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Jerry Hayes

Tonight’s debate on AV will make Tamany Hall look like Frinton Parish Council and why Tory backbenchers deserve equality of protest.

February 15th, 2011 by Jerry Hayes

The debate over whether prisoners should be given the right to vote was Parliament at its very best. Tonight’s squalid little affair over AV will be little more than a pork barrel being rolled around a smoke filled room, which will make Tamany Hall seem like the Frinton Parish council.

Tonight’s debate has precious little to do with AV and is everything about preserving the vested interests of the few. Labour wants to keep its rotten boroughs, whilst some Tories want to preserve the almost hereditary nature of safe seats. And many, who have worked so hard to get a cloven hoof on the slippery pole, won’t like the idea of coming up for reselection when boundaries are changed. Pity the fifty Poll Muddle Martyrs who will be blown back onto the cold hard streets of reality and the dole.  If anything will scupper Nick Clegg’s doomed plans for reform of the Lords it will be worried little bottoms wanting to swap green for red.

But what is really beginning to worry the No To AV campaign is that it hasn’t been a campaign at all; merely a cry for help. And even the Samaritan’s hang up on them. Because, if the opinion polls are to be believed, those in favour are in the lead.”But the peasants can’t possibly understand the concept”, squeal the nos. “It will cost squillions, and er, that’s it.”

What  really annoys politicians is that the voters tend to get it right. They hate tribal politics. They despise governments with huge majorities railroading every bit of nonsensical dogma that some ghastly think tank has dreamed up. Remember Thatcher’s famous war cry?  ”Never explain, never apologise”, so ably mimicked by Blair and Brown? Well, the public have had their fill of it. If AV means perpetual coalitions where pragmatism rather than gunboat politics forces our governments to compromise, then there will be a mighty cheer from the electorate. It looks like the government will win the vote tonight because of a peculiarly British compromise. A forty per cent threshold? A commission to study boundary changes? Nah! Just not to break up the Isle of Wight! Spooky.

But it is the New Politics that is causing Cameron’s potentially largest headache. I couldn’t understand why Chief Whip Patrick Mcloughlin  is getting such a rough ride from grass roots surveys in Politics Home. Ok, so he doesn’t cast out homosexual demons from his backbenchers and probably doesn’t have the gift of tongues, but in terms of competence and decency he is way up with the angels.

There are probably two reasons for the grumbles. Firstly, although by instinct  a right winger, he is close to Cameron and is a Coalitionist.  Secondly, he has been in government and the Whip’s Office long enough to realise why they are there: to get the Government’s business through the House. A lot of the new intake don’t seem to understand this. Perhaps, because quite a few took David Cameron’s careless talk in 2009 about the importance of backbench  independence and scrutiny of the executive  to heart. Perhaps because a lot of them, like Sarah Wollostan, Zac Goldmith and Rory Stuart are independent minded professionals who, when push comes to shove ,won’t be.

But I suspect the real gripe is that they feel second class citizens to the Liberal Democrats, who  are perceived to have a licence  for loose talk, whereas many Tories feel that they are slapped down the moment they say a word out of place. If there is to be a New Politics , Tory backbenchers are going to have to be given equality of protest with their Coalition partners, or else a very unhealthy resentment will  ferment, with very unpleasant consequences.

Tory backbenchers will not tolerate for too much longer a two speed government. Perhaps more of the carrot and less of the stick. Or, as Ed Balls used to tell the bankers, “More light touch regulation  and risk based decisions.”  Tricky one. But it has too be sorted and soon.

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Comments [ 5 ]

  1. Adam Collyer Adam Collyer says:

    AV won’t make much difference in practice, except to increase the size of already big majorities in parliament. It’s a sideshow for the real issue – which is PR. After many years supporting the traditional Tory line on first past the post, I’ve come to believe that PR would be better. I suspect the results of that might be quite unpredictable, with a realignment of the parties. It would mean Redwoodians would no longer have to share a party with the Cameroons!

    I do completely agree with your last point about the resentment caused by the different standards being applied to the parties. The answer, of course, is for Nick Clegg to slap down the Liberals just like Cameron has slapped down the Tories. I fear he hasn’t got the balls though, and of course the Liberals aren’t really a proper disciplined party so it’s asking quite a lot.

    Ultimately, the Tory resentment doesn’t come from being slapped down. It comes from not being completely convinced that the government they are supporting is worthy of it, or going anywhere worthwhile.

  2. Adam Collyer Adam Collyer says:

    P.S. love the “Poll Muddle Martyrs”. Nice one!

  3. Sir Benjamin Sir Benjamin says:

    Hmm, wouldn’t have necessarily pegged you as pro-AV, Jerry.

    To me, AV seems like a ridiculous half-arsed system based on the idea that the rather arbitrary 50% figure is somehow magical, and that figures should be massaged in any way possible, no matter how outrageous (potentially a small handful of voters 5th preferences as a decider) just so that the magic is seen to be done.

    The reality is that it doesn’t even necessarily work because people have the option, which many will use, of not ranking every single candidate. Consider a scenario where the voting is thus:

    Candidate A: 48 first preferences
    Candidate B: 30 first preferences
    Candidate C: 20 first preferences

    Candidate A gets no second prefs at all, and B gets a handful from C.

    A then wins 48 to 39, magically going above the 50% figure not by winning any second preferences, but purely by the third-place candidate dropping out.

    If I play a game of nude scrabble with Samantha, Sunita and Big Olav, I only need to get more points than the opponents to win. I don’t need 50% of the total points awarded. I’m unconvinced of the merits of majority over plurality, especially when systems feel the need to pull rather elaborate tricks to fake the ‘majority’.

    I’m in favour of moves towards PR, so long as we avoid any ridiculous STV-type nonsense with stupid jumbo constituencies.

    I think a sort of FPTP+ is the answer – a modified electoral system with greater proportionality that maintains the link between voters and their representative.

    - The majority of MPs will continue to be elected by constituencies as under FPTP.

    - Constituencies will be larger, using the Isle of Wight as a base unit, accounting for around 450 Constituency MPs in the UK in total.

    In addition to Constituency MPs, around 150 List MPs will also be elected, based on the total aggregate numbers of wasted votes for each party across the 450 constituencies.

    Only candidates who have not previously sat in parliament will be eligible to be List MPs.

    List MPs will only be able to serve their first term in parliament as such, and must stand for election in a proper geographic constituency in subsequent elections. This will keep parliament fresh, and prevent people from sitting at the top of lists without ever having to fight a real election.

    • Jerry Hayes Jerry Hayes says:

      It is a bit half arsed, but better than list based PR where MPs suck up to the party rather than the electorate and marginally better than FPTP where 150,000 voters in 100 seats swing an election. I just don’t like large majorities.

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