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.

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Does two U-turns in two days mean you have come full circle or are you going round in circles?

Does a second U-turn in two days mean that few other sacred cows might be slaughtered to appeal to middle England...?

I was unsurprised, as I am sure many were, when we suddenly heard that a million pounds no longer buys you a mansion and so the Lib Dems decided that only ‘mansions’ over £2 Million would be subject to the dreaded tax.

All those former Bullingdon members on the Tory front bench were no doubt off to the estate agents to see if they would be subject to Vince’s Toff Tax. 

But, why has there been a second U-turn in two days, on the issue of an ‘in-out’ referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU?

If there really is ‘no public appetite’ for it, according to Sir Menzies Campbell, then why was there an ‘appetite’ for it when the Lib Dems proposed a referendum on the European constitution originally. Why was there not ‘an appetite’ for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, but why did the Lib Dem leadership believe there was ever ‘an appetite’ for an ‘in-out’ referendum?

The problem appears to be that in one case the Lib Dems think they would lose votes and in the second they would lose the vote.

On the issue of the ‘Mansion Tax’ I suspect that MPs in the South East and London are the ones pointing out this will cost them votes.  This is probably not true because I suspect anyone that can afford a £1 Million house is just as unlikely to vote Lib Dem as one in a £2 Million one.

But, I also suspect that Nick Clegg knows that the Tories will be forced through internal, and external, pressure to move to a position of accepting a referendum on whether the UK stays in the EU. When that day comes the Lib Dems will not want to have to support it, in the knowledge that the vote may well be lost.

It makes you wonder what else might end up on the bonfire of the manifestos before the election starts.

Gordon’s arts bonanza shows there are still empty seats on the battle bus…

Daniel Radcliffe might make his way on to Nick Clegg's battle bus at the election, but who might Gordon get to go on his?!

Daniel Radcliffe might make his way on to Nick Clegg's battle bus at the election, but who might Gordon get to go on his?!

Seats on the Prime Minister’s battle bus must still be unfilled if he feels the necessity to attend high profile events like that on Friday for the new ‘National Cinema’ to be based on the South Bank.

One of the key aspects of Labour’s rise to power in 1997 was the way in which they attracted glamour to the party, in a way which Tracy Ullman never quite brought for Neil Kinnock.

‘Cool Britannia’ was an important way to attract people who had never considered supporting Labour before.

So, surrounded by members of the glitterati, Gordon announced funding for the following schemes:

  • National Film Centre on the South Bank
  • New visitor centre for Stonehenge
  • British Library’s new newspaper archive in Yorkshire
  • New extension to Tate Modern
  • New extension to the British Museum

Personally I have no problem with these schemes but I wonder if Gordon is just trying to fill up the seats on the battle bus at the General Election.

We know that Eddie Izzard and J.K. Rowling will happily back Gordon at the election and Harry Potter star, Daniel Radcliffe, will no doubt board Nick Clegg’s bus, but who else can Gordon get to boost his campaign?

In this age of increased media interest in the softer side of politics Gordon will be doing all he can over the next six months to draw those who supported Labour’s election, in 1997, back into the fold for the final roll of the dice to hold on to power next year. So expect more high profile events where Gordon can get close to the stars!