Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Brownian Motion

What happens if Gordon Brown makes a radical move on electoral reform?

It now looks quite possible that Gordon Brown as Prime Minister will start office in the same way that he began his term as Chancellor- with an unexpected and far reaching radical reform. As Chancellor his first act was to give independence to the Bank of England. Arguably this was the single most important reform that he has made.

Now, there are many hints that he will pass a package of constitutional reforms, including reform of the government of England and electoral reform. Certainly the hint that came from Jack Straw was that additional member voting was being seriously considered.

OK, it is not a strictly proportional system, but it is likely to help the Liberal Democrats in any event since at present they have less than 10% of the seats in the House of Commons despite gaining 23% of the votes.

However a switch to additional member voting also carries significant risks for the Liberal Democrats. Firstly, after the partial nature of Labour's constitutional reforms in Scotland, we should be sceptical of Labour half measures. Secondly, there will be an increasing challenge to the Liberal Democrats, if the electorate believe that major points of our programme have already been enacted by Gordon Brown.

One key theme of this blog is to underline the role of freedom as a basic concept for Liberal policies, this element will become ever more important if Gordon Brown attempts to shoot the Liberal Democrats fox (as he did with independence of the Bank of England) and enact voting reform. The alternative is that the Liberal Democrats programme becomes perceived as irrelevant and instead of a fairer voting system propelling the party forward, in fact we do less well. The lesson of the European elections, and even the proportional elections in Scotland and Wales is that voting reform is not an automatic boost for the party- perhaps that is a lesson that Gordon Brown intends to teach us once again?

Our only come back is to develop a policy platform that is focused and disciplined. A programme which addresses the need for greater accountability and openness in public affairs; greater financial discipline in economic affairs; greater tolerance in social affairs and to work for greater fairness within the international system. In other words it will become even more important to speak more clearly for the Liberal agenda.

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