Friday, December 01, 2006

Time For A Shake Up

Over at The Appalling Strangeness, the newly named(?) Nameless One has had an epiphany about the Conservative party. In his own words:

"Fuck the fucking fucks who are in charge of the Tory Party. I have had enough. Fuck 'em. I didn't vote for Cameron, and thought he was a bad idea as party leader. But I never realised he would be this bad. I never realised he would sell the soul of the party for a cheap headline over and over and over again. And I never thought that the likes of Hague would join the crappy Cameron revolution, but it turns out I was really wrong. Really very wrong. The entire Conservative leadership has dropped everything and started panting like a teenage boy on heat at the first glimpse of the pussy lips of electoral success."

He goes on to say:
"I have no idea what the Tory party stands for anymore, but they sure as fuck do not stand for what I believe in."

And herein lies the essential problem with the British political system. Put simply, the first past the post system has led real political debate to the lowest common denominator. It is like the old economic example of ice cream sellers on the beach. In this tale, two ice cream sellers start at opposite ends and get 50% each of the potential business. One guy has the bright idea that if he moves to the middle then he can take all of his half and half the other guy's business as well. So, where does that leave the other seller? Well, he has to move to the middle as well in order to get his business back.

The razor thin difference between the Labour Party and the Conservatives is the political equivalent of the ice cream sellers. In purely rational terms, Cameron is in exactly the right place, but in terms of a vibrant, relevant democracy we are falling very short. A system that is supposed to be representative at its heart is anything but.

Now I'm no fan of ideology and ideological difference. It is ideology that led us into two world wars and that shaped the second half of the twentieth century through the cold war. Let's face it, we don't want a return to the rabid left/right politics that leaves no area for understanding and consensus, but neither do we want watered down political choices. In my view this points us in the direction of a true multi-party system in which the political framework serves to aggregate views rather than the failing, over-mighty party structures. In essence, a more proportional system in which voters can choose a political party that more closely maps their views. These would be parties with a real chance of power sharing and an ability to shape government if they were part of a ruling coalition. This would be in sharp contrast to today's minority parties that make shrill, niche demands knowing that they will never have to deliver.

Many people will throw their hands up at this concept and use the old adage that a proportional system of government is a weak one. My response to that is four-fold:

1) This need not necessarily be the case and there are examples of countries in which single parties do get a majority of the electorate to support them;

2) The way in which a more proportional multi-party system is implemented will have a major impact on the government's strength and weakness (more on this below);

3) Arguing purely for strong government rather than a truly representative democracy is a little like arguing that certain people shouldn't vote. As a democrat, I am happy to bow to the will of the people and would rather that is expressed truthfully rather than filtered through the FPTP system; and

4) Do we really want or need strong government? One lesson from both the Labour and Conservative periods in office is that strong government does not necessarily mean good government. I am not opposed to gridlock and I'm certainly happier with gridlock than the ever tightening grip of a government elected by a minority of people. It is this "strong government" that enables the passing of countless additional laws.

So how should a more proportional system be implemented? One of the major criticisms of proportional systems is that we would lose the link with constituencies. This need not be the case. Why not have a model that increases the size of constituencies from the existing 60-65,000 to 600-650,000 electors. Have 10 seats for each constituency and award these proportionally on a constituency basis. I'm no mathematician, but this would much better reflect the desires of voters than first past the post in which a majority of votes can effectively count for nothing. At the same time, this system would enable smaller parties, of many different shades, to campaign on local and national issues and gain representation if enough of the electorate shared their views. I see no problem with that.

While no system would be perfect, it is likely to address the issues highlighted by the Nameless One. He would be free to set up a party with other like-minded souls and, if enough people shared their views, they could get representation. I for one would feel less Disillusioned and Bored.

P.S. I am not a Liberal Democrat and please don't confuse me with one.


JM said...

Now I'm no fan of ideology and ideological difference. It is ideology that led us into two world wars and that shaped the second half of the twentieth century through the cold war.

An ideology is merely a collection of ideas that (supposedly) form a coherant whole. An ideology gave us democracy, education for all, a health care system and started the Second World War. (I presume your culprit for the first was Nationalism).

I'm not sure what an absence of ideology would be like. It goes without saying that even with consensus, there remains an unspoken ideology.

Which kind of makes your statement meaningless!

Let's face it, we don't want a return to the rabid left/right politics that leaves no area for understanding and consensus

Who removed the area for understanding and consensus? Thatcher was never rabid right but today she is damned by the polite society that enjoys the fruits of the market reforms she brought in. Yet rabid left politicians such as Galloway and Livingstone are perfectly acceptable.

You need to ask yourself, who defined what was acceptable and unacceptable. Who said that policy X was uncaring or hateful and virtually excluded such discussion from the public arena.

Praguetory said...

I like the idea of quiet government. A good example is the Major years where by virtue of a small majority and a hostile media the government was practically hamstrung and "achieved" little. In reality a lot was achived.

Disillusioned and Bored said...

JM - You make the point that an ideology "is merely a collection of ideas that (supposedly) form a coherant whole". I think of ideology as more of a comprehensive and rigid vision of the world. Of course we are all bound by certain beliefs and collections of ideas, but what I was referring to are the kind of entrenched political positions that equate all political discussion to an attack on an overarching framework - the 'isms.

In the context of the article, I was responding to a call from left wing and right wing politicians on the 'Week in Westminster' show for a return to clear ideology. I just don't think we need to go back to this type of political dogma. Do we still need to fight over whether capitalism and democracy are the right way forward or shall we get on with the practical aspects of making them work?