Wednesday, 26 March 2008

PR - Who has said what

Since the Government allowed the idea of constitutional and electoral reform to be floated over the weekend, there has been a lot of talk in the blogosphere on the subject. Three interesting strands have emerged:

- There have been a lot of Lib Dems saying that AV is the right thing to do. Ok, many of them have said it is right only as a first step on the way to proper reform. Or, like me, have said that if Brown wants to make the change then we shouldn't oppose him, but we should still make STV a first condition in the event we ever have any bargaining power. But there are still Lib Dems for whom AV is the right amount of change. I don't know whether this is because they simply look at the maths (which is, I believe, speculative guesswork), or because they actually believe that AV is the right change (as do people like Lembit and, to a certain extent, Simon Hughes). Whatever the case, I think that there will be a battle within the Lib Dems over this one should it ever come to pass.

- Conservatives have argued that what is needed is not electoral reform but for voting to actually mean something again (see Dan Hannan for a well written example). I agree with them completely on the need for changes to make people believe that voting is worthwhile again. I don't necessarily agree on the precise measures that are sometimes proposed, but I do think that we cannot expect people to want to participate in our democracy so long as they have no respect for politicians. But, for all the talk from Dave Cameron about ending the 'politics as usual' stuff, just watch him in PMQs. It'll be the same punch and judy, the same cheap debating points and the same ridiculous arguments as before.

- From the Government itself, nothing. The floated proposals on electoral reform have been stifled. Jack Straw, who it appears is a convert to AV having been vehemently opposed to any reform previously, said nothing on the subject yesterday.

I suspect that, yet again, this was a Labour Government flag flying exercise. They like to raise the prospect every so often to see what reaction they get - particularly from their own backbenchers. Brown 'let it be known' that he favoured change after the last election. But of course we would have to wait for him to become PM before anything would happen. And remember that they did so after the Power Report. Then nothing.

No, the most meaningful thing that has happened in the area of electoral reform recently was that the chief cheerleader for AV in the Government - Peter Hain - is no longer there.

The other key point to remember is that the Labour reformers (and there are quite a few) tend not to like preferential voting. Instead, they look to the AMS system that exists in Scotland, Wales and for the London Assembly. It is a proper form of PR but relies on a mix of individual constituencies and top-up lists. Lib Dems tend not to like it as it combines the worst of both worlds - First-Past-the-Post in constituencies with all the problems that brings in terms of lack of proper representation, tactical voting etc - and top-up lists with no geographical link and all the dangers of party patronage.

Roy Jenkins tried to find the happy medium when he recommended the Alternative Vote Top Up (AV+) to Tony Blair. He proposed preferential voting in constituencies and top up lists to make the whole thing (slightly more) proportional. Despite my admiration for the great man, I thought the whole thing a complete dog's breakfast. If you think STV is complex to explain the just try convincing Joe Public about AV+. Thankfully, I don't think anyone is seriously proposing that we bring that one back again.

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