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Punching our weight
Electoral reform would open up the space to build a new pluralist left, argues Respect councillor Salma Yaqoob
Just as politics seemed at its most frozen, the demand for proportional representation has forced itself back onto the political agenda. The immediate cause can be found among the wreckage of public trust in parliament following the expenses scandal. Safe seats no longer seem so safe. The local versions of one-party states appear only to encourage greater cynicism and apathy. PR has gathered new supporters as the search goes on for a ‘big idea’ to reconnect with the voters.
Proportional representation (PR) is not a panacea. There is good and bad in every electoral arrangement. My constituents in Sparkbrook beat a path to my door with petitions about housing or council services, not alternatives to our voting system. It is ideas, the contest between them, and the commitment to implement them, that will really breathe life back into our political system.
PR matters because its implementation will allow more genuinely democratic expression and enable progressive opinion to better punch its weight.
Official politics has become a version of Prime Minister’s Question Time in which insult has replaced ideology. Only a handful of MPs are willing to speak out for a radical and progressive alternative. Most people were against the illegal war on Iraq. But parliament voted it through. Many people were revolted at the unfairness of handing billions to greedy bankers while leaving them in control of our economy. But our voting system squeezes out radical voices and rewards the useless but loyal MP.
There is a potential majority in society for the kind of progressive change that I want to see, and that many in the Labour Party, Green Party and others want to see as well. But it is increasingly hard to see how that majority can express itself in a political system that is increasingly stagnant. Those who share the values of peace, equality and social justice, need to come together. A voting system that is genuinely proportional offers us the chance of putting these ideas into practice.
To break the dominance of the discredited political establishment we need a fair voting system.
Finish the Chartist process
Changing the electoral system will open the door to new left and green MPs and a more democratic, representative parliament, says Green Party candidate Peter Tatchell
At the 2005 general election, Labour won 35 per cent of the vote – but bagged 55 per cent of the seats. This is not democracy. It is reminiscent of the gerrymandering and ballot-rigging of two centuries ago that galvanised the Chartists to campaign for a democratic, representative parliament.
Every government since 1945 has taken power on a minority of votes. None has won majority public support. The electoral process is rigged. In 2005, it took 26,906 votes to elect a Labour MP, 44,373 to elect a Tory MP and 96,539 votes to elect a Lib Dem MP. The Greens got no MPs at all. Not since the rotten boroughs of the 18th century have elections been so debauched.
This democratic deficit is a direct result of the first-past-the-post voting system, which allows the election of MPs and governments with minority support. It serves the two big establishment parties well, ensuring that power alternates between them, to the exclusion of left and green alternatives.
FPTP enabled Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair to win landslide majorities based on popular votes of a mere 35 per cent to 44 per cent. If there was a fairer, proportional voting system, we would never have had the Thatcher-Major governments and, as a result, never had New Labour and the ditching of socialism under Blair and Brown; probably no anti-union laws, post office closures, Trident, privatisation or Iraq war.
Britain has a left-of-centre majority. With proportional representation, the Tories would never rule alone again, thereby preventing a repeat of their Thatcherite excesses. We’d see the election of MPs representing the Greens and radical left parties, as happened under Scotland’s PR system. This would shift the political centre leftwards. Labour would be radicalised because it would have to rule in coalition with lefts, greens or Lib Dems (who, despite their flaws, are more left-leaning than Labour on most issues).
We need a parliament that reflects the people’s will; where the proportion of seats won corresponds to the proportion of votes cast. This means finishing the parliamentary reform process begun by the Chartists. What’s required is a new Great Electoral Reform Act to secure a representative parliament.
The Scottish Parliament election system is a practical example of a fairer electoral process. Electors vote for both a constituency MP and for a party list. This combines the accountability of single member constituencies with additional ‘top-up’ MPs based on the total list vote received by each party. Thus it ensures proportionality between the number of votes cast for a party and the number of seats it secures. The result? Scottish Socialist Party and Green MSPs. This system works in Scotland – why can’t we have it at Westminster?
That’s why I’m backing the ‘Vote for a Change’ campaign, which is calling for a referendum on voting reform on same day as the next general election. Polls show that a majority of people want change. Let the people decide. It’s called democracy.
Count them in
First-past-the-post voting makes it harder for trade union voices to be heard, argues PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka
Four years ago PCS launched the Make Your Vote Count campaign. We didn’t recommend any party or candidate, but in order to engage with the parties and their candidates, on issues relating to the public services, we asked them questions and published their views to our members.
It has been a revealing experience in many ways. It exposed the democratic deficit at the heart of the electoral process. The outcome of general elections is really decided by the behaviour of ‘swing voters’ in marginal seats rather than by the majority of the electorate. This undermines democracy. At the moment polls are showing a huge disenchantment with the three main UK political parties, yet we can be certain that between them they will win in just about every English parliamentary constituency.
Our experience of campaigning in defence of public services led to a debate about the need for fairer voting systems. Our conference last year came down decisively in favour of a more proportional system so that every vote counts. This year we went further and decided to launch a consultation exercise across the union to test support for a much more active political strategy, based on another lesson learned through Make Your Vote Count.
On key issues, such as privatisation, the main political parties have policies that are essentially the same. Polling continually shows that privatisation is unpopular – but who do you vote for? I believe a distorted voting system is partly responsible for this lack of choice. It is much harder for our voice to be heard, even though we are a national mass membership organisation. This seems to be the general trade union experience. I was very struck by the frustrations expressed at the recent conferences of unions that are affiliated to Labour. Our consultation could lead to PCS supporting or standing candidates in certain circumstances.
I welcome the wider recognition of the democratic deficit that has come out of the wave of anger from the exposure of MPs’ expenses. We must ensure that interest in PR is not just temporary as it has been on past occasions. Polling now suggests that the Tories may form the next government with just a 30 per cent share of the vote. That would be no mandate for unprecedented public spending cuts that would wreck the economy and destroy our remaining welfare state. It is a problem we can’t afford to ignore.
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook