Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Practical politics and by-elections 

Way back in March 1977 there was a by-election in progress in Birmingham Stetchford, the (then Labour) MP Roy Jenkins having resigned his seat to go to the European Commission.
Our predecessor Liberal Party was of course hammering the Labour government in its leaflets.

A week before polling day the minority Labour government did a support deal with the Liberal Party in Parliament that started the Lib-Lab pact and restored its working majority.. .

At a by-election press conference next day the Liberal candidate was asked if he was pleased with the deal.

“I have to be pleased don’t I” was his poker-faced response.

Which comment the local press interpreted as wry humour and found refreshingly honest.

I will reserve final judgement on yesterdays extraordinary events until I see the full report. However it is not too early to start thinking about how we are going to manage some practical politics over the next five years. Such as how do we fight by-elections?

It would have been helpful if there was an interim measure on the books saying at all Parliamentary by-elections in this fixed-term period should be conducted under the Alternative Vote, In short an arrangement for this Parliament only. The next General Election to be fought on a system to be separately decided during this Parliament (that is the interim AV arrangements would NOT apply to the next General Election).

Given the electoral system status quo, by-elections are going to be a horrible mess and gifts to the opposition campaigns.

We will start to see the difficulties in the upcoming special election in Yorkshire, delayed from the General Election because the UKIP candidate died.

Our Lib Dem candidate and team there need huge national attention and support immediately, not least to formulate a credible campaigning approach in these very nearly unprecedented circumstances. ‘I have to be pleased don’t I’ would not be a good enough response now.

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