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  Europe
Referendum on Electoral Reform to be Announced
By Shane Clarke
London Correspondent
The marriage of convenience between the Conservative and Lib Dem parties to form a government in the UK could soon face its toughest test. One of the key concessions the Conservatives made to bring Nick Clegg and co on board was to hold a referendum to decide whether the UK should adopt the Alternative Vote (AV) system.

Clegg argues that the current “First past the post” system is unfair, and that it is prejudicial to smaller parties. For example, the Liberal Democrats gained 23% of the total votes in the recent general election yet they only gained 9% of seats in the House of Commons.

He and other reformers say that the current system is undemocratic, with too many votes being wasted in traditionally safe Labour or Conservative seats. These are areas where the two main parties have large, in-built majorities, leaving a few so-called “swing” seats to decide who will form the next government. This results in a comparative minority of voters deciding who the winning party will be.

Under the proposed AV system, voters rank candidates in order of preference. If one candidate gains 50% or more of the first choice votes then he/she is elected. If not then the second choice votes are counted and so on until one candidate crosses that 50% threshold. This system is used in by-elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

At the moment, the UK electorate is divided into hundreds of constituencies, known as “seats”. Whichever party wins the majority of these seats (in this year’s election it was 256) forms the next government. If no party gains a majority, as happened this year, then there is a “hung parliament”, and either a coalition is formed, we have a minority government, or another general election is held.

The AV referendum was a deal breaker for the Lib Dems in negotiations for the coalition, with a number of their party members agreeing to join forces with the Conservatives only if such a referendum was held. The irony is that the issue which allowed the two parties to come together could also be the thing that tears them apart.

Although they agreed to the referendum, the Conservatives will oppose the AV system, while the Lib Dems will obviously be campaigning for its introduction. This essentially means that we will have a government arguing against itself. There have been party splits before, but none that could potentially bring such chaos to the House of Commons.

The tenuous relationship between the two parties who form the current government will surely be soured by the debates that will develop from the referendum campaign. Certainly those party members who oppose the coalition will see this split as a vindication.

There is also the Labour Party to take into account. They are not just amused bystanders on this. They will almost certainly be looking to benefit from any cracks that might appear in the coalition foundations. Ed Milliband has already said that if he wins the leadership election he will support Nick Clegg.

This could possibly lead to whispered conversations, private meetings, and secret deals which would eventually bring down the coalition government in the UK. While this wouldn’t be the end of the world, it would almost certainly bring chaos to a situation that many experts have already said is unsustainable.

Maybe that would be a good thing. Perhaps it will bring about a real overhaul of the UK parliamentary system from root to tip. Then maybe the UK government will no longer be a democratically elected dictatorship.

That is one of the great smoke and mirror tricks of the UK government. They make everyone believe that we’re living in a democracy, but we’re not. The majority governing party has the power to do whatever it wants and there is nothing and no one to stop them.

One has only to look back at recent history: Margaret Thatcher’s introduction of the Poll Tax in the eighties which eventually led to her downfall. This was arguably the most unpopular and unfair tax in history, opposed in all quarters, but since Thatcher had the majority of seats in the House of Commons, hence the majority of votes, and since ministers toed the party line in her government, the bill to introduce the Poll Tax was passed. The House of Lords could do nothing to stop it, since their powers of veto were abolished more than a hundred years ago. So, the Poll Tax was introduced, and protests and rioting followed, and the end of Margaret Thatcher’s career had begun.

Jump forward to Tony Blair, and the massive majority he enjoyed when he swept to power in 1997. He dragged us into a war that no one wanted, and no one could stop him because he had too many votes. When he retired, he put Gordon Brown in charge, meaning that we had an unelected Prime Minister. Again, no one could stop this, because Labour had too many votes.

The Collins Dictionary defines a dictator as, “a ruler who is not effectively restricted by a constitution, laws, etc.”

Britain is the only developed country without a written constitution. This is partly because of the rule against entrenching Acts of parliament – no government can impose restrictions on successive governments. We have an unwritten one, which says you can do anything except for what the government says you can’t do. Needless to say, this means none of our rights are protected, and the government can erode them one by one, as they are doing. A good example of this is the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 which abolished a suspect’s right to remain silent without it being interpreted as a sign of guilt.

Some have argued that the Human Rights Act of 1998 acts as a constitution for the UK. However, this Act can be repealed by any majority government whereas a real constitution or Bill of Rights can’t. Furthermore, this is a statute essentially created by an outside power, since it was enacted to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into our law. Again, the voting public had no say in the matter.

What this all boils down to is that those with power want more. Clegg wants the AV system because he sees it as the only way his party could ever gain any real clout in the House of Commons. Cameron, of course, is doing everything he can to keep himself in power for as long as possible – and treating everyone like idiots at the same time. He wants to introduce a bill that puts a Prime Minister in place for a fixed term of five years. The slimey git even had the nerve to stand up and say, “This takes all the power away from me. I won’t be able to call an election when I want to. It will be called at a fixed time.”

Of course, Mr Cameron. And let’s not mention the fact that if the coalition breaks down – as many predict it will – your position remains protected for five years, so there’s no chance of another general election to try to establish a majority government. If you’re an unmitigated disaster and about as popular as Swine Flu, you’re also protected, and can continue in your position of power, which is what it’s all about, really.

I think this demonstrates just how out of touch with the real world Cameron is. He has had such a privileged life that he sees ordinary people as uneducated fools bumbling about the place with no idea what’s going on. Unfortunately for him, that’s not the case, and with the spending cuts he’s already proposing, along with tax hikes (VAT will rise to 20%), I imagine he will find out before too long just how savvy the British public are. He has only been in power for five minutes and the threat of strike action is already looming over his policy proposals. The Prison Officers Association is looking a likely candidate following proposals to save money in the prison system. The Police are saying the cuts proposed for them may leave the country more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

No one is safe. Cameron is going after everyone with his cost-cutting hatchet: The vulnerable (Incapacity Benefits to be cut, VAT rising means higher energy bills which will affect the elderly), those struggling to get by (Work and Child Tax Credits to be cut for people earning more than a certain annual wage), the public sector, the emergency services. But wait, there’s a sector missing from this list…it’s rich people. They will be fine; they won’t have to struggle, or sit around the fire in woolly jumpers and blankets in the winter, or work in agony because their Incapacity Benefits have been taken away from them. They’ll still get their incompetency bonuses from their cushy, overpaid jobs, while ordinary people struggle to pay their bills. They’ll fly first class to the Bahamas while ordinary people dodge the used toilet paper floating in the sea at some of the beaches in Britain. They’ll continue shopping at Waitrose and Harrods while ordinary people shop at Aldi and Poundland.

For the first time in my life, I can actually say that I’m scared about the future of my country. I saw the strikes, the protests and the riots under the Thatcher government. I saw the terrorist atrocities my country suffered during those times. Are we going to see history repeat itself?

I pray that we won’t. I make no secret of my abject loathing of David Cameron, but for the sake of my country I hope that he’s right and I’m wrong, and that he will make things better, and make Britain great again.

As for the referendum which sources say will be announced for next May, why bother? There is no perfect electoral system; there will always be those who feel unrepresented or disenfranchised no matter what system is in place. The only real change will come when politicians stop doing what’s best for them and start doing what’s best for this country. Unfortunately, I can’t see that happening anytime soon. As Paul Valery said, “Politics is the art of preventing people from becoming involved in affairs which concern them.”



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Shane Clarke serves as London Correspondent for The Seoul Times. He has been involved in humanitarian work for numerous years. He’s also a freelance management consultant. Having completed an honors degree in Law at Wolverhampton University, he then moved on to an MBA at Warwick Business School. He’s heavily involved in the fight against international parental child abduction to Japan.

 

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