Monday, 1 December 2008

PR and the Lib Dems

. Costigan Quist has a rather excellent posting at his cafe. I have to confess that I have always favoured the idea of a reform of the voting system and actually watching an election take place under a proportional system, in New Zealand, I was impressed by how well it contrasted with our elections. He rightly points out that we do not do well under PR and that the notion that it would be a 'quick fix' that would put us in government is wrong. However, here I do compelled to make a point that there is a cultural barrier which means that people see Britain as basically a two-party system and vote accordingly so, over time, I would expect that to erode and for us to benefit.

The point about the benefit of 'no safe seats' is well made. Safe seats are bad for democracy because if you can pin a red or blue rosette on a turkey and run it in the safe knowledge that it will be elected the temptation is to go ahead and do that; as is rightly pointed out the temptation is for the turkey to then do nothing for four or five years. Complacency and cynicism set-in and people stop voting and when they do they do out of frustration at not being listened too.

Quist says;

"To introduce PR successfully in the Commons, we'd have to rethink government and come up with new rules and conventions to keep everything running smoothly."

To be honest I don't see this as a problem but as more of an opportunity. Electoral reform for me is part of a package deal which is part of a program to get people reengaged with politics. New rules and conventions in that context are a positive blessing. The traditional link between MP and local constituency is more problematic but in the majority of cases when people vote in a general election they are not voting for a representative in their eyes but are voting for the party they want to govern so in that instance PR would 'normalise' the situation and bring it in line with how people feel. Besides, as Quist points out, multi-member wards work ok on a council level.

Specifically with regard to the Lib Dems it will make our targeting strategy harder and stretch us but the trade-off is if we are seen as an engaging political force which is reforming and making politics better will hopefully be larger resources. Quist is right that;

"it isn't the road to electoral success for the Lib Dems and might well result in us having fewer seats."

We shouldn't see anything as a 'quick fix' but it is important and we should be campaigning for it vigorously for Westminster to demonstrate a commitment to a program of revitalising democracy and politics in this country.

12 comments:

oranjepan said...

I note you didn't pick up on my criticism from the previous thread about publishing for the sake of it.

Are you getting in practice to take your editorial license?

I suggest there are plenty of occasions when less is more - this vacuuous screed is one of them.

If you like the article so much (and I agree he is a judicious and poised writer), why not do him the favour of commenting on it rather than trying to drive content to you page?

I don't approve of your tactics and I reccomend Ed Stourton's book (It's a PC World) to fill your Chistmas stocking as the remedy. I think you'd enjoy it.

Darrell G said...

Oranjepan,

I did comment on his thread but what on earth is wrong with making it a seperate posting as well??

Some people might feel what you say is petty and relates to your views on the previous thread; not this one...but i couldnt possibly comment...

Anonymous said...

and the rapier was criticised for being lightweight...

Darrell G said...

The main point here is that I dont feel our commitment to PR should be approached with 'caution' when it comes to Westminster because it might happen to be bad for our party....the point of PR isn't to 'make things better' for ourselves; it's to make politics better and more responsive...

oranjepan said...

PR or not PR?

Both have their advantages and disavantages - if you want to change the system you'll need to provide positive proof that the change will be to something better and be less vague about the aspiration behind it.

Nobody has yet been able to do this and consequently the proposals for PR have weakened from the purism of Weimaresque dreams to the emplacement of barriers to entry (the 5% rule etc).

Why not talk about multi-member constituencies - what would be a typical size of one? what would be the basis of the constituency unit? How could you ensure the widest possible access to an MP when there'd be a tendency to site offices in areas of greatest population density?

Piecemeal or sweeping change is a dangerous thing unless it it thought through properly, sometimes it is right that more questions should be asked.

Darrell G said...

Oranjepan,

Well I think the aspiration is clear; to actually draw more people into the political process and avoid a situation where the government of the day has a working majority on what is it?? 35% of the vote of the entire electorate (or some such low figure).

My expereince in New Zealand is that the political discourse was much richer and that lesser parties got more of a voice and when it comes to something like the Maori Party this is surely a good thing because it gives a specific group representation and a louder voice in government.

In terms of a multi-member constituency I dont know the size precisely but one would feel that instead of being hypothacated into seperate constituencies a city like Leeds would be one multi-member constituency. This would actually help us campaigning wise because instead of having to shuttle between different targets and your own you could co-ordinate centrally and campaigning would be easier.

I agree there does need to be an ironing out but thats the whole purpose of having these discussions...

Oranjepan said...

Be careful! You're creating a hostage to fortune to complain about governments of the day not commanding a popular majority, as this would only be exacerbated by PR.

FWIW, if we take the 5% rule as a starting point for calculations then multi-member constituencies would be limited to a max. size of 20 MPs. Thus there'd be a minimum of 33 constituencies across the country with a maximum population of slightly less than 2million.

I think in such a situation it is unrealistic to draw most seats for populations of much over 1m, which gets us down to approximately the size of most counties (London, Yorks and Lancs being obvious exceptions).

Umm... er... do you reckon people would identify with counties?

Darrell G said...

Oranjepan,

The whole point is that people dont feel like wanting to vote unless they are politically committed or the smaller percentage who engage with politics...as I understand it there are majoriterian forms of PR in any case so thats not totally true (in terms of electing a candidate)...

I dont know if people would identify with counties but there are often patchy calls for more regional autonomy from various places...when people vote for an MP, unless of course a candidate does have a strong personal following, they are not really voting for an individual in any case...they are voting for a party of government...

Anonymous said...

...please expand...

Darrell G said...

Anon :),

On what? My last comment?? I mean that when people go to the polls they are not voting for individual representation by and large; they are voting for the party they want to govern....

Anonymous said...

"...people dont feel like wanting to vote unless they are politically committed or the smaller percentage who engage with politics"
broad generalisation

"there are majoriterian [sic] forms of PR"
like what?

"...there are often patchy calls..."
what do you think of them?

Darrell G said...

Anon,

I accept its a broad generalisation but the main thrust of my point is that we are dealing with disengagment with politics and frustrations over it not being 'worth it' or people feeling they are not represented.

As to the second question; isnt it true that under forms of STV the candidate has to get 50% of the vote or the votes are redistributed until the 50% threshold is reached?? Obviously if that is the case you are electing a candidate who has a majority of the vote...

On the regional autonomy point I think we have looped-the-loop back to point one essentially. I think they are sometimes legitimate but end up in practice adding another bureaucratic tier which isnt necessary...i think also the best way to govern a specific area isnt set in stone. Like I said before; I think in essence it would benefit a city like Leeds to be one multi-member constituency with regard to Westminster and certainly would benefit us campaigning...