Ever since the expenses scandal broke and people started to question whether the safe seats gifted by our rotten electoral system might have had something to do with it, senior politicians have been doing their best to look like they are doing something about it. The thing is, the reforms implemented and planned really do not abolish the safe seats.
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
The Conservatives have gone for Open Primaries (or more usually caucuses) where they give the opportunity to voters within a constituency to select their candidate. There are numerous problems with this approach. One of the main ones from my perspective is that CCHQ is still in control of the shortlists, so for example in my constituency in Bracknell where an "open" caucus was held back in October, no local candidates were allowed to stand. I know for a fact that there were local Tories who wanted to stand but they were not shortlisted. I suspect this has happened in other seats as well. One of the losing candidates in Bracknell has already been selected for a completely different seat. A number of these candidates are now doing the rounds at all sorts of different open primaries until they get selected. It is the same sort of faces who would previously have put themselves before a selection committee. It gives the veneer of reform when in practise it is nothing of the sort. Allied to this, there is currently no suggestion that a sitting MP would be challenged for their seat so once selected for a safe seat, we are back to the same old situation.
And now Labour are apparently going to legislate for a referendum to change the electoral system to use the Alternative Vote method. Although the referendum could not happen before the next election they hope to legislate in such a way that a successor government would have to specifically legislate to overturn the decision to hold a referendum during the next parliament which would put e.g. a Prime Minister Cameron in an invidious position looking like he was against reform. All very clever-clever politics (and typical Brown tactics) but aside from all the politicking AV is not proportional. In fact it can be less proportional than our current First Past the Post system. Perhaps most importantly though in the context of doing something about the safe seats, it does not get rid of them. There will be almost as many safe seats under AV as there are now.
I should just stress that I am not being partisan here. It is likely that AV would benefit the Lib Dems and we would end up with more seats. However it is the wrong change. Electoral reform to Single Transferable Vote with multi-member constituencies would give a roughly proportional result and completely get rid of the safe seats.
The two main parties are trying to get away with as little change as possible whilst looking like they are reformers.