Monday, April 19, 2010

Breaking the Mould

As another poll puts the Liberal Democrats on top, it is pretty clear that whatever happens over the next few days, the party is going to reach levels of support not seen for nearly a century.

To be absolutely frank, it is a fantastic but daunting prospect. The party will immediately face two crises: one will be the constitutional wrangling of a minority Parliament, the second will be the continuing economic crisis.

Barring a fluke, there seems no chance for the Conservatives or Labour to form a majority government, and the Parliament seems set to be "well hung" (not a tribute to Nick Clegg's supposed potency, but to the fact that the Liberal Democrats could choose between the other two parties as to who they wanted to work with). Indeed there is an outside chance that the Liberal Democrats could end up with a plurality of seats, though this is still, for the moment, less likely. In any event, the sharp surge in support for the Liberal Democrats of the kind the polls are suggesting, is now the trend would give Nick Clegg dramatic moral legitimacy to dictate terms to the other two parties.

In my view, this is not to make a choice of coalition: it is to offer the other parties a joint coalition over two years while the constitutional changes that the public want are enacted and a serious attempt is made to tackle the UK debt crisis.

The first issues to address should be constitutional: introducing STV, with or without a referendum should be the first priority (a crushing Lib Dem victory gives the party a mandate to move as it sees fit in this area). I think the less open or fair systems of AV and AV+ should be rejected. After electoral reform for the House of Commons, I think that the Liberal Democrats should offer a constitutional convention to discuss such issues as the way to reform the House of Lords. It would be far better to make the drafting of a new constitution an all party affair- in a way that Blair did not. The issue of the "English anomaly" needs to be addressed: either a single Parliament or regional Parliaments, to be agreed by consensus or by referendum if necessary. In any event, no matter what, the Liberal Democrats will need to reach out to the other two parties in order to build a new political system that can improve upon the old one.

With economic policy, the outlook is also unstable, and the minority Parliament is going to need all parties to work together in order to address the crisis hee too. It is, I think perfectly reasonable to ask that Vince Cable goes to the Treasury- he is the single most trusted politician on the economy, and so this is the second measure for Nick Clegg to insist upon. A unity government will need to agree some wrenching changes to government expenditure, but there is a basic consensus emerging across the parties about how to tackle this: which was demonstrated during the Chancellors debate.

Even if Nick Clegg were able to achieve a majority Liberal Democrat government, even if he could become Prime Minister as the leader of a minority government, in my view we should be proposing a joint administration if the election result justifies it.

If any other party tries to form a minority government without Liberal Democrat approval then the Liberal Democrats would be well within their rights to vote down a budget or Queens Speech that was proposed on those terms. The message that these polls are sending is that the public expects a new form of politics- and the same old Punch-and-Judy now will not do.

This surge is a challenge to all of the parties, including the Liberal Democrats themselves- it is so unexpected that few will have been prepared for the scale of the change- however welcome that change turns out to be- so the aftermath of the election is going to need much careful thought- and very clear focus on the core issues, values and interests of the Liberal Democrats and more, of the UK as a whole.

3 comments:

Stephen Johnson said...

This could be the election that represents the beginning of the end for our FPTP system. But there is no mandate for introducing STV.

It is plain for all to see that we need a fair system, an end to wasted votes, safe seats, campaign by marginal constituency and tactical voting. But we also need to shift power from the Government, to the Parliament. We need higher calibre MPs who are more independently minded. We need MPs who are elected on their personal merits, not just because they have the right party label.

One of the reasons our electoral system is rotten is that we are forced to ignore the qualities of the individual candidates and focus on voting for the party. It is not that we have forgotten the Expenses Scandal. It is just that the Electoral system doesn't allow us any freedom to do anything about it.
When you vote for a constituency representative on the basis of party label alone, you will get some lazy, incompetent, even corrupt MPs.
You also get MPs who hesitate to vote except in accordance with the wishes of the party whip.

Whatever Government we get from this unpredictable election must tackle electoral and parliamentary reform. We need an electoral system that everybody understands where MPs are elected on their own merits and thus can be more independent minded.
We need an electoral system where everybody can vote for the party of their choice and know that their vote will not be wasted.
We need a simple system which would allow voters to vote directly both for the best party and for the best constituency representative – Direct Party and Representative voting.


Doctor, Doctor…,
The patient has a severe case of an unfair voting system.
Dr Brown suggests an AV placebo (well you won’t be any worse off …).
Dr Cameron says ‘Buck your ideas up - there’s nothing wrong with you!'
Dr Clegg is keen to try out radical STV surgery, which involves amputation of your constituency and then stitching on several others, and the whole procedure is so complex only an expert in this specialist field will have a clue what’s going on.
They haven’t grasped that what the patient needs is simple practical electoral reform that everyone can understand – one vote for the party to form the government, one vote for the representative to be the Constituency MP. This is Direct Party and Representative voting (DPR).
A very small change, but just the treatment the patient needs – no invasive surgery, no drastic medication regime. In fact for the patient, voting can carry on pretty much as normal.
Admittedly life won’t be quite the same again for the Doctors and the rest of the political class. They will have to retrain, and they should start by learning about DPR voting.
Fortunately for us all, it is really ever so simple.

Newmania said...

I think the arrival of genuine three Party politics ,and especially with one Party so clearly unfairly treated , certainly does raise questions about FPTP.
The problem is that PR brings with it its own health warning especially imposed on a country whose tradition is so at odds with the less directly accountable European models .
I don`t see a perfect answer and detest STV and the rest of the funny ideas .
I dread being ordered around by the Scot Nats , the BNP and the rest of the minnows amd I loathe the idea of not knowing what you are voting for or against

Newmania said...

Meanwhile the Libs are slipping back a little. It is increasingly clear that this can only end in Lib Lab pact probably without Brown and with a deal on PR.

I am not at all sure PR would win a referendum but on the other hand the curent systemn would be unsustainable

All in all its a bit of a pickle