My personal New Year’s Message to Electoral Reformers from John Ault (Chair of the Electoral Reform Society)

My personal message to electoral reformers for 2012 - it could be an important year of change!

I became involved in politics 25 years ago and one of the main reasons I became involved was because I saw the way that our electoral system doesn’t fairly represent the wishes of British voters.

Becoming involved in the practice of campaigning for electoral reform has actually been a relatively recent thing for me though; when I was employed to be a member of the Yes to Fairer Votes team last year.

Of course 2011 was a bad year for electoral reformers with the failure of the AV referendum. And we are right to re-evaluate if the constitutional reform sector is fit for purpose to deliver its mission.

But 2012 will see, perhaps rather oddly, the first opportunity for all English voters to use a form of preferential voting to elect the new police commissioners across the country. The new voting system, Supplementary Vote, allows voters to rank their top two choices, rather than all of them in AV, and as such does mean there will be a slight, if notable, change in the way the English vote.

It is by no means perfect but if it gets voters used to casting their ballots preferentially that has to be good for the cause of electoral reform, as does the extension of the numbers of cities electing Mayors via the same system. Whatever the pros and cons of either of these new institutions the voting system will be more democratic than first-past-the-post and that has to be progress.

This, to many electoral reformers, will seem a modest change not worthy of attention, but the main prize for 2012 will be reform of the House of Lords. If we can add our voices to this major reform it will be a major, even historic, change. And, if Nick Clegg achieves his objective it will be elected by Single Transferable Vote. This would be a major prize for all of us in the constitutional reform sector and one that we should all put our efforts into over the next 12 months.

Happy New Year and let’s achieve parliamentary reform this year even though we failed in 2011 – it’s up to us.

I really hope people are going to describe the result of the Glasgow North East By-Election properly…

pete460

When describing the result tomorrow TV pundits should remember how to describe the result properly!

No doubt BBC News and Sky News will be broadcasting live from a public building tonight and into tomorrow morning to give us the result, and subsequent comment, about the by-election in Glasgow North East.

I have been impressed by the level of media coverage in Scotland about the by-election, which many are saying might be the last before Gordon Brown eventually goes to the polls next year.

I have been involved in many elections, but one of the things that I have never been unsure of is how to describe the result when it came.

‘Speakers’ normally retire at General Elections, become ennobled, and then retire to the relative obscurity of the crossbenches in the House of Lords, but Michael Martin has joined the upper house midterm, as did his predecessor, Betty Boothroyd

I was exasperated when Sky News announced, with all apparent seriousness, that ‘Labour have failed to win the Henley By-Election!’ as part of their coverage of that result, which to be fair was one thing that could be predicted at any point in the last hundred years.

So, why my concern about how to describe the result in Glasgow North East? Anyone who looks at the area will assess that it is working class and what might be considered a ‘Labour heartland’, but for the past nine years it has not been represented by a Labour MP, but by The Speaker. 

Bearing in mind The Speaker is not standing at this election any result has to be described as ‘a gain from The Speaker,’ whether this is a Lib Dem gain, an SNP gain and, most importantly, a Labour gain.

If Labour win the by-election there will be one extra Labour MP in Parliament and their parliamentary majority will go up, therefore I will be watching out for this to be correctly described as a ‘Labour gain from The Speaker,’ rather than a ‘Labour hold,’ if they manage to clinch the result tonight or, more likely, tomorrow, as it was when Betty Boothroyd retired in 2000.

Hereditary Peer’s lawsuit could wipe 10 years of law from the Statute Book!

Peter Mandelson - Lords

Peter Mandelson is about the receive a letter from 'disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' to beat them all!

A little known hereditary peer, Lord Mereworth, has written to Peter Mandelson, in his role as Lord President of the Privy Council, to ask whether his disbarment, and that of other hereditary peers, was in fact legal. 

Lord Mereworth, who was denied his seat in the upper house as a consequence of the House of Lords Act in 1999, has served a protocol letter, claiming that the law is unenforceable. It is a first salvo before mounting a judicial review in the high court.

The document says the 1999 act failed to revoke the “letters patent”, the act under which the then King, George V, granted a hereditary peerage to Mereworth’s grandfather. The protocol letter states: “It is stated expressly in the letters that George V bound his successors, and it is axiomatic that any attempt to alter the terms or effect of the letters would be a matter of moment for those successors.”

It is difficult to gauge the level to which the Government should take this matter seriously, but a great deal of legislation could be put under threat if this petition is credible.

Whatever the credibility of the claim, the prospect of a democratically elected government being undermined by a judicial review of an Act of Parliament, and potentially disqualifying all the laws that have passed through House of Lords since, is unconscionable.

According to The Guardian’s  report the Government is taking the letter very seriously. 

As an afterthought those people who have since been elected to the lower house, namely John Thurso, but still retain their hereditary title could see themselves being disqualified from the lower house by their re-instalment in the House of Lords.

Why Speaker Martin is joining the very crossbenches!

Michael Martin should ignore the convention and sit with his Labour peers

Michael Martin should ignore the convention and sit with his Labour peers

Michael Martin today took his seat in the House of Lords as Lord Martin of Springburn. We’ve all heard the story of Sir John Trevor, who was the last speaker to be unseated, in 1695, who was deposed by Parliament for taking a bribe of 1000 guineas, which in today’s money would be in excess of £1.5 million.

Lord Martin joins the cross benches in the Lords, which includes senior law lords, former generals as well as many former diplomats and now non-aligned politicians.

His joining the cross benches is one of those parliamentary conventions that I just do not understand. Michael Martin joined the Labour Party when he was 21, was a shop steward for the AEEU at 25, was a councillor in Glasgow at the age of 28 and was elected to Parliament for over 20 years, as a Labour MP, before taking on the role of Speaker.

It seems odd that in his semi-retirement, in the Lords, that Michael Martin cannot take the Labour whip, and has to sit with crossbenchers who have a wide range of political views, and none, from people like the former Liberal MP, David Alton to royal photographer the Earl of Snowdon. One of the main problems that has blighted Parliament has been its yearning to retain its traditions and conventions.

This is one that just seems old fashioned and illogical. Lord Martin should sit with his Labour colleagues, and friends, and break this meaningless convention.