You see what I did there, in the title? I put both the words “Representative” and “Democracy” in quotes. Is there anything really very representative or democratic about our political system here in the UK?
Ever since the 1950s, the UK has been experiencing high net migration into the country. At no time at all was the issue of immigration not high on voters’ minds, and at no time at all did the majority of voters want to see such high levels of net migration into the country. When Enoch Powell tried to warn the people about the dangers of mass immigration he was vilified and ousted from office by his fellow Conservative politicians. This was in spite of the fact that he had a lot of support among the electorate. Decades later we find ourselves in a divided “multi-cultural” society, where one particular section of the population, the Muslims, seem increasingly hostile towards the society that has welcomed them in. Significant numbers in fact even want to overthrow our most cherished freedoms, such as freedom of speech. The majority had the right instinct about “multi-culturalism”, but the politicians ignored their concerns.
After being elected in 1997 the Labour party under Tony Blair accelerated the rate of net migration into the country, despite having no democratic mandate to do this. There is seldom a candidate or party with whom a voter agrees 100%, but here we had a party enacting a policy that wasn’t even in their manifesto. Once you elect a representative, there is currently no way for the electorate to prevent the government from pursuing policies even if a majority object to those policies. There is also no way of taking a government to task if they fail to enact policies that they promised in their manifesto. The Conservatives were elected on the promise that they would reduce net migration into the country “no ifs no buts” said David Cameron, but they have scarcely even attempted to do this as far as immigration from the EU is concerned.
Here in the UK, there have long been two major parties, the Conservative Party and the Labour party. In the last election UKIP overtook the Liberal Democrat party, to become the third party in terms of vote share. UKIP won 12.6 percent of the votes overall but only gained one single member of parliament, which meant they only had around 0.1 percent of the representatives in parliament.
The Labour party have recently lurched much further to the left, with Jeremy Corbyn’s election as their leader. UKIP voters are now faced with a dilemna. Do they vote for the party they favour, and run the risk of Labour gaining the most votes? Or, should they vote “tactically” and vote for the Conservatives, who are at least closer to their political ideals in most cases?
Winston Churchill is famously supposed to have said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”. However, in fact our current “Representative Democracy”, with the first past the post system, is not the only kind of democracy that exists. Perhaps it is time to look seriously at some alternatives.
Before we do that I would like my readers to consider the points I made in the last 2 posts, if they have not already done so. If we are to move to a more direct form of government, I think it is essential that we reduce incentives for rash short term policies first, by depriving those who are dependent on state largess of the vote:
MULTIPLE MPs PER CONSTITUENCY
In Denmark, they have much larger constituencies and voters elect several representatives per constituency. So, even if you live in a constituency where your favoured candidate is not the most popular, that candidate can still be elected if they get enough votes. This leads to a much more proportionate representation of different parties in parliament. It also means that regions are still represented in parliament, so it seems to me the best of both worlds is achieved (1). I won’t go into the details of this system, as they are already well described in the Wikipedia article which I have linked to in the sources at the end of this post.
Particularly at the moment parliamentary debate in the UK is very stifled, those with anti-immigration views are almost not represented at all. This leads to a climate of “group-think” where challenging ideas are never heard, and so the views of the public at large are very much suppressed. This is very bad for democracy, I think we would get a much healthier democracy if we switched to the Danish system.
It would also increase engagement with politics generally. At the moment someone who lives in a “safe seat” but supports a different candidate to the one who is expected to win, are discouraged from even bothering to vote. This increases a feeling of helplessness and disconnection from politics which is not good for democracy.
If you wanted to raise a particular concern you had about policy, you could raise that issue with the representative most likely to listen to your concern. If you had a problem with the authorities, if your single representative was unsympathetic you might find another representative takes your case seriously. As such we are really quite dependent on our single representatives at the moment, in such eventualities.
An argument against this form of voting is that it leads to more coalition governments that are unable to make decisions. However, if you examine the Conservative party for example, you soon realize that they are by no means a monolithic entity with a single view on important issues. On possibly the most important issue of the present, whether to remain in the European Union, there are many Conservatives on both sides of the divide. Whether a coalition government say including the Conservatives and UKIP would be any less decided on such an important issue, is open to question.
Another argument against this is also concerned with the nature of coalition governments. A small party can refuse to join a coalition unless certain conditions are met, and thereby wield power far in excess of its vote share. However the experience of the last UK coalition between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, did not particularly lead to the Liberal Democrats having such a disproportionate influence.
Both of these objections around coalition governments also seem to be based on the assumption that governments SHOULD be constantly lurching in radically different directions from previous governments’ policies. This has been a feature of UK politics since the end of the Second World War, as I discussed in “Universal Suffrage Was A Mistake”, and much upheaval and destructive chaos has resulted. Perhaps in fact a future with less government meddling, less new laws being constantly created and less state intervention in general might actually be a very GOOD thing. A while ago the Belgian parliament was suspended for 6 months because agreement could not be reached on a coalition, and an improvement in prosperity actually resulted.
Certainly one problem with the Danish system is that it is somewhat more complicated than our current first past the post system. On balance however I think this is outweighed by the advantages that I stated above.
Note: this system is not to be confused with the Alternative Vote system (this was rejected in a referendum in the UK in 2011) (2).
REFERENDUMS WITH THE POWER TO CHANGE GOVERNMENT POLICY
In Switzerland, referendums can be called at any time by any member of the public that can challenge any laws that are proposed by the government, or already existing laws as well. Referendums can also be called to propose laws as well, and this process was successfully used to create a ban on minarets (3), despite opposition to this proposal from the Swiss government. As with our own government, it seems the Swiss government is somewhat constrained by “political correctness”. I believe that we should very seriously consider adopting such a referendum system in the UK.
This was in fact proposed in the last UKIP manifesto.