Posted on 28 March 2006 by admin
There is a burst of elections going on in the world at the moment – Ukraine and Israel have received a certain amount of coverage but there’s also lots happening in other places. I’ve written elsewhere about Hungary – an exception electorally, as in most other things.
But last week there were also elections in two states of Australia, South Australia and Tasmania, the latter state using the Single Transferable Vote (known there as Hare-Clark). Labor returned to power in both. It is perhaps fitting to note that this is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Hare, pioneer electoral reformer and progenitor of the idea of STV.
My past blog entries here have demonstrated a certain amount of support for the Grand Coalition in Germany. This feeling seems to be shared by the German electorate. There were three state elections on Sunday (a day of the week when many sensible countries hold their polls). In Baden-Wuettemberg the CDU increased its already strong representation to within a seat of overall control. In Rheinland-Pfalz the SPD scored very well and won an overall majority, and in Sachsen-Anhalt the electorate deprived the previous CDU-FDP coalition of a majority and made a local Grand Coalition the most likely outcome. Where are all the prophets of doom in the British commentariat now?
Posted on 14 December 2005 by admin
I am currently trying to write a post about the use of obfuscation and confusion as a political weapon, and found myself reminded of Bismarck’s celebrated statement that
To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.
It’s not to be found in writing anywhere in Bismarck’s papers, but various versions of the quote have circulated since. I hadn’t realised that Bismarck had also delivered a number of other statements of wry, cynical Realpolitik. He’s like a 19th Century H.L. Mencken, with the added advantage of a powerful land army.
When you say you agree to a thing in principle you mean that you have not the slightest intention of carrying it out in practice.
Referendum on electoral reform in the first term, anyone? As for
There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children, and the United States of America.
… oh, you don’t need me to comment on that one, do you?
Posted on 06 December 2005 by admin
The Times noted today that the island of Sark, in the Channel Islands, is considering a radical electoral reform.
Yes, from 2006 one person one vote may be coming to the island, although – we don’t want to be hasty – it hasn’t been finalised. The challenge to the existing rules, that include Droit de Seigneur (relax, only over property sales), comes not so much from the forces of democracy as the forces of plutocracy, as the Barclay brothers challenged the current system before the Privy Council. The judicial role of the Privy Council is hardly more defensible, but there we are. Incidentally, the modern go-ahead Times is now so opposed to feudalism that it seems unable to spell the word correctly.
Posted on 02 December 2005 by admin
Sigh. Another week, another Conservative going on about the iniquities of the parliamentary boundaries. Despite repeated efforts to explain why it isn’t the solution to their problems, the Conservatives still seem to imagine that the electoral system is biased against them because the boundaries are unfair.
The latest entrant, John Maples, is an intelligent and experienced MP who takes the trouble to listen to evidence, so I have some hopes that the speech on his Ten Minute Rule Bill, the Parliamentary Constituencies (Equalisation) Bill, might be better informed than many other Conservative contributions to the discussion.
I hope Maples will note the importance of the distribution of the party’s vote, and differential turnout, in his remarks. I also hope that he will show awareness of some of the problems of equalising constituencies, in terms of frequent reviews and a lack of community identity with a seat. I hope against hope that someone in the debate will point out that the US House of Representatives features the most appalling gerrymandering, despite its seats being of equal size within each state.
But none of it matters – Ten Minute Rule Bills are futile mini-debates on legislation that goes no further. In any case, it’s discussed on Wednesday 7th December, right after David Cameron has had his first tilt at Tony Blair in Prime Minister’s Questions. The Chamber will be empty, apart from Mr Maples and someone who has annoyed the Labour whips and is being punished by having to speak in reply to Mr Maples. Everyone else will be marking Cameron out of ten for his performance in another futile parliamentary ritual. Pointless debates, media spin, misbegotten pseudo-reforms, the weekly joust… And it could be worse. We could be in America, home of equal-sized constituencies. I’ll show you into the House of Horrors next week.
Until then, Schönes Wochenende.
Posted on 18 May 2005 by admin
Some more entrants to the ‘nonsense about boundaries’ file from the Sunday Telegraph , Scotland on Sunday and their columnist Gerald Warner (who should probably lie down in a darkened room until the feelings go away).
I’ll leave the Scotland question for a later entry, but consider this fact. In 2005 the average English Conservative seat had 73,221 electors and the average English Labour seat had 67,671 electors. Shocking, says the chorus… but hang on. In 1979 the average English Conservative seat had 69,923 electors – and the average English Labour seat had 61,150. The boundaries were therefore much more biased in 1979 than 2005 (a difference of 14.3% rather than 8.2%). But the system as a whole operated much more fairly between the main parties in 1979 than it did in 2005.
To paraphrase that famous sign from the Little Rock campaign war room in 1992: It’s Not the Boundaries, Stupid.
If you want a system that rewards parties systematically in relation to the votes they obtain, you cannot guarantee this outcome under FPTP whatever the boundaries. You need a proportional system. It’s that simple.
Posted on 18 May 2005 by admin
There were several proposed pieces of constitutional and electoral legislation in the Queen’s Speech – unfortunately no Representation of the People (Fairness) Bill, so the campaign goes on…
The government has responded to many of the concerns over vote fraud and the possible issues around the increase in postal voting, although its proposals could go further on issues such as individual registration. The proposed Electoral Administration Bill – and the stinging words of Richard Mawrey, the judge at the Birmingham Election Court, about ‘banana republic’ standards of democracy – are an overdue recognition of the risks in our under-policed electoral system. It imposes prison sentences for fraudulent handling of postal ballots, checkable signatures to verify the identity of voters, and bans the regrettable but widespread practice of having political parties handling postal vote applications.
Lords reform was also in prospect, but there will be yet another round of consultations and committee meetings on what must be the most over-analysed item on the constitutional agenda. Implementation of the admirable Richard report on the government of Wales also seems to face some hurdles, although more powers will be devolved to Cardiff.
Much of this seems welcome, as far as it goes, but for every ballot paper misused by fraudsters there are thousands that are casually thrown away by an unrepresentative system. Until this is addressed, we are still in banana republic territory, without even the saving grace of being a republic.
Posted on 12 April 2005 by admin
The Conservative Party manifesto published yesterday contained the promise:
As part of our drive for efficiency across Whitehall and Westminster, we will cut the number of MPs by 20 per cent.
This may or may not be a good idea – Britain does have more MPs per elector than many comparable countries, and there is no prima facie reason why 650-ish is necessarily better than 550-ish. Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie wrote a thoughtful piece about how it might be done last autumn. But…
Mr Howard said in an interview that “you have got to have a big bang” and that the Conservatives’ ambition was to achieve this in a single parliament.
Here we get into all sorts of trouble.
This pledge would require primary legislation, as the basis for the existing numbers is specified in several laws. The Boundary Commission will need to be instructed to work to the new rules, and its work vastly accelerated. The current review started in 2000, is still going on, and won’t be ready until the election after this one. To make the Commission work faster will need more money, and probably a change in the existing procedure that allows for local public inquiries to amend the details. It would be expensive and nearly impossible to get through in time; it would probably be a net increase in public spending over the next 5-8 years. And MPs tend to become very precious and prickly about the boundaries of their fiefdoms. And the last thing this large new corps of Tory MPs will want to do is vote themselves out of jobs. Mr Tyrie’s excellent paper proposed phasing in the reduction, for good reasons.
Is one being unduly cynical in thinking that Mr Howard’s ‘big bang’ version is merely a populist slogan the party would be horrified to have to implement should it gain power?