Monday, 30 November 2009

The new Chartists

Despite the best efforts of campaigners, the last time that electoral reform really fired up the British public was when the Suffragettes were strutting their stuff. So while I’m a longstanding supporter of proportional representation and most of the other constitutional changes that reformers have been seeking, under one banner or another, at least since Margaret Thatcher showed what could be done with a minority of votes under an ‘elective dictatorship’, I’m not convinced that the vast majority of voters give a spoilt ballot about it. You certainly don’t hear many people down the pub saying, ‘You know, I’d give Gordon Brown another chance if he promised us a referendum on the single transferrable vote system.’

Campaigners need to ‘reach people where they are’, as the focus-group philosophers like to put it, if they are to get them interested in reform. And since on Saturday and Sunday evenings for the past few months, a large chunk of the nation has been slumped in front of its flatscreens arguing the toss over which X Factor contestant will provide this year’s Christmas Number One Single, where better to advance the case for reform?

The X Factor has courted its share of electoral controversy this time around with arch autocrat Simon Cowell declining to use his judge’s vote to dump the ‘vile creatures’ (his description, in case you were watching Strictly) John and Edward. So, with public trust and confidence in light entertainment entrepreneurs at an all-time low (more than 3,000 viewers complained to ITV about the Jedward farrago), it’s clearly time to put reform high on the Saturday-night agenda. Let’s call it Charter 09 and start collecting the signatures now.

1. Elect the judges Who voted for Simon Cowell anyway? Let’s put the judges through the performing-monkey hoops of a knockout vote each week as well as the performers.

2. One viewer one vote Anyone with a mobile phone and plenty of money can spend their weekend voting over and again for their preferred contestant. ‘Vote early, vote often’ might have been good enough for Mayor Daley but there should be no place for multiple voting in our model TV democracy.

3. Single transferrable vote Every year contestants go out of The X Factor as a result of viewers not voting for them because they think they are too talented to be voted out. A single transferrable vote system would ensure that the least popular act would go out each week.

4. No property qualifications So no charge for mobile phone votes and an alternative means of voting for those who don’t own (that’s you, dad) or use (and you, mum) a mobile.

5. Right of recall Just because someone wins The X Factor doesn’t mean we should be stuck with them forever. A right of recall if they incur our disfavour should be accompanied with the ability to force them to do £20-a-head gigs (as much as you can eat thrown in free) at Maidstone’s Pizza Express, which is where we last heard of the first X Factor winner Steve Brookstein.

6. Public hangings Only one judge and two contestants per series (this isn’t Fox News after all) but if you want to be popular ...

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