19 September 2014

The elephant in the room is proportional representation.

Westminster politicians rarely look worried. Why would they when 70% have got jobs for life as long as they keep their party happy. They are effectively immune from public opinion.

Since the universal franchise, only around 15% of seats on average change hands at an election, and never more than 30%.

70% of MPs have more to fear from boundary changes than voters.

Local government is increasingly about entrenched one party states in many areas. Not that that matters much with power so sucked into Westminster.

We are the most centralised state in Europe, with stagnant local government and undemocratic parties.

At every level there has been centralisation of power.

Our parties have taken power from their membership and handed it to their leaders.

Westminster are constantly eroding power from local government.

And turnout is so low in local elections that parties only have to address a dwindling minority to stay in power.

So, when something happens that makes Westminster worried, it is a revelation. The Scottish referendum was such a moment. A real decision concerning power in the hands of voters. And the unprecedented 85% turnout shows how much that makes a difference.

The problem for our political elite is democracy is a messy unpredictable business. It provides easy targets for our 24 hour media. But when policy making is slow and bland, it destroys hope and passion.
The Labour party in particular, now have a big problem. The Tories have their own ready made solution to devolution. They propose giving the Scots control of a few more percent of their own taxes and then to exclude Scottish MPs from Westminster. So the Scots remain slaves and Labour lose their Scottish MPs as well. Lose, lose for everyone except the Tories.

Because Labour tried to fob the regions off with feeble powers last time, nobody now trusts regional government in England. But without it we have a lopsided union. How can we devolve powers to Scotland and Wales without devolving to the English regions?

Answer is, to do that will cause justifiable resentment and present the Tories with a stick to hit Labour with.

But the Tories "English laws for English MPs" is equally unfair and so would be an English parliament. (And impractical, because spending decisions in England automatically affect Scotland and Wales and NI).

An "all England" solution will be as unfair to northern England as a UK parliament is to the Scots.

It is not just the Scots who have rejected the Tories for decades, it is northern England, Wales and many urban conurbations right across England. To be fair, devolution has to take this into account.

But for Labour to resurect regional devolution will mean an incoming Labour government offering to give away vasts tracts of power quickly. Real power over taxation. Not just the amounts, but how it is raised. This would take real courage and something Labour have lacked for decades - real democrats in their party hierachy.

I titled this piece about proportional representation. And I do believe our first-past-the-post voting system is a root cause of the power grab at the centre, unaccountability and the polarisation of our political geography.

I believe it essential that any new assembly/parliament is elected proportionally. But I also now believe that even PR may not be enough to stop our democratic drift.

We all know our corporate media are pushing us towards a plutocracy. Billionaires and big businesses buy policies at will from our political parties either with donations or through control of the media. Our elections are increasingly bought. We have to find a way to stop that.

I believe one way is to experiment with picking our politicians at random, like we do with jury service. We could start with local government, and if successful move on to national.

It would immediately take big money out of politics and allow a wider range of society and opinion a voice in making our laws. I believe it might bring new ideas, even trust back into our system.

Without something radical, I fear for the levels of inequality and dysfunction awaiting our society. Scottish independence was one democratic lever, now cruelly snatched away. How long will we wait for the next one?


  1. Weighted First Past the Post, would seem to me to be the best compromise.

    Each constituency chooses their MP as now, but each MPs vote in the HoCs is weighted as a % of national votes gained.

    For parties that do not gain a seat(above a sensible cut off above a % of national vote), they get one representative each with a weighted vote.

    The downside to this, is you would get the odd "super MP", but I think this is more that outweighed by the upsides.

  2. Funding to political parties above £500 pa should be paid through the Electoral Commission, and redistributed anonymously to the relevant party.