Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The case for constitutional reform

Constitutional reform is a crucial issue. Yet the far left - the rightful inheritors to Tom Paine - consistently fails to take it seriously. After all, who cares about the political system under which we live? I mean, it's only bourgeois democracy, innit?

But there are only two countries in the world where hereditary chieftains still pass laws for the rest of the nation: Britain and Lesotho. Half the second chambers in parliamentary democracies around the world are wholly elected, and half the remainder are largely elected.

New Labour’s idea of modernisation has seen Britain move from the fifteenth-century principle of heredity to the eighteenth-century principle of patronage. This at a time when the public is increasing alienated from the culture of the machine politics.

Meanwhile, the latest issue of Socialist Resistance features Alan Thornett making the arguments for proportional representation. Here's some of the statistics he quotes about the 2005 general election contest:

'It is worth remembering that in that election Labour only managed 35.2% of the votes cast but were rewarded with 55.1% of the seats in parliament. The Tories got 30.7% of the vote and 32.3% of the seats. The Lib Dems got 22.1% of the vote and only 9.6% of the seats.

'Put another way it took 26,000 votes to elect a Labour MP, 44,000 to elect a Tory MP, and a huge 96,000 to elect a Lib Dem MP – nearly four times as many needed by Labour. Such a system is indefensible.

'And even that does not give the full picture. Labour polled 35% of those who voted but they only polled 25% of those registered to vote (given the 61% turnout) and even less of those eligible to vote – under 20%.

'This means that they were given an overall Parliamentary majority of 66 with less than one in five of the electorate voting for them. No wonder people are cynical.'

Electoral reform is, of course, a matter where the democratic moral high ground happily coincides with the far left's self-interest. As the Scottish Socialist Party has demonstrated, PR greatly eases the task of getting socialist representation on elected bodies. But that makes it not one iota less just.

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