Italy is in crisis with a hung bicameral parliament after recent elections. The Dow Jones is down; the Euro is falling; the world holds its breath while the third largest economy in Europe faces a period of uncertainty while politicians horse trade for a coalition deal.
If the UK Liberals had their way, we might be facing this crisis in perpetuity as the Italians have. Part of the coalition deal following the election of a UK hung parliament for the first time in many years was to allow the Liberals to promote a switch to a proportional voting (PR) system for the parliamentary elections in this country. They went for a half way house called the Alternative Vote (AV) system, rather than the full PR for which this minority party has always craved on the basis it would make them the permanent king-makers, flip-flopping between the two main UK parties to hold the balance of power. It was understood that the Conservative part of the coalition would oppose this and, thank goodness, the country voted against it overwhelmingly.
Poor old Italy, like most European countries, has endured one form or another of PR voting for a very long time and, as a consequence, it has a endured a patchwork of coalitions. Now they are likely to have another one with the Italian lower house (the Chamber of Deputies with 630 members) showing the slenderest majority for the left while the upper house (the Senate with 315 members) seems to have secured the tiniest majority for the right. The result is deadlock because Italy’s bicameral system gives equal weight to each house with legislation having to be approved by both houses before it becomes law. The result in Italy is the sort of shambles we have come to see here with the Liberals able to block some of the much needed reforms the Conservatives would put through. We also see it in the USA with President Obama thankfully unable to borrow and spend as freely as Brown and Blair did because of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.
Coming back to Italy, their voting system is based on party lists, just like the system we have to endure in the EU elections. The political parties put forward their candidates in a prioritised list and the electors can only vote for the party not for individual candidates. In this way, unpopular but powerful politicians can ensure their continued election despite their record with the voting public.
The UK Liberals are struggling at the moment with accusations flying about Lord Rennard, a Liberal peer almost unknown outside political circles but widely lauded by the Liberal cognoscenti as the primary architect of their famed electioneering style. The Liberals are a fascinating party, combining as they do a whole range of completely contradictory qualities:
- bastions of equality for women, gays and ethnic minorities, allegations against Lord Rennard and their apparent handling to date suggest there could be dual standards in this party of the moral high ground;
- masters of electioneering, able to mass huge numbers of activists at election time and able to promise something different on every street corner, they have found it very hard to sit in government where people might reasonably expect them to have identifiable and coherent policies and to deliver on them;
- in the Eastleigh by-election, the Liberals have been campaigning against house building on green fields while the local Liberal council has voted through a massive house building programme on green fields;
- this most pro-European of parties works to attract disaffected voters from the parties of the left and right , many of whom are strongly anti-Euro federalism but who don’t realise the Liberals would support an ever closer EU – a fact the Liberals are extremely eager to conceal;
- this Liberal party of the high ground, so able to express moral indignation and to promote equality and fairness has a reputation among Conservatives and Socialists alike for conducting the dirtiest election campaigns imaginable a characteristic for which Lord Rennard apparently deserves much credit!
It’s a funny old world. I can’t wait to see what the electors of Eastleigh do on Thursday!