Monday, 5 July 2010

democratic reform and all that

So the first anniversary of the UK’s first coalition government in a lifetime looks set to be celebrated/commiserated (delete as applicable) with a referendum on the way we elect our MPs at future General Elections. Put more simply we are going to get asked if we want to keep the antiquated First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system or if we want Additional Vote (AV) and that’s about it. Great, fantastic, our Parliament, it would seem, can’t even trust the people that put them there (sort of if you take into account the lack of representation FPTP can often lead to) to choose from a selection of viable alternatives, some of which would actually mean a proportionally representative legislature. That however is only the tip of the iceberg as far as my own gripes with this referendum and reform it may bring are concerned.

Surely this would be the perfect opportunity to have a referendum week looking at both democratic and constitutional reform. For example what options do we have for the future of the second chamber? As a footnote to that particular question bear in mind that of the 1357 UK parliamentarians less than half (47.9% to be precise) are actually elected while 707 sit in the Lords subject to absolutely no public scrutiny at the ballot box. Additionally perhaps the time has come to ask what the function of the UK Parliament is in a day and age when Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, quite rightly, have their own self determination on many issues. Is it time for a Federal Parliament with an English Assembly? This would seem the logical conclusion to the smaller House of Commons which is also being proposed by the coalition, indeed it could be argued that the proposed 50 member cut in MPs (a cut in representation?) could be countered by the creation of such an assembly leaving the UK Parliament to deal with nationwide issues such as defence, human rights and international relations.

Would it be so outrageous to have three sections on a ballot paper; one for voting reform, one for second chamber reform and one regarding the UK question (formerly the West Lothian Question, now possibly the English Question?) Or are the electorate simply not trusted/deemed too unsophisticated (delete as applicable) to be asked such questions about the institutions that our taxes pay for? This is much more about the future of democracy in this country than it is about the 1357 people who presently sit in Westminster and perhaps it’s about time we the people were actually asked rather than given a single yes or no vote on one aspect of it.

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