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The voting system is now going to be part of how people think about 'change'

Stephan Shakespeare The Shakespeare Report

Before the first leaders' debate, I wrote:

“I think it's unlikely the debates will have much effect on the Conservative-Labour swing, as I've argued here, but it might just help the Lib Dems a bit and who knows how that could tweak the calculations”.

I could claim to have been technically right. But of course what really matters is what I missed: the election stopped being about Cameron v Brown, and became all about Clegg. Even now, and probably till voting day itself, Clegg is at the centre of the stage. Clegg is what this election is all about.

That’s a huge shift. Who would have imagined that a single debate could make such a huge difference. How could it happen? Are we really so easily affected by a strong one-hour TV performance?

It makes more sense to me that it wasn’t the debate that shifted mountains, that it was simply the trigger which released an avalanche of pre-existing voter frustration. Had the audience not been already so sceptical of all politicians, it could not have turned so easily.

What happens if the structure of our voting system means we end up with the Lib Dems getting the second-largest pile of votes, but winning far fewer seats than third-placed Labour? If people vote for change, and get the same result as usual, the call for reform of the voting system will be hard to resist. What worries me most is not so much the prospect of reform, but the likelihood of a poorly considered compromise cobbled together in the confused grab for power.

I heard IDS on the Today Programme on Monday wanting to rule out any thought of PR, but I only half-agree with him: I'm sceptical too, but one way or another, the voting system is going to be part of how people think about 'change' from here on. There should be one or two people at CCHQ taking time off campaigning and thinking deeply about all this. 

Stephan Shakespeare


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