A new electoral system: the answer to our democratic woes or idealistic foolery?

Written by Marina Lademacher

It’s been 6 years since the failed referendum on AV, and 2 years since our last general election. Now that we have another election round the corner it seems the time is ripe to discuss our democracy, or lack thereof. At the time of writing, a petition demanding Proportional Representation to be adopted at Westminster elections has reached the 100,000 signatures needed to be debated in Parliament. Whether this debate amounts to actual reform is unlikely, what with a party in power who benefit hugely from the overrepresentation of First Past the Post. Yet it does suggest that attitudes are shifting. However we’re undoubtedly stuck with FPTP for the foreseeable future, so until we see a government willing to loosen its grip on the two-party duopoly (which is becoming more of a Conservative monopoly) we won’t see any changes. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep pushing for change though.

The British voters elected David Cameron to be our Prime Minister in 2015, a moderate conservative espousing socially liberal values. And yet, a much more right-wing successor, Theresa May, has risen the greasy pole to victory and is in the midst of leading Britain into the hardest Brexit possible. Retaining single-market EU access is now a long-lost dream, despite an overwhelming 90% of voters wishing otherwise according to a NatCen poll. The only voices being heard right now seem to be those on the far right of the Party. Regardless of your opinion on Scottish Independence, one can envisage Nicola Sturgeon’s description of May’s “brick wall of intransigence” with ease. If we had a PR voting system, the path on which Britain is now headed could look very different indeed.

Our current system is a winner-takes-all method where the candidate with the most amount of votes in a constituency is elected. All other votes count for nothing. With the left vote often divided between Lib Dems/Greens/Labour, it’s little wonder the Tories are those who stand to benefit the most from keeping the status quo. Under Proportional Representation, seats in Parliament would be allocated in proportion to the votes cast. If the 2015 election had been run under PR, the Tories would have remained the biggest party in Parliament, but with 240 MPS (today have 331). Labour would still be the 2nd largest party albeit a smaller seat share- but what must keep Tim Farron seething with anger at night is that rather than the 9 seat wilderness the Lib Dems currently face, they would have retained a much more impressive 51 votes. Admittedly, UKIP would have become the 3rd biggest party in Parliament- a terrifying thought, perhaps, but at least it’s democracy. Even poor Nigel might have actually won a seat.

Ok, so the Tories would have been forced into another coalition, but honestly, at the state of politics so far in 2017, give me Cameron and Clegg any day. At least the future for Britons seemed optimistic and not on a one-way ticket to dark satanic mills. Where the most earth-shattering scandal was Ed Miliband tearing up a bacon sandwich and it didn’t feel like worldwide nuclear war might erupt at any moment because of some twitter escalation between Trump and Kim Jong Un. Who said coalitions are that bad anyway? Germany, The Netherlands and the Nordic countries are ruled by them, and they don’t seem to be doing too shabby. There are problems ahead, be it from global warming or globalisation or terror, that require the brains and perspectives from a range of sides if they’re to be dealt with effectively, or dealt with at all.

A change of system means we’d be dealing with a completely different composition of the Commons, and a variety of opinions from across the political spectrum would be put forward that would certainly receive more attention than the present shameful side-lining of non-conventional viewpoints.

PR means EVERY vote counts. It means there’d be a reason to vote EVERYWHERE, and not just in the lucky few constituencies that haven’t remained in safe party hands since Magna Carta. Our stale duopoly of a party system, fixed in the iron grip of Labour and the Tories, may be banterous for the MPs gawking and buffawking at PMQ’s but it’s hardly a spectacle us Brits should be proud of. It’s archaic and embarrassing. And right now, it’s a scary scene for the liberals/lefties relying on the or deflated opposition from Corbyn. Oh wait, there’s Tim Farron too, but all he’s done so far is defend his views on gay sex and rip into Labour– great work, Tim!

And isn’t it time it felt like voters had an actual choice to make? I mean, isn’t the great thing about capitalism that we have a choice? Being limited to two viable parties to vote for feels like fruit shopping in East Berlin before the wall came down. People often don’t even identify as Tory or Labour anymore, they’re more likely to identify as Leave or Remain. The debate has shifted and the system needs to catch up.

More flavour and representation in Parliament would probably make it less of an object of mistrust and inflexibility, and at least the public would have their real preferences represented. There’s no such thing as ‘will of the people’ until we address what the people actually want.


One thought on “A new electoral system: the answer to our democratic woes or idealistic foolery?

  1. Just a few thoughts on this. I’m really surprised that you think Theresa May is right wing when she is proposing interventionist policies such as capping electricity prices. To me she is more of a Christian Democrat like Frau Merkel. And as regards Brexit she doesn’t have much choice regarding access to the single market. The EU has said we can’t have it so we can’t.

    The problem I see with PR is that it breaks the link with a constituency. MPs need to be answerable to the electors. Personally answerable not collectively answerable as members of a particular party. We saw in 2015 how MPs who took their constituents for granted got thrown out, especially in Scotland. I accept though that in many seats there is little prospect of the MP being thrown out no matter how bad they are. Here in East Ham the sitting MP got 77% of the vote in 2015. (And I’m not saying he’s a bad constituency MP, just that he’s going to be hard to dethrone).
    But in a pure PR system there is no individual responsibility to the electorate at all. You stand or fall with your party. And when you get high enough up your party list you’re unsackable. So the MP is answerable to the party hierarchy rather than the electorate. The party hierarchy decides whether the MP stays on the list.
    That’s why you rarely see real change in European politics. The real power is with the party bureaucracy not the electorate. A general election might change the relative balance of the members of a coalition government but it will still be the same people, just shuffled around.
    That has the dangerous consequence that you can only get real change by supporting an insurgent populist party such as Syriza, Podemos or the Front National.


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