Posted by noel on 20 May 2009
Why Change the Voting System?
The public standing of MPs and Parliament as a whole is surely at an all time low. The expenses scandal demonstrates that there needs to be the whole political system needs to be reformed, and that those who benefit from the system cannot be relied up on set their own rules. The present First Past the Post system has allowed a culture of complacency and arrogance to develop, since far too many MPs know that even a political earthquake of the kind we saw in 1945 or 1997 will not be sufficient to eject them from their safe seats.
This rotten system means that millions of people cast votes which have no influence on which candidates are elected, and hands power to a single party which does not enjoy anything like a majority of voters. It has eroded the difference between those parties, as they all compete to target a few thousand “swing” voters in the handful of seats that might change hands.
The current voting system serves to reinforce the stranglehold of the existing Westminster blocs by depriving small parties of the rightful share of representation. It is a barrier to the change we need in politics.
Why a Referendum?
Just as with expenses, MPs have been too long able to resist changing the rules from which many benefit so handsomely. Labour promised in its manifesto of 1997 that it would hold a referendum to allow the British people their say on changing the system. But twelve years and nothing has changed – because the public have been denied the opportunity. This must be the last General Election held under the FPTP system which only allows the electorate to pitch out Tweedledum only to hand power to Tweedledee. This election shouldn’t just be the same old choice between nearly identical parties - the public must be given a say on changing the system altogether.
The system is at breaking point. If our democracy is to retain public confidence and restore a sense of legitimacy it is imperative that we change the system as a matter of urgency. It is too late for Labour to bring about the change we need before the next election. But simply changing the party in government will not fix politics if the whole system by which MPs are elected stays the same. Holding a referendum on the day of the next election would give voters a real say in bringing about change.
How do we get it?
We need to convince the government that this is the way ahead. Plans for a referendum could be introduced in the Queens Speech later this year. However we do not of course need to persuade the Labour Party to embrace electoral reform – Labour could, as with the EU referendum of the 70s, decide to remain neutral, allowing individual members to make their own judgements.
We need to sign up as many MPs as we can, we need to generate discussion in the media and on blog sites, and we need expressions of support from leading think tanks. But there must be a clear demand for a referendum not only from within Westminster but also from without. The public is not apathetic – people still expect and demand better from their politicians. Westminster needs to be made conscious of the desire for political change that exists across active civil society. To build a coalition for change, organisations such as the environmental and poverty lobbies, womens and youth organisations will be critical.
Compass Youth can play a vital role in this campaign. Sam Tarry is standing for election to the Electoral Reform Society’s Council on a manifesto supporting the campaign for change. To support Sam in these elections, you need to join the Electoral Reform Society as a member by Tuesday May 26 at the latest. There is a special £1 joining fee for those under 23 or in full time education: http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/join.php
Thanks to tompagenet for the photo published under Creative Commons