Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Unlock Democracy’

Brown’s Electoral Reform Package Is Too Little, Too Late

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 30th September, 2009

Gordon Brown 2In 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?

Link: www.unlockdemocracy.co.uk

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Moving towards an Elected House of Lords

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th August, 2009

Jack StrawThe Guardian hosted a seminar yesterday, co-sponsored by Unlock Democracy, on Moving towards an Elected House of Lords, at which the star performer was the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, interviewed by Guardian journalist Jonathan Friedland. Although there was inevitably quite a bit of discussion about the Government’s 2008 white paper on the issue, the Secretary of State was remarkably candid in his comments and responses to questions. There was an audible gasp from the room when he confessed that he went into the ‘no’ lobby on the last vote over a largely or wholly elected Upper House having not really thought about the issue; instead, he just followed the suggestion of a colleague who was voting at the time. He says he has now had time to think about the matter and has changed his mind. Well, that’s a relief, then.

Polly Toynbee, who was one of three Grand Inquisitors who got the chance to make statements, rather than just put a short question, really tore into him, basically saying that the Labour government had been a huge disappointment on electoral reform (and much else). Jack Straw spluttered that actually they had done rather a lot (from Scottish devolution onwards and indeed the eviction of most herditary peers from the Lords), but Polly got a loud round of applause. She knows how to play to the gallery.

I asked the Minister the following question: ‘Given the scepticism among proponents of electoral reform about the degree of commitment of the current government to the matter and its awareness of the urgency, and given the fact that you have said you would favour an open or semi-open* regional list for elections by some form of proportional representation for the Lords, would it not be a quick an easy way for the government to demonstrate its good faith by bringing in legisation to change the elections for the European Parliament to an open or semi-open list system?’

I rather expected an evasive or even negative response, but on the contrary he said that as there have now been three direct elections to the European Parliament under the regional list system, perhaps it is time to review that system. This is something that I (and I hope others) will pursue.

(NB An open list system means that voters can put their cross by the name of their preferred candidate, rather than by the name of their preferred party, as is the case under the current ‘closed’ list system. A semi-open list system means that they can put their cross either by the party or by an individual candidate.)

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Stamp out Voting Fraud!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 24th November, 2008

Basic CMYK  When the British Electoral Commissioner, Richard Mawrey QC, convicted a group of political activists of commiting electoral fraud in Birmingham shortly before the 2005 general election, he declared that the level of electoral fraud in the UK was enough to ‘disgrace a banana republic’. But as the all-party organisation for constitutional reform, Unlock Democracy, stated today as it launched its campaign ‘Stamp out Voting Fraud!’, the Labour government has ‘done almost nothing in the three years since’. Moreover, because of the tortoise-like nature of the British legislative process, it is now too late to bring in legislation even if Gordon Brown decides to go right up to the wire and call the election for May 2010. As Unlock Democracy has pointed out, the government did manage to bring in electoral security measures in Northern Ireland six years ago (partly to prevent the old partisan habit of ‘vote early, vote often’ involving impersonation). But it has not considered the issue important enoiugh to get itself organised to do the same in Great Britain. Of course, the whole British electoral system needs an overhaul to make it more truly representative (including the introduction of STV or some other acceptable form of PR, which already exists on the other side of the Irish Sea). But at least Gordon Brown could have got his finger out to help to prevent outright fraud in the meantime!

Link: www.unlockdemocracy.org.uk

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