Friday, February 05, 2010

We can't change the British Parliamentary System...

...but the British can!

Britain's "first past the post" voting system could be scrapped if Labour wins the general election, under plans which have been outlined by Gordon Brown.

The prime minister wants a referendum on changing to an "alternative vote" system, where candidates are ranked in order of voters' preference.

Mr Brown also backed proposals by Labour MP Tony Wright to beef up the power of MPs to hold the government to account, with elected select committee chairmen and control of what is debated at Westminster handed to a backbench committee.

He said the government also backed e-petitions, which would allow members of the public to suggest topics for MPs to debate and said voters would get the right to recall MPs guilty of financial impropriety, where the House of Commons had refused to act.

I'm not a huge electoral reform guy, but a transferable vote seems reasonable. It's how we nominate candidates and pick party leaders. It's not overly complicated, and it adds a certain amount of legitimacy to the system, by ensuring MPs have majority support in their constituency.

We've seen Canadian voters reject an overhaul of the political system in referenda, but I think this more modest form of tinkering could have some appeal. After all, what's more Canadian than "modest tinkering"?

But, beyond the actual proposal, I think it's important to look at this in the context of what's actually going on in the UK. Brown's reform package is a direct response to a series of scandals that have caused the British people to lose faith in their politicians. Think of it as Brown's version of Harper's 2006 Accountability Act, which fed an appetite for reform here, following Adscam.

And if you look at the Canadian political scene these days, the picture is fairly bleak. I get the sense that most voters are just fed up with politics - the bickering, the pettiness, the scandal...that may in part explain the reaction to Harper's prorogation vacation.

So I think the appetite is once again there for someone to step in and really change the way we do politics. And hey, as luck would have it, the Liberals have a leader who isn't a career politician - so why not play that up, and put something constructive forward next election? Reform parliament, change our system...try to restore a little faith in democracy.

Maybe voters have become so cynical that they won't believe the promises anymore, but it's worth a shot.



  • Bingo. This should happen. Harper can't touch it.

    By Blogger ChrisInKW, at 7:37 p.m.  

  • "Brown's reform package is a direct response to a series of scandals that have caused the British people to lose faith in their politicians. Think of it as Brown's version of Harper's 2006 Accountability Act"

    Actually it's got more to do with the fact that Brown has virtually no chance in the election which has to come this spring. The Conservatives are likely to win the general election, but probably not a majority (sound familiar yet ?), so by introducing this Brown hopes to a) boost his votes by attracting some Liberal Democrat voters, and b) be able to form a c-o-a-l-i-t-i-o-n afterwards.

    This move has nothing whatever to do with accountability and everything to do with opportunism.

    By Blogger jad, at 7:39 p.m.  

  • If this opportunism brings reform, isn't that OK? More plainly, how can anyone attain power to change anything if they don't seek to wield it?

    By Blogger ChrisInKW, at 7:43 p.m.  

  • Transferable voting systems always appeal to the big parties, for the same reason PR appeals to the small.

    By Blogger Greg, at 10:18 p.m.  

  • Bingo - I agree completely. Change comes when the incentives of various groups converge; best to go for it when you can.

    As to the merits, I'm a big fan of either instant runoff ballots (I assume that's what is meant above, with voters rating by preference) or -- and this is something I've only recently started to see the positives of of -- ``acceptance voting'' where you just vote for all the candidates you'd find acceptable. The latter wouldn't even require a change in the mechanics of we count votes in elections. And both leave in place local representation and the idea of `ridings', which means no constitutional tinkering, just changing the election laws.

    By Blogger Jon Dursi, at 10:21 p.m.  

  • I'm all for transferable votes. It makes our British system even more British... or I guess Australian. It is a plausible institutional fix that will restore majority governments to this land.

    By Blogger french wedding cat, at 11:54 p.m.  

  • It's how who picks leaders?

    By Blogger DavidA, at 2:21 a.m.  

  • As a big electoral reform guy, let me just say that there is a huge difference between different proposed reforms. I think the fact that labour is proposing reform at all is positive, but we should look very skeptically at the reform proposed. Some reforms make the results better reflect the intentions of the voter, but some, like run- off voting in the French presidential election, ignore mote voters' opinions than they consider.

    By Blogger Gauntlet, at 5:03 a.m.  

  • Bunch of hot air. He already has a majority, and he's already been PM for quite some time.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 8:43 a.m.  

  • I voted against the proposed Ontario change to a proportional system a couple of years ago mostly because it was such an unwieldy, "pig in a poke" (you would not know precisely who you would get as a rep) system. Ever since I heard about it, I've been a BIG fan of the transferable vote. It would at least come close to making sure that the person who has the broadest range of acceptance among the local electorate would get the seat.

    By Anonymous MedEditor, at 12:02 p.m.  

  • If this opportunism brings reform, isn't that OK?

    Wow. Spoken like a true Liberal.

    By Blogger McLea, at 12:53 p.m.  

  • McLea - well, a lot of reform is brought in because people want it...and that leads to votes. Health Care was probably considered a vote getter at the time. (and, yeah, idealistic reasons are better, but you shouldn't walk away from something just because the there's politics involved)

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 2:10 p.m.  

  • David - I think every party in Canada uses some sort of preferential/run-off system to select candidates and leaders.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 2:11 p.m.  

  • Start with reforming the Senate before implementing any proportional representation in the Lower House. Nevermind Britain, see Australia's Senate. That's what Canada should have! But it's been difficult to do so long as there's Liberals in it who say they 'believe' in Senate reform but do nothing about it.

    By Blogger Mike B., at 3:32 p.m.  

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