GE2015: However The Poll Pans Out, Electoral Reform Must Return To The Agenda

May 7, 2015

by Martin Odoni

Yes, it really has already been over five years since the fella who complained about “some bigoted woman” repeatedly told us, “I agree with Nick.” It is General Election Night once more, and all predictions suggest we are heading for another Hung Parliament. I did suggest a few weeks back that the Election was the Labour leader Ed Miliband’s to lose, what with the abysmal campaign run by the Tories, but somehow he has never quite pulled ahead in the polls. His appearance on BBC Question Time last week did him no favours, as he – correctly – insisted that Labour did not overspend in the last Government, but failed to explain why, leaving him open to accusations from the economically-illiterate majority in the country of financial recklessness. (The only way a Government can ‘overspend’ is if they keep public spending high in times of growing inflation.) Most polls therefore cannot choose between the two main parties – and the BBC Exit Poll, which has just been announced as I am writing, suggests awful news for Labour.

One speculation that is growing in the media is that, in the event of a No-Result, the Conservative Party might attempt a ‘sit-in’ i.e. David Cameron might insist on retaining the office of Prime Minister, even if two opposing parties can form a workable coalition against him large enough to create a majority in the House Of Commons – unlikely judging by the Exit Poll. While that is technically possible, and there is no rule explicitly forbidding it, it is both anti-democratic, and impractical. No legislation Cameron could put before the House could have a serious hope of getting past such a hostile majority, especially not when Cameron would have angered so many opposing MPs in the first place.

Given the self-righteous whining of the Tories after the Election five years ago, when they rather petulantly accused the Liberal Democrats of holding them to ransom, and Labour of ignoring the will of the British people, were the ‘sit-in’ scenario to develop, it would be the most nauseating, authoritarian behaviour of Cameron’s leadership yet. Hypocritical and narrowly selfish, once again just assuming a ‘natural right’ to rule the rest of us. As I pointed out at the time, the Conservative Party has had a very long time in Government over the last century and more in which to reform and repair our obsolete Electoral system, and they did nothing. Now, via coalition, they have had another five years in which to reform it, and instead, all they did on the subject was oppose the very modest proposed change of introducing the Alternative Vote. Now, they may be poised to attempt to use those same loopholes in the system that they were complaining about five years ago to do something considerably more immoral than the Lib-Lab pact that never happened.

But for me, it is not just the blatant corruption that the system allows that demands its change. It is as much that the only real reason anyone ever comes up with for keeping the First-Past-The-Post system is that it “always produces strong Government”. Whatever the moral issues with such a defence, the likelihood of back-to-back Hung Parliaments show that it simply is not true. The results in First-Past-The-Post do not really reflect the votes cast, but they do not even provide the vaunted strength-of-Government either. The only justification for retaining FPTP appears to be completely unreliable, therefore we need to discuss changing it once more. I dismiss the failure of the AV Referendum in 2011, as I am confident that the majority of people who voted No did so to ‘punish’ the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, for breaking Manifesto pledges.

The issue simply has to be re-opened. We are using a system that has only changed in terms of size i.e. a broadened electorate, rather than in terms of method since it was established in the 1830’s. I suspect it is a little past its sell-by date by now.

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