Monday, February 07, 2011

AVin' a larf

Those of you with difficulty sleeping may have already noticed how long the House of Lords has held onto the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill. Having started before Christmas, it's still there and they're still at it.

One look at the amount of amendments lodged should give a clue as to what is holding back the Bill .

Essentially this Bill is in two halves, and reflects the compromise which ultimately brought the Coalition together. Reducing the number of MPs from the Cameron camp, removing the skewed and failed First Past the Post coming from Clegg. The one Bill - I'll call it "PVSaC", which sounds like a minor player in the first post-Communist elections in Transnistria - has joined a whole swathe of constitutional reform coming from the Conservative-led Government, and heaven knows we've been waiting for the Tories to flood the Commons with reform (voting change, fixed-term Parliaments, directly elected police chiefs, referendums on proposed council tax rises, what a time to be alive, etc.)

Labour's foot-dragging has been an affront to democracy. They daren't even put the door of reform ajar; they would rather lock it shut. Labour's dinosaurs ("they're off the leash, as Clegg put it, somewhat muddled) have not "scrutinised" the Bill, they have torn it to shreds. They patronise the electorate - ("People aren't used to referendums" they say, "They might not know how to cope with multiple ballot papers on the same day", treating voters as fools for the basis of a strawman argument made not from common-sense but spit and string.)

Make no mistake - this Bill is in serious danger of being talked out. Today, tomorrow and Wednesday is all it has left to have any chance to survive. Labour's wrecking amendments have already pushed back polling day from May to October, and have promised to talk out the constituency boundary review section until they drop dead rather than hand the Conservatives with constitutional victory. The AV referendum may be suffocated before it is given to the people to decide. How offensive that Labour will be the Party who deny the people a right to say how parliamentarians are voted.

I have been a passionate (and doubtlessly boring) advocate for constitutional reform all my life. It is one of the rare passions I have left. It frustrates and angers me that Labour, of all parties!, are now those standing against reform whilst the Conservatives, of all parties!, are left making the case for change. The decision to talk out the Bill will ultimately kill any chance of future reform for my life time, if not forever.

Between today and Wednesday the future of democratic reform will be drawn. To borrow a phrase; "the Bill has been torn to shreds, the pieces are in flux, what happens when they rest is up to us. Let's reshape the country."