Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Electoral Reform in the UK

After a decade of broken promises, the UK's Labour government is finally moving on electoral reform, announcing that they will pass a law before the election requiring a vote on the electoral system within two years. Of course, New Labour being New Labour it is being done for all the wrong reasons:

Ministers, who agreed the move at a meeting of the cabinet's democratic renewal committee (DRC) yesterday, believe that the prospect of a referendum will have three key benefits. It will:
  • Allow Labour to depict itself at the general election as the party of reform in response to the parliamentary expenses scandal.
  • Make David Cameron look like a defender of the status quo. The Tories, who are opposed to abolishing the first-past-the-post system, would have to introduce fresh legislation to block the referendum if they win the election.
  • Increase the chances that the Liberal Democrats will support Labour – or at least not support the Tories – if no party wins an overall majority at the election, resulting in a hung parliament. The Lib Dems have traditionally regarded the introduction of PR as their key demand in any coalition negotiations. While AV does not technically count as PR, many Lib Dems regard AV as a step in the right direction.
Not what's missing from this list: anything to do with the actual fairness of the electoral system. just another example of how under New labour, policy is just a rhetorical prop for spin.

But then, their "reform" - the "alternative vote", AKA preferential voting - is the electoral reform you have when you don't really want electoral reform and doesn't actually fix the core problem of disproportional results (just look at any Australian election for evidence of this). But it is some improvement, in that it makes FPP slightly less broken while preserving its worst feature of large manufactured majorities, and if we're lucky, it will force a wider debate on a real alternative, rather than the pallid tripe New Labour is offering up.