Sunday, July 22, 2007

Embrace the principle of proportional representation now, David Cameron, or risk political oblivion

More Politics

The Telegraph's "Your View" topic today asks " What should Cameron do to fight back ?".
It's good to have these questions posed. If nothing else, they force one to re-examine one's own long-held positions.
I've been realising for a while that I'm becoming thoroughly disenamoured of Britain's "first -past- the- post" voting system.
Years ago it used to be claimed that a vote for the Liberals (or Lib Dems) was a "wasted vote". Isn't it the same true for the majority of the electorate with the misfortune to live in a "safe constituency", where it takes a huge swing to unseat the sitting member, whether a member of the ruling party or not ? Why do we tolerate a system that effectively disenfranchises so many folk, preventing them having any influence on which party forms the next government? Why should real political influence be confined to the relatively small number of marginal consituencies ?
OK, I can still hear Mr. "Dutchy" Holland, my school history teacher and patriarchal Deputy Head, counselling us against proportional representation. The Germans embraced it in the 30s, he said, leading first to a succession of weak Weimar governments, allowing a certain Austrian corporal to seize power through the ballot box, posing as the nation's saviour. In case the lesson was forgotten, post-war Italy seemed to have as many governments as Christmases.
Well we've avoided, by and large, the curse of weak coalition governments. Indeed, Britain is regarded as a bastion of stable government which has no doubt assisted its economic growth, at least since Thatcher's handbagging of the unions in the 80s
But what price stable government in the 21st century, when it's stable New Labour, with no one being quite sure anymore what it stands for ? Is Brown New Labour, or Old Labour, or does he simply fancy himself as a latter day Oliver Cromwell, Britain's puritan Lord Protector ? OK, so he may call an election in Spring 2008, and win it, while the electorate looks disparagingly at the New Conservatives, thinking better the New Devil you know than one on a bike who entreats us to hug hoodies, and plans trips to Darfur while our overstretched troops slug it out with insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. Never mind the realpolitik, folks, just feel the empathy.
Things have crystallized in my mind. Scales have fallen from my eyes. Old Dutchy will be turning in his grave, since here's what I have just submitted:

"Given that many of us live in "safe constituencies" in which our vote counts for nothing, and can never be used to influence Government policy - or spending - there are two policy initiatives I would wish to see David Cameron embrace.

The first is to work towards bringing Tax Freedom Day forward to June 1st or earlier.

Today we read that we have to wait till tomorrow( July 23rd) for Tax Freedom, aka Cost of Government Day.
The second, which might allow a strategic alliance with the Lib Dems to break Labour's 10 year stranglehold on British politics, is to wave goodbye to our "first-past-the-post" voting system.
It has served us well in the past, but some of suspect it is now stifling our political evolution towards a fairer and more representative democracy.
Yes, the time has come for Britain to move towards Proportional Representation.
OK, so we run the risk of having weak coalition governments. Given that Gordon Brown was recently flirting with the idea of bringing Paddy Ashdown and other Lib Dems into his government, might it not be a good thing to dispense with meaningless party labels for a while, and have coalitions, shifting or otherwise, that make best use of a limited pool of available talent ?

Think about it please, Mr. Cameron."
If you don't, Mr.Cameron, then you and your party face political oblivion. It's not personalities who will rescue the Conservative Party now. It's policies that voters see as timely, practical and relevant. So why not seize the initiative: sell a different kind of PR - proportional representation- to the electorate. Succeed where the Lib Dems have failed. At least you can be sure of their support, and you' ll put clear blue water between yourself and the present brooding incumbent of No.10. Act now, before Brown has a chance to put down deep roots.

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