Looking for answers that pop through the boundaries of thought

A few thought-provoking ideas, reflections and entertainments from the deep south of Cape Town...

Some serious, some frivolous, some perhaps just ranting - see what you think!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Transforming the Cockroach: thoughts on UK Politics after the election

"One morning, upon awakening from agitated dreams, Great Britain found itself, in its bed, transformed into a giant cockroach."
Andries du Toit, May 8th 2015

So they got in again.
The campaign funds from big business and the incessant droning of the mainstream media about the need for continuity persuaded just 1 in 4 of the British electorate to vote Tory, and as a result they have a “majority” in the UK Parliament that means they can probably rule unfettered for 5 years.

This is insane. As insane as First Past the Post as an electoral system has always been, both in Britain and abroad. Let me share an additional perspective – as an overseas elector, based down here in Cape Town, those of you in Britain may be interested to know that without FPTP as exported to the colonies by the British government of the time, apartheid would probably never have been instituted. In the 1948 South African election, Jan Smuts’ United Party comfortably won the popular vote. The UP was not much more racist than the British Labour Party government of the time and had progressive intentions even if they were some way in the future. But FPTP meant that the National Party won more seats. Once the NP came to power they gerrymandered the electoral boundaries in their favour, controlled and censored the press, and won every FPTP election from then onwards. It’s no wonder that straightforward PR was instituted under the new government’s constitution in 1994. We do have another problem here in SA, with the ANC in power on a corruptingly regular basis, but that’s because they regularly win over 60% of the popular vote. And even with PR our form of “democracy,” learnt from the modern West, does not encourage the finding of consensus over decision-making.

Equally, FPTP ensured that Robert Mugabe established a dictatorship in Zimbabwe. In 1980 when British officials asked him how many seats he expected to win, he confidently predicted (to their incredulous surprise) an absolute majority for his party, ZANU-PF. He understood the electoral system and made sure his people campaigned effectively in the right seats, knowing the popular vote share was not the important thing. And once he had a majority, he abandoned all pretence of “democracy”, for FPTP was already encouraging a winner-takes-all approach.

More than 60% of Britons would like to see a form of PR instituted for the UK Parliament. Not the pathetically watered down AV system that the Lib Dems foolishly allowed themselves to campaign for under the last administration, but a fair system, of which the Additional Member System used in Scotland and Germany seems a brilliant balanced format allowing for regional and constituency representation but with fair top-ups. In this current election, voters for UKIP, the Lib Dems and the Greens accounted for 24% of the popular vote (7.5 million votes), and obtained 10 seats. If you include votes and seats for the Scottish Labour party and Scottish Tories, that figure goes up to 12 seats for 8.5 million votes, or 28% of the vote and 2% of the seats.

This is not, I would suggest, simply a matter of petitioning the Prime Minister who has little interested in changing matters. If I was anywhere near Parliament, I would suggest that all the PR supporting parties work together on this. Those people who buy in to the panic about UKIP getting more say are not thinking clearly enough. Norfolk County Council, as an interesting example, has shown that it is very possible for Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens and UKIP to work together in a consensual way over most issues, representing the vast majority of voters collectively, except the Tories who have found themselves unexpectedly left out in the cold. Yes there are racists voting for UKIP and even being elected for UKIP. But simply labelling them as far righters to be ignored or stopped at all costs is not sensible or fair given the size of their vote. They represent an angry populace: maybe some of that anger is misdirected but they are not inherently friends of the Tories and in many places their votes are more from dissatisfied former Labour voters.

So: if the SNP (pro-PR even though FPTP has just benefited them) works in Parliament with the Plaid Cymru MPs, the Green and UKIP and Lib Dem MPs, and sets up a Constitutional Convention to which Labour is also invited (or even helps institute - for God’s sake, Labour have to come properly to the PR party some time if they seriously want to be a party of the future!) and any pro-PR Tories and Northern Irish MPs that can be found… then this Parliament could be taken apart more quickly than we imagine and we could find a proper electoral system in place next time and many other constitutional changes, not just the ones Cameron wants to impose to keep things in his hands.

Or everyone could just sit back and allow Cameron to rule on the basis of him having “won”. Because that’s what Brits have done for the last few hundred years. (And frankly is one major reason I don’t live there. But I do still care about what happens to that island of my birth).

I’m not holding my breath over this. But surely the system is broken enough now for pressure groups to support these forces inside Parliament in insisting that this government is not legitimate. And to make it as difficult as possible for them to impose their views as if they represent the “will of the people”. And then make sure this sham of an election is never repeated.