Tag Archives: electoral reform

Everything is wrong, long live everything

I started this blog because I wanted to make loads of comments that were a fraction as eloquent and incisive as those made in Dougald Hine’s post “The only way is down; 18 Notes on the UK election”

The one cold comfort that Labour – and perhaps even the Lib Dems – could take from last night’s results is that events have forced them into a confrontation with reality, while the Tories will continue to govern on the basis of delusions, with ugly results, for a while longer, before gravity catches up with them. This could give the defeated parties a head start, but only if they are prepared to enter into a kind of soul-searching deeper than anything we have seen in British politics in a very long time.

For that to have a chance of happening, it will have to start somewhere else, somewhere beyond the party machines and the earnest, highly-educated, decent people at the centre of them, who are almost entirely unequipped for the journey to the political underworld which is now called for.

Before I read this I’d pondering on just how old-fashioned both the “Blairite” and “Old Labour” calls were sounding in 2015. There’s not a lot in either stereotype for the zero-hour worker, for the those attempting to balance multiple jobs to make ends meet, for the exploited Lithuanian immigrant, or for the bloke in the pub who feels that maybe things would be better if there weren’t so many foreigners around. (These could all be the same person, by the way – such is the diverse and complicated nature of the 2015 labour market)

The strength of Blairism was recognising that the landscape had moved on since the 1970s; the next progressive leader(s) will only triumph if they recognise that 2015 is as distant from 1997 as 1997 was to the 1970s. I’m not quite sure what the new politics will look like yet, but in a funny way, I’m looking forward to finding out.

Why we need proportional representation (and why it won’t happen)

This election in particular has highlighted the silliness of our current first past the post (FPTP) system, whereby the results of 650 individual elections are combined to form a government which may or may not represent the views of the people.

If this graph doesn’t do it for you;

Proportional Representation Graph

…then perhaps numbers will:

  • the Labour party increased its share of the vote by 1.5%, the Conservatives increased by 0.8%. This translated into Labour losing 26 seats while the Conservatives gained 24
  • the Scottish Nationalist Party got 56 seats with less than 1.5m voters; UKIP got 1 seat with 3.8m voters

How can this be defended as democratic? The strongest arguments in favour of FPTP tend to focus on the link between the local constituency and its MP. And yet time after time we hear that people do not feel they know their local MP or that their local MP does not represent them. (Eg see the ever-fascinating but depressing Hansard Audit of Political Engagement which in 2015 concluded that 28% of people did not know which political party their MP belonged to.) Furthermore, it is perfectly possible to have a voting system that combines an element of locality with proportional representation (PR) principles – both the Alternative Vote system proposed in 2011 and the Single Transferable Vote still use geographical boundaries, just in different ways.

Another argument in favour of FPTP is that it is simple – but I could name at least two acquaintances of mine who confess to not understanding how it works. Not because they didn’t get the principle, but because all the discussions and slanging matches about likely coalitions before the 2015 General Election confused this supposedly simple system. “How can my vote for party X mean that party Y gets in?” said one.

However, the argument that really, really gets my goat is that FPTP protects from extremism. Several commentators have pointed to the success of UKIP in the 2015 General Election as a reason for why we should stick with nice, safe FPTP. This firstly assumes that everyone would vote the same way under a PR system, when in reality we know that lots of tactical voting happens under FPTP. Secondly, and more importantly, this is a rejection of democratic principles. Yes, extremists may get elected; it is up to us progressives to argue convincingly as to why their views are wrong, not hide behind a constitutional safety blanket.

However, I’m not optimistic about us getting electoral reform any time soon. It failed decisively in 2011 (possibly due to misleading campaigning, but it was still a low turn out and a convincing defeat). It still benefits the two biggest parties the most, and with a conservative majority elected who have done very well out of FPTP it is hard to see this changing in the next parliamentary term. One can hope that Labour’s drubbing in Scotland will finally convince them of the need for proportional representation and that any future campaigns may have more concrete support from them.

In the meantime have a look at the Electoral Reform website, support them and spread the word.