We the People
Electoral reform is something we have heard quite a bit about in the last few months. It doesn't happen that often, and the electoral system in the UK is pretty resistant to alteration, but when it does it changes the very nature of politics in a society. At the start of the 20th century half of the population were denied the vote, it wasn't until 1918 that women received the privilege that so many today take for granted, and it wasn't until 1928 that women had that right on the same terms as men. But once they had the vote there was no going back, and quite rightly.
Since the recent Westminster expenses scandal those 2 words again inspire us. The blatant disregard shown by a number of our so called 'honourable members' towards the tax paying public has made us feel powerless. In a state where we are supposed to be free, the trust we place in those that govern on our behalf is being lost. We have always distrusted politicians, but what once seemed a rational scepticism of those who aspired political power, has become for many people an entrenched cynicism. Could electoral reform help us regain trust in our politics?
As we face the coming UK general election I wonder if the refreshing of the political elite alone will be enough to restore faith in the Britains system of governance. I doubt it will. We have a system which favours 2 parties that have governed for decades, and it shows little signs of becoming more flexible in the near future. It is at times such as these that it is important that those in power are reminded who put them there.
Britain is a democracy, and we are lucky to live under such a system. But it could be a lot better. In any democracy there should be a number of checks and balances that stop power being accumulated by any group or individual, and makes sure those that wield the power are accountable to the people of that society.
I think it is time that we refreshed not just those that govern us, but the system that governs us as well. Britain's democratic system has not kept pace with the times. It is notoriously difficult to affect major constitutional change in a country, despite politicians constant proclamations of “We need change” etc. But it can be done and it starts with us. In the modern age of the internet people are more connected than ever before, and the internet is showing a remarkable ability to connect people with shared political goals. Many campaigns exist which promote different ideas for electoral and constitutional reform and which try to get us to support their aims.
One such campaign is the POWER2010 campaign which gives people the opportunity to share their ideas on what sorts of political change is most needed in the UK. It is an interesting campaign, and shows that there is an abundance of ideas for reform. Many of them are ideas for electoral reform, such as proportional voting, fixed term parliaments and a fully elected House of Lords. Those ideas that prove most popular will go on to form the POWER2010 pledge on which their national campaign will focus at the coming election. If nothing else it is an interesting site for looking at some ideas for change that may lead the country to a better politics in the future. Currently the 5th most popular reform on the list is “English Votes for English Laws”, a proposal that could have major implications for us in Wales, some positive, some negative, and is a consequence of the unbalanced devolution settlement we have. I would recommend checking out the site and having your say on what reforms you would most like to see.
One argument that always stands against constitutional and electoral reform is that it is not the right time. The problem is it never is, there will always be problems with the health service, policing, education system etc., and quite rightly they should be the focus of our attention. But this misses the point on why we need reform, because it is fundamental to helping us deal with those problems. We don't want constitutional change for the sake of it, we want it because it is central to sorting out the problems in our health service, policing, education system etc. Most of the reforms suggested are geared at making the system more democratic, some of them probably will, some of them might make it worse. So it is important as many people consider them as possible.
I suspect the question of electoral reform may crop up quite a bit in the forthcoming UK general election campaigns, as the prospect of a very close result and a hung parliament looks like a possibility. The Lib Dems may hold the balance of power, and one of the parties so often stung by the first past the post system may see their opportunity. Even Labour seem to have remembered their old belief that everyone's votes should be equal, and have thus started talking AV Plus (although it is questionable how proportional this system is, and it has other problems as well). The single Transferable Vote is probably the most democratic and is the choice of the Electoral Reform Society, as they say “STV represents the best system available for guaranteeing choice and competition in our elections and producing government that reflects the will of the people” , but STV is not without problems. There is no easy answer, but we are going to have to decide sooner or later.
Democracy is our best if messy and imperfect hope, so if you believe in a government of the people, by the people, for the people, then it is your duty to get involved.
As a slight offshoot of what I have previously talked about I should also mention the crisis in Haiti. We are lucky in this country that we can debate issues surrounding the nature of power and good governance, and you can read this (I'd imagine for most of you) in a warm house where food is readily available. So spare a thought for those in Haiti at the moment who in the earthquake have lost their family, friends and their homes. They are a poor country that does not have the resources to cope with such a disaster and are relying on the outside world for support. Please give anything you can to the disaster appeal fund that you can find at this site: