This is not a good time to be making prophecies. What will happen on the 6th of May is very uncertain, but it seems likely, given the general disgust with the greed, corruption, mismanagement and attempts to cover up bad behaviour, common to at least the two major parties, that the poll will be low, probably the lowest since the franchise was universalised, and that reform of our electoral system must then come at last. Here are some suggestions for that reform.
First of all, we have too many M.Ps. Most of them have little to do, which is why they are always looking for outside jobs. Three hundred members of parliament would be quite enough and only ten percent should be ministers. It is the civil service in any case that really runs things and the ministers are mainly just decorative, having the power of decision, which is basically following the party line. The party structure is in any case rotten, encouraging patronage, covering up corruption and based on a culture of secrecy. If it were not for a press that is always looking for scandal in order to boost journalists’ reputations and increase sales, and a judiciary that us increasingly critical of parliamentary chicanery, parliament would be even more corrupt than it obviously is. Fewer M.Ps would be easier to scrutinise, and the demise of the party system with freedom from whips would enable individuals to get together with those with similar convictions to forge policy in an open way, without all the artificial antagonisms that make them behave like unruly children.
No M.P should have an outside job or accept money from lobbyists. They get a reasonable salary and their expenses should be only the necessary ones. As for accommodation from far-away constituencies, there is one easy answer. There are many hotels near parliament that should be taken over and a room and a bathroom is all an M.P needs in London. Working hours should be changed and in line with the normal working day, which would make it impossible to pursue outside jobs. It is also means that members would have the chance to keep up with music and the performing arts etc, even go to evening courses, lectures and other events to make them better informed and more civilised. The last fifty years have seen a steady decline in cultural interest or knowledge among our elected representatives, which has had a lot to do with the low calibre of intellect in the House of Commons. No other European nation has as many philistine, uncultured officials as Britain. As a result the arts, which are the driving force behind all progress and civilised advance, together with science, are never even mentioned at election time. They are put together with sport, quite wrongly, in ministerial management and usually under the aegis of someone with no knowledge or interest in them, like Margaret Hodge in London.
As for Elections themselves, the single alternative vote seems to be the best answer. That means that when you look at your ballot paper you can put a number 1,2,3,4 etc against the names of the different candidates. If more than fifty percent of the poll goes against one name, that person is elected. If not, then the votes of those who voted with a 2 (excluding those whose 1 has already been counted) is added and so on until a majority is obtained. It is better to have your second choice counted than to be totally excluded. The French say, first you vote with your heart, then your head, avoiding the worst. Alternatively a second ballot can be held a week later. But first past the post, which in this coming election might lead to someone getting in with less than 20% of the vote is highly probable, and it might be an extremist party.
There are many other suggestions for reform in my mind, but I will save them for now. Remember, if you see no one you want to vote for, it is always possible to write a large ‘No’ on your ballot paper. They will be counted and announced. A large number of ‘No’ votes would certainly lead to reform.
John Calder 29/3/10