Friday, 21 May 2010

Electoral Reform - my letter to the press

Electoral Reform is an idea which has supporters in all parties – yes, even the Conservative Party! Three out of four elections produce a result which has the party with the most votes failing to obtain a majority of seats, so it is not surprising that many voters, particularly those in minority parties, feel that they are never properly represented.

And yes, that does mean the BNP.

I am no fan of the BNP, but democracy is about winning the arguments in open debate, because that is preferable to rebellion and violence. If we are to extinguish the influence of the BNP, let’s get them into Parliament if people want to vote for them, so that we can expose them for what they are and defeat them in an open and honourable way. My guess is that if voters felt that their vote was actually going to count, so that tactical or protest voting was unnecessary, the BNP would not gain many seats, and wouldn't keep them for long.

The fear that PR would lead to ‘horse trading’ and confusion is unfounded. In fact lack of stability is more likely to arise under our present system. If a single party is sufficiently popular, it can still gain enough seats to have a majority government. If that doesn’t happen, it is because it has not won enough votes - pretty fair, I would have said! The negotiations that go to forming an alliance or coalition between more than one party are not likely to produce confusion, because it is usually pretty clear which parties would make impossible bed-fellows. The negotiations are simply the means to make a government which reflects the views of the majority. Our present (negotiated) coalition government reflects the views of the majority of voters, and is the first to do so in this country for a great many years.

I accept that the system used for European elections is not the best. I understand the desire to link a representative to a constituency (although I think that element is given more importance than it deserves). But the Electoral Reform Society has a dozen or so different PR systems on its website, and it is perfectly possible to have a system which maintains the link between a politician and his constituency. All of them give more weight to voters for smaller fringe parties than the Alternative Vote system (which is not PR). I believe that that is desirable, so that everybody can feel that their views are being considered and debated.

Conservative policy (before the election) was to keep ‘First Past the Post’, but with fewer MPs and larger constituencies – in other words a more distant representative with far more constituency work, but still with only 24 hours in the day!

The thrust of the Take Back Parliament Campaign is to persuade the Government to broaden the proposed referendum to include PR. Then, different types of PR can be debated, and if the referendum is properly conducted, the voters of this country can have their say, preferably after finding out the implications of the different PR systems.

So before anyone rushes to judgement, I would like to encourage them to do a bit of research into the different PR systems. They might find one they like! They will certainly find one which gives a fairer hearing to those of us who, like me, prefer the policies of a smaller party.

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