It should be obvious that Britain’s present electoral system is an undemocratic mess. (I’ve posted on this before: https://bernardjporter.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/first-past-the-post/.) This must be one of the reasons (though not the only one) why there is so little respect in the country at large for parliament, which in its turn fuels anti-democratic feeling, mainly of course on the Right but also on the far Left. (Further Left, that is, than Corbyn.) Much the same is true in the USA. Both countries have relatively low turn-outs at elections.
So we need to do something about it. I’d suggest the following five reforms for a start.
- A House of Commons accurately reflecting the votes of the people as a whole. This could be achieved while still having locally-accountable MPs, by adopting the German electoral system, or some variant thereof: single-member constituencies, but with any imbalances corrected from a pool of extra, either popularly elected or party-nominated, candidates. See http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/german-election-system-explained-a-923243.html.
- An acceptance of (a) a multiplicity of parties in the legislature; and (b) coalitions. That would be the probable effect of Reform no. 1. The advantages of multi-party coalitions – if the minority parties are doing their job properly: better that is than the Lib Dems in the last government – are that they reflect national opinion more accurately, and more fluidly; and are bound to curb the more extreme policies of the dominant parties.
- State financial support for parties, based on membership, together with a ban – or at least a strict limit – on ‘private’ (which usually means corporate or trade union) funding.
- A franchise based on citizenship, rather than registration, either individual or by household. That might do something to solve the well-known problem of the ‘missing voters’ – perhaps a million or more who, for various reasons, aren’t registered currently. See https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jan/16/britains-1m-missing-voters.
- Impartial controls on party propaganda, simply to outlaw demonstrable propaganda falsehoods, by spokespeople, candidates, or in the press. Those Brexit ‘£350 millions a day’ buses would have to go.
Reform no. 1 (proportional representation) would solve the Labour Party’s present leadership difficulties at a stroke. At present too much is supposed to depend on who is elected leader of this monolith. Whichever candidate loses the contest is left out in the cold, without a home to go to. With a multiplicity of parties each with a real chance of at least sharing power, his faction could hive off and form another one. (Strictly this should be Owen Smith’s rebels, leaving the ‘old’ Labour Party to the Corbynites; but it doesn’t much matter which.) Then, after fighting the next election separately, they can decide whether they want to join a coalition with each other, and with other broadly like-minded minority parties, like the Greens. (This is how it works in Sweden.)
It would also give political activists, like those half-a-million Labour members – most of them new, young, idealistic and hopeful – a reasonable chance of being heard. Their enthusiasm needs to be harnessed. What will happen to it if it is once again frustrated by the system, and by the conventional establishment political discourse – i.e., comes a cropper against the hard ‘Westminster bubble’ – hardly bears thinking about: either a return to hopeless apathy; or a U-turn to the irrational and illiberal Right. That’s happened before – Mosley, Strachey, and the others who went from Labour to the BUF in the 1930s.
But of course there are powerful layers of prejudice and vested interest to be confronted, before any of this becomes possible.
Labour certainly needs to convert to PR sharpish as coalition seems to be the likely way back to government, although who with at present is unclear. In the the 1920’s Labour supported PR, and in 1929 were on the point of introducing it, but were obstructed in the Lords. The whole system is now in the interests of the Tories only; with boundary changes and reduction in seats while increasing the number of un-elected peers (Baroness Brady of Mayfair if you please)
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