A proportional voting system will give us better candidates

By Jill Segger
April 28, 2010

Three candidates have been suspended by their central parties during this election campaign. The first was Stuart MacLennan, Labour's candidate in Moray who Tweeted disgraceful comments about his constituency, the elderly, women and his political colleagues. Labour suspended him before the close of nominations, so at least Moray had the chance to put another candidate in place.

South East Cambridgeshire and North Ayrshire and Arran have not been so fortunate. Labour's John Cowan and the Conservative Philip Lardner, who was contesting North Ayrshire and Arran, have both posted unpleasant statements unworthy of men seeking public office. Cowan, previously sacked by the Lib Dems for scurrilous comments of a sexual nature about his colleagues, and was then turned down by the Tories, has also placed online the information that he paid his cleaner cash in hand so she could avoid paying tax, and has posted graphic details of his sexual encounters. Lardner has described homosexuals as being “not normal” and from that view, goes on to to claim that "David Cameron appears to be saying there is no place in the party for anyone with Christian beliefs."

Both these men have been suspended after the nomination deadline of 20 April, thus effectively leaving their electors and local parties deprived of the slate of candidates they had a right to expect. I live in South East Cambridgeshire, and my sympathies are with those Labour party members who had campaigned hard and against all the odds for Cowan in a safe Tory seat.

The common factor in these sorry tales, is the unwinnability, from the point of these three candidates, of the seats in which they were standing. In Moray, the SNP majority over the Conservatives is over 6,000, with Labour in third place. In South East Cambs it is almost 9,000 and in North Ayrshire and Arran, the Labour majority is over 11,000.

The first past the post system distorts the democratic process in many ways. It is hard to avoid the question as to how careful the selection processes may be in seats where no one expects anything from the candidate. It would seem that no one bothered to do a check on these three. MacClennan and Cowan had both posted offensive Tweets before their selection. Lardner was on record in 2008 as describing Iain Smith, the Rhodesian Prime Minister and champion of apartheid, as “a hero” and Ted Heath as “a rat.”

If there is to be vigorous political debate, conducted with integrity and real choice, central parties are going to have to be a great deal more thorough in their selection processes. The electors and activists of these three constituencies can quite justifiably feel themselves ill-used.

Of course, the one reform that will remove this kind of contempt is the introduction of a proportional voting system. When all candidates have a fighting chance of being elected, they will have to be of a far higher calibre.

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