Kevin Barron on Electoral Reform

The turnout in the Rother Valley constituency was the highest of all the Rotherham seats (over 64%). Although I received just over 40% of the votes cast, I only received 2,700 less votes than in the previous general election. I am in favour of the alternative vote system, in which voters rank their candidates in order of preference, ensuring that a winning candidate has to get more than 50% of the votes cast in a single constituency

As I said in my victory speech at last week’s count, a measure of any government is how that government affects the lives of people in constituencies such as ours. The new coalition government should and will be judged on that basis. From Kevin Barron’s website.

In a move that is to be applauded, Kevin Barron has begun to use his website to express his views on political issues. This is excellent news – we now know that he supports some level of voting reform, although sadly the referendum bit of this bit of the 1997 Labour Party manifesto was never delivered:

We are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. An independent commission on voting systems will be appointed early to recommend a proportional alternative to the first-past-the-post system.

The report was completed though (The Jenkins Report) and can be downloaded here. The report has this to say about the alternative vote system:

“it is also the only option the Commons would probably back, since MPs are hardly likely to vote themselves out of their own seats, …

However AV does little to counteract geographical distribution of electoral support and will not assist parties such as the Liberal Democrats whose support is not concentrated in particular locations”

Which is not the most ringing endorsement. To me this reads: ‘it won’t really change the outcome of any seats, and it won’t address the major problem with the current system which is that parties with an even spread of votes geographically are under-represented nationally.’

Latest news from Kevin Barron

I looked at Kevin Barron’s website today. I thought there might be some update from him, what with it being a potentially epoch defining moment in the political life of the UK.

As of May 14th 2009, his homepage mentions the election on May 6th as being in the future, and his latest news is to wish us a happy Easter (Easter 2010 was on April 4th).

Kevin's up-to-date homepage

Why I’m happy with a coalition government

I’m actually pretty pleased with the government we have – I wanted to vote for a Liberal Democrat party that wasn’t so keen on the Euro, so I guess this is as close as we’re going to get to what I wanted. For me it’s a great result.

As I’ve said before, the economy is the most important thing a government has to look after; it is upon it that everything else depends. With a strong economy the government has money to spend. What it chooses to spend on is a matter of political debate, but it’s a debate not worth having if there is no money. As has been shown, even the strongest of economies can only borrow so much for so long.

With this new coalition we appear to have a meeting of minds economically. Nick Clegg would appear to be a classical liberal economically, which makes his general view of the way the economy should be run not much different in thrust to the Tories. Of course there may be detail disagreements, and most of them will stem from thoughts on how the government should spend it’s money, rather than the way it should run the economy.

Being in coalition is a great check on the extremes of any party. Can you imagine the poll tax legislation getting passed if Thatcher had to get it past not only her own party, but a coalition partner too? And can you imagine the ludicrous ID card scheme being passed by a Labour government in coalition? Or the decision to invade Iraq being made?

Hopefully what we have is a coalition of parties who are like-minded realistic about the economy, and who will temper each others wilder flights of fancy. Already we’ve seen the Lib Dems give up on their immigrant amnesty plan, and the Conservatives give up their inheritance tax plans.

It’s going to be an interesting 5 years, and hopefully the press will get bored of trying to find the cracks soon. Obviously there have been compromises; there had to be. It doesn’t matter if they were made in the national interest or for political expediency; they had to be made (I happen to think the former as it happens). I also hope the left wing will give up their moaning; it’s undignified. Their argument appears to be ‘a coalition is not what anyone wanted, and the Lib Dems should be in coalition with us’ which, I think, boils down to ‘waaaaah s’not fair.’

I think it will last five years for the reason Michael Heseltine gave on Question Time last night – the government is going to have to do some very unpopular things to get the deficit down as it has to, so there is no way it’s going to risk an election campaign until the economy is on a definite upswing – which will be a few years yet. That is reason enough to keep the Tories honest, and the Lib Dems too, although of course they have the added incentive of perhaps returning to third party status at the next election (because somehow some of their voters feel betrayed that that party that voted for has got itself into the only position of power available to it and now has influence over government policy) on top of the fact that the Lib Dems simply can’t afford another election campaign.

We have the government we have. Given the results it’s the only stable government we could have had. That’s democracy as delivered by our voting system. We now have to live with it, but I personally think it might just be quite succesful. It’ll be interesting to see how the coalition partners campaign in 2015 though.

UNITE on a Lab-Lib Coalition

On the 5th may 2008, Unite gave the largest single cash donation received by the Rother Valley Constituency Labour Party as recorded by the Electoral Commission.

Today the leaders of Unite releasd this statement – as reported by the Guardian:

As you know Labour are now in formal talks with the Liberal Democrats to see if we can agree a stable government to secure the economic recovery and change our politics. Together we can form a progressive coalition, a coalition that would reflect that over 60% of the population rejected the Tories last week.

The argument that ‘60% of people didn’t vote for the Conservatives and therefore a government made up of the second and third place parties who together received 52% of the vote is legitimate’ is an interesting one.

I guess it’s the same as saying ‘it doesn’t matter who won, a coalition of the losers is more legitimate as long as if together they got more than 50% of the vote’

I wonder if they’re hoping we don’t notice that over 70% of the electorate didn’t vote for the Labour party?

I wonder too if either Unite, or Kevin Barron would therefore recognise the legitimacy of a coalition of those candidates for the constituency who together received more than his 41%? After all, almost 60% of the population of the Rother Valley constituency rejected Kevin Barron last week.

I’m guessing not.

Does anyone know if Kevin Barron has ever made a public statement on his views on proportional representation, by the way?

Regular readers of the comments will know that Kevin Barron, the returning MP for the Rother Valley, took great exception to my post in which I explained why I would not be voting for a man who has often ignored my emails and letters to be my representative in parliament.

For those of you who missed Kevin Barron’s reply to my request to discuss the policies he believes in, here it is:

I have indeed had chance to read your earlier e-mails and have also recently seen what you have put about me on your blog. This is just a note to say in my 27 years of being an MP nobody has ever made personal remarks about me in the way that you have. You are wrong in most comments about my political career, have you ever considered that the reason I have not been a Minister is because I do have a mind of my own and do not always agree with my party. My stance on smoking in public places in 2006 made this clear.

Having reflected on the last two telephone conversations I have had with you I feel there is nothing to be gained by carrying on this dialogue. Of course if I am re-elected on Thursday feel free to contact me on any matters that you require personal assistance with.

Could I also say that the website that you say does not have many political comments on was originally funded through the Communications Allowance and therefore putting party political comments on would have been against the rules. I don’t know if you have noticed but a message went on the website earlier this year saying that I am personally funding it and therefore there will be no recall to public money. Consequently the content may possibly change in the coming weeks and months if I am re-elected.

I should also say to you that the content of blogs are not immune from the law. I would not hesitate to take appropriate action if the law is breached.

Regards

Kevin Barron

It’s a nice end to the letter, don’t you think – a veiled threat of legal action to one of your constituents for having the temerity to form their own opinion of the effectiveness of their MP based on his voting record, promotions and history of failing to reply to my emails asking questions about his views.

I was particularly interested in the line:

have you ever considered that the reason I have not been a Minister is because I do have a mind of my own and do not always agree with my party

I have to admit that the idea that Kevin Barron does not agree with his party almost all of the time, and on all major issues, had indeed never crossed my mind.

This is partly due to his voting record. In the last parliament (2005-2010) Kevin Barron rebelled against his party in 1.2% of votes in the Commons. I blogged about his voting obedience in March last year. His rate of rebellion makes him less rebellious than the likes of Stephen Byers, former Transport Minister (rebelled in 1.4% of votes), Derek Twigg (only elected in 1997, and has already been an Under Secretary of State, who rebelled in 1.7% of votes) Higher still up the list of Labour MPs who have voted against their party we get former Home Secretary, Health Secretary and Defence Secretary John Reid (2.2%) Former Health Secretary and Labour candidate for London Mayor Frank Dobson (4%) and a certain Tony Blair, who rebelled in 2.1% of votes. Kate Hoey (former Minister for Sport) rebelled in over 25% of votes.

The other reason – aside from lack of evidence from his voting record – that it had never occurred to me that Kevin Barron does not essentially agree with his party is that he has never said anything to us, his constituents about it. Kevin Barron stands as a Labour MP, and recently as a Labour candidate for the Rother Valley. I would have thought that if he did not fundamentally agree with the policies of the party he was representing, he ought at the very least to have made that clear to those whom he sought to represent.

But here we have a strong suggestion from Kevin Barron that he doesn’t always agree with his party. That he doesn’t always agree is not in question – he voted against his party 1.2% of the time, and it would be unrealistic to expect a member of an organisation to agree with everything that organisation did. Kevin though suggests or implies that he disagrees with his party to the extent that it has hindered his career. Given that some of those who rebelled have risen to much more senior positions in the party than Kevin Barron, I can see little evidence that him disagreeing with the party – if indeed he does – has held him back. In the 2001-2005 parliament, the leader of his party and Prime Minister, Tony Blair, rebelled more than Kevin Barron (Blair 2.1%, Barron 1.2%) and it didn’t seem to hold him back. Gordon Brown didn’t rebel at all in that parliament, by the way, and it didn’t seem to hold him back either.

Clearly though, there is must disagreement going on behind that scenes that is holding Kevin Barron back from a cabinet post, otherwise his statement is entirely misleading. It can’t be to do with policy, unless Kevin has been hypocritically voting for things he disagrees with. Perhaps then it is something to do with Labour party politics, rather then national politics? I can’t imagine what the disagreement would be there though – Kevin certainly hasn’t become an MP known to be critical of their party like, say, Claire Short, and as a leading figure in the campaign to rewrite Clause IV, he couldn’t wish for better ‘New Labour’ credentials.

So it’s a mystery. Kevin Barron suggests that he disagrees with his party significantly enough for it to hold back his career, but neither his voting record, nor his election literature suggest he is anything other than a loyal party member. I’m genuinely stumped by this.

Kevin Barron does provide one example of where he has been critical of the Labour party:

have you ever considered that the reason I have not been a Minister is because I do have a mind of my own and do not always agree with my party. My stance on smoking in public places in 2006 made this clear.

Which I assume refers to this article from the Guardian in December 2005 in which Kevin Barron was critical of the party for having a pledge in their May 2005 manifesto that wasn’t consistent with what had been agreed at conference. Whilst it is critical of party procedures, it isn’t the most incendiary piece I’ve ever read, and nor does it concern an issue over which I remember the government being particularly sensitive. Nor does it explain why someone with ‘Old Labour’ roots (former pit worker, NUM member etc) an, apparent new Labour mindset (involved in re-writing of Clause IV) and with plenty of parliamentary experience didn’t get a ministerial position in the eight years of Labour government prior to this article appearing. What is clear is that, if Kevin is correct that disagreement with his party is holding back his career, then it is a disagreement that is well hidden.

Jim Naughtie on a coalition

I only caught the end of this this morning, but it sounded superb. Will listen to the beginning when I finish work.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8669000/8669573.stm

Kevin Barron’s statement on winning the Rother Valley seat

“I am very pleased to have been in office for so long and for my votes to have just gone down by 2,000,”

“It was a good turnout which is great for democracy.”

“I need to see what the shape of Government is going to be tomorrow (Friday) before I can say anything about policies, but I want to look after my constituency and the people who live in it- and that’s what I will be doing whatever the result.”

Source: Dinnington Today