Purple patches

10 May 2010

I dropped in on the impromptu demonstration for a fairer voting system, called via Twitter and email by Take Back Parliament! in central London, on the way home this evening. I’d guess that there were about 600 people there, which I thought pretty good given that the invitation only went out at midday. The venue, Palmer Street, was outside the building where the Liberals were meeting to discuss the details of a possible coalition offer from the Conservatives, following the apparent silence over the weekend from both Lib-Dems and Conservatives about the likelihood of including political reform in any coalition agreement.

As it happens, Palmer Street is quite narrow and quite high; an excellent location if you’re trying to create a sense of occasion with a few hundred demonstrators; the combination of the band (below) and chants of ‘Fair Votes Now’ filled the available space and echoed back into the building. (It reminded me of a walkabout by Mrs Thatcher in Salisbury that I’d covered at the height of her unpopularity in 1980. Her handlers had chosen one of the narrowest streets in Salisbury so she would seem to be jostled by throngs of admirers even if hardly anyone showed up.)

And as it happened, today’s demo must be the most successful I’ve ever been on. By the time I got home, the Conservatives had offered the Liberal Democrats a referendum on the Alternative Vote (not a particularly fair voting system, but usually a little fairer than the one we currently have); and Labour had topped this immediately (‘see you and raise’) with a proposal for an immediate Bill to introduce AV and a referendum to follow on something more democratic. Whether either can deliver this, of course, is an open question, but as @jon_bartley said on Twitter, ‘Very rare in politics to get a bidding war over who can afford to offer the most fairness’.

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