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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Britain: electoral reform « Previous | |Next »
May 2, 2011

Britain is to vote on electoral reform in the form of legislation to reduce Britain's constituencies to 600 while standardising their size, overriding geographical or historical ties.Tacked on to this bill, meeting the demand of the Lib Dems, was the provision for a referendum on the alternative vote to replace first past the post so that there will be a distribution of second and third preferences until a candidate wins a genuine majority.

RowsonMAV reform.jpg Martin Rowson

This is a minor step. Australia, for instance, adopted AV 80 years ago. The aim of the reform is to increase political pluralism by giving new forces in politics a better chance for representation sooner. The Conservatives are opposed, the LIberal Democrats are in favour and Labor is fractured, with many on the Labour Right siding with the Conservatives campaign to kill alternative vote reform, even Labour's leader has campaigned for AV in the name of a fairer voting system.

To get re-elected under the alternative vote each candidate will need at least 50 per cent of the vote. Those 172 safe Conservative seats and 29 Lib Dem safe seats will no longer be so safe. It is not difficult to see how this would make life more difficult for those government MPs voting for huge public spending cuts.

First Past the Post is a system that rigs elections for the two biggest parties.The opinions of voters in "safe" seats do not register at all. Labour supporters in heavily Conservative areas are invisible and vice versa. The traditional view is that that we, the people, are unwashed dangerous xenophobes who need to be ruled by a political elite who know best. Britain has a a culture of deferential democracy. So much for liberty.

The polls say the No campaign will win, and if that happens, then the Liberal Democrats are going to suffer. They will sink further in the polls as a result of a no vote.

The Liberal Democratic proposed reform--the AV referendum vote- was decisively rejected (around 68% to 32%); a British refusal to embrace electoral change. First past the post, which ensured virtual Tory hegemony for most of the last century, remains entrenched. The Liberal Democrats have been bloodied--repudiated--- and are now hostages in the Conservative led coalition, chained to the cabinet table until 2015.

Anthony Barnett at Open Democracy says that the campaign was tragically misconceived from the start.

It was positioned as non-political rather than as against the whole way our politics is currently conducted; as something that fitted in with the way we are and, most damagingly of all, as the end of the road for popular constitutional reform. In other words, as a kind of justification for the Coalition...from the get-go the campaign needed to be clear about whether it was a modest first step to deeper and wider democratisation of British politics. If it had chosen to be this it could have honestly accepted that AV was indeed the limited compromise it is. It could – and should –have then turned all guns on First Past the Post and made the status quo the focus of the referendum, campaigning against its wastefulness and dishonesty – and the fact that it gave us the Iraq War...The referendum itself should have been turned into an increase in citizen power and the beginning of more direct democracy and participation.

The role of the Lib Dem's in the Coalition is to act as protective heat for the Conservatives, itching to dump consensus for Thatcherite will.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:28 AM |