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The Route to Voting Reform

November 24, 2016

Those of us who want voting reform for Westminster need to up our game somewhat. Firstly we need more signatures on the petitions, especially the official parliamentary one. Only 33,000 signatures so far though four and a half months to go. If the petition for a second vote on leaving the EU has attracted 4 million votes so far, we can do better. We do need to reach those who normally vote Conservative.

If arguments in terms of fairness to voters don’t work, what about attacking the competence of government? The Brexit shambles is a good case in point. For example it is clear that there is no common strategy amongst ministers. There should have been a contingency plan and work on this could have started in 2013. In addition the civil service does not have the numbers of people

The Guardian reported on Tuesday 22 November,

“The civil service will not be able to implement Brexit while carrying out its other duties after having been shrunk to its smallest size since the second world war, Bob Kerslake, a former Whitehall chief, has warned.

The former head of the civil service under David Cameron added to recent warnings that Whitehall was not sufficiently equipped to cope with the extra demands of leaving the EU.” https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/nov/22/civil-service-unable-to-cope-with-brexit-bob-kerslake.

More generally, one of the main arguments in support of First Past the Post is that it is ‘decisive’ in the sense that it produces single party government. The trouble with this is that either you get a government made up of like minded individuals who tend to make stupid decisions because of groupthink,  see https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/11/new-ministers-stupid-ideas-conservative-politicians  (“All studies of group decision making shows that increasing diversity means decisions taken tend to be better quality, even though they take longer. This might mean cross-party groups should work through the details of new policy before it is released on the world.”) or in the case of the May government you have a crypto coalition united only by their wish to hold onto power, and who fail to resolve their differences constructively.

Having made the case for proportional representation in principle, by what process should a specific system be agreed upon? It is a bad principle to leave this to the government in power; MPs should not decide the means by which they are elected. However the last two referendums campaigns have hardly given voters reliable information on which to decide. The referendum should be preceded by some sort of deliberative process. In the case of New Zealand it was a Royal Commission,but could we trust a commission made up of the ‘great and the good’ in this country be trusted to be independent. The altenative is an assembly made up of ordinary people selected by lot, as has been tried in Canada.

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