Jesurgislac’s Journal

May 9, 2010

Personal opinions on electoral reform and the Lib Dem position

With the help of the 38 Degrees website, I sent this letter to 30+ “senior Lib Dems”. The subject line I chose was; Labour and LibDems have 52% of the vote & 315 seats in Parliament . I wrote:

I was surprised to find when I did Votematch on the Telegraph website that I actually supported more LibDem policies than I did Labour – though my highest match was Green. I’ve always thought of myself as a Labour voter who votes Green in my Scottish Parliament list vote.

In my constituency, the Lib Dem candidate (I gave their name) was the only one who stood a chance of beating Labour.

I wanted a Hung Parliament – exactly the situation we’re now in – because I wanted the LibDems to have the power to tell Labour, that the next five years of left-wing/liberal government depend on Labour agreeing to change the First Past the Post system of election.

There’s been a list vote and a region vote in Scotland and the result has been ten years of progressive leftwing liberal rule: unquestionably good for our country within the United Kingdon. It’s been tried, it’s worked, and we need it to happen in the UK.

It will not happen if the LibDem ally with the Tory party. I’m hearing on the news as I type that Nick Clegg will meet with David Cameron tonight and talk to his MPs tomorrow. (This was Friday.)

I tell you now, what I told the LibDem candidate earlier today: Labour said before the election that a vote for the LibDems was the same as a vote for the Tories. If Nick Clegg proves Labour correct by allying with David Cameron and giving us another right-wing government, taking us back to Tory Britain even though over half the electorate voted against that, I will never vote LibDem again. And that, in the First Past the Post system that David Cameron will keep in place in order to keep the Tories in power, will matter: I will advocate to any shaky or uncertain voter that if they want to keep the Tories out, they must vote Labour: under no circumstances must they risk voting crypto-Tory by voting LibDem.

Nick Clegg’s talk of respecting the will of the electorate, is meaningless if he is prepared to disregard the will of a 52% majority in order to get himself and his cronies seats in the Cabinet of a Conservative government.
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The Sensible Thing To Do

As discussed in previous post, The Arithmetic of Democracy, the next government of the UK – and the future of electoral reform – depends on the deal Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, makes over the next couple of days.

The sensible thing to do is to make a coalition agreement with the Conservatives. A ConLib (or as they’re calling it on Twitter, a ConDem) coalition government has a sufficient majority over the Labour party (and a solid overall majority) that it might well last four or five years if an agreement can be forged to suit both parties. It would mean abandoning PR for the lifetime of this Parliament; it would lend weight to Labour’s campaigning that a vote for the LibDems is a vote for the Conservatives. But it would be sensible, and John Rentoul explains why in the Independent.

Or Nick Clegg can help form a rainbow coalition – Labour, LibDem, SNP, Plaid Cymru, and Green – which can stand against the Conservatives. This rainbow coalition has many disadvantages and only two advantages.

A disadvantage: this rainbow coalition couldn’t hope to stay together for four or five years. It barely achieves a majority in Parliament. SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs seldom spend much time in Westminister: this coalition could fall if five MPs had the flu, four were stuck abroad due to volcanic ash, one was in Lerwick for the weekend and the tenth MP slept in. When the government fell, it would be back to the General Election madness – and while the Conservatives could afford a fullscale campaign with rich donors to back them, no other party could so quickly after the last. Nor would the public in general be happy with having this disruption occur again.

Further: there might be (and there certainly would be a media narrative to that effect) a feeling that by siding with the rainbow coalition, Nick Clegg was joining (in Janet Daley’s charming phrase) a coalition of the losers – never mind that as a group, this bunch of progressive lefties got the larger share of the vote and have more seats in Parliament. More people voted against the Tories than voted for them. But this won’t be the media narrative.

And the key disadvantage: Rupert Murdoch owns 40% of the British media. He wants a Tory government in place to gut the BBC, which competes with his properties. If Nick Clegg does not lie down with the Tories and accept what they choose to give him, the vilification he experienced during the pre-election campaign will be nothing compared to the vilification that will be piled on him post-election. A rainbow coalition government and its constituent parties would be subject to unceasing media attack.

The objective would be, if the rainbow coalition were determined to stay in government until they had got a PR system of election in place and then to call a General Election using PR, to bring down this coalition and to force a General Election by FPTP, with mass media talking up the Tories. So if Nick Clegg goes rainbow, and loses, the next General Election could well have the Tories in place with a big enough majority to form a government without partners – and every incentive to bury PR, perhaps by instituting their own “parliamentary reform”. (David Cameron came up with some cool gerrymandering ideas of “standardised constituencies” that would tend to reduce the number of Labour and SNP seats in Parliament.)

The advantages are only two, but they’re big ones.

One: If the rainbow coalition can work together (and refrain from taking holidays or falling seriously ill) then PR can be delivered. There needs to be a referendum promised in the Queen’s Speech, with a yes vote promising PR for the next General Election: there needs to be some serious work done on which form of PR the UK should adopt: and there needs to be a committment from all partners to oppose the Tories and support the Labour and LibDem policies. The LibDems have been a tail-of-the-dog third party in UK politics for decades, even though they muster 25-30% of the vote: PR should change that permanently. And it’s what a majority of the British people want. 62%, a clear majority, favour a change from FPTP. cite That won’t affect the Tories – their whole opposition to PR is that they want to be in government even though a majority oppose them – but it ought to affect the other parties.

Two: A dealbreaker. I very nearly voted LibDem this time. (I didn’t, because I did some complicated vote-calculations and concluded that the Green party needed my vote more.) I have voted LibDem in past elections, where the candidate seemed like the right person and had a better chance of winning than the Labour candidate. (It’s usually that choice.) But if Nick Clegg demonstrates that voting for the LibDems is pretty much what Labour always says it is – a vote for the Tories – then I’m certainly never voting LibDem again. If Nick Clegg gives up on PR in order to do the sensible thing and get into government, then the UK needs to have a two-party system, Labour v Conservative: we can’t afford to have the LibDems kicking around wasting votes any more.

I’ve been following 38Degrees for a while. On Friday, I e-mailed the senior LibDems via their site, letting them know how I felt. Yesterday, I went to a rally they and other organisations put together. Today, I donated to their campaign to fund full-page newspaper ads to tell Nick Clegg: Don’t sell out on PR. Fair Votes Now!

They began this fundraising campaign just over three hours ago – about 2pm. Their goal was to raise £5000. In three hours they’ve received £14,307 from 925 people. [Update: it’s now 15,235, donated by 976 people, so 50 people donated an average of 18.56 in the past hour and a half. The earlier average was £15.46 per donor, so it looks like donations may be getting bigger as the total goes up… and 4 people just donated an average of £20 each in the last 4 minutes, so, yes.]

We can’t afford to let Nick Clegg do the sensible thing.

The arithmetic of democracy

Formally, any party in the UK Parliament needs at least 326 MPs in order to have the right to form a government.

Current composition of Parliament: Conservatives, 306 seats (will be 307, when the Thirsk and Malton seat can hold its general election – they went emphatically Tory in 2005). Labour, 258 seats. Liberal Democrat, 57 seats.

The Conservatives have the largest single bloc of seats and can therefore claim the right to form a minority government – but Labour and the LibDems can outvote them (315 seats) any time both parties agree they’d rather defeat the Tories.

There’s now one Green MP, and as the Green party has never had an MP at Westminister before, they’ve got no tradition of which party to ally with: but she’s much more likely to vote with Labour or LibDem than with the Tories.

The mainland nationalist parties, Plaid Cymru (3 seats) and the Scottish National Party (SNP, 6 seats) have an informal alliance at Westminster, and are again more likely to vote with Labour or LibDem than with the Tories.

A Labour-LibDem coalition government, that could count on the support of the Plaid Cymru and the SNP and the Green MP, would have 325 seats, an effective majority, and could function against Tory opposition – for a while. This kind of government would be terribly vulnerable to challenges and obstruction, but they might be able to get one or two things done before another General Election had to be called. And what the LibDems very much want to get done, is Proportional Representation – an end to the First Past the Post system in UK government.

Whereas if the Tories get the formal support of the LibDems in full-on coalition, the ConDem coalition government would have 364 seats and be able to function as a government – though it’s really unknown what they could do, since the agreements that the Tories and the LibDems have on policy are relatively trivial, and their disagreements are profound.

The Northern Irish parties (18 MPs) add this to the mix (correction: I added up the NI MPs, made it 17, and thought to myself “didn’t they have 18?” but then thought that they might have been nipped of one MP in the past 5 years as has happened to Scotland and Wales. No: for some reason the BBC omitted the Ulster Unionist MP for North Down.)

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP, 8 seats) traditionally support the Conservatives. They have 8 seats, and the Tories can likely count on them at least to preserve them as a government, if it comes to that: so the Tories can really count on 315 seats.

The Social Democratic & Labour Party (SDLP, 3 seats) are the Irish nationalists: they’re the DUP’s natural opposition, so in effect they whittle the effect of the DUP’s support down to 5 seats, providing they care one way or another.

Sinn Fein, the IRA’s party (5 seats), are the Irish nationalists who won’t swear the oath of allegience that would allow them to take their 5 seats in Parliament, so in this situation the main thing about them is that the Westminister parliament is effectively 645 seats – any party that can muster a vote of at least 323 MPs can defeat a vote of no confidence. (Unless, of course, the Sinn Fein take a look at the potential power this hands them, and decide to find a way to take the oath in order to be able to offer their 5 votes to one mainland-UK party or another.)

The Alliance party have never sent an MP to Westminister before [correction: not since the early 1970s], and whether she’ll vote with the SDLP or abstain or even vote with the DUP, is really an unknown.

Plus one Ulster Unionist MP whom I’d completely overlooked!
Demo for Democracy 8th May 2010

May 6, 2010

Voting for democracy

The first election for which I had the right to vote was in 1987. I voted Labour. The incumbent was Conservative. The Labour candidate got in, and held the seat till this year, though (thanks to the expenses scandal – he was one of the embarrassing claims rather than one of the shocking ones) he won’t be standing this year.

Since then I’ve never missed voting in any election I had a right to vote in: UK Parliament, European Parliament, local council, or Scottish Parliament. My great-aunt turned 21 in 1929, the first year in the UK that women had the vote on the same terms as men: her first General Election would have been 30 May 1929, and I expect she voted Conservative, but Labour got in. Still, though she was quite aware that neither myself nor my sister nor her niece, our mother, would be voting the same way she was (lefties all of us) she was adamant that we should vote.

This year is the first year since goodness knows how long that none of the pundits or the bookies have really been sure who would be in government in Westminster the next day. (Seriously. 1992, it had to be either Labour or Conservative, and it ended up being Conservative: 1974, Labour formed a minority government: but mostly, really, you know.) But now?
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