Slender majorities, greater democracy

April 23, 2008 at 8:30 pm | Posted in British Politics, Election Reform, New Labour | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , ,

Photo by Flickr user Adam Tinworth (Creative Commons)

For those of us who believe that the current economic climate is exactly the worst time to consider raising the taxes of those on meagre incomes, today’s u-turn compromise by the Chancellor is a victory of sorts. There were no certainties or specifics, and suspicion surely remains that this ‘compensation package’ will be aimed at the more politically-appealing pensioners and families rather than any single people and under-25s who’ll lose out. Nonetheless, the Government finally heeded the howls of its own backbenchers, showed some contrition and came up with something that allows everyone to retreat from this fortnight-long fight, no matter how bruising the encounter has been.

But as Gordon Brown retreats to his residence to lick his wounds, add Frank Field to his shit list and suffer the Tory taunts about his leadership repeated endlessly on the nightly news, you could hardly blame him for wistfully reminiscing of those days in ’97 and ’01 when Labour boasted such a battering-ram of a majority that it could force almost any policy, no matter how unpopular and disastrous, through Parliament with votes to spare. The rest of us, however, may be tempted to draw the exact opposite conclusion.

If Brown’s government had enjoyed the same size majority as when Labour first came to power, Brown’s last budget would’ve endured but a fraction of the commotion we’ve seen this past week, and it’s doubtful that the backbenchers’ concerns would’ve been listened-to and addressed. Equally, if we changed our electoral system, Parliament would not be able to function without greater compromise and cross-party consensus and scrapping the 10p rate in the way Brown and Darling proposed might never have gotten this far.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts the kinds of benefits that could be brought to our democracy by implementing some form of Proportional Representation. Aside from its biggest attraction as a system of voting that more accurately reflects the number of votes each party receives, I’ve argued that it has the potential to increase voting turn-out by making people in traditionally safe Labour/Conservative seats know that not only will their votes be counted, but their votes will count. Furthermore, I’ve suggested that by wrenching the major parties’ focus away from the fawned-over marginals of middle England, Labour has a chance to reconnect with a working class heartlands it has stopped knowing how to talk to, and in the process perhaps develop a greater knowledge and understanding that would be useful when devising policy.

With the 10p tax revolt we now see a third advantage of PR in the potential it has to reinvigourate our Parliamentary process. Ruling coalitions would only enjoy slender majorities but the rest of us would enjoy greater democracy. Ministers would be forced to consult on legislation, Commons committees would have greater influence as policy scrutinisers and compromise & consensus would be far more prevalent in Parliament than we ever see today. Most appealingly for Gordon, this crisis might never have happened. Surely that reason alone is enough to give it some serious thought…

Related reading:

  • An old Polly Toynbee article during the time of the last election on how insufferably undemocratic our First Past The Post system has become.
  • Johann extols the virtues of PR, slams Jack Straws proposal of an ‘Alternate Vote’ and then proposes a middle way, the sexily-titled ‘AV Plus’
  • Yes, I was lying about the ‘sexily-titled’ part.
  • Make Votes Count – a campaign website for electoral reform

Photo by Flickr user Adam Tinworth (Creative Commons)

Create a free website or blog at
Entries and comments feeds.