PR: Unlikely

Jackie Ashley, in today’s yesterday’s Guardian, talks about the reforms a third Blair government would bring in (amongst other things). If Blair gets a stonking majority, as Paul Davies mentions, Blair could introduce (or at least propose) PR as a revolutionary measure to reform the electoral system.

Sadly, as much as I wish this to be true, the only possible reply to this is: Bollocks. Utter, big, sweaty bollocks. Would Blair really want to uproot a system that will have delivered him three full terms, an unprecedented achievement for Labour? Through cleverly working at the marginals and all the stereotypes associated (Warwick woman, Mondeo man, school gate mum), New Labour have become experts at swinging the 1% (or so, that’s a rough estimate) of the population whose vote clinches a victory.

Ashley forgets that Blair initiated an investigation into better voting in 1997, with the Jenkins Commission, then promptly ignored its conclusions, presumably after realising that trying to convince the country as a whole would mean a shift from the centre to the left. As a result, first-past-the-post rules, and the big two parties now devote their efforts entirely on the marginals. The result… well, I’ll leave Phil to say it:

We’re living in a strange, muted, deadened political landscape, where many of the most important questions go unanswered or unasked. I don’t for a moment believe that this is our historical condition, that we’re beached in some Fukuyamaesque arrivals lounge at the end of History; I believe it’s the calm before the storm breaks.

I agree totally, unfortunately I can’t see how a storm can break. Maybe if some future government manages to swing a majority in the House while gaining an absolutely tiny minority of the popular vote, we could have some sort of popular revolution, but this is unlikely given the apathy in the country (particularly as apathy would be a leading cause of such an unpopular government gaining power in the first place). Instead, maybe a regional legislature that is proportionally elected could defy the unproportional House of Commons and prove its representativeness, but the only such body with any great power at the moment is the Scottish Parliament, and I don’t see it having too much effect south of the border, no matter what.

So, basically, we’re fucked. Some of us will continually lobby to Make Votes Count, others will try to vote tactically with some, but not much, success (which is, as I’ve said, rubbish – hacking with an already broken system, as any geek will tell you, is never a good thing to do long-term). The only possibility for PR to be instigated in the current climate, is if Labour form a hung government and need to bribe the Lib Dems for their co-operation, but this is not something that can be delicately instigated by the tactical voting campaigns; if it does happen it will mostly be by chance. In the meantime, not only are people like me cynical about the outcome of this election, but also of any election in the foreseeable future; there must be some tonic or revival for frustrated lefties like us. Anyone?

8 thoughts on “PR: Unlikely

  1. I think you’re being a bit pessimistic. Fair enough, I was being a bit optimistic, but we’ll see if we can meet in the middle…

    Blair has at least looked again at PR (much to the chagrin of Messrs Straw and Prescott – see Times 15/04 – should be a link via my blog for that day) So it is at least on his mind for the first time since he told Jenkins to sod off.

    And given that this will be his last term, what does he care if he destroys the system that returned him 3 big wins? If he leaves the scene having been the chap that made our democracy fairer, not sure he’ll be too bothered about what happens afterwards – it’s not like he’s got a massively inherent ideological attachment to the Labour party.

    He’s also got to be a little concerned about Brown subsequently stealing the limelight and then going down in history as the real driving force behind the NL revolution. A big grand gesture such as putting PR in place would not then return Brown with a record majority to eclipse Blair in 2009…

    It may be slightly wishful thinking, but there is some logic in it

  2. A few years ago I’d have said that the electoral system was doing its job, but recently I’ve come to the conclusion that /something/ needs to be done. The problem is that any electoral system will inherit the main flaws of the current one – primarily that the people making the decision (ie, the electorate) are, by are large, incapable of actually doing a good job.

    Some of this may be down to apathy, which would be reduced if there was some point to the whole charade, but an awful lot is down to media manipulation, and (dare I say it?) stupidity. The vast majority of people don’t understand what’s going on, and probably wouldn’t even if they had all the facts delivered truthfully – they’d probably still rather support a campaign to keep Jordan’s breasts the same size, or vote on Big Brother etc…

    People truely get the governments they deserve, which says a lot about the people of Britain.

    As a further point – if the best way to get electoral reform is to force labour to form a coalition with the lib-dems then surely everyone in favour of electoral reform (if voting tactically) should be voting Tory..?

  3. try telling your average Lib Dem to vote Tory and they will probably throw up, even if it is the only way their party would wield any sort of power.

    It is a sad state of affairs that party allegiances dictated by ancestry and irrational hatred take precedence over everything else when it comes to voting intentions.

  4. Paul (Davies) – maybe you’re right, and I am taking a pessimistic line. Your theory that Blair may want to steal as much as Gordon’s thunder as possible is plausible; sadly I think I’ve had too much of too many promises of bold action for good and then very little actual real change delivered.

    On your second comment, I remember a recent New Statesman article which said that although that Lib Dems used to have an aversion to Tories, a 2005 survey found that a Lib Dem was now just as likely to tactically vote Tory to keep a Labour candidate out, as to vote Labour to keep the Tories out. I think; I can’t find any website that repeats the claim, but I’ll have a dig around…

  5. re the LD voting Tory thing – whenever it has been mentioned recently (i recall a politicalbetting discussion in particular) the idea is still anathema to every LD that cared to respond.

    There are plenty of people that vote so they can turn round in 50 years and say “I’ve voted for XYZ all my life” rather than people that vote to actually achieve a change

  6. People still think that party allegiance (“I’ve voted xyz for 50 years…”) says something about their value system – e.g. voting labour means you are on the side of the workforce and generally socialist. Seems to me that these principles don’t actually reflect what a government actually does any more. Principles are more wielded as a marketing device to keep the loyalists happy, and ‘new’ Labour are the masters of marketing at the moment.

  7. As a Labour supporter of Electoral Reform, I recollect the key opposition to the Jenkins recommendations came from elements of the traditionalist left within the party. For example, UNISON, the union to which I belong, ignored a member consultation which went in favour of Jenkins, and the conference policy of one of the three pre-merger unions, NUPE, which supported PR. Instead, the Trot dominated executive backled FPTP . Likewise a number of other unions , and many veteran lefties such as the ‘Campaign for Labour Party Democracy’ . The key dividing line on this issue in the Labour Party is not Blairite/Non-Blairite. It is between those in possesion of an IQ and working intellect such as Robin Cook, Ann Campbell or Tony Wright, and those with a significant deficiency in the marbles department.

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