Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Electoral Reform for Westminster?

Gordon Brown is apparently going to suggest a referendum on voting reform to MPs this week, making electoral reform a thoroughly live issue. He is not offering PR apparently, but the Alternative Vote, in order to ensure that MPs get at least 50% of the constituency vote to be elected. Could be that he's genuinely apprised of the need for electoral reform. Could be that this is the opening salvo in a bid to pre-empt the discussions after a hung parliament. Everyone knows that one Liberal price for support will be movement on the voting reform they have for so long demanded. The Conservatives remain clearly against - this report on Conservative Home shows 86% of Tory supporters opposed, although the poll will have been focused amongst Tory die-hards; the Cameron leadership may be more open, although they have given little sign of it so far.

Interestingly, the experience of partial PR in Scotland and Wales has actually been to benefit the Tories, and diminish the Labour Party's hitherto firm stranglehold. While the Conservatives win seats in the PR list that they can't get through FPTP, the Labour Party has seen its monopoly, based on its ability to win the seats, significantly reduced by the rise of the SNP and Plaid, both beneficiaries of the list system. The Liberal Democrats, too, have fallen behind the Conservatives in the Scottish parliament in terms of seat numbers; they are the fourth party in Scotland, but the third party in terms of Scottish seats at Westminster. A real devolution problem for any incoming Conservative government will be the fact that, whether or not they have a majority at Westminster, they are likely to have only one or two MPs from Scotland. This could augur further calls for greater Scottish independence, which could potentially, of course, benefit the Tories at Westminster as they start to take the knife to all those safe Labour seats. So, Gordon Brown's late reform proposal may also be about the basic survival of the Labour Party.

The Conservative attitude to electoral reform remains a little bizarre - they are not natural winners under FPTP at the moment - but then, anyone who looks to the Tories to do anything other than hunker down when it comes to political reform is living in dreamland. They opposed devolution, have never held referendums, and opposed further reform of the House of Lords. On all these issues, circumstances forced them to shift their position slowly and reluctantly - it may also happen with the voting system, but surely just once they would prefer to be in the driving seat?

[This BBC video, by the way, gives a good 2 minute overview of the current Scottish situation as a result of the Additional Member system]

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