Famous deathbed conversions - Volume 36


I wholly agree with Nick Clegg that today's announcement by Gordon Brown of a "debate" on constitutional reform is little more than a deathbed conversion to political reform from the man who has blocked change at almost every opportunity for the last twelve years. It is also typical that David Cameron refuses even to consider electoral reform.   The current system entrenches and endorses wasted votes - general elections are decided by a handful of voters in key marginals.  Everyone else might as well go to the beach. The much talked up Alternative Vote System (AV) would at least mean that every MP received a vote of sorts from more than half of those voting but it certainly is not proportional.

In fact it can lead to some rather unexpected outcomes depending on how the votes fall. Many years ago Roy Jenkins devised something he called community PR - a mixture of the Irish system of single transferable vote (STV) in multi-member constituencies but having AV for rural areas where multi-member seats would simply be too big and remote.  Something like this must be on the agenda, and not just the timid option. As it happens I do not think this would disproportionately benefit Liberal Democrats so I am not advocating it out of party advantage.  Once genuine proportional representation was introduced, parties would undoubtedly fissure, more votes would go to the Greens etc etc. 

Looking at countries where there is PR, Liberal parties generally struggle to get 10 percent of the vote.  Currently the Liberal Democrats have 62 out of 646 MPs so funnily enough about 10 percent of the members. I do not share my party's enthusiasm for a wholly elected House of Lords I strongly welcome the Prime Minister's commitment to moving towards an elected House of Lords. But will the Prime Minister give us a date by which this reform will be complete? We've already voted on it in this place: there should be no more delay. I also strongly welcome the move towards a Parliamentary Standards Authority and a MPs Code of Conduct. These changes should be implemented immediately with no more delay. So will he ask this House to forego its summer recess so that we can push through all the necessary changes to clean up politics?

And will he make sure his immediate proposals include the right for people to sack their MP if it has been shown that they have done something seriously wrong? I am dismayed that the Prime Minister is completely silent on the issue of party funding. How on earth can he possibly justify it? We cannot allow our politics to go the way of America's, where elections have become a contest of advertising budgets, not ideas. Why delay when he could just implement the Hayden Phillips recommendations in the Party Funding Bill that's already being debated in another place? The way forward's been agreed - so will he now act?


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