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Electoral Reform (Stage 1), The arguments for voting reform. Part 4b.

[Ed: you can read Part 1 in this series here, part 2 here and part 3 here. You can read Part 4a here.]

Weak government can never address fundamental issues.

FPTP will always result in weak government when more than two well supported parties contest a general election. In the UK 2017 general election, we had seven parties that polled more than half a million votes, despite the unusual conditions surrounding it. In 2010, there were five parties that passed this figure and, in 2015, seven again.

Even with the extraordinary polarisation of opinion that characterised the 2017 election and the consequential sucking away of support from smaller parties, there were still seven political parties with over 500,000 votes, yet, of course, with wildly varying levels of eventual representation.

When the voting system denies people representation, a contradictory set of circumstances prevails. The 2017 results created a hung parliament, with the governing party dependent on a very small party for survival (the DUP, who got nowhere near half a million votes) and, as a result, the government is visibly weak in all respects. The governments of 2010 and 2015 also suffered from this same problem to differing degrees and, whilst this weakness was material, it wasn’t immediately obvious.

The 2015 general election delivered a small Conservative majority in parliamentary seats yet with only about 20% of support in the nation. They achieved 36.8% of the votes cast and 24.4% of those who registered to vote. Ironically, the hung parliament of 2017 delivered national support of around 27%, with 42.4% of the votes cast and 29.2% of those registered to vote.

Typically, an estimation of the numbers of people who were eligible to vote but failed to register takes a couple of points off the lower figure, hence around 22% and 27% of overall support respectively for the 2015 and 2017 elections.

Applying the same criteria to the 2010 coalition government would have given them around 36.5% of overall support; a significant increase.

Overall support may well be a better indicator of the relative strengths of governments than the number of seats won:

  • 2010, higher overall support, lasted 5 years, made significant changes, reduced deficit etc and won two referendums.
  • 2015, very low overall support, lasted 2 years, lost a referendum, a prime minister and a chancellor and achieved very little.
  • 2017, still low support but much higher than 2015 and suffering a loss of majority. Could last longer than the 2015 government but will be unable to even implement basic manifesto commitments.

Support in the country is a factor and here’s why.

Just because people don’t vote doesn’t mean that they don’t care. It also doesn’t mean that they don’t have political opinions, nor does it mean that they won’t air them, but in ways that aren’t easily measurable, even though they may be very effective. These opinions will be expressed on social media, in the pub, at a football match, at home and at work, and will add to a collective opposition that influences the attitude of society, as a whole.

There are multiple conduits through which feelings, denied expression in our electoral mechanism, will find their way into the public domain, and they can be sufficiently destabilising to cause governments difficulty and may be sufficiently strong to cause them to fall. The unexpected support that the Labour party received in the 2017 general election, may well have been the only way that many could express opposition to the Conservative government’s program. Not so much support for Labour, perhaps, maybe just registering opposition to the Conservatives.

The argument is, that FPTP produces weak governments and coalitions produce stronger ones because the broad support for the governing coalition is much higher than, even a HoC majority of a single party. It follows, therefore, that we should seek an electoral process that maximises overall support which is then, more likely to provide better government.

Higher overall support, by its very nature, will also provide the parliamentary majority necessary to implement a governmental program. Just having the majority of seats, or a cobbled together majority with very small parties, as is the case now, only provides the illusion of authority. FPTP will, in a multi-party state, always deliver governments with low overall support, thereby subverting their legislative ambitions. The idea that it is only the parliamentary majority that counts only sees a part of the picture.

The lack of overall support means that governments are unable to do the things they should do, and instead only attempt the things they think they can get through.

As a nation we can do better.

We have many socio-economic issues that, instead of being placed on a sustainable foundation, are constantly tinkered with. It’s probably not an absence of ideas, but an absence of political ability that prevents the necessary action being taken. A minority government attempting radical and far reaching change does attract massive opposition, often politically driven, and with the delicately balanced and highly polarised political situation we now have, such risks are usually seen as being too great to take. However, with a government that has much higher overall support, the scope for opposition is a) smaller and b) not able to derail necessary changes so easily.

Fairer voting will include the views of people not catered for in FTPT elections. When their votes count, more will engage, and the result will be a broader reflection of how people feel. Coalition is an inevitable consequence of taking on board the desires of many more people, but it is likely, as opposed to 2010, to be a coalition of the similarly minded, and will lead to a government that has a chance of addressing the structural changes we need, whilst moderating the tendency to cater to one’s financial backers.

We are all aware that the Conservatives receive a great deal of money from big business and the Labour Party from trade unions. Big business doesn’t worry unduly about the quality of life for working people and neither do trades unions. The former, are primarily concerned with a legislative framework that benefits their business and the latter, by definition, cater for ‘members only’, with little consideration for working people in general. Governments tied to their paymasters aren’t going to do what’s right, only what pays.

  1. High on the list for substantial reform and the creation of a sustainable model would be national healthcare, for too long just a political football.
  2. The provision of affordable housing and the significant reduction in immigration needed to realise this aim.
  3. A national transportation strategy and a longer-term energy policy.
  4. Education and higher education.

Almost every sector needs substantial revision but that doesn’t happen because weak governments, have as a priority, their own self-interest.

Better government, coalition government, is more likely to produce stability and the progressive improvement in the welfare of our citizens, as opposed to the repeated swinging from one ideology to another every few years. As such it is a powerful argument for voting reform. If more people become engaged in the electoral system and more people vote for the ideas they want, a coalition government with a broader and bigger overall support base is more likely to ensue.

It is an argument well worth making.

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David Allen
About David Allen (85 Articles)
UKIP cabinet member for Electoral Reform. Author and political innovator. UKIP Borough Council candidate 2016, KCC candidate 2017, Parliamentary candidate for Rochester and Strood 2017 in which he saved his deposit.

7 Comments on Electoral Reform (Stage 1), The arguments for voting reform. Part 4b.

  1. If the masses want a new politics that isn’t in hoc to big business / trades unions / other vested interests then they will have to fund it themselves. UKIP could be that party – but only if it makes a song and dance about it to drive the message home, guarantees to limit the size of any annual donation and implements a genuine internal democracy to drive its agenda. Not easy, but we have to start somewhere . . .

  2. Difficult to see anything that a reasonable person could disagree with here ( but don’t expect any support from the Parliamentarians elected in the current Rotten Borough system).

    I would make two points only:

    1) that opposition to PR is most often based on the proposition that ‘it always leads to coalitions’ ( on the assumption that ‘coalition’ is a dirty word ).
    But this ignores the fact that the existing, mad, FPTP Rotten Borough system also requires the two major / dominant parties to themselves BE coalitions.
    This itself leads to distortions and electoral injustices in situations such as that of the current hung Parliament, whereby a small number of MPs such as Anna Soubry and her ilk can blatantly defy the party whip which seeks merely to enforce the electoral platform on which they were elected……

    This is what has led directly to Mrs May / Gove / Johnson going back totally on the concept that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ ~ offering billions in Danegeld and even subjecting UK courts forever to CJEU dominance.
    ( On that see Sir Richard Aiken’s letter to the PM posted on the wonderful LawyersForBritain website:
    http://lawyersforbritain.org/files/sir-richard-aikens-letter-to-prime-minister.pdf )

    If we had had an election in which UKIP had obtained as many seats as AfD for example then the good ship Brexit would be already far out into the Atlantic and the wider horizons.

    2) You do not reference in this piece any particular system of PR, though you have done so in previous articles.

    I would just reiterate, for those who have not seen my previous comment, that whilst almost all UKIP supporters would agree that PR is necessary to bring fairness to the electoral system, it will be a HUGE moving of mountains exercise to get the country anywhere near that destination.

    Therefore we ( UKIP ) need to establish close links with other parties, and prominent individuals, seeking the same aim.
    We have to agree, with them, a specific system of PR to advocate as a much better alternative than the current FPTP Rotten Borough system.

    The very unusual system which you proposed earlier is, in my respectful submission, an obstacle to getting that agreement.
    What is needed is a simple system of PR which the electorate is already familiar with, so that what is proposed cannot be opposed on the grounds that it is too radical or revolutionary a departure from current practice.
    Crucially, it needs to be a system which could be rapidly agreed upon by the Parties seeking a changover to PR. To put it bluntly : the system you described would never be agreed upon by Libs / Greens / those few in other parties ( ? Miliband ? ) seeking PR.

    Thus we should advocate adoption of the same system as that currently used for the Euro Elections ~regional PR ~ but with the added ( and extremely important ) democratic fillip that instead of the Parties being able to list their candidates in order of the party Hierarchy’s preference, that they be listed in alphabetical order, and the Electorate themselves would have the opportunity to choose and prefer candidate B over candidate A and so on.
    Thus tribal Labour / Tory / Lib / UKIP voters would no longer have to accept whatever candidate their Party machine had given first place to, but could choose, for example, between a proponent and an opponent of Mass Uncontrolled Immigration, but still sticking to their Party’s ‘family’. ( I am certain that this would lead [ AT LAST !!!] to the elimination from Parliament of totally unrepresentative people such as Soubry / Clark / Starmer / et al et al. )

    • Rhys – I’m letting this overlong comment post stand, for once.
      But will you – and all other comment posters – please stop writing when you’ve reached the 400-word-limit! The next overlong comment post will be binned.
      If you don’t want to write articles, then our “Letters” are the perfect place to have your thoughts published.

  3. This is fine, but whatever government is in power, single party or coalition, it’s always controlled by the unelected civil serpents. How do you get around that issue?

    • ‘always’ is incorrect.
      If a Govt. knows what it wants to do, and has a substantial majority in the HoC ( think the postwar and then the 1997 Lab Governments, also Mrs Thatcher’s Government after 1983 ) then it can effect change against the prevailing wisdom.

  4. No. Please stop this. Stop wasting energy. You’re a clever man, do something more useful.You’re building castles on quicksand.

    Millions of clever people over centuries have considered this ( including that bunch of cretins in Brussels. ) ( and Lib dems )and rejected it.

    Consider the entire constitution from Queen to the lords, to your representative to commoners and their illegitimate babies. Its only susceptibility is from sustained, malignant, unthinking pressure from within as well as without.

    Talk to Bill Cash ! I understand he’s a constitutional lawyer.

    I’m not versed in the arcane mysteries of twitter or f/b so my views are necessarily limited.

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