Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Alan Johnson's idea of reform - giving people a new system whilst leaving Party control intact

Amidst the sea of people applauding Alan Johnson for proposing a revisit of the recommendations of the Jenkins Commission, I feel the need for a raft for those who wish to blow a raspberry.

'Alternative Vote plus' does little to put power in the hands of the public. Yes, an MP will need to gain the support of 50% of those voting, and yes, there will be greater proportionality. But that just ensures that the spoils are more evenly divided, it doesn't give the public a genuine say about the identity of the individual who represents them. A small, fairly unrepresentative clique of Party activists will still choose the candidates and, in all likelihood, the top-up lists will be as they are in European, Scottish Parliamentary, Welsh and London Assembly elections, on a closed basis.

Not good enough, not good enough at all. But don't get me wrong, I'm not calling for an open primary system for selecting our candidates. The last thing I want to see is a candidate adopted by a bunch of people who have no sense of commitment to getting him/her elected, and who may not have the best interests of liberal democracy at heart. Besides, who pays for the process, and how does an aspirant candidate campaign for support? No, if I'm going to dedicate myself to getting him/her elected, I want to restrict the franchise to those making a commitment to my Party, and who share its beliefs.

If we really want to break the patronage of political parties whilst retaining their philosophical core, let's have STV, on multi-member constituencies, with open lists. We, the Party, decide which five, or seven, or whatever Liberal Democrats we think are best equipped to serve the constituency, and you, the public, decide which ones you prefer most. Candidates can campaign in their own name, competing against each other for your vote. You can vote for a particular type of candidate if you wish, and diversity is likely to improve. Even incumbents will have to work harder, if they want to retain their seats.

I don't think that Alan Johnson is being particularly cynical - after all, he has believed in electoral reform for some time. What I do think is that he fails to be radical enough. Political parties have become part of the problem - by giving up part of their control, they could yet be part of the solution.