Saturday, 25 June 2016
British democracy: the problem and the cure.
In the previous post I have argued that what we need to do to repair our democracy is to reform the electoral system. That will be no surprise, coming from a convinced Liberal/Liberal Democrat of fifty years' standing.
Whilst we scratch our heads to wonder why the majority of the electorate has chosen to ignore the advice of the overwhelming bulk of the establishment, I think our electoral system gives part of the explanation, for two reasons.
First, for the overwhelming majority of us, a referendum is the one opportunity we have to make our votes count. I have voted in every UK election since 1959, except for 1979, when I wasn't in the country. Yet my vote has never once helped to elect an MP. Maybe you'll say that's because I choose to help build up a minority party rather than go for a winner, but much the same applies to supporters of the two biggest parties in their safe seats.
Less dedicated voters in the Labour heartland, where they "weigh the vote," feel that it's not all that important to turn out as Labour will win anyway. And the same goes for Tories in the true-blue Shires. So if you want to exercise your frustration and "get rid of them", you haven't a chance, except in a few marginals. But a referendum is the one opportunity for everyone to "kick them in the teeth."
Secondly, the electoral system explains why the party faithful, especially Labour, who had a relatively united leadership, failed to obey their parties' call. Given a rock-solid marginal, it is easy for a party to parachute in a favoured acolyte from the centre. He or she will do routine welfare work, attend a few social events, visit a few schools, but rely on the messages from the centre to communicate the party's principles and policies.
There will be exceptions, of course, but I suspect this is largely what has happened to Labour in Scotland - the electorate have been taken for granted for too long. and found, in the SNP, a way to hit back. Having had. and continuing to have, their fling they were happy to to listen to the experts and vote "Remain." In Labour's heartlands in the North East and South Wales the electorate have chosen "Leave" as a method of expressing their own protest.
Poor Jeremy Corbyn is being blamed for failing to inspire his voters, but they are really protesting about years of neglect. What on earth, to take just one example, did Tony Blair have in common with the people of Sedgefield?
So, once again, part of the solution is to introduce proportional representation by single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies. This system gives maximum choice to the electors We can not only choose between the parties, but between different wings of each party, every vote counts and has to be fought for. Sitting MPs as well as other candidates can take little for granted, but have to work hard to explain the party's principles, beliefs and policies, and at the same time understand the concerns of the voters.
By this two way process politicians should be enabled to lead and take their voters with them.