The End of Democracy?

ed-miliband-REU1200What is the end, the goal of democracy? It is to allow the people to hold to account those who exercise power over them. In our sort of representative democracy it does not mean that politicians simply do what the people vote for. Most of us have neither the time nor the expertise to make informed decisions in a complex world, so we elect those we trust whom we think are qualified to make these decisions on our behalf—and then, come election day, we hold them to account for the decisions they have made. This has been the case for a long time. Although we are fond of tracing the idea of democracy back to the ancient Greeks, for the Roman emperors it was important to establish the idea of the consensus omnium, that the emperor governed with the agreement of the mass of the people.

That means that there will sometimes be surprises—and this election there have been more, and bigger, surprises than in living memory. Many were delighted at the big Conservative names that were toppled in 1997; but there have been more Liberal Democrat and Labour big names that have gone—Ed Balls, Vince Cable, Simon Hughes, Danny Alexander, Douglas Alexander, Charles Kennedy, Ed Davey and Jim Murphy. Just as the loss of experienced and talented Conservatives crippled them for an electoral generation, Labour will struggle to fill some of the gaps, and I think the Liberal Democrats are over as a political force in this country, with only eight seats in the Commons, and coming fourth behind UKIP in vote share.

Heads will roll in other ways as well. UKIP’s Nigel Farage will almost certainly resign as party leader—but so will Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. (As next Labour leader, my money is on Chuka Umunna, for two reasons. First, he can eat a bacon sandwich in public, and second, he has had business-related experience in the ‘real world’, as a solicitor specialising in employment law, which gives him credibility that Miliband always lacked.) I wonder if there has been an election in which all the main parties other than the winner had an immediate change of leader?

In all these ways, there is a frisson of excitement that the people, wielding stubby pencils (mine was very stubby) in rickety booths in town halls up and down the country have power over those who, a few weeks ago, seemed immune from criticism. But is that what really happened? Here are some things worth noting from the overall results:

  • Labour share of the vote went up 1.4% overall, but their number of seats was down by 26.
  • In England, Labour share went up around 5%
  • Conservative share of vote only increased by 0.7%, but they will have 21 more seats in Parliament.
  • Anti-austerity parties gained more votes overall than pro-austerity parties.
  • Vote per seat [as I write] were as follows:
VotesSeatsVotes per seat
Lib Dem2,359,3688294,921

In other words, this Parliament is now even less representative of the views of the people than the last, and the Conservatives have significantly increased their control without in fact persuading any more people of their case than in 2010.

So what was going on? Well, you might not have realised it when you voted, but there was someone else in the voting booth with you: money.

In the last election in 2010, the Conservatives spent twice as much as Labour, and it looks like the same has happened again. The Telegraph reports that, in relation to the election itself, the funds were even more unbalanced:

The latest Electoral Commisison [sic] report on donations received by the political parties is out. The Conservatives’ funds dwarf those of Labour – by £1.3 million to £131,000.

And the primary donors were, not surprisingly, those in the finance and business sector who stood to gain most from a Conservative government.

Last time around, the difference in funding did not determine the result—but this time spending has been more targeted and more effective. In 2014 the Conservatives pushed through a change in the law, raising the limit on national election spending, to make the most of their advantage. And targeted campaigns in marginals (like Broxtowe, where I vote) come under the less-tightly regulated national limits rather than the more tightly controlled local ones, as long as the mailings come from a central source. So not only were we surrounded by Conservative billboards, we also received several ‘personalised’ letters from David Cameron. And it worked. Despite the fact that the Labour candidate here had a much better record as a local MP, there was a swing away from Labour and to the Conservatives in contrast to the national swing.

The second way that money has influenced the election is in distribution of voting. I strongly suspect that, when all the analysis has been done, we will find that those who have done better out of the changes to the economy, particularly in the South East, will have moved more to the Conservatives, whilst those who have done worse, particular in the north, will have moved more to Labour. In other words, Britain will now be a more divided country after the election than it was before. And our ‘first past the post’ system exaggerates this. As the result in Scotland shows, where there is a concentration of interests, FPTP completely distorts the result. Having taken almost all the UK Parliament seats for Scotland, the SNP does not even have a majority in its own Scottish Assembly because the Assembly runs on PR! It is sobering to remember that Hitler was elected to power through a democratic system…

So the process of the people holding those in power to account appears to have significantly failed.

Three things need to change in our electoral system.

  • First, there needs to be equal access to funding, so that one party cannot outspend the others in the election campaign.
  • Secondly, media outlets ought to be regulated to offer the same balance of coverage as the BBC does, as a public service broadcaster.
  • Thirdly, we urgently need to reform the voting system and move to a form of PR.

Will any of these happen? No, of course not, since the the party now in power has a vested interest in maintaining the current system as it is.

And for anyone concerned about the future of the NHS, for the growing inequality in income and capital distribution, for the lack of houses being built, for the culture of our education system, and for all the other issues that have not even been touched on—we will have to find other means than a skewed ballot-box to express our concerns.

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52 thoughts on “The End of Democracy?”

  1. Ian,

    Arguably Labour ran a much better campaign than the Conservatives. It seems that money spent didn’t actually shift anything at all.

    Despite the issues with the voting system (I prefer STV), can you perhaps accept that fundamentally the reason why Labour lost in England and Wales (Scotland is another matter altogether) is that, simply put, the modern 21st century electors of the Kingdom of England and the Principality of Wales *do not want socialism*? MiliEd offered them a debt rising, income redistributing platform and, rightly or wrongly, they said “We don’t think so, thanks very much”.

    • Peter, I would be happy to agree with this…if the facts added up.

      The bottom line is that the Conservatives did not really persuade any more of the electorate of their case. So how have they ended up with so many more seats? And Labour did persuade more people of their case, yet ended up with fewer.

      The answer lies in the unfit FPTP system, and the way that the Conservatives made the most of that by targeted their money on the marginals.

      It has historically been the case that more people want a more socialist approach. But the split between parts on the left combined with FPTP means that we have never actually had what the voting says we want.

      • You have simply asserted that “more money” won the marginals – to convince me you need to provide some empirical evidence of causation. And even then, so what? That more people want to support a particular party is not a crime. A true democracy should allow funding of political parties – it doesn’t always lead to victory (see James Goldsmith in 1992).

        The Tories didn’t lose any substantial votes to Labour (and arguably picked up from the Lib Dems what they lost to UKIP) – that is all I’m arguing. 2010 Tory voters were offered socialism and they turned it down.

        The vagaries of FPTP are a separate issue – you would do well just concentrating on that rather than conflating a number of specific concerns and diluting / contradicting them all. Indeed, perhaps the best thing is just to allow the weekend to be for mourning before proper analysis / reflection next week.

        • ‘So what?’ So people who have become richer as a result of Conservative policy have used their money to ensure that the same policies continue, which will continue to make them richer.

          I am not sure which part of this you don’t find problematic. ‘Corruption’ might be too strong a word, but it certainly compromises democracy.

          Grant Schapps just said on BBC that ‘everyone’s vote should count the same.’ If he believed that at all, he would be proposing electoral reform and a stricter limit on funding. It clearly is not the case now.

          • “So people who have become richer as a result of Conservative policy have used their money to ensure that the same policies continue, which will continue to make them richer.”

            I think you’ll find that the vast majority of those whose living standards have improved over the past five years have NOT donated anything to the Conservative Party. Myself included.

            Sweeping generalisations like this are half the problem Ian. Put them away and just concentrate on the one thing that we can all agree on – FPTP seems to have come to the natural end of its life in the UK.

          • I think your logic is the problem!

            I didn’t say ‘Everyone who did better donated’ I said ‘Everyone who donated had done better.’ it is rather different!

            The super-rich, who have a vested interested in a particular result, have used their considerable money to help disproportionately influence the outcome of an election. So, contrary to Grant Schapps’ comment this afternoon, not everyone’s vote has the same value.

            I had thought that one person, one vote meant that we all had an equal say. Perhaps I am mistaken in this.

        • The evidence that money corrupted the result is that:

          a. the Con vote share did not increase
          b. more marginals went to the Cons
          c. the Cons put a lot of money into mail shots and advertising in marginals
          d. this was allowed because of changes to the rules that the Cons pushed through Parliament.

          • So now you want to stop political parties spending any money? Shall we ban all the union payments to Labour?

            Labour spent money in the marginals as well. It didn’t do them any good, not because if they spent more they might have won, but rather because what they were printing on the leaflets they paid for wasn’t of interest to those who read them.

          • ‘So now you want to stop political parties spending any money?’ Hmmm…did I say that anywhere?

            What I said was that there should be a financially level playing field. I am puzzling to work out why this is such an objectionable idea.

            Of course we should limit union payments to Labour if that gives them an unfair advantage over other parties. Does it?

            Do you think that the parties should spend the same? Or do you think that parties which promise to protect the interests of the wealthy should be supported more than others by the money of those wealthy they are protecting?

      • Ian,

        As a volunteer for the Conservative party, i can tell you that to honestly say it was simply money or a dodgy voting system which won the Tories the election is both hyperbolic and deceitful. They won as a result of volunteering campaign which targeted the 23 seats they needed to form a majority, and it worked. This was not as a result of money. Everyone knows that Labour have huge sums available to them, too, so to claim that the ‘rich’ Tories won unfairly is not true.

        Furthermore, why is it that only when the Tories benefit from FPTP, that people complain? Labour won 35% of votes, but 55% of seats (!) in 2005, hardly a proportional result, and hardly the system benefitting the Tories, who you claim ‘have a vested interest in maintaining the current system as it is’. It is a fact that the system favours Labour far more than the Tories.

        If electoral reform has been needed for so long, and willed for by so many left wingers, why is it that in 2011 the AV reforms were hardly thought about by people, and thus failed?

        It is clear to me that days before the election, polls were in deadlock. Now what made people swing? The pretty good record of the Tories in comparison to the mess left by Labour. Elections are about people judging the relative success of the current government, and of the other parties’ manifestos. Clearly, all things considered since 2010, the Tories have helped more people than Labour ever did, the champagne socialists.

        When people got to that ballot box and thought of the past, and of their wishes for the future and convincingly decided that the Tories were the best to deliver this.

        So thanks for expressing your concerns in the blog, but I’m afraid they’re all a little too late, and coincidentally timed, now the Tories have deservingly won.

  2. I think you are missing the point of those figures. UKIP polled well without many dollars. The point of the figures is not that money buys elections but that you should have a proportional representation system which honours the voters across the nation. I am writing from NZ where we have had a workable MMP system for nearly twenty years.

    Nevertheless, on a proportional voting system centre right and right parties, Con and UKIP have a significant majority on these figures.

    • Peter thanks for commenting from Down Under! I haven’t missed this point–I include it is one of the things that needs to happen.

      But the FPTP system means we are open to the skewing by finance that we have seen here. The Conservatives had vastly more money at their disposal, and they seem to have used it very effectively to make FPTP work in their favour.

  3. quite surprised at your analysis Ian, and I agree broadly with the Peter’s!

    Conservatives may not have increased their share by much, but they didn’t have to. they clearly won the largest number of votes by a decent percentage, and there was very little appetite amongst the general public to turf out the Tories in favour of labour.

    The biggest swing was towards UKIP, which is not well explained by your appeal to money. it seems obvious to me that the general republic is not especially swayed by money, but by the message, and they didn’t like the message of Miliband, at least not very much.

    as for your suggested changes, they sound worrying to me. I do not want all parties to have equal funding, I want them to gather support amongst the general public and get funding from them freely. a limit on the amount an individual can donate may be appropriate, but this would also have to apply to businesses and unions, which would do labour much damage also. PR would lead to a poorly functioning government, and I have no desire to force ‘media outlets'(what counts?) to be ‘balanced’.

    • Thanks, Martin, but it might be worth looking at the facts around the points you make.

      1. Actually, the total votes for the three main parties who were rejected the Conservative economic approach—Labour, Lib Dems and SNP—add up to quite a bit more than the Conservatives. The votes for parties rejecting the harsh measures of austerity that the Con proposed were more than those accepting them.

      So we have not ended up with a Parliament which reflects the views of the people. Do have a read of this article on PR from 2011:

      2. The swing to Conservatives was hardly measurable at 0.8%. So how does anyone justify an electoral system where that completely changes the makeup of Parliament, and a roughly 18% change in relative parity of the two main parties?

      3. My point was not that money changes all the results, but simply that the massive extra funding for the Conservatives, which they pumped into the marginal to swing the results there, was what made the difference. There were other factors too—but without this the Conservatives would not have won.

      4. Why the problem with an equal effective limit on the main parties? it works elsewhere. On what grounds do we want a party which appeals to the wealthy, and funds its campaign on the basis of appealing to the self-interest of those wealthy people?

      5. ‘PR would lead to a poorly functioning government’, you mean like that backward and failing economy, Germany?

      The interesting thing in all this is where Christian theological reflection comes on. What, I wonder, does Scripture say to power, wielded by the powerful and privileged, which has (by everyone’s account) led to the poor becoming poorer and the rich becoming richer?

      • Hi Ian,

        Thank you for your analysis (genuinely), and thank you for your writing. I think though that in this case your analysis overstretches the mark. We all can, and should, criticise FPTP but even in a PR based system you would still be looking at a Con-Kip coalition – not a resounding call by the general public to return to socialism.

        0.8% is a measurable swing (not that it should have equated to the swing in seats as you point out) – but is still a positive result for the Conservatives considering the austerity measures.

        The extra money the Conservatives had I don’t think made the difference you attest to, and certainly doesn’t merit being called corruption (such as physically intimidating voters or corrupting voter slips). And beside no amount of slick advertising is going to persuade someone to vote for a party they loathe – And if my social media feeds are anything to go by there is a lot of hatred for the Conservative party and affiliates.

        Besides even if it was a minor factor in marginals that wouldn’t explain the vote holding up countrywide across over a third of the population. In my constituency they were largely absent (not surprising in the Welsh valley) and the slickest campaigning came from Labour and UKIP. Lets say the advertising persuaded a key 100,000 people across a few marginal seats (being generous). That equates to 0.3% of the electorate – not enough to explain the 6% difference.

        Moderating media outlets seems a dangerous route to go down. Far better to know what each media outlet stands for and accept their respective biases. That way if you want an intelligent Progressive read you know where to go. Equally for a considered Conservative position. But pretending that media outlets can aim for neutrality is unlikely. Trying to enforce it would be dangerous. Whose concept of neutrality would you enforce? Which media outlet can claim the view from nowhere?


        • Thanks Chris…but I am not trying to explain the 6% difference between Labour and the Conservatives.

          I am trying to explain why it is that Labour did better than the Conservatives compared with 2010, and yet did considerably worse in terms of seats in Parliament.

          The only answer I can see is Con’s performance in marginals like this one, and that was in large part due to money paying for campaigning. It protected the Cons from losing seats to Labour that would otherwise have gone over to them…like this one.

          • One reason for the Conservatives doing better than Labour in terms of seats to votes compared to 2010 was that the Conservatives did rather poorly in 2010.
            One reason for the low increase in the Conservative vote was that they bled around 3 million votes to UKIP.
            If you really want to compare Tories with a combination of Labour, LD and SNP, then the appropriate comparison would be with Tories plus UKIP.
            Or if that offends, and it does offend me slightly, then SNP and LD should be left out as SNP are basically the equivalent of UKIP and LD could be combined with either Labour or Tories.
            The most shocking thing is that SNP plus LD is the same in popular vote as UKIP but have rather more seats, in fact 60 times as many.

          • Thanks Tim. But I am not sure they did that poorly in 2010 in terms of share of vote compared with share of seats. And it is far from clear that UKIP voters were all ex Conservative. There is (I understand) good evidence that working-class Labour voters switched to UKIP too…and it part of the observation that Labour failed to engage with their traditional core vote.

            I agree with you last point, which again points to the need for electoral reform. But why would the Conservatives even think about this? As Campbell said on Question Time last night, the Conservative party is about power.

      • It seems a little funny to hear a modern NT scholar appealing to ‘facts’, especially from one quite well disposed towards NTW.
        As for facts, one can pick and choose. Who would want a nice stable PR political nation like Italy? It isn’t even democratic.
        Did the extra money make the difference? Who knows? You don’t because it would be almost impossible to demonstrate and you have not gone to the trouble to do so, because you have more important things to do.
        The simplest reason for disliking Labour is that their economic philosophy is that budget deficits are not an evil. But what they are is taking advantage of future generations, people who have no vote at all. It is fundamentally undemocratic. They will prattle about a distinction between current spending and investment but that is just a smoke screen to hide the fact that they will always overspend. The economic depths to which we sank in 2008 and following were because Labour are idelogically incapable of managing the economy better.

        • The evidence that perhaps the Conservatives did not do that well in terms of votes to seats is suggested by a comparison with the 2005 election.
          In that election, Labour 35.2% got 355 seats
          Conservatives 32.4% got 192 seats
          LD 22% got 62%

          In other words, Conservatives in 2015 got more votes than Labour in 2005 but got fewer seats and Labour got fewer votes in 2015 than Tories in 2005 but got more seats.

          The other pecuilarity of the election is how the opinion pols got it wrong.
          And the reason is that the left so dominate the airwaves one way or another that conservative ordinary people (and there are many) tend to feel browbeaten and unable to admit to their views.
          Thus we have a painfully skewed political discourse at the grassroots level in which the right are not able to take part.

  4. I agree with your comment ablot more balanced media coverage-articularly the BBC. It would be nice if it was more impartial and got rid of its soft left bias. We pay the licence fee after all. They are no friends of the Conservatives.

  5. Ian, I don’t think you credit the electorate with that much intelligence if you think the election was won with more money being ploughed into publicity and leafleting. The fact is that the Labour party had a better ground operation than the Conservatives – they certainly had more people mobilised and foot soldiers. Many ordinary conservative party members were disillusioned with Cameron.

    If there is one factor that may have swung it with the electorate then it was the sight of Nicola Sturgeon cosying up to Ed Miliband in the televised debates and saying that she would help keep the Tories out if they worked together.

    The English do not wish to be governed by the SNP. And there is the small matter of course of the last Labour governments reckless spending – there no money left note — was not forgotten.,,,

    • Thanks Chris–but I am unclear why suggesting that advertising affects people is the same as suggesting that they are unintelligent.

      I’ve been involved in quite a few discussions about the economy (mostly online with my brother, who takes a very different view!) and I find the arguments to be complex. And I have four degrees!

      In the end, voters need to be persuaded, and advertising helps that. So it is not unreasonable to suppose that the party which can afford more advertising will get more votes.

      how much difference does it make? Perhaps no more than 5% or 6%…oh, the difference between Labour and the Conservatives!

  6. Ian, I’m really not buying your opening point (leaving aside the rest for the mo): “What is the end, the goal of democracy? It is to allow the people to hold to account those who exercise power over them.” I think that is a pretty reductionist and negative place to begin. The goal of democracy is the thriving of the people. The point of democracy is the rule of the people (in our case through electing representatives). The people exercise the power. That is the point of democracy.

  7. Ian,
    The points you make about money and FPTP have much to commend them, but remember it was the dear old voters who rejected AV – their first chance ever at least to register some dissatisfaction with the voting system, and it was roundly defeated.

    What amazes me is the absence of ability among our politicians (however much money they spend) to sell their vision of how great things would be if they were elected. It’s nearly all negative. On the only sales course I’ve been on we were cautioned about how counterproductive it is to denigrate your competitors, and if the potential buyer mentioned them you should say “yes they’re a very good company but…” We were told that selling is all about painting a picture in someone’s mind of how good life would be if they bought your product; don’t even mention anyone else’s product.

    Where were the informative (as opposed to the bland) leaflets, the stirring speeches, the humour, banter with the public, airing of the broad range of issues which actually concern the public – where was there any real connection with the public (except in Scotland)? I wonder how many votes were lost to Labour by Ed Milliband’s infamous “Hell yes”, the tombstone pledges and the chat with Russell Brand? Gimmicks often backfire and divert attention from your message.

    And what is worst of all is the collusion of ignorance between politicians and journalists, where neither side seems concerned with educating and informing the public on a broad range of important issues and the true facts about those issues. For example, how many journalists fail to challenge politicians when they talk about ‘paying down the deficit’? This kind of reinforcing of ignorance is woeful. Where are the trustworthy and skilled communicators who can gain people’s attention and clearly explain these things? Perhaps our politicians need to rediscover the power of the parable to make a point!

    • Your argument on AV is like mum saying –

      “We’re having boiled fish again tonight kids. I offered you an alternative – fried liver – but you said you don’t like it. If you’re not happy with boiled fish then you should have jumped at the chance of something different. You didn’t – so it’s boiled fish every day from now on!”

      • Thanks Jason…but I can’t work out which party is ‘mum’ and whether that is a good thing or not. Quite a lot of people are saying ‘You are complaining because you don’t like the result’ without engaging in the issue of the need for reform…

    • Thanks Don. I am not sure that the 2011 vote on AV was informative or helpful, since there was a lot of nonsense bandied around about ‘strong government.’ I think there is a basic justice issue, and it is clearer now than perhaps it has been before. AV is less attractive when you have two-party politics, but when you are in a multi-party system (as we clearly are now) some sort of PR is the only thing that makes sense.

      I agree with you on the poor coverage of issues, which is the point made in the linked article at the end.

      • AV isn’t proportional representation. In the referendum I wanted to write “Proper PR – no shabby compromise” on the ballot paper (reflecting what Nick Clegg called it earlier on) but in he end I voted for AV because I was so annoyed at the volume of nonsense coming from the supporters of FPTP and the implication that anything else would be the end of civilisation as we know it.

        The Scottish referendum energised the whole of Scotland last year, and brought many previous non-voters into the polling booths. This is a good thing. However, it seems that only the SNP and the Greens have built on that new interest. There must be scope for the other parties – and new parties – to do a lot more to connect with people who have felt marginalised and excluded.

  8. Hi Ian,

    On the rising gap between the super-rich and the rest. I am unnerved by it but not yet convinced that I should be appalled by it.

    As a question. If rising inequality was also unequivocally shown to be reducing the proportion of those in extreme poverty – would you approve?


    • Yes, in principle I would be open to that. But there seems to be a lot of evidence a. that ‘trickle down’ is a myth and b. that inequality is harmful to total prosperity. In other words, there are good economic arguments against growing inequality, before you even begin to consider the ethical issues.

  9. Best blog you’ve ever written, Ian 😉
    One small point. A significant percentage of the voting population don’t bother. On these results it is easy to see why. PR of some kind would help engagement. But that wouldn’t suit the two big parties.

    • Thanks Jeremy—that’s kind.

      Yes, I think you are right. People seem encouraged that 66% voted. But one third did not even bother to take 10 minutes out of their day to help decide the future of the country…?!

  10. Thanks for this helpful analysis Ian. My additional worry is that now the Tories have a majority they will be able to push through their legislation to redraw constituency boundaries, working the system even more in their favour and making it it harder to elect a different government in 5 years time. It was only being in a coalition that prevented them from doing this 4 years ago.

    • I don’t know the details of the boundaries issue. Grant Schapps claimed last night that the changes are due to take place regardless. They might favour the Conservatives, but if they do lead to more equal constituencies, that is hard to complain about.

      But Schapps also said ‘Everyone’s vote should have equal weight.’ That, in a nutshell, is the case for electoral reform. I wonder if he will follow it through…?

  11. Ian,

    You wrote: ‘And targeted campaigns in marginals (like Broxtowe, where I vote) come under the less-tightly regulated national limits rather than the more tightly controlled local ones, as long as the mailings come from a central source. So not only were we surrounded by Conservative billboards, we also received several ‘personalised’ letters from David Cameron. And it worked.’

    Obviously, the spending returns for the 2015 campaign are yet to come in, but let’s look at the previous election.

    When I downloaded the stats, it shows that, in 2010, Labour and the Tories spent £4.15M and £4.81M respectively on unsolicited material to electors. I don’t think that relative spending on ‘personalized’ letters might have differed that much this time around.

    In contrast, the respective figures for advertising were £826,000 and £7.56M. That might have by itself made the Tory re-election a fait accompli until we look at spending during the 2012 US Presidential Election race.

    The amount donated by Political Action Committees (equivalent to rich non-party campaigners in the UK) and spent on largely negative advertising against Obama’s was impressive.

    Even by April of that year, the Obama campaign had raised less money than it did in 2008: $196 million compared to $235 million.

    Nevertheless, the now legendary online fundraising by Obama’s team attracted an average donation of $65.89 to outstrip eventually the major donors to his campaign. By the end of summer 2012, 55 percent of the $1 billion in campaign money comprised donations of less than $200.

    While I’m no fan of the Tory political machine, there was nothing stopping Labour from raising funds in the same way as Obama did from its proportional base of supporters. Nothing, I should say, apart from their poorly organized grass-roots efforts (that could have reduced the impact of national advertising), an unimaginative on-line presence and Ed Millband’s woeful lack of personal charisma.

    I still believe in a truly United Kingdom, while living far south of the Scottish border Yet, in terms of finding a leader who really connects with voters, Labour could probably learn a lot from Nicola Sturgeon.

  12. Everybody’s vote already has equal weight. They all count as “1”. But they count in the quest to elect your local representative. A vote for a losing candidate still counts, You can’t lose FPTP and not also lose the whole point of local representation. And if you want a local representative then there are winners and losers. So I don’t agree that a form of PR is required by the interests of justice. It is democracy – the rule by the will of the people; not idiocracy, the rule of each individual.

    • You can have single member seats without FPTP (number all the boxes), as in the lower houses in Australia (federal and most states). Doesn’t change the result in many seats, but it’s fairer at the individual seat level.

      Our upper houses (federal & most states) have PR. So we have a fairer electoral system than UK/US, but that has never guaranteed a sensible govt!

      The New Zealand system is probably the best overall – you get local representation and proportional.

      • The ‘number all the boxes’ approach was proposed and soundly rejected in the 2011 referendum in the UK. (This as one of the Lib Dem conditions for coalition.)

  13. Thanks for this Ian, some interesting points you make. However, I wonder if you were making the same arguments after the 2005 general election? Labour won 355 seats on only 35% of the vote, and the Tories won 198 seats on 32%. In terms of disparity that was far worse than the 2015 election. Plus campaign spending by the two parties was almost exactly the same.

    Were you calling for a change of the electoral system then and bemoaning the state of our democracy…?

  14. Root problem is, a system designed for one purpose is being used for another. Plurality voting’s incompatible with political parties. It developed with independent representatives who looked out for their district’s interests. Parties in the modern sense came centuries later.

    An alternative to a proportional system is increasing the independence of representatives. One way to do this is to separate government and legislative functions; another is open primaries and recall elections, so representatives always face competition, and ever feel the heat. That’s why, in the U.S. Congress, every vote is, in effect, a free vote, and majorities must be pieced together on a bill-by-bill basis.

    If representatives are party drones, then I agree that the party balance should be proportional to the popular vote. But there is another way, one that takes FPTP back to what it was meant to do, and what it does well. The system’s been corrupted; it’s not inherently bad.

  15. Ian,

    Thank you for taking the time to voice your opinions on the elections, they have provided food for thought.

    I would like to share a few of those thoughts with you. We are it seems, both voters in the same parliamentary constituency, Broxtowe. I will confess now that I spoiled my ballot in 2010 and have voted for a number of parties (large and small) over the years. I did vote for a party at this election and did not chose that party based on how much advertising and canvasing they did. I actually think I had an equal amount of information from each party. Another friend of mine living in Broxtowe (and professing to have voted Labour) said that she had had more literature from Labour than any of the other parties put together. Living in the digital age, it is very easy to cross reference party policies on a single website. I also chose my party based on the local candidate who I believed could represent local issues best at a national level. Do you have any evidence to support your implied claim that the amount of money a part spends in a marginal area affects the result, or is it just personal speculation? or coincidence? Despite differing with your argument, I do believe that there should be a level playing field with regards to campaigning for an election. This should not just be financial, but right down to the amount of leaflets and posters a party can use, if only for environmental reasons.

    I am not sure that a divided country comes from people voting for different parties. As you will no doubt be aware, many parties have ‘strong hold’ areas – such as Labour in the North East. I would also imagine that many people vote for a political party which they believe can best meet their needs, but I am unsure as to why this divides out nation. There appears to be an urban myth that people who live in the South East of England are ‘living the dream’. In fact the Labour party has the majority of MPs in London, an increase of 7 seats ( As you are well aware, Broxtowe in the East Midlands has continued to select a Conservative member of parliament. The MP now has 45.2% of the vote, an increase of 6.2% and a majority of 8% (

    I also agree in the regulation of media outlets, however the BBC was accused by Nigel Farage of being biased towards the left ( That said I am sure that parties towards the left have made equal claims.

    I would also like to see a version of Proportional Representation (PR) introduced, but ‘if’ a new system is chosen it should not be at the expense of local people voting for their local MP to represent them; after all this has to form part of any decent democracy. Of course electoral reforms were offered in 2011 via referendum for the Alternative Vote (AV) ( Whilst AV isn’t PR, it certainly offered something different to the First Past The Post system which you appear to dislike so much; it was however rejected by the UK. It should also be noted that the current electoral system (until this parliament) has favoured the Labour party over the Conservatives for the past 20 years in terms of number of votes required per seat elected ( It is also worth noting that according to the BBC, the SNP do have a majority in the Scottish Parliament (

    There are of course risks to PR. It could be argued that it would be a lot easier for extremist parties to be elected. Had PR been used in the 2010 election, the BNP would have claimed 10 seats ( Finally, whilst it is true that Hitler was democratically elected to the Reichstag in 1933, the word “democratically” is misleading given the power and influence the Nazi party wielded over people (and not in a democratic way). As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of VE Day, we remember the sacrifice paid by many, so that we can enjoy the freedom of democracy. We might not have the best voting system in the world, by we do still live in a democratic society. A society which allowed many people to protest about their new government, even if a small minority do not know how to protest peacefully ( We only need to look around the world to see what life in undemocratic societies looks like, ours is not one of them.

  16. I too voted for an MP rather than a party, and among my friends I know that many did the same thing. Perhaps the ever-increasing scepticism that many have towards politics in general but party politics in particular played a significant part here. It has been widely reported locally that in my constituency the electorate was fed up with the negative campaigning and point-scoring against other parties. Speaking personally, there was not a party that I trusted enough to govern with vision and integrity for me to vote for, but there was a local candidate who I was very happy to give my vote to. Whatever the failings of FPTP, I was grateful that my vote, in a marginal constituency, could help to bring someone of integrity into Westminster. Perhaps this is a strength of an imperfect system.

  17. This is a very interesting article Ian. I think your point about the media is particularly important.

    It’s really a problem of conflicts of interest. Sometimes, the conflict of interest is obvious to readers, e.g. when the press had to report on the Leveson inquiry. Sometimes, it is (a little) less obvious, e.g. when a paper owned by a non-dom has to report on proposed policies affecting non-doms.

    The question is, given that these conflicts of interest exist, how can we ensure that the public has access to the truth?

    • Thanks, John. I think I would want to see greater transparency on the vested interests of media outlets, and the ideal would be a requirement for balance in reporting.

      I am not sure that there is a mechanism for this whole process which does not involve education of the public. Interestingly, a partial ban on opinion polls is in place in some other countries, and the effect is seen to be to help focus away from slogans and personalities, and more on the issues themselves.

  18. Requirements for balance during the period of an election campaign would definitely be a good idea, or even just more stringent requirements for accuracy. I was surprised by some of the straightforwardly incorrect items that were published.

    It seems that Lynton Crosby backs you on the point about opinion polls!

  19. I’m a bit puzzled by some of the comments above from Christians. I understand that there are obviously a range of Biblical interpretations and therefore opinions, but shouldn’t being a Christian place certain bounds on one’s views about wealth and inequality?


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