Stalemate: PR and PR, Ice Cream, Bananas and Fudge

Hermeneutics

One of the most puzzling features of the current unstoppable wave of political punditry that is flooding all channels and outlets at the moment (including this one of course) is the peculiar propensity of commentators to feel qualified to extrapolate from the election results the Manifest Will of Britain.  “The people have voted for change”, “The people have told Gordon Brown that he has got to go” , “The people are saying that they don’t really trust any one party”, “The people have said that they want Parliament reformed, the tea room in the House of Commons redecorated, new carpeting in the women’s lavatory of the House of Lords and a vegetarian option in the canteen.”  What fevered branch of electoral hermeneutics allows any such interpretations on the basis of the summing of millions of individual’s single votes I cannot imagine. It is possible that people do want real change, but a single cross next to a single name is no way to deduce it.

PR

We only get one vote, one cross to put next to one name. If you put your cross next to Victoria Tory’s name you declare that want her to be your MP, representing you constituency, although it is perhaps also permissible to assume that you are up for her party and her party’s leader winning an overall majority in the Commons in Westminster as well. If the cross is next to Fabian Labour’s name or Libby Dem’s one might be justified in assuming the same there too. There really is almost nothing more nuanced or sophisticated that one can infer from our recent general election except to say that that of the 68% who voted there weren’t enough who wanted Conservatives to win to allow Cameron to claim first prize, and even fewer who wanted to vote for candidates from the other parties. One could deduce a huge amount more if voters were allowed to express their preferences in an intelligent way that reflected how they really feel and think. The Electoral Reform Society is a good place to go for information as to how precisely such a form of voting could be implemented, as it is all round much of the civilised world. My friends at Vote For A Change have also been campaigning for the same thing. Proportional Representation is the prize that many of us hope this “confusing” election will deliver. But there is an obstacle. An obstacle so huge that I cannot see it being overcome.

The Sitch

Here is the situation as I read it.

  1. David Cameron’s Conservative Party elders and backbenchers will never allow him to seal a pact with Clegg that guarantees electoral reform in the shape of proportional representation.
  2. Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrat Party elders and backbenchers will never allow him to seal a pact with Cameron that that does not guarantee electoral reform in the shape of proportional representation.
  3. Cameron will spring an obvious trap by saying, “We’ll see. We’ll look into it. You can have concessions on schools and hospitals.” Children who want an ice cream know that when their parents say “We’ll see, but you can have a banana” it means no ice cream. The Lib Dem and PR pressure groups are perfectly aware of that too. Any talk of “an independent enquiry … a Royal Commission … a committee to look into it” will be treated for what it is. Fudge.
  4. Stalemate

It comes down to this: the Conservatives believe that under a PR system they will never achieve full supremacy in the country again. This would mark a sharp reverse in their ambitions. Their manifesto commitment to a 10% reduction in MPs and a consequent redraft of constituency borders would necessarily gerrymander massively in their interest, all but guaranteeing Tory power for the foreseeable future. The idea that they will for one moment countenance PR reform that will see them reduced, as they would interpret it, to the role of Euro-style hedgers, compromisers and pragmatic consensus inclusionists is more than a bitter pill, it is a suicide pill and Cameron knows that he could never induce the party to swallow it.

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98 comments on “Stalemate: PR and PR, Ice Cream, Bananas and Fudge”

  1. bananapancake92 says:

    seems there’s nothing to do but hold our breath and wait and see…

  2. JonSHarvey says:

    Absolutely Mr Fry – this is why we have to move beyond the idea that politics is about winning or losing. Right now, we all stand to lose lots. As the politicians attempt to make a deal, the action needed to tackle the deficit we face (as a result of some rather greedy bankers taking us all to the cleaners) is put off. The problem gets bigger. Some rather severe action will be required.

    This will only work if the government of the day carries with it the consent and trust of the people. The minority governments that we invariably get under FPTP (by minority I mean that they have have a minority of the votes cast – not seats) will not carry that consent or trust.

    So changing the system of election to one that is more proportionate is essential to tackling the debt that we face – fairly, effectively and with the least amount of harm (not least to people who get hurt in the demonstrations that could follow). Electoral reform is closely connected with economic reform. They go hand in hand.

    We need a politics that is more inclusive, pluralist and evidence based – so that the best possible (rather than partisan) decisions are taken which are the best for the biggest number of people. J S Mill would support PR I am sure.

  3. michaelpacitti says:

    Thank you for that. Your prophecy quite eloquently managed to put into words what many people seem to have only expressed in passing. I fear the Lib Dems may not be the only ones fobbed off with “fudge and bananas”, and in fact, none of us will get any ice cream.

  4. claudi says:

    I feel the need to point out that Labour has been in power since 1997 – plenty of time to reform the voting system. They never lifted a finger. Why? Because they were in power and the current voting system suited them very well (until now). You can hardly blame the conservatives for playing exactly the same game. Brown is only now getting around to accepting PR because he views it as the only way to cling to his position as Prime Minister.

  5. SarahEShelton211 says:

    I remember when Bush Jr. was running for his first term over here 10 years ago – it was the first election I’d ever voted in. I gained a lot of my understanding about the candidates from Linda Ellerby on MTV and Jon Stewart – as we don’t have the people’s Beeb here and FOX is just not to be trusted. I can distinctly see George on the tv – and remember the moment I looked in his eyes and saw lying. It was an intuitive response – like seeing a sillouette of another man through his face when the light got him from behind for a moment. When they APPOINTED him I got a sick feeling in my stomach, like it knew no good could come from the change.

    I don’t want to feel that way about the UK – a country I dearly long to settle in. I’ve lived nearly all my adult life under conservative legislation and value the British detachment from religion in politic-making. Your empirical-mindedness and your common sense and decency. Your gasp that freedom and justice are not the same thing. I Do Not Want to have to fear stepping up to the UK in the street and tugging its sleeve with my heart in my hand to ask to be allowed to stay and be sniffed at like an urchin – they way George sniffs at Mexico.

    Anywhere you find civilization, you find a sect which presumes to dictate to it for its own preservation’s sake whatever the cost to the community as a whole. Right and Left follow each other as Day and Night do. Perhaps this won’t always be so – I will not wait for Britain to warm to the ideal temperature to change my life and begin trying to join you all there. To yield to bullying tactics will only prolong them.

    I am not any more or less optimistic than you. Just stubborn. If it happens, it happens. For us, George was the last straw (until the sun goes down again…) I hope for the UK, if it comes to this, that one last Thatcheresque administration will be enough. I intend to be there to stand with you. Anyway, I’m going to try.

    (Even if you have to keep your head down,) keep your head up.
    And you’re Not a wanker. :)
    Love and Strength,
    Sarah x

  6. mysickbones says:

    Isn’t it depressing; that those who currently have are so concerned with preserving these privileges that they will happily sell their, and my, children’s futures down the river. I was hoping that I was wrong in my own reading of the situation but it concurs very much with yours. We need fundamental change if we are to address the problems that face our society(s) over the next 50 years but it’s not in the interests of those who could make these changes to make them. When climate change and resource wars finally sweep these complacent wankers away, probably in an orgy of blood-letting, then I supposes I’ll be able to feel morally superior and say I told you so but unfortunately, if I’m still alive then, I’ll be too busy witnessing the destruction of my children’s and grandchildren’s futures to make the time to do so.

  7. Robin Rowlands says:

    Most people are quite multi faceted and understanding – proportional representation will allow society to come together and go forward …

    Robin Rowlands.
    Guildford, Surrey,

  8. mysickbones says:

    response to claudi – But we should blame them, they put themselves forward for election because they, unlike the rest of us thickies, claim that they can see the big picture and know what’s best for society. I’ve never felt that degree of certainty.

  9. nonoyesyes says:

    In a single glance I see something in the value of one word, in relation to politics, government and everything it is supposed to stand for, going purely on text book definitions; and that word is UNDERSTANDING.
    When I read your blog here today, I am smote with a vista of understanding of the entire process, the entire and broad picture, what would be needed to bring about the most possible ideal picture when it comes to what is really needed and wanted to create a forward thrust in the direction of all those values that are so important to the survival of those things that equate to betterment for all.
    Such a brilliant understanding!~ What a pity it is not more prevalent within the entire structure of those who would govern, those who could use their position to bring reform in the way that it is actually really needed!
    A blog that really gets it’s teeth into the matter, into the nitty-gritty – including the swaying Crapola of the PR merchants and their machines (the media) to affect/infect the view of those who have their opinions shoved at them via the various channels made to do so ad infinitum!
    At least via this one blog I have had the pleasure of listening to one who has a grip on the entire picture, and what it would take to bring an intelligent solution into a reality!
    Marvellous writing, and thank you for your views.

  10. inckognito says:

    It’s brilliant, Stephen! *admire*

    Thank you x

  11. steeroy says:

    I think you’re right that Lib Dem support would be decimated if they went into a coalition with Labour. But note that at this election they needed on average 4 times the number of votes the other parties did to win a seat. To be a bit cynical, if they could secure PR, they could afford to lose 75% of their support and still retain the same number of MPs!

  12. siabost_deas says:

    I will agree with your prophesy Mr Fry, which really puts the mockers on it.

    Since the Tories will never allow PR to become a reality, if they can help it, all Clegg can do is back out, refuse to do a deal with Labour & let a Conservative minority government struggle along until the inevitable election re-run in a year or so.

    Labour should have changed our clunking voting system as soon as possible after 1997 when they had so much good will as well as a stonking majority. That they did not do so was short-sighted in the extreme.

    I have said many times that folk (those of us who went through it) have forgotten the arrogance of the 80s Thatcher government & the damage they did to our industry & society. At the time it seemed that anyone who became part of that cabinet took on that arrogant demeanour like pulling on a sweater. Portillo, whom I have a lot of time for now after his post “Portillo-moment” rebirth, seemed as hard-hearted & condescending as the rest of them. People who think Gordon Brown was a bumptious conceited chancellor should replay tapes of Nigel Lawson at his height in the 80s.

    The idea that reform of our voting system should be set aside while “more important” things are dealt with is a fallacy considering that it is that very system that’s left us in the mess we’re in in the first place.

    I don’t think it’s just fear of being pushed into the political backwater that makes most Conservatives resist PR. It’s a general fear of anything new – it is/is not (delete as appropriate) the British way of doing things. This applies to the The Pound, immigration, homosexuality, the Monarchy, Fox Hunting, Hereditary Peers, Inheritance Tax and Proportional Representation… (that list is in no particular order :-).

    If Nick Clegg can get us political reform this time around he’ll have performed a trick worthy of Merlin & he should instantly be canonised. If not, we may just have to roll out the canons – trouble is I’ve only got an air-rifle & half a tin of pellets…

    Ah, well…

  13. richardblogger says:

    Stephen, you have missed one combination.

    Cameron can form a minority government. I think that is what he would prefer to do, if you like, “to keep it in the family”. This will serve Clegg’s purpose too. He knows that he cannot extract a vote or referendum on PR from Cameron, the inquiry is all he will get, but a coalition will contaminate the LibDems. There are many people who have tactically voted LibDem precisely to avoid getting a Tory MP, so a coalition will show that their vote was worse than wasted, it actually resulted in something to which they vehemently objected. Such a coalition will mean that the “anything but Tory” vote will only mean Labour (in England) and so the LibDem vote will shrink drastically (far more than a mere tenth) at the next election. Clegg cannot risk this. A minority Tory government will allow Clegg to say at the next election “don’t blame me for that…” (In my opinion, it will not be enough.) Clegg can threaten a minority government at any time with an election, and if he is smart he would keep that back until Cameron is thoroughly unpopular and there is a possibility of Labour getting 50 more seats (ie reverse the roles) at which point he *will* be able to get his PR legislation.

    So what would Cameron get out of a minority government? Well, quite a lot. No one wants another election too soon. An election is costly and the parties have spent all their money. An election will also be destabilising on the economy. And basically, the voters won’t want to go through all of that again for a while. The threat of calling an election is a lot of power.

    Look at Scotland. Salmond has successfully run a minority government, the skill is to avoid the tricky bits that would trigger a no confidence vote. For the LibDems that would be, well, electoral reform that is not PR. So that means that Cameron’s attempt at gerrymandering will not happen. But, everything else will. Osborne may well water down his “emergency election”, but the substantial cuts (remember that Clegg was also promising those before the election?) will still happen. Clegg is an “orange booker”: a group of closet Tories in the LibDems. (There are progressives too, the party is quite broad.) Clegg will not object to cuts in public services.

    My concern is Lansley’s plans to privatise whole chunks of the NHS. The LibDems are broadly in agreement with this policy. In 2005 in an interview with the Independent Clegg said that he would like to see the NHS broken up and was in favour of moving to an insurance based system. (This is quite close to what Daniel Hannan was suggesting. You know, he of “the NHS is a 60 year mistake” fame.) Clegg has not changed his mind since then. As I said, he is a closet Tory.

    So, you are right that the inquiry is the delaying tactic, but it is all that Clegg will get. In the meantime the Tories will destroy our public services while the LibDems look on from the sidelines saying “it is nothing to do with us”.

  14. BlindingPhil says:

    We can all sit and pontificate about what we need endlessly. Unfortunately it’s not us that needs to hear this. The people who read your blog, Stephen, will more than likely already agree with you.
    Seek audience with Nick Clegg. Tell him what we want, and to stand fast for his values. There are few who would be able to do so in this time, but I think that you certainly could manage to at least pass him a note behind teacher’s back…

  15. EPSY7789 says:

    FANTASTIC OPINION! my first response was a clear and unequivocal; YES!

    As a first-time voter, i felt inspired, but realised quickly that my libdem vote was wasted. My libdem candidate chose not to really campaign in my area, perhaps shooting herself in the foot, but maybe its a clear indication of how simply pointless it would’ve been to campaign at all. A labour seat for years after being Thatcher’s constituency for ‘those’ years, there would have been no real hope.

    I want my vote to count. I want the media and murdoch to STOP creating these ridiculous newspaper tirades against anyone but Cameron without fair assessment. I want there to be a real chance for everyone to get the change they deserve.

    I realise as ‘the next generation’ I have a lot of pressures set upon me, the economy, no jobs, insane house prices, environmental issues that seem irreparable, but surely the only way to tackle this is to allow ALL decent, stable parties with real values to have a chance of implementing their ideas, to give them a chance to be heard. It shouldn’t be a two horse race, based purely on personality and tribalism, but on policy.

    I fear your fears too, I only hope I don’t, with age, forget the policies that inclined me to vote libdem in the first place- opting instead of red or blue simply because its the only way i might get heard.

    I just hope the rest of my generation can hold on to their fresh faced moral awareness too and not be dragged backwards.

    E.Y

  16. MadgeMiggins says:

    Very well said.
    What frightens me is that we have a new generation of voters that understand very little of the Thatcher years.
    Shame doesn’t come anywhere near it!

  17. Doc Richard says:

    You’re right, the Tories are just not going to do PR. My prediction is that Clegg will get some kind of milksop referendum on PR as a condition of sharing the poisoned chalice of power, and that the Tory press will spend the intervening months treating their readers with a barrage of anti-PR propaganda along the lines of “Do you want these shenanigans after every election?”.

    I met a man in Plymouth who told me that 62% of peeps want PR at the moment. Murdoch should be able to get that down to 49% with one hand tied behind his back.

    We need a good, clear web-based campaign to put the all facts of the case in front of the voters.

  18. pdh202 says:

    Enjoyed reading this Mr Fry!

    There’s a quote i’m reminded of, a Greek proverb which I’m sure you know more about than me!

    “Societies grow great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in”

    I’ve found it interesting that the phrase “In the national interest” is banded about so much in a (political) world where EVERY party is concerned with something quite different: their own interest!

    Personally, the ideal of PR is brilliant but not the details, I like this AV thing…slightly more!

    keep well,

    P

  19. artistry says:

    “I feel the need to point out that Labour has been in power since 1997 – plenty of time to reform the voting system.”

    Hang on, hang on. You know they were quite busy doing other stuff, don’t you? Like the minimum wage, doubling overseas aid, repairing the NHS, introducing devolution, abolishing hereditary peers, fixing Northern Ireland, and oh could I go on, and on. You have a list of priorities and things get shifted down the line. Electoral reform became a priority as those things were crossed off the list. Don’t blame Labour for this. We’ve all had nearly 100 years to fix it, and at last it’s being addressed. I bet there are things on your “to do” list like that…

    I agree with Stephen. I’d add that if Clegg facilitates a Tory government, many who voted for his party will abandon it and that will just reinforce two-party politics for a long time to come. If he facilitates a Labour government he’ll get what he wants. He also needs to remember that the Lib Dems include many from the former SDP, a break-off of the Labour Party who would sooner return to their roots than see the party of Thatcher returned to power. Those aside, many (most) Lib Dems see themselves as left of centre. This isn’t about personalities (i.e. “Brown”) who, remember, has in the past few weeks started being viewed as more maligned and misunderstood than any political leader of recent times, and if the Lib Dems are seen to prefer a deal with the Tories simply because the alternative is a deal with Brown, then they’ll look a lot less principled than they have been making out recently.

    The Tories are peddling a lie about “broken Britain”, one only peddled better by the Daily Mail and Murdoch’s crop of “newspapers”; they’re peddling a disastrous approach to economics and ideas for tax cuts for the well-off. They’re ruled by businessmen not people. They didn’t “win” the election and the only reason they can claim to have “won more seats than since the 1930s” is because they lost so many in 1997! And they still have fewer seats than they’ve had since 1992. That’s not a win by any stretch of the imagination. The election was won by the left, by those who want social justice to determine spending choices. Clegg is right to let the Tories “try” to form a government first but wrong if he decides to jettison the reasons people voted Lib Dem in the first place.

    Here’s my idea: a pact between the “rainbow alliance” not to contest seats won on May 6th in the next election or where another party came second. Just like the SDP and Liberals did. That will force a minority Conservative government to seek support and ameliorate their worst ideas. Fail to call a referendum on electoral support, and you face the worst effects of first past the post: a true two-party constituency by constituency election.

    In other words the Lib Dems can still form an alliance with the left and let the Tories try to govern. My preferred option is a left-wing coalition, but a Tory government kept in check is better than one propped up by a party that pretends to be progressive.

  20. mdf says:

    Agree with Stephen’s characterisation of the Tories as essentially uncaring, the “help for those who help themsevles” attitude etc. But I wonder if I detect a slight bias, instilled back in the properly right-wing days of Thatcher?

    I know what they say about Cameron’s duplicity (and as a good liberal, I fear it) but is his “updating” of the party 100% superficial? Or is there nothing at all in the consensus that centrist politics now dominate the two main parties?

  21. Ian Ridley says:

    Yes, the Lib Dems lost seats but it’s FPTP we are talking about here.

    Not including Thirsk and Malton, the Lib Dems gained 846,064 votes (up from 5,981,874 to 6,827,938) and 1.0% in vote share on 2005. That’s why they lost a tenth of their seats.

    FPTP does not like the Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Democrats do not like FPTP.

  22. brightorangestar says:

    Being Australian living over here for a short while, I have been glued to the TV and online news media over the last month and feel I have, like no one event in the last few years, been educated about something that in my short few years of being a legal voter seems utterly silly.
    I will admit I don’t truly understand why you’ve said the conservatives don’t want a preferential voting system (is it because they are so loathed they will be systematically put last on every other parties ballot?).

    There are a few things i’ve found so interesting about your election process compared to ours. The fact you vote on a weekday instead of a Saturday whic just seems to be quite a pain in the ass for people to have to find the time before during or after work to vote rather then on a Saturday where the majority of workers have off. The fact you don’t have compulsary voting, and that there is no preferential voting, which to me just seems like common sense! How can a country be truly represented with a past the post system, effectively categoring a persons vote to one person, one party and taking away their right to have a full say.

    While I do feel sorry for the UK and the times ahead of confusion and despair over events, its certainly been interesting to watch.

    love.

  23. GadgetGav says:

    A very likely, and very depressing scenario clearly laid out. Of course Labour hasn’t done anything about electoral reform while they’ve been in power – no party that wins under a first past the post system has any need or desire to think about electoral reform. It’s only at times like this that the chance even arises and I feel strongly that it will only come to pass under a Lib-Lab coalition. Unfortunately, Labour didn’t come close enough to make that a workable option and the LibDems lost seats instead of becoming a more influential force… I think the TV debates and the subsequent media boost for Clegg was all a diversion. Britain does not have a presidential system. It doesn’t matter how much people liked Clegg on TV, when they got to the ballot box, his name wasn’t there. It’s hard to vote for Johnny Lib Dem when he’s a distant second or even third in your ward. The British Way is to assume that someone else will do it. Tactical voting only works if there is a massively organized effort behind it and I doubt many of the third ranking candidates were out on doorsteps last week saying “Don’t vote for me. Please vote for Mr Second Place so that we have a chance of changing the national picture”. All politics is local, so the saying goes, and I think in the moment where pencil touches ballot, that’s true. Of course, come 10pm on election night, people are focussing on the national picture again – oh, the irony.
    First past the post voting systems will usually return a government that has a minority of the total votes cast in the country. That is just a fact of multi party politics and electoral wards. It’s only in situations like this that we realize it though…

  24. LeFiffre says:

    I see the issues as being slightly different here in the U.S., but your sentiments all too lamentably familiar: Parties and politicians put their individual asperations and collective institutional interests before the good of the nation. Reason has fallen to emotion more spectacularly than ever. Our legislature has been hung for years now. Legislators spend three days of their week legislating, and the rest fundraising, but they won’t countenance campaign finance reform. It’s nuts. It’s the politics of short-term opportunism and my frustration is such that I’m nearly ready to join the crazies — or any party — that’s best able to throw the bums out and start over.

    Thanks for your take on the sitch there — I’ve blathered about here, but I’ve taken careful note of there.

  25. Steve Ride says:

    Ah yes, the Experts, however, as someone once pointed out, Expert = Ex as in Has Been and Spurt as in Drip Under Pressure.

    Ah well, such is our lot :)

  26. tmidir says:

    The issue politically within this country at the moment, is that we have many thinkers and many talkers but very few doers. those that do often take up extreme forms of violent protest and are known as radicals or anarchists. They are ostracised to the fringes of the political wilderness never to be taken seriously by mainstream politicians and the media in general, and the current stagnent status quo continues. The current trend indeed the fashion of the moment in politics is the celebrity endorsement. I believe the only way to effect a serious shift towards a modernist approach to political reform, one that is fair for all, allowing that one vote, that one endorsement on the ballot paper to truely count for anything, is to mobilise the popular celebrity face of Britain to engage the media and continually publicise the inadequacies of the current political system until real change occurs. That opportunity and moment is now. Look at New Labour when Blair first got into power when all the celebrity endorsment made it trendy to be political, the media got into bed with Blair and he could do no wrong. How times have changed, but it shows the power of the celebrity when used in conjunction with the media. In this current society we pay more attention to the world of “Hello” magazine and “x factor” contestants than we do to new scientific discovery or natural catastrophe. So I believe we now have to ask ourselves, are we thinkers and talkers, or are we doers? If we are doers we all have to pressure those in politics and power, to realise that we, or certainly, I, myself(I would hope you also) want reform. Reform is not only necessary but also essential if we are to truely consider ourselves a democracy where every vote truely counts for something.

  27. JimmyN says:

    I understand your comments on the last Conservative government, and (although a Tory supporter) agree that they left the place in a mess – schools, hospitals etc.

    Where I think we have a real problem is that as a country we haven’t faced the tough decisions – for the past decade, we’ve been having our cake and eating it. Or more strictly, we’ve been eating the cake without paying for it.

    I agree that “we will only appreciate the unheralded and uncelebrated good it did when the props it built up for the poor, the disabled and the disadvantaged have been kicked away.”.

    But I ask: if we had actually been paying for all these “props” – the social things, the schools, the hospitals – would we be so keen on it? When the posh folk (politicians or journalists) talk about the “structural” deficit, they mean the deficit that was there before the recession and the banks made things worse.

    So OK, we like some of what Labour did. But if they offered to continue it, with VAT at 22% and income tax at 30%, which is the sort of figures you’d need, I wonder if it would look so good?

  28. Guido says:

    Electoral reform is a complicated business. Should we retain some form of link between member and area? If there are lists, how do voters select one individual over another? How to count and avoid the lock outs and questionable postal votes that have clouded recent elections? Should the same voting method apply to both houses? I hate to sound like one of your shilly-shallying head-shakers, buy to get a decent replacement system and persuade a sceptical public of its worth before a referendum will take a lot of time, and a hypothetical centre-left minority coalition is unlikely to have much of that.

  29. Rexthered says:

    The LDs should have been wiped out at this election. The interpretation of the political cycle suggests this. Gordon Brown going for the TV debates prevented this and they (the LDs) lost fewer seats than expected. Mr Clegg might have done better if he had not been in the middle for the final two debates. In a couple of years someone will no doubt be chairing a new set of ‘What if?’ shows on Radio 4.

    NC is damned whichever way he jumps. With the Cons – supporting the massive and early reductions in spending. With Labour – propping up a failed government. Do nothing and it will be even worse – left with little choice but to blow out the Queen’s Speech leading to an even more vicious election battle for which we have little stomach.

    I do not envy the Liberal Democrats the choice they must make. Very likely that choice should be to support neither of the two major parties and prepare for a fight for their political survival.

  30. hughesc3 says:

    Respond to claudi – In fact Tony Blair did instigate talks with the Lib Dems former leader Paddy Ashdown. The Lib Dems ruling body stepped in and put an end to the talks as they did not like the AV system which was being proposed, talks did never the less take place and with a Labour party that held a 120+ majority.

    That said this is an excellent blog, I do however feel compelled to add that if a referendum where held to change the electorial system it would be difficult enough to secure with the Tories like as not campaigning against. If this where as a result of a proposal from a Liberal Tory coalition I believe Labour would be compelled to join the Tories in campaigning against such a change.

  31. spiritofnow says:

    Mr, lovely and wondrously insightful Fry.

    I am relatively new to this here politics game, (I guess I was one of those who felt disconnected from politics– a general malaise), and now I am finding that my mouse-like voice is wanting to get louder. I am afraid of what a Conservative government will bring not only because of what I see, but also because I was one of those who marched in the streets to protest at the unjust system under the Thatcher years–in my mind Thatcher wasn’t the real issue she was merely a manifestation of the ideological underpinnings of the Conservative party as a whole. And, I for one do not want to witness the ramifications of their type of leadership.

    I am afraid by a party who openly admit to policies that will enforce cutting the budget for the already failing education system, a party who are not interested in bridging the gap between the have’s and the have nots, and a party who have such extreme views on society and culture in general that I find it hard to relate to them.

    When I read over my post I notice the word ‘fear’,and yes there is an element of that, but I am also reminded that fear of fear itself has far more weighting, which actually empowers me, and hopefully others. As another great man once said; “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment”. Marcus Aurelius…

    I wholeheartedly agree with your blog, and it gives me some comfort to know that someone of your standing champions the vulnerable and most needy as you do.

    Long may you reign.

  32. Fryphile says:

    Sorry, but I can bring absolutely nothing to this table. Except cupcakes. Who wants cupcakes?

  33. JoelH says:

    I was hoping for another election in a few months, because a lot of my friends who were just too young to vote this time wanted to vote Labour/Lib-Dem. However, I realised yesterday that now everyone’s seen Lib-Dems do poorly, almost everyone who really doesn’t want a conservative government will vote Labour next time to block them, and we’ll just be in a worse hung parliament where Labour and Cons are closer in amount of seats and there are, as you predicted, barely any Lib-Dem seats.
    That said, it was quite sad to see it written by someone else, and in such a convincing and considered way. I hope you’re wrong, but then I think you aren’t, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
    Also, I agree with BlindingPhil. I honestly think you get a lot of respect (That you fully deserve) with your political and social views, and after Jeremy Clarkson (Shudder) I’ve heard people say they’d like you as the PM more than any single other person, celebrity or politician. If you tried to talk to Clegg, or some other leading Lib Dems, I think you could get a lot further than you might expect.
    Go for it, Fry! Throw your weight into the ring, and try to let Clegg know what we’re all thinking! Good luck.

  34. Lucyt says:

    It seems from what I read Stephen, that as a nation we are stuffed. From what I read on Twitter and Facebook, EVERYONE despises the Tories, yet they still received the larger share of the vote last Thursday, so where are all the people that voted for them? Are they all hiding ashamed that they might be victimised by ‘real people’ for being ‘Toffs’? (Even my 11 year-old son’s teacher told the class with great authority ‘Only posh people vote for the Conservative party.’) Perhaps they are scared Gordon Brown will publically ‘out’ them as Bigots, or maybe they are just too hard at work counting their millions to get on to the computer and moan with the rest of them that their ‘cleverly planned’ tactical vote has ended up with the 3rd-placed party seemingly holding all the cards.
    Well I’m prepared to ‘come out’ and hold my hand up and say that I voted for them. I looked at all three manifestos and felt in my ‘posh’ little way that the Conservatives’ was the most easy to navigate and if I picked any one issue I could find it in a flash as it wasn’t dressed up under some dimwit-friendly, patronising heading such as ‘Your money’ or ‘Your Family’ (test this by seeing how fast you can access each parties’ defence plans if you don’t believe me).
    I contacted my local candidate to clarify issues which I wasn’t sure of and made sure I went to the polling station (in plenty of time) with as many of the facts about each party as I possibly could to ensure that I made an informed decision. And now we have this. And while ‘this’ lasts, the deficit isn’t getting smaller, the country is laid bare and open and nobody knows who is in residence at No. 10. The parties can’t afford another election campaign, don’t seem to be able to decide how to agree an alliance and we’re going nowhere. I’m amazed that the previous commentator still want s to come and live in this country, it’s a shambles.
    PR? I’m still not sure. I understand that it would allow the BNP to have possibly 10 MP’s in parliament which would be an atrocity, but I guess if it means an end to the uncertainty of a Hung Parliament then perhaps it’s time…

  35. bettysos says:

    I am a Scot who has lived in Canada for the past 20 years – the last few of which with a Tory minority. I suspect that the majority of Scots would rather have cocktail sticks shoved up their nails than to contemplate a return to those Thatcher years – years that they did not vote for but well and truely got!

    The swing to the nationalist party is useually greatest when the right wing spectre faces the country (Scotland) and I am going to be very interested to see how the unsettling of the Scottish vote plays out in these scenarios. I more than suspect that most Scots would never place their vote with a lib/dem if they knew that effectively it was to ensure a Tory government. And if the English vote is all that matters to the Lib/Dems then it could esily give rise to greater calls for total cessation from the UK – I wonder if they even give it a passing thought?

    BTW – thank gooodness that Harper’s conservative govt is in a minority or they would be putting into place more rampant right wing measures than most Candians could suffer. He is at least tempered by his lack of ability to push every measure through.

  36. tinalouiseUK says:

    Tragic observations that I fear are, a possibility. Powering the public desire for fairer voting is where I feel we need to place our energy. In doing so, we can strengthen Nick Clegg & the Liberal Democrat’s position.

    Great to see you support the #takeitback idea on Twitter – do you agree that keeping the issue of fairer voting is a worthwhile strategy? Understand it involves wearing purple, visiting http://www.takebackparliament.com and following @takeback2010

    Thanks as always for the sanity of your perspective :)

    Namaste,
    Tina Louise

  37. Dougal says:

    That parliament now stands as some great ship whose sails are ablaze. That taking to the sides we find the seas which surround her are equally on fire. That as a nation ours is the part of the silent spectator, forever constrained and in conscience imperilled. I can truthfully find no solace in the course of these past few days.

    I find myself entirely attuned to everything since written within the blog, but for my own part I would take it further. With the greatest of respect for those of its constituent, I’m entirely opposed to both the policy and the culture of the Conservative party. I would never dare to presume the boredom of elucidating such a statement in a public forum and indeed I would hazard that it is only by the very transcendence of these party affiliations by which this situation can ever be meaningfully resolved. I confess that if the Conservatives had gained an overall majority, if they had taken the leadership, then I would have found myself irresolute in voicing a desire for electoral reform. Yet the reason I do so now is not down to any mean spirited partisanship or because my party lost or a latent desire for a progressive coalition, but because the situation now forces it; because British politics and its drive toward a great egality transcends all of these incongruent events and misaligned party discourses.

    I would also contend that is through these very discourses of power, in the Foucaultian sense, that the Tories will never be able to compromise on the issue of electoral reform. As a collective conscience it simply isn’t a part of their internal grammar, their mental vocabulary. And as such, our last great hope in this present time is to pray that they do call for another election.

    Ashcroft will serve them well in the endeavour and for those of us who cherish the ambition of reform will no doubt find ourselves timid at the advance of such spin and wealth. It is both preposterous and unvirtuous of me to say it, but if Stephen was willing to put his own capital into the potential campaign – his humour, sagacity, beauty, elegance, and flare – then the point may be sharpened and the cause furthered. If the likes of John Gray, Will Self, Eddie Izzard, et alia. were to join him then the right wing press would truly be pitted against a might they be unable to contend, one outside of politics and founded upon common decency and egalitarianism. That such a ridiculous petition belies precisely how much it would compromise those concerned as both humans and public figures is why I have labelled it as preposterous.

    The power could very well rest with us. Its both desperate and maddening to conceive how it could come to be mobilised – how the issue could be put across outside of the present situation, outside of party affiliations. If the Conservatives contrarily do manage to square a minority government, it may be perilosuly interesting to find ourselves pitted against a tangible evil for once, one which may force the issue again….sooner than we had hoped.

    (The sincerest apologies for my language. I’m fresh from an anthropology exam and I defy anybody to read Bourdieu and Derrida for three weeks without also sounding like an arse). Dx.

  38. GrahamM says:

    The Tories’ offer to “Hold an enquiry” etc is a bare faced attempt to kick the issue of Electoral Reform into the long grass because any committee would be loaded with members whose only job would be to prevariacate, bluster and obfuscate, hopefully for long enough that pretty much everyone would forget about the issue and let the Tories keep the current system of “Buggins’ Turn” so any chance of Electoral Reform would be lost for another generation.

    There is a campaign Take Back Parliament, see http://www.takebackparliament.com/ which resulted in around a thousand people turning up to urge Nick Clegg not to sacrifice his principles in his talks with the Tories and the more people who sign up to it, the better the chance of us getting a system like STV or ATV installed.

    Remember the job of an MP is supposed to be to represent the views of their constituents to Parliament, not tell their constituents “This is what the Party Leadership says, like it or lump it!”

  39. davepaisley says:

    Nice strawman argument.

    As noted previously, Labour had been in power for 13 years or so. Where was the electoral reform then? Not convenient?

    And really, how much better did they make things? The fact is the major parties are pretty much interchangeable in modus operandi, so picking on one seems to betray your personal bias rather than really getting to the heart of the problem (“I prefer my kinder, gentler stormtroopers to those other, evil stormtroopers…”)

    Proportional representation would be a good thing (if only because a permanent compromise government stops extremists from both ends from doing stupid things), but both of the ruling parties have blocked it and will continue to block it.

  40. tmidir says:

    To Dougal – I agree Its a preposterous idea, a ridiculous idea to think that a campaign founded on decency and egalitarianism might actually achieve something. I disagree that those involved in a petition of this sort would be compromised, rather, I would expect that those opposing such a petition would be the ones compromising themselves. This is a small window of opportunity. Sometimes we need to dare in order to achieve.

  41. DMinghella says:

    Dear boy,

    Like you I yearn for more decent politics. I hereby vote for Fry as PM.

    But not PR. Sorry! It delivers hung parliaments. They stink. They don’t produce lovely clean open inclusive government. They send politicians into dark rooms to discuss the trading of favours, with the voter left out in the cold. Such behaviour is precisely what free-thinkers don’t like.

    And even if you like your parliaments well hung, have you actually read the Electoral Reform stuff? Of course YOU have, Stephen, but what about the crowd currently clamouring for PR as if it would let us “take back parliament” and cure cancer along the way?

    To them I say go to the ERS website. There are tons of PR systems to choose from, but the favoured one is STV. Download the factsheet and weep. It’s boggling to understand. That should already ring alarm bells for any democrat. The demos ought to be able to understand how it confers its kratos, surely?

    If you persevere with the STV factsheet and wade through the self-congratulation, you’ll see this.

    1) WHEN IS A VOTE MORE THAN A VOTE? People who vote for a candidate with ‘more than enough’ votes get to choose more than just that candidate. Surplus votes get ‘redistributed’. Back a winner, and your second choice counts too. Ahead of everybody else. There’s value for you.

    2) EXTREMISTS’ CHARTER People who vote for loonies and racists, take heart. Your second choice will count! Yes, your candidate, if he is last, will be thrown out. But fear not, your second choices will go right to the top of the pile, and be added to the tallies ahead of those cast by sane people for candidates ranking only in mid-table mediocrity.

    Bonkers, Stephen! Do free-thinking progressive luvvie types like you and me want to dignify the second choices (not even the first choices!) of those who vote for loonies, nutters and racists?

    And that’s not to mention the obvious disadvantages of PR, like losing the simplicity and accountability of ‘one constituency, one MP’. Ho ho, goes the argument: that simplicity was just for when we were illiterate and to continue with it patronises the modern voter. And that accountability was presumably for some long-forgotten time when MPs were corrupt and didn’t need the scrutiny and exposure of being the one MP responsible for a constituency. We’re better than that now.

    STV’s devisers seem to be obsessed with maximising the number of voters who’ve ‘helped to elect’ MPs. This ‘helping to elect’ idea attaches undue importance to the second choices of the winning candidate – which is counter-intuitive. And, worse, it prioritises the second choices of those who vote for losing candidates. Which is just plain nutty.

    I know, I know, I’ve become a Tory. I just think this whole PR thing is a distraction from detailed policy debate; I think urging Clegg to exploit his position to drive PR through is, ironically – but grotesquely – undemocratic and no progressive thinker can be comfortable with such an (ab)use of disproportionate power, no matter how badly they desire the end; the LibDems’ motivation will always be clouded by self-interest and sure, that’s not unique to the LibDems but then you can’t also dress up the promotion of a system which will benefit its proponents as fresh, clean politics.

    Those of us who want values in politics ought to examine our own house. Armando Iannucci said he thought the public had had a good election. I’m coming to think he was wrong. We the public hate our politicians. You said it yourself; we tear them to shreds at every opportunity. We punish them for their crimes, but also for their misdemeanours, for their husbands’ indiscretions, for the pitch of their voices, for their squints, their tics … ultimately for their humanity. Consequently they cannot even begin to be honest with us; they must obfuscate or die. Politics is shabby because we make it so.

    It’s our fault.

    Voters like us sometimes don’t deserve to be represented, proportionately or otherwise.

  42. Felix says:

    While I am an ardent supporter of PR, I would not support so major a constitutional reform without a referendum.

    My one hope to overcome your first point, agreeing as I do with your take on the Sitch, is that the Conservatives might think they could win such a referendum. My greatest fear, ever so slightly greater than Clegg accepting a banana, is Clegg accepting a referendum after such a delay or on such terms that the Conservative might be right.

    F

  43. jai says:

    What you Poms need is what we got!

    Talent at cricket, preferential voting and most importantly compulsory voting! Get the people in the booths! Sure, you might get a few donkeys at first, but it’s not as big an issue as people think.

    The Australian system really does work, and surely must be helping to keep people more politically engaged. Never the less, we’ve still got our fair share of problems in that area. I don’t know how you could eradicate the “they’re all bastards anyway” mindset, but I’m fairly certain that if you ever could we wouldn’t have nearly so many “bastards” in the first place.

  44. Dominic Search says:

    Thanks Stephen,

    Some temporal perspective as antidote to your pessimism… From African origins, it took modern humans 170,000 years to settle in Britain. 30,000 then elapsed before the Neolithic peoples built Newgrange & Stone Henge. 4,000 years later Athelstan unified the Anglo Saxon kingdoms, which were 300 years old in his day. In the twinkling of 315 years, the first parliament was assembled (1242), although it did take a further 686 years to achieve full suffrage (Representation of the People Act 1928). After a mere 82 years, the nation is contemplating the next evolution of political reform. Patience… it will come =)

    LITL.W/L
    Dominic.

  45. MrCanada says:

    Canada has been in the very same position the UK now finds itself in for the last 4 years, we call it a minority government instead of a hung parliament but its the same thing. We have a had a couple of elections that haven’t changed anything and if the polls are correct nothing will change in the next election. The opposition parties are too scared to defeat the Conservative’s for fear that the people will punish them for forcing yet another election. In the mean time woman’s and minority groups are having their funding cut, yes not reduced simply cut. In some cases they are just told the shut the f*ck up by the government. http://tinyurl.com/2wjqzyu Canada needs the type of election reform your discuss but its not even a topic of conversation.

  46. ashtonian54 says:

    Now you can see the wisdom of the two party system we enjoy here in these United States.

  47. Korny says:

    I certainly hope the Lib Dems take a good hard look at what happened to the Australian Democrats.
    They did a deal with the conservative government of the day, supporting a “compromise deal” on the proposed goods and services tax, and this was the first step in their near-terminal decline.

  48. straker says:

    Hung parliment? now theres an idea shall we do it at dawn,think I have been living in Texas to long. No government will ever be worth a damn untill they start caring about the people they are there to serve.Westminster that bloke whos pocket you have your hand in,thats the people,try serving them and not your selfs just for a change.

  49. abot says:

    I would encourage the Lib Dems to pursue PR beyond everything else. The deficit is something that will not be an issue in a few years time, but reforming the election system is something that will have a lasting impact on British life, empowering and enriching it for generations.

  50. ChrisMcCray says:

    Excellent crystal-ball gazing! A few thoughts and predictions of my own:

    Clegg has given the negotiations 24 hours to complete (by end of Monday). If they end up tantalisingly close, this will be extended. Ignore “the markets” – they will produce depressing figures all week. Refinancing Grecian debt and bolstering the euro will end up pouring lots of euros into the pockets of speculators all week.

    Cameron will form a government and be the next Prime Minister. However, the LibDems will not enter full coalition, but a “confidence and supply” agreement allowing a Tory minority government to seize power and push through a budget and Queen’s Speech.

    Clegg insists as part of the deal that legislation on voting reform to be put to Parliament before the end of 2010. This is achievable – and allows for the economy to take centre stage through the summer, giving time to develop the legislation and get it to the commons, in the autumn. He must also stop the gerrymandering of constituencies proposed by Cameron. This is more difficult, as the process involves the Boundaries Commission, and Cameron may just instruct them to get on with it, if Clegg doesn’t stop him.

    If legislation is not forthcoming from Cameron, then Clegg turns to Labour. Yes, he’s in a “confidence and supply” agreement with the Tories, but that was really just to allow the budget and the Queen’s Speech through.

    If Cameron doesn’t honour his side of the deal, Clegg has two options: propose legislation on Alternative Vote for parliamentary elections, and with Labour+SDLP, and SNP support (Plaid Cymru aren’t needed) the Conservative and DUP block is overcome (remember Plaid indicated early on they would work with the Tories; Alex Salmond has ruled that out completely). Why AV? I think it’s the most palatable to all the parties involved. Look at some of the losing and unsuccessful LibDems around the country, and I think they would’ve bee victors if
    just the first step of electoral reform, AV, had been in place.

    Clegg’s second option if Cameron fails to honour his part of the bargain, is to propose a motion of no confidence in Cameron. The same left-centre alliance is drawn together (Labour+SDLP, SNP) and with all LibDems (guaranteed as they are now certain Cameron is odious) and he’s gone, and we go to the polls once more in October or November.

    If the negotiations this week between the LibDems and the Tories fail, then the centre-left group of Labour+SDLP, LibDem, and SNP comes into play and we have some form of coalition government (again possibly through just a “confidence and supply” arrangement).

    One other dimension in considering a Tory/LibDem government… it will thoroughly disenfranchise Scotland. With just the one Tory MP in Scotland (no change anywhere on 2005 this time around), Alex Salmond is in a strong position to push for further independence.

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