Tom Richmond: Never mind the voting system, give us good MPs

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EVEN though David Cameron and Nick Clegg say it is evidence of mature politics that they can campaign on opposing sides during the AV referendum battle, the omens do not look good for the coalition’s future.

One man will definitely lose on May 5. The Prime Minister will have to explain to the Tories, and particular those members who still resent his failure to win an outright majority last year, why they now have to embrace electoral reform.

Alternatively, his deputy will find himself presiding over a bruised Lib Dem party that will have lost a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring about the one policy that goes to the very core of its principles. This probably explains the increasingly bitter – and personal – campaign, with George Osborne, the Chancellor, proving to be the source of much antipathy. This is unsurprising, given his past reputation for immaturity.

Two points, however, need to be made about this political maelstrom. First, the Cabinet is – somehow – going to have to unite after polling day, and the feuds between Osborne and Lib Dem Energy Secretary Chris Huhne will have to be reconciled. Former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown, a calming influence behind-the-scenes, will need appeasing. Likewise Cameron’s disagreements with Vince Cable over the future direction of immigration policy will have to be settled.

Secondly, the struggle for supremacy between the First Past The Post electoral system, or the proposed Alternative Vote methodology, misses an important point. A referendum vote, and the prospect of change, will not change the public’s contempt for their Westminster legislators.What they would prefer, however, is a new generation of mature politicians – with experience of life – and who are prepared to champion the interests of their constituents, and without milking Parliament’s expenses system. That will make the greatest difference to public life; the election of people who the public can trust. And it does not matter whether they are elected by FPTP or AV – good candidates should prosper under any electoral system.

IF you think the calibre of Westminster politicians leaves much to be desired, you should venture north and see the ragbag lot contesting the Scottish Parliament elections. They do not inspire confidence as they take gutter politics to a new low. In short, Alex Salmond’s SNP and Labour are vying for supremacy, but neither is likely to win a majority.

Some kind of coalition looks likely. But, with neither party prepared to do business with the Lib Dems, the political room for manoeuvire is becoming seriously limited. One emerging scenario is for the pro-independence SNP to be propped up by the pro-unionist Conservatives in an extension of an existing arrangement, albeit informal, that saw Salmond approve extra police officers in return for tacit Tory support over his budget.

What a mess.

NORTH of the border, there are a couple of political skirmishes that could have repercussions for these parts.

The SNP is proposing a four-year freeze on council tax, while also promising to protect key services. It will not say how this can be funded, given the inflationary pressures in the economy. Presumably English taxpayers will be expected to foot the bill at some point.

Second, Alex Salmond’s green energy revolution is being compromised by a landmark decision to block plans to build wind turbines close to the world-famous Gleneagles golf course – the venue of the 2014 Ryder Cup. This has only been done on aesthetic grounds so the TV pictures are not ruined.

Presumably the importance of tourism is now a compelling reason to block those wind farms being planned for this area’s national parks?

THOSE Yorkshire police chiefs and others perturbed by the Government’s pre-occupation with protecting “front line” services in order to justify the scale of cuts have an unlikely ally – former Cabinet minister John Redwood. In a rebuke of Home Secretary Theresa May’s approach, he says: “We need, however, to think a little more carefully before assuming that all overhead and back up is bad. Having the right number of specialist administrators, case workers and the like can make for more efficient policing.”

SO much for the Government being on the side of the motorist. Petrol at my local Morrisons filling station is now four pence a litre more expense than on the night of the Budget last month when Chancellor George Osborne cut duty by a penny.

IN the week Tesco announced an 11.3 per cent rise in overall pre-tax profits to £3.5bn, the cost of a litre of skimmed milk (British) rose by an inflation-busting three pence overnight to 48p at the supermarket.

However, the company is offering no guarantees that this increase is being passed on, in full, to its farmgate suppliers. Why?

I’M afraid Leeds Council’s Jane Cash has made a very unimpressive start to her quest to bring the rugby league World Cup to the city in 2013. To me, this is a pointless exercise – Leeds, a rugby league hotbed, will be a host city, with games set to be staged at Elland Road.

However Ms Cash has sent a letter to the region’s movers and shakers asking them to endorse this campaign and to contact two of her colleagues in the cash-strapped authority’s “asset management major projects” department.

It has not, however, received a favourable response. For, rather than personalising the letters, each billet-doux begins “Dear Salutation” – clear evidence that this is a round robin missive.

A bit of an own goal.