Tuesday 12 May 2015

How can a government be legitamate with less than 25% of voters support?

Last week, we saw a general election where 65.1% of people elegable to vote actually bothered. Of those 36.9% actually voted Conservative. Which means a mere 24% of people who were entitled to vote actually voted. Or in other words our democracy has produced a result where less than a quarter of the electorate has given one party and absolute majority. It is often said that this only ever bothers parties in opposition, but I wonder "what about the people".

I've been being bombarded all day with people texting me and emailing me saying how can such a system be deemed "fair and honest". I suppose that my answer is that if people can't be bothered to vote, they are saying "we don't care, you run the place", but I for one, refuse to believe that this is a reasonable response. As the Conservative party is funded (and some may argue governs for) a small uber rich elite, it is not hard to see why they may be fairly relaxed about such "trivial matters".

The only party who have consistently campaigned for electoral reform are the Lib Dems. Unsurprisingly, their preferred system of PR, would have delivered them 50 seats, had everyone voted the way they did. It would have also delivered the Conservatives 75 fewer seats. UKIP would have potentially been the Kingmakers, in this scenario. This analysis has one fatal flaw. It assumes that everyone would have voted the same way. With a PR system, where your vote counts, whereever you vote, your vote counts. I believe that the turnout is suppressed by the system we have. If you are in a "safe seat" there is often little point voting, as you know your measily little one vote will count for nothing.

If you look at the turnout map for the 2015 election, you soon see that the more in doubt the result was, the higher the turnout. Click any lightly coloured (low voter turnout) seat and you'll see that they are most likely a foregone conclusion. What is even more interesting is how dark (high turnout) the Scottish seats are in relation to the rest of the country. Whilst an SNP landlslide was predicted, clearly the SNP voters wanted to make extra sure. If you are a passionate Green, UKIP or Lib Dem supporter and you would rather die than vote tactically, you are more or less disenfranchised unless you live in one of the ten seats where these parties actually won.

So if we look at the UK, we have a country where less than a quarter of voters puts a party into power. We see a Country (Scotland) where one party controls 56 seats and the others control 1 each, but that party is excluded from taking any decisions about its own future, relying on a party which won 1 seat feeling magnanamous and generously spirited.

In the UK we usually see quite blatant appeals for parties to "vote tactically". This means "we know you don't like us, but if you vote for us, you'll keep the lot you really hate out". Is it really healthy to make that your clarion cry to voters.

In many Labour seats in the North West and Tory seats in the South East, they don't count votes for the encumbant party, they weigh them. Supporters of minor parties, know that voting is a pointless exercise and the parties make no attempt to engage them. The main party associations are run as insular clubs, where only loyality is valued and ordinary voters are despised. Here the party offers you the job of MP, not the voters. Does this sound democratic? It doesn't to me.

As a democratic country, we need to take a long hard look at ourselves. I don't support people who riot when they don't like election results. I like people who don't vote even less as they give the rioters a degree of legitimacy that they don't deserve. In London, we have PR of sorts in the London Assembly. Since the mayoralty and the GLA were set up, London has lead the world. We've won and staged an Olympics, we were the first major city to successfully introduce congestion charging. We are seeing Crossrail get built, and Thameslink finally delivered. We have seen a hugely popular hire cycle scheme and we are starting to build a cycle superhighway. Foreign investment is flooding into the City and London has become even more of a cash cow for the rest of the UK to milk.

It can hardly be argued that PR has served London badly. Of course PR can deliver some unfortunate results, such as the BNP seeing Richard Barnbrook win a seat in 2010. However look what happened next. When Mr Barnbrooke and the BNP actually had a proper job, they fell apart. Noisy idiots can sometimes look appealing, but as soon as they get the opportunity, it soon becomes clear that they can't even run a whelk stall, and they depart stage left. Usually they leave a stink, but that is all.

I think this risk is far outweighed by the benefits of actually giving people a vote that counts.

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