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Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Rewriting History

Retelling historical events can be a tricky thing: any attempt at bias or selective memory is easily exposed when that history is recent. But the further back you go, the less widely the history is known. And once you go back before, say, the days of photography, then selection becomes easier.

This may or may not have been in the mind of Corporal Clegg today when he signalled the supposedly biggest shake up of our democracy since the Great Reform Act of 1832. Because that act, although it extended voting rights, still meant that only one in seven adult males were able to vote. Even after subsequent legislation in 1867 and 1884, only 60% of males had the vote, and there was still a property qualification. Universal – and unconditional - suffrage for all over 21 did not come until 1929.

And, although some of the suggested repeals are ones I agree with – ID cards go in the WOTAM category (Waste Of Time And Money), and the over-zealous use of DNA and other databases is in my book A Bad Thing – he may come unstuck on the attempt to stop the move to biometric passports, at least for those travelling to the USA. Moreover, the idea of asking the public which laws they would like to have repealed smacks of cheap populism. Leaders are there to lead (there’s a hint in the name).

But it is in the area of voting reform that Clegg must know there will be problems. The Tories don’t want what he wants, so the donkey’s two heads will campaign against one another on the issue. Even if there is a referendum on a new voting system, the chances are that any proposal for change will be defeated when it comes to the vote that matters – that in the House of Commons. Such a defeat would not even need Labour MPs to get involved: they can sit on their hands while the Lib Dems’ paltry 57 votes get trampled under more than 300 Tory ones.

Thus the inevitable outcome when idealism is subject to the cold wind of reality.

1 comment:

John B said...

I agree in principle with all but the second-last paragraph: the Tories have pledged to support (ie 3-line whip among Tory MPs) a referendum on a new voting system, and to abide by the result. They're relying on winning the referendum campaign instead, which they probably will with most of the press on their side.