It has indeed been a lively debate today. Charles Walker’s courageous and eloquent speech at about 8 pm this evening was particularly memorable – I will link to it when it is available on Hansard (update: available here).
There is much to say, and no doubt it will be said in the committee stage, but I will make these observations for the moment:
- A referendum on AV was not a manifesto promise: it was the price demanded by the Liberal Democrats for coalition partnership. It epitomises the problem of unclear overall results.
- Electoral reform has been described today as “Nero fiddling while Rome burns.” We will now spend a great deal of time on AV and the country may well ask why, particularly when so many are wondering how to pay their mortgages. Forcing this issue on the country may well come back to haunt our coalition partners.
- The timing and threshold of the referendum will be controversial. Using AV would be a significant constitutional change, albeit one whose nuances are likely to appeal only to political anoraks. It will be a sad day indeed if AV is endorsed by a minority of the public, bearing in mind one of its key purposes is to manufacture majority support for MPs in their constituencies.
- We’re told by Labour that equalising the value of every vote would be unfair; so much for their concept of political equality.
As my predecessor, Paul Goodman, reported at ConservativeHome, I have suggested in the chamber an end to the system of whipping. This was at once somewhat tongue-in-cheek and deadly serious. It goes to the question, “What is the purpose of democracy?” That is a question prior to how representatives are selected, but it seems to be one we scarcely discuss. I began setting out my view here.
In the meantime, I have voted to put the Bill into a committee of the whole House. Let us see what comes of it.