Labour and proportional representation

There’s speculation that Labour might introduce PR. Just over 5 years ago (on 11 May 2004, to be precise) I predicted, on my old blog, this would happen. Here’s what I said:

Proportional Representation for Westminster

I think the government may well introduce proportional representation for elections to the UK parliament. Here’s why…

Labour will likely win the next general election, expected to happen in 2005. Although Tony Blair is looking tarnished, not to say dishonest and untrustworthy, the Tories still haven’t shaken off the image of being the “Nasty Party” which has hurt their popularity from the early 1990s. Also, the electoral system is working in Labour’s favour — if Labour and the Tories each get the same number of votes, Labour will get more seats (and will quite possibly have an overall majority in the Commons). And the Tories are starting from a low point: 2001 was one of their worst elections, and they have a lot of ground to make up.

Then there’s Michael Howard. He’s improved the Tories’ fortunes since he took over as their leader last year, but he is still a figure from the past, associated with Thatcherism — something many voters haven’t forgotten, and which Labour’s election strategists are capitalising on.

For all these reasons, I expect Labour to win in 2005, albeit with a reduced majority. But what about the election after that, which will happen in 2009 or 2010? By then, it’ll be two decades since Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister; some voters won’t have been born when she was in power, and many votes won’t remember her. The Tory benches will be full of fresh faces, who will have been elected for the first time in 2005. They’ll probably have a new, fresh-faced leader, who will appear a refreshing alternative to Labour (which by this time may be led by Brown not Blair).

So, what’s a ruling party to do? If Labour look set to lose the 2009/2010 election, they could change the electoral system. PR is already used in many UK elections, for example to the European Parliament, for the Scottish, Welsh, Northern Ireland, and London assemblies. By 2009 it will perhaps be in use in local elections in Scotland. If Labour introduce PR for Westminster, they might do a backstairs deal with the Liberal Democrats to enter a coalition with Labour after the election (it’s likely that between them, they’ll get more votes than the Tories, and probably an overall majority, if past election results are anything to go by).

A Gordon Brown who has just become Prime Minister in 2007, and is looking at opinion polls predicting a Tory victory in the next election, might find PR very appealling. Certainly more appealing than the prospect of going down in history as a half-a-term Prime Minister, a footnote on the Blair years.

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