The European Election has produced some extraordinary results with the governing Labour Party receiving just 15.7% of the popular vote across the country. No form of words can divert attention away from the fact that the government is deeply unpopular.
To be beaten into third place by the UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) was a humiliating experience for Labour after winning three consecutive General Elections for the first time in its history. In Crawley, the Conservatives achieved about half of the popular vote in the County Council Election, returning seven elected members out of the nine. As recently as the beginning of 2005, we had only two members.
What does this mean for the man at the top – Prime Minister Gordon Brown? It must be an immensely stressful time for anybody in his position. People often describe leadership as a lonely occupation and that sensation must be magnified with so much going wrong economically and politically. Upsetting people is not part of the job description of a leader but if you keep everybody happy, you are probably not leading at all. The trick is to not upset everybody at the same time but we are perhaps coming closer to this situation than we have ever been.
If the Labour Party ousted Gordon Brown as Leader, it would be the only time in our history that two Prime Ministers had been appointed in a single Parliament without reference to electors. This would create huge pressure for a General Election and Labour MPs might calculate that they have more apparent choice over an election date by keeping Gordon in place. Others, including myself, would argue that there is already a strong case for an early General Election.
Last week I wrote about the potential for electoral reform and yesterday I noticed on the BBC website that the government was considering changes for electing MPs. This looked concerning when I saw that they were considering adoption of an alternative vote system. In this system voters in a constituency put a preference number against as many of the candidates as they wish. If no candidate achieves a majority of first preferences, voters’ second preferences are then redistributed. This process continues until a candidate has more than half of the votes cast.
The system preserves an MP’s constituency relationship but has the effect of electing the least disliked rather than the most liked candidate. It is a kind of negative logic that is favourable to fence-sitters and others unable to firm up an opinion. There is the potential to increase the number of fully-fledged non-entities who we return as MPs and to perpetuate a series of hung Parliaments.
The Labour Party needs to distinguish between the national interest and its party political interest. They are definitely not the same. There is some suggestion that the Labour Party is looking at a new system because they fear that they will lose heavily under the current system. That is hardly the best motive for reform.
Councillor Bob Lanzer, Leader of Crawley Borough Council
10th June 2009