Tuesday, 11 May 2010

A small step in the right direction

Following the General Election, and five days of discussions, the Liberal Democrats have negotiated a referendum on electoral reform, as part of a coalition of the type not seen for over 70 years.   Whilst not a proposal to move to full proportional representation, the alternative vote (AV) is at least one step forward towards 21st century democracy.  

Most countries around the world already have such systems, and their political parties are quite used to working together as part of a coalition.  Parties have to work together and compromise, and make sure key policies are sufficiently scrutinised and prioritised, rather than simply 'nodded through' or 'pushed through' by party whips.  The effect of this is already starting to appear, with compromises already on the make up of Government (e.g. Shared cabinet), electoral reform (e.g. AV referendum) and economic policy (e.g. with lower rate tax thresholds taking priority over providing inheritance tax breaks for the rich) for the greater good. Rather than a 'hung parliament' in my humble opinion a better description is a 'balanced parliament'.

A new system based on fundamental 'values' such as fairness, responsibility and respect is also a good start, but there is a great deal to do and far more will be needed.  The challenge (particularly for the Liberal Democrats) is to now show how effective a UK coalition Government can be, showing how 21st century politics could work for the benefit of the people, as if they do not electoral reform will fall at the first hurdle - i.e. in the referendum itself.  One thing is certain, the Tory dominated press will take any opportunity to attack any change to the voting system. The Conservatives did not want to see a referendum on the voting system (as the 'first passed the post' system serves their party, and the labour party, so well), and will I am sure argue strongly against it when it comes to the referendum.  The press tried hard to push for a majority Conservative Government so they could avoid such concessions, but even with the clear headwind provided by an unfair voting system, they did not succeed.  

The voice of the people was still sufficiently large to demand compromise and coalition - and 21st Century democracy. There's a long long way to go ... and many challenges ahead ... hence we wish our new leaders, and everyone in the UK, every success in bringing this about ... and in successfully turning our economy around.