Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Cameron 'reforms'

So, Dave (or is it DC now, I've lost track) wants to make Parliament more representative.:
"Until we're represented by men and women in the country, regardless of race or creed, we won't be half the party we could be," he said in a speech on candidate selection in Leeds.

He said his "positive action" plan was not about "crazed political correctness", but would guarantee more women and ethnic minorities in winnable seats.
Of course he does. In order to do it, he's going to take control from the centre and govern his pary by diktat. Hmm, hasn't that been tried before?

There's a simple way to get more women in Parliament Dave. It'll get more minorities in there as well. And, added bonus here, it will give the voters real control over who they vote for and who represents them. What's this Mat, I hear you say, what's this simple system?

Change the electoral system. (Oh, c'mon, who didn't see that one coming?).

So, why does this help. Well, until Labour changed the system in 1947, not all constituencies were single member as they are now. Barbara Castle who, whatever you think of her politics, was certainly a very capable and succesful politician, said that she was convinced the main reason she was selected as a candidate in Blackburn was because they already had a decent male candidate, and thus the selectors didn't object as strongly to having a female as a candidate as well. There is, unfortunately, an ingrained picture of what an MP should look like. White, middle class male in a suit, respectable family man. y'know, like that nice Mr Blair, or even that even nicer Mr Cameron.

Across the board single member constituencies, a reasonably new innovation in British politics given its long history, have meant that selectors, consciously or unconsciously, choose candidates close to their ideal. Voters are denied choices within the party they prefer, and a large number of politicians are thus identikit men in suits. Not all, of course, but the overwhelming majority. I object to all female shortlists. I object to centralised planning. I object to party diktat and enforced "reform".

However, I do believe that Parliament is unrepresentative, and the system denies voters real choice. Ireland has a much better electoral system, it's shared by Australia, gives the voters real power and allows better representation of all groups and opinions. I dislike the centralising that Simple Majority creates, I dislike the standardisation that Simple Majority creates. I strongly dislike 'safe' seats, overwhelming majorities, differential turnout, party 'machines' deciding who represents us.

Go on Dave, you know you want to admit it. Simple Majority is failing your party, it's failing Parliament, it's failing the country. Adopt Single Transferable Vote with multi-member constiuencies. It'll solve all your problems, without the need to issue diktats, and give the voters real choice. You do want that, really, don't you? Give the voters a genuine choice?

Hmm... time will tell.


Martin Keegan said...

The conflation of the Irish and Australian electoral systems is a gross distortion, particularly given the context of your remarks.

Ireland uses multi-member constituencies for its lower house; Australia generally does not: federally, and in each state except Tasmania, the lower house is elected by AV/STV in single-member constituencies. When considering the electoral system of a lower house, I think it's always important to examine the strength of whipping (invented by an Irishman), the upper house (Australian upper houses are elected on PR outside dear Tassie, and have the powers of the pre-1911 House of Lords; Ireland's Senate is, er, constituted in a corporatist fashion).

Where a constituency is multi-member, the individual sitting member has less constraint on his/her actions, and so is less likely to vote in a manner "representative" of constituents. That members should be accountable is more important for me than that they should exist in group proportionality.

ken said...

I absolutely agree with sentiments of this post.

MatGB said...

@Ken; you agree with me or Martin? The quest to seek common cause with the opponents of NuLab continues...

@Martin; Perhaps I should be a little more specific in the post, but it's not innacurate, I refer to the Australian Senate when I say it uses STV, which, of course, it does. For some reason, it's called 'PR', which isn't how I'd describe it (it is more proportional but that isn't its strength to my mind).

According to thi (aph.au.gov) info sheet the Senate has "virtually the same power to legislate as the House of Representatives ... Apart from the Senate of the United States of America, the Australian Senate is now generally considered to be the most powerful legislative upper chamber in the world."

So I don't think my parallel is unfair or innacurate, regardles, the point stands. It's elected using STV, and it's STV I argue for. I'm not in favour of it for some narrow partizan bias, I want it because it will make Parliament more representative and more accountable.

OK, more representative: "Independents ... have a better chance of election to the Senate" (here). It's not about getting more parties involved or in power, as Galloway and the SNP have proven, concentrated local support can get anyone in with our present system, but STv makes it much easier.

More accountable:
Currently, if my parents dislike their MP, in order to get him out of office, they'd need to join the Conservative party, gatehr support, and get a new candidate selection. Given the way the Tory party works, unlikely. It's a very safe seat, even in '97 he held on, and although that was close his majority is improving all the time. Even if you think he's absolutely incompetent, given the proportion that simply vote on party lines (or, in our area, to keep those nasty Labour/LibDem/socialists, (you know, the ones that don't believe in burying the dead) - yes, I've heard that said - he's pretty secure.

Under STV, a lazy, incompetent or simply disliked MP can be voted out by those who dislike him, and they can still support candidates from the same party. MPs have to prove their worth.

I read your bit on electoral systems by the way, I mostly agree with it, I dislike list systems and AMS top ups as well, but I dislike First Past the Post utterly. Yes, I've read Duverger, yes I know that it's all about gegraphic location, but the way it can distort or give weird results really annoys, and it's quite simply a denial of choice to the voters, while giving the power to select MPs to the party heirarchy.

Hmm.. So much for being a brief point.

MatGB said...

And this is why I prefer not to make long comments, I so need to learn to preview. first link should be this (aph.au.gov) info sheet, and there should be a strong out! after burying the dead.

Neil Harding said...

MatGB, Martin loves FPTP. I have had my run ins with this guy over his inaccurate defense of this rubbish electoral system.

I think virtually ANYTHING is an improvement on FPTP.

STV is a great system that works well in Ireland (80% turnout, strongest economic growth in EU, real choice between candidates). It's not my absolute favourite option but one I would give my wholeheared support in preference to FPTP or even AV, which for purely partizan bias, would give Labour the biggest bias.

The only problem I have with STV as apart from a purely proportional/AMS system is that gerrymandering (though much more difficult) is still possible.

MatGB said...

Neil, I'm fully aware of Martin's positions on electoral systems, I've read his analysis and discussed it with him here, elsewhere and by private correspondence.

He prefers single member constituencies for a strong link, followed by FPTP. I utterly oppose lists, top up member, etc as they remove voter choice and give them to party machines.

I want STV as it gives the strongest possible choice to the voter. AV and possibly AV+ (top ups, dislike) may be OK, but. FPTP is awful, but it's no less democratic than a pure list system like in, for example, Israel. Both institutionalise corruption, both should be rejected.