Sunday, February 15, 2009

Carving up the Commission

Last Monday night saw the first day of the House of Commons’ third reading of the Political Parties and Elections Bill, of which the major amendment of interest was one tabled by the SNP, Plaid and the SDLP.

The Bill proposes that the electoral commission should include four commissioners with recent experience of political campaigning, in order to ensure that the commission is up to speed with current events.

Naturally, this is based, not on a UK geographical basis, but upon parties’ representation at Westminster.

As such, Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats will each be nominating a member of the commission with the unwritten expectation that the fourth and final commissioner will be nominated by the largest of the non-UK parties at Westminster, the Democratic Unionists.

The DUP have 9 seats at Westminster, compared with 7 for the SNP and 3 each for Plaid and the SDLP. The single UUP, Respect and UKIP representatives at Parliament don’t count as 2 members are required to become a ‘group’.

The SNP accused this of being a Westminster carve-up that failed to take into consideration that there are four governments in the UK featuring seven parties and that only two of these parties would be able to nominate a representative to the commission.

They noted further that there was no assurance that there would be anyone on the commission with an understanding of campaigning in the various types of Proportional Representation, of which there are different versions in operation in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and London.

The perhaps typical response of Conservative spokesperson Eleanor Laing was to suggest that first past the post was the only fair way of carrying out an election.

A throwaway joke comment it may have been, but her failure to answer the criticism of the Westminster carve-up spoke volumes for the very real awareness that this is an undemocratic system that will require a visit once more during the next Parliament.

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