Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

"Caroline Flint is against it" is not an argument

So nearly half of Labour MPs are against a change in the voting system for the House of Commons to the Alternative Vote. When this is combined with most Tory MPs it is looking like well over half and perhaps more than two thirds of MPs want to stick with the status quo rather than move to a preferential system.

I'm not sure that this is particularly interesting or important news. What it essentially boils down to is that the majority of people whose jobs depend (to a greater or lesser extent) on the current electoral system want to keep that electoral system. I'd be very surprised if the majority of MPs did back the change. At the same time, that is precisely the reason why their views should hold little sway and it should be the debate in the country that informs the referendum decision. It is the same reason why I am glad that Nick Clegg and other senior Lib Dem MPs are taking a back-seat in the Yes to AV campaign as the opposite charge can be levelled against them too.

By the way, I am sure that many (perhaps most) of the MPs who are against change hold their views as a matter of principle. The problem is that there is such a fundamental conflict of interest that it is impossible to disentangle it. It is the same sort of situation that MPs who lobby for a particular industry and are then discovered to have business interests in that same industry find themselves compromised by. They may be completely innocent but they have all now (largely) realised that they are better off avoiding the conflict of interest in the first place.

Instead of focusing on who backs what we should be looking at the arguments for and against. And I am afraid that "Caroline Flint is against it" is not an argument.


Jon Harvey said...

Absolutely Mark - no one should heed the views of those who currently benefit from the existing system.

True leaders in all political parties should be getting out there, sponsoring debates, and letting the people decide.

Will Straw said...

Absolutely spot on. I keep on challenging opponents of AV to provide a principled argument against it and they always fail to.

These Labour MPs are also short-sighted as this analysis shows.

NTrout said...

Good point and not that I disagree with you on AV but surely the same argument can be made about the Lib Dem position on full proportional representation. I personally think that the constituency link is a quintessential part of a liberal democratic constitution which is supposedly the core of their ideology and yet as a party Lib Dems support a system which opposes this, surely at least some would be on the opposite side of the debate if it wasn't in their interests electorally.

Mark Thompson said...

NTrout - Your point about losing the constituency link is not really right though. The Lib Dems support STV in multi-member constituencies which does retain the constituency link albeit with multiple MPs per constituency (between 3 and 5). In some ways this is even more liberal and democratic than 1 MP per seat. After all it will mean most people will have a choice of which of their MPs to go to with an issue.

On your broader point of Lib Dems supporting STV because it will benefit them, it is true that it would but what it would actually do is make things much more proportional which I would argue is only fair. I supported electoral reform for years before I joined the Lib Dems and indeed it was one of the main reasons I did join so for me it is a point of principle, not a partisan issue.

NTrout said...

Thank you for explaining to me that the only reason I come to that conclusion is because I don't understand it, it seems that's so often the case these days. As someone with some experience working for an MP, I don't think that any sort of multi-member system maintains the proper scrutiny which is needed for a constituency link. If constituents can choose a representative, who's to say that a representative can't chose which sections of their constituency they represent. Also the fundamental principle is that the people are able to overthrow their government in an entirely peaceful way, which you can;;'t do under PR.