The expenses scandal has quite rightly hung around parliament like a bad smell since the Telegraph first exposed many MPs’ horrendous claims. However, there was one good thing that has come out of the scandal, and that is the more renowned recognition of the need for change.
Our political system has an extensive democratic deficit, and before the scandal, the two main parties seemed to be able to resist any fundamental change without any harm being done to them in the opinion polls. However, when you consider the safe seats, as a very good article in the Guardian today showed, there are only about 100,000 people who truly decide who is the governing party with the biased first past the post system.
The article highlights well the opportunity that Brown has to make a real lasting change to parliament. To try to regain some respect after his shabby dealings of reform after the scandal, there should be a referendum on the voting system av+ recommended by the Jenkins report, which Labour conveniently ignored. I know that the Liberal Democrats want STV, but now, I think that as the Make My Vote Count campaign rightly recognises, any change to the system that makes it slightly more proportional is worth voting for.
The fact is that if Cameron is elected he will not even consider changing the voting system, why would he when Thatcher herself admitted that doing this would mean a Tory government would never be elected. Therefore, Brown should show a bit of leadership for a change and call a referendum on the voting system.
However, I do tend to disagree with the article and agree with Clegg on when the referendum should be. I feel that Clegg is right to say that if it was held on the same day as the general election people would confuse the issues and arguably, this could benefit the Tories obvious opposition to the proposed changes to the electoral system.
The Tories are right to point to Brown’s opportunism if he does call for it, as this is something they could have changed 10 years ago; however, they will only be arguing this from their own self-interested position.
I feel however, that if something like this is not done then we are dangerously leaning towards losing the momentum that the scandal produced for change. We already saw half hearted reforms rushed through this week, seeing the House of Lords as usual resist reform, where instead we should have seen this ironically even longer holiday than usual reduced to allow Parliament to debate the changes that are desperately needed to reinstate much needed trust into our political system.
Will we see Brown bite the bullet and push for this referendum, or will we see him once again squander the chance for proper reform, reform that the Liberal Democrat’s have been calling for well before the expense scandal?