Do you know who you’ll vote for in the next elections? I have no idea.
Growing up, it was always the case that you voted the way your parents did, until you discovered politics for yourself. Or, until you became a student. My first General Election was in 1987, and there was only one way any of us student radicals were voting… even though Horsforth was in a predominantly ‘blue’ constituency (and still is).
But (old) age has a way of making one evaluate what one believes in and stand for.
One of the problems with British politics is that we have first-past-the-post elections. The UK is divided into 650 constituencies of roughly equal voter size, and MPs are elected to represent the views of those constituents – in theory, the views of the majority but certainly not all the views of all the majorities.
Another problem is that we indulge in party politics. Rarely is an MP elected for being the best candidate, but for being the representative of the party that people want to elect. As Andrew Rawnsley says, both main parties are ‘broad churches’, or coalitions of views; the Liberal Democrats by definition being a coalition. And when push comes to shove, voters coalesce around one of these three.
My constituency is Leeds Central, which is all its various guises has been a solid Labour seat since it was re-created in 1983. The current MP is Hilary Benn. I’ve only met him the once (at a Leeds Trinity event) but he seems like a nice chap. The question is, am I voting for Hilary Benn or the Labour Party?
If I was looking for a specific party to represent me the Labour Party would not be it. Then again, neither would the Conservative and Unionist Party be. I am in favour of strong armed forces but against the nuclear deterrent (it doesn’t seem to be deterring radicalised suicide bombers, those people actually killing us). I am in favour of a strong welfare state and universal basic income but also low taxation (or, more properly, hypothecated taxes which would be harder to get relief on). I am pro-Common/Single Market and Europe in general but against the EU’s political community project. I believe that the state should own infrastructure but that the market should determine and run services. And as for Brexit…
No single party represents all of these views, nor would I expect one to. Sadly, no single party comes even close.
This would all be moot were it not for the latest news on the proposal to create a breakaway group, mostly from the Labour Party. If it does end up being called the Reformist Party I will, of course, be offering my services to investigate getting it a better name1.
What would be rather lovely to me would be if the Big Two did the decent thing and fractured into several small parties. This is unlikely to happen soon because, with 650 constituencies to cover, smaller parties would have trouble fielding candidates in each – even if they each had 650 willing people the financial outlay for the now-smaller parties would deter all except those who could attract wealthy backers. Which wouldn’t be good for democracy.
So… how about reducing the financial burden? Reduce the amount needed for a deposit? Call upon a centrally-administered fund for electoral communications up to a pre-determined threshold?
Then people would have a choice of voting for three types of conservatism, at least two types of socialism, the Lib Dems, Ukip/Brexit, the Co-operative Party, Greens… Even the SNP could try its hand in the English Border constituencies.
Since no single party would be likely to win a majority it would mean more coalition-building, thus making it more likely that manifesto commitments would be seen through rather than being hijacked by members of one’s own party’s militant wing (since they would be in a different party and not necessarily part of your coalition). Appoint one of the party leaders to be PM. And we’re done.
I’m not saying it would be perfect, but given the politi-bollocks we’ve had for the last few years it could hardly be any worse.
- If all you’re doing is reforming things you won’t be doing very much. And what happens when you’ve finished reforming things? [↩]