Saturday, 26 January 2008

Democracy? No thanks says Brown

Below is a large extra from the 'Make Votes Count campaign on this week's review of voting in the UK. It doesn't look like the government will do anything to address the appalling lack of democracy in this country (see Toynbee's note about the gov't being decided by just 8000 voters - why do the rest of us bother???). The lack of representation is possibly one of the biggest travesties that this country suffers.


From MVC:-

The news you have all been waiting for. At last the Government's review of electoral systems has been published. It arrived yesterday without a flourish, a mere written ministerial statement and a few extra quotes from the Justice Minister Michael Wills in a slyly spun press release. The full report is available online (pdf). We have also created a facility for you to read, add your comments and discuss the main parts of the report here. The finishing touches are being made to our campaign website and response and you will get another email from me next week about that. In the meantime ....
The headline response from MVC:
We had not expected the review itself to be much different from what was published on Thursday. What has taken us by surprise, disappointed, even angered, us - and will hopefully galvanise all of us in our campaigning efforts over the coming weeks and months - is the Government's determination to downplay what is actually in the report and close down opportunities for the public to have their say. Voting matters and so do the systems used. Yet the Government no longer seems to care about voters' real world experiences and opinions of elections. That was certainly the impression given by Michael Wills when he claimed (in his Department's press release) that the "current voting system for UK general elections works well". The voting system may be working well for him and other MPs, but not necessarily for voters. He would struggle to substantiate that claim - either from polling data or from the review itself - if he was looking at the issue more objectively from the voters' perspective. The Government is in danger of treating voters with contempt, by not going beyond the academic exercise of the review and now shutting out parlimentary and public debate. For us "democracy isn't deskbound". Together we need to push the Ministry of Justice to take the debate beyond Westminster and the confines of parties and politicians who have a vested interest in the status quo. And we need to encourage Gordon Brown to show the leadership needed to take this issue forward and help realise the new politics that he has said he is keen to usher in.
The good news:
(i) the review itself is generally even-handed and there are plenty of positives about PR systems in the report. Lewis Baston (ERS) has picked out some of these in a 2-page initial assessment of the review, which you can read online.
(ii) officially at any rate, everything still remains on the table - there were no recommendations in the review. So in a hung parliament situation the review can be taken down from the shelf and used as cover for any deals on electoral reform that might be discussed.
(iii) the review is "a contribution to the debate" - so that is licence for us to make a noise and input our views
(iv) Both Harriet Harman and Gordon Brown's official spokesperson reaffirmed the Government's commitment to a referendum before any reform of the Commons is introduced.
The bad news:
(i) No Oral Statement in the Commons to accompany the review's publication.
(ii) Harriet Harman in Business Questions did not commit any Government time for a debate. Instead she went as far as to say any debate should be initiated by the opposition.
(iii) There was no process mentioned or offered by Michael Wills to continue the debate or keep the process open.
(iv) Lords reform is not just the priority for the Government, but also they do not want to discuss reforming the Commons until after the Lords electoral system has been decided and is in place (and one suspects has had several elections to bed in and be reviewed .....)
Media coverage:

Polly Toynbee in the Guardian:
"Alas, in the same week Labour kicked away one great chance to restore some connection between people and politics. Dust was blown off the long-avoided review of electoral systems, which was slid into the House of Commons library on Hain resignation day with no recommendations and only a terse statement: 'The government has no plans to change the voting system for elections to the House of Commons.' So just 8,000 swing voters in key marginals decided this June 2010 election. Too late for Labour to rue the day its miserable tribalism threw away the chance to reshape politics and allow more parties into parliament, wrecking a chance to ally with the Lib Dems. If turnout was dismal in this election, it was hard to detect the difference between parties ya-booing the louder the more they pretended to be the same."

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