So, I hear on the radio that the Lib Dems are getting into bed with the Tories for – Heaven help us – 3 or 4 years. “For the good of the country”, of course.
The poor dead babies seem to be operating under the delusion that a coalition is about agreeing a set of policies. It isn’t. That’s the easy bit and would result from the parliamentary arithmetic anyway. For example, the Tories are dropping their proposal for an inheritance tax give-away, which only their 306 MPs support.
No, what government is about is the day to day decisions, the responses to events, dear boy, events. In short, the executive.
So if we put the policy horse-trading to one side, Clegg has steered his party into the arms of the Conservatives in return for a referendum on AV. Which, as I pointed out earlier, will very likely be lost, so will be worse than no referendum at all. Much worse.
The last few days, though, have shown that proportional representation will simply not work in the UK. Power is so concentrated in Downing Street that further constitutional changes are needed as well.
In fact, many constitutional changes are needed. I started a blog post a couple of weeks ago listing things wrong with our political system. I never finished it. There was too much to write. The franchise doesn’t even makes sense, for Christ’s sake, with votes for Commonwealth citizens living in the UK, but not for EU and others working here and also profoundly affected by decisions on how their taxes are spent and the services that are provided.
Looking at my draft now, though, I see how I was waxing lyrical about how we have strengthened our presidential system with the TV leaders’ debates. And the Tories won the battle in a shamelessly compliant media that the Prime Minister must be “elected”. Which is meaningless in a parliamentary system.
With all this in mind, here’s my proposal: separation of powers (throughout the whole election campaign I’ve only seen this mentioned by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian).
We should directly elect a Prime Minister – who appoints a cabinet – and, separately, a fully proportional legislature – the House of Commons – which will be free to pursue shifting allegiances.
The executive vote should be by Alternative Vote (AV), since otherwise the outcome depends on which candidates are on offer, as we’ve seen in the US when Ralph Nader ran against Al Gore.
Single Transferable Vote (STV) in multi-member constituencies makes sense for the legislature, since it is desirable for legislators to have some contact with what happens on the ground. To all intents and purposes, the legislators in this proposal would operate in a similar way to back-bench MPs at present.
There’s a lot more that could be done – for example, power, including the right to set the appropriate tax rate could be devolved to departments such as health, and the executives of such departments elected separately – but my point is that electoral reform in isolation makes no sense in the UK.
Other proposals, such as fixed-term parliaments, also make no sense in isolation. The UK’s constitution relies on a Prime Minister with the confidence of the House of Commons. It’s entirely possible that no-one would be able to “command a majority in the House”. We’re not far off that situation now. AV (or PR) plus fixed term parliaments in fact creates an even worse situation.
I’m not sure I agree with fixed-term parliaments anyway – what’s the point of lame-duck government? – but in isolation it makes no sense.
It seems to me that a whole package of constitutional changes needs to be agreed by all the major parties, as a coherent whole, and put to the British people in a referendum.
Changing the voting system alone would simply exchange one unfair system for another, even more unfair system, where Clegg and his successors remain permanently in power! And as far as the vast majority of the electorate are concerned it will still be a case or Tory or Labour.