The Independent APRIL 23, 2005 - by Richard Dawkins


Lance Corporal Tom Keys was killed in Iraq: one of many. Tom's father, Reg, is standing as a 'white suit independent' in Tony Blair's own constituency of Sedgefield. I shall be voting Liberal Democrat in Oxford, but I hope the Lib Dem candidate in Sedgefield will withdraw and back Reg Keys. Let me explain why I am joining Martin Bell, Brian Eno and others in support of the Reg Keys campaign. Tony Blair, of course, wants us to 'move on' after Iraq. But I am one of the many voters who won't move on until Blair moves out. Out of Downing Street. Reg Keys might achieve this in Sedgefield. And we all might achieve it if we vote our true inclination and ignore Blair's scare-mongering.

Mr Blair is trying to scare us into voting Labour, using the bogeyman of Michael Howard. This is not the first time he has resorted to such scare tactics. He tried to scare us with those ludicrous tanks at Heathrow. He succeeded in scaring MPs into war by telling lies in the House of Commons, not lies about Saddam Hussein himself (a real bogeyman, for once), but lies about weapons of mass destruction. He even got away with the preposterous falsehood that Iraq's weapons could directly threaten Britain within forty-five minutes. His defence now is that he believed those falsehoods at the time, so they weren't deliberate lies. To parody a rhyme, originally made for Lloyd George:

Count not his parliamentary lies a crime. He meant them, how he meant them, at the time!

The intelligence on which those falsehoods were based was pathetically thin. The desperate urge to rush into war, brushing aside Hans Blix's patience and the Attorney General's misgivings, did not emerge from proper cabinet debate. It was driven from America. Bush whistled and Blair came trotting to heel, dragging an unwilling Britain with him. Whether he was mendacious or merely naive, Blair's Iraq fiasco would have been a resigning matter in a more honourable era of ministerial responsibility. In 1982, Lord Carrington resigned for less.

Whatever his motive, Blair used scare tactics to push Parliament into Iraq. And now he is using scare tactics again. This time, the threat is that if we vote Lib Dem we will let the Michael Howard bogeyman in. This is blatant scare-mongering, to the point of dishonesty. The most the Tories can realistically hope for is a hung parliament - not good news for the Tories but very good news for the Liberal Democrats - the very party Blair is trying to scare us away from supporting.

A hung parliament is the most desirable result I can realistically imagine. The Lib Dems would hold the balance of power, probably in some kind of Blair-free coalition of the centre-left. With luck, they would put a stop to Blair's love affair with faith schools. He even supports the infamous Peter Vardy, whose heavily subsidised academies teach children in the North East that the entire universe began after the dawn of agriculture. Blair's defence, in response to a question from a rightly outraged Liberal Democrat MP, was to praise 'diversity'. Diversity!

But the most important thing the centre-left coalition might achieve is proportional representation. This would kill, once and for all, the idea that a vote for anybody other than Labour or Conservative is 'wasted'. Votes are wasted in this sense only because of the flagrantly undemocratic first-past-the-post system. With the single transferable PR system, no vote is wasted. You vote your preference, and no silly scares about big bad Tories.

Under the first-past-the-post system, your vote is wasted unless you happen to live in a marginal constituency. We saw this in America, with the grotesque concentration of electioneering firepower and money in a few key states such as Ohio and Florida. The only people who like first-past-the-post are politicians whom it puts into power. The Liberal Democrats have long been committed to PR. My greatest hope is that a hung parliament might enable them to implement it. This would benefit the long-term future of our democracy: a boon that would long outlive the short-term promises of any party.

Another symptom of a healthy democracy, and a natural consequence of PR, is plenty of independent MPs outside the whipped parties. Independents like Reg Keys. He is following in Martin Bell's heroic footsteps, but with a bigger target: Tony Blair himself. Blair deceived Parliament into backing an illegal war. Blair flouted our constitutional tradition of collective cabinet responsibility. Blair crawled to the most ill-qualified American President in living memory. Bush constantly makes political capital out of Blair's support for him. A vote for Blair is a vote for Bush. What a splendid signal the voters of Sedgefield could send the world if they elected Reg Keys.