Nothing will happen to change the voting system before 2020. It is unlikely that anything would also happen between 2020 and 2025 unless there was another uneasy coalition and a further referendum extracted from the largest governing party. There are substantive arguments against this happening, not least of which is the fact that we’ve only just had one (2011) so, even with a following wind the opportunity to once again put some kind of PR system to the British people is unlikely to be considered until the 2025-2030 parliament.
The pragmatic approach would most certainly be to cease wasting breath on something that can’t happen for at least 13 years. All the huffing and puffing in the world won’t change that scenario and the spectacular irony waiting for us at around that time is that UKIP may well be the second largest party by then (under FPTP) and vying for government – exactly the time when we would want the voting system to remain exactly where it is.
There is nothing wrong with pragmatism so if we can’t change the voting system in the foreseeable future then we should drop the subject, come out for FPTP unashamedly and fight for power under the current rules. It makes us look grown up and resilient. However, such thinking hasn’t reached the movers and shakers yet but when it does I suspect this article will be several years old.
The Great British Public
In 2011 the proposal to move to the alternative vote system for general elections was defeated by a 2-1 majority. In referendum terms this was a landslide. It is inconceivable that a change to our voting system could be achieved by any mechanism other than another referendum and even if all that I have said before in this article were to be in error than we would still have this one last hurdle to jump – that of the British people.
PR systems, including mine, all contain one enormous inevitability, that of coalition government. With the UK voting patterns of the recent and not so recent past the likelihood of a single party gaining more than 50% of the national vote is slim to non-existent. It isn’t impossible but, dramatic circumstances would need to be in play and even then, when those circumstances has subsided the return to coalition under any PR system would be inevitable. One has to consider why the people so overwhelmingly voted no.
There are many opinions as to why AV didn’t fly but little hard evidence. Some PR systems are beset by the same problem, that of bewildering complexity (except mine) and it is also likely that the general public didn’t like Nick Clegg. However, there is one major disadvantage that I’ve already mentioned and that is a permanence of coalition government for ever more.
Perhaps the British people don’t like coalitions, or to re-phrase that, we do like strong government and the ability to sack it. Under most coalitions the government is there in perpetuity and fluctuations in voting patterns simply change the shade a bit. Under FPTP we can and regularly do tip the government out of bed lock stock and barrel. It is a magnificent expression of people power to consign the most powerful man in the country yesterday to a powerless nobody today. That’s one hell of a lever to give up.
It’s important to realise that referendums are rarely decided on facts or predictions. They always raise an emotional question and they always receive emotional responses, which is why we need to gain the hearts and minds of the people to get out of the disastrous EU. However, this complex question is a difficult argument to make because there are so many reasons to leave and so few to stay and whilst that might seem to be an advantage it is confusing and such complexity can be counter-productive. However the argument for strong government is simple and memorable and any case against PR would be severely damaged by one single mantra. ‘Do you want to give up your ability to sack your government?’
Whilst PR might seem to be to the advantage of UKIP today that may not be the case in the future so we need to be careful what we wish for. We could be in government with 30% of the vote in 20 years but could never achieve over 50%. Why would we want to make it harder to govern?
It’s not going to happen for at least 13 years anyway so why waste breath now? We would gain credibility and credence by accepting the way things have always been done.
The great British public have already given this idea the heave-ho. They quite like strong government and love being able to turf them out. That is a hard argument to overturn.
I thought a great deal about our voting system, enough to design a new one, but I’m not convinced it is for the best and certainly not now. However, were it to be put to the people again then my system of F2PTP is the option UKIP should support.