‘…the government is dismantling its long-standing respect for the rules in favour of winning at all costs’
A long standing tradition in British politics is that the players respect the rules of the game, and the defenders of these rules have long been the Conservative Party; this is no longer the case. By 2020 the number of MPs will most likely be reduced from 650 MPs to 600 by the Boundaries Commissions. On the face of it, it doesn’t sound too bad, many people feel that there are “too many MPs” and question how effective this number can be. To dismiss these changes as a positive is to fail to recognise where the changes will be made. A vast majority of the seats are currently Labour safe seats, set to be made into marginal.
The prospect of a one-party state now looms for England, leaving the UK with a structure of one party for England and one for Scotland; and opponents are finding it hard to criticise the changes, because the government insists the commissions are independent of their control.
The most significant change to constituency voting is the change away from Household Registration to Individual Electoral Registration. Put in place for the 2015 General Election, it is designed to encourage the individual to take charge of their voting ability, and make the registration process easier and quicker. However the result is that millions of people once registered on the old system are registered no longer, whilst obviously still being eligible. This is more of a problem for left and centre left parties, whose voters are typically younger and poorer, and chief among those are us – students. We are the least likely to be registered to vote, and the least likely to actually vote, so we are, in a perverse way, contributing to the creation of a one-party state under a party virtually none of us voted for. The changes in registration don’t just diminish some people’s ability to vote, it changes the shape of many constituencies, moving some from Labour safe seats or marginals to Conservative seats. You can sign up here if you haven’t already done so.
Gerrymandering – the changing of boundaries to benefit one party over another, was limited to the US in the past, a country notorious for altering elections in every way possible, but now it seems to have crossed the Atlantic in a fashion not seen for over a century. For years Democrats and Republicans have altered district boundaries in their favour, in an endless cycle of change. You would think that this would be wholly unattractive to the party that seeks to make itself appealing to thoroughly middle-England voters, people who would detest the practice if it was spelled out in black and white, but that isn’t what’s happening. Under the guise of independent commissions, the government is dismantling its long-standing respect for the rules in favour of winning at all costs.
David Cameron is an extremely capable, ruthless competitor that seems able to remove every opponent he faces; he disposed of front runners David Davis and Liam Fox during his leadership campaign in 2005, he was the only Conservative leader to face Blair and come out on top, he ravaged Brown, made Ed Miliband look like the remains of a bacon sandwich, he’s, so far, made Corbyn look as irrelevant as his fixation on Trident and a fate of clear defeat looks set to befall Boris too. This ability to dominate rivals contributes to the impending realisation of a one party state – the cult of Cameron has never been stronger than it is today.
Riding on the back of a surprise election victory, as well as the delivery of his demands from the EU and with the referendum campaign now in full flow, it looks like Mr Cameron is going to be the face of the Remain campaign, despite the reliance that the side is going to have on Labour voters. The apparent absence of the Labour leadership on this issue has left a vacuum, which the PM is only too happy to step into. The painting of Cameron as the only viable voice on this issue is a problem for the future of our democracy; has it got to the point where one person speaks for everybody? If so, we might as well admit we already live in a one party state.
If you can’t directly stop your opponent from competing against you, what do you do? You starve them out and wait for them to collapse on their own. The proposed changes to the ways that trade unions traditionally fund the Labour party undermines a point of consensus that has always stayed untouchable by both parties. Where, currently, union members must opt out of directly donating to the political party of their union’s choice (almost always Labour), the government has proposed that members should instead have to opt in to the donations. This may seem fair, and I’m no fan of the Labour Party and how its funded, but this is a significant blow to their finances. This coupled with the poor regulation of large individual donations means the scales will be severely tipped in the favour of the Tories.
After the demolition of the other opposition party, the Lib Dems (remember them?), who went from 57 to 8 MPs, the PM has set his sights on HM Opposition. Now, you could argue, and many Conservative voters have, that it’s a case of competency and ability, not rule-changing and dirty tactics. However, the blatant changes to the rules already mentioned make that seem like a grasp at straws. The Labour leadership is struggling to combat the power emanating from No. 10, be that because they don’t have the power base to do so (232 seats) or because they are unable to ‘get their shit together’ and do their jobs as the Opposition. Now, whilst I will leave it up to you which one of those is the right answer, the effects are the same; Cameron and his cronies can do whatever they want without a word from the Shadow Cabinet.
It’s not often that people thank their lucky stars that we have an unelected House of Lords, but last year the privileged stood up for the not-so-privileged and defeated the government’s Tax Credit Cuts, despite a majority vote from the Commons. This significant break on Commons’ superiority did raise constitutional issues (issues that remain unresolved) and George Osborne came out to say that the government would be “looking into” the decision, with a commission swiftly set up, headed by Lord Strathclyde. The fear was, and still is, that the Conservative Party will ‘flood’ the Lords with over 100 new peers, tipping the balance of power to the government’s side again. This contributes to the air of the one-party state that seems to be emerging from the establishment.
With Labour polling at some of its lowest levels since the second world war, the Lib Dems paling into obscurity and Scotland off and doing its own thing, it seems we are going to have to accept that our multi-party system is on life support, and Mr Cameron is primed and ready to pull the plug.