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In The Independent today there’s an article by Steve Richards on electoral reform in the UK. He argues Gordon Brown should put electoral reform at the top of the agenda for two reasons. Firstly, Labour will benefit from it as things stand today and secondly, it will widen the array of views that will be important for electoral victory away from media moguls (read Rupert Murdoch) and targeted marginals.

I think Richards is right, but I would add something else. I believe it’s time to get some real dialogue going within Westminster. Electoral reform will move the control of the political debate away from spinners and the media and into the hands of the elected representatives. Because of the current FPTP voting system, British governments tend to have outright majorities that allow them to pass legislation as they please (with backbenchers’ permission of course). The golden rule of Commons’ debates is to get your soundbite across, to humiliate your opponent and to get yourself on the news. The UK is a rare case where the PM and the Leader of the opposition don’t meet to negotiate and set policy priorities. Yes, there’s PMQs but it’s not enough. Outright majorities aren’t always good, if a party can’t affect a policy then all its got to win power is to trash that policy on the media. Politics becomes a zero-sum game. Hence why in Britain today the public is so displeased with politics, there’s no negotiation between parties on policy, just spinners fighting over on the media to get their party’s line across. Inter-party dialogue and shared legislative projects will help promote a constructive debate that can only help rebuild Westminster’s prestige with the public.

Some commentators are already talking about Brown’s legacy, this could be it (even if he wins reelection). Electoral reform isn’t just political advantageous to Labour, it’s the right thing to do to get British politics moving again away from the sleaze-debate that has dominated the field for the past eleven years and into the statesmen debate it should be all about.

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