June 10th 2009
"The Liberal Party", Cecil Parkinson once famously said,”is a repository for disgruntled votes".
While others have been holding public meetings I have spent the last month out "on the stump" banging on doors in Herne Bay, in the Villages and in Thanet. As a result of this experience I consider myself reasonably well-placed to confirm that there is a sizeable vein of disgruntlement out there. This has been generated by the underlying fear of job and home loss arising from the mis-management of the economy and the resulting credit crunch and it has, of course, been hugely exacerbated by the parliamentary expenses issue.
The beneficiary of the disillusion has not though, on this occasion, been the Liberal Party. As all three major political parties in the United Kingdom have borne their fair share of shame and criticism, from the highest on all front benches to the most lowly on the back benches, it has been the minority parties that have been the big gainers.
And from therein, not for the first time, springs the effect of the law of unintended consequences. Back in 2005 those voting for the United Kingdom Independence Party in South Thanet, without a prayer of securing the election of their candidate, managed to take enough votes to prevent the election of a Euro-sceptic Conservative and to preserve, instead, the tenancy of a pro-European Socialist. That, presumably, was precisely the reverse of their desired result!
I doubt that most of the voters in England would have welcomed even the possibility of the election of a member of the British National Party. By taking the risk, though, of casting a "protest" vote in favour of the BNP electors in the North East and the North West have, on the eve of the 65th Anniversary of D-day, the greatest battle in the war against fascism, delivered the election of two representatives of what is widely regarded as a neo-fascist party. That must really fill the hearts of ancient warriors with pride and joy!
Disgruntled voting, even in these troubled times, is a dangerous game and it becomes particularly dangerous under the system of proportional representation which, while purporting to be democratic, is capable of delivering precisely the outcome that most people emphatically do not want.
Back in Thanet, for instance, UKIP took enough disgruntled votes in the County Council to guarantee the election of a Labour County Councillor who would otherwise have been replaced with a Conservative.
There is no doubt at all in my mind that we need to restructure the democratic process but, if those very many people who wanted me to tell them the name of their European Parliamentary candidate is anything to go by, there is no appetite at all, except amongst fringe parties that could not otherwise win a seat, for any extension of proportional representation.
I have another suggestion that I have put forward before. David Cameron has indicated that he wants to cut the House of Commons by 10%. There are indeed far too many Members of Parliament but I do not believe that his proposal goes anything like far enough. I would abolish the Commons, and the House of Lords, completely. I would then create an English parliament to sit alongside Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland parliaments, each with far fewer members and dealing with all issues save foreign policy, defence, macro-taxation (to pay for our armed forces) and border security to control immigration and to combat terrorism. The latter big issues would be dealt with by a United Kingdom senate made up of two members elected from each UK County, irrespective of size, and that Senate would in turn elect from amongst its number the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The national parliaments would be presided over by First Ministers and Her Majesty the Queen would remain as Head of State.
Unrealistic? I don't think so. And it would militate against power shifting to the hands of any more unrepresentative fringe candidates.