800 years after the great charter
September 25, 2012 2 Comments
I was reminded at the recent Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform AGM that the next General Election will be held in the octocentennial year of the signing of the Magna Carta. If British democracy has a start date, June 15th 1215 is as good as any.
What has eight hundred years seen by way of change? Perhaps the most significant is that where once we could claim the Mother of Parliaments, and therefore leadership amongst the world’s democracies, in many ways we are now lagging behind.
Where to start? The Coalition tried to fix parts of our democracy and grandly failed in many ways. We still have an unelected second chamber, we do not have an electoral system that reflects the wishes of the voters, and we have unequal constituencies. There is more …
Let’s start with that equalisation bill. This lumped together three elements – the AV referendum, a reduction of the number of MPs, and the constituencies redrawn. Two out of three elements are likely to fail to hit the statute book, and the referendum resounded in a comprehensive ‘no’. I do not see why we need less MPs – our population is growing and society is a more complicated beast today than it was a hundred years ago – so why less MPs? As to equalisation; in principle how could anyone object? But the implementation was deeply flawed. The redrawing allowed for three exceptions and was based on flawed data; I would make no exceptions and use the census (and hence have a review every decade).
I don’t know where to begin on the medieval institution that is the House of Lords. Beginning afresh today no-one would be taken seriously if they suggested a chamber made up of bishops, appointees, and those fortunate enough to be the oldest sons of Dukes and Lords.
As for the Alternative Vote; Tories may regret not supporting this if UKIP support stays at its current level (8% in the latest opinion polls).
2015 will still see women under-represented, low turnout, and MPs elected in constituencies that range in size from 22,000 (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) to 111,000 (Isle of Wight). We will still have a second chamber does not fit the third millennium, and more MPs elected by less than 50% of those who can be bothered to vote than those who can pass this mark. We also have a chunk of tax-payers still dis-enfranchised; those sixteen and seventeen-year olds who choose employment.
What we will see is the electorate dwindle as a by-product of Individual Voter Registration, which may have laudable aims but also has disastrous consequences.
And 2015 will still see polling booths and pencils seen as better than electronic alternatives.