This time tomorrow I will have marked my ballot paper with a big solid X alongside the Liberal Democrat candidate for Lichfield, Ian Jackson.
Let’s put this vote in context first of all. In Lichfield, we’ve had Michael Fabricant as our MP since the constituency was re-established in 1997 and before that as MP for Mid Staffordshiresince 1992. I have no doubt that he’ll get re-elected and, where it concerns Lichfield, I’m quite glad – he’s a good MP.
So why vote Liberal Democrat?
I first took a proper interest in politics during the 1997 general election campaign. I wanted Tony Blair to win. He’d managed to impress a 12-year-old boy, six years away from being able to vote that he was the man and Labour were the ones to run the country. Of course my judgement back then was probably based on very little! 8 years later, aged 20 and feeling let down I voted Liberal Democrats. By this time I had become convinced that the electoral system was flawed and needed changing with Lib Dems, despite my euro-skepticism, looking the obvious choice.
Probably the biggest realisation for me came when I was pointed in the direction of a little-known piece of draft legislation called the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. In short, it was intended to cut down on unecessary regulation with ease but it was so poorly drafted that it gave ministers far too much power, including the ability to repeal legislation and create new criminal offences without Parliamentary scrutiny. In response, I started a blog and soon joined forces with another campaigner and together we formed the Save Parliament campaign. We were soon joined by some very clever and influential people and the grass-roots campaign, which gathered much attention, succeeded in lobbying MPs enough to get the bill watered down to a point we were reasonably satisfied with.
I saw exactly the same situation with the Digital Economy Bill recently. Poorly drafted and rushed through. What annoyed me most about both these pieces of legislation was how it moved through the Commons. After a few MPs debate in the house, all of a sudden floods of them pour in to vote. Having not taken part in the debate they are instructed which way to vote by the party whips. This is how a majority Government can push through legislation, by flooding the Commons with MPs who presumably don’t really know the details of what they’re voting on.
Which brings me nicely onto what David Cameron has been saying about electoral reform. He says that getting rid of First Past the Post (the system that could gives this abomination of a result) would be a “big, big mistake”. He also says it “delivers strong government” and what he means by that is a majority government that can, once it is in power, do pretty much do whatever the hell they like. Providing they don’t land themselves with too many ‘rebel’ MPs – the whips just load the commons with enough MPs voting the ‘right’ way.
FPTP “delivers strong gov’t” says Cameron. No, it’s a winner-takes-all system which means the party that wins gets to control everything, despite the majority of the electorate (at least in the case of the 2005 election) having not voted for them. The result of the election may well be decided by around 100 seats – those ‘key marginals that we here so much about – that’s 16.7% of the electorate deciding the outcome when 100% should be assured that their vote will count.
Cameron also says FPTP delivers “clear results”. Except that I’m fully expecting a hung Parliament which will go some way to showing that simply isn’t the case. If anything, FPTP is a great system for showing politicians (as I believe it will tomorrow) when none of them have a clear mandate and need to work together to find the answer.
This suggestion that the Lib Dems are simply being idealistic because they have no chance of getting in power is ludicrous. Time and time again we are given promises by election campaigns promising electoral reform and referenda on contentious issues like Europe yet we are repeatedly disappointed. The Conservatives are presenting us with this idealistic interpretation of society while Labour struggle to regain our vote after attempting to deliver on a vision of a Government that provides for society but in the end has only embedded bureaucracy into almost every aspect of our lives.
What the Liberal Democrats are offering is a more sober, pro-active Government. Not the reactive left versus right playground politics that we so often get. They don’t offer majority government (and damn good thing, in my opinion) but to shake up the commons and force MPs to reach consensus. What that means is the three main parties will need to work together to find solutions, and the outcome of that should be that they are mature enough to reach a solution that they are all comfortable with but probably one that none of them had previously considered – the one that delivers the best for the country, not what they think is the best.
Oh and yeah, we may get a collapse of Government and another general election within a year but so long as we get electoral reform, I say bring it on!