Category Archives: Election

Forget Brexit. First, we need to stop the Tories and deliver Proportional Representation

More than anything right now we need to prevent the Tories negotiating our EU exit, and make sure every vote counts in future elections. A progressive alliance is the only way to deliver that

The great Brexit referendum indicated only one thing, and it definitely wasn’t that a well informed population overwhelmingly voted to leave the EU based on a considered examination of the evidence, the risks and opportunities, or on the opinion of experts. No, the only thing the referendum result really told us was that a large proportion of the public feel their vote doesn’t count – or at least that it doesn’t count in a normal general election.

The turnout in this referendum was 72.2%, higher than any general election since 1992, almost a quarter of a century ago. Clearly, with a nationwide yes/no vote, which didn’t respect arbitrary constituency or national boundaries, many people felt their vote actually counted this time and made the effort on a miserable day to get to the polling station and have their say.

On the flip side, we’ve seen substantial ‘regrexit‘ following the result – people who voted leave as a protest vote, because they didn’t think it would count and are now regretting it. These are people who have turned out to vote in the past, but it never seems to go their way, so voting is devalued in their mind.

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Both of these problems are caused because we have a First Past The Post electoral system for our general elections in the UK, which only 45 of 237 other countries use. This system means that in each constituency, the winner takes all, and that winner then heads off to parliament. The majority of MPs from a single party can then form a government, which seems to have almost complete control. The 2015 election was the most disproportionate in history, and the Electoral Reform Society produced an in-depth report into the problems with the system.

When you think about it, it’s clear to see why people feel their vote is wasted. With a winner takes all system, all votes for other parties count for nothing. Although that’s bad news for those who voted for the losers, it’s great for those who backed the winner, right? Well, not really. Once a candidate has more votes than anyone else, they win. It doesn’t matter if the winning candidate got a majority of 10,000 or 1, they still won, and those extra votes don’t count towards the national picture. These wasted votes accounted for 74.4% of all votes cast in the 2015 general election. It’s no surprise people feel their vote doesn’t count, when statistically three quarters of the time it really doesn’t.

So what’s the alternative? Proportional Representation is an electoral system where all votes count towards the national result. There are many different varieties of PR, and some alternatives that aren’t exactly proportional, but are pretty close.

One argument against PR is that it is not as likely to produce majority governments. However, coalitions work in other countries. Politicians have to work together, instead of brazenly steamrolling through policies. People like to see this, because they are sick and tired of the playground politics we see in Westminster. If you want to get things done under PR, you need to have an adult debate.

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Another problem with PR is that you don’t get to vote for a real person who works hard in your area and will represent your area locally. For this reason, the Green Party advocates Alternative Vote Plus, a system where you vote for a local candidate just like FPTP, but then the number of MPs from each region gets topped up to make the result more proportional. Although this system is easy to understand as the ballot paper doesn’t change, it may mean people don’t realise their vote always counts whoever they vote for. Substantial public education would be required to make them aware.

The problem has been that neither the Conservatives nor Labour want to support PR, as it means they will lose MPs. The two party system works quite well for them. However, what we have seen following Brexit is a major crisis in the establishment, and the potential breakup of both main parties – the Conservatives divided over Europe, and Labour divided over whether it wants to be a right or left wing party, and if left, who will lead it. This means that were there to be a snap general election – which surely is the only way Brexit can be negotiated in a democracy – then both parties are looking quite vulnerable.

The Conservatives however are a very top down, whipped party that sticks together through thick and thin because the leader knows best and divided they would lose. They won the general election, so they aren’t in such a vulnerable position. Labour, on the other hand, is. The ongoing coup is evidence of that. Its voter base is disillusioned and voters are heading to UKIP. And with First Past the Post, we’re not likely to see any other parties taking the lead as the opposition any time soon.

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The only way for left wing parties in this country to win, perhaps in the next decade, is to unite. The Green Party has today called on Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru to come together and form a progressive alliance. It’s possible this might also include the SNP. This would solidify the lead in many constituencies and leave the rest of the vote split between The Conservatives and UKIP. A progressive alliance with the combined support of all their party members would be very likely to win a majority in government.

What would that alliance look like, so it works for all parties? The most effective way to do it is only one party standing in each constituency, possibly rebranded under the ‘progressive alliance’, so long held loyalties and grievances would not be demonstrated so clearly in the polling booth.

Then, let’s start as we mean to go on – make it proportional. There are 632 seats in Scotland, England and Wales. Based on the last election, if the progressive alliance won all 632 seats, this is how many each of the potential member parties would have gained:

Party 2015 votes Percentage of ‘alliance’ votes Proportional number of seats
Labour 9347304 64.21% 406
Lib Dems 2415862 16.60% 105
SNP 1454436 9.99% 63
Greens 1157613 7.95% 50
Plaid Cymru 181704 1.25% 8

There will need to be some significant adjustments to this to keep everyone happy and make it realistic. Scotland is entirely held by SNP, so it might be a good idea to let them keep their seats to get them on board, because right now they don’t have much reason to be – FPTP is working well for them, and they want independence anyway. Plaid Cymru deserves a larger presence in Wales, currently they have three seats, and it might make sense to give them another. It’s unlikely that the Greens have enough support to win in 52 constituencies, but they did very well nationwide so it might be a good idea to give them all the seats where they came second – another three seats in addition to Brighton. The same might also be a good move for the Lib Dems. Careful decisions would need to be made about marginal constituencies, and more effort put into those areas. The details would take some time to be hashed out, but starting out by making it proportional would put us on a good footing.

It’s important that this is also sold to members and the general public. Local parties that have been fighting against each other for decades would need to campaign together in order to win. Labour would need to learn some humility and put its large member base to work behind other parties in some constituencies. It’s important to remember the bigger long term picture: this is the only way we can all stop the common enemies – the Conservatives and UKIP – from being in the driving seat of our EU negotiations, and deliver proportional representation, which means the progressive alliance won’t ever be needed again.

This is a vision for parties with roughly compatible ideologies working together to make elections fairer and undertake a truly inclusive EU negotiation (yes, UKIP and Conservatives too). That’s what politics in the 21st century should be about.

Image Credits

Featured Image: Number 10 via Flickr

Vote Leave signs: Bob Harvey via Geograph

House of Commons: UK Parliament via Flickr

Jeremy Corbyn: 70023venus2009 via Flickr

Doing the right thing doesn’t make the House of Lords OK

At the time of writing, it has been five and a half months since the nation woke up to a Tory majority in the House of Commons. Since then there have been riots, protests, name calling, egg throwing and Jeremy Corbyn. It’s been a busy summer, but we’ve finally come to rest in our allotted positions: the establishment on the right, the opposition on the left, with clowns and jokers left to fall where they may. It was all becoming so simple, so expected. Corbyn asks his questions, Cameron struggles to make himself heard over the laughter of his baying hyenas, and England finds itself merrily knocked out of another sporting competition. How completely and utterly dull. Until the House of Lords of all things started rearing its antediluvian head and forcing its way onto the front pages by defying the Tory government it is normally in such loyal service to.

For those of us who routinely forget the House of Lords exists, the tax credits vote was a surprising and confusing moment to process. An ancient, traditionally rightward-leaning body, a stalwart desert oasis of the mirage that is British democracy, doing something…good?

There can be no doubt that anything which puts the brakes on Osborne’s plan to skim £4.4 billion off his fabled deficit by stripping some of the country’s poorest working families of their tax credits is a good thing. Not only is his proposition cruel, underhanded and ethically bereft, it makes a mockery of everything the Conservatives claimed to stand for at the general election. Supporting hard workers; getting people back into jobs; the party of working Britain; the Tories who painted themselves as the nation’s security system are now breaking into our homes and robbing us blind while we’re out at the jobs they so badly wanted us in. Thankfully, the scheming has been waylaid for the time being, but as per usual it’s come at a price.

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Why do people like Jeremy Corbyn? Because he’s telling a damned good story

Well, what a week it’s been. Britain’s shiny new bus pass-wielding Karl Marx has already stolen food from war veterans, spat in the face of the Queen (aka Victoria WHO?), destroyed the sanctity of PMQs by daring to ask questions and offended every woman in the universe by giving only 16 of them well-paid, respectable positions in his cabinet. And yet, somehow people aren’t baying for his head on a pike – why? Because anyone who doesn’t get that a sizeable part of Jeremy Corbyn’s appeal is his uniquely mild version of not giving a shit what you think, isn’t fully tuned in to the fact that the new Labour leader is telling the best damned story British politics has seen for decades.

Whether we like it or not, politics today (particularly large scale elections) is far less about board rooms or seminar rooms, and far more about living rooms. Without an engaged populace at the base of a campaign to fervently scream and flag wave for your corner, without people who truly believe in what you’re selling, you’re not a politician. You may be an intellectual, but not a politician.

How then do you engage people in a topic as frequently dry and tedious as political debate? The answer (unfortunately), for the most part, is you don’t. For we, the proud proletariat, are far more likely to engage our minds using straightforward narrative rather than prolonged discussion. Most of us prefer a sitcom to PM’s questions, a soap opera over a live party election hustings. That’s because these stories offer us a satisfyingly easy choice: one side is good, one side is bad. It’s clear, it’s simple, it’s easy to know who to root for. It’s not, say, Ed Miliband’s confusing stance on immigration.

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A democracy controlled by a minority

“This isn’t what we voted for” – this statement is perhaps more relevant now than when we made it our tagline last year. While we now have a majority Conservative government, one with free licence to carry out the regressive policies in its manifesto unimpeded, the vast majority of the population did not vote for this. Only 36.9% of the vote was for the Conservative party, equating to 24.4% of the population eligible to vote. Across all seats, approximately 63% of all votes were discarded, counting for nothing, thanks to our winner-takes-all ‘first past the post’ electoral system. Even worse, it is said that only about 200,000 votes in marginal constituencies swung it (you can even calculate the value of your vote). Continue reading

The biggest loser in this election? Our broken democracy

Watching the count results come in and listening to the speeches in the early hours of this morning, something quite odd happened – UKIP found common ground with the Green Party. As Douglas Carswell pointed out in his winning speech for UKIP’s only seat, almost 5 million people will have voted for either UKIP or the Green Party in this election, but that only translated into 2 MPs. Under a proportional representation system, that would instead result in many more MPs than SNP has achieved in Scotland.

That failure to translate those 5m votes into seats is less a translation of how my party or the Green party campaigned. Rather, it tells us how dysfunctional our political system has now become. Approximately four times more people voted either for the Greens or for Ukip than the SNP, yet the SNP is expected to get many more times the representation.

Douglas Carswell

As Andrew Marr pointed out, electoral reform has traditionally been a left-wing issue, but after tonight’s result it is set to become an issue for both sides of the political spectrum. While more UKIP MPs could be very negative for our political discourse, in the longer term a move towards a proportional representation system would undoubtedly be beneficial for our democracy, because the first past the post system is proving disastrous – voting to keep another party out, voting to maintain the union, voting to devolve from the union, an SNP landslide disregarding all ~50% votes for other parties, and the votes of the majority of the country being discarded in the name of a ‘strong government’ – a concept we are growing used to doing without.

Why voting for a small party is not a wasted vote

Over the last few weeks we’ve seen all the news outlets pick their sides. Many of the establishment rags have gone with the Conservatives, for obvious reasons. The Express has backed UKIP, failing to see the irony in donating £1.3m to the party while still declaring it a ‘people’s army’. Perhaps more interestingly are the typically ‘left-leaning’ or independent voices. The Guardian and Russell Brand have chosen to back Labour, the general view being that we are better fighting Labour to make them do the right thing than watch our country be ruined by those bloody blue ones. The Independent has made the mistake of not being independent, and published an editorial calling for a repeat of the Tory-Liberal coalition, much to the distaste of its readership (but it’s perhaps no surprise from a newspaper owned by one rich individual).

I could sympathise with the view that it’s better to vote for Labour to keep the Tories out if I had any faith that the Labour leadership would seek to reverse the damage done to our country already and introduce positive changes. The fact is, 2015 Labour is very similar to the Conservatives. While there are many individuals in the party who undoubtedly have the best interests of our country at heart, the party on the whole is entangled with industry and the establishment.

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A tactical vote suggests approval for one of the three main parties. They won’t have ours

Want the Tories out? Vote Labour. Do not vote Green or SNP – you’ll only be splitting the left vote. Alternatively, if you seek to deny Labour the chance to govern, vote Conservative. Don’t even think about voting UKIP – it’ll just steal votes away from David Cameron’s party. As for the Lib Dems, give them your vote if you want to ensure whoever they decide to do a deal with never strays ‘too far right or too far left’.

This is what you’ve been told, anyway. Seemingly almost every party leader wants to pressure you into casting your vote based on how it’ll allow you to best cheat the system. Failing to recognise that such an endorsement confirms how absurd first-past-the-post voting is, the leaders have proceeded not just to tempt you with what treasures a vote for them will buy you, but to terrify you with the fear of what a vote for someone else will bring. Even Nigel Farage has been telling UKIP supporters to vote Conservative, so behind the tactical vote is he that he’s willing to lose a percentage just to ensure Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon don’t bring their deadly cocktail of communism and Scottishness into parliament.

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