Labour abandons plans to ditch FPTP voting


8:30 am - April 7th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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The Indy reports:

Moves to stage a referendum on scrapping the first-past-the-post electoral system have been abandoned as the parties wrangle over legislation to be rushed into law ahead of the general election.

The Government has also dropped proposals to phase out the right of hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords.

The Government yesterday said it had given up hope of pressing ahead with measures to hold a referendum on whether to move from “first-past-the-post” to the “alternative vote” system under which voters list candidates in their order of preference. Tory frontbenchers in the Lords had criticised the plans, set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill.

It was always going to be too good to be true wasn’t it.

According to Vote for a Change, Conservatives were reported to have refused offers of a sunset clause, and were prepared to adopt a ‘scorched earth policy’ vetoing the whole CRAG bill if the referendum wasn’t dropped.

Willie Sullivan, head of the Vote for a Change campaign said in a statement last night: “In Wash Up and armed with a veto not granted them by any voter, the Conservatives have killed reform of the voting system and reform of the House of Lords. Cameron’s message is clear. And it isn’t change.”

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


It’s a bit rich of Willie Sullivan to make a point about the Tory opposition to reform of the voting system when his own party did naff all on this for 12 and a half sodding years.

Quite, Labour have been in power since 1997. Indeed, Labour’s 1997 manifesto read, “We are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. An independent commission on voting systems will be appointed early to recommend a proportional alternative to the first-past-the-post system.”

It is to laugh.

So, “New” Labour are now interested in electoral reform? I think most people will know a death-bed conversion when they see one.

If they were that serious about reform, and ensuring that the Tories don’t get in, they would have been working with the LD’s on a pact to keep them out – neither Labour or the LD’s will do it, becuase they would rather hope they can cling onto power in the case of Labour, or in the case of the LD’s carry on with the fiction that they can “win” an election.

To be expected, totally.

I think Labour are really trying their best to piss off any potential former core voter who may just about place their tick next to Labour in May.

Shameless. They could have done this even six months ago if they were serious about it. Simple rule; never trust a Labour or Tory government. Not that the Lib Dems were any better when they were in power in Scotland.

Labour timed it so the Tories would do this. Useful for both sides. Bring on the unnecessary election campaign.

What a bunch of jokers!

I’m not a fan of heriditaries, but if this is what it takes to keep the undervalued, constitutionally essential Lords free from populist interference, I guess I mustn’t grumble.

Remember, the Lords is currently balanced between Labs and Cons, and peers habitually vote across party lines without fear of whips. Introducing voting would destroy this, and create nothing useful in its place.

@8 Gwyn

The fact that the Lords as currently constituted does some useful work, and contains some peers with a good record, isn’t necessarily a convincing argument for allowing it to continue un-reformed. Altho better than it used to be, it remains an anachronism.

There are ways of avoiding populist interference with the Lords, and ways to prevent it becoming infringing on the prerogatives of the lower house. The problem is coming up with a method of chosing peers that pleases most of the people, most of the time; this might be by appointing some of the peers from professional groups and/or allowing some to be appointed by the parties in proportion to their % of the popular vote. Or, if election of all the peers is seen as preferable, it could be done indirectly or on a different basis to elections for the lower chamber.

It will remain one of the biggest indictments of “New” Labour that it failed to sort out the House of Lords, and honour it’s promise on a referendum about FPTP voting.

@9 Galen10

The Lords is routinely described as an anachronism. It certainly used to be one when it was stuffed full of hereditary Tory landowners who only showed up to vote ‘no’ on progressive measures, and I fear that’s the image it still has in the public imagination. The remaining hereditaries are definitely anachronisms, as they’re completely and hilariously out of touch with the needs of an enlightened society (as evidenced in voting records).

But I have a hard time feeling that a constitutionally powerless scrutinising chamber, composed only of political and professional luminaries, is an anachronistic idea. In theory it sounds like the kind of thing every society needs to keep itself on the right track. It shouldn’t be a concern whether peer selection pleases people beyond a requirement that the Cabinet doesn’t get to pick them all.

It’s important to restate this: The Lords does not run the country, it merely provides the Commons with opinions, amendments and suggestions. It can’t veto anything. It can’t exert any pressure on the Commons beyond a two-session delay. It doesn’t disenfranchise the people in any way. There is literally no constitutional advantage to be gained from opening it to election.

Also, Labour weren’t so pally with the Lords. One little known fact about the Hunting Act is that it was passed under the Parliament Act because the Lords kept throwing it out. They chucked out a number of hereditaries, and introduced the “peoples peers” which included biologists and medical experts who were instrumental in amending scientific legislation (remember, scientists don’t get elected to the Commons, politicians do).

OK devil’s advocate here: maybe have a democraticly elected chamber – something I’m very much in favour of – but have certain qualifications one must first pass before they can be considered for election (something I’m a bit uneasy about, for obvious reasons)?

I think it stinks that in the 21st century an unelected group of people can stop legislation from a democratic institution – for all it’s faults, the Commons is made up of people we choose to be there. The Lords has no right to govern whatsoever.

Re 12 Mr S. Pill

Sigh. The Lords cannot stop legislation from the Commons. Nor does it govern.

This illustrates the problem: nobody discussing Lords reform seems to have the slightest bloody idea what the Lords actually does.

@13

Ah, you spotted my deliberate mistake re:”govern” 😉 *cough oops*

In all seriousness – no it can’t “stop” legislation so I withdraw that: but it can delay laws¹ – laws that have been made in a democratic chamber by people elected by citizens. Hence the Parliament Act. and the ridiculous table-tennis match of pinging back and forth laws between houses.

Isn’t the point of democracy to allow the ‘demos’ their say?

¹ Although technically it could delay legislation until Parliament was dissolved, therefore “stopping” it.

@ Gwyn 10

I agre with a lot of what you say, and do see the need for a second chamber, and that it be “different” from the commons. I’m not perhaps as sanguine as you are about “luminaries” from the political parties, as I think it’s often second raters, payback for political favours, getting rid of people by kicking them upstairs etc.

If they had to get themselves elected, wouldn’t that solve the problem? I think any issue with it being in conflict with the supremacy of the commons could be solved by chosing the way they are elected and/or appointed carefully.

@14

Without that ability to delay, an unpopular majority Cabinet could just whack all sorts of things into law at the last minute without any scrutiny whatsoever (although statutory instruments already let them do this). Also bear in mind that they can only delay a bill for two consecutive sessions, it doesn’t apply to tax bills, and in practise they’d never do so undemocratically as it would make them a giant easy target.

@15

It’s certainly a great way to keep unelectable politicians in play (Mandelson, Ashcroft) but it’s a bad way to get rid of them! Second raters is a hard call, as the Commons standard is quite low in general. It’s not much reward either, as there’s no salary (unless they become a minister). A peerage won’t make anyone rich or powerful.

I’m not sure what problems an election would solve, as there certainly aren’t any conflicts with the Commons’ superiority that I know of.

I’m not sure what problems [elected Lords] would solve,

Quite – can we concentrate on the House with the biggest problems?

Mr S. Pill,

In all seriousness – no it can’t “stop” legislation so I withdraw that: but it can delay laws¹ – laws that have been made in a democratic chamber by people elected by citizens. Hence the Parliament Act. and the ridiculous table-tennis match of pinging back and forth laws between houses.

Isn’t the point of democracy to allow the ‘demos’ their say?

The present Government is formed by the party that received only 22% of the electorate’s support. Because of its majority in the Commons, nearly all Government Bills are passed by the Commons as a matter of course – and without full and proper scrutiny. This doesn’t seem particularly democratic to me.

Among other things, the Lords perform valuable work in scrutinising legislation and they are a much-needed check on the power of the Government.

When people assert the Lords should be reformed, I wonder what problems are such people trying to solve? It seems to me that they only want to reform the Lords as a matter of principle (“legislators ought to be elected”), not a matter of whether or not it will improve our lives. Principle doesn’t seem to be sufficient reason for reform.

@17 ukliberty

“Quite – can we concentrate on the House with the biggest problems?”

Why should we ignore the Lords just to muck the fetid House of Commons out? Labour have had 13 years to reform both..and what have they done? Too little and much too late. (Of course the fact that they shamefully did nothing for decades before only makes it worse).

I don’t see what your probelm is with reforming it “as a matter of principle”, altho I’d grant you it’s hardly something we can expect from a government that appears not to have any. I think there is every likelihood that a reformed Lords would improve our lives, whether it is directly elected, partially elected or whatever.

I agree with much of what you say about the shortcomings of the current system, and also that the Lords does some good work, but it can and should be so much better. We shouldn’t have to “settle” – get rid of Bishops, all unelected peers, and restrict the ability of the political machines to appoint their mates. It might not be perfect, but it would be a whole lot better than waht we have now.

Galen10,

Why should we ignore the Lords just to muck the fetid House of Commons out? Labour have had 13 years to reform both..and what have they done? Too little and much too late. (Of course the fact that they shamefully did nothing for decades before only makes it worse).

Well, firstly we don’t appear to be able to one thing (reform the Lords) let alone two (reform the Commons as well). Secondly, I’m not persuaded the Lords is in urgent need of reform but I think the Commons is.

I don’t see what your probelm is with reforming it “as a matter of principle …

I’m not inclined to agree with reform as a matter of principle, I want to know the benefits and costs of the particular means of reform – weighing them up and going with the best option (including the option of ‘doing nothing’). Or, in other words: what problem are we trying to solve, how well will the proposal solve the problem, what would be the consequences and, with all this in mind, is it worthwhile?

I’m inclined to agree with your last paragraph except the bit about getting rid of unelected peers – on the same basis as my thoughts about reform in general.

@18

The present Government is formed by the party that received only 22% of the electorate’s support. Because of its majority in the Commons, nearly all Government Bills are passed by the Commons as a matter of course – and without full and proper scrutiny. This doesn’t seem particularly democratic to me.

Well my wishlist for constitutional reform includes a huge shake-up of how we vote anyway (inc. a “none of the above” option – say if 50% voted for that then recall the election with different candidates) – of course the Commons is far from perfect. But it’s still – with all it’s faults – more democratic than the Lords.

We need a party that will actually change the whole bloody machine, and I’m not sure – other than the loony-fringes of both left&right – that anyone is offering such. LDs maybe come closest.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Labour abandons plans to ditch FPTP voting http://bit.ly/9mD7o8

  2. House Of Twits

    RT @libcon Labour abandons plans to ditch FPTP voting http://bit.ly/9mD7o8

  3. John Band

    Obvious but needs reiterating -> "Cameron’s message is clear. And it isn’t change" http://bit.ly/9mD7o8

  4. andrew

    Liberal Conspiracy » Labour abandons plans to ditch FPTP voting: About the author: Sunny Hundal is editor of Liber… http://bit.ly/afeoKN





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