I regularly write about the need for a reform of our democratic processes and structures. With one or two notable exceptions, most people I speak to about these things, and most people who respond to my blogs and postings agree with the principle point that our democracy is no longer fit for the purpose to which it is now put. This is less about a rejection of our history (as tainted as that is) and more about establishing a strategy for the future. This week in the House of Commons the issue was raised by my MP, Caroline Lucas as part of what is quaintly called a 10 minute rule motion. Before the vote was taken following the speech by Caroline, one other person spoke, John Penrose who is the Conservative MP for Weston Super-Mare, The Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office. His title alone shows how disconnected our Parliament is from the majority of people in our society. Caroline wants two things to change, the first is the voting age lowered to 16, the other is the voting system being change to a proportional system. As John Penrose pointed out these two issues have both been discussed and voted on by our out of touch Parliament in the last 6 years. There was even a referendum on the AV system of proportional representation in 2011. My view then and now is that if we are to look at new ways of voting, asking the existing Turkey’s to agree on an alternative way of choosing Christmas does not make any sense. That is as true for Caroline as it is for John Penrose. In 2011 I was offered the choice between an electoral process I know doesn’t work or another one that I do not believe would work much better. I voted as some argued that change is a matter of momentum and so any improvement is worth having. However i could not argue strongly that AV was the system we need.
I am deeply grateful to Caroline for raising these issues, I am sad that John Penrose was so dismissive of them and that he seemed to suggest that because our nation rejected AV, that we were rejecting a different way of voting. I am even more sad that only 155 MPs could be bothered to vote in the debate. That means that a mere 23% of MPs turned out for this vote. Admittedly not as low a turnout as the PCC elections, but these MPs are paid to be at Westminster and to vote on our behalf. Of the 155 MPs who could be bothered to vote, 47.7% voted to support Caroline’s motion and 52.2% voted to support the damaged status quo. The low numbers may reflect the fact that this would not have changed any rules, but it would have sent a bit of a message to the Government. Had 8 more MPs voted to support change the vote would have been won. Still that is democracy for us.
Both you and I have experience of the ‘first past the post’ electoral system … but, I am not convinced proportional representation is the better way ahead.
Firstly, with politicians working off their status on a list of “electable” MPs rather than any link with an area or population group they will become even more disconnected and less representative than they currently are.
Secondly, as Daniel Hannan once pointed out, as he is No. 1 on the Tories list of potential MEPs in the South East and he knows there will always be sufficient Tory votes to get at least one MEP elected in the South East … he can actually go on holiday during the election/campaign period ( I don’t think he does ) because he knows he is guaranteed to get in.
That all makes for an even less democratic way to get our requisite number of MPs or MEPs, etc. …
However, I really do not know what will fix our democracy and make it fair, representative and work for the ordinary person …
I agree with you that the list system is not a good one, for the reasons you give (the same argument applies to the first on UKIPs list). There are other proportional systems which can tie people to a locality and indeed that is what Caroline Lucas was arguing for in Parliament. I guess no system will be perfect, but what we have doesn’t work at all well.