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Voting Reform – the Task Ahead of Us

August 16, 2016

Make Votes Matter aims to achieve voting reform reform by 2021. this is a tall order, and we badly need a strategy for achieving it.

The Conservatives won in 2015 with 36.9% of the vote, or 24.5% of those registered to vote. With further Gerrymandering, a Labour party in turmoil, and a mainstream media which increasingly trivialises and repeats right wing propaganda, the odds must be that they will win again in 2020. The failed policy of permanent ‘austerity’ will not be effectively challenged. The poor will continue to be regarded as ‘undeserving’.

The modern Conservative party is deeply divided internally, but is a coalition of self interest. Loyalty is paramount, except when the knives come out, and then the bloodletting is quickly over. First past the Post is essential to them.

In a democracy the prevailing ideology should always be subject to challenge.

There is just a chance that if the progressive parties can form an alliance and engage the young, the Conservatives can be beaten. A commitment to Voting Reform is a key plank in any such alliance.

In order to achieve reform a specific system has to be chosen. How is this to be achieved? The parties in the coalition government could choose the system by negotiation; that would be the quickest way. Alternatively they could:

  • appoint a commission of the ‘great and the good’, and enact its recommendation,

  • establish a deliberative assembly, and enact its recommendation,

  • appoint a commission of the ‘great and the good’, and put their recommendation to a referendum, or

  • establish a deliberative assembly, and put their recommendation to a referendum,

Whilst the referendum route may be thought the ideal, the question arises as to whether the coalition can hold together for long enough, and for the referendum to be won, in the face of implacably hostile media.

If, before a pro reform coalition is elected, Make Votes Matter were to conduct its own deliberative assembly, the recommendation might just sway the argument in favour of a system that is good for the people, rather than for Westminster insiders.

Experience of the AV refereendum in 2011 shows that the opponents of change will fight very dirty. The Canadians have experienced the same problem. For example there was a deliberative assembly in British Columbia which recommended replacing FPTP in provincial elections with a modified form of STV. In the first referendum in 2005? the proposal attracted 57%, unfortunately not reaching the 60% threshold that had been set. In the second referendum support for change dropped to 30%? see, http://participedia.net/en/cases/british-columbia-citizens-assembly-electoral-reform. No doubt this too was due to to dirty tactics.

The Liberal government under Trudeau has a committment to voting reform but seems to be facing problems, see, http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/justin-trudeau-electoral-reform-first-past-the-post-1.3292694 It faces right wing press coverage, see, http://www.torontosun.com/2016/07/11/trudeau-must-hold-vote-on-election-reform.

As for the British media, anything but the truth will serve. They are driven by sensationalism, and appeasing proprietors and advertisers. Even the BBC now routinely ignores its own guidelines. None of the mainstream media are likely to support constructive change. Bearing this in mind, if we are serious about reform then we need to consider tactics such as:

  • conduct a well publicised burning of copies of the worst newspapers,

  • picketing the BBC for its sins, making sure that RT (and Channel 4 if it survives) are briefed beforehand, and,

  • going to court to seek an injunction that a referendum be delayed for six months on the grounds that biassed coverage would make the result unsafe. The government would have then to be persuaded to sue the media involved for the costs incurred as a result of the delay.

Before we do any of this of course, we have to persuade people that voting reform is a vital issue. 75% of people might support PR, but most of them weakly I suspect. To win the war we may need to show how FPTP has made life worse for the vast majority.

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