No end to New Labour’s contempt for the people

[Thursday]

Two items which illustrate that New Labour with Brown at the helm still believes in manipulation and abhors participation:

Brown’s plans for voting reforms shelved over fears of confusion
Sam Coates, Political Correspondent

A plan to overhaul the way that Britain votes during general elections looks set to be shelved, according to a confidential government document obtained by The Times.

Moves to reengage voters by introducing proportional representation for Westminster elections have been dismissed by officials, who fear that it could lead to political instability and confusion.

Changing the voting system would increase the likelihood of minority governments and coalitions, which can be a “drag on effective government”, officials investigating voting systems found.

It is uncertain whether the move would increase turnout or ensure that MPs more closely reflected the ethnic or gender make-up of Britain, the report says. It highlights the problems that were created by the Blair Government’s innovations to the voting system for nonWestminster elections, such as the high levels of rejected votes resulting from complex ballot papers. It reveals the “friction” in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly between Members who were selected to represent constituencies and those from lists drawn up by party managers.

The Review of Voting Systems in the United Kingdom was completed in draft form last November but will not be released to the public until December. The Conservatives said last night that they feared that Gordon Brown would attempt to water down the tough language that cautioned against proportional representation to smooth relations with the Liberal Democrats in the event of a hung Parliament.

The draft report, marked “restricted”, questions the viability of the only option that Mr Brown is thought to have considered as a serious alternative to the present system. It says that the Alternative Vote system – where voters rank candidates in order of preference – is “capable of producing even more disproportionate outcomes nationally than first past the post”.

Although the report does not oppose the introduction of a more proportional voting system, it uses tough language to dismiss many of the arguments in favour of PR and could easily be used by Mr Brown if he decides to rule out such a change. It says: “One of the main arguments advanced in favour of some form of PR is that it will make everyone’s vote count in some way, and therefore give more people an incentive to vote. The cause and effect is not proven.”

The report highlights the example of New Zealand, which abandoned first-past-the-post voting in 1996, bringing an end to a series of majority governments and coalitions amid falling turnout.

The 110-page report also found: The current voting system favours Labour, particularly when it is the party of government. Most of the alternatives to first past the post are not “genuinely proportional”. Only in Northern Ireland, where the Single Transferable Vote is used, has the system achieved something close to genuine proportionality. Proportional systems do not increase turnout. In all elections in the UK that have used proportional systems, turnout has been considerably lower than in general elections. Existing proportional schemes have done relatively little to increase ethnic minority representation.

The report concluded: “Overall, it is difficult to draw a clear causal relationship between a particular voting system and particular outcomes, be they turnout, connectedness to the citizen, social representativeness or any other criteria explored in this review.

“Coalition or minority government is prevalent where proportional systems are used and this can be viewed as either representing a greater diversity of input to policy-making, or a drag on effective government.” [Emphasis added]

No need to guess which view the ruling class and its servants in New Labour will have…

The report calculates that had the last election been run under a more proportional system, the main beneficiary would have been the Liberal Democrats and the biggest loser Labour. The Conservatives would be affected only marginally by most systems.

The Ministry of Justice, which replaced the Department for Constitutional Affairs, which oversaw the report, refused to comment because the report was “work in progress”.

Nick Herbert, the Conservative constitutional affairs spokesman, said: “This leaked copy of the review blows out of the water the case for changing Britain’s tried and tested electoral system. The Government’s own report admits that proportional representation has caused voter confusion and not increased turnout. And it says that Alternative Vote would produce even more disproportionate results than any other system. I fear the real reason for the delay in publishing this review is Labour trying to fiddle the dossier. This Government has repeatedly meddled with the electoral system for partisan advantage, undermining public confidence in the integrity of the ballot.”

Voting systems

First past the post (FPTP) Used in: General elections How it works: Put an “X” next to the candidate you support. The one with the most votes wins

Supplementary Vote London Mayoral Ballot paper has two columns. Voters mark an “X” in the first column for their first choice and another in the second column. If no candidate gets 50 per cent the two highest scoring candidates are retained; the rest are eliminated and their votes reallocated

Alternative Vote (AV) Not used in UK Each voter ranks candidates in order of preference. If no candidate gets more than 50 per cent the one with the least votes is eliminated and his votes allocated according to second choices until someone gets 50 per cent

Single Transferable Vote (STV) Northern Ireland Assembly Each constituency elects between three and five MPs depending on size. Voters rank the candidates 1, 2, 3 etc. The candidates with the least votes are eliminated and their votes redistributed. This is repeated until there are only the required number of candidates left

Additional Member System Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, London Assembly Each voter has two votes: one for a single MP via FPTP and one for a regional or national party list. In Scotland, 73 of the 129 seats are allocated according to constituencies; the rest are chosen proportionately using party lists

Alternative Vote Plus Proposed by Jenkins commission Voters would have two votes – one for a constituency MP and the other from a regional list. The constituency MPs are elected by AV (see above). The “top-up” MPs are elected using lists prepared by party managers

Of course, it is wrong to say that proportional representation does not increase turnout without noting that a PR voting system allows a diversity of opinion come election time as more smaller parties participate.

You might recall that around the time of the re-election of New Labour, with a low turnout and a low level of votes, the Independent ran a campaign for electoral reform. Then 7/7 happened, and the issue got dropped as a media circus came to town.

Next, the European constitution – sorry, “treaty” – which will not be approved by the voting public but by MPs. If Brown gets his way…

PM facing battle with unions over EU treaty
· TUC conference set to demand referendum
· Tories add to pressure as RMT calls for ‘no’ vote

David Hencke, Westminster correspondent
Thursday August 23, 2007
The Guardian

The row over whether Gordon Brown should have a referendum on the EU treaty took a new turn yesterday with trade union leaders joining Conservatives in calling for a public vote on the issue.
The prime minister looks set to face an embarrassing defeat at next month’s TUC conference on the referendum issue – with three unions in favour of an active “no” campaign to urge the public to throw out the proposed changes altogether.

He insisted yesterday there was no need for a referendum: “We believe the proper way to discuss this is through detailed discussion in the House of Commons and the House of Lords and I believe parliament will pass the legislation.” He said he believed the TUC would support the government next month.
But senior trade unionists warned that the row could spill over into the Labour party conference in Bournemouth.

The GMB and RMT are demanding that the proposals to sign up to the new EU treaty be put to the electorate because the reforms could put workers’ rights at risk and open the door to further privatisation of public services.

Unions are furious that Tony Blair secured an opt-out from the new charter of fundamental rights, which increased union rights to industrial action in the other 26 EU countries. The motion from the RMT union demands the TUC launches a no campaign and will be backed by Britain’s biggest public service union, Unison, and the Transport and General Workers’ Union section of Unite.

The motion could lead to a split in Unite, the country’s biggest union, as the Amicus section is not committed to a no campaign or a vote on the referendum, and also to fresh arguments inside the TUC as officials fear it could provide a big boost to the Conservative campaign to embarrass the government.

Their fears appeared justified yesterday when John Redwood, the Tory Eurosceptic, welcomed the unions’ decision and offered to go down to the TUC to back a call for a public vote. He said: “I welcome the decision by the unions to press for a vote. Basically my view is that decisions like this should be taken in Britain and not in Brussels.”

In other words, Deadwood would rather that the drive for “liberalisation” – which is a code for the more unpopular concept of privatisation – came from the Westminster Parliament…

Over at Lenin’s Tomb, you will find a succinct reading of this whole affair:

Brown simply stated, with typical arrogance, that there was no need for a referendum and he was certain that parliament would pass the bill – which, of course, it probably will given the number of seats Labour has. However, it could turn very bad for Brown, because 82% of British voters, including 80% of Labour voters, would in fact like to be consulted. The unions are leading the ‘no’ campaign on the grounds that the reforms would hurt workers’ rights and lead to a wave of privatisation. Britain’s trade union leaders broadly favour the inegration of European as a capitalist bloc, provided it includes some minimal protections for labour. One of their big problems with this is that Tony Blair has opted out of clauses providing such minimal protection not only for workers, but for human rights more generally. The reason for the opt-out is presumably that the British state feels it can be much more aggressive with organised labour than its European allies.

So let’s not get all worked up because the Tories are calling for a referendum and will call for a “no” vote – they are doing it because they are in opposition and are hoping it will give them a boost after Cameron’s troubles over grammar schools and the NHS. The labour movement is calling for a referendum, not because there is unity in opposing the of a European captialist superstate, but because the “treaty” will make millions of UK workers second-class citizens within the EU.

If Brown can be forced to do a u-turn and hold a referendum this is not a victory for the Tories, it is a victory for the millions of working people who will be given the chance to reject the EU at the ballot box.

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