Monday, May 9, 2011

Voting reform - where now?

The referendum was a clear rejection of the Alternative Vote method. The No campaign convinced enough people that, although they can set their Sky+ box, work out housekeeping budgets, set out saving and pension plans, and download apps to their phones, that when it comes to voting, they are only capable enough to mark an X with a pencil tied to a string.

So where does the campaign for a fairer voting system go now? We must bear in mind the following.

Firstly, voting reform is no longer just a Liberal Democrat issue. UKIP, the Greens, the Nationalist parties, even many in the Labour party, campaigned for a Yes vote. As more and more parties arrive on the scene, they all recognise that an electoral system designed for two party politics is way out of date.

Secondly, the First Past the Post (FPTP) system remains a bad voting system – which is why all new democracies over the last 30 years have kept it at arms’ length. Having minority rule and domination is, in some cases, something the new democracies have been trying to get away from for decades.

Thirdly, let’s not forget that the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, Northern Ireland Assembly and the London Assembly, are all new bodies set up over the last 12 years and all stayed well away from FPTP. Many British people are at present using other voting methods and using them well.

Fourthly, the Conservative party will NEVER accept voting reform. They have fought against every political reform since 1832 including votes for women, the House of Lords reduction in powers, and the regional assemblies. With their allies in the media, this presents a formidable obstacle. Although we would like the Tories to participate in the debate, we may have to go ahead without them.

Hence the question is – if AV is not the answer, what is? The Liberal Democrats policy is for Single Transferable Voting (STV) as used in Northern Ireland and for Scotland’s councils. Other parties might have other views.

In the 1990s there was a Scottish Constitutional Convention – involving people from various parties and other groups such as the church and unions - to discuss Scotland’s future. This helped lead to Scotland’s parliament.

As voting reform is now a multi-party issue, I would like to see something similar set up, with representatives from all parties and parts of society, to decide, once and for all, which would be the best and fairest system to elect our parliamentary representatives.

In the meantime, our only hope is for a hung parliament at the next election. As I’ve mentioned before, David Cameron deserves great credit for being the first Prime Minister to voluntarily give up the right to call an election whenever he chooses. Having fixed terms, along with the increase in votes for ‘other’ parties (13% at the latest poll), make hung parliaments all the more likely in future. And Lib Dems should argue for more this time, such as STV for council elections (which would be easy to set up as most council wards are multi-member).

If first-past-the-post fails, again and again, to produce a single party government – then even its biggest supporters will struggle to defend it.

1 comment:

  1. Personally I believe that a Citizen's Assembly on electoral reform with its findings to be subject to a binding referendum would be the best option. British Columbia tried that method and I think it looks like the best model to follow.