WANTED: One algorithm for computing a Single Transferable Vote election in a timely and efficient manner. Enquire within.
Last night I vaguely discussed PR with a friend of mine, and how annoyed I was to be living in a non-marginal constituency, when a nasty thought suddenly dawned upon me.
No, it wasn’t a sudden realisation all along that my worship of the Meek method of counting STV is wrong, but something much more fundamental.
All this talk of constitutional reform is enough to make any true Lib Dem get just a little bit excited. Gordon Brown’s laundry list of changes yesterday, while totally insincere, still got my attention. Talk of fixed-term parliaments and referendums on House of Lords and electoral reform are enough to make political geeks like me wonder whether it could actually be possible.
All these years, we Lib Dems have been desperate for the opportunity to make our case for serious, long-term reform. People like me will probably never be satisfied, but politics is all about framing the issue. If we can make a serious land-grab on this ground, talking about huge, radical reform being the only thing that will satisfy public desire for a new, transparent politics, then the Overton window will be moved sufficiently to make the smaller changes, while still desirable, much more acceptable.
The change most of us Lib Dems would like to see above all is a proportional electoral system. Party policy is to push for Single Transferable Vote. It also seems that it’s party policy to accept the Alternative Vote as a step in the right direction (when it is anything but).
The Conservatives, naturally, are dead-set against any such change.
And that’s where my concern begins.
Opportunities to get PR on the agenda come round once in a generation… if we’re lucky. In 1983, the large SDP vote got the party nowhere, due to stacking up votes in unwinnable seats. A Tory landslide was the result, ensuring that any progress on the issue was stillborn.
Labour paid lip-service to electoral reform in the 90s, and Blair thought at one point that he may need it to ensure Lib Dem backing post-election. In the end, he didn’t, and suddenly Labour realised that they quite liked a system that was delivering them stonking great majorities on a minority of the vote. Into the long grass it went.
Now it’s back. Through scandal and the terrible behaviour of politicians, all of a sudden it might be good to change a system that ensures that those MPs with the safest majorities engaged in the biggest fiddles. That message needs to be drummed home loud and clear; the public will listen to it.
But not for long.
A Conservative win at the next election will finish the debate, and finish it for 20 years. The Tories plan no electoral reform. If the Tories get a comfortable majority, they will live with that. If they get more, they’ll be delighted, and we will despair.
And since the chances of it happening will be zero, the momentum for reform will evaporate.
This window of opportunity is tiny. It will only be achieved if there is a hung parliament, with Labour in the lead, or a tiny, tiny Labour majority. No other result will allow electoral reform to become an issue.
And it’s about to be slammed shut.
Electoral reform advocates need to be loud, prominent and vocal over the coming few weeks. It may be the last chance we get.