Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Looking nevously into the future.

Did something odd yesterday. Spoke as the Conservative 'presence' at the launch of the Wales office of the Electoral Reform Society. The event took the form of a reception in the National Assembly for Wales. Reason it was odd is that I've always been a first-past-the-post man. I began my contribution by saying that I couldn't think of a singe reason why Annabelle had asked me to speak. Actually, I was very keen to attend, for several reasons - in addition to the principle that personal participation increases understanding of complex issues.

Firstly, the Electoral Reform Society are much involved in promoting 'participation' amongst the disillusioned young, an objective that all politicians share. And secondly, my inherent pragmatism has been nagging at me on this issue for a while. I did say that I think "The tide of history is flowing in the direction of proportional representation" (I know this sounds sickeningly Blair-like) - and so it would be as well for the Conservative Party to influence the direction this tide is flowing.

The Electoral Reform Society favours the Single Transferable Vote system. There was a Peter Snow-like cake cut into slices to demonstrate how the share of seats would change under STV. The big beneficiaries would be the Conservative Party. In Wales, we would have 9 MPs rather than the current 3. Self-interest makes you think. (I noticed that the Labour 'presence' John Griffiths joined me in avoiding having my photograph taken cutting the cake. We left that to Plaid and the Lib Dems - no point in asking for trouble.) I said that my nature is to be heavily influenced by tradition and that my instinct is to build on the Additional Member System, by which Assembly Members are presently elected. To win my support, it would have to be based on 'open' lists so that voters can choose candidates as well as parties. And the shameful ban on dual candidacy, which so pollutes Welsh democracy and will always be a deep and smelly stain on the reputations of Rhodri Morgan and Peter Hain would have to be reversed.

Anyway it was a very nice event. I had to be circumspect in what I said because I could see the little newshound, Clive Betts scribbling in his notebook and ITV's Nick Powell leaning nonchalantly in the background. And sure enough, Clive was straight down to the Members Tearoom to ask Tory Group Leader what he thought. Bloody troublemaker', I thought to myself. That's his job I suppose. Anyway, He came back up and told me he thought I had been 'cautious', so clearly he hadn't found a Tory 'split' to report on. I did feel quite proud of my traditional Tory roots when the Plaid spokesperson, Helen Mary Jones pointed out that the first-past- the-post system was introduced in the 1870s. I suspect that we will be forced to move on, and at least I've started to consult the map in order to decide which way I want to go.

9 comments:

Henry Bruce said...

I think that Helen Mary was referring to single member constituencies being introduced in the 1880s by the Tories. Until the development of suburban Parliamentary constituencies by the Tories county and borough seats elected 2 members. As a result parties often tried to have a balanced ticket although sometimes members of the same party fell out with each other. Merthyr which then included Aberdare was a two member seat up to 1918. Keir Hardie never topped the poll always coming second to the Liberal. In fact he owed his election in 1900 to the fact that one of the sitting Liberal MPs coalowner D M Thomas ( Lord Rhondda0 hated his fellow Liberal MP, Pritchard Morgan and encouraged his supporters to cast their second vote for the Labour candidate. Very few voters actually just used one vote for Keir Hardie.

Anonymous said...

You'll be glad to note that the Leader in the dungeon ("the dungeon", because it often seems that the AMs' tearoom is below ground level, so dingy are the surroundings) believes he thinks very much as you do about PR. Bourne points out that the Tories have depended almost entirely on PR for their position in the Assembly over the last nine years, so they can't really slag off the system.

Anonymous said...

With the tribalism and petty squabling self-evident in Welsh politics that PR will not work 'as intended' in Wales.

Glyn Davies said...

Henry - Thanks for the education. I din't have sufficient knowledge to offer any sort of response - until trhe next time. Was that pre 1880 position called Single Transferable Vote?

anon - To Clive Betts, the response from the dungeon was clearly more supportive of PR than I was, which led to me being dismissed as 'cautious'.

anon 2 - Well, it seems to be working at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Glyn> “You can't be serious" ... sorry, wrong switch. How about this one: Wales remains at the bottom of prosperity league tables in the UK, GAV is one of the lowest, R&D investment - way too low, Welsh school education is in a mess (OECD stats say so) ... and you say "Well, it seems to be working at the moment."

With that response I need a (Welsh) whiskey.

Glyn Davies said...

anon - Crossed wires. I think the process of coalition has worked reasonably well. The way in which Wales has been governed by Assembly Governments, both Labour alone and coalition has been dire - with the results you refer to. they arecrather different points.

Anonymous said...

Glyn> one must judge objectively, and one way of doing that is to see how Wales compares with other regions - as that saying goes, "The Buck Stops Here", and the buck in Wales stops at the Welsh Assembly. And the comparisons are DIRE. The democracy in Wales is seen as remote from the people - I mean to say, under the WAG version of PR there are AMs who got seats without direct voting - this is a travesty of democracy. Then we have those awful comparison studies - Welsh education was looked up to, eight years of WAG version of PR and Welsh schools are cycling backwards - OECD who don't have an axe to grind - OECD stats say it all, that Welsh education is at the bottom of the charts. Then there is the issue of R&D spending - it is TOO LOW - and what pray is WAG doing about this? Ummmmm, NOTHING of consequence.

Henry Bruce said...

No you had two votes and the top two candidates were elected in constituencies with two members. You could also of course only use one of the votes and this is the reason why historians know that much of Keir Hardie's support came from D M Thomas the sitting Liberal MP. Very few voters in Merthyr only voted for Hardie and therefore the number of 'socialist' voters in Merthyr in 1900 was very small. The British introduced PR for Irish elections after 1918 in order to protect the Protestant minority. To see how STV actually works you should visit the Irish websites for political anoraks which containing masses of interesting info such as candidates who topped the poll after the first count but were never elected because they failed to reach the threshold for election. The trick in STV which the Irish parties have down to a fine art is voter management to ensure that the second preference votes of the successful candidates are transferred to their less popular colleagues.

Glyn Davies said...

anon - we agree about much. The current AMS would be much improved if the regional vote was based on an 'open' list. And the effect of the dual candidacy ban was that my party was forced to abandon the principle that no-one would be elected without directly facing the voters. And you really wouldn't expect me to offer any defence of the performance of the Assembly Governments that we have experienced so far - Labour, Labour/Lib Dem, or Labour/Plaid. This blog will continue to host with pleasure this sort of condemnatory comment.

henry - You are putting me off STV even more!