musings > politics

The rise and fall of British politics

20 Jun, 2016 | 7 min read

I’ve long been critical of the Labour party for providing a weak opposition force to the Conservatives much slicker machine. But actually, if I were to ignore the little voice in my head calling for the public humiliation of Corbyn and his reckless endangerment of our economy through his unforgivable inertness during the referendum campaigning, I have a bigger problem.

Some people are saying that the coup could spell the end of the Labour party as we know it - that factions could split off and form their own parties. There are calls that the party needs to regroup and realign. We’re in danger of the biggest political meltdown in generations.

Good. Politics is broken.

Except, it isn’t. I don’t think Politics hasn’t become a bigger or smaller thing in our lives - it’s just that our understand of it has evolved. Yet our political system hasn’t. It’s not that politics is broken, I don’t think; it’s that the disconnect between the ‘way things are done’ and the way people understand politics has never been greater.

There’s a part of me that wants Labour to break up in to separate parties - New New Labour and the Socialist Labour Party - I don’t care what you call them. Sure, it would be a blow at first. But it would do one incredibly important thing. It would stop this ridiculous level of political infighting.

Because of the way we run the country - with MPs put forward by somewhat arbitrary constituencies and our country’s leader elected through a First Past The Post system - we have a Parliament where the natural equilibrium is a two party state. That worked perfectly well when there were only two parties, and a finite list of things that we gave a shit about.

We give a shit about a whole lot of things now, and there’s an entire roster of things that we don’t yet give a shit about but we really need to soon.

You know what I find interesting about British politics? Whenever there’s something super important to research or opine upon, Westminster appoints a cross-party committee to debate and deliberate and then provide a recommendation. In addition to this, our political backstop is the House of Lords, which is (broadly speaking) a proportional representation of parties and industrial sectors.

Why do we accept nothing else than proportional representation in these instances, and yet are content with the ‘day to day’ running of our country in the hands of a party that statistically speaking only ever gets 30% of the popular vote?

You have two options. You either elect elite officials to do all of the governing, and the ‘common people’ have zero say in anything. Or you elect a representational body to do the governing on your behalf, and you weigh in (as a ‘commoner’) on issues of grave importance. Half of you are going to read that and think ‘well we have number 1’ and the other half are going to read it and say ‘well we have number 2’. And that’s the problem. We have neither. We have some Frankenstein’s monster of a hybrid. We have a compromise.

Here’s my roadmap for the country, as my 3am brain sees it:

  1. Labour splits, the Socialist Labour Party headed up by Mr Corbyn, and the New New Labour Party led by… I don’t know - Tom Watson.
  2. The economy freaks out over the lack of stability in politics, but then rallies when it remembers: “Who gives a shit - Labour were rubbish anyway. They overturned nothing and haven’t actually had any influence on policy.”
  3. We have to call a snap election because no one feels anyone has a mandate anymore and we hit the 2/3 majority in the HoP that means we can temporarily ignore the fixed term.
  4. Campaigning begins, but rather than the compromised no-man’s-land politics that Labour has been trying to peddle for years, each half of the party can actually establish a loyal base of people. Both sides are still left-leaning, but are now distinct enough to be able to actually speak to the people likely to vote for them.
  5. The election happens. We still have FPTP, so a properly representational government is impossible. However, people are more astute than they were pre-#EUref, and are more discerning about their choices (at least, the ones that vote… there will probably be a large population who think ‘screw this’ and don’t vote, which may undermine my whole roadmap. I’m going to hope that doesn’t happen). As a result, no party secures an outright majority, and discussions into a Hung Parliament begin.
  6. Now we have ourselves a ball game, because all of the same arguments and discussions are being had, except this time there is legitimacy behind them. It’s not about finding an ugly compromise to save the party. It’s about finding an actual workable solution to issues that the population has explicitly expressed an interest in.
  7. One of two things happens:
    • We secure a coalition government - for the purposes of the roadmap it doesn’t really matter who it is (unless it’s a ConKip coalition, but let’s pretend that’s not going to happen) - but more likely to be a merger of 3 parties than 2.
    • Tories will probably have the most votes, if not an actual majority, and may try and lead with that.
  8. In either case, the broad outcome is the same - policy decisions will be based on more representative data, either because the government making the rules is more representative, or because the government won’t be able to three-line whip legislation through the House.
  9. Markets will take a beating again, citing fears of instability. Then they’ll rally again.
  10. At some point down the line, once our magic rainbow government has fixed all of the country’s - nay, the world’s - problems, it becomes untenable to expect people to stand by a FPTP system. First Past The Post is abolished (yay, another referendum!) in favour of - I don’t know, literally any other system used by any other country. Let’s say… Sweden’s Alternative Vote.

Now, I’m only marginally naive enough to think that any of this will happen. I also recognise that there are many issues with my - otherwise flawless - roadmap. Not least of which are a minimum of two separate stock market dives. I’ve also conveniently skipped over the bit where our political system looks over at two Labour parties and goes “nah”.

I guess my point though, is that our political system must surely be approaching untenable? Representation is an issue at every single vote. Yes we can argue about young people not turning up for the EU Referendum (and we should - you guys really let the side down), but actually isn’t this a symptoms vs cause thing? Should we not be looking into why young people didn’t feel enfranchised enough to vote?

The representation issue is about more than that though - I said earlier that a FPTP elected government has on average 30% of the vote. I didn’t pluck that number out of thin air - that’s actually the average figure for the last 5 elections. Why 5 elections? Because that takes us back to the 1980s, and the advent of globalisation from the point of view of people caring about things other than their semi-detached house and Ford Sierra. In other words, as soon as we - the ‘general public’ - started taking notice of bigger problems, party politics began its descent into anarchy.

I’m not saying I have any answers. I have no idea how to run country, or build a government, or design an electoral system. My only qualifications in this race are a BSc in Economics and Politics, and the fact that I care.

But I do care, and I am one of the electorate.

And also, this is my blog, so there’s that.

tags: politics labour elections

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