So, the Cleggmeister has spoken. Thou shalt have constitutional change.
There is a lot to like in this package. The coalition has fleshed out the provision for fixed-term Parliaments. This measure originally confused a lot of people, who mistook the difference between a government losing a confidence vote, and having to call an immediate general election. Take this analogy from an excellent Liberal Conspiracy post:
“Let’s say the Purple party is in power in Utopia with 43% of the seats.” Holmes scattered purple buttons. “The Brown party has 40%.” He scattered brown buttons. “And 17% of the representatives are from the Black party.” More buttons were placed on the table.
“The Purples sit as a minority government with a confidence and supply arrangement with the Blacks.” He gathered the purple and black buttons together. They created a larger pile than the browns. “The Browns then change their leader in the second year of Utopia’s four year fixed term parliament.” Holmes threw a brown button into the hearth, and picked up a large brown button from Mrs Hudson’s box. “The new leader introduces new policies. Let us say, Watson that the Browns are in favour of jam today.” Holmes laughed.
“The Blacks are a fickle bunch. They like this. So, the Blacks and Browns then pass a no confidence motion against the Purples who only promise jam tomorrow.” Holmes rearranged the buttons. The combined pile of black and brown buttons appreciably outnumbered the purple buttons. “The effect of this is that the government of the Purples will be forced out. But the key point in fixed term parliaments is that the confidence vote impacts on the government, but it does not force the calling of an election.”
So the government will change if a confidence vote is lost by 50% +1, but there will only be a new election if 66% of MPs vote less. This introduction of fixed-term Parliaments is a jolly good thing, as it takes away any speculation about an election date. It also stops Prime Ministers being able to call a snap election based on how they are polling, which Mark Steel rightly likened to a football team being able to stop the game when they are winning, no matter how long the match had been played for.
The only questionable part of the package is the reduction in the number of MPs by fifty. However, this present system is skewed so far in Labour that perhaps such a move is necessary. However, we’ll have to wait for more details before we can properly see if this is simply gerrymandering or not.
A referendum on AV has been announced for May 5th next year. I’m arranging a post on the merits, or otherwise, of AV. This referendum does need to be won, however, because the only way we’ll get any further reform is by voting YES in the Referendum. For now, anyone sceptical on AV should read this post:
AV won’t make “safe” or “marginal” seats extinct, but, crucially, the battleground seats will be much harder to identify. The parties’ well-oiled campaign machines will be forced to broaden their range of targets for fear of being ambushed in previously secure seats. Sure, the Tories won’t have to worry about Windsor or Tunbridge Wells, but current strongholds like Bournemouth, Canterbury, and Chelmsford will suddenly seem a bit too risky to ignore.
By voting Yes in the referendum on AV on 5 May 2011, the British public will be voting to give themselves a voice. AV isn’t just a slight tweak to the way we count votes. It’s an opportunity to make a truly historic leap towards real and effective democracy.
AV must only be the first step to reforming the electoral system. An elected House of Lords, with Proportional Representation, is another necessary move. This move will hopefully placate smaller parties (such as UKIP and the Greens) who would be adversely affected by AV.
The Lib Dems shall naturally be campaigning for AV, and the Tories shall be campaigning against. It’ll be interesting to see what Labour does. Especially since many former Lib Dems seem to be joining Labour, which has experienced a huge increase in members since the election. I don’t see what Labour have done to deserve this surge in membership except to lose the election, as their behaviour in opposition has proven that they were unfit to govern for a further term. Some, probably annoyed that the Lib Dems are now “right wing”, rejoined Labour, and are now members of a party attacking a centre-right government from the right. I certainly can’t think of rejoining Labour until they sound like a left-wing party. This might happen if Ed Miliband or Diane Abbot becomes leader. But I doubt it somehow.
Having done diddly squat on electoral reform for thirteen years, one is hardly hopeful that Labour will campaign for AV. The reactions from Labour politicians to an AV referendum so far are a mixture of the bizarre and the stupid.
Among the most stupid reactions is that of John Prescott, who blogged on Labour Home that we must fight this “poisonous package”. Prescott, and Labourites like him, are therefore in the mad position of wanting to campaign against a Labour Manifesto pledge made only six weeks ago. See p63.
To ensure that every MP is supported by the majority of their constituents voting at each election, we will hold a referendum on introducing the Alternative Vote for elections to the House of Commons.
Another Labourite against voting reform is Andy Burnham, who has said that electoral reform was merely a fringe pursuit for Guardian readers. Judging from his leadership campaign, Burnham feels Labour should instead spend more time paying attention to the fringe pursuits of Daily Mail readers, such as immigration.
One of the more bizarre views has come from Denis MacShane. He starts off sensibly, by saying that Labour needs to hold its own internal debate on AV and then take a vote at the party conference, but the article then descends into Lib Dem bashing. He then concludes by saying Labour should only support electoral reform if it gives them more seats.
Labour has a patchy record on electoral reform in office. In opposition, it must show the voters it has lost that it has regrouped and formed a proper social democratic programme for government. Electoral reform needs to be part of this package. This is why Labour needs to ignore petty point-scoring and navel gazing, and campaign for a referendum.