The single worst response I hear when asking people who they’re planning to vote for is “Labour to keep the Tories out” or whichever two parties it may be. In a democratic sense, it is genuinely sad that people feel the need to vote tactically in a general election that will affect them in most areas of their lives. There are huge issues in politics both in Britain and abroad and while overseas problems may prove to be trickier, a lot of the domestic dissatisfaction can be resolved by an overhaul of our unfair electoral system.
In the last General Election, the Liberal Democrats tallied a massive six million votes, which was nearly a quarter of all votes cast but they only won a paltry 58 seats – a quarter of what they actually deserved. Ironically, with the Lib Dems slumming it down at around 9% in the polls in the lead-up to the current election, they would actually obtain more seats under a system of proportional representation right now than they did in 2010 under First-Past-The-Post (FTPT), telling you all you need to know about how flawed and unrepresentative the current system is.
Not only has the current FPTP voting system proven to be irreflective of the British electorate’s views time and time again, those ‘chosen’ Members of Parliament then have to have their decision making ratified by a house of privileged Lords in the government’s upper house. To think that an entitled few can actually be given a genetic claim to government in 2015 in Britain is frankly obscene.
An overhaul of Britain’s electoral system would not only deliver a more legitimate representative democracy, it would also address several key issues that plague British politics in the process. Firstly, there would be no majority governments – that might sound like an odd thing to list as a positive but hear me out. In a two-party system, which we currently abide by, we are usually dealt a majority Labour or Conservative government, and subsequently permission for either to implement their undiluted reckless ideologies. And when it doesn’t satisfy us, we elect the other one to do the exact same five years later. Doesn’t this sound like Einstein’s definition of insanity; repeating the same behaviour over and over again and expecting different results? The two main parties are now only commanding two-thirds of the popular vote, and I would bet a fair portion of that support comes from the fact they’re the only two that could feasibly form a government in this system. We, in the UK, have now embraced a more plural attitude to politics and our electoral system needs to evolve in tandem.
As a result, people will feel that their vote actually counts for something – because it will. In the current system, votes effectively count differently due to the simple accident of where you live. For instance, those in a safe seat have a far less valuable electoral opinion than those in a marginal seat – and nobody seems bothered by it. If we were, for argument’s sake, to switch to proportional representation the votes of each person would actually carry equal clout, voter apathy would decrease and the rise in drives for Scottish and Welsh independence would be lessened as more people would see their opinions manifested in parliament rather than a fleeting pressure in a capricious opinion poll.
In turn we would see the end of ‘tactical voting’. Democracy should never be about picking the lesser of two evils. Now the parties, and indeed the electorate, lack their former rigidity and don’t abide to a strict ideological conservative, liberal or socialist regime and rather diverge in to many political areas, there is less reason for a two party system that basically encourages people to champion who they dislike least.
We also need to focus on not allowing a duopoly of politics like we see in the United States, lack of pluralism in politics simply diminishes democracy. One of the best ways to achieve this is to set a cap on party donations. Is it really a coincidence that The Sun, the UK’s largest newspaper has backed the winning party of every election for over twenty years? Is it right that one of the world’s wealthiest and most influential men in Rupert Murdoch can berate his staff from the very same publication for not doing enough to turn the British electorate off of Ed Miliband? This influence is poisonous and manipulative and far from conducive to true democracy. Thankfully, the Liberal Democrats at least have committed to addressing this in their 2015 manifesto.
In reality, British politics is sick. And at this rate it will only be a few years before it is lying prostrate on its deathbed waiting for the plug to be pulled. Robotic politicians towing to party lines have certainly contributed but they are too victims of a system that makes it easy for the established parties to be complacent and retain power yet impossible for the smaller parties to do the same. Yes, the AV referendum was defeated in 2011 – but it was incredibly sketchy and in as short a time as four years, politics in this country has changed dramatically. I would personally rather we didn’t keep subjecting the nation to the unrestrained force of Labour’s reckless economics or the Tories’ callous social policy on the whim of a third of the voting public. Politics in this country is becoming increasingly opaque, in a time where transparency is the key to defeating political dispiritedness. Ironically, a change in system won’t benefit either the Conservatives or Labour, and they are realistically the only ones able to enforce it – and just as with everything in this tired, almost laughably archaic procedure, until either the Tories or Labour have an appetite for it, genuine democracy will merely remain a pipe dream.