Over my month away from blogging I’ve absolutely lost the sense that the Lib-Dems are making the best possible use of their prominent position in government. Indeed, they don’t really seem to be softening the impact of the Tories’ plans either. After the heights of Nick Clegg’s speech on reform of the electoral system and Parliament’s Upper House, the Lib-Dems appear to have lost their voice at the heart of government. Opinion polls are beginning to reflect this. According to a YouGov poll published yesterday, only 40% of Lib-Dem voters at the General Election approve of the coalition’s performance compared to 36% who disapprove. Similarly, only 46% of Lib-Dem voters at the General Election would vote for them in another General Election today.
It isn’t a huge leap to suggest that a drop in support for the Lib-Dems could lead to defeat for the ‘Yes’ campaign in the referendum on the Alternative Vote. In another YouGov poll published yesterday, AV’s lead over FPTP was down from 13% a fortnight ago to just a single percent. As much as supporters of the ‘Yes’ campaign will try to avoid this, the referendum could all too easily end up being a poll of the public’s view of the Lib-Dems.
As the main parliamentary advocates of electoral reform, the Lib-Dems have a huge responsibility to keep a strong, distinctive and successful role within the government. It’s important that they show that coalition government – slightly more likely under AV – works. Equally important though is that they ensure that they, as the party which will be campaigning hardest for AV, keep to the principles that their supporters voted for at the last General Election. It will be nigh-on impossible for AV to be passed without Lib-Dem voters voting in favour of it. Unfortunately, the Lib-Dems seem to be forgoing the principles upon which they were elected which has of course been reflected in their poll numbers.
MPs are receiving increasing amount of email from users of 38 Degrees , a website which provides the ability for members of the public to MPs en masse. The Purple Revolution campaign for Fair Votes made use of this service to let the strength of their feeling be know to Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs on proportional representation. According to a 38 Degrees blog post they, “sent over 150,000 emails to the Lib Dem MPs as they started weighing up their next move [on who to form a coalition with].”
The emails appear not have have been received in the best of spirits however. One of the most socially-connected (though anti-PR) MPs Tom Watson tweeted :
Thks @38_degrees. Inbox now full. Why didn’t you check to find out the MPs that supported your proposition before spamming us all?
3 days later Watson added :
Hello 38_degrees. Just thought you’d want to know it’s taken me two hours to work out how I’m going to email 1700 progressives en masse ;-)
While I applaud Watson for engaging with the electorate so well on Twitter and understand his frustration at having a sudden deluge of emails, his sentiment is fundamentally misplaced.
At the moment, email is simply the most efficient method for members of the the general public who feel strongly about an issue to register their opinion with those who legislate. It is a method by which people without great wealth or privilege can lobby their representatives in Parliament. Big business can spend millions on lobbying legislators and the civil service to make law conforming with their interests. Such monetary resources are just not available to normal people.
One of my favourite moments of the General Election was Caroline Lucas winning Brighton Pavilion for the Green Party. I’m very much in favour of more diversity of political parties in the House of Commons and with the vast experience that Lucas has from working in the European Parliament, I expect her to be an excellent addition to the chamber. I support the principal of many of their policies. They seem to be the party most in favour of redistributing wealth and as a Republican I welcome their proposal to all but abolish the monarchy. This got me thinking; I can see many Lib Dem and Labour voters turning to the Green Party in the coming years. If much of the centre-left of Britain’s electorate become disillusioned by a Liberal Democrat party in coalition with the Conservatives and a Labour party potentially in civil war and continuing down their tribalist path, a large amount of those voters could switch to Lucas’s Greens. Lucas should use her new-found position to good effect and increases awareness of the Greens and make a centre-left swing to the Greens even more likely.
I came home this evening to see David Cameron entering Downing Street. It’s a truly momentous occasion, a turning point in British political history. All my instincts tell me to be deeply unhappy to see a Conservative as Prime Minister. But after a couple of hours to consider the policies in the coalition agreement and the makeup of the new coalition, the outlook is not so grim. The policies in the coalition agreement and the makeup of the cabinet seem to have given a lot of ground to the Liberal Democrats. The Lib Dems’ best policy of a fairer tax system is there and the Tories’ worst policy of a tax cut for Britain’s richest is not. Nick Clegg is Deputy Prime Minister and several other leading Lib Dems will have top cabinet positions. As a passionate supporter of Proportional Representation I am saddened at the lack of fundamental electoral reform in the agreement but it was obviously too great a stumbling block for the Tories who have compromised instead on a wide array of issues. Continue reading
On Saturday afternoon, the Take Back Parliament campaign marched throughout Britain to call for change to the current electoral system. I took part in the London demonstration, loudly marching from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street, past Westminster and the cameras of the BBC and Sky and finally to Smith Square where Liberal Democrat MPs were meeting. Dressed in purple, the traditional colour of pro-democracy activists, the campaigners urged the Liberal Democrats to insist that any coalition agreement includes their commitment to introduce a proportional system where everyone’s vote counts.
Almost every European country, including Scotland and Wales, successfully uses a proportional system. This sees parliaments where the people are genuinely represented, governments with popular support and elections where everyone has a say. Germany avoids extreme parties gaining power by requiring parties to receive 5% of the vote to win any seats. Because people know their vote matters, turnout tends to be higher. Most proportional systems return coalition governments meaning mature politics are necessary, with co-operation and consensus-building needed to govern effectively.
This is a reprint of an article I wrote for the University of Birmingham student paper ‘Redbrick.’ The original is available here.
At some point before June 2010, Britain is to become an electoral battleground. Political parties will be campaigning for our votes at a general election, with voters potentially being swayed by issues such as the economy and the MPs’ expenses scandal. However, this election may be historic for the most unexpected of reasons.
In Britain, one party usually gains a majority of the seats in Parliament, meaning they do not need the support of the opposition parties to make laws. However all this might change after the upcoming election. For the first time since the 1970s, there is a strong possibility that no single party will gain overall control at Westminster, resulting in what is known as a hung parliament. Continue reading