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Rotten Parliament frustrates real electoral reform

Stuart Weir
25 June 2008
Stuart Weir (Cambridge, Democratic Audit): James Graham and I are in the same boat so far as electoral reform is concerned. The boat unfortunately is crewed by MPs and members in the two largest parties who are viscerally committed to first-past-the-post elections to the House of Commons because it gives either one of them near exclusive political power in Westminster and Whitehall for periods of time in return for periods of exclusion. Also for a shifting majority of them in safe or safe-ish seats it more or less guarantees the MPs lifetime security. My old history master used to bang on about "rotten boroughs". We have progressed since 1832. We now have a "rotten Parliament", in more ways than one, and frankly I see scarcely any chance that this will change unless, as Sunder Katwala suggests, the whole edifice sinks under the weight of its contradictions.

At Democratic Audit, we are committed to elections under a proportional system. For the Combining All Our Strengths seminar, we circulated a paper written ages ago by David Beetham that discusses in rational and principled terms the choice between the major electoral systems that have been under consideration. The seminar, at which all shades of opinion were represented, discussed the current state of affairs. Some of those present do I think sincerely believe that the Alternative Vote is the right choice both in principle and in practice. My guess is that most of us might, in the words of one participant, "hold our noses" and vote for it if it was the only choice on offer.

I differ from James in that I do not think that principled and even persuasive argument is going to change the minds of the MPs and party managers who hold the decision in their corrupt hands. They are reinforced in their contempt for democratic renewal by the fact that though public opinion polls show that most people are in principle in favour of proportional representation, there is no real discernible public interest or demand for actual change. My guess (once again) is that most participants in the seminar do not think there will be any advance for a generation or more. In the meantime, I found the discussion of the current politics valuable - there was no "group think", James, nor cosy collusion, far from it! - and I will consider compromises that may make a change for the better possible while I continue to argue and work for elections under STV or AMS in local elections as well as for Westminster.
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