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Cheers - AE

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Twenty Eight Minutes Later.

Oh fuck. Shotguns and chainsaws ready, everybody. According to Will Heaven in The Telegraph the zombie apocalypse is finally here. That's the bad news. The good news is that it's starting in Westminster so the infected dead can stumble around moaning 'BRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIINNNNSSS' as much as they like - they won't find enough in Parliament to make much more than a round of sandwiches.

In seriousness the zombie march has been organised by Vote for a Change and is a fun way of protesting against unaccountable MPs and an electoral system that's too easily twisted by the main parties to their advantage. Parliament of the living dead, they call it.
Willie Sullivan, a spokesman for the campaign, reckons that in the Houses of Parliament, “Instead of men and women with independent minds and souls, we see mindless ghouls shambling through the voting lobbies. We see elections in hundreds of safe seats throughout the land, where even a corpse could win a job for life”. He says the protesters want “a parliament where voters’ voices are heard, all votes count and MPs are truly accountable – a parliament that’s quite simply better equipped to do its job in representing us, the voters”. In other words, his campaign wants to abandon the first past the post electoral system.
Where Will Heaven is less than impressed is with Vote for a Change's choice of proportional representation as a replacement, although briefly looking at their site it doesn't seem to me like they're die hard PR advocates. Instead they seem to suggest a referendum on whether the system should change by a certain date (they suggest 2014) with the replacement system to be debated and determined after the referendum if they get the Yes vote they hope for. Makes sense, and increases the chance of a Yes vote I'd have thought. If the question is just whether to replace First Past The Post with PR then those who oppose both but are more anti PR will vote No even though they'd vote Yes on a simpler question of whether there should be a change at all. Aussie friends here who are broadly republican have told me that they voted No in Australia's referendum on the issue of becoming a republic and ditching Mrs Queen as head of state because they were even more opposed to the alternatives on offer - but they'd have said Yes if it had been a simple 'Do you want to be a republic in X years?' type question (some feel that the referendum was designed that way on purpose).

Vote for a Change are avoiding that trap and want to ask simply this: should the electoral system in the UK change? With all the troughing and people starting to wake up to the problem of safe seats - the 21st Century's rotten boroughs - they can probably expect some support. Enough to persuade the Browns and Camerons and those lined up behind them? Ah, well, no, probably not. Turkeys won't vote for Christmas, at least not until the alternative looks worse for them.

UPDATE: I noticed the FAQ on the Vote for a Change site recognised that corruption, safe seats and party cronyism still occur in countries with PR and other voting systems. Tell me about it - I landed in territory pretty much owned by the Australian Labor Party, and that's despite the system of Preferential Voting used to elect the House of Representatives ( ≈ House of Commons) and a cross between that and PR to elect the Senate ( ≈ House of Lords). The thing is I'm not sure that changing the voting system itself will alter that much, but what might is this. As pointed out by Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell in The Plan, open primaries more or less destroy the notion of safe seats since to keep it the incumbent must keep on the side of his/her constituents at least as much as the party - more so if recalls are brought in too. Even with the FPTP voting system unchanged sucking up to the Whips and party hierarchy will do you no good if an unhappy electorate can deselect you despite party support, or even force you to face re-election early. If Vote for a Change want to do something about the mindless lobby fodder in Parliament they could do worse than get behind that idea.


JuliaM said...

"I noticed the FAQ on the Vote for a Change site recognised that corruption, safe seats and party cronyism still occur in countries with PR and other voting systems."

I doubt very much whether it's even possible to build a system that is totally impregnable, human ingenuity being what it is...

The best we can hope for is a system with robust enough puishment for those that get caught.

Angry Exile said...

As I said in the post, I rather like the Hannan/Carswell suggestion of open primaries to reduce the party players getting in and recalls to enable constituents to force by-elections if the incumbent MP becomes or turns out to be corrupt or useless later on. I think that's probably more important than changing First Past The Post, though something like transferable votes or optional preference voting would improve things further. And since the House of Lords is largely full of political placemen and appointees I'd say it's time to think about ditching it altogether and changing it to something like a Senate, possibly with straight PR as the electoral system.

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