Sunday, 16 December 2012

In Proportion

George Eaton raises the question of whether the rise of UKIP might reopen the debate on electoral reform, although he does that rare thing among press journalists and mentions the fact that UKIP has never won a seat, not even, one might add, against none of the Big Three and with massive newspaper backing at Buckingham in 2010.

It has nothing like the localised activist base ever to win one, and, not unrelatedly, it has no municipal base, either. I am no fan of the Greens, but it is perfectly scandalous that they receive less coverage than UKIP. A very great deal less, in fact. That looks like a contempt of Parliament, and it is undeniably a contempt of the electorate.

As to electoral reform itself, only its application to the House of Commons can make any real difference, since the parties shaped by the elections to that House are the parties that then contest all elections. If the parties contesting elections to the British seats in the European Parliament, or to the devolved bodies in Scotland and Wales, or to the Greater London Assembly, had been designed with those elections and those bodies in mind, then they would entirely different.

As it is, they are designed for the House of Commons and for the elections thereto, merely also happening to contest any other election that might happen to be ordained from time to time by that House. That is just the way that it is. In Northern Ireland, the situation is that the structure has been constructed so as to preserve the shape of the parties, something that Westminster also now does, but for which it was not necessarily intended as the end in itself.

If there were to a be a more proportional system for elections to the House of Commons, then what might the new party system entail? The Liberal Democrats would disappear entirely. Their Neither Of The Above position can exist only under First Past The Post, and they are demonstrably hopeless at anything else; when their Holy Grail, multimember STV, was introduced for local elections in Scotland, then their number of councillors went down.

But anyone who knows anything about Britain will be able to presuppose that the right flank of the left-wing coalition will always be provided by a Tory-rooted party, and the left flank of any right-wing coalition will always be provided by a Labour-rooted party, both of which would be economically populist and thus effectively social democratic, both of which would be sanely conservative socially and culturally, and both of which would be strongly patriotic in relation to all threats to our sovereignty, liberty and democracy (both parliamentary and municipal), whether from the Executive or the Judiciary, from the EU or the US, from Israel or the Gulf monarchs, from China or the Russian oligarchs, from the money markets or the media moguls, from separatists or communalists, from over-mighty central government employees or over-mighty local government employees.

Between them, those two parties would have considerable appeal in much of the South and even in parts of London, by no means necessarily the white parts, if that is what you are thinking. They would clean up in the North and the Midlands, where under any form of PR they could reasonably expect to hold two thirds of the seats on a permanent basis, and could reasonably aspire to win three quarters of them from time to time. At least one, and probably both, would always be in government, or else there would be no government.

They would dominate Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as surely as the North and the Midlands if it were not for the constitutional questions. But the constitutional question in Wales, insofar as there ever was one, and the constitutional question in Northern Ireland are both now resolved, while that in Scotland will be resolved before the next General Election.

There is also talk that Nigel Farage might have to be included in the next Leaders' Debates. The answer to that is very simple: all three main parties long ago decided that there were not going to be any more Leaders' Debates. So there aren't. Nor, in this country, ought there ever to have been. But the pretext will be that, no matter how many the participants, two would have to come from the Coalition. What do you think that this is? Question Time?

I have had to take a very deep breath before writing this next sentence, but even if Andrew Rawnsley says something, that does not automatically make it a lie. Of course, if he alone says it, as in every word of his vicious and totally false book How Dare That Common Little Man Be Prime Minister Instead Of One Of My Mates!, then it certainly is a lie, and a malicious lie at that. But this is not such a situation. Rawnsley was very lucky only to have had to have dealt with the Prime Minister who had taken this country out of recession. Had he tried that, not that he ever would have done, against the puppet of Alastair Darling and Peter Mandelson, then the BBC would have announced his suicide well under an hour after the discovery of his body, and that would have been the end of the matter.

But speaking of Question Time, a well-placed regular correspondent has emailed me to ask what the large and thriving Morning Star Parliamentary Readers' and Supporters' Group, set up during the present Parliament and until recent days convened by the PPS to the Deputy Leader (a man still very much on course for Ministerial office, and still undeclared on same-sex "marriage"), would say or do if that newspaper once again not only endorsed, but more or less organised, a slate for the European Elections, as it did with No2EU - Yes to Democracy, support for which from the audience was infamously edited out of the relevant edition of Question Time as part of a comprehensive media blackout.

My answer is that that is extremely unlikely to happen. At this year's Durham Miners' Gala, John Hendy QC, who had been a No2EU candidate in London, spoke from the same platform as Ed Miliband, a platform on which Bob Crow was also seated. The annual ritual of returning the RMT's affiliation cheque uncashed ought to be discontinued soon enough.

The internal Labour shift on Europe, illustrated as much as anything else by the number of MPs from the 2010 intake who have signed up to the Morning Star Readers' and Supporters' Group (a 34-year-old Assistant Whip, only elected last year, is leading the campaign against Government Departments' boycott of that organ of Euroscepticism from the very start; at university we used to rib him about how right-wing he was, but getting on in Labour is clearly now a very different matter) and by Ian Lavery's own continuing progress since his election in that year, means that longstanding dissidents from the party line who have instead advocated absurd ultra-federalism are extremely unlikely to be permitted to contest the next European Election, or at least not in positions that gave them any realistic hope of re-election. Why, even I might then be able to vote Labour at a European Election, for the first time in my life.

But the broader and deeper solution would be as set out above. The Labour-rooted of those two parties would fill a very British gap, the lack of a party anchoring the Left while engaging fully in the battle of ideas at every level of cultural life and of the education system, while refusing to consign or to confine demotic culture to "the enormous condescension of posterity", and while co-ordinating broad-based and inclusive campaigns for human rights and civil liberties, for peace (including nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological disarmament, and including against the arms trade), for environmental responsibility, and for the defence and extension of jobs, services and amenities.

It is absolutely farcical, and demonstrably disastrous, that the nearest approximation, here in what was once the land of the ILP, the Socialist League and, for all its many and grievous faults, the CPGB, should be the undergraduate Trots of the SWP, "Workers" who have never so much as ironed a shirt or changed a light bulb in their lives. Moreover, the remedy would also secure the most enduring, because the most valuable, legacies of what were once the prongs of the trident: Independent Labour Publications, Tribune, and the Morning Star.

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