Sunday, 26 July 2009

Elections, Franchises, And Voting Systems

Suddenly, there is a rush for constitutional change, or rather more of it, and fast. Quite why in the last twelve years these matters have not been dealt with is an interesting question, but then property speculation does take up a lot of time. It seems that now, according to The Guardian, electoral reform is a matter of most urgent importance.

Just over fifty years ago, I recall a discussion led by Dr. William Pickles, a political guru of his time much consulted by others. He was one of those who helped to churn out all those wonderful constitutions that brought so much happiness, peace, prosperity and security to former colonies. Also, he played a part in advising the French on how a new Fifth Republic would be so much better than the old and discredited Fourth. I think he changed his mind after General De Gaulle was elected in 1962 and opted for a directly elected Presidency, but there you go. To give him credit, he did not charge consultancy fees; it was enough to be highly regarded in academic circles. There was someone called Ralph Miliband sitting in, if only to police our thoughts, I wonder what happened to him.

This is not the place to go over all the many voting systems that might be employed in Britain in the 21st century and the difficulties of what exactly we might do. Our present system has had some very unsatisfactory consequences, notably the way in which representation at Westminster has been distorted both within all the major parties in comparison with the political realities around the country. If anything, this has worsened in recent decades.

So how and why do we go about changing the system and to what effect? One big problem is that the Government that does change the system has to believe, and the political system has to realise that the time has come. It would be better if a large majority of the people also believe, but our present system does not allow much for truth, or reason, or reality, so what the people are told is what the present ruling establishment wants them to know.

The Federal Republic of Germany was born in 1949 out of the collapse of the Third Reich in 1945 and direct rule by the Allied Powers. It became sovereign in May 1955 (I was there). The Fifth Republic of France was born out of the collapse of the Fourth Republic in the stress of decolonisation and war in 1958. Whether the UK at the moment is in a state of collapse at present or only on the brink is another question. The upshot of our discussion was that whatever the merits of changing the UK voting system were, it was unlikely in practical terms to come about unless there were some particular political imperatives of benefit to the government that introduced the relevant legislation.

So what gives with the government and the urge to change the voting system now? Is it that they are looking at a Labour party in the Commons of perhaps less than 100 members after 2010? Is it because some of the High Tories are talking about dismantling most of the structure of the non-elected Quango’s and regional bodies that have provided a huge client structure for the Labour Government?

Is it because they hope that if the Tories get less than 50% of the vote and therefore MP’s Labour might then be able to wreck any programme the Tories might have, because they will then have to trade policy for support from other parties? Is it because such a new Parliament with changed allegiances would become too chaotic to allow the Tories to do much at all in any way? Is it because if the Lisbon Treaty becomes effective Labour will be able to control any rule through its European connections? If these are the reasons for changing the system, then we all better worry. Firstly, we could all benefit from looking at what happened under the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1920’s, which led to the rise of the Nazi’s, and the hapless Fourth Republic of France which staggered from crisis to crisis between 1946 and 1958.

We know that the Labour Government does not do “history”, but those of us who do are all too aware of just how easy it is for a debtor state under foreign domination and unable to make effective decisions can go into long lasting and utter collapse.

No comments:

Post a Comment