Today I have been deciding who to vote for in the Electoral Reform Society’s ballot for it’s governing council.
I’ve been a member of the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) for several years now, but a very inactive one. My main involvement has been to pay my subs each year and vote in the council elections.
It was actually that ability to vote in those elections that was one of the main motivations behind why I joined. At the time ERS was going through a bit of a crisis. To put it crudely the Society had become factionalised between a group of STV die hards and a group of modernisers who wanted to give the organisation a more outward looking and campaigning focus. To my outsiders view the rows that were resulting from this factionalism had become silly, petty and destructive and were damaging an organisation the aims of which I very much supported.
So I decided to join the Society so that I could give my vote to those I regarded as the sensible people within it’s leadership. Each year I would dutifully fill in my ballot voting for those candidates that I thought appeared most in touch with the real world. I would also fill in the form that gave my proxy vote for the resolutions at the organisation’s AGM to be used at the discretion of my nominee. In this way I hoped I was doing a little bit to support those who were working to secure the growth and development of a valuable organisation.
In time it seemed, again to my outsiders view, that the sensible people had gained the upper hand and that a leadership team had developed that was giving a clear and positive direction to the Society. So for the last few years my participation in the elections has seemed less important. In fact I think I may even have forgotten to complete and send in the paperwork one year.
But then the AV referendum happened.
The pro reform campaign in that referendum has been widely seen as an embarrassing failure. The reasons for that failure have been gone over and written about elsewhere, but what seems obvious is that the campaign and its result has been a source of great frustration to a group of new, and often younger people, who were involved in the campaign or have become interested in issues of political reform as a result of it. To their credit, rather than getting disillusioned, they have chosen to take action to sort out what they see as the failings within the wider political reform movement.
It seems that this group want ERS to shoulder it’s part of the blame and reform itself. So in this round of ERS council elections a slate of candidates, and some others who are not part of the slate but are making roughly the same points, are running on a ticket of change and reform. I imagine that this has made the current members of the ERS council a little nervous, particularly given the votes of the new members who have joined following the Society’s free membership offer are up for grabs. While I expect that they would be happy to admit mistakes, I doubt that they would accept that they have done such a bad job that they should be chucked out and replaced.
In the past few days I have received two emails, both circulated by one of the organisers of the referendum campaign in my area, which neatly sum up two contrasting views. The first asks for me to vote for the new people who will make the ERS much more of a campaigning organisation. The second asks me to vote to keep in office the current team given their successful record in making the ERS much more of a campaigning organisation.
At first glance these views look deeply contradictory, but I am not sure that this is necessarily the case. It can both be true that the organisation has improved significantly from what it was and that it is also currently not fit for purpose. You can answer those with frustrations about the current state of the ERS by saying; “well you should have seen it ten years ago”. But that doesn’t mean that those frustrations do not have some merit. I’d be surprised if some aspects of the ERS didn’t need some reform. It certainly has a huge amount of untapped potential it has yet to realise. So it is good that there are those who want to bring fresh impetus to an organisation the cause of which is very important to me. Although, it does seem a little ironic that several of those that I saw as being the sensible campaigners opposing the die hards ten or so years ago are now themselves being painted as the conservative forces getting in the way of today’s modernisers and campaigners.
However, I am concerned whether people’s energies are being used in the best place. After looking through the literature and the various websites that have appeared related to this years elections, and the various motions going to the AGM it seems and element of that factionalism and silliness has returned. Motions on direct democracy via the internet, annual marches, or calls to edit the wording on the Society’s website are not particularly helpful.
I wasn’t involved in the referendum campaign, local elections being my priority at the time, so I have no way of knowing whether the criticisms of the role of ERS in that campaign are justified. But looking from the outside I think that some of those criticisms may be caused by some misunderstandings here. The core purpose of the ERS is to work for the promotion of the Single Transferable Vote system of election. A core purpose it should retain. So it was inevitable that it would have some degree of uncomfortableness in campaigning for a different type of system, the Alternative Vote, and it is not the job of the ERS to be a wider platform for political reform. Certainly it should be part of one and realistic about how to achieve its aims, but I think that some people are asking the ERS to be different beast to that which it was designed to be.
The ERS and the other political reform groups may have been ill prepared and badly organised, the campaign may have been badly led, but it strikes me that the real blame for the failure of the AV referendum should lie with the politicians. In particular the important strategic mistakes made by the Liberal Democrat leadership, the key promoters of the referendum, and the failure of the Labour party to get behind the campaign. I’d suggest that if there are any organisations that need sorting out as a result of the referendum failure it is those two political parties.
So who to vote for? In line with my thoughts above I have chosen to take a balance approach and vote for a range of candidates that I hope represents a mix of the best of the ‘establishment’ and the best of the ‘new blood’. For the record my top five preference were:
- Keith Sharp
- John Ault
- Jessica Asato
- Jonathan Bartley
- Michael Meadowcoft
This content was originally posted on my old Strange Thoughts blog.