I‘m not generally the type for political protest. They demand a certain stridency and perhaps a certain blinkering in one’s mentality that I’m generally not comfortable with. It’s perhaps rather surprising then that I chose proportional representation as the issue that would lead me to my first protest. Not entirely unjustly regarded as a rather academic subject, I’ve nonetheless concluded that it lies at the root of most of our political problems. Current political policy gravitates around a relatively small number of voters in a small number of marginal constituencies. The result is a skewed political mainstream that still manages a rather pointless tribalist rivalry over the few remaining differences. In my own case, I’ve never lived in a constituency where my vote has made one jot of difference. I grew up in a Labour/Tory marginal where my Liberal Democrat vote did little to prevent the candidate from losing their deposit. I now live in a Tory safe seat, where the sitting MP has a majority larger than all of his opponents combined.
So, that’s why I found myself in the Old Palace Yard this weekend, at the Take Back Parliament rally. The attendees varied widely, from the customary social workers and hippies to various people who looked like they were taking time out from the WI or National Trust. The main common denomination was the colour purple, adopted from the suffragettes and emblazoned here in ribbons, placards, flags and headbands. The rally began with a speech by Evan Harris, beginning with the opening line "greetings fellow anoraks." He noted that the first priority was to demonstrate that the current coalition could lead to stable government, as well as the importance of not allowing a lack of enthusiasm for AV stop us from getting behind it as an important first step. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Evan Harris say anything that wasn’t well thought out and sensible and this speech made me realise how worse off British politics is for his absence. Visiting Oxford later, I saw that the gates to his erstwhile constituency office are covered in ribbons. George Monbiot also spoke very well, reflecting on the equal importance of addressing the issue of party funding – I particularly liked the account of a peeved Tory blogger complaining at being denied an overall majority after throwing Ashcroft’s millions at the campaigns. "The question of not getting value for Ashcroft’s money," Monbiot drily commented, "is not especially where the unfairness lies." Other speakers included some first time voters, former Battersea MP Mark Linton, a Green MEP representatives of Charter88, the Electoral Reform Society and Pam Giddy from Power2010. Diversion was briefly provided by the presence of a large red ‘First Past The Post dinosaur’ on the podium. The only speaker I didn’t greatly care for was Mark Thomas, whose partisan tone both jarred and grated. On the whole, I preferred the First Past The Post dinosaur. Finally, we wrapped our ribbons and flags around the railings of the Houses of Parliament: