Tag Archives: Electoral Reform

Rotten Boroughs

The Government report into what’s been going on at Rotherham is damning stuff.

Casey, the government’s lead official on troubled families, said the council lacked “the necessary skills, abilities, experience and tenacity within either the member or senior officer leadership teams”.

Concluding that the council needs a fresh start, Casey’s 154-page report said: “The council’s culture is unhealthy: bullying, sexism, suppression and misplaced ‘political correctness’ have cemented its failures.

“The council is currently incapable of tackling its weaknesses without a sustained intervention.”

She also criticised the council’s deep-rooted culture of suppressing bad news and ignoring hard issues, writing: “RMBC goes to some length to cover up information and to silence whistleblowers.”

There’s a lot of blame to go round, but one root cause of these rotten boroughs is an electoral system that results in single party fiefdoms in any party’s heartlands, especially those of Labour. Don’t be distracted by the fact there are currently ten UKIP councillors in Roherham; they were only elected in 2013 after the scandal broke. Before that it was a monolithic one-party state run by the Labour Party.

You might assign some of the blame to an electorate who vote in local elections on national issues along tribal lines, without paying enough attention to what the people they elect get up to in office. But the bigger villain is the first-past-the-post electoral system, deeply flawed and anti-democratic at national level, and utterly unfit for purpose at local level. Even if Rotherham had remained firmly in Labour control, it’s difficult to believe the presence of a viable opposition group on the council would not have bought these terrible problems to light earlier.

The 2015 general election is likely to produce a second successive hung Parliament, in which the distribution of seats will bear little resemblance to the distribution of votes. Electoral reform for parliamentary elections is likely to be high on the political agenda. Does Rotherham make the case for parallel reform of local government even more important?

Electoral reform is sometimes dismissed as a pastime for political anoraks. But Rotherham demonstates why it does actually matter.

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Where Do We Go From Here?

The Scottish referendum has upset the applecart of British politics, and the fact we came dangerously close to the breakup of the UK has sent shockwaves through a complacent Westminster establishment. And it’s about time too.

As Fish eloquently explained in a long and heartfelt blog post, this is not really about Scottish nationalism at all. It’s a crisis of democratic legitimacy affecting the whole of the UK. We had a series of administrations, both Conservative and Labour who have become increasingly remote from the people who elected them, and care more about the financial markets than the voters. While “The Markets” are described as if they’re some impartial force of nature, they actually represent a small number of extremely rich people who do not like democracy. The failure to prosecute a single high-ranking banker for fraud in the wake of the 2008 banking crisis and instead impose a punishing austerity regime squeezing the living standards of the most vulnerable shows where Westminster’s priorities lie.

The mood in the country is that things cannot go on like this. Where we go from here is an interesting question. There is a lot of talk of constitutional reform, of increased powers not only to Scotland but to the English regions and big cities, and presumably to Wales. And if electoral reform isn’t also high on the agenda, it really ought to be.

But tinkering with administrative structures or electoral systems isn’t the only issue, since the crisis of legitimacy goes far deeper. There is a media that exists within a Westminster bubble, and gives the impression it’s on the side of the politicians rather than the people. And then there is the Labour Party which had adopted the same neo-liberal agenda and become indistinguishable from the Tories in any meaningful sense. This means we’re denied any real choice even if we’re fortunate to live in one of the small number of marginal constituencies where our votes actually matter.

With nobody to offer an alternative vision of a better, more hopeful world that isn’t ruled by unelected bankers, the only other vision on offer is UKIP’s fear-driven swivel-eyed xenophobia.

And we need something better than that.

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