There’s an odd fact to be remembered when one is pondering the outcome of British general elections, a fact that needs not be heeded in almost every other democracy. It is the fact that how the British people actually vote is not the same as what parliament looks like in the end. Thus a clear victory for almost every party in every election since the mid 1970s has inevitably not been reflected in how voters cast their ballots.
The giant electoral brain that is Gerry Lynch recently pointed out that under many PR systems, the Tories and UKIP between them would probably have won a majority anyway. It’s a fair point often ignored by many on the left who just can’t countenance that the British people might actually want a centre-right government.
However, and there is a big however…supposing such an occurrence had happened, and a Cameron/Farage coalition had been formed. It would have implemented a load of hard right social welfare reforms, correct?
Is it? Suddenly, a cluster of UKIP MPs representing former Labour strongholds would happily sit by as their new constituents beat a path to their door to furiously object? Really? I doubt it very much. I think the faultline between the UKIP’s golfclub colonel voters and its former Labour voters would become very clear in the parliamentary party, and Farage would be doing a Nick Clegg with the handbrake to try to keep his new internal party coalition together. And that’s not even taking into account the fact that PR would mean Tory MPs in areas that traditionally don’t elect them under First Past the Post. Tory MPs who again might have constituents who rely more on public services.
It’s all speculation, of course, but my point is this. A voting system that represented all the voters would force any government to have to ensure at least the pacific consent of the majority of voters, something which neither Thatcher nor Blair ever had to worry about.
Labour, the party which bitches about the Tories dividing the nation, has had the opportunity on two occasions, under Wilson and then under Blair, to introduce Proportional Representation. Within Labour there has always been opposition to PR on the basis that it would cost the party seats and thus restrict the party’s ability to implement its agenda without compromising with coalition partners.
Looking at that stance now, it sounds frankly either ludicrous or downright dishonest. There are people in the Labour Party now who, despite rending their garments and wailing at the evils of the Cameron governments, will choose letting the Tories rule with 37% of the vote over having to share power with other parties. Given a choice between inflicting the bedroom tax or welfare cuts or food banks or any of the things they denounce as immoral, and introducing proportional representation, a system which will make those policies much harder to implement, it’s f**k the poor as far as many in Labour are concerned.
So please, spare us the histrionics, Labour. Between 1997 and 2010 you could have changed the electoral system. You didn’t. And now the Tories are going to change the boundaries making it even harder to get them out. Well done.