No “skin in the game”, no vote?

Ian Cowie of the Daily Telegraph wrote a post yesterday arguing for “a tax-based alternative to the Alternative Vote”.

Basically, this would involve limiting the franchise to those who pay at least £100 of income tax each year, while excluding those “large numbers of people who have no ‘skin in the game’ and who may even comprise the majority of voters in some metropolitan areas today”. Pensioners and mothers (even single mothers, Mr Cowie?) would retain the vote, however, which is nice of him.

Now I’m not remotely interested in discussing the merits of this worthless idea. Maybe Mr Cowie will claim that those objecting to him are “humourless lefties” who “can’t take a joke” – but the final couple of sentences suggest that he is deadly serious. Even if accepted as satirical, it’s a satire that rests on some unpleasantly dismissive attitudes: “no skin in the game” (says the comfortably well-off journalist of those who end up bearing the brunt of job losses and cuts), “everyone who gets out of bed in the morning to go to work”, and so on.

Mr Cowie’s proposal will, of course, never get anywhere near being adopted. But as Anna Hedge pointed out on Twitter, this is yet another example of how some on the political right are feeling emboldened to say things they would never have dared utter in the past 15 or 20 years.

And while there is no prospect of an income tax-based franchise becoming reality, such nakedly “class-war” proposals contribute to an atmosphere in which significant democratic reform becomes even less thinkable (let’s see how that “elected House of Lords” looks once the proposals are finally unveiled, eh?), public services are easily removed from democratic control to control by those with some “skin in the game” (see: free schools, GP commissioning), and the political concerns and expression of those “who may even comprise the majority of voters in some metropolitan areas today” are systematically delegitimised.


Lumping, packing and rigging: AV and boundary changes

As the House of Lords filibuster on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill continues, Sky News’s Glen O’Glaza asks:

Here, briefly, is my take on that question.

The Lib Dems want a referendum on AV, because that’s the nearest they think they can get to PR in the near future. The Tories want a reduction in seats in the Commons, because (a) they think it will weaken Labour, and (b) it will weaken the House of Commons and strengthen the executive’s grip on Parliament. Frankly, I suspect (b) is the more important reason.

(As for the professed desire to “make the system cheaper”: this is hard to reconcile, to put it politely, with packing the Lords at the same time. Not to mention being a deeply unworthy reason for such a significant constitutional change – as if the composition of the House of Commons were merely a matter of budgeting and administration. The “cost-cutting” argument is just an expedient to secure public support at a time when the Commons’ reputation is at its lowest ebb for centuries.)

So why are AV and seat reductions lumped together? Because the Tories know the referendum on AV is going to fail, but that will not affect the reduction in seats (which is not subject to a referendum). At the same time, linking the two reduces attention on the reduction in MPs’ numbers and allows the government to paint Labour as hypocritical blockers of electoral reform when they oppose the Bill.

Does that sound cynical? Maybe it is, but not as cynical as this exercise in lumping (together), packing (the Lords) and rigging (Parliament) in the first place.