The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘proportional representation’

What Price Democracy?

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 8, 2010 @ 09:42

Elections have consequences.

The consequence of this one seems to be that there will be a new government.

But at what cost?

The Lib Dems are right to take David Cameron’s offer extremely seriously. It is right to think carefully about both a) what are the must haves; and b) what are the can’t haves.

Because that’s what post-election discussions are all about. Clearly, any programme for government has got to pass both Lib Dem and Conservative muster. There will be some dilution as the process of consensus moves forward, but broadly the policies will survive.

But – with this in mind – I actually think that there is only must have.

I’m sorry to all of those Liberal Democrats hungry for power, but we cannot accept the tainted result of an illegitimate system as any kind of mandate for the Tories, or worse Labour, to proceed into government.

I’ve grown increasingly strident about this since a discussion I had with friends last night. The result was a disaster for the Lib Dems, yes, but only because we were shafted by a system that, once again, delivered a nonsense that makes a mockery of our democracy.

I like to make unreasonable demands of politicians, but I believe that Nick Clegg’s efforts so far to mobilise the anti-FPTP agenda have been poor. He made reference to it in his speech yesterday morning, but after that point no one else has done it. Groups like Take Back Parliament have emerged, and have a smattering of supporters, but this needs to go national.

One can understand, in these delicate times, that maybe it doesn’t look very professional to be trying to dominate the airwaves.

But Lib Dems, through their surrogates and sympathisers in the media, need to be putting the following at numbers 1, 2 and 3 in their must have list.

  1. Electoral reform
  2. Electoral reform
  3. Electoral reform

We need to start generating a campaign and serious momentum that, really, coalition or any agreement must come with a huge price tag. Nothing less than a big, open and comprehensive referendum on major electoral reform, to coin a phrase.

I know Labour will offer it. The Tories won’t. But that’s what negotiations are all about.

And if we can start creating an impression that the public are with us, all so much the better.


Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

FPTP: Frankly Pathetic; Totally Preposterous

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 12, 2010 @ 18:12

We Lubs Disproportionate Results!

One of the great defences of our shit electoral system is to say that it is “simple” for voters to both understand and to use. Just get your ballot paper, smear it with a cross (or a smiley face; Returning Officers are very tolerant!) in the appropriate box, and you’re done. Later, we count them up, and whoever gets the most votes wins. Easy!

Proportational representation fans are sometimes flummoxed by this assault. We let the other side get free-hits by saying things are so complicated they have to be counted by computers, and that explaining the counting process is impossible without a degree in mathematics.

But we do ourselves a disservice.

First Past The Post may make it easy to cast a vote, but it is blunt. It allows no nuances, and it certainly doesn’t care how many candidates are in the race.

Voting is something a lot of people take a lot of time over. They umm and ahh about who they should go for, often proceeding on a least-worst option. How can I hurt the candidate I don’t want to win the most? Which one of these candidates do I hate the least? Their preference can change daily.

But in the end, if you have FPTP, none of that thinking matters. You get one chance. If you’re not thinking like everyone else, your vote could be wasted.

So you go back to the drawing board. You try to think like everyone else. You see where the zeitgeist is headed. Which national party has the big momentum. You balance all of these factors, and you end up with what psephologists call tactical voting.

Tactical voting. It doesn’t sound very democratic, does it.

That’s because it isn’t. FPTP limits your choice. It forces you to try to think like everyone else. It squeezes you into a box. It doesn’t allow you to express your real preference, because you don’t want to be one of those wasted votes, do you? It’s a two-horse race, don’t forget.

Tactical voting, and its associated thought processes, actually make FPTP one of the most difficult electoral systems. The poor voter is left with a multitude of factors to weigh up, and that’s assuming they even know what the result was last time. Not everyone knows that you can get the result from last time in seconds off Wikipedia. And then there is the prospect of local parties spinning different election results in different ways to try to prove that they are “the only alternative”. Lib Dems, I’m looking at you…

The culmination of all this is utter confusion, a muddled mess that we expect each and every voter to have to work through in their heads. A purportedly democratic system that only allows people the choice they actually want if they fortunate enough to live in a constituency that allows it. The rest of us live our lives in glorious perpetual safeness, never feeling that joy of being part of a campaign that really could decide the future of the country.

A preferential system, on the other hand, would give everyone the chance to have their vote be worth something. And not only that, they really could express a truly democratic choice, of having their vote fully reflect their beliefs.

So the next time someone says First Past The Post is “simple”, why not remind them just how difficult the choice actually is for the average voter…

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

PR In Last Chance Saloon

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 8, 2010 @ 11:45

WANTED: One algorithm for computing a Single Transferable Vote election in a timely and efficient manner. Enquire within.

Last night I vaguely discussed PR with a friend of mine, and how annoyed I was to be living in a non-marginal constituency, when a nasty thought suddenly dawned upon me.

No, it wasn’t a sudden realisation all along that my worship of the Meek method of counting STV is wrong, but something much more fundamental.

All this talk of constitutional reform is enough to make any true Lib Dem get just a little bit excited. Gordon Brown’s laundry list of changes yesterday, while totally insincere, still got my attention. Talk of fixed-term parliaments and referendums on House of Lords and electoral reform are enough to make political geeks like me wonder whether it could actually be possible.

All these years, we Lib Dems have been desperate for the opportunity to make our case for serious, long-term reform. People like me will probably never be satisfied, but politics is all about framing the issue. If we can make a serious land-grab on this ground, talking about huge, radical reform being the only thing that will satisfy public desire for a new, transparent politics, then the Overton window will be moved sufficiently to make the smaller changes, while still desirable, much more acceptable.

The change most of us Lib Dems would like to see above all is a proportional electoral system. Party policy is to push for Single Transferable Vote. It also seems that it’s party policy to accept the Alternative Vote as a step in the right direction (when it is anything but).

The Conservatives, naturally, are dead-set against any such change.

And that’s where my concern begins.

Opportunities to get PR on the agenda come round once in a generation… if we’re lucky. In 1983, the large SDP vote got the party nowhere, due to stacking up votes in unwinnable seats. A Tory landslide was the result, ensuring that any progress on the issue was stillborn.

Labour paid lip-service to electoral reform in the 90s, and Blair thought at one point that he may need it to ensure Lib Dem backing post-election. In the end, he didn’t, and suddenly Labour realised that they quite liked a system that was delivering them stonking great majorities on a minority of the vote. Into the long grass it went.

Now it’s back. Through scandal and the terrible behaviour of politicians, all of a sudden it might be good to change a system that ensures that those MPs with the safest majorities engaged in the biggest fiddles. That message needs to be drummed home loud and clear; the public will listen to it.

But not for long.

A Conservative win at the next election will finish the debate, and finish it for 20 years. The Tories plan no electoral reform. If the Tories get a comfortable majority, they will live with that. If they get more, they’ll be delighted, and we will despair.

And since the chances of it happening will be zero, the momentum for reform will evaporate.

This window of opportunity is tiny. It will only be achieved if there is a hung parliament, with Labour in the lead, or a tiny, tiny Labour majority. No other result will allow electoral reform to become an issue.

And it’s about to be slammed shut.

Electoral reform advocates need to be loud, prominent and vocal over the coming few weeks. It may be the last chance we get.

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Newsfelch: 08/02/10 – News At 10, Film At 11

Posted by The Futility Monster on February 8, 2010 @ 10:28

I've got a brand new one of these, you know.

It being one of those days where my brain is not up to a Proper Post, it is time to bring out the Political Blogger’s Cheat Book and draw up a few responses to what the newspapers are banging on about today…

  • The big story across all the media is Cameron’s apparent “personal attack” on Gordon Brown. The crux of this argument is that there are whispers that the Labour party’s official solicitor is the one who has advised the Labour MPs charged with false accounting on Friday to defend themselves using parliamentary privilege. Not very exciting, really. Just another way to keep the expenses story going…
  • Indeed, even The Telegraph have had enough. They’re more excited about John Prescott. Newsflash: John Prescott is not involved in national politics any more and has no relevance to anything political now, or probably ever again. This kind story belongs in the Daily Fail.
  • Iain Duncan Smith is continuing his one man crusade to correct the social ills of the country. Today he’s turned his attention to the costs of care for the elderly. You know, I absolutely hated the man when he was Tory leader. But I have nothing but respect for the work he is doing in this field to draw attention to the problems facing the country in the decades ahead. It’s a shame he couldn’t continue on Tower Block of Commons. That Nike hoodie really suited him…
  • The Guardian are sounding the alarm over whether the election debates will happen at all. Naturally, some of us told you this was going to happen several months ago. OK, I assumed it would be only the Nats who would scupper the debate… but it was pretty clear it wasn’t going to happen as smoothly as people started to think.
  • Meanwhile, climate change doom-mongers exhale wearily. I knew this would happen eventually. But the funny thing is, even when the view of the public was almost unanimous regarding the concept of climate change, still the politicians did nothing. What chance for change now the public are growing more sceptical? Oh well, let’s all live like fatalists and care not for the planet, cos we won’t exactly be here to suffer the consequences, eh!
  • The anti-PR battle is hotting up; expect more inverted pyramids of piffle from Boris Johnson on this subject as the months go by. If we get a referendum, of course. We won’t, by the way.
  • Ken Clarke is trying to scare the horses into voting Tory. I didn’t realise satisfying the bond markets could be such an important electoral issue. Not like jobs, unemployment and public services.
  • And finally: here’s hoping that a constitutional crisis is just around the corner. Go on, British people! Please give us a hung parliament, and then we republicans can finally prove that there is no place for an unelected Sovereign getting involved in our democracy! Yay!

That’s your lot for one day. Time for some real work!

Posted in Newsfelch | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Stick Your AV Up Your Arse

Posted by The Futility Monster on February 2, 2010 @ 09:45

Thanks, Wikipedia!

Yesterday, rumours emerged via BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson that the government is planning to slip an amendment into a current bill to give MPs the chance to vote for a referendum to bring in the Alternative Vote (AV).

Later on today, Gordon Brown will back up this proposal with a speech telling the world why he thinks now is a good time for some voting reform.

There are a few problems with this approach.

Number one is the obvious: why now? There is some doubt as to whether this bill will actually make it through Parliament in time for the dissolution. In which case, this is nothing other than spin.

But even if it did, its effect will not be felt till after the election. And, with the Tories so opposed to it, it’s entirely possible that an incoming Tory government could immediately re-legislate to get rid of the referendum. They could fly the populist flags of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and “it would lead to weak coalition government” and, of course, “scrapping this referendum will save the country money in these tough fiscal times”.

Number two, however, is my real problem with this; and, in truth, probably the reason why we’ll never get any electoral reform in this country.

AV is a waste of time. It is only marginally better than what we currently have now, in the sense that it will ensure the elected MP has a majority of support. But in terms of delivering genuine reform involving better proportionality and fairness, it fails the test. I recall surveys suggesting that it would have magnified Labour’s landslides in 1997 and 2001. I think we’ve got enough problems already with our present system exaggerating the number of MPs for the “winner”.

The problem is that this is purely a gimmick, done purely to ask questions of the Lib Dems. Brown has no history of interest in electoral reform, and there is only weak support on the Labour benches. It is only us Lib Dems who have made a big deal of it over the years. Consequently, Nick Clegg may be in a slight bind, because if he opposes this he’ll look like an opportunist, being a member of a party that has supported voting reform for so long.

So the message has to be simple. Brown’s proposals are not reform in the slightest. They will make the system even more unfair than it is now. And they are being done right now in a desperate and cynical attempt to make him look like a reformer with a vision for change.

Finally, let’s remind him of the fact that Labour first considered this idea 12 years ago and rejected it. What’s changed?

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Lib Dem Coalition Arrangements: Idle Speculation

Posted by The Futility Monster on January 25, 2010 @ 18:00

Here's one recent example of a Lib Dem coalition that didn't turn out too well...

Let’s just speculate for a moment.

Cos, let’s face it, it’s highly unlikely we’ll be seeing Lib Dems in government in the next few decades. It’s all us liberals have to cling to, don’t you know…

Let’s speculate that the election produces a situation where either Labour or the Tories are a significant number short of a majority, making an agreement with the Lib Dems the only possibility on the table.

Let’s then assume that the Lib Dems “triple-lock” is successfully undone. That is, the MPs, the national party, and the members at large all approve a coalition deal.

We could all imagine what Lib Dems might move into prominent positions. It’s custom for the leader to get the second biggest job. In countries that have a tradition of coalitions, they also traditions for the portfolio the deputy gets. See Germany, where the junior coalition partner always gets Foreign Affairs. Coalitions in the UK invariably end up with a “Deputy First Minister”, traditionally perceived as enjoying a wide remit across government.

Unfortunately, the post of Deputy Prime Minister does not have the same status, thanks to its typical use as a patronage appointment to shore up the party. See Michael Heseltine and John Prescott.

Perhaps the revival of the title of First Secretary of State might interest Clegg. But then again, receiving anything off Peter Mandelson is always dodgy territory.

Everyone expects that we would see Vince Cable as Chancellor. That would be very exciting. It might mean Cable might actually get a chance to put his harsh words on economic affairs, including the latest attack on the structure of banking, into practice. But somehow, I doubt these proposals would survive the government machine. Radical proposals invariably don’t.

But if Cable gets Chancellor, it would put Clegg in a difficult position. Any post he takes will play second fiddle to whatever Our Vince has. You can’t see Clegg, who would be the first Liberal leader to take the party into government for nearly a century, wanting to sell himself short.

So maybe Cable won’t get Chancellor after all. Clegg to the Home Office would be good, and perhaps Cable Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Then, in reality, we’re probably only talking about one more smaller portfolio. Environment? Housing? Something us Lib Dems are noted for; it wouldn’t hurt our profile in that area if we got to lead the news on it for a little while.

But let’s face it, the coalition wouldn’t last. The last real coalition was, of course, during World War II. We’re way out of practice, and I suspect any deal would be on the understanding that it was short, sharp, delivered fast reform (including proportional representation of some kind!) and then dissolved to get a better mandate.

Like I said though, none of it will actually happen.

Still, it’s nice to dream. And it fills up a blog post!

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

A Question Of Legitimacy

Posted by The Futility Monster on September 19, 2009 @ 08:00

Legitimacy, of course, being one of the things Voldemort used against Mr Potter...

Legitimacy, of course, being one of the things Voldemort used against Mr Potter...

Please be warned, this post contains political “science” stuff that probably bores most people to tears. I’m sorry. It’s just something I want to get down in writing for future reference.

Parliaments wither. So do governments. As time goes by, they degrade and become less useful. Less vigorous. Less relevant.


In a liberal democratic system, it is because of this magic concept of legitimacy.

Legitimacy is the idea that a body of authority has the support and the capability to exert said authority. We all accept the government has a right to govern, to tell us how to live our lives (within reason, limited by a higher authority such as a constitution or appeal to human nature, even religion), even if we don’t agree with it, because we know it is legitimate. We accept that the police officer has a right to stop us if we’re speeding, because his/her authority is derived from law, laws which have been approved as a result of a democratic process we’re all signed up to.

So legitimacy derives directly from election. We tell dictators that they are not legitimate because they haven’t been elected. Dictators aren’t bothered: they have power – the ability to co-erce – which, ultimately, achieves the same end as legitimacy.

On the other hand, some dictators deliver the goods to their people. They may abuse others in the process. But to those who are being looked after (example, the Sunnis in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq) the dictator has a very special kind of performance legitimacy. The people are content because they are getting what they want and to disrupt such a regime may produce undesirable affects. So they accept the current power situation, may even fight to defend it, and in turn legitimise it.

Legitimacy is one of the most fascinating concepts in political science. What construes a “legitimate” arrangement varies wildly from country to country depending on the political culture of the nation. For instance, the sudden introduction of a majoritarian winner-take-all system to a consensus-orientated country like the Netherlands would be seen as grossly illegitimate. Or in Belgium – if the leading party declared it was to rule the country how it saw fit, because it had achieved the most number of seats in the election, there would be uproar because of unfairness.

Meanwhile, in this country, we think nothing of the idea that someone could be elected on 33% of those who voted, and even less when the actual size of the electorate is accounted for. They become our representative, and, though we’re not happy about it if we didn’t vote for them, we accept that they sit as the MP for our constituency, and take part in the parliament or government on that basis.

Some of us are not so keen to accept that mandate, particularly anyone who subscribes to ideas of proportional representation. We argue that a more proportional parliament would be more legitimate. But we don’t go so far as to say that our current parliament, our current representatives, are not legitimate. If we did that, we would a) be guilty of hypocrisy by participating in such a sham; and b) we would be undermining the broader system which we claim to support.

These arguments all have a conclusion: that legitimacy comes in degrees – we could even put an arbitrary percentage to it – and is not directly comparable between political cultures.

Therefore, any revisions we make to our system must broadly conform with our political culture, unless we all (in reality, a sufficient majority) agree on some new terms, some new redefinitions before we begin. The goal of such reforms must always be to increase legitimacy. Politicians understand that, hence why any reform is always couched in such terms. Hopefully, the electorate understands it too.

But there is no glorious peak, no golden age, that will bring us the ultimate definition of 100% legitimacy. But – following our logic – the only things that could ever hope to achieve such a figure would have to be directly, openly, and freely elected. This is also why we don’t like quangos, agencies and other such bodies instituted by government: they have no direct democratic mandate.

That means the only bodies in this country that have a chance of achieving 100% legitimacy are the parliaments, assemblies and councils that exist throughout the nation.

And, as we implied at the start of our post, that legitimacy is time-limited.

In other words, 100% legitimacy could only occur from day one after an election.

That’s where we’ll leave it. Next time (next Saturday), more pseudo-science, and even an Excel chart!

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »