If certain events over the next year take place, Gordon Brown could potentially be the last Labour Party Prime Minister in its history. Using this suggestion and the related prospect of the Conservative Party being handed multiple terms in office this piece makes a compelling case for electoral reform.
The election of David Cameron as Prime Minister, coupled with his plans to reduce the size of Parliament by 10%, and the pressure on the devolved budgets will all conspire to increase the momentum behind calls from the SNP to hold a referendum on Scottish independence sometime in Spring/Summer 2010. A smaller Parliament in Westminster, and the loss of crucial support in Scotland following a ‘Yes’ vote for independence, could turn Gordon Brown into the last Labour Prime Minister. His only chance to prevent political oblivion is to hold a referendum on electoral reform.
According to the pressure group Compass in their report The Last Labour Government, Scottish independence would strip Labour of 41 seats in Westminster. In addition, if Cameron, once elected, goes ahead with reducing the size of Parliament, Compass predicts Labour to come off worst with reductions affecting Labour strongholds in Wales and the industrial heartlands. They predict this would take away a further 45 Labour seats in Westminster. When one considers the bleak predictions for Labour at the next election, the threat of further reductions to a paltry electoral performance would render the Party un-electable. It would face either joining with the Liberal Democrats, in a move reminiscent of the creation of the SDP in 1981, or swinging the Party further to the right in an attempt to break into traditional Conservative strongholds. What is most likely to happen is for political in-fighting to ensue between old-school left wingers and the ‘last line’ of New Labour modernisers. I wrote last week how this would be disastrous for the Party.
The potential eradication of one of our main political parties, and the suggestion that electoral defeat for them would hand the Conservatives a long term in government on the back of Scottish independence and the reduction in size of Parliament, highlights the fundamental need in this country to change the electoral system, making it more representative, and opening it up to new political voices. It would be scandalous to hand a Conservative government a mandate to govern for at least one, probably two, possibly three, and potentially four or five terms when they lack the long-term vision, and more fundamentally, policy depth to warrant more than a single term. A lack of choice in our political system should not excuse the British electorate to half-heartedly elect and re-elect the only capable Party to govern. Instead, the political establishment must increase the choice in our political system and the electorate should pile the pressure on Brown to hold a referendum on electoral reform at the next election.
This piece is not a rallying cry from a Labour supporter desperately trying to suggest possible strategies to make the party electable come election time. Rather, I use the example for being indicative of an electoral system which is un-representative, over-centralised in the hands of a few, and fails to offer the electorate meaningful representation.
Changing the electoral system now would open up our political system to a range of political opinions that reflect the diverse and complex nation that we are. Some may harp that doing so will let in loonies like the BNP but my answer is simple, ‘it won’t’. A more representative electoral system would encourage our established parties to open up and would also encourage the establishment of new parties who are better suited than the BNP, for example, to represent what are fair concerns of white individuals from deprived and neglected areas of the UK.
Brown must hold a referendum on a more representative political system at the next election, if not for the good of politics in this country, then for the good of the Labour Party as well.
First Published October 18th 2009