Saturday, 20 July 2024

‘Let’s all live in Cambridge!’

Post-AV – What now for Electoral reform?

The defeat of the AV Referendum vote on electing MPs was a disappointment to those electoral reformers, like us, who believed it could be ‘stepping stone’ to greater reform’. Worse still we believe that opponents of reform will use the result to claim that the electorate supports the existing system of First Past The Post (FPTP) other than merely rejecting AV as an alternative.


Of course the main thrust of NO campaigners was to rubbish AV rather than support FPTP. As a result numerous supporters of introducing Proportional Representation voted NO. For the latter group, the arguments that a YES victory may to lead to PR or that a NO victory may make ANY reform less likely were either unconvincing or, more likely, not heard at all.

As we pointed out in an earlier article ( the YES campaigners ran in our view a very poor campaign and, rather than focus on the failings of FPTP, attempted to extol the virtues of AV which simply fell on deaf ears.

Let’s all live in Cambridge!?

Of course not everywhere were the NO’s successful. In ten areas the YES vote was victorious. These included the University Towns of Oxford and Cambridge where the so-called complexity of the AV system were undoubtedly conquered! We are quite sure many also supported PR but took the view that some reform was better than none (Interestingly, inner-London districts such as Southwark and Lambeth also voted YES due to some vigorous local campaigning driven by the area’s Liberal Democrats contrasting heavily with most other areas and an indication what could have been achieved nationwide).

In reality though, unless we all move to Cambridge, it seems we are back to square one and electoral reform lost for a generation. Or are we?

House of Lords Reform

Included within the Coalition’s package of legislation is the reform of the House of Lords. Ironically, initial moves to reform the Lords began in the last Liberal Government and was even enshrined in the Parliament Act in 1911, to quote “…whereas it is intended to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis, but such substitution cannot be immediately brought into operation”.

After 100 years ago it fell upon Deputy PM Nick Clegg to recently unveil the Coalition’s plans for Lord’s Reform. Two of its main points are:

* 80% elected – 20% appointed but with a provision for a fully elected chamber
* Members are to be elected for single 15-year terms under the single transferable vote system of proportional representation.

Proportional Representation: the referendum we never had!

Of course using PR as the system to elect MPs was the vote we never had! Nevertheless if the Lords are reformed (although we have had many false dawns) there is every chance it will be under PR.

It would not be very ‘user-friendly’ to small parties since there would be, under present proposals, only 80 ‘Lords’ elected every 5 years. Yet as we predicted with AV, if the Bill is succesfully implemented, although there is already Conservative back-bench disquiet, it will put Parliamentary PR back on the table albeit at a low level. From thereon in the initiative will be returned to electoral reformers and we must hope, that if the Liberal Democrats once again get an opportunity to implement change they do not, as so recently, ‘fumble the ball’!*

* In an earlier article we expressed our disappointment that the Liberal Democrats had not held out for the introduction of (or a referendum on) PR see The recent revelation by ex-Home Secretary Alan Johnson that Labour had indeed offered PR as an inducement to the LD’s post the last General Election makes our point even more precient.

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