Brown’s Electoral Reform Package Is Too Little, Too Late
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 30th September, 2009
In his speech to the Labour Party Conference in Brighton yesterday, Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a half-hearted attempt to seize the high ground on reforming Parliament by promising that if Labour is returned to power next year, it will organise a referendum to ask the public whether they want to stick with the present discredited first-past-the-post voting system for general elections, or switch to an Alternative Vote system (AV), such as that used in Australia. But it would be wrong for electoral reformers to start popping the champagne corks. First, it is highly unlikely on present polling evidence that Labour will win the next election (at least with an outright majority), which makes the pledge worthless; if there is going to be a referendum held, it ought to be on the same day as the general election. Second, AV is not a huge advance on first-past-the-post. Yes, it gives voters a degree of preferential expression in constituencies in which no candidate gets over 50% of the vote. But it is still a majoritarian system, not a proportional one. And fair voting must be predominantly proportional.
So, what should we all do now? The first thing is to express disappointment at Mr Brown’s failure to tackle the problem of Britain’s political bankruptcy head-on. Then one can usefully sign up to the campaign being run by the NGO Unlock Democracy, which is calling for a citizens’ convention, which would give people the opportunity to help choose the electoral system they would like, rather than effectively imposing it from above (as New Labour loves to do). In the meantime, I shall be arguing for STV — the singe transferable vote, which gives electors a far greater chance of getting the elected representatives they want, as well as promoting greater diversity. If it’s good enough for the Irish — including the residents of Northern Ireland — why isn’t it good enough for mainland Britain’s general elections?