Sunday, July 04, 2010

Electoral Reform in the Eye of the Storm

Former Tory leadership contender leads fight against electoral reform

When David Cameron successfully negotiated the coalition accord that made him Prime Minister of Britain, one of the key concessions he had to offer was a referendum on electoral reform.

In the end, not only did Cameron give Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg control over drafting the proposition for electoral reform, but he also placed him in charge of reviewing electoral boundaries -- effectively giving Clegg the power to, if he should so choose, gerrymander right under Cameron's nose.

Last but not least, Cameron announced that he would decline to lead a "no" campaign against the Alternative Vote system Clegg will likely champion, although he has solidly come out against it, and will campaign against it.

While no formal leader for the "no" campaign has, to date, emerged, the man whom Cameron defeated for the Tory leadership has begun to lead an insurgency against it within the Conservative Party.

David Davis has described AV as "ant-Tory", and declared that he will oppose the referendum itself.

"With AV, in times of trouble, you get oscillations of government rather than stability," Davis insisted. "You would have got [Margaret] Thatcher then Michael Foot, Thatcher then Neil Kinnock."

"Our current system almost always delivers a clear result," he continued. "It pretty much always reflects the mood of the country. You don’t want to replace that, as a result of some electoral deal, with something that may give us permanent instability."

The trouble with this argument is that it depends on how any one individual interprets "the mood of the country". People of differing ideological perspectives will always interpret this differently -- and the most demagogic amongst them will always seek ways to spin the available information to suit the end they desire.

Davis may have lost the 2005 Conservative leadership campaign, but a great many Tories are feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the amount of power Nick Clegg has been given to shape Britain's electoral system, with a minimum of Tory input.

David Cameron would be wise to take this entire affair back to the drawing board, and at the very least impart a stronger voice to his own party on the form that Alternative Vote will ultimately take.

It may not be enough to placate David Davis, but it's just the responsible thing to do.

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