Friday, May 08, 2015

Electoral reform (again)

I don't hold much truck with those who claim the Lib Dems deserved the mauling they've received. I'm biassed, yes, but I didn't vote for them this time - the first time ever in a General Election. I think that might have been a mistake, but what I do think - and fear - is that by 2020 the British electorate - particularly those of us who "punished" the Libs for their role in the coalition - will understand exactly what they did for this country.

For me, the battle was lost early on - the one thing I wanted from this coalition was a new electoral system. But the Lib Dems and Nick Clegg in particular were outmanoeuvred from the start. They should never have acquiesced to the watered-down version put to the public vote, which was always going to end in failure. And that is why those who claim the public have voted on electoral reform and rejected it are wrong - this isn't a simple "in-out" question like that of Scottish independence, but a fundamental look at the way our voting system rewards a minority of voters time and time again.

In 1983, the SDP-Liberal Alliance polled 7.8 million votes at the General Election, 25.4% of the total votes cast. In return they received 23 seats out of 650, a mere three per cent of seats. This gross injustice is brushed under the carpet time and again - first by the Tories, and then by New Labour. If there's one thing I'll never forgive Blair for - on top of his actions in Iraq and elsewhere - it was reneging on the promise of delivering significant electoral reform. We still have the antiquated House of Lords, for Christ's sakes.

In the wake of yesterday's election result, the only conclusion I can come to is this. If we ever want to see effective change to the way this country is run, we first have to get rid of the current electoral system. That means not just going up against the government, but all its cronies too, including the national press, so much of which is anything but "free". If we can do that, then maybe - just maybe - we can start to change this country for the good.

In 2005 I discovered how the parties would have fared had even a small - 25% - proportion of seats been distributed based on the notion of Proportional Representation. Here's how the results would have roughly pared out this time.

Conservative: 295 Labour: 223
SNP: 50
UKIP: 21
Lib Dem: 18
Greens: 6
Others: 37

It would have forced the Tories to join forces with at least two other parties - presumably UKIP and one other if they lurched to the right, or Lib Dems and one other if they were to stay in the centre - to form the government. It's not that the pollsters got things wrong, but that the electoral system itself has so badly distorted the will of 63.2% of the voting public, who did not vote for the party now wielding power that is effectively unfettered.

I personally prefer the idea of STV or even 50-50 PR, but I can see how the above would at least smooth out some of the inconsistencies and force parties to work harder to win an absolute majority.

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