Monday, 14 November 2011

Voting Methods

Labour have gone back to their default position on voting methods. They’ve never,  since the demise of  J Keir Hardy, been known as enthusiasts of PR.  They’ve always wanted a first past the post system for the Assembly elections, with each constituency electing  two members and the winners taking all. 
Why? It enabled them to advance women into elected office without upsetting the misogynists, who thought that Welsh politics should be an all male affair, the women could do the tea at branch meetings. "They also serve that stand and stir a brew" was their attitude.
When Mr Blair decided to hold a referendum on devolution the cozy little deal that Welsh Labour was cooking up of a two member constituency went out of the window. 
The new situation required Labour to reach out to other parties if the referendum was to be won. The response of the other parties would have been to blow a big raspberry if they were asked to campaign for a Glamorgan County Council on stilts. 
So the new reality meant that Labour had to put a peg on their collective noses and reluctantly opt for PR. 

In order, to advance women the party had to find another way. It opted for  twinning  constituencies. Allowing an equal number of men and women to be chosen as candidates. 
It was never popular amongst the rank and file and was dropped as soon as Anita Gale, the then general secretary of the party, was kicked up to the House of Lords. But that, as they say, is another story.
But now we can welcome back our old friend Gerry Mandering, he's active again in the ranks.  Why? Well, Labour have seen the way to revert back to their old ways.  
Yes, an opportunity is about to arise that could give them what they've always wanted, no PR. The chance has come about because the Westminster government has decided to reduce Welsh MPs from forty to thirty. 
Well, what’s that got to do with the Assembly  you may ask? Well, nothing really, except that politicians have decided that the poor voter would be confused if he/she had to vote in constituencies with different boundaries. They clearly have a very low opinion of the voter.
So the Laurel and Hardy of Welsh politics, the Welsh Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones and Shadow Secretary of State Peter Hain on Saturday issued a clear message to the UK Government – “You have no mandate to change the current electoral system in Wales.” 
Cynically knowing  that change is in the air, not least because they also want the same boundaries for the two elections. 
They don’t want change so they say, but if there is change “they want an outcome that best serves Wales.” 

Fair enough, who can disagree with wanting the best for Wales. 

The best for Wales, just happens to be the best for Labour. According to the pair, “a 60 member Assembly, comprising 30, two member seats.”  Labour’s original proposals, so no shocks there.
“Welsh Labour is united behind a common goal of securing a voting system that best serves the people of Wales.” You bet they are.
So there it is, a system of first past the post, which just by chance gives Labour a massive majority and leaves very few opposition members to scrutinise them, “best serves Wales.”
Hmm, unlikely.  It wouldn’t even be good for Labour. Peter Hain could be excused for thinking Westminster, and applying it to Wales, but Carwyn Jones has no such excuse.
Let’s be clear, there is a difference in scale between representation in Westminster and representation to the Assembly. A party could sweep into power in Westminster and have a very large majority but there would still be enough members elected to provide an effective opposition. That is the nature of the beast.
Not so in Wales. The proposals would reduce the opposition in the Assembly to an ineffective rump. Hardly good for democracy, and certainly does not serve Wales’s interest.
It is unlikely, even under the existing election system, that Labour will not be in power in Wales. They’ve been in power since 1999 and this situation is unlikely to change in the near future, despite the best efforts of  opposition parties. 
To be in power for ever and a day, without any real opposition, would not serve the people of Wales well. 
Welsh politics would be akin to that of the old Soviet empire - a one party state with cronyism as its guiding principle.
What’s to be done, then? Mrs Gillan should take up Labour’s argument. If the argument is,   “there is no mandate for change,” why should Westminster attempt to change things. 
Let her devolve the decision making to the Assembly. Give the National Assembly the powers to decide on their own election methods. The only caveat should be that any change would require a two thirds majority in the Assembly.  
Carwyn Jones couldn't object, after all it is a further transfer of powers to Wales. 
And just maybe, trying to reach a consensus  with other political parties might “really best serve the people of Wales.” Who knows they might agree to the proposals recommended by the Labour Lord Richard for an eighty seat Assembly elected by the single transferrable vote. Now that would be good for democracy in Wales.


  1. 'To be in power for ever and a day, without any real opposition, would not serve the people of Wales well. Welsh politics would be akin to that of the old Soviet empire ...'.

    And what happened to that Soviet empire?

    Here's hoping the same will happen to Wales. Come on Labour, do your worst!

  2. I'm sorry, but how is Labour trying to 'gerrymander' the Assembly's seats any different to the Tories, Plaid and Lib Dems ganging up to try and do it for Westminister?

    As you suggest, the voting arrangements for the Assembly should be decided in Wales. The people of Wales need to give AMs a democratic mandate, and not have electoral arrangements imposed on them by the Tories, aided and abetted by their Plaid and Lib Dem lackeys in Westminster.