Saturday, April 16, 2011

Electoral reform after AV - What next?

I don’t know who will win the referendum next week - I hope it’s the Yes campaign - but whoever it is, we will still be a long way from a credibly democratic electoral system. To take only a few of the more grotesque blots on the face of our ‘democracy’, we cannot recall our representatives once they are elected. As the current government is constantly proving, there is no recourse against a regime that introduces major policies for which they have no mandate.

And of course we still have that running sore on the face of democracy, the House of Lords. No, it makes no sense to claim that they have some sort of proven wisdom or experience we cannot do without: any government that really wanted Melvyn Bragg’s opinion of culture or the arts can always just ask him, without conceding him the right to make law in perpetuity.

A slightly more obscure issue, but one that really bothers me, is the fact that our elections permit us to elect constituency representatives, even though it has been perfectly clear for a couple of centuries that most of the really important decisions are made by central government. Hence the persistent conflict between voting for a good MP and voting for the national government we actually want. They are not at all the same thing, and persisting with a constituency-based electoral system means that we half our local MPs are parachuted in by national parties even though they know nothing about the constituency and their primary allegiance is to the national party. Conversely, to the extent that we do vote on local issues, this precludes voting for the national government, which is by far the predominant force in most aspect of all our lives.

It is an absurd state of affairs that could be remedied with a very simple solution: divide general elections into two votes (held simultaneously), with the first remaining a vote for local constituency MP, and the second a vote for a national party. The second vote would then populate a senate (to replace the ridiculous and offensive House of Lords) by allowing national parties to assign senators based on their percentage of the national vote.

The new Commons and Senate could also be allocated different spheres, with foreign policy and defence going to the Senate and all local issues being the preserve of the Commons. Others areas could be shared.

Finally, I would suggest a different approach to how often elections are held. For both houses I would suggest a fixed period of six years, with the provision that a third of each house, chosen at random not more than a month before the election, would be subject to re-election every two years. This is important, as it permits a randomly chosen sample of the electorate to provide a running commentary on their representatives, but also, by being random, prevents the parties from buttering up local constituencies as the election approaches.

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