Monday, 11 May 2015

In Defence of Our Undemocratic System

The First Past the Post electoral system in the UK has been under renewed scrutiny since an election where the party with the third largest number of votes got all of one seat in Parliament. This is 55 fewer than a party that got about a third of its votes. The bare numbers (thanks, BBC) look like this:

Conservative: Votes: 11,334,520 Seats: 331
Labour:                     9,347,326           232
UKIP:                       3,881,129            1
Lib Dem:                   2,415,888           8
SNP:                        1,454,436            56
Green:                      1,157,613           1

On the face of it, these figures speak of a system that fails to reflect the will of the electorate in the division of Parliamentary power. Discounting the two largest parties, there is no sense in these figures.

But I'm here to tell you that this election is the perfect example of the beauty of the first past the post system. The sense it has made of the will of the British people is sublime; the product of a genius beyond the imaginings of mortal man.

What it has so successfully reflected is not the capricious whims of a significant percentage of eligible voters, but rather the will of those with actual, real-world concerns, actually affecting life in this country.

Liberal Democrats have one and a half million less voters and eight times the seats of UKIP, not because the system is in any way unfair, but because the Lib Dems have assisted real people with their local concerns and addressed actual issues within communities to the satisfaction of enough voters in those constituencies to return those 8 MPs. UKIP have not.

The SNP have successfully transferred the support they have garnered for their stewardship in Scotland, and for their pro-independence platform, to a significant share on the national stage. Communities feel they have benefited and can benefit from the SNP having more power. UKIP have done nothing for any community.

UKIP's support is dispersed across the country, with no one place actually feeling that UKIP's policies would benefit the community significantly. Almost 4 million individual voters, and no one place where community-wide concern was addressed or harnessed into a UKIP victory, aside from Clacton, where Douglas Carswell, a popular MP when he was a Tory, had his majority slashed.

Their issues (by which I mean "immigration") are not a dominant, community-wide issue in any one place. They are a party that has done nothing for any part of the country. They have no specific constituency. They speak for no particular community.

Labour purport to speak for the working classes; the map of their constituencies reflects that. Tories speak for men called "Tristram"; their domination of rich, rural areas near, but not actually in, Slough reflects that. The SNP speaks for Scottish people who like the idea, if not the actual option, of independence, so they swept the board in a Scotland that's still happily within the Union.

UKIP speak for a minority of people who are generally concerned when they see someone with a different skin colour. They have no particular reason for this, apart from their underlying fear of difference and insecurity when faced with colours other than beige.

These people may not actually be racist, they are just so isolated from their communities, and insulated by wealth or by ignorance, that they have lost sight of the actual concerns that actually fester in their communities. Their share of the vote reflects this fearfulness within the country; their share of parliamentary seats reflects the lack of any specific, real-world justification for their fears within any specific community.

So it is that our much derided, undemocratic electoral system of First Past the Post reflects the reality that racial animus and ignorant xenophobia are not, in fact, justified; that those who cower in fear against the possibility of change do so for reasons not reflected in the world around them but for reasons residing primarily in their own heads.

I hope that we do not bow to the instinct to simplify our electoral system and that trite rationality shall never replace the beauteous teacher of this elegant lesson.

P.S. Perhaps everyone would have voted Green if they understood what ecological disaster would mean for their children and grandchildren; not all issues that matter are issues that are obvious to any one community. 

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