Tory Glyn Davies, a fully paid-up member of the land-owning classes – he owns a stretch of Montgomeryshire – spoke of the “tide of history” which is forcing electoral reform to the forefront of the electoral agenda in Wales.
The former AM for Mid and West was one of the party speakers at the official launch of the Wales office of the Electoral Reform Society in Cardiff – although he admitted he wasn’t sure how many of his party colleagues were line up behind him. Apart perhaps from those with knives in their hands.
With none of the new democracies in eastern Europe having signed up to first-past-the-post, Helen Mary Jones, Plaid’s Llanelli AM reminded the launch how out-of-date is FPTP – “It was radical in 1870,” she said.
The ERS is very much a fan of Single Transferable Vote –where almost every vote counts, allocating a ward’s or constituency’s five typical members accordingly. It has no time at all for Peter Hain’s favoured Alternative (sometimes called Supplementary) Vote system, which is NOT proportional; AV merely re-assigns the third candidate’s votes, which can give an overall result even less proportionate than FPTP.
Perhaps it is a sign of how Welsh politics is changing in that head of the society’s Wales office is Annabelle Harle – who has run First Minister Rhodri Morgan’s constituency office in the Assembly almost since the beginning. Rhodri wasn’t present, but his wife Julie, Cardiff North’s MP until the next election, was. Mrs Morgan was coy about which version of PR she favoured – although several years ago her husband seemed quite in favour of STV, arguing that the main reason against it was that constituents “might not understand it”. STV has of course been Ireland’s system since the Government of Ireland Act passed by Westminster in 1914.
Formal speaker for Labour at the launch was party radical and deputy minister John Griffiths (AM for Newport East). Perhaps out of misplaced loyalty to the party’s London centre, John was also coy about naming the version of PR that he favoured. Hovering on the margin was an assistant who may (or may not) have been sent along by another radical, minister Edwina Hart.
The society is launching a three-plus person office for Wales in view of the radically changing political situation here. Firstly, there is the Commission (the second, after the very similar Richard Commission of 2004) looking into how the Assembly can be turned into a properly-functioning body. The likelihood is that extra members will be elected. Then, there is the possibility (temporarily passed ?) of a non-Labour governing coalition which will push through councils PR. And then the increasing chance that Welsh local government will follow Scotland, where STV elections last time have radically repainted the landscape.
Gradually the unthinking and unmoving FPTP troglodytes of Westminster are being surrounded by democrats. All four Assemblies use a version, plus the councils in both Ulster and Scotland. My own ward has four seats – all will almost certainly go Plaid. Does that mean NO-ONE on the large council estates of Penyrheol or Trecenydd votes Labour ?
As Jennie Randerson (Cardiff North Lib Dem AM) said, “All of the 22 councillors in my constituency are LD; I still support STV, even though my party will lose out badly, because we believe in the principle of the issue.”