Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill - Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Rt Hon Denis MacShane MP (PVSCB 09)

  I hope your Committee will come out decisively against AV which taken with the proposal to reduce the number of MPs means that citizens will have fewer representatives and rights in relationship to the centralised state system. Britain has no intermediary levels of government other than the Scottish and Welsh systems. There are no provincial, regional or state governments as in Australia, Canada, the US or most European countries. Citizens come straight to MPs with a host of problems as they have no other representatives to speak for them in terms of their relationship with the state. The idea that there should be fewer MPs serving ever-more citizens is a serious assault on democracy. If anything there may be a case for more MPs given that there is little possibility of bringing in more devolved levels of government.

  I would support four-year fixed terms, the norm in America, Germany and other (not all) EU member states.

  On electoral reform, the 1929-31 Labour government proposed AV but it was shot down in the Commons with Winston Churchill pointing out that the least popular candidate can overtake the most popular candidate on the basis of transfer votes from every other political faction that failed to win support. How ironic if the second or third preferences of BNP or UKIP voters decided who was elected as an MP.

  There is no perfect electoral system. Full PR gives the nightmare of Israel's government but equally the relative stability of a Swedish administration. There was once a fashionable view that coalitions in and of themselves produce good government. Yet Britain's electoral system has produced both good and bad governments. There are plenty of example of coalition governments being complete disasters. Italy and Germany today are hardly happy, well-governed nations under their respective coalition. AV has produced good, bad and sometimes terrible governments in Australia. The Guardian's Martin Kettle points out that social democracy lacks a majority in most European countries. But "twas always thus". The last time the Danish Social Democrats had a majority was in 1909. In the 1950s and 1960s France, Italy and Germany were ruled by enduring centre-right dominated party coalitions.

  In Britain since 1945, Labour has ruled for 30 out of 65 years. This is as good if not a better record of longevity in power than all European left parties outside of Scandinavia and better than Australia or Ireland where electoral systems are closer to AV than Britain's first past the post system. Of course your Committee is not allowed to make its recommendations on the basis of party advantage. But if one of the key desired goals of democratic politics is a regular alternance of power then the evidence suggest that FPTP has delivered that better in the UK since 1945, than AV or other electoral systems used elsewhere.

  This suggests that electoral reform may not be the Koh-i-Nor of democratic politics. It is policy and, yes, personality that decide how people vote. This is not to argue that electoral reform should be resisted but to set the debate over AV or other systems of voting in a broader context as part of a wider programme of policy.

15 July 2010

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