Here is hoping Britain votes for electoral reform
Like many political geeks I have been following the run up to the British election. While it appears the tide is going out on the present Labour government, when the polls are converted into seats things are still close. To my mind progressively minded folks should have a clear aim - vote to obtain electoral reform.
Following the performance of Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg in the first leaders debate, the LibDems surged in the polls and leapfrogged Labour into second place, with the Conservatives with the most popular party by a small margin. Yet due to the deeply undemocratic First Past the Post (FPP) electoral system Labour could still gain the most seats and remain in Government despite receiving less support in the popular vote than the LibDems or the Conservatives.
Assuming the LibDems gained enough support to deny Labour or the Conservatives an outright majority, and Clegg keeps his backbone, this could be the last British election under FPP. Hopefully the result will make clear a real proportional voting system is needed, not just Alternative Vote which is FPP in drag. A fairer electoral system would also be of great benefit to parties to the left of both Labour and the LibDems, and would make it harder for the Conservatives or the right wing of Labour adopting Thatcherite policies again. A hung parliament is a means in order to obtain a better democracy. A website has started to help voters achieve this result.
It is most unfortunate Labour did not progress electoral reform while they were in government as this would have set the stage for a long term Labour - Liberal alliance with the potential to shut the Tories out of Government for a long time. Yet as Will Hutton notes the key problem is that senior Labour party figures hate electoral reform and wish to maintain the two party system. In the current situation Hutton suggests Labour should offer Nick Clegg the role of Prime Minister in a coalition deal. Under this scenario Clegg would have to front up to any issues faced by a coalition government, while Labour could develop an alternative PM in waiting.
Yet after the Guardian/Observer endorsed the LibDems, Nick Clegg sprung to the right and said he would not back Labour in a hung parliament if they came third in the popular vote - this essentially opened the door to the Lib Dems supporting the Conservatives, despite the Tories being even more strongly opposed to real electoral reform than Labour. Following this development, in an interesting piece of timing, the Guardian carried a high profile article by Gordon Brown calling on LibDems to back Labour in Labour/Tory marginals.
Yet on another level Nick Clegg's moves should not be such a surprise. Nick Clegg is known to be on the right of LibDems, and the record of the party in local government elections is to campaign to the left, but govern to the right. The Lib Dems are already in coalition with the Conservatives in a number of city councils, including Birmingham, Leeds, Warrington, Camden, Southwalk and Newport, Gwent. A coalition of cuts. Clegg's claims to lead a progressive force have a hollow ring when compared to their council record.
The UK media are deciding only to report on the fortunes of the three 'major parties', those being the Conservaties, Labour and the LibDems. Yet as John Oyston points out the fortunes of minor parties in the regions could determine the result of the election in a close contest. Conservative leader David Cameron knows this - he visited Northern Ireland this week in a bid to support the Ulster Unionist candidates who will back the Conservatives in Westminster. If the difference to forming a government comes down to 10 to 20 seats, the media could look like stunned mullets as they realise the influence small parties have on the formation of the next British government.
If small parties do well this will strengthen the case for electoral reform. There are quite a few seats where minor parties have a strong candidate with a good chance of winning. Neither Labour or the Lib Dems really deserve the votes of the left - at least in some electorates the left have better options. The Scottish National Party may gain more seats in Westminster than its current seven. The Welsh Nationalist party Plaid Cymru is also on the left of Labour. Respect have a good chance in Bethnal Green and Bow, Birmingham Hall Green and Poplar and Limehouse. Caroline Lucus has a very good chance of winning Brighton for the Greens, who are also putting in a strong showing in Norwich South. These will be the seats I will be watching.
The last few days of the campaign has seen Labour increase its support, and the Lib Dems fall away, most likely as a result of Clegg's monumental error in cuddling up to the Conservatives. Not only has Clegg suggested he will support the Tories if they are the largest party (which encourages LibDem voters to switch back to the two old parties) but he is also appears to be going soft on electoral reform by stating this is not a precondition of talks with the Conservatives. In response to Clegg's comments Green party leader Caroline Lucus summed up the situation nicely, highlighting how Clegg had previously said electoral reform was an "absoulute precondition"
"The Liberal Democrats have made a huge noise about being the party of change but when it comes down to it all they really are is the party of changing their minds. It's common knowledge that the Tories don't want electoral reform. Any coalition negotiations that don't set out electoral reform as a deal breaker will lead to five more years of the same old system and it's the voters who will suffer."