Thursday 9 July 2009

No anorak required to vote for change

Electoral reform but not as you know it was the watchword as the Vote for a Change Rally launched a decidedly 'no anorak required' campaign to demand a referendum on changing the voting system by the time of the next General Election.

Dave Rowntree of Labour (and Blur) did squeeze in a few killer stats on the historic inequities of first-past-the-post before introducing KT Tunstall to sing. She said this had been a year of political re-engagement for her, revealing that her song 'Poison in your cup' had been "inspired by the look on George W Bush's face when Obama was inaugurated".

Making our discredited political class the face of the need for reform explained the focus on citizen and celeb-led approach, with campaigning poet Dave Neita also pitching in as a laureate of the left, as this fundamentally pro-politics cause seeks to surf an anti-politician wave.

Pro-reform politicians did get a turn and John Denham was warmly received. Rowntree mentioning his 2003 resignation over Iraq in introducing his potted biog certainly didn't do him any harm either.

Denham warned that the scale of public reaction to the expenses crisis spoke to a deep sense of disconnection from politics. He found anti-politics profoundly worrying because "a society which loses trust in politics, which loses faith in democracy, loses the ability to shape its future", said Denham.

"Changing the electoral system has long seemed to me to be central to changing the way that people think about politics", said Denham, because the electoral system was driving an ever narrower political contest targetted on small but decisive groups of marginal voters.

"A system that gives those key voters ten, fifteen or twenty times the power of other voters, is a real problem if parties then recognise and respond to that with ever greater sophistication, as we do".

"That is why we sound so much more the same that we know that we are in practice", said Denham.

Denham said the government had "done the narrow thing" to sort out Parliamentary expenses but recognised that "the agenda has to be much broader than that". Denham acknowledged different views in Cabinet on electoral reform - where he, Alan Johnson and Ben Bradshaw were long-standing advocates of change - but the whole government had committed to opening up the issue of electoral reform.

"That is not a guarantee of a change of the electoral system. But there is the chance of a change. That is the challenge your campaign is taking on. And it is why what happens outside Westminster will be crucial", he said.

"Only the main opposition party is totally, without discussion and without debate, resolutely opposed to any change. Across the rest of our politics, the openness to change is there".

Other speakers included LibDem Jo Swinson, Peter Tatchell for the Green party, Gerard Batten MEP from Ukip, Oona King and Billy Bragg, with Martin Bell, Shirley Williams and Clare Rayner among those offering video voxpops on the big screen

The campaign (which I am supporting) is pushing for an electoral reform referendum to be held not later than the day of the General Election. That would require legislation to be in place by the start of November this year.

You can support the campaign here.


_______ said...

Good stuff. I'll be voting for PR if there is a referendum on electoral reform.

Stuart White said...

Sunder: is any specific form of 'change' being proposed? Is the idea to have a referendum with a menu of options, e.g., FPTP, AV, AV plus, some form of PR?

Sunder Katwala said...

The Electoral Reform Society have helped to bring together a broad range of organisations and individuals who are backing the new campaign. (I am part of an informal steering/advisory group but haven't been to every meeting while on leave).

It is focused on a referendum to vote for a change of voting system. The general thrust of the campaign is pro-PR, I think the campaign view is that it doesn't need to be too specific at this stage about a specific system or the form the question takes in building pressure for a referendum.

For example, that could be FPTP vs AV+, or multi-options, or there might be a version of a referendum which was linked to a citizens convention proposal.

In practice, I think many STV advocates (such as many LibDems) would be keen to see a quick AV+ referendum (which was Clegg's proposal recently as well as Alan Johnson's).

Some backing the campaign (like me) are open to AV (as well as AV+ and possibly other systems if they had a genuine chance) while others (and most) would share your view about AV not PR.

(But I think that might be a different question: how far would PR supporters be pro/neutral or opposed were the government to propose a reform including AV).

Sunder Katwala said...

The official campaign demand is put like this

"We demand a new electoral system that makes everyone’s vote count.

Alongside the next general election there should be a binding referendum on whether to change to a new more proportional electoral system. This should be drawn up by a large jury of randomly selected citizens, given the time and information to deliberate on what voting system and other changes would make parliament more accountable to citizens.

Politics is now too important to be left to the politicians. We demand the right to be able to vote for a change":

Stuart White said...

Sunder: thanks for the clarification. I certainly support the campaign. It provides an excellent complement to the citizens' convention process which Real Change are organizing.

Unknown said...

In an ideal world we'd like a referendum question (or the options to be voted on) to be based on / influenced by recommendations from a citizens convention type process, even a truncated one. But practicalities of referendum timescales mean we are fast running out of time for that, though still pushing for it.

Given that AV+ already had a form of public consultation process around it (Jenkins Commission), there is some merit - as well as simplicity in terms of timescales and process - in having a FPTP vs AV+ referendum.

Personally I am against a 'preferendum' - I don't want a list of different systems to choose from. A simple change vs status quo question would be easier for people to understand and mean we wouldn't be bogged down in systems talk all campaign.