How England might get proportional representation
There are interesting articles in the Welsh political and cultural magazine Planet on the recent Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament elections. In Wales, John Osmond writes that Labour’s position as the largest party is now on a knife edge – the long-term trend in their vote appears to be downwards and they hold nine of the ten most marginal seats. From a Scottish perspective, the historian Christopher Harvie, newly elected as a nationalist MSP, observes that Labour’s strongholds have been reduced through PR to Glasgow and Lanarkshire. Between them, these hold clues to electoral change in England.
So what has this got to do with England? Well, one of the flurries created by the nationalist success in Scotland, and the prominence of Plaid in Wales, has been a resurgence of interest in the government of England, for example in places such as the Our Kingdom blog and its parent, Open Democracy (where the most coherent case has been made by a Scot, Neal Acherson.) And this is, obviously, connected to the resurgence of interest in the cause of a proper constitutional settlement for Britain, as David Marquand argues in the current edition of New Statesman.
But I suspect that the emergence of proportional representation in England – which has seemed unlikely for all of my adult life – will come about, and quite quickly, for this reason. PR in Scotland and Wales, which already seems to be having an entirely positive effect on their political and public life, is also eroding the strongest local bases of the Labour Party. In his Planet article Harvie article writes of the former Labout First Minister, Jack McConnell, that “his monument turned out to be the devastation of the Labour Party at local level, through his introduction of proportional representation in this year’s council elections”. (Notwithstanding that if you believe in democracy, introducing PR was the right thing to do).
So – in the face of losing its local bases, it seems unthinkable that a political mind as shrewd as Gordon Brown’s won’t see the benefit of doing the right thing by democracy by finding a way to introduce PR in England, at least locally, while also knowing that it will destabilise the Conservative party there as well. And how big a step is it from there to some sort of proportional representation at Westminster? Maybe 7-10 years.