There was no recession in Britain on the day of the last General Election. But as 2013 dawns, this is a land of rickets, tuberculosis, food banks, suicides over benefit withdrawals, and pupils fed and clothed at the personal expense of their teachers.
Yet the scheme to redraw the parliamentary boundaries is about to be yanked out of its shallow grave. Even if there were nothing else to do, the solution to the alleged bias against the Conservatives could not, by definition, be the abolition of scores of Shire Tory seats. That is the view of Glyn Davies, the Conservative MP for Montgomeryshire, who has never previously broken the Whip. He will be very far from the only one.
Instead, we need constituency members, county members, regional members and national members. Constituency members would be 500 in number, elected by constituencies each of which would contain as near as possible to one fifth of one per cent of the electorate.
There would be 102 county members, one from each of the 48 English ceremonial counties, the 35 Scottish lieutenancy areas, the 13 Welsh historic counties, and Northern Ireland’s six counties; candidates would have to have been registered voters there throughout the previous 10 years, which as much as anything else would require that they be at least 28 years old.
There would be 36 regional members, with each of us voting for one candidate drawn from parties that did not contest constituency and county seats, and with the top three declared elected in each of the 12 regions; this might be done from party lists, provided that it was always a matter of one seat for each of the top three.
And there would be 12 national members, all Independents, with each of us voting for one candidate and with the top 12 elected at the end: “The Honourable Gentleman, Mr Hitchens”, “The Honourable Lady, Ms Toynbee”, and so on. 650 MPs in all.
The deposit system would be replaced with a requirement to be nominated by five per cent of the electorate. However, that would be waived for constituency and county candidates whose parties had submitted their shortlists of two to a binding ballot of the entire electorate in order to arrive at the eventual PPC.
There might also be a ballot line system, such that voters would be able to indicate that they were voting for a given candidate specifically as endorsed by a smaller party or other campaigning organisation, with the number of votes by ballot line recorded and published separately. Newspapers registered as such with the Post Office would also be given that right.
These arrangements would meet the desire for most seats in the House to be allocated on the basis of equally sized electorates. They would preserve the traditional county-based representation of natural communities on the ground.
They would bring UKIP, Respect, the Greens, the Socialist Labour Party, the Liberal Party, the Christian People’s Alliance and so on into the system (the BNP would not win any seats) while confining them permanently to a maximum of 12 seats each, from which to act as friendly critics and critical friends of Labour, the Conservatives or both.
They would significantly broaden the base of Parliament by bringing in people who would win such ballots. They would compel carping commentators to put up or shut up. They would do the same to newspapers.
And they would empower wider civil society by making it possible to see how many people voted for candidates specifically because of their stances on certain issues rather than because of their party labels.