With the succession to Gordon Brown already being planned, it was natural that someone would be the first with a radical suggestion in order to establish themselves as the thought leader in the New Labour pack.
Make no bones about it, that’s what Alan Johnson’s intervention on electoral reform is really about. He’s about as interested in electoral reform as the Department of Health is interested in clean hospitals. A quick check on TheyWorkForYou.com shows clearly that no permutation of words relating to electoral reform has escaped his lips in the system’s archive. If it was a burning issue for him, presumably there’ll be a record of him speaking about it to his constituency party?
No? You surprise me.
Slaughter the goat!
Whilst this hoary old goat of an idea has been resurrected, it makes sense to grab on to it and ritually slaughter it. Let’s consider the reasons for Mr. Johnson’s thought provocation:
- Alan Johnson wants to be seen as a thought leader in his party to prepare for the succession
- The Labour Party are about to be humiliated in European and Local Elections, with every likelihood of a bad defeat at the next General Election. PR now could make the blow less serious and provide opportunities for coalition government for Labour
- Um… That’s it.
Hmm. Vanilla STV
The various flavours will now be debated, with some pushing ATV+, a system of alternative preferential voting, topped up with a national or regional list from each party. This would likely result in a local party + parachute list in a general election, allowing the potentially winning party some leverage in establishing a government on the basis of the list. This provides for national political celebs. Some theorise that previous elections suggest this would make for a quite balanced House, but this is trending extrapolated from an election where the people were not asked ‘Who would you vote for in second place’? The system tends to punish governments harshly for underperformance.
Someone will come along with the idea of a multi-member constituency principle, on the basis of much larger, more diverse constituencies. On the basis of the 1997 general election this would tend to favour Labour, concentrating large numbers of seats in cities and reducing the number of rural constituencies. Have a look at Ireland to see how well it works.
Someone will suggest Simple Plurality plus a proportional list. This is the closest to the current system and is a dreadful hybrid. Expect civil war in Northern Ireland and extreme instability in Scotland.
Jokers postulating figures
The debate has now begun, anyway, and there will be many jokers postulating figures and extrapolating data to support their case for one system being inherently fairer than another. In the end, it should come down to a pretty simple choice: Do we like the idea of a manifesto principle, where governments get elected to be in majority in order to do what they promised before the election, or do we want a system where every election pledge is subject to the negotiable political whim of the partners in a government?
The Irish model shows that elections which result in coalition governments, particularly where there is still considerable animosity between parties, results in instability, failure to deliver on key political demands, and the unpleasantness of only the easy things being passed.
We can’t just worry about the lunatics getting in to parliament; we also need to think of the outcome for parties in government, for their supporters, and for the integrity of the manifesto commitment.