Gordon Brown is due to make an announcement today about electoral reform. His announcement will probably be dull and uninspiring — he’s not known as Mr Charisma Bypass for nothing. What he should actually do is talk directly to the people, using TV and YouTube, and say something like this:
Over the last few weeks many of you have written to me, angry about the abuse of the expenses system by some MPs. You’re right to be angry, because many expenses claims were indefensible — duck islands, moat cleaning, £2600 TVs, second-home flipping. For the worst offenders, those who’ve lied, for example claiming for non-existent mortgages, I’ve instructed the police to investigate them and deal with by them in exactly the same way as anyone else suspected of fraud. [everyone will agree with this; start by getting the audience on your side]
But it’s not just about expenses. People have been disenchanged with our democratic system for decades. That’s why turnout in elections keeps coming down. People are cynical. They think politicans will not and cannot change their lives for the better.
The Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron, got it right when he said: “the anger, the suspicion and the cynicism are the result of people’s slow but sure realisation that they have very little control over the world around them, and over much that determines whether or not they’ll live happy and fulfilling lives. In media, shopping, travel, entertainment and music, we have huge choice and control provided by many organisations that offer us incredible service and value. But when it comes to the things we ask for from politics, government and the state, there’s a sense of power and control draining away; having to take what we’re given, with someone else pulling the strings.” [talking respectfully about, and agreeing with, ones political opponents wins brownie points; adversarial yah-boo politics OTOH is a turn-off. Maybe Brown should also say something nice about Clegg?]
Politics is fundamentally quite simple. It’s about power. At the moment the politicians have power over the people, except in that brief moment every 5 years when there’s a general election. I want to change that, to take power away from us politicians [responding to the public mood by presenting politicians as the bad guys] and return it where it belongs, to the people.
People think politicans will promise anything in their manifesto to get a few votes, and as soon as they win the election, they’ll ignore the voters until its time to ask for their vote at the next election. For example at the 2005 election, Labour promised a a referendum on the EU constitution, or the Lisbon Treaty as it’s now known. Sadly, we haven’t delivered on our promise. It was wrong of us not to hold a referendum, we’re sorry we didn’t, and we now apologize and will hold a referendum at the earliest convenient opportunity. [Brown might as well own up to failing to hold a referendum, and promising to rectify his past moral failing will come across well]
The Lisbon Treaty isn’t the only think we’ve failed to hold a referendum on. In 1997, Labour promised to hold a referendum on electoral reform. I now intend to redeemd that promise. [The subtext here is Brown’s doing it because it’s the right thing to do, not because he’ll gain an advantage from it.]
Of course, the other party leaders have been discussing proportional representation too. David Cameron, leader of the Tories, is against it. And Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is for it. Both of them claim to have come to this conclusion for principled, statesmanlike reasons and not from grubby self interest. But would you be surprised if I told you that the Tories would lose the most from PR and the Liberals gain the most? [Here Brown makes the other party leaders look dishonest, and at the same time confirms what people believe about politicians anyway. And of course he’s simply telling the truth.]
That’s why it shouldn’t be up to us politicians to decide on the voting system or other constitutional issues; we’re not impartial. Instead it should be for you, the people, to make that decision. [It’s important to make the point that a referendum on PR is for principled reasons, not because Labour would lose under FPTP. And Cameron can hardly object to the issue being put to the people.]
So my government [makes the point “I’m in charge”] will be holding a referendum on the proportional representation system AV plus, as proposed by Roy Jenkins. [No need to explore lots of different PR systems such as STV, that would just muddy the waters; giving the voters a straight choice between FPTP and a reasonable PR system is probably the best way to get it enacted. Furthermore, the Lib Dems can hardly object to AV+ when their leader backs it.]
AV plus combines the best features of two voting ssytems already in use in Britain — Alternative Vote and top-up seats. AV, or Alternative Vote, is already used in Scotland and Northern Ireland, [this is true because AV is a degenerate case of STV when one person is being elected] a simplified version of it is used to elect the Major of London, and indeed the Labour and Conservative Parties already use variations of it to elect their leaders. [The Tories use runoff elections, AV is a single-election version of runoff. If Cameron argues for FPTP instead of AV, he’s open to the criticism that the Tories don’t use FPTP for internal elections]
And top-up seats are already successfully in use in the devolved assemblies in Scotland, Wales and London. [so PR is authentically British, not some nasty foreign invention]
But if we are to reform our constitution, to return power to the people, proportional representation will not on its own be enough. People have suggested recall elections, where voters can recall their constituency MP if he’s been fiddling his expenses, or has reneged on a manifesto promise. [populist arguments that are bound to be popular] So I’m also giving you a referendum on recall elections.
Another measure being proposed is a fixed term parliament. This too will go to the people in a referendum.
But why stop there? there are lots of measures that could improve our constitution. Why should we politicians alone decide what measures are put forward in a constitutional referendum? My website, Number 10, contains a petitions section where you can petition the government about any issue. [Makes Brown look proficient with new technology, which should help with younger voters especially]
Any petitions on constitutional issues will be looked at; those signed by over a thousand people will be considered by me personally; and any that attract over 10,000 signers will be put to a referendum unless they’re obviously stupid.
Incidently I’ll be beefing up the petitions website over the next few months, adding features similar to what Obama has done in the USA, on change.gov and whitehouse.gov, making the site more interactive, so people will be able to discuss the issues in detail. [Maybe some of Obama’s mojo will rub off onto Brown? Well there’s no harm trying.]
People have written to me complaining that MPs are overpaid for what they do. So I’m going to make them earn their money. [populism, pandering to anti-politician sentiment] I’m recalling parliament to enact the changes that will need to happen for this programme of referendums and constitutional reform to take place.
[Of course, Brown should have said this last Wednesday, then Labour might not have done so badly at the polls.]