10 January 2008

Tories Talk Of Electoral Reform.

Over at Conservative Home, Conor Burns is worried about Tory electoral prospects and is advocating a change in how our electoral system works. This is to help...
the Tories win absolute power without having the bother of getting over 40% of the vote (let alone 50%).

So, obviously, he rules out proportional representation (PR), he is a Tory after all! (In rubbishing PR, the tired old discredited argument is rolled out about coalition governments being the end of the world. You only have to look at the quality of public services, infrastructure, environmental protection and post-war economic growth of Germany, Scandanavia etc to disprove that assertion. Also in Britain, it was a 'National coalition' government that got us through WWII and don't forget that both the Tories and Labour party are made up of factions and effectively coalitions that decide their policies behind closed doors (worse than this, they are coalition governments with only minority support not a majority government that PR would deliver) Coalition 'hung parliament' government under FPTP is not the same as coalition government under PR - it is much worse because it is elected by a dysfunctonal electoral system that discriminates against minorities). Then there is the Tory assertion that the Lib Dems would be permanently in power - we only have to look to Scotland and Wales to see that is a lie).

No, he doesn't want fairness for the majority (something Tories have traditionally fought against since fighting to keep blackadder like 'rotten boroughs' and seemingly will continue to fight against for a long time to come).

No, Conor is jealous of the current advantage Labour gets from first-past-the-post (FPTP) by having 'lumpy' support in enough constituencies to give them 55% of the seats from just 35% of the vote. These sorts of skewed results have always happened under our ridiculous electoral system - where some votes are 'worth more than others' and parties openly target their resources to the 150 or so marginal seats where, as Michael Howard puts it, live 'the only voters that matter' (look at local government results where parties can come third in the vote but still get the most seats, to see how bad FPTP is).

The reason this skewing of the results is now a concern for the Tories is that unlike previous decades, they now win hardly any seats in urban areas or in large swathes of the North, and virtually none in Scotland and Wales. The Tories alienating of these voters is hardly the fault of the electoral system though is it?

Anyway...because of the steady movement of population from urban to rural and from north to south, coupled with the obvious need for constituency boundaries to have some sort of stability (thats if the famous 'constituency link' that the Tories claim to be so fond of is to actually mean anything at all), then we need to respect administrative, community and geographical considerations. This results in the number of registered voters in urban and northern constituencies drifting to around 6,000 less (on average) than in rural and southern constituencies over the 15 year period between boundary changes (there is also a reliance on outdated census figures as the process of drawing boundaries can be slow and complex and not surprisingly (given its effect on the results) bitterly fought over by the main parties).

This gap between constituency numbers however, is no different (in fact less different) than the discrepancy has ever been and when you take into account the conveniently ignored fact (by the Tories) that registration is a lot lower in urban areas, the number of eligible electors is actually probably very similar if not higher in urban constituencies. (Considering how difficult drawing these boundaries can be and how much impact they can have on the result, it is amazing that the Tories can have the cheek to call PR 'complicated'. PR removes the need for such pedantic boundary fiddling by ensuring the results are proportional no matter where the boundaries are drawn. How many people know how important these boundaries are to electing our government?).

When the Tories could win seats in urban and northern areas this discrepancy hardly made any difference to their chances. Now they cannot win in these places, they are suddenly interested in fiddling with the electoral commissions remit and enlarging boundaries so the votes they pile up in places like Henley can count.

Scandalously, Conor (like Peter Oborne before him) now even suggests punishing voters who live in low turnout seats by increasing the constituency size in line with turnout rather than the number of electors. So, just because their neighbours chose to abstain at a previous election, their vote will be devalued at a future election - brilliant! As the urban poor are less likely to vote and Labour generally win these low turnout seats, you can see why a Tory would want to do this. Great, eh! The more alienated the poor become and the more their turnout drops, the less incentive there will be to go out and vote as your vote is devalued even more. This spiral of decline and sheer level of election fixing would make even George Bush embarrassed.

It is laughable for the Tories to decry an electoral system that gives them (at the last general election) 36.7% of the seats in England with only 35.7% of the votes (i.e more seats than their vote share deserves), while at the same time ignoring the plight of the Lib Dems and others who receive far less seats than their vote share should entitle them to. Still, why would we expect any fairness from the Tories eh?

22 comments:

  1. Yet again, Neil, you really need to take the log out of your eye first. It was Labour that promised (wait for it) a referendum on PR back in 1997, and then quietly strangled the idea once they were safely in power.

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  2. Trooper, yes they did and it was wrong, a mistake. Labour should honour their promise and have a referendum on PR this year before it is too late.

    This doesn't alter the fact that the Tories are being completely disingenuous by calling for the boundaries to be fiddled. Their suggestion to base a boundary on turnout is something from the 19th century, it would disenfranchise millions of the urban poor.

    Anybody who favours democracy cannot vote Conservative.

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  3. Anyone who believes in democracy sure as hell can't vote Labour.

    I've read their 2005 manifesto. I know what it said about holding a referendum on the EU constitution.

    This refusal to hold the referendum they promised shows utter contempt for the electorate, democratic accountability - and the Ten Commandments as well!

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  4. There should be a referendum on the EU treaty. It should be explained in no uncertain terms that a rejection of this treaty will mean leaving the EU - which I imagine is the motive of most of you. I believe the majority want to stay in the EU.

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  5. Oh really? Has France left the EU? Has the Netherlands left the EU?

    Whatever the ramifications of a 'no' vote, until that democracy-murdering party that you continue to support honours its promise, we'll not know.

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  6. Ha ha I always think I've heard it all until I come on here for another dose of blinding dogma. This news just in - either something's right or wrong. The validity of a concept does not depend on whether the tosser espousing it is wearing a red or blue rosette.

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  7. Trooper - "Has France left the EU? Has the Netherlands left the EU?" Neither have rejected this treaty either! They did reject the constitution but not this treaty.

    Labour were wrong to promise a referendum on this issue. They were forced into it by Murdoch. Once they promised it, yes they should honour it, but this is not the sort of minor issue we should be having a referendum on.

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  8. Labour were forced into it by public opinion - you know, the common people that your party despises so much - and they made the commitment so they could take it off the agenda so the Tories couldn't campaign at the last election on this issue.

    Under Labour we get no choice, no democracy, and a Government that treats the people with arrogant disregard.

    It is not a small matter, it is one of the clearest examples of the rotten heart of this Government, and as long as there's breath in my body I'll be shouting 'liars! crooks! fascist scum!' at your vile Labour Party.

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  9. Trooper: The EU constitution comes about 17th on people's list of concerns. And that is only because the right-wing press have run a scurrulous campaign of lies and misinformation against the EU. This promise was all about quietening Murdoch and their friends who fear the EU will break up their comfy monopoly. And he is right, we wouldn't have Setanta covering the premiership without the EU, we would still be paying rip off prices on mobile calls and countless other things as well without the EU. The EU are on the side of the consumer against people like Murdoch - don't expect to read that in the papers 10 times a day though like we do EU scare stories!

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  10. Neil,

    why don't you raise your eyes from the furrow you plod. All you care about is:

    a) Labour (good) versus Tory (bad)
    b) How the media are biased against Labour (good)

    I don't give a damn why Labour decided to promise a referendum - the fact is they made a promise to do so. I'm not the media, I'm just one voter, and notwithstanding the line Murdoch's papers are taking, I'm furious about Labour's betrayal of this promise.

    You're happy to go on about what you see as a pro-Tory bias in the printed media, ignoring the Mirror, The Guardian, the Independent and the fact that Murdoch's papers have supported Labour for ten years. What about the all-seeing, all-doing BBC? Are you going to deny that the BBC is dominated by posh lefties?

    So you fall back on a claim that the constitution is 17th on people's agenda, and claim if it wasn't for the Tory press, no one would give a monkey's. Sure, you'd like it if no one mentions it, because whenever they do, your conscience reminds you that the party you support are liars and democracy-deniers, who's most glorious leader now works for JPMorgan.

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  11. Trooper: Come on, 75% of the media is on the Tories side, and of the rest they are hardly staunch lefties (Even the Mirror is owned by a load of banks). If you think the Sun has supported Labour for ten years, you must have only read it in the few days before an election when it gave Labour nominal support only (an election which Labour would have won anyway). Like the rest of the right wing press, it has run a relentless anti-Labour, anti-tax, anti-immigrant, anti- public services diatribe day after day.

    Anyway you say Labour are anti-democratic for not giving a referendum on this treaty. What about Maastricht signed by Major? or the Single European Act signed by Thatcher? So even by your reckoning the Tories are worse. Are you going to vote Tory when they have denied you a vote on TWO European treaties that transferred far more power to Brussels than this latest treaty in Lisbon?

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  12. Like the rest of the right wing press, it has run a relentless anti-Labour, anti-tax, anti-immigrant, anti- public services diatribe day after day

    It is true to say that the Sun is anti-immigrant and anti-public services. But is an utter falsehood to claim that the Sun is anti-Labour. The Sun has been a strongly Labour supporting paper.

    Anyway you say Labour are anti-democratic for not giving a referendum on this treaty. What about Maastricht signed by Major?

    What about it? Tu quoque is a well known logical fallacy. Just because the Tories behaved equally disgracefully does not excuse Labour.

    So even by your reckoning the Tories are worse

    In this respect they probably are.

    Are you going to vote Tory when they have denied you a vote on TWO European treaties that transferred far more power to Brussels than this latest treaty in Lisbon?

    In my case I shall exercise my vote in whatever way best calculated to see this government ejected from power. As I live in a safe Tory constituency I shall probably vote LibDem or Green. If I lived in a marginal Tory/Labour seat then I would unhesitatingly vote Tory. The only exception would be if the Labour candidate was one that agreed with my views on civil liberties, such as Bob Marshall Andrews or Glenda Jackson or Kate Hoey. But no authoritarian Labour candidate would get my vote. And I speak as someone who always voted Labour. That is how strongly I feel about what the Labour party has become.

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  13. Stephen: You say you would check the background of a Labour candidate. Why not the same scrutiny for Tories? Rather than unhesitantingly giving your vote to the Tories, I think if you bothered to check the background of the Tory candidate you would probably find a more illiberal candidate (as well as probably being a racist, sexist, homophobic bigot).

    Out of interest, what do you think of an electoral system that means your vote is worth diddly squat anyway, since if you live in a safe Tory seat, I will bet you now, that no matter what an illiberal idiot your MP may be, it is the one you are stuck with (well whoever the Tories select as their candidate anyway).

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  14. Rather than unhesitantingly giving your vote to the Tories, I think if you bothered to check the background of the Tory candidate you would probably find a more illiberal candidate (as well as probably being a racist, sexist, homophobic bigot)

    To be honest I probably would. But I like the things the Tory leadership are saying about civil liberties. I don't particularly trust them and there is no guarantee that they will remain sane once in power. Once even Blair appeared to support civil liberties. But it has got to be worth a punt. If Labour gets in I have 0% of seeing a more liberal regime. If the Tories get in then perhaps I have a 20% chance of a more liberal regime. I'll take those odds.

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  15. Stephen: I obviously think you are wrong. I don't know how much you remember of the last Tory administration - but the Freedom of Info act, transparency in party funding (don't laugh, it's true, nothing Labour have done would have even been reported under the Tory laws), and legislation on social issues improving the lives of minorities have made this government a much better prospect for the future. Even the detention issue is misleading, in the UK unlike in Europe, every case is reviewed weekly by a judge and they have holding charges abroad that wouldn't be allowed here. Thats how they get around the detention with charge issue. 6,000 people a year were being detained under the Tories, it is now down to 1,000 a year despite the current terrorist threat.

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  16. Scunnered, O'Aberdein11/1/08 5:07 pm

    'I don't know how much you remember of the last Tory administration - but the Freedom of Info act, transparency in party funding (don't laugh, it's true, nothing Labour have done would have even been reported under the Tory laws), and legislation on social issues improving the lives of minorities have made this government a much better prospect for the future'

    This is satire, right?

    I just wrote a conciliatory comment on your JC thread stating that some of us might find you difficult to comprehend because you don't make yourself very clear at times.

    If it's not satire, then unless you wrote all of the above in a particularly mindless moment, I'll accept that I was totally wrong and you just bark up all the wrong trees

    you can't be serious, can you, in telling us - 'don't laugh, it's true, nothing Labour have done would have even been reported under the Tory laws' - when Labour doesn't even report it under its own laws? I laughed so hard, I cried.

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  17. Scunnered: "Labour doesn't even report it under its own laws?"

    It sounds an ironic point to make but Labour wouldn't have had to report any donation and we wouldn't have heard about any of these scandals (by the way the FOI Act is also helping dig dirt on this government that the Tories would have kept secret in they had been in power).

    All sorts of dodgy donations went completely unreported before 1997. The Tories were getting money from dodgy donors abroad, giving favours and rewarding donors with honours and we will never know about it.

    The Tories were the first to use loans to get around Labour's strict law on donations and to use front companies to keep their donors secret.

    Of course, none of this excuses Labour's behaviour - it is terrible. But things are better now than in the past. Before you can correct something, it has to be known about. At least the problem is out in the open now - thanks to Labour's laws.

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  18. I don't know how much you remember of the last Tory administration

    Quite a lot. The first election I voted in was the 1979 election, when I voted Labour, even though I thought that Callagham had utterly mishandled the public services. I remember the Tories last time around and I didn't like it. That;s why I don't particularly trust the Tories now. I fought against the Poll Tax mostly because would have lead to the creation of the national identity register. In order to enforce it, that was inevitable. So I don't need any lessons on how bad the Tories can be. From my point of view the problem is that there are two unpalatable choices. With Labour there is absolutely no doubt what I am going to get. With the Tories there is a chance that they will be less authoritarian. I think that David Davies is genuinely not an authoritarian. Also I think the Tories have spotted a 'gap in the market', the considerable disquiet over authoritarian law making, so they may be deliberately courting people like me. So be it. At least they are courting me. Clive Soley in his piece on CIF today is just insulting and patronising towards people like me. That approach is calculated to make to vote anti-Labour.

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  19. Stephen: You say I have 'blind faith in Labour' but you seem to have blind faith in the 'grass is always greener' approach.

    All I ask is for a little fairness here. Have you checked the record of your Tory MP? Nearly all are more fervant supporters of George Bush and the Iraq war, opposed all Labour's liberalising social measures for homosexuals and other minorities, voted against the FOI Act, against the more stringent party funding laws etc. etc.

    You mentioned David Davis - he voted strongly against equal gay rights and voted very strongly for the Iraq War (ironically he also voted for it to be investigated), and was absent on the FOI and party funding votes.

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  20. I'll tell you Neil. I'd like nothing better than to be able to cast my vote again for Labour. Now it would be very easy for the Labour party to regain my vote. Repeal to 2006 ID Cards Act, repeal the most problematic parts of the 2000 Terrorism Act, which have been used a general public order measures and, generally, abandon its authoritarian agenda. Now if it can't do that because (i) it really believes in controlling us by punishment; or (ii), it thinks that a large proportion of the public think that indiscriminate punishment is a good thing, then fine. It can say goodbye to my vote forever and I shall cast it tactically. Unfortunately that might mean voting for people I don't agree with on everything. But that's politics. If Labour wants the vote of middle class liberals like me then it knows what has to do. If it doesn't, then it can stop bleating about our 'betrayal', as Clive Soley was doing on CIF yesterday.

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  21. I know it can seem a tough decision to vote Labour with all the negative stories written about this government every day. I have every sympathy. There are lots of right wing policies of this government I disagree with. And even though I think ID cards could be of benefit, I do worry about the cost of it all. But then is Trident good value for £80bn?

    The problem is, I don't understand how voting for a party that is even more right wing will help you get what you want. What the Tories say in opposition you know will bear little relation to what they actually do. Look at their record not their fine words. The Tories have no sympathy for freedom of information, party funding transparency, an elected Lords, a fair electoral system or the rights of the poor and disadvantaged minorities. The Tories are more gung-ho about supporting the Republican party in the US in its 'war on terror', war on drugs, etc. Look at the draconian detention laws during the troubles.

    And lets not forget that Labour has targeted £100bn at the poorest children and pensioners, an extra £60bn on the NHS, £30bn on education, £20bn on public transport, that is not to be sneezed at, it is probably the biggest redistribution programme of any government.

    Thatcher set in motion the growth in inequality by creating sink estates and an underclass, by reducing house building and increasing taxes on the poorest. Labour has slowed this inequality down, but it can take a generation to reverse the crime and disadvantage caused by having dysfunctional parents. Labour have promised 3m more houses, investment in schools and increases in minimum wage and tax credits that will continue to reverse inequality. All this would be lost under a Tory government.

    You can always argue this spending has been wasted -some of it has. But is it a waste to pay doctors, teachers and nurses much higher salaries? Wasn't this what people were demanding when we couldn't recruit public servants? Are the new buildings and equipment a waste when schools and hospitals had leaking roofs and ageing equipment?

    I am constantly told, there is not enough of us radical left of centre people in the party, yet if everyone who said that joined Labour we would easily outnumber the right-wing tribal head nodders who obey the leaders every command. Then they say, we would be ignored, well lets find out first then complain. Look at what Ken Livingstone has achieved against all the odds,

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  22. I know it can seem a tough decision to vote Labour with all the negative stories written about this government every day

    It's not because of the negative stories. It's because of the *policies*. I don't even buy a newspaper. I haven't had a regular newspaper for years. But I do pay a lot of attention to policies and policy statements. My dismay at Labour comes directly from that, not from the press.

    But then is Trident good value for £80bn?

    The Trident decision was appalling. I am not a pacifist and I am not automatically against the possession nuclear arms. But the decision made no sense whatsoever in the terms in which it was justified by the government. FFS, we don't even have operational control over the launching of the missles. The US must first supply the codes before they can be launched. All we are doing is subsidising the US defence budget by 80 billion.

    The problem is, I don't understand how voting for a party that is even more right wing will help you get what you want

    As I have explained, it is a tactical vote. And in any case 'right wing' does not necessarily mean authoritarian, as there are plenty of right wing libertarians around. If I were in a position where I had to choose between a Labour and Tory candidate, and the Tory was even more extreme on civil liberties than the Labour guy (e.g. of the ilk of Michael Howard or Michael Hesiltine) then I would abstain or vote for a minor party.

    And lets not forget that Labour has targeted £100bn at the poorest children and pensioners, an extra £60bn on the NHS, £30bn on education, £20bn on public transport, that is not to be sneezed at, it is probably the biggest redistribution programme of any government

    But why should I have to choose between that and fundamental liberties such as habeus corpus? Fundamental liberties, are, well, fundamental, and they trump all else, as in the end all else will be meaningless without them. The only pressure I have on this government is my vote. If I give it to them regardless of what they are doing, what message do you think that gives? It gives the message that I don't in the end give a damn about civil liberties. That is a message I will not give to this government as it would be betraying all that I believe in.

    I am constantly told, there is not enough of us radical left of centre people in the party, yet if everyone who said that joined Labour we would easily outnumber the right-wing tribal head nodders who obey the leaders every command. Then they say, we would be ignored, well lets find out first then complain. Look at what Ken Livingstone has achieved against all the odds

    I could join the party and argue my case. But I think I would be wasting my time as the influence that ordinary members can bring to bear on the leadership is minimal, after the Blairite reforms. I believe that ordinary members can no longer propose topics of debate at the conference. I only have so much time and I will spend it where it is likely to have most effect, on single issue groups. Groups that bring together a coalition of opinion against specific things, such as Stop The War and NO2ID.

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