UK democracy: A three-headed monster

Cerberus
Cerberus by Joe Dykes, on Flickr.
The UK democracy is a disaster, it’s like a monster destroying democracy with its three heads: FPTP, over-centralised political parties and the House of Lords.

First Past The Post (FPTP) is a decent way to elect one person, especially when there are only two serious contenders. For instance, in France the second round of the presidential elections is a FPTP election between the two leading candidates. However, as the number of candidates grows, FPTP starts producing increasingly absurd outcomes.

In some seats, there’ll be five parties that are more or less equally popular, so they’ll all get around 20% and the winning party might be the one that gets 25%. That’s hardly very democratic. In other seats, random demographic variations will mean that only one party can realistically win, which isn’t very democratic either.

In single-member constituencies with many candidates, it’s generally better to use the Alternative Vote system, which allows the voters to rank the candidates (e.g., a Green-leaning Yes voter might want to rank the candidates as follows: Green, SSP, SNP, Labour, LD, Tory, UKIP); however, the AV system was comprehensively defeated in the 2011 referendum, and it’s unlikely it’ll be resurrected any time soon, and the AV defeat seems to have made most Westminster politicians conclude that any electoral reform would be unpopular with the British public.

If the electoral system was functioning well, it would automatically limit the control exercised by political party headquarters, because only an excellent candidate with strong local credentials would have any chance of getting elected. In the current FPTP mess, your best chance is to be parachuted into a safe seat and not to rock the boat too much once you’re in parliament, so more and more MPs have given up independent thinking and instead always toe the party line.

Finally, the existence of the appointed House of Lords gives the party leaders yet another way to reward the loyal MPs. Whenever they run into trouble, they can normally be persuaded to step down with the promise of a subsequent elevation of the Lords.

The three problems are therefore connected. A broken electoral system and an appointed House of Lords gives far too much power to political party leaders, who as a result have absolutely no reason to change the system, because it works for them.

If it wasn’t for this fact, it would be easy enough to sort out the mess. The solution to the first two problems identified above is clearly proportional representation, ideally in a variant without party lists. Not only would every vote count, but it would also be much harder for the political parties to control the selection of specific individuals. And if the House of Lords was abolished (or replaced with a democratic chamber), it would be much harder for the party leaders to reward “good” behaviour.

However, I don’t think there’s any reason to be optimistic. In the UK, opposition parties routinely promise reforms but always forget about them as soon as the gain power. If Labour can only get into power with the SNP’s votes, then perhaps there’s a chance we’ll get some sort of reform, but left to their own devices the big Westminster parties will just waffle for decades. The system works for them, after all.

One of the reasons I’m so strongly in favour of Scottish independence is because I believe Westminster is fundamentally unreformable. Scotland already has a functioning parliament elected through proportional representation, and there is no appointed chamber here, so independence will solve the problem for us.

In the meantime, I hope the SNP will use its MPs after the Westminster election to force the other parties to introduce proportional representation and/or abolish the House of Lords. It would be rather ironic if the SNP fixed the Union for the Unionist parties, though.

5 thoughts on “UK democracy: A three-headed monster

  • 22/03/2015 at 20:00
    Permalink

    The Scottish PR electoral system has many advantages over FPTP, but does have the disadvantages of Party List MPs. Direct Party and Representative Voting (DPR voting) has many similarities to AMS, but is a single member party proportional system without party list MPs.
    I believe that changing the Westminster electoral system would make a profound and beneficial difference to our politics, but it is important to choose the right system. DPR Voting has a great deal of merit as a Westminster replacement for FPTP.
    Have you considered it?

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Optimized with PageSpeed Ninja