Assessing how far Charter 88 and the constitutional reform coalition influenced voting system reform in Britain.
Parliamentary Affairs, 62
Lead in large part by Charter 88 and the Scottish Constitutional Convention, the activities of the constitutional reform movement since the early 1990s have clearly helped to introduce new proportional voting systems into UK politics. Yet, at the same time, the Labour governments after 1997decisively rejected voting reform for the House of Commons and dragged out Lords reform to prevent any direct election of a second chamber. To explore how Charter 88 and other groups influenced this process I first examine and critique the conventional wisdom that the reform movement’s influence had minimal influence, as expressed by Anthony King’s 2007 book, The British Constitution. Second, to illuminate the processes that King leaves so obscure, I chart three critical games played largely inside the Labour party from 1994 to 2003: – the pre-election game that lead to Blair’s initial pledge of a referendum on voting reform; – the ‘new institutions’ game that produced a welter of new proportional voting systems everywhere else but Westminster; and – the post-landslide game that lead to Labour reneging on the voting system referendum pledge, plus taking no action on Commons or Lords electoral reform. Despite these latter setbacks a large-scale transition of UK voting systems has already taken place. British voters are increasingly used to proportional representation and the defence of plurality rule is intellectually dead (as the weaknesses of King’s analysis inadvertently demonstrate). So the overall story is one of unprecedented success for electoral reformers, of a piece with the ineluctable transition to complex multi-party systems across all the nations and regions of the UK.
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