What would Clement do?

A Labour blog that witters on about Clement Attlee. Hurrah for The Major!

Archive for the tag “No to AV”

WHY I AM VOTING YES TO AV

In two weeks time, we get the first chance to fundamentally change our political system since universal adult suffrage was achieved in the 1940s – when domestic servants were enfranchised, and Oxbridge types lost their two votes.

I have already said that given the two choices on offer, I back AV over no change, and as the campaigns draw to a close, it is time to re-state my reasons…

Firstly, as some opponents of AV have already commented elsewhere, First Past The Post is manifestly undemocratic. Most governments do not represent will of the people by votes cast, let alone the total electorate. In the 1980s, taking the whole electorate, The Tories won no more than 36% of possible votes at any election. The same applies to New Labour, and to this Coalition. Only 217 out of 650 MPs returned in 2010 had over 50% of the vote.

Secondly, the great, and largely ignored seat theft that this Government is perpetrating against you and I. Regardless of how we vote in the Referendum, 50 seats will be axed, at a stroke making our established political class stronger, and also more distant from us. The only measure within our power right now to even slightly ameliorate this would be to make sure that every MP needed at least 50% of the votes cast in their constituency. That would be AV.

Thirdly, if passed, AV would give impetus to Lords Reform – lets kick the unelected into touch.

AV is just a start, and we could further modify the system to create a more proportional one after the barriers to reform come down.

AV is no block to radical reform – it is radical reform.

Look at those who back the current system – Press Barons, The Tax Payers Alliance (led by a non-dom), and Tories, with conservative New Labourites and a smattering of Blairites.

I would like to see a system where every MP has to reach out beyond the usual middle class middle ground of voters – with AV, not only second preferences but voter registration and participation become key.

I urge you all to think hard about this – we need a better way, and a better Government.

Ham-Faced Spam Robot Strikes Again!

AAAARRRGGGHHHH!!!! Woke up this morning to hear Cameron telling us plebs just why AV is sooo bad for us…

  1. Apparently, we are all too thick to use anything else other than a cross on a ballot paper. (Well, future generations may be, after Govey’s education reforms…)
  2. It is not always proportional – unlike, of course, First Past The Post.
  3. Other Parties may gain seats at the expense of the two main parties. (Note to Dave – yes, thats what voters want, you freak.)
  4. Some peoples votes would be counted twice (eh???). It is much better to keep a system whereby less than 2% of all votes decided the last election…
  5. Err… thats it.

Come off it Tory boy, you and The Taxpayers Alliance can take a running jump.

For a more considered rebuttal of the Eton Trifle, see George Eaton in The New Statesman –

http://www.newstatesman/blogs/the-staggers/2011/02/cameron-point-system-hung

May 5th – Our Choice, Our Chance…

So, on May 5th we get the chance to alter our voting system from First Past The Post (FPTP) to the Alternative Vote (AV). With Ham-Face and Little Nicky setting out the opposing arguments this morning, it would be useful to review what we have, and what we could get.

THE SYSTEM AS IT IS:

At the moment, our political system is a Constitutional Monarchy, that suffers a little Democracy to intervene now and then. Parliament is Sovereign, with the power to dismiss the Monarch – a power not used since 1688, but that led to the abdication of Edward VIII in 1937. The House of Commons is theoretically where power lies – as the elected chamber is the only place where legislation can be decisively approved or denied. The unelected Lords can only amend Bills, and since Lord Salisbury back in Victorias day, no Prime Minister has sat there. Practically, power lies with The Cabinet, some would say The Cabinet Office.

Our Electoral System is based on FPTP, and in practice this means that the candidate with the most votes, regardless as to whether this is a majority, wins. At the last General Election, fully two thirds of seats were won by candidates who had less than fifty percent of the vote.

Our participation in elections as voters has been declining since 1945, and our disengagement with the political process is at its highest since the vote was won for women and the propertyless. The expenses scandal, the perceived unresponsiveness of our elected members, and the narrowness of the terms of official political debate (the hunt for the nebulous “Middle England”)have all contributed to this. There is a distinct class divide in voting – the richer you are, the more likely you are to vote – which partially explains why our major parties spend much of their efforts trying to placate a mythical “mainstream” vote, whilst ignoring other considerations.

As for those we elect, increasingly and overwhelmingly they come from similar backgrounds regardless of party. Very few MPs have come from outside of the Middle Classes, and the domination of The Cabinet by men from Oxbridge is simply an extreme version of this. In the last edition of the late Anthony Sampson’s “Who Runs This Place?” a marked trend towards certain professions was noted – Law, Finance, Local Government and Higher Education are the major areas of practical experience that our MPs have. Student Politics is the proving ground for this new political class, who in attitude see the rest of us as at best foot soldiers in their campaign for ultimate power. This is regardless of party.

FPTP has resulted in the many seats being “safe” for one party or another – leading to a strengthening of party machines and “a job for life” for some of the least worthy members of the house. Only at times of major upheaval in politics – 1945, 1979, 1997, do these seats even stand a chance of being overturned. in effect, your preference only counts either at one of these elections, or if you live in a marginal seat.

Effectively, under FPTP, a party needs only to win around 30% of the available vote to have a rock-solid majority. This happened throughout the 1980s, ’90s and the last decade. In May 2010, less than 2% of us decided the result.

A culture of entitlement reigns, believing themselves to be a Meritocracy ( whilst misconstruing the term), a certain arrogance can be detected amongst this self-justifyng elite.

What We Could Get:

The Alternative Vote system means that instead of just putting one cross next to one candidate on your ballot paper, you instead rank them in order of your preferences, as far as you wish – so in my case that would be Labour 1; Green 2; and the rest can go hang, unless I like their candidate. Its up to you how far you go. The votes are counted, and the candidates with least votes is eliminated, their second preferences added to the other candidates. This continues until one candidates has over 50% of the votes. Around 14 million of us already use this system for elections in Trades Unions,Political Parties, Student Organisations and such, so many of us already have experience of it. It must be said that whilst this is a more consensual system, it is not proportional – we can still end up with Governments elected by a minority of the electorate.

Possibly the starkest image is best provided by The British Electoral Survey at Essex University, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. In a wide-ranging study, the BES took a representative survey of voting preferences at the May 2010 election, and found the results to be thus:

Conservative     283 – down 22

Labour               248 – down 10

Lib Dems            89 – up 32

At first glance, for the left this looks unpalatable, but look at the arithmetic – we would have been able to offer what Gordon Brown couldn’t last May – a stable Coalition with the Lib Dems. Whether the Orange Book gang would have taken this up is another matter, but there is a strong possibility that the decimation of the Welfare State and dismantling of the NHS would at least not be on the agenda. Remarkably, last May ten seats would have changed straight from Tory to Labour, and only one vice versa.

Many seats regarded now as “safe” would now become winnable. ALL MPs would be returned on over 50% of the votes cast in every constituency.

Our MPs would thus have to work harder for us – local issues would become really important – no more promises to “look into” a third crossing for Waveney for example, only for your MP to forget it until election year.

You get a potentially bigger say, with AV there is no need for tactical voting, simply pick your favourite candidate first. If they don’t win, you still get a say. So Labour votes in the South West and East Anglia now matter, as would Tory votes in Scotland and South Wales.

At a stroke, MPs would have to reach beyond their comfort zones – Surrey Tories and Keith Vaz take note…

The Alternative Vote keeps what is best about the current system, the historic constituency link – you will still know who your MP is, and be able to lobby them.

If extended to local government, then the “Rotten Boroughs” that regularly infest Private Eye would be altered – one-party rule over Tower Hamlets or Suffolk would be altered. No more “sigmoid waves”, “virtual councils” or distant aloof local bigwigs.

If AV is passed, then the possibility of an actually elected House of Lords is strengthened – no more input by those who rely on their place by contributions to party coffers. We would finally have a Liberal Democracy – over two hundred years since Thomas Paine wrote The Rights of Man.

AV is far from perfect – it would be better to have a more proportional system, such as AV plus, as recommended  by The Jenkins Commission on Electoral Reform, yet is a start.

There is just one more point. As part of The Coalition stitch-up over Reform, the Tories have been able to tag on the axing of 50 seats, on the grounds of “cost” – as if you can put a price on Democracy. If AV fails to go through, then the Tories, with Liberal Democrat support, will have managed to Gerrymander the electoral map of Britain, with minimal consultation with you, that no-one voted for, potentially solidifying their hold on power. Only AV will go some way to ameliorating this.

That is why all of us in Labour, and everyone who believes in Democracy, must support the Yes to Fairer Votes Campaign.

Noes To The Left…

Two recent articles on the Referendum on Electoral Reform (no, please wait, its not that dull…) by decent leftwingers against change have got me thinking. Nick Cohen in The Spectator today, and Darrell Goodliffe at Left Futures (links on your right) both have it in for AV and Nick Clegg. As a Democrat and a Socialist, I have to disagree with my no-doubt honourable opponents here, and this is why…

Nicks article is mainly a sustained diatribe against celebrity endorsements of the Yes campaign, and, to a certain extent I have to agree – certainly I do not believe that any campaign or issue is “good” on the say-so of an actor, singer, poet or model. Often I find myself taking a reverse opinion, wondering where on earth you could find Fois Gras in Asda, or eat swans stuffed with owls whilst wearing only cruelty guaranteed fur and blood diamonds. But this is simply the reaction of someone who doesn’t like to be hectored at by those richer, safer and more powerful than himself. In the case of Electoral Reform, surely anyone who has the vote in the UK is entitled to their opinion? The charge Nick makes is that we in the yes campaign are hiding Nick Clegg behind the skirts of Helena Bonham Carter.

Now for those of a Liberal Democrat persuasion, there may be some truth in this, but the fact remains that the Yes campaign is much broader based than that. I really have little sympathy for Little Nicky and his Orange Book groupies, but the case for reform of our voting system is much more important than any one party. Mr Cohen and Mr Goodliffe decry the only option on the table for change – that of the Alternative Vote (AV). I understand the misgivings, and the arguments against it, but is it not better to get some change, rather than none? The Royal Commission under Lord Jenkins proposed a system incorporating AV plus an element of proportionality – AV plus, which could be introduced early on if Labour commits to it fully, and we win in 2015. And heres the rub, whatever the Lords have managed to squeeze out of the Coalition in concessions, we still lose 50 MPs and constituencies before 2015. The majority of these will be Labour, in a staggering move more suited to Al Capone than a democratic government. Without a change in the voting system, Labour face the prospect of being gerrymandered out of office for at least a decade. What on earth will be left to save in 2025? Will we have to start all over again? Can we?

For Labour, there is also a tactical consideration here. We oppose the Coalition on pretty much everything they are doing, and that means laying into the Lib Dems. This is no bad thing at all, but we may very well have to form some kind of alliance with them at some stage to win back power. To do this, we must prove ourselves to be willing to make changes, and to live up to the “Democratic” part of Democratic Socialism. We may also see a growing number of Lib dem activists from the Social Democratic wing come over to our side… Yet No campaigners within Labour, honest though they may be, are proving themselves just as tribal as Clegg, and as wedded to the old Tory “No reform” policy as Ham-Face Cameron… Think again Please…

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