A Narrow Window of Opportunity

A few weeks ago, before the LibDems got their chance to appear in the televised leaders debates at the expense of other parties, not may people thought that a hung parliament was possible. Then, for a brief moment, it became more than possible ... it became probable.

There is one overridingly good thing that would be achieved by such an outcome, namely that we would get a referendum on changing from the first-past-the-post voting system to a system in which the number of seats each party gets is a fair reflexion of the number of people who vote for them.

Last month in this post, I reminded people about what happened in 1983:

In the 1983 Westminster Election, Labour got 27.6% of the vote and 209 seats (32.2%) while the then SDP-Liberal Alliance got 25.4% of the vote and only 20 seats (3.5%). This illustrated the unfairness of Westminster's electoral system more starkly than anything I can remember, and public outcry at such obvious unfairness was probably only averted because both those parties were well behind the Tories who got 42.3% of the vote and 397 seats (61.1%).

And although the percentages might be a little different this time round, the Conservatives show signs of climbing back up in the opinion polls. So there is a chance that they will get an overall majority with maybe as little as 38% of the vote. Even if that majority is only half a dozen MPs, it would kill any chance of changing the voting system for Westminster stone dead.


Now why should I care about that? For me, one of the prime reasons for wanting Wales to be independent is the manifest corruption of Westminster. If a so-called democracy is not capable of making itself democratic, the best course is to leave them to it and build a better, fairer democracy of our own in line with most other countries in Europe.

By corruption, I don't just mean the financial scandals, because they are only small beer compared with the much bigger corrupting influence of the voting system. It results in parties that have only a minority of public support getting artificially inflated majorities in terms of seats. Any real electoral contest is limited to maybe only a hundred or so marginal seats into which people with money can pour inordinate resources to essentially buy the result they want. The system of selecting candidates means that the two big parties can put whoever they want into safe seats, making it virtually impossible for the public to get rid of them.

And, to top it off, the other half of the corrupt institution is an unelected chamber primarily made up by political appointments from the two big parties. So that if, by some miracle, the public do get rid of a Mandelson the party concerned can still keep him in government.

It would be impossible to set up such a system from scratch, which is why every devolved institution—in Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and London—uses some sort of proportional voting system. But left to the two big parties, Parliament would never change itself in any way that really mattered. The Tories wouldn't do it. Labour would promise to do it ... but renege on their promises, as they have before, as soon as they got into power.

So I'll freely admit that there is a part of me that wants an outrageously unfair result to emerge in the early hours of Friday morning ... simply because it will be another landmark event that will help convince people in Wales that we will be better off as an independent country.

But there is also a part of me that can't walk by on the other side of the road when I see a neighbour in trouble. The LibDems aren't much of a party, they just have a brand new set of policies that haven't been tried before. But they do want electoral reform in the form of the Single Transferable Vote ... and for that reason, and that reason alone, I want to see enough of them in Westminster to ensure that we get a referendum on STV.


Earlier this week the LibDems became wild-eyed at the thought that George Monbiot was urging people to support them rather than Plaid Cymru. Peter Black, in this post thought that Plaid would be "pretty pig-sick" about it.

Well, he got hold of the wrong end of the stick, probably because he forgot that both Plaid Cymru and the SNP also support STV, as do the Greens. If what matters most right now is getting enough MPs into the Commons to get a referendum on STV, then electing a Plaid, SNP or Green MP will achieve exactly the same end. The point George Monbiot was making is explained much more clearly in this article yesterday:

     The Parasites in Labour's Brain

It's an article that clearly shows just how right-wing Labour has become. It shows that there is no point in voting Labour to "keep out the Tories" because Labour are in virtually every respect nearly, if not quite, as bad as the Tories. At the end, he says this:

I understand the hazards of voting for the smaller parties and allowing the right-hand glove puppet to replace the left-hand glove puppet. I know that the Tories are even worse than this government. But by voting for the candidates on the list compiled by the democracy campaign Hang 'em, not all of whom are Liberal Democrats but all of whom are reformers with a good chance of taking or keeping seats, we can break this rotten system while remaining true to our beliefs.

Well I took a look at the site, particularly in relation to Wales, and would recommend others to do the same. It lists the constituencies, together with a suggestion of which party is best placed to keep out both Labour and the Tories:

Paul Nicholls-Jones ... Plaid Cymru

Phil Edwards ... Plaid Cymru

Alyn & Deeside
Paul Brighton ... Lib Dem

Hywel Williams ... Plaid Cymru

Blaenau Gwent
Not included ... but obviously the sitting independent Dai Davies

Brecon & Radnor
Roger Williams ... Lib Dem

Wayne Morgan ... Lib Dem

Lindsay Whittle ... Plaid Cymru

Cardiff Central
Jenny Willott ... Lib Dem

Cardiff North
John Dixon ... Lib Dem

Cardiff South & Penarth
George Burke ... Independent

Cardiff West
Mohammed Sarul Islam ... Plaid Cymru

Carmarthen East & Dinefwr
Jonathan Edwards ... Plaid Cymru

Carmarthen West & Pembrokeshire South
John Dixon ... Plaid Cymru

Mark Williams ... Lib Dem (?)

Clwyd South
Bruce Roberts ... Lib Dem

Clwyd West
Llyr Huws Gruffydd ... Plaid Cymru

Cynon Valley
Dafydd Trystan Davies ... Plaid Cymru

Bill Brereton ... Lib Dem

Dwyfor Meirionnydd
Elfyn Llwyd ... Plaid Cymru

Mike Day ... Lib Dem

Steffan Lewis ... Plaid Cymru

Myfanwy Davies ... Plaid Cymru

Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney
Amy Kitcher ... Lib Dem (?)

Lembit Öpik ... Lib Dem

Martin Blakebrough ... Lib Dem

Alun Llywelyn ... Plaid Cymru

Newport East
Ed Townsend ... Lib Dem

Newport West
Veronica German ... Lib Dem

Jackie Radford ... Lib Dem

Michael Powell ... Lib Dem

Preseli Pembrokeshire
Henry Jones-Davies ... Plaid Cymru

Geraint Davies ... Plaid Cymru

Swansea East
Robert Speht ... Lib Dem

Swansea West
Peter May ... Lib Dem

Fred Wildgust ... Independent (???)

Vale of Clwyd
Paul Penlington ... Lib Dem

Vale of Glamorgan
Eluned Parrott ... Lib Dem

Tom Rippeth ... Lib Dem

Ynys Môn
Dylan Rees ... Plaid Cymru

Full List

To save anyone counting, the suggestions include 16 Plaid candidates and 21 LibDems, with three independents.

I'll go along with the suggestions for the most part. The most obvious exception would be Ceredigion, where from the single point of view of getting STV it actually makes no difference whether people vote for Penri James or Mark Williams. But from every other point of view, it makes a huge difference.

I also think Plaid is a better bet in Merthyr because although the LibDems were second to Labour in 2005 they have slipped considerably since then. They were fourth behind Labour, Plaid and UKIP in the 2009 Euro Election. Fred Wildgust in Torfaen is an equally strange choice ... he is definitely not the sort of person I would encourage anyone to vote for!

But apart from those exceptions, I think the list is about right. And so that's how I would encourage people to vote. Just this once, and for just one reason: to change the voting system for Westminster. The last window of opportunity nearly, but not quite, opened more than 25 years ago in 1983. It might be another generation before a similar window of opportunity opens again ... and Wales and Scotland will both have become independent countries well before then.

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Anonymous said...

I'm a staunch Plaid supporter and voter in Cardiff Central - I know Plaid hasn't got much if any chance of taking the seat, but I WILL be voting Plaid because they are the only party I will EVER vote for because I believe in an Independent Wales... Are you telling me on your list to abandon Plaid and Vote Lib Dem instead??? surely not!

MH said...

Yes, that's exactly what I'm asking you and other Plaid voters to do, Anon. Plaid has no hope of winning Cardiff Central, and Jenny Wilmot is in the fortunate position of being likely to hold on to the seat for the LibDems.

Tactical voting is tough to swallow. But if I want a LibDem supporter to take me seriously when I ask them to vote Plaid in Llanelli, or Ynys Mon, or Aberconwy ... or anywhere else where they have no hope of winning, I must be even handed and expect Plaid supporters to vote LibDem in Newport East, or Swansea West, or Wrexham where we have no hope of winning. The same applies to Green supporters.

This is the only chance the UK is likely to get for many years to change the voting system so that we can do away with the need for tactical voting altogether. We can't let this opportunity pass us by without trying to grasp it.

Anonymous said...

You're not seriously asking us to vote for Lembit Opik in Montgomeryshire! The man who puts himself before anyting, has huge lifestyle problems and thoght it perfectly ok to go on a luxury cruise whilst parliament was sitting. This is also the sexist idiot who writes for the porno rag known as the Daily Sport. You can't be serioius!

Unknown said...

I have to agree with Anon here - Lemit Opik is a step too far - he could be our next Welsh Secretary! On every other front (I'm Swansea West, and for the first time ever, voting other than Plaid - for Peter May - Lib dem) I'm with you, MH.

My ideal would be for Labour to get back in with the lowest % of the popular vote, but with the Lib Dems, and a bit of luck, us and the SNP, to form a government that has Gordon (whom I actually quite like - conviction politician in a time when that is out of fashion!) gone to Harvard.

Elfyn LLwyd as Welsh Secretary! (I am so cross that he hasn't been the main man on TV in this campaign!)

Vince Cable as Chancellor - Clegg in the home office, and a Milleband or Johnson - or even Harriet! as PM ( my logic being that they are all so ineffective, that the others would have a free ride all over them! ) .

Dream on! Cameron is going to win by less than 10 seats! another election in the autumn, which he will win handsomely, as he has so much money!

However, I do agree with your general thrust. I'd love to see Labour loose their 'god given' right to ride roughshod over Wales this time! And electoral reform, which has worked so well in the devolved regions, needs to be thrust down the Westminster throat! (Though don't hold your breath!).

MH said...

Lembit Öpik is a clown, but despite all his failings as an MP he will help deliver a referendum on STV. I said it was tough to swallow.

But both he and Jenny Willott (apologies for the misspelling before) are sitting MPs who, given the surge in LibDem support because of the TV interviews, are now unlikely to lose anyway ... whether others vote tactically or not. The important seats are the others I mentioned. Half a dozen seats in Wales can make all the difference to the UK as a whole; things are on a knife-edge.

As I see it, if the Tories get enough MPs to form a government on their own (which need not necessarily be an overall majority because of some of the NI parties) with such a low percentage of the vote, it will be the end of the UK. With STV, the major political unfairness in the UK is solved, and the UK has a slim hope of staying together as a federal state. But if we have a Tory government with an inflated artificial majority able to do whatever it wishes with less than 38% or so of the vote—but with a much lower share of the vote (and at most only a couple of seats) in Scotland—the pressure in Scotland for independence will become unstoppable. The Scots will opt for independence because of the political polarization of Scotland and England, and because of the imbalanced agenda of cuts imposed by a Tory government. And Wales will follow.

For this reason the LibDems, as a Unionist party, have much more to gain by voting Plaid in the seats the LibDems cannot win.

Anonymous said...

Clearly wrong about Merthyr - Plaid almost lost their deposit and Lib Dems got 31% of the vote...

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