Is voting reform back on the table?

Over the weekend reports emerged that Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has been in secret talks with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn about voting reform. There were even indications the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens would be invited to these talks. If successful these talks could lead to all the parties mentioned standing on an agreed platform of voting reform at the 2020 election. If after the election these parties then had the numbers to form a progressive majority in the House of Commons, the measures could be introduced without a referendum.

Electoral reform was a prominent issue in the last parliament. As part of their coalition deal with the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats insisted on a referendum on a new voting system; Alternative Vote. This referendum was defeated comprehensively with the British public voting to maintain the First Past the Post system by 68% to 32%. This was considered to have ended the conversation for a generation. However the General Election result and the proportion of votes parties such as UKIP and the Greens received without converting into large numbers of MPs has ensured the conversation has not disappeared.

There are many obstacles which have to be overcome before this even becomes a possibility. Cross-party conversations are traditionally very difficult and reaching an agreement between all these parties will be no easy task. The Labour Party is divided on voting reform and any leader will face great trouble in bringing the whole party with them on this issue. Finally and perhaps the toughest task will be to stop the Conservatives winning outright in 2020. Currently they are the heavy favourites to win the 2020 election and this task could become even easier with the boundary reforms this government will implement and whilst they remain in power there will be no voting reforms.

A deal of this kind is not impossible. The case for electoral reform is as strong as it has ever been and there is a real desire amongst a number of political figures for this to happen. There is a lot of common ground and is perfectly feasible for a deal to be reached. What makes this tricky is the electoral task and defeating the Conservatives. Politically this seems difficult in 2020. There is little doubt voting reform will happen at some stage, but it will only happen when the Tories aren’t in power and that won’t be for a while and therefore those waiting for these reforms may have to wait a little longer.

Article by Mike Hough

Photograph – The Independent

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