If Cameron’s government delivers the changes in politics that the public are demanding, if they manage to remain united over Europe, if they remain competent, if Labour divide and squabble over party direction in the wake of a collapsed New Labour project, then they face the prospect of remaining in opposition for anything up to 20 years. Sound unrealistic? It has happened before:
Between 1931 and 1945, Labour were out of power, following the collapse of Ramsey McDonald’s second government and expulsion from the Labour party. They only regained power after a titanic radicalisation of public opinion during the war. During these 13 years out of office, they ran through Arthur Henderson and George Lansbury very quickly as leaders, before settling on Clement Attlee in 1935.
Between 1951 and 1964 Labour were once again in opposition, following Churchill’s re-election. The Conservatives had four Prime Ministers in this period (Churchill, Eden, Macmillan and Douglas-Home), changing leadership in order to remain in office. Labour came into power again with Harold Wilson, who took over from the previous leader, George Brown, after an impressive three weeks and six days at the helm.
Final example, and possibly the most obvious. From 1979 until 1997, Labour remain confined to the opposition benches, despite running through Foot, Kinnock, Smith and Beckett (who lasted a little over two months) as leaders. It was not until Blair came and shook up the roots of the party that they once again became electable.
With this slightly inglorious history nagging in the minds of the current Labour ministers, a drastic option has come to mind – electoral reform.
Now would be the perfect time to change the current system, but it also comes at a period that must warn us against such a change.
On the surface, the season is ripe for reform. With the tempestuous expenses scandal still fresh in memories, and the ever-increasing focus on changing the broken political system, the public would welcome a change in the way that the votes work. With the argument presented in the Independent editorial last Friday, saying that many are fed up with the tedium of meaningless votes cast in safe seats, the case may look convincing.
A new voting system would carry endless problem for governance. The European Elections aided the election of representatives from the BNP in the areas of Yorkshire and the Humber, and the Northwest.
The proposed voting system to be introduced instead, the AV system, would allow voters to list candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins an overall majority of first-preferences, the second preferences are counted, and so on. This system can very easily lead to people being elected by mistake. As many put a candidate in second place who they do not want to see in power, they are effectively voting for them without realising it, as AV systems always go through to the second round of voting. The result – an unwanted candidate can gain office without genuine support. For Labour, this would mean a substantially higher election rate with many putting them in second place behind either a Conservative or a Lib Dem first place vote, second place votes that would then count as first place votes in the second round of voting.
The government are not as concerned with democracy as they might like to appear. This new measure will give them a far greater chance of regaining office in four years’ time, and subsequently after that.
Do not be deceived – it is very much a political move.