The Null Device

Electoral reform in Britain

The Independent has a piece on calls for the reform of Britain's electoral system, after the new Labour government was elected with the smallest share of the vote in over a century, with the graphic below on its front page:

a few quotes:

Constitutional specialists said Tony Blair was in charge of an "elected dictatorship" after Labour was able to win a majority with only 36 per cent of the vote. They say the Prime Minister is able to hold power with the support of just a fifth of the British adult population, the lowest figure since the Great Reform Act of 1832.
A national campaign for voting reform is to kick off this week with public meetings, a vigil outside Downing Street and a petition calling for the Government to look at introducing proportional representation systems similar to those in Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the Continent.
Although the Government privately admits the election result gave PR fresh momentum, the issue is likely to split the Cabinet, with electoral reformers such as Peter Hain and Ruth Kelly favouring a rethink and John Prescott and Ian McCartney sharply against. Many union leaders also fear it will lead to coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, and prevent Labour from governing again with an absolute majority.

Of course, the established parties who are benefitted most by the first-past-the-post system will be dead against any change that threatens to put an end to the good thing they have going; though if there is enough of an outcry, their hand may well be forced. Especially since Teflon Tony can no longer sail through on his smile and Alastair Campbell's spin wizardry and do things his way, like, say, trying to turn the House of Lords into a house of appointed cronies and calling it "reform".

Anyway, assuming that Britain does implement proportional representation, the question is: what form? The phrase "proportional representation" is most often used to refer to Single Transferrable Vote systems, such as the one used in the Australian Senate, where voters vote for candidates; however, it can also refer to other systems, including party-list proportional representation, in which voters vote for a party (not a candidate) and the parties decide who fills the seats they have won. How much do you want to bet that, if public pressure pushes the Blair government into adopting a proportional electoral system, they'll go for something like that that maximises the party machine's power whilst giving the illusion of reform?

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