Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Electoral reform

My opinions are constantly changing on electoral reform.  When parties achieve complete power on a 35.2% vote share, as Labour did in 2005, and only 22% of the total electorate, one wonders whether Britain should abandon First Past the Post.  In 1997, New Labour polled 13.5 million votes, an increase of two million on their 1992 result.  They achieved a vote share of 44.4%, which I think is rather impressive in a three party system.  However, it was achieved on a turnout of 71%, which, as Nick Cohen often repeated, was the lowest since democracy came to Britain.  In 1992, the Conservatives polled 14 million votes, the highest ever polled by a political party.  They held a 7% lead over Labour, and it gave them a majority of just 21.  Labour had a majority of 179 despite polling half a million fewer votes than Major had in 1992.  Unless the Liberal Democrats start achieving 1950's style election results, I believe FPTP is a rubbish system.  Labour then achieved a 41% vote share on a turnout of 59%, and this gave them a majority of 168.  Is this fair?  Although I am a huge Thatcher fan, her vote shares were rather unimpressive when compared with her 1950's Conservative counterparts.  Although her vote shares in England were always excellent (46-48%), in 1983, she polled 43.5% of the votes and 43.3% in 1987.  Alec Douglas Home lost an election with 43.9% of the vote in 1964, and in 1951, despite 'winning' the election in seat numbers, we lost in votes on 48% share.  Labour lost on a 46.4% share in 1955 and a 43.8% share in 1959.  Vernon Bogdanor, who with Lord William Norton of Louth, is the foremost expert on the British constitution and politics, has correctly wrote that First Past the Post works wonderfully in two party systems.  The Liberals are polling 23-24% of the vote. 

So what is to be done?  I don't believe in proportional representation for the House of Commons.  I don't believe it fair that the party with the lowest share of the vote of the main three can call the shots.  It's like asking the loser of a 100m sprint to decide the winner of the race.  I do not support the alternative vote system.  The loathsome Caroline Lucas hailed her election in Brighton Pavilion as the start of a Green revolution.  She was elected with a paltry 31.3% of the vote on a 70% turnout, allowing her to claim the support of just 21% of her total electorate.  If we introduce compulsory voting through the internet, MP's can attain solid majorities through genuine and support.  It isn't right that no MP has the support of an absolute majority of their constituents.  In the 1960's, 1/3 of all MP's enjoyed absolute majorities.  Only three MP's have above 40% support and none has 50%.  I am not a fan of the Electoral Reform Society, as it is a front group for student lefties who enjoy the sound of their own voices too much, but they have a point when they say politicians are elected with pathetic mandates.  The alternative vote does not give absolute majorities because of second and third preferences.  In a constituency like Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith-Conservative), which is a Tory-Lib/Dem marginal, the Labour voter is allowed to have more than one vote.  This is patently unfair to the Conservative voter. 

I support the equalisation of constituencies.  Comrades Straw and Harman are being thoroughly disingenuous when they claim this is gerrymandering.  The Labour needs a lead of just 3% to attain a majority.  The Tories need a 10% lead to attain a majority of 1.  A 10% lead would give the Labour Party a landslide because the cities are massively overrepresented, and Labour's support is concentrated in invariably poverty ridden cities, where the electorate will vote Labour in perpetuity.  We should have 500 MP's.  We have one of the largest lower houses in the developed world.  There are 435 members of the House of Representatives in America, we have 650 in our House of Commons, despite our distinctly smaller population.  Jack Straw has put forward a counter argument, suggesting that we have a relatively weak local political tradition.  Fine, then strengthen it.  As Douglas Carswell has stated, politics is becoming more local and more niche.  Local politics will endear itself to the local electorate.  The House of Lords should remain unelected, as I will explain in a later post, but its composition should reflect national vote shares instead of party strength in constituency numbers.  This will ensure the proper scrutinty of legislation.  Despite my misgivings about First Past the Post, I will vote to retain it during the referendum.  I believe my proposals could strengthen our dying democracy.  As Winston Churchill once said...''democracy is the worst form of government except for all others that have been tried.''

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