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Sunday, May 09, 2010

It's the Tories who fear voting reform - and the LibDems who should fear it

Watching William Hague and Danny Alexander speak to the Press outside the Cabinet Office, it was obvious to me how shtum they were keeping about electoral reform.

There's a good reason, I think: a truly representative voting system would probably mean there would never again be a Conservative government.

Let's say that we had some form of nationwide Alternative Vote. The votes for the very small parties would likely pass on about equally between the Tories and Labour - maybe a little more Right than Left. The key would be how the LD votes would split, and I'd guess it would be not less than 80:20 in favour of a left of centre Labour party. Even now, that would mean an outright majority for Labour.

Just as American politics is basically a choice between two sides that from a British perspective seem right-wing, British politics under "fair voting" would be a choice between two left of centre parties, for to have any hope of power the Tories would have to share even more in "progressive" political values than they have done in many years. Indeed David Cameron's electoral sales pitch already reflects this, to some extent.

But if we go down this road, then we might be better off with a truly Presidential system, because the two candidates could be assessed not only on general policy direction but on character. We're mutating into a leader-driven system as it is, thanks in major part to the mass media, especially TV. At least a national direct election for the country's leadership would winnow out callow, jumped-up backroom boffins like Milliband - or so I'd hope.

It's much more difficult to judge what would happen if we retained the territorial constituency system but adopted the Alternative Vote. I don't have the time, the psephological database or the specialised computer programs and theoretical assumptions to study 650 constituencies and play out the permutations. But this is what Gordon Brown is rumoured to be offering the LibDems, and forming a coalition to get AV may be better than going for PR with the Tories and eventually ending up with a FrankenLeft party that swallows the LibDems whole.

If Clegg and co. come to a deal with the Conservatives without electoral reform, I think it'll be the end for Clegg; if they get PR, it could be the end of the third force in British politics. Yet Labour haven't enough to go on, even with the LibDems' support.

Perhaps the upshot will be another General Election, even sooner than the 12 - 18 months people are talking about. And that could fracture both Labour and the Conservatives, as Peter Hitchens has long suggested and wished.

We do live in interesting times.

1 comment:

James Higham said...

the psephological database

I've always dreamed of owning one of these. As for the General Erection, there'll surely be another by the end of the year.