Elections Bill (Instruction)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:26 pm on 20th September 2021.

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Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 8:26 pm, 20th September 2021

I share the confusion of the 5%, because I have absolutely no idea what the hon. Gentleman is talking about. Confused on what point—that they could not understand how to use proportional representation? Just because people cannot get it right the first time round does not mean that we should bin an entire system. Elections have to be fair and people have to trust the election system in place. This instruction is a retrograde step. It is about turning the clock back to an outdated, past-its-sell-by-date voting system.

As Cat Smith asked, where was this proposal when all the experts spoke to the Bill Committee? For four sessions over two days, countless experts came and talked to us about the Bill. The Government must have known that, like the dodgy croupier, they had this idea up their sleeve, waiting to come out; where was it? Why was it not presented before now? Why was the Bill Committee not allowed to investigate this topic and question experts on it? The Government had ample opportunity to float the idea but decided to wait until the Committee had started to sit and not allow a single opportunity for us to question expert witnesses on why it was appropriate. I would love to say I am shocked by this behaviour, but let us be honest, none of us are shocked by it. It has become par for the course.

Are Conservative Members really going to allow this to happen? Is a healthy, robust democracy really worth sacrificing on some vague promise of achieving short-term personal electoral gain? Are Conservative Members really going to meekly acquiesce and turn another blind eye to another full-on attack on our democracy? If they do, it will confirm what many of us on the Opposition Benches have suspected for quite some time: that in its deal with the devil, the Conservative party has given itself over completely to the UK Independence party and retained only the naming rights. Unfortunately, the rest of us will have to live with the consequences of that Faustian pact.

Dr Jess Garland, director of policy and research at the Electoral Reform Society, has said that this is a backward step, and she is of course correct. Is anyone surprised? Everything that this Government do is a backward step. It is like they are indulging in a desperate search for a better yesterday, to the extent that on the same day as they introduced this piece of ridiculous jiggery-pokery they announced that we would all be able to buy our spuds by the stone—assuming, that is, that we can find a supermarket with any tatties left. If it was not so dangerous, it would be laughable. This is opportunistic populism: give the punters what you have told them they want and you can pick their pockets and rob them of their democracy at the same time.

Let us be in no doubt that to resurrect a regressive and antiquated electoral system that belongs in the dustbin of history is nakedly and brazenly partisan. This motion to allow the Committee the powers to introduce first past the post has not been parachuted in because the Government think it will make democracy better or elections fairer, or be more representative—no chance. The only reason it is before us is because it will make it much easier for the Tories to win, while at the same time shutting out small parties on those few occasions when they can make an electoral impact.

Let us not pretend that this instruction to the Bill Committee is anything other than a tawdry attempt by this Government to ensure that, even if they fall out of favour with the public, the Tories will not fall out of power. When the Minister gets to his feet, I hope that he explains when it was decided that this provision would be put in the Bill. Who decided that? At what point and at what level was it decided, after the Committee had met and after the experts had been dismissed, that it was appropriate to parachute this in? How does he expect the Committee to be able to function under the circumstances in which it now finds itself when a colossally important piece of the Bill and an addition to the scope of the Bill has been introduced at this stage after the experts have gone?

Quite remarkably, this makes a thoroughly rotten Bill even worse—something that I never thought possible. I look forward to the Minister’s explanation of exactly how and why this was allowed to happen.