Saturday 15 May 2010

Take Back Parliament: why such a militant-sounding name?

First things first - I'm getting sick of writing about nothing but politics on here recently, but it is an exciting time at the moment so I make no apology for another post, although I will start writing about some other things very soon. Today I wandered down to a political demonstration for the first time since 2003 - when I sank a bottle of port with a mate at the huge anti-war march. Good times. Today's was on a much smaller scale, and the only political issue that really gets my goat these days - electoral reform. About 500 people pitched up to a "Fair Votes Now" protest outside Parliament. But in truth, I have to say I found it a little limp.

Rallies and demonstrations are like peas in a pod. The samba band - check; the interminable list of speakers, consisting of eager twenty-somethings, unseated ex-MPs, and reform lobbyists - check; people trying to flog copies of Socialist Worker - check; rude anti-Tory placards - check; shrill whistles, exuberent teenage girls, bemused tourists and growling anti-politics passers-by - check, check and checkmate. The chants of "What do we want? When do we want it?" are ubiquitous to the point of being meaningless now. It doesn't matter what these rallies are about - they all tend to have a pretty vague message of "let's take over the world, starting here" and have a militant, anti-society, rebellious feel to them. Today was no exception, although the issue at hand was rather geekier than normal.

The core message was pretty clear - we need to keep pushing for a real proportional system although a Yes vote in any AV referendum is also desirable. The placards seemed to be pushing a different agenda - mostly complaining about the coalition. I was tempted to bring along one saying "STV is not an STD" but decided against it. Evan Harris, Ken Ritchie and the ubiquitous George Monbiot (does he do anything apart from the  rally circuit these days?) were among the speakers, with a young compere who whipped the crowd up nicely. at one point he managed to get a genuinely hilarious call-and-response of

"What do we want?"
"Electoral reform!"
"When do we want it?"
"Subject to a referendum!"

which sounded very slick indeed. Kudos. The afternoon concluded with a trip to Downing Street to drop off a petition.

Just a final word on nomenclature. I seem to be getting roped into more and more mailing lists besides my membership of the Electoral Reform Society: as well as the ERS, this event was run by, among others, Power2010, Take Back Parliament and Vote for a Change. All four groups seem to be campaigning for exactly the same things. Why the need to fragment things all over the place? Vote for a Change was a disastrous name to begin with, sounding identical to the Conservative election slogan, while Take Back Parliament sounds like a militant anarchist group. Someone banged on about putting purple ribbons on every street in the land. People need to get a grip; electoral reform isn't something you're going to get millions of people campaigning for - it's an issue that needs to be dealt with slowly and steadily. You can't explain the need for PR with a "Fair Votes Now" chant or bits of ribbon. Most people are interested in the best way to improve their health and education facilities. They need to be educated in the reasons why their vote is not currently going as far as it should, why a proportional system would ensure that they have their say in a meaningful way, and how that could affect those front-line services. None of the speakers dwelt on the reasons why or how electoral reform could affect voters, and why it is a Good Thing. The stomping of feet and chanting of slogans will be forgotten tomorrow. Will the 500 people who turned up all try to educate and convince a dozen people about the need for real reform tomorrow? Because if they do, it'll be much more valuable than the feeling of today's rally being another pea in another pod.


  1. I agree about the rude placards, I thought they were very immature and worked against the credibilty of the case. But 1. we need foot stompers to start things off 2. there will _always_ be screaming least for this it was about something important and 3. wait this one is another agreeing one...ah well, yes the call and responce was hilarious.

  2. Thanks for this post, you've made some very important points so I'll be saving it in my bookmarks and coming back to check whether I've done what you've said!

    These rallies don't change things, but I think they do give supporters a bit of a boost, and I did enjoy listening to the speakers, most of whom I've never heard.

  3. I was there and having travelled nearly a hundred miles for it I was very disappointed in the turn out. Your summary of the event is spot on and all the points you raise totally valid.