A democratically illiterate Government

images (181)I have written previously about the need for a different form of electoral system, made acute in the context of Mays General Election where Sussex elected 14 Conservative MPs, one Green and one Labour MP, yet a proportional result would have seen 8 Conservative, 1 Green, 3 Labour, 2 Lib Dem and 2 UKIP MPs elected. There is no such thing as a perfect electoral system and I believe we need to provide easier access to all of our Parliaments and Councils for Independent candidates, so I would not choose a purely proportional system. My own preference would be for a hybrid system similar to that which Andy Winter and Jean Calder argue for in a recent posting of the Brighton Politics Blogger. Because of my wish for a proper debate and for a full range of electoral systems to be considered, I was pleased to join 500,000 people who signed the petition which the electoral reform society raised to call for electoral reform. The ERS presented the petition to Downing Street the week after the election and it was indicative of the closed attitude that exists in our Government which pretends to be democratically accountable to you and I that the response which emerged this week is a negative one. Perhaps if together we were all donors to the Tory Party we would have received a more positive response? However putting aside the disappointment that this response was dismissive of our concerns, what is deeply disturbing is that the response displayed a politically illiterate understanding of democratic processes. The response from the Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office was “Thank you for your letter and accompanying petition…I appreciate your point, but the difficulty would be that we had a referendum on [changing the electoral system to Proportional Representation] in 2011… it would be pretty difficult to argue that we should go ahead anyway!” It is inconceivable for this letter to have been written without the knowledge and approval of Matthew Hancock who is the MP for West Suffolk and Cabinet Minister. Mr Hancock and probably the Civil Servant who wrote the letter are graduates from Oxbridge. In Mr Hancocks case his degree was in Philosophy, Politics and Economics so there really is no excuse for this gaffe.

As I have written previously, the Alternative Vote system which the coalition offered us as an alternative to the First Past the Post system in 2011 was a deeply unattractive alternative, although I voted in favour, believing that change depends on taking the first step. To dismiss calls for electoral reform, simply on the basis of a no vote in 2011 is a very flawed and weak argument. However perhaps most importantly, despite the words in the letter above and its approval by Minister Hancock the Alternative Vote is not actually a proportional electoral system, and some people would argue it presents a less proportional response than First Past the Post does. If there is this level of illiteracy in the Cabinet Office, what hope is there for the rest of this Government?

About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
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