Cartoon: By Bill Leak
During the European elections, the Conservative Party was beaten into third place behind UKIP and Labour. They have taken this very badly as can be expected, although their response is not the logical one of assessing where things went wrong for them and taking corrective action.
Instead, they have opted for the same as Australians have come to expect of the major party cartel here, with a sleazy, self-serving attack on the democratic process. In an attempt to manipulate the system, Cameron is inviting European parties that were previously unacceptable to join the Conservative grouping to deny UKIP party status:
… While Cameron’s move might enrage the so-called Tory moderates, Nigel Farage will be enraged, too. He already faces the prospect of another member of his group, the Italian anti-EU Lega Nord, leaving UKIP’s group to join the Front National of Marine Le Pen and the Dutch People’s Party of Geert Wilders, two right-wing, anti-EU parties with whom Farage has said UKIP will not sit.
Despite UKIP now being the biggest British party at the parliament, unless it can form a political group with members from at least six other EU member states, it will be denied seats on the parliamentary committees that control amendments, scrutinise legislation and question officials from other EU institutions such as the European Commission and European Central Bank.
Moreover, UKIP will be denied the millions of euros in funding which the parliament hands over to groups to allow them to hire staff, establish a secretariat, carry out research and even set up think tanks.
For example, in the 2012 budget, UKIP and the MEPs from ten other countries in the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group, had an allocation of more than €2.5m, with €881,000 still in the bank carried over from the previous year’s grant. This was on top of all the expenses individual MEPs were given to run their offices, research and travel.
By contrast, the giant pro-EU powers European People’s Party (EPP), from which Cameron removed the Conservative MEPs in 2009 as a sop to his party’s eurosceptic wing, was allocated €21m.
If Cameron manages to strip away UKIP’s allies and leave Farage and his MEPs without a group, then Britain’s biggest party and Britain’s only eurosceptic voice in the parliament will be facing the power of the vastly rich EPP, and the almost-as-rich centre-left socialists (€14m), with no cash at all – and no committee seats from which to make political impact as these two mega-groups drive their permanent pro-EU majority through the parliament.
This action is similar to the actions of the Liberal party here, which on noticing the rise in the vote for minor parties has responded by forming a committee of the major party cartel and making recommendations which will prevent voters from electing anyone outside the ‘born to rule’ elite. Despite around a quarter of voters preferring someone else, these dropkicks comfortably have come up with the conclusion that actually getting someone else is unrepresentative and has to be stopped.
Malcolm Mackerras reports on it here:
It is not hard to find. Just go to the federal parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and its Interim Report on the Inquiry into the Conduct of the 2013 Federal Election: Senate Voting Practices, which was delivered on the morning of Friday, May 9.
The opening sentence of the foreword reads thus: “The 2013 federal election will long be remembered as a time when our system of Senate voting let voters down.”
I dissent. I think what will long be remembered are the facts that I outlined a few paragraphs ago. However, there will be some in the political class who remember that election for the official reason. A bit below the above quote from the foreword we have the view that the system of voting “delivered, in some cases, outcomes that distorted the will of the voter”.
My reaction to that is to ask for names. So I continue to read. Then on page 19 there is this: “Despite this very small percentage of first-preference votes, Senator-elect Muir was elected to the Senate for Victoria in the final vacancy.”
In fact, there were a dozen senators elected with a smaller percentage of first-preference votes than Ricky Muir of the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party. However, their preference harvesting was within party groups (very normal and thought to be ethical) whereas Muir was harvesting the votes of other parties. So I can now give a precis of the report. It takes the form of an address to Muir from the rest of the parliament: “You should not be here. To make that quite clear we intend to enact a radical reform of the system. Your type will never again be allowed to enter the Senate.”
On page 2 of the report we have this: “The final composition of the Senate should reflect the informed decisions of the electorate and it is clear that the Senate from 1 July 2014 will not do that, it will reflect deal-making and preference-swapping.”
My take is to assert that 36 senators will be sworn in next month, of whom 35 clearly reflect the informed decisions of the electorate. We can agree to disagree about Muir.
This report is a scholarly work and I encourage people to read it. However, do not be misled by its unanimity. First, three parties only were represented, Labor, Liberal and Greens. Had there been a Nationals member or had John Madigan or Clive Palmer been a member there would have been a dissenting report.
Second, the three parties represent declining voter support. I have already given the Labor and Liberal figures, so let me give the Greens. They received 13.1 per cent in 2010 and had six senators elected. Then they received 8.6 per cent in 2013 and had four senators elected.
Since there is now a unity ticket of three big parties to implement reform, we can safely say there will be changes along the lines unanimously recommended. So let me say something about the present system and the next one.
I call the present system “the fifth Senate electoral system and the second Single Transferable Vote system”. I call the next system “the sixth Senate electoral system and the third STV system”.
History will record that the present system operated for 30 years, from 1984 to 2014 inclusive, over 12 elections. It was a remarkably successful system, not only being popular but also being noted for the consistent fairness of the results it produced. ....
It is odd to hear the Australian government criticizing the coup in Thailand as undemocratic, while at the same time is manipulating the democratic process in order to exclude anyone outside the major party triumvirate that currently rules.