A number of politicians have rushed in to argue that constitutional reform – be it proportional representation or an elected second chamber – is the answer to the current crisis. The logic of their argument is far from clear. The crisis is one of confidence in our political class, not in our basic constitutional framework.
If letters in the press and blog comments are anything to go by, many members of the public recognise that the problem lies more with politicians and rules than basic constitutional structures. They appear to regard the argument for PR as diverting attention from the real problem – it will not obviously produce a better class of politician – and demands for an elected second chamber similarly: there is no obvious enthusiasm for another set of elected politicians.
There is some empirical evidence for this perception. On Saturday, The Times published a Populus poll (based on interviews conducted 27-28 May) and reported that the poll found that 56% of those questioned favoured PR and 51% supported an elected second chamber. This was interpreted as a rare piece of good news for constitutional reformers. Given the scale of popular outrage at the moment, the remarkable finding was not how high the figures were but rather that they did not show a massive increase in support for change. Surveys in past years have tended to find majorities for electoral reform and an elected second chamber. Equally significant is the finding, not reported in The Times, that respondents were offered thirteen options for political change. In terms of the percentage supporting each option, PR came tenth. An elected House of Lords came in at number twelve. Only having a fixed number of terms an MP can serve attracted less support (47%). Coming top of the poll – with 82% support – was having the potential for recall elections.
Far from the people flocking overwhelmingly to the banner for PR and Lords reform, there is still everything to play for.