Great idea, Mr Clark. That’s why it won’t happen

PUBLISHED: 07:25 28 April 2017

A ballot box heads for the count: We need a better election system, says Aidan Semmens.

A ballot box heads for the count: We need a better election system, says Aidan Semmens.

� Archant Norfolk 2015

Opinion: Our election system is broken. It’s time to fix it, says Aidan Semmens.

In less than a week we will go to the polls. Not for the General Election Theresa May promised wouldn’t happen until 2020 – the snap election’s not quite as snappy as that.

The June 8 showdown has rather stolen the limelight, but next Thursday’s long-planned county council contest is still a significant date on Britain’s political calendar.

It will be seen, inevitably, as a guide to the mood of the nation in the run-up to the main event. But it’s not really about national issues – or shouldn’t be. It’s about who runs a tier of government that can impinge on our daily lives as much as what happens in Westminster, and arguably ought to matter more.

I’ve said for years that if there are too many layers of government ruling over us, the one to scrap should be Westminster. We weren’t offered that option in last year’s referendum, were we?

Lucky voters in one East Anglian town will get the chance next week to put their cross next to my name. I’m standing for the Green Party, because that’s the party whose principles come closest to matching my own deep convictions. I shall vote that way in June, too.

But I’ll do both with a horrible awareness that it’s the opposite of tactical voting. That in our insane, antiquated, first-past-the-post system the effect of voting for your principles can be to let the least principled contender take the prize.

The system is in desperate, urgent need of reform. Trouble is, the people in power – whoever they are at any given time – are always the people least likely to want to fix the broken system that put them there.

Barely more than a quarter of the possible electorate actually voted in 2015 for a Tory government. Yet that’s what we got. Between them, the LibDems, Greens and UKIP won almost 25 per cent of the vote but now have just 10 MPs out of 650. Talk about “taking back control”.

The always interesting blogger Thomas G Clark (“Another Angry Voice”) has put forward what he calls “an idea to give the complacent Tories a shock they’d never forget”.

In a nutshell, he suggests that all those parties – and there are plenty of them – who want June to bring the end of May should get their acts together and agree to field what he calls Unity candidates.

Not in every constituency. Just in all those marginal seats where the Electoral Commission is now investigating claims of electoral fraud. (Was this investigation the real reason May suddenly changed her mind over holding an early election?)

And – this is the point I really like – choosing a genuine expert to go up against each unqualified member of May’s Cabinet.

So, an NHS doctor to challenge Jeremy Hunt; someone with actual legal qualifications to take on Liz Truss; an economist against Philip Hammond; someone who knows something about the environment to face Andrea Leadsom; a teacher to tackle Justine Greening, and so on.

It’s a great idea with only one downside. It’ll never happen.

And that’s not just because May deliberately gave the opposition too little time to get itself organised. It’s because neither Labour nor the LibDems has the grace or vision of a Caroline Lucas or Nicola Sturgeon.

Because Jeremy Corbyn – a nice man whose policies are nearly all excellent – is too stuck in the tribal past to give those policies a fighting chance.

Because – to paraphrase Monty Python – the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea are too busy squaring up against each other to collaborate in getting rid of the Romans.

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