency and work in another. Many more of us have networks of friends worldwide with whom we are in phone or electronic contact. The sort of democracy we have does not fit this world — but at the moment it is far from clear what would.

    I am beginning to think that both Brexit and the rise of Trump are being fuelled because our democratic processes are not adequate to engaging with a globalised world, so there is a widespread sense of powerlessness, with real power shifting to the anarchy of the markets.

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Jul '16 - 4:56pm

    I actually have had someone bring up PR to me unprompted by a non-politico after the general election. They voted UKIP and were fuming they only got one MP.

    But it took me years to come around to it. The simplicity of FPTP holds some attraction.

  • Matt (Bristol) 24th Jul '16 - 7:42pm

    Mark Argent, I am somewhat suspicious of the idea of flexible constituencies — when you suggest people’s ‘networks’ and working/travel patterns could be represented within an electoral structure in some way, where is the guarantor that we would not be effectively creating an even more rigid system of self-selecting class-based constituencies?

    (ie, X is the constituency for the middle-class people who work in this office-heavy city centre district, whereas Y is the constituency for the vulnerable, elderly and unemployed people who remain on this housing estate during the day).

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