Incremental Change

I had to smile when I noticed this sentence from Nick Clegg as he announced his plans to shake up democracy in the UK:

Incremental change will not do. It is time for a wholesale, big bang approach to political reform.

Nick Clegg pledges biggest political reforms since 1832 - BBC, 19 May 2010

Immediately above the quote on the BBC webpage is a box that highlights the proposed reforms. The first item is:

• Partially elected House of Lords

I can only guess that his sudden rise to power has resulted in a rush of blood to the head. Is he really saying that a partially elected House of Lords is "wholesale change"? Is he going to be satisfied with that as an end in itself, and give up on the idea of a fully elected second chamber?

The same has been true of his party's stance on reform of the voting system to the Commons. As I reported in this post, it is now clear that the LibDems either did not put STV on the negotiating table at all, or that they withdrew it at an early stage of their negotiations with the Tories. This enabled the Tories to call them back to the table offering them exactly what they had asked for. They couldn't then have asked for STV. In short, they had been comprehensively out-manoeuvred.


Those of us who want to see reform of our political system have more sense than to expect that we will get everything in one "big bang". Change comes more slowly than that, and it usually has to come in small incremental steps.

A partially elected second chamber at Westminster is not an end in itself. It is merely a small step towards a fully elected chamber. But even a fully elected second chamber is not enough without defining what the role of the second chamber should be. Electing a second chamber will give that second chamber as much democratic legitimacy, and as much of a democratic mandate as the Commons. Therefore it might well reassert its right to block the will of the Commons.

Neither is a referendum on the Alternative Vote an end in itself. A fair electoral system requires a degree of proportionality, therefore for the rest of us who want to see fair elections, it can only be a small step in the right direction. But the danger is that people will vote against it in a referendum precisely because it doesn't go far enough.


In short, incremental change will do ... provided we do not lose sight of what we eventually want to achieve.

If Nick Clegg and his party start believing their own hype about how they are now delivering the biggest reforms since 1832, they will be continue to be out-manoeuvred, and eventually swallowed up, by parties which do want to make sure as little as possible changes. Parties that will do all they can to make sure that if the pressure for change gets too great for them to hold out against it, any change should be as little as possible and held back for as long as possible.

Bookmark and Share


Anonymous said...

Some of the things Nick Clegg is proposing the Tories would have done anyway if they weren't in Coalition like scraping ID cards, so how much credit can he really take?

I'm just amazed at how gullible some of press are swallowing the greatest constitutional reforms for 178 years line that the Lib Dems are spinning, have they not noticed the Parliament in Edinburgh or the Assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland or the elected Mayor and Assembly in London, i guess not.

Post a Comment