Thursday, May 28, 2009

You Can't Dencentralise and Empower Without PR

Win or lose in this election, I will not regret having done it. First of all, you meet a lot of people. You get to understand what is on people's minds. I am also quite impressed by just how much people understand politics and current affairs.

What also hits me is the preciousness of democracy. The fact that it is the public that chooses whether I am a Councillor next week, not a committee or a bureaucrat. They have the choice.

And while choosing a Councillor doessn't translate into anything like real control or empowerment on most issues, it is a golden thread of accountability that defines the type of society we are.

I would like to see more of this: recall, citizen referenda and citizen-led legislation like you see in the US. Politics beyond politicians which invigorates civil society - and keeps politicians on their toes.

Competition is key to this. Without competition, the benefits of democracy disappear too. In the neighbouring division to mine, in which I live, there are no leaflets, poster or visits.

Because there is only one winner. Now and always. He gets around 50% of the vote but no more. Most people know the situation and, surprisingly, don't engage. And he feels more accountable to his party's whips than the people who put him there. This isn't the right balance, I feel.

By contrast the competition in my Division is intense and three-way. At least two candidates, including myself, are visiting every household in the Division and leafleting intensively.

If we win, we know we have to be active, energetic representaives, not the do-nothing types you find in the Labour or Tory monocultures that you find in inner-cities or the rural shires.

For this reason, PR is needed. Alternative vote at local level would retain the link but ensure that whovever won had the endorsement of the majority. It would also enliven debate and engagement.

Which is why Cameron's announcement and interview yesterday can be seen as politicial bluff. Because if he was remotely serious he wouldn't exclude electoral reform from his list.

Electoral reform is the oxygen of decentralisation and wider engagement in politics. Without it, most votes don't count for a thing. If Labour had any sense they too would come out for PR, like Alan Johnson has done.

`Typical Lib Dem' I hear you thinking. Well yes, you are right. For Lib Dems have always championed the radical decentralisation now being aired by the mainstream parties. But you can't give power away to any meaningful degree without a voting system that also recognises the value of each and every vote.

1 comment:

Mark Griffiths 'ideally speaking...' said...

Being a fellow Politics graduate, Craig, you're well aware that Proportional Representation has been on the back burner in UK politics for over 30 years now. Trouble is, in a strong, two-party system, there's no incentive to introduce this. Both sides know they will get a chance at a long stay in power with a big parliamentary majority. However, this may change. And it could be the Tories that do it. Why? This country is basically conservative with a small c. The Tories have been historically and remain the 'natural' party of government. Over time, they are sure to be in at least two thirds of the time. But being shut out of government by Labour for 12/13 years (losing three general elections) has come as a shock. They don't want and can't afford for this to happen again. They could and should resort to PR to prevent this happening again. How? PR would split the Labour vote but largely retain theirs. Disaffected Labour voters are as likely to vote for UKIP and BNP as frustrated Tory voters are. The big beneficiaries of disaffected Labour would be the Liberal Democrats, as the largest of the minor parties. But this is the risk that the Tories could take in order to weaken and destabilise Labour once and for all while retaining their own heartland. The Tories would then be the one big party, with two other, lesser parties, neither of which would find it easy to get a majority. Personally, I hope Cameron does it, because (a) I'd like to see the Lib Dems become a greater power than they are and (b) I'm not afraid of having extremist views aired and debated and (c) over time, PR might make this country might less conservative with a small c. Our so-called democracy is archaic and it's about time it changed. By the way, it's great to see the power and drive you're putting into the last week of your local campaign!!