Monday, 18 January 2010

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:

Dan Lawrence


Brad said...

Note that STV is prone to some levels of tactical voting. Schulze STV is an alternate form of proportional representation that addresses these issues. I have a working example at Give it a try and see if it matches more or less with your intuition. I think one of its best benefits is that it's a Condorcet method when only one winner is required. :)

Pelagius said...

As a member of Plaid Cymru, I have deep concerns about this article and it's posting by Cymru X. It's content is totally immersed in the British paradigm and ignores any Welsh nationalist dimension. Let's deconstruct what the author writes. There is no "recent expenses scandal" here. That was only in the self-proclaimed 'Mother of Parliaments' (itself a blatant untruth). The "coming general election" is a UK one; the Welsh GE is not until 2011. The writer refers to "our" system of governance. Isn't that the one in Cardiff Bay? And finally, "Britain is a democracy". What a cracker! No, it isn't. It is an hereditary monarchy without a constitution. It only claims itself to be a "parliamentary democracy" where political power lies at Westminster, not the people. That's a republic, which I want here.

As a Welsh nationalist, I have absolutely no interest in reforming UK politics. In fact, I want it to totally collapse. Sorry, but I thought that Cymru X felt the same. This article, sadly, only supports my thesis that UK devolution is sucking Plaid into the British system. Cardiff Bay is becoming the tar-pit of independence. Please stop it.

Cymru X said...

Pelagius - Firstly can I just say I am only 1 of a number of bloggers who have posted on the Cymru X blog, and it is a shame I may not be to your taste. But I am a member of Cymru X and Plaid Cymru and enjoy the oppurtunity to make some sort of contribution.

There may not have been a comparable expenses scandal in the Welsh Assembly, but I seem to recall Nick Bourne paying for a I-pod with tax payers money, and he wasnt the only Tory (or AM) to make dodgy claims. So you cannot say there was no expenses scandal here. Although I do think that Wales led the way in dealing with this problem, and showed that Westminster has some lessons to learn.

Yes the coming general election is a UK one, and that is mainly why I thought it prescient to focus on a UK wide issue, rather than something devolved to Wales. It does no good to pretend that UK wide elections and issues are of no importance to Wales, as despite what you say we are still ruled to a large extent from Westminster. Being both a nationalist and a republican myself I would like to see this change in the future, but I think we need to be realistic about where we are now if we hope to acheive independence in the future.

There are many issues that all nations in the World should debate, and for me one of those is their electoral system (if they are a democracy). Plus it may be our generation of Welsh men and women who one day will be writting a new constitution for an independent Welsh Republic, and we will have to think long and hard about what sort of country we want the new Wales to be.

I personally, and I'd imagine my collegues in Cymru X, would not wish to see a "collapse", as you put it, in UK politics, as this will serve no-one well. We can create a new Wales and an independent one at that if we take seriously the task ahead. After all, where-ever we end up England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland will be our closest neighbours and we shall need co-operation for the benefit of all the nations of these islands.

But I may try and tackle my next post from a more Welsh perspective, I have been reading Andrew Marrs History of Modern Britain, and maybe its Britishness has rubbed off on me too much!

Pelagius said...

Thanks for the reply. I believe my central point still stands, though. Namely, that you accept the British discourse as the norm. The place in Cardiff Bay is officially named the "National Assembly". Why do Welsh nationalists talking to themselves - and trying to set our national agenda - need to call it "Welsh"? Your limited, British, view is confirmed by what you see as a special co-operation with the nations in the British Isles (a mere geographical expression). Plaid is much more closely allied with peoples and parties in Ă…land, Catalunya, Euskadi, Flanders, Galizia, etc. We share much more yet they are not on your radar.

I am not particularly blaming you for this mind-set. My fear is that, with the advent of British devolution, it has become the norm in Cardiff Bay - politicians, staff, media, academics and lobbyists. And instead of setting our own course, pleidwyr are comfortable in this Zobolean 'cosy blanket'.

Cymru X said...

Pelagius - I have edited my post slightly after your critique. I may write another post this weekend if I get a chance. Hopefully on a more specifically Welsh topic.

Brad - Sorry I havent tried your ballot tester yet, will do this weekend sometime!

Anonymous said...

So Cymru X is inviting the Prince's Trust director, and former head of the British Army in Wales, to speak at the Plaid Conference. Nothing wrong with that and indeed nothing wrong with the Prince's Trust, but when your policy document says your preference is for a Republic couldn't you have invited a non-royal family youth organisation instead as a matter of principle? There are plenty. I share Pelgaius' concerns about the Britishness of this blog, though there have been some excellent posts in the past.

A concerned nationalist.