One of the very first political organisations I joined as a callow youth thirty five years ago was the Campaign For Electoral Reform. To my untutored eye the concept that any party could form a government with a majority of the seats with a minority of the national vote seemed to me to be a travesty. Equally the concept of ‘safe’ seats, where putting up a barbary ape with the right colour rosette would secure its election to the Commons.
I joined the then Liberal Party because of its commitment to PR, I left when it was taken over by the Social Democrat Party, leaving only behind the word ‘Liberal’ in its title. What I did not know was that the last Liberal Government under Lloyd George had roundly refused PR, because it was benefitting from the ‘First Past The Post’ system, once it did not, the Liberals became ardent fans of PR.
I am writing this in Germany, that well known unstable country that has a Proportional Representation. The German system of Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) appears to give the best of both Constituency linked and proportionality.
I do not see thousands of jobsworths in Hi-Viz jackets standing on each street corner, nor can I see many CCTV cameras, so it is a country that has a more developed political system.
Let’s face it, we are in a hell of a mess constitutionally. The United Kingdom has two Parliaments, one in Scotland, one for the United Kingdom. England has no Parliament. We have two assemblies one in Northern Ireland one in Wales. We have the ‘independent’ jurisdictions of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Cornwall was once an independent with its own assembly, but is now reduced to County status.
Scotland,Wales,Northern Ireland have PR, the others do not. Sitting on top of all of this like a very expensive cuckoo is the European Union, again with PR.
So at some stage we have all used the ‘too complicated’ PR system. What is complicated is the sheer mess that this edifice is. The elephant in the room is the ‘West Lothian Question’, still unanswered after all of these years.
The net result of all this chicanery by the politicians is ‘The Rotten Parliament’ that is in its final death throes.
New Labour promised Constitutional Reform but did nothing but strengthen the power of the State over the individual and left the corrupt rotten boroughs in place, that more and more people saw that voting changed absolutely nothing, hence a less than sixty per cent turnout at election time.
A sure sign that Brown and the Labour Party are in trouble is that they are proposing the Alternative Transferable Vote, where all the minor parties votes are transferred to the larger party in terms of the preference list you ticked. This is the only system Labour are putting on the table, because it allows them to commandeer other parties votes. The Conservatives are against PR because they are looking forward to another three term electoral dictatorship. However at present they are wooing Clegg with some form of PR in case there is a hung Parliament. Blair did exactly the same to Paddy Ashdown, then dropped the whole idea once he had enough seats. Clegg would be committing political suicide if he propped up Brown.
So we have three Parties who know that PR works in this Country, but will not introduce it to Westminster because of crude political manipulation of Party advantage.
We need a new Constitutional Settlement, not a Soviet style one imposed from above, but a written Constitution that guarantees the rights of the individual over that of the State. Not Jack Straw’s perversion of what duties we all owe to the State.
The first step is to introduce PR. The best system is either the Swiss or German model in my opinion. Then we can have a written Constitution where our voices all count.
Believe or not we used to have a written Constitution in this country, it was torn up at the Restoration.
It was introduced on the 15th December 1653 written by Maj General John Lambert and it was called ‘The Instrument Of Government’. It required an elected Head of State, a Council of State of between thirteen and twenty one members. It had an elected single chamber Parliament of four hundred English Members and thirty Scots Members.
It was required to hold triennial Parliaments. Whilst it had a property qualification of Â£200 pa, in opposition to the Levellers, it redistributed seats in the Counties to diminish the patronage of the Gentry. This Constitution only lasted to 1657, and was finally swept away by the Cavalier Parliament of 1660, and apart from the changes of the Great Reform Act in the 1830’s we have been ‘ruled’ ever since.
The ‘Good Old Cause’ that created Lambert’s Constitution, led to the Parliamentary faction dispersing to Holland, Switzerland and the American Colonies. Lambert’s Constitution finally bore fruit as the American Constitution. A document that has yet to be bettered in three hundred years in terms of protecting the Individual from the State.
As somebody has said recently, we cannot go on like this wallowing around in a fetid constitutional pond that has just clogged up.