Anthony Barnett (London, OK): According to today's Mail on Sunday this is a picture taken last month of David Cameron and Alan Parker enjoying a little time off in South Africa. Parker heads Brunswick the leading PR firm that once employed the Prime Minister's wife and his new Chief of Staff Stephan Carter also Gordon Brown is a godfather to one of Parker's children and Parker's sister works in the Cabinet Office where she polishes the PM's image.
Jonathan Bryant (Brighton & Hove, Direct Democracy): Conor Burns argued recently on Conservativehome.com about the need for the Conservative Party to embrace limited reform of our First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system, primarily due to its in-built bias against the Tories. Whilst this is undoubtedly true at the current point in time, Direct Democracy believe that the real problem which urgently needs addressing is not so much to do with the regional vagaries of FPTP, but that the current electoral system - with so many safe seats and one party fiefdoms - does not produce a parliament capable and willing to hold the executive to account. We need a system that produces a genuine legislature, not cheerleaders for the current or future government. Therefore, any proposed reforms should proceed on this basis.
Jon Bright (London, OK): Hat-tip to the ever useful Direct Democracy mail for a few of these links - starting with this Conor Burns article on Conservative Home. It's an extended look at why Tories have to, on average, get more votes across the country to get the same amount of seats as Labour (Tory constituencies generally have more voters in them, and these voters tend to turn out in higher numbers). The Tory problem is, essentially, that they have a lot of wasted votes in each election - far more people in their large constituencies are turning out than are needed to win them. Burns also blames the sluggishness of the boundary commission - reviewing once every 15 years, it can't keep pace with rapid population fluctuations in inner city areas.
Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Thanks to Direct Democracy I've just seen this report on their regular email: "The Economist reports that the province of Ontario in Canada is to hold a referendum on introducing Proportional Representation (Mixed Member PR for the electoral reform anoraks) to replace the current first-past-the-post system used for provincial elections. The referendum was the main outcome of an independent citizens' assembly on electoral reform set up by the provincial government last year. The Economist suggests that If the referendum produces a 'yes' vote in Ontario, it is likely that it will also be introduced at federal level in the near future."
Tristan Stubbs (London, ERS): Gordon Brown knows that in policy announcements, presentation ranks as highly as substance. One early demonstration of his avowed change from Blair is the new PM's unwillingness to use that nettlesome adjective - ‘historic' - to describe government plans. His predecessor's famous ‘hand of history' phrase remains for the former prime minister's critics a deliciously quotable example of Blair's suspected hubris.Brown was therefore wise to leave it to others to underline the significance of the constitutional reforms he announced on July 3 (pdf). According to the Guardian, a Bill of Rights or written constitution (the green paper promised a consultation on both) would ‘transform the historic settlement of the state'. It was, enthused the Power Inquiry, an ‘historic constitutional moment'.
ePolitix: Former Welsh First Minister Alun Michael was interviewed yesterday on ePolitix. He criticised the idea of a Welsh 'rainbow coalition', calling it "opportunism" that smaller parties should gang up to remove the largest, and saying that it would only produce "a marriage of inconvenience". The fact that the Liberal Democrats, the smallest party in Wales, were so powerful "particularly demonstrates the problems with this type of PR", he said.
Anthony Barnett (London OK): We sat at the back of the young audience attending the leadership debate hosted by the Fabians (see entry below). After it was over Brown worked the crowd. When he got to us I introduced him to Guy Aitchison OurKingdom's new intern and he said to me, "Where are the questions on the constitution?". Well, Gordon, I'm not a Labour member and did not have the chance to put one. But it was striking that no one asked "What is a new constitutional settlement" or "What about the threat of ID cards to our fundamental liberties?" or "What about Scotland and the national question?", or, indeed, about the state of our democracy. It was a Fabian crowd! So it was left to the moderator Steven Richards to ask Brown, in a follow up to a question about a "progressive consensus", for his view on PR. "I am not closed to electoral reform", Brown replied, before going on to stress the need to retain the constituency link for MPs, ensure the accountability of parliament and enshrine rights and responsibilities that will "safeguard our civil liberties". Electoral reform is not, of course, the same as proportional representation, and Brown's words seem to suggest that he favours an "AV" system.
Anthony Barnett (London OK): Tomorrow evening Brown will be debating with both John McDonnell and Michael Meacher, his two potential challengers. The enterprising Sunder Katwala of the Fabian Society organised the event (now fully booked). Katwala had a problem with the two wannaby leaders of the left when they couldn’t decide which of them should raise the stop-Gordon banner. Brown had agreed to the debate but they couldn’t make up their minds whether to accept the challenge! Finally Meacher relented and gave up his Sunday evening for the cause. Will his generosity allow the so-far unasked question to be put to Brown in the debate, 'What about PR?' Oscar Reyes of Red Pepper interviewed Meacher and McDonnell and put the question to each of them - you can read the full interviews in this month’s edition, which the Pepperites should instantly post on-line, for the two answers were a joy. Here is Meacher’s, “I am not at this stage in favour of electoral reform, but pluralism is important”. (At this stage! How about that for a radical challenge? Decoded it means, personally I agree with PR but my died-in-the-wool supporters won’t let me say so.) And here is McDonnell’s, “I’m a complete pragmatist – I support the electoral system that gets Labour to power, because that enables me then to achieve what I think would be a socialist advance.” If you are a complete pragmatist why stop at stealing elections for the cause of socialism… why not chat up the army and try a pragmatic coup d’état? After all, the Chiefs of Staff are against the Iraq war. With the ‘left’ opposing democratic voting its enough to make one nostalgic for New Labour already. I hope to be reporting from the meeting.