18 May 2009

A Message To Ellie Reeves and Ann Black.

Ann Black will be chairing the NEC meeting on Tuesday to decide whether Labour MPs should be open to a new selection procedure. As a first step I say they should, and any deemed to have made excessive expense claims can be de-selected.

But the real problem (as ever), if that we live in a partial democracy. Until we reform our 19th century system for electing MPs we will never be able to hold them properly accountable - although it is no accident that these expenses claims have come to light during a Labour government, would the Tories ever have passed a freedom of information Act? We will see in 2010 if this is one of the first things they abolish, along with the minimum wage and the hunting ban.

If we are to persevere with the present system of first-past-the-post which gives us government the majority actually voted against, the least we can do is stipulate by law that ALL the parties including the Tories have proper internal democracy so members can decide their parliamentary candidates and therefore influence policy direction.

There has been a collapse in party membership and both Labour and the Tories strictly limit the power of members. In the Tory case, their members have no say over policy and only a choice of two that the parliamentary party put in front of them for choice of leader. Labour conferences at least allow some debate about policy even if members are mostly ignored, Tory conferences have always been Nuremberg rallies - pure spin for the press.

On Tuesday the NEC should re-open the selection procedure for all sitting MPs, but more than that they need to make it clear that a mere change of rules at the fees office and deselection of a few MPs who have made exorbitant claims will not be enough.

The present system gives too many MPs jobs for life in safe seats and is bound to breed corrupt and inept politicians - just as local government has failed to provide decent calibre councillors when they know they can be in power for decades whatever they do.

The churn of politician is much more widespread under PR, it is not just limited to the 20% or so of seats that are marginal. Even in areas where a party is dominant, PR makes established politicians fight for their seats and sometimes lose them. Only this competition will improve the quality of our MP.

The most obvious example where PR gives more choice is the Single Transferable Vote, which allows choice between members of a party as well as between parties. But open PR also allows the whole electorate to decide who is elected rather than a closed system which gives power to the party. In any closed system internal party democracy is essential. First-past-the-post is an effective closed system in over 2/3 of the seats, but worse than closed PR because even in the marginals it rarely gives more than a choice of Labour and Tory. A closed PR system at least allows people to reject parties that are undemocratic and unaccountable. Even if it doesn't allow specific selection of party candidates there is a pressure applied to parties operating under closed PR to improve their internal democracy. So even a closed PR system that we use in the European elections is an improvement on what we have now. But of course, PR systems can be completely open, like they are in most Scandanavian countries and some German states. Only then can we truly get the representatives we vote for and clean up politics properly.

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