Tag Archives: Proportional Representation

May-Day, May Day, Mayday

View from a class 158 train on the Cambrian Coast Line
Snowdonia Scenery: A backdrop like this apparently prompted Prime Minster May’s change of plan regarding when the next general election would be held
Following a trip to Snowdonia, Prime Minister Theresa May took many by surprise, including myself. Perhaps even more surprising however were some of the comments in her speech announcing the snap election. “At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division.”
That, it seemed to me, was a veiled admission that the views of the ‘opposition’ are generally close to those of the government on most important issues. I have probably pointed out before that there is little difference between Labour’s policies and those of the Conservative party, and the first past the post electoral system means other parties are largely excluded. Therefore, the electorate isn’t really given a meaningful choice at general elections; certainly on some issues. The Labour party have, at least in the past, supported expansion of Heathrow airport, and Theresa May’s government has indicated they intend to approve expansion. No choice there then; voting for either of the main parties is, or has been, a vote for a blank cheque for the aviation industry to continue to increase its greenhouse gas emissions.

But on the issue of the UK’s relationship European Union, there are actually differences of opinion in the house of commons. The Conservatives have an opposition for a change and they don’t like it, so they are holding an election in the hope they can silence it. There should only be unity in Westminster if the views of vast majority of the population are the same, otherwise the people who hold different views are not being represented in Parliament. Ours is, after all, supposed to be a representative democracy. If the public are divided in their opinions and the house of commons isn’t, then parliament does not represent the people and the system isn’t working. In 2015, the Conservatives took 50.8% of the seats in the commons with only 36.8% of the vote. That tells you all you need to know; the system is broken; and given that turnout was less than 70% the actual proportion of the population that actually ‘asked’ for a Conservative government will be lower still.

Harlech castle from a Cambrian Coast Line train
True Inspiration? Could the fortresses of Snowdonia have been Mrs May’s motivation to attempt fortification of her party’s position in power?
Apparently, Jeremy Corbyn has vowed to overturn the rigged system. I might believe that if Labour’s manifesto includes a commitment to scrap First Past The Post, which is rigged against the smaller parties. That could still be a possibility, since Labour has not yet published its manifesto. Campaign group Make Votes Matter have pointed out that Labour are running a consultation on their 2017 manifesto. That doesn’t seem to have closed yet, so if the link still works when you read this please respond to the consultation and make sure to include a call for proportional representation in your response. There may be more opportunities to influence Labour’s policies on there policy forum site (I’ve yet to investigate it). If Labour can be persuaded to adopt proportional representation, the next challenge will be getting the Tories out of government so that proportional representation can be introduced. That isn’t such a tall order as the initial media coverage would suggest, if the other parties see the opportunity to make things right and work together. There are signs is could be happening in some areas, with the Liberal Democrats apparently not contesting the seat held by Caroline Lucas. Add that to the fact that the Tories have very slim majorities in some seats and there is hope.

Returning to Theresa May’s speech when announcing the election, her statement “The country is coming together, but Westminster is not.” is not my impression. The general election held under First Past The Post in 2015, and the EU referendum that followed, were extremely divisive. The SNP are threatening to tear Britain apart, and the Tory majorities first past the post returns to Westminster are a huge contrast to Scottish voting patterns (only 14.9% of Scots voted Conservative in 2015). It has been argued that the election on the 8th of June is ‘a fight for the very survival of Labour’, but we face an “existential crisis” for Great Britain itself as well. Mayday indeed, but “If you fight you won’t always win. But if you don’t fight you will always lose” (from somebody’s signature on the RailUK Forums, attributed to Bob Crow). Theresa May may think on this May Day that she is going to win the election, but it isn’t over yet.

View from class 158 train on the Cambrian Coast Line
Bright prospects? Maybe if June’s election is the last held under First Past The Post.
P.S. As well as Make Votes Matter, linked to above, there are a number of other groups campaigning for proportional representation. One of these, the Electoral Reform Society, has a petition here and there are probably more out there.

Fractured Nation

Apologies for the lack of posts recently, and that this one is very much ‘off the rails’ (and in fact doesn’t mention public transport at all).

People have voted to leave the European Union. Note that I did not say “the United Kingdom has voted”, because certain areas, including all of Scotland and a few parts of Wales (such as Ceredigion) returned a majority for ‘Remain’.

When I heard the result of the EU referendum, I was instantly terrified that ‘Great Britain’ could now be doomed. I wasn’t going to vote in the referendum, but had a sudden change of mind in the evening on polling day and voted remain primarily because I expected Scotland to vote remain, and I wanted to be on their side to keep Britain together and hence keep Britain great. I don’t want another Scottish independence referendum, as I have a strong emotional attachment to ‘Great Britain’ as the union of England, Wales and Scotland. I consider myself to be Welsh too, but I think my attachment to Great Britain is even stronger.

As I have noted before, Dan Snow, on the BBC’s “Panorama Live” programme following the 2015 general election, voiced the opinion that most of Scotland really wants to stay British. He stated that we are being driven apart by the divisive First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system. I feel that the EU referendum has had the same effect, it has been incredibly divisive; the conspiracy theorist in me says that it was deliberately called by the Conservative government in order to split everybody else so that the EU-related rift in the Conservative party looks normal. If that really was the reason for the referendum, it certainly seems to have succeeded.

I feel that, with Scotland, we can keep Britain great, inside the EU or out. It will be hard work, we need to ditch FPTP and the people need to be involved; in designing its replacement, in deciding what relationship we have with the EU in future and in determining which regulations to keep following exit from the EU.

My opinion is that Scotland, England and Wales are countries, but they aren’t independent countries. We need a system that reflects that, with self-governance for the member-nations with the UK government dealing with issues that only independent countries need to worry about (like defence).

Sorting that little lot out could take some time. So could sorting my head out after such a jolting result, so it might be quite a while before I write another blog post.

Regardless of when you’ll hear from me again; now and forever,
Keep Britain Great.

Quiet Uprising

I had planned to release a slightly different post this week, which would essentially have been a rant about how the two parties which dominate our political system don’t really offer a meaningful choice in some key policy areas, but I wasn’t happy with it. That may still appear at some point, after some revisions and the Welsh Assembly and Scottish parliament elections, but for now it suffices to say the following.

The Tories, and elements of the Labour party (the parts that disagree with having Jeremy Corbyn as their leader I believe), represent the ‘neo-liberal’ agenda, which includes deregulation and privatisation. George Monbiot has written much more about neo-liberalism if you want to know. Both these parties benefit from the First Past The Post voting system (FPTP), and love to claim that you must vote for them to keep the other out. This, sadly is generally true, because of FPTP. The Conservatives have even been at it in their campaign for today’s Welsh Assembly elections; don’t fall for it though because they only have a few more seats in the assembly than Plaid Cymru thanks in part to the fact that only 40 of the 60 assembly members are elected using FPTP. The other 20 seats are filled using a proportional system, so anything can happen.

Today then, at the Welsh Assembly and Scottish parliament elections, we have a chance to implement a quiet uprising against the two-party status quo, by voting for smaller parties. Here in Wales, the main choices are of course Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Greens. I believe all four of these parties have ruled out the £1bn plus second M4 around Newport, the ‘Black Route’, with most favouring the upgraded A-road alternative to a second M4, known as the ‘Blue Route’. Neither Labour nor the Conservatives have ruled out the second M4.

Make Votes Matter Day 2016 (Demo For Democracy) Advert
Make Votes Matter Day 2016 Advert

The elections will be followed on Saturday (May 7th) by two events in London, which hopefully will also amount to a peaceful uprising. One is the ‘Demo For Democracy’, organised by ‘Make Votes Matter’, who are probably the latest group to make a stand against FPTP. The other is called ‘Own The Future’ and aims to counter the neo-liberal consensus on privatisation, instead protecting nationalised public services. This is organised by the ‘We Own It’ group.

Death Of Democracy?

The televised ‘debate’ featuring the leaders of seven political parties in the run up to the 2015 general election presented a stark choice. I cannot remember what view UKIP’s Nigel Farage gave on spending cuts, but Nicola Sturgeon for the Scottish National Party (SNP), Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett for the Green Party all spoke out against the austerity imposed by David Cameron’s Conservative party. Labour and the Liberal Democrats promised to balance the books without cutting as deeply as the Tories.

A few weeks later, as we now know, the SNP triumphed in Scotland at the General Election. Ironically, this support for the anti-austerity SNP has contributed to the Conservatives gaining a justification (I hesitate to call it a ‘mandate’, because in fact they received less than 37% of the vote) for implementing their extreme cuts. Essentially, the left-wing vote is now split and UKIP hasn’t managed to take enough votes from the Conservatives to break the right-wing in the same way, so we may never have a single left-wing party (Labour) able to win a majority again.

That said, as I posted at the time if you want a strong commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions across the board, including the transport sector, neither Labour nor the Conservatives are an attractive proposition. In fact, until Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour party and took his party to the left, I considered Labour and the Tories to be much-of-a-muchness. If Corbyn’s opponents get their way and the Labour party moves back to ‘the centre ground of British politics’ we’ll be back to a choice between red mud or blue mud.

illustration of 2015 UK general election results
Disproportionate result (from TheEconomist via Sophy Ridge on Twitter)
So, either we have a choice between two very similar, terrible, options or we don’t really have a choice at all because the left-wing vote is split and only the Tories can win. Either way, our democracy is broken largely because our electoral system (First Past The Post) is broken.

Who set the agenda for the TV coverage of the election? Apart from the Trident nuclear deterrent, defence hardly got a mention, and there was nothing of substance on the environment and climate change. It was frequency claimed that the economy and something else (I think it was the NHS) were the ‘key election issues’, but who decided which issues were important? How many voters felt they were being told to base their decision on who to vote for on just those issues, rather than what really mattered to them? Electoral reform was only mentioned after the Tories, probably the party of first past the post more than any other, had won. Dan Snow said on Panorama Live that the First Past The Post voting system was tearing the nation apart, fuelling Scotland’s desire to become independent, when really we want to stay united.