Friday, July 02, 2010

Guest Post: Our broken electoral system

In my second in a short series of guest posts Natalie Bennett, Green Party Internal Communications Tsar, takes a look at how unfair our electoral system is.

With the hideous cuts - in jobs, in benefits, in quality of life for the most vulnerable in society - hanging over us, now is a tough time to start talking about the big issue that lurks behind our broken politics, our broken electoral system.

But it's a conversation that we need to get started - and get roaring - very soon.

Jim has already done the number-crunching here about how incredibly unfair the results of our May first-past-the-post election were. Vast numbers of voters know that their vote counts for precisely, exactly, no-quibbles zilch, whether they are a Tory in a safe Labour seat, a Labour woman in a safe Tory seat, etc etc...

Now the Lib Dems are pushing for a referendum in less than a year on the AV, and it looks like May 2011 is going to be the date. Let's go to the Electoral Reform Society for a quick definition of that - it's very much like First-Past-the-Post. ERS continues "AV is ... not a proportional system, and can in fact be more disproportional than FPTP."

Nonetheless there is some argument that in allowing voters to rank the options before them in order, a candidate with significant backing, but strongly loathed by a majority, can be knocked out, or someone second in 1st preferences and with lots of people putting them second, can get in.

I've been in a lot of debates lately about whether to back an AV referendum if it comes to that.

But that's a question for the future.

What we need to do now is start talking about how the prospect of a constitutional referendum is a chance to talk about having a truly fair system - a proportional system - that means that the number of people from each party elected reflects the number of votes it received, in other words, where EVERY VOTE IS EQUAL.

It's a simple slogan, and it ignores the complexity of arguments about how to get to it. The fact is that there are a number of ways to achieve it - my personal preference would be additional member system, which means that some MPs are elected by constituencies and others on a "top-up" list. This means everyone still has a "local member" to whom they can go for help, and since it's already in use for the London Assembly, is at least partially understood by a fair few voters.

But for campaigning purposes this is a detail. We need to start calling for a proper referendum, on a properly fair voting system - to seize this chance to explain how this is possible - and how it could help to re-engage a disillusioned, angry electorate.

We've got a broken politics of bankrupt ideology. It can't be fixed by changing the ideology of the parties that now dominate parliament, parties that are utterly wedded to the discredited rule of the market, who think that the economic crisis can somehow be fixed by the application of the system that created the disease in the first place.

Our broken politics can only be fixed by letting the people truly have their say. And first we need to convince them that's possible.

1 comment:

Strategist said...

I guess it's not contradictory to campaign for a referendum with a proper choice at the same time as campaigning for a pro-AV vote in Clegg's stitched-up referendum.

I guess what's in AV for the Greens is not a lot of seats (possibly fewer than they could get under FPTP), but at least we can establish what the true level of Green first preferences is.

If we can get that up to 10% or so consistently then at some point the penny will drop widely over the insane injustice of an AV system that gives the Greens 1/650 or even 0/650 of the seats.

Hopefully in an outpouring of anger that sees Nick Clegg strung up from a lamp post.