What are elections for?


Contributed by Peter Morley:

There have been several reports following Paxman’s interview with Brand, and now Clegg has added his accusation that as Paxman earns his living from politics he shouldn’t sneer at it.

Clegg says correctly that politics is about the way we decide how we pay taxes, support our hospitals and schools, whether to go to war and how to deal with climate change. That is surely too important for Brand and Paxman to discourage people from voting.
But Brand and Paxman do not seem to understand how British elections work.

We do NOT elect our Prime Minister or our Head of State, the Queen. We do not even elect which party forms the Government. We elect individuals to represent our constituencies in the House of Commons. But our voting system puts the country in the hands of the 40 or so “marginals” where the MPs elected by of a very small minority – the “swing” voters – decide which party forms the Government and thereby who becomes Prime Minister.
That is not the effect of representative democracy. It is the effect of first past the post – an out date and pernicious voting system.

Instead of abstaining and regarding elections as immaterial, Brand and Paxman would do well to learn more about the benefits of STV and then campaign for it openly on their respective programmes. Now that really WOULD switch the public on to vote.

Clegg should understand STV

One could add that it is a shame that the Leader of a Party that that officially supports electoral reform does not seem to appreciate that voting systems matter and that voting by First Past The Post in a safe constituency cannot affect the result of an election. It is no wonder that abstention is no longer exclusive to the apathetic. Many thinking people, like Jeremy Paxman, now make a conscious decision to abstain.

The electorate’s rejection of a particular reform in 2011 does not make reform less desirable. Reformers lost the referendum partly because of their opponents’ distortion and lies and partly because the proposed reform was the half-step of AV instead of the radical reform of STV.

Although the referendum result may have put electoral reform for electing MPs off the political agenda for the time being, reform is urgently needed for local government in England and Wales. (Scotland and Northern Ireland already use STV for local government elections.) Reform for local government is arguably more important for local than for national government, because there are so many local authorities that have been controlled by the same party for generations even though the party does not attract a majority of votes.