Thursday 3 March 2011
We are having a referendum here in May, only the second in our history (the earlier one was on membership of the European Community) and the first in my life. It’s on our voting system: are we to continue, the question will go, with our present first past the post method of sending people to Parliament, or should we opt for a ‘fairer’ system? The ‘fairer’ system on offer goes under the rubric of AV, the Alternative Vote, where candidates are listed in order of preference.
The last thing we need at this point in time is a vote on voting. But it has to be; it’s part of the package agreed to by David Cameron, the prime minister, to draw Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats into the present coalition government. It’s something the Liberal Democrats, and formerly the Liberals, have been wittering on about for decades, bemoaning the fact that the votes they gain are disproportionate to the seats they win.
Corporal Clegg says that our present system leaves “too many voices unheard.” I’ll come to this in a moment but first a word on our present electoral horse race. It’s simple: the country is divided into so many constituencies, each sending a single representative to Parliament. In elections the candidate with the most votes wins, even though the combined vote of the other candidates may be greater. Though we have rather lost sight of the point, people are voting for an individual, not a party; so even if their particular political preference loses out they are still represented in Parliament by the victor. They still have ‘a voice’, contrary to Clegg’s assertion.
So what’s the alternative? The alternative is not fairness; the alternative is Clegg and all those like him, who forever after will decide the outcome of elections, not the people. Every election will be followed by the kind of horse-trading we saw last spring; it may take days before that nation knows what shape the future government will have. If the people say yes to this change we face a future of political uncertainty and grubby deals; we face the politics of Australia.
We can say goodbye to any prospect of strong government in future. Manifestos advanced in elections will be no more than opening gambits; promises to be discarded as the occasion demands. But first past the post is ‘unfair’, it leaves too many voices unheard, bleats the little Corporal. Would that be the people, I wonder, who were assured that there would be no increase in university tuition fees? Did they not shout loud enough?
I have absolutely no interest in the hypocrisy of people like Clegg. What angers me is the duplicity involved, the duplicity of the Liberal Democrats, a sort of political glee club for the woolly-minded. Our constitution, the system that has served us so well in the past, is in danger of being undermined because Nick and his gang are irritated that they simply do not have enough bodies in Parliament. It’s all about numbers, its all about vanity; it’s all about the worst kind of political pettiness. It has nothing at all to do with what is right and what is fair.