09 May 2012

Some Suggestions For Constitutional Reform

This coalition has introduced 4 main pieces of constitutional reform legislation.

2 mildly progressive measures and 2 regressive.

Of the progressive, AV was defeated in a biased referendum and the proposed progressive measure of Lords reform looks likely to be scuppered by the Tory right and Labour opportunists (a combination of Labour right neanderthals and those who scandalously oppose progressive change in a forlorn attempt to drive a wedge between the coalition). If it makes the statute at all, it is likely to be severely watered down and also face a poorly funded campaign and uninformed indifferent electorate in a referendum.

Of the regressive measures, the boundary enlargement and redistricting is the most far reaching and partizan. It will lay to rest any claim of a constituency link for the present system, as boundaries morph beyond recognition between every election. If any measure needed a confirmatory referendum, this was it.

Both boundary changes and the new regressive individual voter registration will disenfranchise millions of voting age adults. And they are both being done for one reason- to improve the chances of Tory government by removing and/or diluting the votes of the urban poor, who will be disproportionately hit by this in 3 ways.

Firstly up to 10 million voting age adults, the poorest who rent and therefore move more often, also the young and students will disappear off the register because of the change from asking households to list names to addressing individuals directly - a much trickier task as the poll tax demonstrated. Universities will no longer just send their list of student hall residents. Each individual will be addressed. A far more complex administrative task. And millions will disappear in a stroke.

Then no longer will registration be required by law. This is a scandalous way to entice non voters into thinking registration is also pointless. But of course by not registering, urban voters will find their constituency enlarged even more. Accountability will suffer as MPs in poorer areas will find themselves even more remote.

Finally, the ever changing boundaries will make it harder for smaller parties to build community support. This is bound to lead to even more voter apathy. A vicious circle as even less people register and constituencies get even bigger in the poorer lower turnout areas that typify Labour seats generally.

Then there are the changes to the Lords themselves that is being proposed. No real problem with single transferable vote being used. Not an ideal PR system but certainly will provide wider representation. The 15 year terms being proposed are a bit strange and undemocratic but a tenable idea to give more freedom to those elected to defy whips (at least in theory). But having a better represented second chamber will inevitably lead to legitimacy issues and clashes between the two chambers. (However, this would not necessarily be a bad thing).

One suggestion around the legitimacy issue would be to use the present first-past-the post elections for the Commons to also elect the Lords. We could allocate according to party vote to keep it proportional and take their best placed non-winning candidates who obviously will have less legitimacy than elected MPs who got most votes.

The advantages would be there would be no extra elections, primacy of the Commons would be clear and more votes would count. Also voters would have a say in who entered the Lords.

The disadvantages would be, we would still have a voting system that was disproportionate and open to gerrymander.

The other option is to avoid elections altogether on the basis that they are too easily bought by the rich and powerful. But instead of the PM selecting our revising chamber we ensure true representation by selecting them by lot. It works for juries and it worked for the ancient Greeks.

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