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Saturday, December 07, 2019

Brexit and Electoral Reform

As BoJo approaches the polls, brandishing his hastily amended May’s Withdrawal Agreement – still toxic, even with the mould scraped off - Nigel Farage considers rebranding (repurposing?) his party as the Reform Party.

Political reform is an unfinished work. Pall Mall’s Reform Club was founded after the 1832 Act, not before; it was intended as a counter to the Carlton, one of whose founding members the Duke of Wellington opposed both the Act and the extension of the right to vote (when his men cheered him at Waterloo he said it came dangerously close to an expression of opinion). The Reform is now merely a social venue but it is high time it recovered its radical role; perhaps Farage should be invited to the relaunch.

Because boy, is he right. If the Tory party gets its way, then to paraphrase Churchill, their Faux Brexit is not even the beginning of the beginning, let alone the end of it. We’re stuck with a hard choice: a Labour Party that betrayed the working class, or a Conservative Party that betrayed the whole country (never forget who first got us into this mess). The latter are no more freedom’s friend than the former.

For despite the sloganising, we are in a battle not to recover democracy, but to establish it for the first time. Westminster is manifestly not the voice of the People: remember that Parliament’s Civil War against the King ignited the Putney Debates, but when Rainsborough argued:

‘I think that the poorest hee that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest hee; and therefore truly, Sir, I think itt clear, that every Man that is to live under a Government ought first by his own Consent to put himself under that Government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that Government that he hath not had a voice to put Himself under.’

... he spoke in vain: Cromwell’s mindset was ‘when we stood for liberty, we weren’t thinking of you morons,’ and not much has changed since then.

Yes, we’ve come a long way from the Old Sarum of 1802, a constituency with an electorate of merely eleven people yet entitled to two MPs, all of whom including the voters were nominated by the landowner.

But as the franchise – universal for under a century – has widened, the struggle to nullify it has become more systematic, and First Past The Post has been one of the greatest tools. Largely thanks to FPTP, 65 seats have stayed with the same Party since WWI and 192 since WWII; yet in some two-thirds of Parliamentary seats, the MP is returned with a minority of votes cast. For example, theoretically with an even three-way split the victor needs only to win 34%.

So we have a large industry built around identifying and persuading ‘the swing voter in the swing seat’; the reward of the loyal moron is to be taken for granted. All that counts is computerised psephology and tailored messaging: pinpoint-accurate bulldung.

The system is so skewed that on average, the UK voter’s pencil cross is only about 30% effective – check how much power you have in your own constituency here. And so much depends on voter concentration: as of 6 December, Political Calculus predicts that with 3.7% of the nation’s votes the SNP will gain 44 seats (6.8% of the House of Commons total), whereas the Brexit Party with 3.1% of the votes will get nothing.

The arrangement suits the major parties very well, of course. What upset the apple cart was holding a Referendum where every person’s vote counted equally so that a white-faced elite has had to firefight an unwanted result. It turns out that the ‘fruitcakes and loons’ were the ones on the green benches, and an unappetising if edifying spectacle they have made of themselves ever since.

And how they fought against the Alternative Vote in 2011, that mess of pottage for which Nick Clegg sacrificed his university fees pledge and his own credibility. Yet 80 years earlier, AV was exactly what Parliament wished to introduce – the Bill passed in the Commons - being thwarted only by the fall of the National Government.

Until we get a fairer system of representation, in my constituency I could vote for the Man in the Moon, but I’d still get Labour.

And until then, what is the legitimacy of a government without the equitable consent of the people?

1 comment:

Paddington said...

I despise being treated as a transferable commodity by the political operatives.