Monday, 11 May 2015

In Defence of Our Undemocratic System

The First Past the Post electoral system in the UK has been under renewed scrutiny since an election where the party with the third largest number of votes got all of one seat in Parliament. This is 55 fewer than a party that got about a third of its votes. The bare numbers (thanks, BBC) look like this:

Conservative: Votes: 11,334,520 Seats: 331
Labour:                     9,347,326           232
UKIP:                       3,881,129            1
Lib Dem:                   2,415,888           8
SNP:                        1,454,436            56
Green:                      1,157,613           1

On the face of it, these figures speak of a system that fails to reflect the will of the electorate in the division of Parliamentary power. Discounting the two largest parties, there is no sense in these figures.

But I'm here to tell you that this election is the perfect example of the beauty of the first past the post system. The sense it has made of the will of the British people is sublime; the product of a genius beyond the imaginings of mortal man.

What it has so successfully reflected is not the capricious whims of a significant percentage of eligible voters, but rather the will of those with actual, real-world concerns, actually affecting life in this country.

Liberal Democrats have one and a half million less voters and eight times the seats of UKIP, not because the system is in any way unfair, but because the Lib Dems have assisted real people with their local concerns and addressed actual issues within communities to the satisfaction of enough voters in those constituencies to return those 8 MPs. UKIP have not.

The SNP have successfully transferred the support they have garnered for their stewardship in Scotland, and for their pro-independence platform, to a significant share on the national stage. Communities feel they have benefited and can benefit from the SNP having more power. UKIP have done nothing for any community.

UKIP's support is dispersed across the country, with no one place actually feeling that UKIP's policies would benefit the community significantly. Almost 4 million individual voters, and no one place where community-wide concern was addressed or harnessed into a UKIP victory, aside from Clacton, where Douglas Carswell, a popular MP when he was a Tory, had his majority slashed.

Their issues (by which I mean "immigration") are not a dominant, community-wide issue in any one place. They are a party that has done nothing for any part of the country. They have no specific constituency. They speak for no particular community.

Labour purport to speak for the working classes; the map of their constituencies reflects that. Tories speak for men called "Tristram"; their domination of rich, rural areas near, but not actually in, Slough reflects that. The SNP speaks for Scottish people who like the idea, if not the actual option, of independence, so they swept the board in a Scotland that's still happily within the Union.

UKIP speak for a minority of people who are generally concerned when they see someone with a different skin colour. They have no particular reason for this, apart from their underlying fear of difference and insecurity when faced with colours other than beige.

These people may not actually be racist, they are just so isolated from their communities, and insulated by wealth or by ignorance, that they have lost sight of the actual concerns that actually fester in their communities. Their share of the vote reflects this fearfulness within the country; their share of parliamentary seats reflects the lack of any specific, real-world justification for their fears within any specific community.

So it is that our much derided, undemocratic electoral system of First Past the Post reflects the reality that racial animus and ignorant xenophobia are not, in fact, justified; that those who cower in fear against the possibility of change do so for reasons not reflected in the world around them but for reasons residing primarily in their own heads.

I hope that we do not bow to the instinct to simplify our electoral system and that trite rationality shall never replace the beauteous teacher of this elegant lesson.

P.S. Perhaps everyone would have voted Green if they understood what ecological disaster would mean for their children and grandchildren; not all issues that matter are issues that are obvious to any one community. 

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Election 2015: Post-Mortem and Prepartum

With the election results yesterday a media narrative of a crushing victory for the Tories and the SNP, with Labour and the Lib Dems bereft of hope and leadership, with the first past the post system likely to be reformed any day now. I think things are a little more complicated than that. For every party there are challenges both immediate and long term which I'd like to name and propose solutions to.

The Conservatives

Yes, they have a majority, but just barely. The last time the Tories held the majority after a General Election was 1992, and the Major government was the weakest government of my lifetime, with division over Europe hobbling much of their term. David Cameron's majority is even smaller. His challenge is to keep the back-benches in line - a challenge I, unfortunately, do not see him as succeeding with.

My prediction is that, with increased popularity of some figure of the left, the Tories will become as hated as they were in '97. However, with leadership of the party changing before 2020, they still might avoid total electoral disaster.


Oh, dear. Their plan must be to find a unifying voice that is authentic, probably coming from someone who has never served as a special advisor or policy wonk.

Dan Jarvis would be my pick: as a former Major in the Parachute Regiment, he will be immune from criticism of being naive or out of touch, and will certainly not be accused of being a "north London geek." Whether the union bosses would allow him in is another matter; having coronated Ed "The Wrong" Milliband, will they once again stand in the way of the broad opinion of party members, should Dan Jarvis, or another candidate, garner a groundswell of popular support? The answer is "Yes". Why? Same reason as last time: nannying know-betterism.

I can see Chuka Umunna getting very enthusiastic backing, and I think he would make an excellent candidate. The obvious problem with both my picks is that they are both just coming through their second election and may not have the political chops to navigate a leadership election, or have the alliances necessary to corral enough MPs to endorse them. And if they do, will they fall flat on their faces at the dispatch box?

The Liberal Democrat Party

Eight MPs? Should they even be on this list? This is for main parties.

I really feel bad for Nick Clegg, who took his party into coalition five years ago in order to avoid constitutional chaos. He forsook hasty campaign promises to bring political stability to a country riven by economic crisis.

The Lib Dem support disappeared into the aether after contact with power, as if it were steam evaporating from a hot hob. In my view, the voters who deserted the Lib Dems for, primarily, UKIP, are a bunch of vapid buffoons with no conception of what it is to wield real power - as they were seemingly affronted to see their party making decisions that didn't represent their purest ideology, but rather reflected political, social and economic reality.

I applaud them for compromising like adults.

I see no way back for them soon.


Mission accomplished. Brilliant. Question: Once you've won 95% of the seats you are running for, what are you running for next time? Only to maintain your gains. They can only fight a defence from here on in. In Scotland, they are now the establishment.

Ask Nick Clegg what that's like.

My suggestion is for them to seize the opportunity they now have to become a national force by becoming a national party. Of course, they will need to change the name, but not the pro-independence-referendum policy.

As Bob Dylan said "He not busy being born is busy dying". They even have a ready-made, social media-friendly name already associated with their policies and faces and close to the hearts of their core supporters.

Ladies and Gentlemen, go with me on this, I give you "YES!". What more positive, inspiring message could be conveyed in a party name than that? They are the political mavericks, the party everyone sees as the upstarts, the underdogs, the ideological, starry-eyed dreamers - but they are also a party with real power in Scotland through the Scottish Parliament, where they can display assured maturity and intelligent stewardship (with the safety net of not quite having enough power to completely destroy their country with naivety and recklessness).

"YES!" conveys their socialist zeal to spend every last pound China has on double the number of nurses in your new local hospital where you can go for a fully funded seven year degree course in panda wrangling... OK, OK, I'm being slightly facetious. But I want you to think of this completely seriously.

They can either stand still, having maxed-out their potential, and wait to fall apart, or they can grow. If they grow, they need to change their name. "YES!" is such a positive message, which conveys their optimistic view of the potential of the electorate. They will invest in the electorate though social policies like increased funding for the NHS and free university tuition, paid for through canning Trident, drawing down military spending overseas, and real financial reform. "YES!" can co-opt and sweep away the Labour strong-holds of Liverpool and Sunderland by offering those supporters what they really want, which is a full on, peaceful, left-wing revolution.

Labour are there for the taking; a tired, jaded, sad party who don't have a clue what they stand for any more, who will barely defend themselves when challenged. How can they? The Blair and Brown governments betrayed and disappointed the Labour base by invading Iraq and leading the country to a financial collapse that hit everyone except the well-off. Labour supporters, faced with a YES! candidate preaching social egalitarianism at home and peaceful coexistence overseas, will have no convincing argument - their words would turn into ashes in their mouths.

YES! would sweep away Labour and have a huge swell of optimistic youth support. If played right, YES! could form the next government. I'm not joking. If the SNP strike now, before Labour regroups, and announce that they are going to go national, they would take a massive slice of the Labour vote, they will hoover up the outsider vote of UKIP, Lib Dem and Green, as they do not represent an establishment party, but a beautiful idea: YES!

Set against a government that will doubtless be at war with itself, arguing about Europe and the severity of austerity, YES! would become a beacon of hope, a party for the people, for the little guy, not stained with establishment or power, just representative of the blue skies of tomorrow growing ever brighter: YES! YES! YES!