Foul! Referee electoral system abuse.

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Thomas More, patron saint of politicians!

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No one questions the need for referees in sport, tho we often have cause to grumble at their decisions, because the ref is human and fallible like the rest of us. We used to call a 'sportsman' someone who put fair play before their self-glorification. Who would call politicians sporting in that sense? Odd examples, like 'Mannie' Shinwell, Lord Home, or perhaps William Whitelaw, are the exceptions that prove the rule.
Opinion polls continually show politicians to be among the least trusted professions.

Just over twenty years after the Royal Commission on standards of conduct in public life, in 1976, another body was set up to investigate sleaze. An academic described the public view of politicians as people who put their party before everyone else but themselves.

He went on to remark that people seemed remarkably tolerant of this. But there is a saying: What cannot be cured must be endured.

At issue here is not the gross corruption that the courts are empowered to deal with. Nevertheless, it is a kind of cheating, if governing parties keep or make the rules of the game to suit themselves. In particular, the courts may not decide what are fair rules of the electoral contest. Yet does a nation need some referee, independent of the government, so the voting procedure is fair?

The evidence is overwhelming that parties, competing for power, need refereeing. Coming to power does not make them fit judges of their own cause. Rather, as Lord Acton said, power corrupts. Trying to give an idea, of how far 'gerrymandered voting methods' ( as H G Wells called them ) prevail, is a bit like attempting a history of sin.
Like pollution, it became a common-place we may not even be aware of.

The Plant report argued there was no standard of voting method. This had to be refuted. And the case for 'Scientific method of elections' had to be made. My conclusion was that Carl Andrae and Thomas Hare independently invented the essentials of democratic voting method, as far back as the mid nineteenth century.

That being the case, we have a democratic standard, that politicians can be criticised for falling short of. The Liberal, Carl Andrae introduced preference voting with proportional or quota counting ( 'the single transferable vote' ) to his native Denmark. But the preference vote was soon dropped by those who thought people only needed to vote for a party getting its proportion of seats for votes.

Thus, Andrae's system of proportionally electing the most prefered individual representatives, to give both greater freedom in the vote and greater equality in the count, was degraded to a corporate count of proportional partisanship. Of course, this was still called 'proportional representation', by which misuse of terms, people are misled to this day.

This soon became the pattern on the continent of Europe. ( Enid Lakeman's 'How Democracies Vote' is a standard source here and on the following. ) But, because it denied the voters freedom of individual choice, it also afforded politicians, in English-speaking countries, an excuse against any electoral change. However, Hare's system was not corrupted into a vote merely for sharing out power between parties. And his single transferable vote ( STV ) gained limited but lasting acceptance, as much in non-political elections as national party conflicts.

Much of the credit for this must go to generous support for Hare from the philosopher and independent Liberal, John Stuart Mill. The Cambridge mathematician, Leonard Courtney left the Liberal government when Hare's system was not included in the third Reform Bill.
As a consequence, the Proportional Representation Society was founded in 1884. Its counterpart in Australia saw some of the earliest progress for the campaign. Tasmania was the first state to use STV, in 1909.

The Speakers Conferences on Electoral Reform.

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At that time in Britain, the Royal Commission on Electoral Systems chose the much more limited Alternative Vote. But in 1916, the first Speakers Conference on Electoral Reform was to recommend the single transferable vote.

As J F S Ross details, in 'Elections And Electors', the conference was held during the worst slaughter in the worst crisis in British history, when the appeal to put national before party feeling was acute. While it got on with the war, the government agreed to accept the conference proposals as a package deal.
But the new coalition, under Lloyd-George, gratuitously singled-out STV for a separate vote. Fear of government disapproval most probably was responsible for its subsequent narrow defeat in parliament.

Since Ross' meticulous account, Martin Pugh's 'Electoral Reform In War And Peace', has used records more recently made public. We know one MP decided to vote against STV when he knew it wouldnt bring down the whole conference agreement.

Sir Frederick Smith pointed out:

The only argument upon which these recommendations entirely depend is that they were the united representations of the body to whom parliament commited the task of making recommendations. That ( proportional representation ) was a part of the settlement which many of us regarded as vital,..

And as Philip Snowden remarked:

Proportional representation was the unanimous decision of the Speaker's Conference, and the government departed from the terms of the conference when they refused to accept proportional representation, though they accept other parts of the Speaker's Conference recommendations

The Speaker paid tribute to 'the admirable temper and conciliatory disposition' of the first conference.

But he said no such thing about the second conference he chaired in 1929.
The chairman stated:

No agreement had been reached or was likely to be reached. The Conference could only, at the best, submit to you a few resolutions carried on party lines. These would not fulfill the purpose which was in view when the Conference was appointed.

A few of Ross' remarks, on the third Speaker's Conference of 1944, may be picked up.
It had been much put off. The Conservatives had an over-all majority, not helping non-partisan agreement, and major proposals were rejected outright. Nevertheless, the coalition failed to implement almost all its recommendations, in time for the 1945 election.
The much more major provisions of the 1918 Representation of the People Act had been in time for the post-war election.

By the 1948 Act, the Labour government reversed much of the war-time agreement. Churchill denounced its 'bad faith between party and party...' Churchill proposed proportional representation in his 1950 reply to the King's speech. Labour dismissed this outright, in the ensuing discussion. Indeed, Churchill could not get the backing of his own party for PR.
He remains the last main party leader, in Britain, to support PR before the third millenium!

Ross' classic 'Elections and Electors' appeared in 1955. Ten years later, the fourth Speakers Conference on Electoral Reform arose from the foto-finish 1964 election of the first Wilson government. This marks PR's lowest ebb, where only the lone Liberal MP, allowed in the conference, voted for its application by the single transferable vote.

In the two election campaigns before their 1979 victory, the Tories promised another Speakers Conference, but broke their promise. This was the last that all-party parliamentary compromise was heard of. By then, there was a national extra-parliamentary campaign for reform, as a result of the Liberals' extreme under-representation in the two 1974 elections. And the proportional sharing of power could not have been so easily dismissed by a government bent on 'conviction politics'.
Indeed, first past the post elections institutionalise a conspiracy of antagonism between the two main parties and beneficiaries of the system.

Royal Commissions.

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Where governments could not exclude referees like a Speakers Conference, they could still nobble them. Thus, two Royal Commissions, in response to serious problems, were not allowed to give the answer the government didnt want to hear. Obviously, it is not the scientific attitude to only tolerate the truth on ones own terms. The truth is not bound by ones petty party interests.

The Royal Commission on the Constitution did not have a brief to consider electoral reform, tho it was essential for power-sharing in divided Ulster, and potentially for all the regions of the UK. In 1973, the Kilbrandon report pointed out, that in Scotland, for instance, no party has a majority. The single transferable vote was recommended to transcend further possible regional conflicts.

Labour simply ignored this message. Understandably, the Liberals were 'incensed', as David Steel said. Labour's original Devolution Bill went out of its way to secure disproportionate results in a Scottish assembly, with a scheme for Labour, the largest party to sweep the board in two-member constituencies, with first past the post.

John Smith told David Steel that the Scottish Labour executive wouldnt have PR.
And so they got nothing. The Scottish parliament was lost, till 1999. The first minister's opening speech said: We shall make mistakes. He would have done better to say: We have made mistakes, that need correcting.

The shabby treatment of Labour MP Dennis Canavan, the respected veteran devolutionist is well known. But the moral is that the caucus or selection panel took advantage of a largely undemocratic voting system. There can be only one official party candidate in single member consituencies. When Canavan wasnt nominated, he had to go Independent, to beat the Labour candidate by over 12,000 votes.
Had the ignored Kilbrandon report been taken-up, on the transferable vote, voters could have prefered or ordered a choice of more than one candidate per party.

The Scottish assembly had a bigger proportion of additional members than the Welsh. Consequently, an artefact of the system makes Welsh Labour less dependent on coalition than Scottish Labour. In fact, the former didnt, and the latter did, coalesce.

Another of the set farces in the Additional Member system was exposed. The Welsh Labour leader might not have had an additional seat available, if Labour took all of its share of seats from single member constituencies.
Here was a man who became first minister of Wales, Firstly, on the old union bloc vote, then on top of a party list of additional members, it took two kinds of corporatism, unfashionable and fashionable, to foist the first minister of Wales on Wales.

Mark Seddon, of Labour's National Executive Committee, said Labour was paying the price for such 'control freakery', as imposing the Welsh leader, when it lost key seats for the Scottish and Welsh asemblies. Disillusion among core supporters was spreading and had to be addressed.

Later, the man, who had really been the British Labour PM's choice, resigned before a vote of ( no ) confidence in his leadership, by the Welsh assembly.
But it was an unexpected and fortuitous turn of events, that Rhodri Morgan, the more truly popular choice, became Welsh first minister, after all.

Like the Kilbrandon report, the Royal Commission on Standards of Conduct in Public Life, the Salmon report was not allowed to consider electoral reform, as a remedy for corrupt one-party local government. Tho, the 1976 report did pick up the then much parrotted call for 'some form of proportional representation' as a means of providing a strong opposition presence to criticise mismanagement and misappropriation.

The phrase 'some form of' PR, by the way, was reformers' cant of the day. Some reformers considered they had the right to denounce the current simple majority system, without exposing their form of PR to criticism. By repeating this phrase on the media, the PR parrots indoctrinated rather than educated the public. Thus, few people may have realised that electoral reform introduced further undemocratic voting methods.

British government has been like a classic Greek tyranny: the government is popularly chosen but has over-riding authority once in office. Quintin Hogg, after the war, in 'The Case For Conservatism', thought this was a rather potent combination. As Lord Hailsham, over thirty years later, in 'The Dilemma Of Democracy', he branded it 'elective dictatorship'.

Many thought the government he joined, in 1979, a prime example of it.
The new Tory leadership at Westminster hovered like an infuriated hawk over the cockney sparrow leading the Labour-controlled Greater London Council. Ken Livingstone was to write a book after the old saw: If Voting Ever Changed Anything Theyd Abolish It.

Edward Heath said London was the only capitol in the democratic world not to have self government.
The 1997 Labour government is restoring this and a campaign has been won for an elected London mayor. Mr Livingstone has said on tv, he was told by someone senior in the government that they didnt want him to have the job.
Simon Jenkins seemed to put this construction on the government's rules of procedure. The admitted fix of the Welsh leadership bore out Ken Livingstone's claim.

Eventually, he broke his promise not to stand for mayor, if not chosen by the Labour party. As in Wales, there was controversy whether Labour's primary was fought on a level playing field. ( For one thing, there was a question about privileged access to a register of names. )
The polls consistently ( and rightly ) showed Livingstone the winner. PM, Tony Blair openly showed his distaste for this old Labour leftie, in an attempt to ward off the inevitable. This revulsion seemed to make Labour HQ oblivious to how a bluff Yorkshire-man, like Frank Dobson, was to beat a cockney sparrow for London supremo.

The remedy to so-called 'loony left' councils was to strengthen local democracy with the electoral system that allows effective opposition. But the Salmon report had not been allowed to consider that. The Tory government prefered to abolish local democracy, in the mainly Labour-controlled metropolitan areas, rather than let it work properly.

Extra-parliamentary campaigns.

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The National Campaign for Electoral Reform, founded in 1975, was a sort of proportional front, supporting democratic and undemocratic PR, alike. The analogy is with the Popular Front in the 1930s, which said you musnt criticise Stalin, lest it strengthen fascism. The campaign's dogma, that any party proportional elections must be more democratic, after a quarter century, was to yield any but the democratic form.

Charter '88 also couldnt be criticised on a method of PR, because they couldnt agree on one, eventually recommending ( wrongly ) a German-type Additional Member system, which gives power to the parties rather than the voters.
This was the reform system that was winning, adopted for Scottish and Welsh assemblies. And it was perhaps typical of the charter group to be trendies, as the die-hards might call them. For, their program followed the trends in other democracies, good or bad. The bad is that party oligarchy was strengthened by party list systems and a second political chamber 'elected' by them.

The name 'Charter '88' harked back to 'the glorious revolution' of 1688. But that showed real leadership, by breaking away from the continental trend of absolute monarchy, and founding some of the essential conditions for a democracy.

Charter '88 was also meant to emulate the Czech Charter '77. Here again, the comparison is misleading. Before Glasnost, the state persecuted and prohibited artists and intellectuals, in eastern Europe. However, the idea for Charter '88 came from a deputy editor of 'The New Statesman'. That is to say a typical left wing establishment think tank.

Moreover, a list of celebrities, voting for virtue, that Charter '88 signed up, were not marginalised talents merely seeking freedom of expression. They were more like 'the media mob'. The die-hards dismissed them as 'the chattering classes'. Or, as Bernard Shaw put it, those people who spend all their lives chattering, without knowing what theyre talking about.
Not to forget the capitalist media's in-house Marxists, who discovered democracy, after Yeltsin boarded one of the tanks defending the Russian parliament.

Presumably, the Charter '88 select list of somebodies was meant to be defered to, by all the nobodies: hardly a democratic idea for a supposedly democratic movement. The absence of politicians from the list, like the very date '88, also misleads, I would suggest. Perhaps, the real significance of Charter '88 is as the year after '87, when the Tories won their third election victory in a row.

Andrew Marr's 'Ruling Britannia' is a better book than I could have written, researching runaway bureaucracy and plutocracy. But his naive belief, that Labour, won over by its charter faction, would rescue British democracy, is wrong. The civil servant, Sir Patrick Nairne's comment, on such ambitious but uninspired programs of constitutional reform, is worth quoting: 'a colossal display of catastrophic cosmetics.'

In the 1970s, Conservative Action for Electoral Reform couldnt win debates on the proportional principle at their party conferences. Anti-reformer, John Selwyn Gummer asked the floor: had they noticed how you can never pin them down to an actual system of proportional elections?
The problem was, and remains, that the party-proportional reformers want methods that give too much power to the parties. Also, when electoral reform is narrowed to proportional partisanship, support for the issue is degraded from democratic principle to war strategy of which side the third party will take.
Nevertheless, in 1975, the chairman of CAER, Anthony Wigram published an important collection of studies, edited by Professor S E Finer, 'Adversary Politics And Electoral Reform'.

Against the growth industry of reform publications were a trickle of party pamflets.

Select Committee.

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A rare chance to know the nature of the official opposition to reform came with the 1977 Select Committee on Direct Elections to the European Parliament.
The source is courtesy of the Liberal Action Group on Electoral Reform:

(1) The single member constituency is a fundamental and proven part of our electoral process;
(2) An MP elected under it has special allegiance to a small and distinct electorate;
(3) Each elector votes for one candidate in the clear knowledge that the candidate will, if elected, be their MP;
(4) The Boundary Commission process has become an essential part of our democratic process.

Re point (1) the number one is indeed fundamental but that doesnt stop two, three, four, etc following from it. English tradition is of a two-member system ( or more in some instances ). Points (1) and (4) seem to be the illogical statements that 'what is is right', if they are saying anything at all beyond dogmatic assertion.

To say the single member system is 'proven' only asserts that it works, but how well was a question that European elections rendered acute. The biggest Liberal party in Europe was disenfranchised by first past the post, unlike their continental counterparts.
Consequently, point (2) about the MP's special allegiance to a small electorate raises the question of their allegiance to him. This second point is an instance of the fallacy of putting the local principle above the electoral principle, in an electoral system.

The operative phrase of point (3) is 'if elected'. The purpose of the single transferable vote is that nearly all the voters will be represented by their most prefered candidate who achieves a quota or equitable proportion of the votes in a multi-member constituency.

Being reduced to a semblance of reason for first past the post, the select committee seemingly betrayed a contemptible weakness. For, the Callaghan Labour government unceremoniously dropped its recommendation, previously so in keeping with the imperatives of power.
Successive by-elections had worn away Labour's overall majority in parliament. Liberal support was needed to avoid demoralising defeats.

And projections, of the first British Euro-election results for an unpopular government, had Labour with as few as 5 out of 78 MEPs.
By treaty, the first Euro-elections were supposed to be held in 1978. But Britain was not ready till 1979. One Tory MP accused the government of 'dragging its feet.'

Constitutional Courts

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The Lib-Lab pact's Regional List system was shown-up in parliament for ineffective individual choice. The government could not guarantee all its party's support. Parliament's vote on the British Euro-election system was supposed to be a free vote. To avoid seeming 'unfair' to the Liberals, the Tory front bench didnt even recommend a system. But to show Tory MPs they didnt take a relaxed view of the matter, the leadership imposed a three-line whip on this 'free' vote.

The Liberals were enraged at losing the Regional List and getting no seats first past the post to the European parliament, in 1979. They even took the British parliament to the European Court for violation of their Human Rights.

As one might expect from a court, they ruled on precedent. Law has to be largely based on accepted custom. And first past the post was already ruled legitimate by the German Federal Constitutional Court, as well as the American Supreme Court.

This judgement shows that courts defend rights won, rather than promote rights. An unelected court has to be discrete in its dealings with the elected court of parliament. The judiciary cannot be a proper referee of the political game.

This case also showed the partisan mind in its true colors. Here was a party supposed to be dedicated to individual liberty. Yet the Liberals were only concerned with themselves as a party choice, not the voters' individual choice. What about the voters' human rights?

The 1940 Sankey Declaration on Human Rights upholds 'electoral methods which give effective expression to individual choice'. The Regional List or any party list system most certainly does not.
Even the 1948 UN declaration mentions 'freely chosen representatives', not corporate appointees on a party list.

In 1997, after their general election victory, Labour made sure of delivering a European party list system for its Liberal partners. They just imposed a system that didnt even pretend to individual choice.
It was noticable, also, that the Green party leader said the new party-proportional system gave voters more choice, meaning you can forget about individual choice; it's only party choice that matters.

Leaders, Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown blustered about 'democracy' and 'the people' against the House of Lords' defiance.
The second chamber is supposed to be a constitutional check - referee. But when they try to do their much-needed job, the politicians blackguard them, as not having the democratic authority - a democratic authority denied them by the politicians.

Voltaire wrote, in Candide:

I should be enamoured of the spirit of the English nation, did it not utterly frustrate the good effects it would produce, by passion and the spirit of party.

Conclusion: Elected vocational second chamber referee.

The above evidence is only a sample of foul play, in the political game, even from the limited time and place, it draws upon. The referees mentioned in each section have proved ineffective. The politicians themselves have so over-powered their referee, that one scarcely seems legitimate. Yet that is the constitutional role of the second chamber - to blow the whistle on ill-advised legislation, like the closed party list.

The second chamber must have the democratic authority to do its job properly. But not as a rival of the politicians. A referee is not a rival. Therefore, the second chamber's franchise must not be political but economic. This is the Lords historic role as care-taker of special interests, brought up to date, from a medieval to a modern society.

The courts' only speciality is the law. The second chamber, representing every expertise, could speak with more authority, as to the justice, for instance, of the rules of the electoral game.

Richard Lung.

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