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Friday, May 7, 2010


A weird night for UK politics. The people have spoken, and they said "Erm..."

Not only have we ended up with a hung parliament, but it is so precariously balanced that no obvious power bloc has enough votes to stake a convincing claim to government (BBC estimates 320 vs 315 seats, with 326 needed for a genuine majority). The only obvious outcome this morning is that we will all be doing this again rather soon.

Perhaps the biggest irony is that the party standing for the most significant electoral reform, the Liberal Democrats, had a night that was just as disappointing as anyone else. They advocated Proportional Representation, a system that causes the numbers of seats won to more fairly reflect the popular vote, statistically this would mean that hung parliaments were more likely, and would transform the landscape of British politics as coalition governments would become the norm, rather than the exception. So in a way the LibDem failure means that while the British people have voted for a hung parliament, they have simultaneously soundly rejected the idea of hung parliaments. We are a fickle lot.

The Internets is still resonating with calls for political reform, but with these figures all we may get is a minority government limping on with no clear sense of what the reform will look like (and no, David Cameron, merely reducing the number of MPs and redrawing boundaries to favour the Conservatives doesn't count). Half-hearted attempts to plaster over the problems will not help.

What we need is a properly considered proposal for joint reform of both houses of parliament. For example, coupling First Past the Post (or a variant like the Alternative Vote)* for House of Commons members (tending to deliver strong majority governments), with list-based proportional representation in the House of Lords (reflecting the popular vote, and allowing parties to effectively select key lords members - such as ex-prime-ministers and experienced diplomats - while retaining democratic legitimacy).

If anything is clear today it is that reforming one without the other would be foolish. We have two houses in our democratic system, each with a separate role to play in the government of our country, for once let's use them together to give us fair but effective representation.

(* oops - in the first version of this post I listed STV here, which would probably have the opposite effect. I've corrected it now to say FPTP and AV.) 

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