British Voters Enthusiastic About NOT Changing Status Quo in Voting System (5/6)     Print Email

A referendum proposing a complicated tweak in Parliamentary elections was rejected by a “no” vote with a large enough margin to amount to simple repudiation.  With enough ballots counted to ensure the measure’s defeat, projections said that the outcome could approach a 70-30 defeat for the measure, which was put to voters on the same day as local elections in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.


Observers said that the outcome was likely to bury any early renewed effort to change Britain’s national electoral  system, which awards seats in Parliament under  a “winner-take-all” system in each of the country’s voting constituencies.  The system reinforces the dominance of the two main parties, the Conservatives and Labour, with the effect of making it harder for candidates of smaller parties to win any seats at all in Parliament.

Complaining that the system has stifled change and fostered complacency and corruption, the initiative to add a dose of proportional representation was spear-headed led by Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib-Dems, a centrist reform party that was taken into government as a junior coalition partner after elections last year by conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.  The referendum  -- only the second in the history of Britain, whose political tradition runs counter to plebiscites by direct popular vote – was obtained by Clegg for his small party as a quid pro quo for joining the Conservative-led government.

Clegg is the big loser in the wake of the referendum’s flop.  Critics in his own party blame him for allowing the proposed reform to be framed in terms of a small, complicated change. He contended that pramatism dictated a small first step, which could have led to more flexibility and gains for his party.

Advocates of the “yes” argued that the change could help rejuvenate a political system that has settled into a virtual duopoly of Conservatives and Labour since World War II – with the idea that the proposed  change could restore confidence in British politics after a period tarnished episodes of bribe-taking  by Members of Parliament, the backlash against Britain’s role in the Iraq war and the dire economic stagnation of much of the country outside London, the political and financial capital of the country.

Clegg’s detractors in his own party have chided him of running a poor campaign for the reform that would have helped the Lib-Dems (as well as some even smaller parties). Alongside the referendum’s failure, the Lib-Dem party fared poorly in local and regional elections held across the United Kingdom on the same day.

For his critics, Clegg’s cooperation with the Conservatives has hurt the Lib-Dems by producing a set-back for their hopes of electoral reform simultaneously with a fall in the party’s national popularity among voters who blame the Lib-Dems for going along with draconian, Thatcher-style cuts in spending on social programs and education that are designed to restore Britain’s fiscal credibility but are worsening unemployment and other hardships on the country.

--By European Affairs