Is this really a once in a generation opportunity?

It's very hard for us LIb Dems and those who are desperate, let's face it, for full scale political reform to feel that, as it has been our first chance to use our position as a pivot party in 34 years that it will be our last chance to use our position as a pivot party for the next 24 years.  The instinct therefore is to refuse to go into a coalition unless we get a promise of a referendum; unless we finally get what we were supposed to have got 13 years ago, if only Labour hadn't reneged on the deal.

Of course, that would be the best outcome.  But it's a very hard ask of the Tory negotiating team and we should be looking to see what package of measures could still halt this stitch up between Labour and the Conservative in its track.  It may be that one hung parliament isn't enough but two might be.

The eminent constitutionalist David Butler has oft suggested that transformational voting reform could take two hung parliaments to achieve, two consecutive hung parliaments. 

Although we haven't had a hung parliament for a long time, that may not be the case in the future.

Over the last 50 years there has been a consistent decline in people voting for either Labour and Conservative, from 97% in 1951 culminating with less that two thirds of voters in the 2010 election.  This means that hung parliaments are for more likely in the future.

Of course, the problem is that where the Prime Minister can, within a few parameters, can hold a General Election at a time of their choosing they will of course try and pick the point where a hung parliament is least likely.

But what would happen if the Conservatives agreed to fixed term parliaments? Well, the PM would no longer be able to manage the timing in their favour and hung parliaments would, on top of the psephological changes already working in favour of hung parliaments, again become more frequent.

The dynamics of election calling tactics would be changed forever.

I think we should go for as much as we can get;  I think we need more that just fixed term parliaments but I also think that political reform that provides an environment to create that second hung parliament leading to electoral reform is quite a prize and we should be wary of walking away from it.

I worry that all those who want electoral reform seem to be equating the Liberal Democrats raison d'etre with voting reform; while important we are not a one policy party.  It is unlikely however, that without a healthy vibrant Liberal Democrats that we will ever get voting reform as Labour's commitment to it comes and goes in line with their proximity to power.  So, do not make the Liberal Democrats succeed or fall on this one negotiation and this one election.

A coalition with the Tories, would allow us to reign in the worst excesses of conservatism, in all sorts of policy areas including political reform and if set up for a relatively long period help create the economic stability that this country needs.  Making a coalition work, on Britain's journey towards proportional representation, is as important as the concessions that we win from that coalition.

Coalition governments are risky in many other ways for support parties, whether or not their in it for constitutional reform, but could bring enormous benefits to the people of the United Kingdom; I'm not normally the type to be patient but I think that all of us who want a proportional voting system should look to the long game and not throw out the baby with the bathwater.




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Matthew Huntbach said...
10 May 2010, 13:14:00

It is certainly not our last chance for political reform. To retain our chance, we need to ensure we are in control of when the next election is called, and we maintain and build our support until then.

An election in the next few months will almost certainly be on the theme "The Liberal Democrats have caused this problem by existing, vote out all their MPs and we can get back to stable one party government". If we give the impression we also can't handle the multi-party politics our existence causes, I suspect the electorate will warm to this theme.

We may be very keen on electoral reform, but we MUST be aware that to most of the electorate even if they agree with it, they don't see it as a priority. In the current situation, it would have given us more negotiating power, but still much the same dilemma we are in. So I just can't see why so many people are jumping up and down and and saying that electoral reform would not have led to what we are in now. The main thing shown by the election result is that the current electoral system is not guaranteed to deliver a single party majority.

So, if we give the message that all we care about is electoral reform, to us that may appear a greatly principled stand, to most of the country it will come across as "all they care about is changing the system to give them more power". I.e. typical politicians, only in it for themselves.

It is for this reason that I came to see, in the early hours of Friday morning, that the only realistic line for us now is to agree on supply and confidence to a Tory government. We must make absolutely clear we would let them continue for say two years, so that if they did call a general election in months, they get the blame for it, we say "the people spoke, you would not accept it, how dare you ask them to think again because you didn't like what they said?".

We must also be absolutely clear that our line is this for the stability of the country, because there just aren't enough non-Tory MPs to make a stable alternative, because the people need to see what a Cameron government looks like when it has to deliver its promises, and because anyone who supports the two-party system should accept that under that system, the Conservatives won. I.e., don't blame us, blame Labour for supporting that system, it has just worked as the Labservatives want it to - distortion in favour of whichever of them is the largest.

Once the people have had plenty of time to see what a Cameron government looks like, give it two years, they will be WELL prepared to vote it out. I am sure we shall find reason about then to table a motion of no confidence. Then we get our next chance, and it will be a better one. By then, Labour should be on our side over electoral reform, and with a leader other than Brown. Then, not now, is the time to make deals with them.

neil craig said...
10 May 2010, 15:30:00

PR is the deal breaker. Without it the LDs will look pitifully weak.

Moreover if the talks break down on whether the public should be allowed a referendum on PR that will be the issue the next election will be fought on. The Conservatives would look intransigent, putting party before the people & virtually blackmailing the people into going for them. I think the LDs would be in a considerably stronger position after a 2nd election in such circumstances.

It will be seen as all the Tories care about is keeping an openly corrupt electoral system. I wouldn't want to be a tory trying to keep a seat then.

Note also that the Tories chose Cameron as leader not because they liked him but because they thought his moderate & green politices would increase the chance of them being elected. That being the case they aren't going to throw away the reality of power to stop PR.

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