The expected announcement tomorrow by Gordon Brown that there will be a look at electoral reform is another sign that he just doesn't have a clue about what he's doing.
For a start, the issue's only going to be looked at by his 'Democratic Renewal Committee', an Orwellian sounding body which is just a fancy name for a ministerial committee. Does Brown not understand the anger there is about the failures of our political system? Does he really believe that just having the issue looked at by a group of his hand-picked cronies is the way forward, rather than giving people more of a sense of ownership and involvement in their own political system?
I could also ask why Labour's even bothering to have a review of the electoral system. Didn't they have one 10 years ago, the Jenkins Commission, which recommended introducing AV+ (the alternative vote supplemented by a regional top-up party list system)? Wasn't it Labour Party policy to have a referendum on these proposals, a pledge which they conveniently dropped (due in no small part to the opposition within the Cabinet of one G Brown)?
And according to the Beeb, Brown's apparently wanting his review to come up with a recommendation for plain AV, with no top-up. Nothing like prejudging your own review, is there?
But if that is Brown's conclusion, it shows why he just doesn't have a clue about electoral reform, and the wider constitutional agenda. AV is often LESS proportional than first past the post, is MORE likely to exaggerate swings between parties, DOES NOT allow voters to choose between candidates from the same party and does ALMOST NOTHING to solve the problem of MPs with safe seats. In 1997, for instance, it's very likely that had the election been held under AV, it would have produced a LARGER Labour majority, with the Tories suffering a near wipeout.
I have to say, in any referendum on electoral reform, I would vote to retain first past the post rather than have a switch to pure AV. I could just about live with AV+, although I wouldn't have any enthusiasm for it.
But I believe there's only one system which really empowers voters and that's the single transferable vote, as used in Ireland (north and south) and in local elections in Scotland. STV allows voters to choose between candidates from the same party, or from different parties, is roughly proportional and retains and enhances a link between a geographical area and its representatives, by allowing voters a choice of representatives they can approach with a problem.
If Brown were serious about electoral reform, this would be the system he would propose. But of course, he isn't. He just wants to be seen as making noises about reform, but without a timetable or even a firm commitment actually to do anything. Brown the Reformer is a fictitious character.
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