Back to openDemocracy Email us Powered by TypePad  
political magazine Help bring democracy to the US
political magazine The New oD Today
political magazine China's modernisation and its discontents
political magazine openDemocracy widget
political magazine Goodbye Habeas Corpus
political magazine Dance the guns to silence?
political magazine Don't be a lawyer in China
political magazine Have we hit the ground yet?
political magazine The strange ways of Falungong
political magazine 2000 dead
political magazine April 2006
political magazine December 2005
political magazine November 2005
political magazine October 2005
political magazine September 2005
political magazine August 2005
political magazine July 2005
political magazine June 2005
political magazine May 2005
political magazine April 2005
My Photo oD Today
A weblog from the editors, staff and friends of

« oD HQ | Main | Storm for Reform »

A Historic Meeting

A Historic Meeting

I’ve just come from a historic meeting in the Houses of Parliament. No, not in the Commons, the so-called legislature of the United Kingdom, but a public meeting held in the Gladstone Committee room called at short notice by Make Votes Count and the Electoral Reform Society. It was packed. I sat on the floor with many others as over 300 of us listened to calls to bring the rotten voting system to an end.

There were five good brief statements then plenty of points from the audience. Early on Peter Tatchell spoke up. He is a veteran campaigner for gay rights who once, wonderfully, tried to arrest President Mugabe when he visited Brussels. His website announces itself as ‘Gay and Human Rights Campaigns’. He told us that our leaders “will not listen to reasoned arguments”. Only popular pressure would do the job. The applause, I thought, was muted, respectful rather than enthusiastic. Most of those present were party members, mainly Lib-Dems, Labour or Greens.

Then, towards the end of the meeting, two Tories were identified and given a special welcome. One of them, John Strafford from Buckinghamshire, Chairman of the somewhat loopy Campaign for Conservative Democracy said that he was astonished to find himself in agreement with Peter Tatchell and that he would take to the streets with him! This was cheered to the roof.

Neither Strafford nor Tatchell represent ‘grass roots opinion’ whatever that is. But their combination suddenly made the meeting feel that they could move out of the committee room. And so we will. On the 17th, to coincide with the opening of parliament, there will be a mass vigil outside Downing Street. I’m not sure that the plan is to sit down and close the road, as I suggested in my blog two days ago. But having asked them, "Where are you now your country needs you?" I am very happy to report that Make Votes Count is on the ball and also that Charter 88 will be calling on its supporters to join them.

Who else spoke? It was Chaired by David Lipsey, who I’ve had little time for, but who now seems to have risen to the occasion. Polly Toynbee from the Guardian led off. Billy Bragg argued we needed a proportional House of Lords as well as fair voting for MPs. Martin Linton, the only MP, was eloquent and factual in his denunciation of “the worst electoral system in the world” which is “poisoning the whole of our political system”. Chris Rennard, a leading Lib-Dem peer noted the anger and in his summing up cautioned us against any reliance on “noisy protests”.

There was a palpable sense of injustice. The Labour government has been voted in by just over 20 per cent, a mere fifth of the electorate. Yet only hours before, I think in the same room, Labour MPs had given Blair a standing ovation in a closed meeting of the parliamentary Labour party. According to the Daily Mail, supporters of the Prime Minister said he had made short shrift of any doubters about his leadership. One minister emerged to say: "Whingers routed!" And Defence Secretary John Reid said: "It was a great meeting. The silent majority are silent no longer." It seems that “That loyalists had rallied round Mr Blair to drown out any protests… Everyone who appeared to say Tony Blair was less than perfect got shouted down."

So it seems that in the same room, on the same day, tectonic plates moved in opposite directions. For this kind of talk and intimidation shows Labour becoming the old regime, bullying, silencing and  toughing it out as opinion widens against it. The spirit of democracy, already coming to life in websites like and the sharpener to name just two, is now becoming tangible.

May 12, 2005 in Blair's Bust - UK election | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference A Historic Meeting:

» Yet more electoral reform stuff from Europhobia
I was at that meeting at the Commons last night run by the Electoral Reform Society, and in the pub afterwards for the freaky experience of meeting a few other Britbloggers in the flesh. [Read More]

Tracked on 12 May 2005 12:38:42

» Make votes count from Blog: The (e)State of Tim
[Read More]

Tracked on 12 May 2005 14:03:49

» Storm for Reform - the campaign for real democracy begins from
Yesterday, called with less than 48hrs notice, there was a public meeting of over 300 people in the house of commons to discuss electoral reform launch the campaign for real democracy. Anthony Barnett has written about the meeting, as has... [Read More]

Tracked on 12 May 2005 19:52:00


Sounds thrilling. How wonderful especially, that so many supporters of the "winning" party are actually the ones pushing for reform. Lends a credibility to the movement which always seems to hamper the election technology campaigns in the US from a public relations perspective. Too easy to shrug them off as sore losers. You'd think fair elections would be a cross-party political interest. Three cheers for the two Conservatives, and good luck on the 17th.

Posted by: Solana Larsen | 12 May 2005 05:14:51

Anthony - I'm sorry we didn't get a chance to meet. I was there too, along with a long list of other 'internet activists' (for want of a better description). Many good ideas were discussed and a lot of connections made in the pub afterwards that hopefully will bear fruit in the coming weeks...

Posted by: Robin Grant | 12 May 2005 10:08:53

"A historic meeting" seems numerically challenged. It says "the Labour government has been voted in by just over 20 percent". Following the link provided one finds that over 35% of voters voted Labour. Oh! I get it, you are using all voters as the denominator (even after admitting that Labour voters in safe seats did not turn out)..... Oh well, it's Open this Democracy is...


Posted by: Robert J.S Ross | 13 May 2005 01:16:16

In my opinion the "first past the post" system is the best among available democratic sytems. When a person votes he/she votes for people who have to govern us, not simply represent us. Italy, for example, is in the hands of parties who are not as directly responsible before the citizens as in the UK. In Italy, clashes between ethnic, financial, working groups etc. are transferred into the Parliment. As a result, the governing procedures become slow, unclear and further from the people. It is a sheer business between parties and parties' interests. The absence of control exerted by common people would lack and that would create the kind of environment where people like Mr. Berlusconi can grow.

Posted by: Matteo Angioli | 13 May 2005 08:47:43

What an excellent meeting that sounds - I was at the last one and had to miss this one being in the US at the moment. Let's have more!

In answer to the last comment, I see nothing in the Jenkins report which would make the British political system more like Italy's. Bettering our democracy will not lead to more Berlusconi's. It will unlock talent and legitimacy in Britain and help restore the kind of vibrancy there was in Victorian politics.

Perhaps in the European Constitution campaign we can set a standard for politics with less faction.

Posted by: Hugh Roberts | 15 May 2005 02:33:47

Bettering UK democracy is not a goal that you can achieve with the adoption of any one PR system. The SMPS is far too clear and straightforward, especially before the UK citizens. I believe that it is important to bear in mind that the purpose of casting one's vote is to choose who should govern us, not represent us. Certainly, more political parties, party lists alongside with their public financing won't unlock talent and legitimacy. On the contrary, they are likely to bring about a quagmire made up of party interests.
By the way, it looks like a nice debate. Hope we deepen it a little bit more :-)

Posted by: Matteo Angioli | 15 May 2005 19:14:04

The comments to this entry are closed.

Back to openDemocracy Email us Powered by TypePad