09 August 2008

The Two Wings Of Labour - Compass and Progress - Both Now Support Proportional Representation. When Is the Leadership Going To Listen?

Neal Lawson from Compass and Robert Philpot from Progress are debating Labour's future direction on Comment is Free and both have come out as...
supporters of PR.

What with LabourHome firmly on board as well, is there still hope for change? Even staunch opponent Bob Piper is talking about it. Are the leadership listening and willing to honour that long overdue manifesto pledge?

For long time supporters of change like me, the likely options are pretty depressing. Both Brown and Straw are strong supporters of first-past-the-post, Miliboy is an unknown. But even supporters of PR, John Denham and Alan Johnson are unlikely to risk putting it forward when Labour are so far behind in the polls.

There is still time (just) to organise a referendum before the next election, but the unpopularity of the government could cloud any debate.

The options are - accept all is lost and that the Tories will abolish broadcast impartiality and re-rig the boundaries in their favour after 'winning' the next election with fewer than 25% support, or alternatively; probably lose a referendum on PR for Westminster (due to government unpopularity) or; there is the third option.

My favoured strategy, to get around the hostile press and tap into the English nationalism they foster (without being racist) is by offering a referendum on an English Parliament.

Like the Scottish parliament, it would have the same powers over health, education, transport and other domestic areas (and crucially) the same electoral system.

This would mean every part of the UK would have a PR elected representative. As an added bonus we could scrap the House of Lords and replace it with the new English parliament (to save money).

This is simple, populist, solves the 'West Lothian' problem and is probably the most effective way Labour could get PR without facing accusations of 'only supporting PR because they face defeat'. To head into a referendum for PR for Westminster at this stage would likely mean the whole referendum being overshadowed by Labour's unpopularity - either way the chance for reform would be lost for another generation and us Labour reformers would forever curse new Labour for reneging on their promised referendum in their first term - when it would have been so easily won.

For those unconvinced that we need to change the present first-past-the-post system, here are some links to mull over:-

58% cannot name their MP (para 6)

68% don't vote for their MP (pdf p12)

75% of seats are 'dead certs' - Even in the 'landslide' election of 1997 only 186 seats out of 659 changed hands, so 72% (473 seats) were unchanged (and this was after a drastic boundary review, so boundary changes probably had more impact than vote changes in a lot of these seats).

94% of Londoners cannot name council leader.

'Wrong winners' in local elections (p21 pdf).

The 'Gerrymander Wheel'

And for why PR is better:-

PR Leads To Higher Turnout (p7 pdf)

PR Countries Have Less Inequality.

PR Leads To Higher Economic Growth

PR doesn't need party lists

Although Party Lists do mean many more women and ethnic minorities elected (matching their proportion in the population).

And for those who say that our system allows us to 'throw the buggers out'. People are sick and tired of both Labour and Tory but they have no other choice available. Labour have a large 66 seat majority on just 2 in 10 of the electorate, 2 in 6 voters - that makes it clear it is pretty damn hard to 'throw them out' - as 18 long years of Tory rule proved. The Tories never had more than 1 in 3 support and it was only when there was overwhelming hatred for them that people finally managed to get rid of them. The relief in May 97 cut the air. But the people had to reluctantly elect new Labour to get rid of them - smaller parties have no time to develop and grow under this system - because unless they have immediate massive support they are a wasted vote. This will never happen with a media that ignores small parties.

Does any of this make you think? I do not understand how any democrat can support a system that gives 55% of seats to a party with 35% of the vote.


  1. "...we could scrap the House of Lords and replace it with the new English parliament (to save money)."

    Brilliant! It would reduce the number of politicos, be more representative, put ALL UK voters on an equal footing , answer the English Question, be a vote winner and possibly save the union (that Labour need more than any other party). Nice one Neil, do you think the leadership will listen

  2. Terry, It would be great if they did listen - your reaction says it all - there could be millions of voters like you out there who would sit up and listen if Labour proposed this - like you say it would solve many problems with the current system. I am a reluctant convert to the idea of an English Parliament, but I did some serious thinking. The govt has botched devolution, botched representative government, botched reforming local government. This could be a simple and popular way of putting all that right. I still think that regional government would be more efficient and less likely to break up the UK but as that isn't going to happen and the Tories will seriously test both the English and Scots patience with their muddle of a scheme, an English parliament does seem the only way forward. If Labour are clever they will listen and make the most of the opportunity this brings. If they deliver on an EP they might still be able to save themselves. There is no way it will happen under Brown - so here is hoping that Miliband (or Denham or Johnson) see sense - this is their one way out of this constitutional mess that is only going to get worse under the Tories. Heres hoping.

  3. Stephen Gash10/8/08 6:18 pm

    The Scottish Parliament has made all Westminster MPs powerless in Scotland. An English Parliament would make all Westminster MPs powerless everywhere. This is the only reason the English won't be given a referendum on one.
    However, 20% of Tory MPs have woken up at last and realised their own constituents are getting a raw deal compared to the Scots, and usually the Welsh, and they now back an English Parliament.
    Times are changing. The Union will more than likely be gone a a short space of time. It's had its day really.

  4. Good to see more members of the Labour party are thinking about electoral and constitutional reform, national devolution for England, and the future of the feudal relic that is the House of Lords.

    As for referendums - more, more, more! A factor in Labour's woes is the failure to hold a referendum on the EU reform treaty, which was designed to have much the same effect as the rejected constitution. Related is the ability of the PM to call elections - or look as if he's about to - we need fixed parliamentary terms.

  5. Glad to see we've converted you to our side since this post from February.

    A genuine conversion though? Or just a party political ploy to get one over on the Tories?

  6. I am aston-ish-ed, I have oft thought that new labourites would start to Morris Dance when they saw the writing on the wall.
    England can have the commons for an English Parliament and the brit unionists can have the lords thank you very much. call it a british grand committee if you like.
    I would be quite happy for each Nation of the uk to be equally represented in the british grand committee regardless of population.
    I have provided a link to letters to the press in case some of your readers are not sure of the strength of feeling on this issue.

  7. While it is conceivable that desperation could cause the Labour Party to do some original thinking eg in the case of an EP and thereby retrieve their position in the only part of the union that counts ie England, I doubt they are mentally flexible enough to do it.

    Lets face it, being in a rut, is for many people a form of security and keeping religously inside that same rut rather than change is more congenial; even at the cost of death, for political death is what Labour are now approaching if they don't change.
    But they won't change. Brown and nearly all the people at the top of Labour are dyed in the wool anti English with regionalism for England only being an article of faith. We are talking here of the same type of racioreligious animosity against the English that the nazis had for the Jews. Not so violent and carefully coded so as to be restrained but the same type.

    There are some in Labour who could do it ie seize the English question and go for an EP eg Frank Field and perhaps Milburn. Milliband is an unknown quantity. Trouble is , Brown is in control and he basically hates everything about England including the very name. He, in particular, is perfectly capable of conducting Labour to extinction and ruling out probably their only chance of survival just so as not to change.

  8. SP - "A genuine conversion though? Or just a party political ploy to get one over on the Tories?"

    Does it matter? The only priviso I have is that the EP has the same powers as Scotland and is elected the same way. Like I say, I am a reluctant convert - I still think regional assemblies would be ideal, but as the situation stands an English Parliament looks the only way forward and is worth the risk of breaking the union (Scottish nationalism will be strengthened if the Tories are elected).

  9. "does it matter?"

    Not really, just curious.