If there’s a mood that’s common to the UK and Australia at the moment, it’s one of political bad faith, the desperate scramble for evidence to back up a case one has already decided.
In the UK, the Bill to change the UK political system has recently passed its latest reading, 347 votes to 254, the Labor Party attempting to stymie the Bill by drawing on some right-wing Tory support.
Labour opposes a referendum to consider the introduction of AV (preferential voting), and more importantly, proposals to reduce the number of seats from 650 to 600, and to reduce the size difference between seats to +/-5%. The Tory right likes the seat reduction (it wants it down towards 500 seats), but hates AV, so it’s inclined to vote with Labour.
The whole Bill is a bad faith double-whammy. When Roy Jenkins was grudgingly charged with proposing options for electoral reform in the late ’90s, he explicitly remarked that AV would be the worst of these, lacking the clarity of first past the post, and the accuracy of proportional representation in reflecting the public’s wishes.
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Guess which option Gordon Brown proposed in 2009, when he became desperate for Lib-Dem support?
At that point, when the Lib-Dems were not yet an adjunct of the Tory Party, they maintained solid opposition to anything less than a referendum on proportion rep. Now they argue to their supporters that AV would be a step along the way to PR, which is sheer numpty. AV, once instituted, would most likely defer PR for ever, by establishing a system that never delivered the ridiculous results for which FPTP is capable, a party winning 20% of the vote, and 9% of the seats, for example.
Labour has been pretty dishonest on this, but simon-pure compared to its argument on changes to the electoral constituencies. At the moment, the manner by which seats are drawn up, with a strong emphasis on local boundaries and existing divisions, favours Labour substantially. Changing the way the boundaries are created, so that the place approaches one vote one value, would be a big gain for the Tories. Labour’s arguments don’t begin to stack up on this, and in fact it makes no clear argument, because it doesn’t have one, merely the desperate prospect of being permanently beholden to the Lib-Dems.
There’s a lot of this bad faith about. Though some have already written off Tony Abbott’s chances of forming government; witness Christopher Pearson’s obituary for a living friend in last weekend’s Oz.
The single most desperate example to date has been Kenneth Wiltshire’s piece also in the Oz. Wiltshire, who teaches public administration in Queensland, quotes Edmund Burke on the duty of MPs to their constituents:
“Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interests to his own.”
Very good, except for the fact that the speech from which it is taken, his 1774 address to his constituents in Bristol, is usually taken as arguin’ the opposite. Why? Well here’s the end of the paragraph:
“But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”
Got that? Burke’s whole argument is that an MP cannot use his constituents’ opinion as any sort of ultimate arbiter. They elect him for his judgement, not his polling skills.
Wiltshire’s asinine article raced around the right-wing twittersphere because … well because they are desperate for shoring up, and anything that might serve as a stick to beat the Indies with. The nightmare for the Coalition and the conservatoriat is that the long, drawn-out past fortnight may have ruined the brand, especially with his failed costings exercise and the Wilkie backflip. Had it been a straight loss, Abbott could have been that rare creature, an Opposition leader given a second go. Now all of a sudden he looks desperate.
Desperation and bad faith is the leitmotif of our final contestant, Tony Blair, who has just announced that he will be pulling out of his anticipated huge book signing at Waterstone’s on Piccadilly, after a Dublin signing was turned into chaos by protesters.
The Waterstone’s signing, with a page of security instructions, was to b a late fixture in the protest calendar; hundreds if not thousands would have turned up to bear witness against this delusional mass murderer one last time. By tonight, Blair must have realised that that was all it would be remembered for. There is already a proliferating campaign to reshelve his portentous work in the “crime” section. Blair’s response to the gathering storm: he was cancelling his signing because of the possible presence of British National Party protesters.
Yah, right. Faith gone bad is the word.