The hysteria in Britain at the moment, following the election, has fired me up again on the topic of ‘Democracy’. When Exit Polls indicated that the Conservative party had lost seats to the point that they could not form government alone, the media went into meltdown. The Times newspaper proclaimed that Britain had become ‘ungovernable’ and faced a national emergency, while even the BBC posted an item ‘Hung Parliament: Q&A guide to what happens when no-one wins the election’.
Two things struck me about this headline; firstly was this term ‘Hung Parliament’ which I find repugnant for being both ‘loaded’ and melodramatic. It conjures up an image of a corpse on a gallows swinging aimlessly in the breeze, yet the term Parliament conjures up a house of discussion and debate since the word is derived from the French, ’Parler”, to speak.
Secondly, the statement “when no-one wins the election”
Since when did we, the voters, in Britain or Australia, start voting for a single individual to be our leader?
In Britain and by default, Australia, we have convinced ourselves through our arrogance, that we have the finest form of democracy in the Westminster tradition, oblivious to the progress that has been made in other countries to refine the political process in the endeavour to achieve ‘Democracy’.
So let’s look at what this paragon of democratic virtue has delivered in the latest election. Here are the results for the top polling parties-
after 650 of 650 seats
General Election 2017 results
Party Seats Net change in seats +/- Votes Vote Share Net percentage change in seats +/- %
Conservative 318 Net change in seats -13 Votes 13,667,213 Vote Share 42.4 Net change in seats +5.5
Labour 262 Net change in seats +30 Votes 12,874,985 Vote Share 40.0 Net change in seats +9.5
Scottish National Party 35 Net change in seats -21 Votes 977,569 Vote Share 3.0 Net change in seats -1.7
Liberal Democrat 12 Net change in seats +4 Votes 2,371,772 Vote Share 7.4 Net change in seats -0.5
Democratic Unionist Party 10 Net change in seats +2 Votes 292,316 Vote Share 0.9 Net change in seats +0.3
Sinn Fein 7 Net change in seats +3 Votes 238,915 Vote Share 0.7 Net change in seats +0.2
Plaid Cymru 4 Net change in seats +1 Votes 164,466 Vote Share 0.5 Net change in seats -0.1
Green Party 1 Net change in seats 0 Votes 525,371 Vote Share 1.6 Net change in seats -2.1
UKIP 0 Net change in seats -1 Votes 593,852 Vote Share 1.8 Net change in seats -10.8
Turnout 68.7%, Electorate 46,843,896
You don’t need much mathematical skill to see gaping anomalies. Here are some-
1. The vote share of the Conservatives and the Labour parties are not widely different but the Conservatives secured 56 more seats than Labour.
2. The ‘Nationalist styled’ parties of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland secured seats at a ‘quota’ of around 35,000 votes per seat but the Greens with 525,000 votes secured just 1 seat, while UKIP with 593,000 votes got no seats at all.
3. The most telling figure is the 14.6 million registered voters who did not vote, outnumbering even the combined Conservative and DUP parties who look likely to form government. If anyone dares to claim a ‘mandate’ from these appalling figures, they should be howled down with derision.
My point is, as always, that without Proportional representation, you don’t have the basis for claiming ‘democracy’. Gone are the days when people knew their local member of Parliament and believed that this individual had the interest of the constituents at heart. We are in the age of the party machines and party members ‘toe the line’. The only way to deal with this is to bring in Proportional representation, whereby the votes accumulated by parties and independents is accurately reflected in the seats filled in Parliament. We will then get, in time, more parties and independents and a constant flux of ideas in Parliament which can keep pace with the fast moving changes of our modern world. Hopefully there would be no ‘stability of government’, a fake term which actually means the same old rule by one of the worn out parties we see here and in Britain.
My frustration is the blinkered discussion of politics. Everyone seems happy to attack politicians and bemoan the state of politics without presenting an alternative. There seems to be a plea raised “why won’t politicians do what’s good for the nation?” without any acknowledgement that they operate in a simple adversarial ‘game’ set up by our electoral system. Our system ‘chooses’ the worst types for leadership and power roles.
Just tonight, the Home editor of the BBC, Mark Easton, posted an article, “Has British democracy let its people down?” I would encourage everyone to read it. It highlights my observation. A piece full of gloom but no proposal for change and certainly no mention of Proportional representation, yet the answer is staring him in the face!
A few changes to our electoral system to introduce Proportional representation would create a revolution!
I’m not even talking about tampering with the Constitution, just changes to the Electoral Act and funding to the AEC to institute the changes.
We are so close to being a world leader in ‘Democracy’.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that the top positions of the ladder in the World Happiness Report for 2017 are filled by countries with democracies based on versions of Proportional representation. One of the major components of the Happiness index is ‘Trust’ in government and institutions. It’s so much easier to ‘trust’ if you feel part of the decision making process. Cynics might say ‘Happiness’ is due to another component of the index, ‘Wealth’, but I would say ‘Wealth’ is an outcome!
A functional, engaged democracy, underpinned by Proportional representation, has the capacity to create both social advancement and prosperity.
All the many issues we face here in Australia, such as Environment, Energy, Wealth distribution, Gender equality, Aging, Housing, Foreign relations, etc, etc, would be dealt with better by broadening the consensus in a parliament filled with new parties and independents who capture the will of the people. Our current two party politics is a sham of the highest order and seems completely unable to resolve even our most pressing issues.
Simply put, our progress as a society and nation is hampered by the combatitive two party system in which one party will stymy its opponent for no other outcome than the pursuit of power.
If there was one blessing I could bestow upon our land it would be
“May your representation be proportional”