Today we have a guest blog from Simon Brignell where he discusses his views on the electoral system in the United Kingdom.
Leftists in the UK are in a historically unusual position, they have no real voice within Parliament bar a handful of backbench Labour MPs, mostly those of the Socialist Campaign Group. The problem is that the Labour party, since the time of Kinnock, has only made perfunctory gestures toward a meaningful transformation of democracy and the economy, and has only had one truly left-wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
It's not that we don't have enough left-wing parties in the UK, far from it, it's that those parties have no chance of acquiring even a snifter of power due in large part to our electoral system of first past the post.
This system is badly in need of reform for the following reasons:
Is This Really Our Most Pressing Issue?
Yes, I think electoral reform is our most pressing issue.
I know what many are thinking, and I do agree, wages, housing, inequality, the NHS, education, public services, poverty and so on are also pressing issues, particularly for those who are currently experiencing the worst of our contemporary crisis within those areas.
But we need electoral reform for one reason only - it simultaneously breaks the hold the Tories have on the UK and it breaks the parliamentary duopoly.
No more swinging back and forth between neoliberal Labour and Conservative parties, an end to adversarial politics and toward consensus and coalition building, and the rebuilding of the nation's faith in democracy and its institutions. Smaller parties will finally get a say and the electorate can feel truly represented in Parliament by those that they vote for. And because proportional representation, for example, naturally favours small parties, it could potentially mean an end to factionalism.
If we'd have had proportional representation in the 2019 general election, for example, the Tories would've been denied an absolute majority and only gained 288 seats equating to 45% of total seats, much closer to their 43% vote share. Additionally, they would've again been forced to work with other parties to obtain a consensus on contentious issues.
I think we on the left have become blighted by short-termism. We've settled for continuously voting for Labour simply because they're not the Tories, even though they've rarely been much better, and we've only done this because we know we'd be splitting our vote otherwise. Instead of this, what I'm proposing is that we should take a twofold, potentially long-term approach to achieve the goals necessary to start the restoration of our nation and the reformation of democracy
Without electoral reform, there is little chance of solving issues of poverty, inequality and housing, and all of the other pressing issues through party politics. It is, in fact, a matter of urgency that we press forward with electoral reform at the top of our agenda.
Strategy Is Key
I firmly believe that leftists need to get behind whichever party has a policy of electoral reform in their manifesto, but it cannot be Labour or the Conservatives.
Big-tent parties are big-tent parties because of our electoral system, not because it's an ideal form for a party to take, quite the contrary in fact. They are loaded and bloated by the careerists, lobbyists, entryists and self-servers, all opportunists, who see the party as nothing but a vessel for their own opportunism. This has caused these parties to split into factions, essentially parties within parties and regardless of the good intentions of any single faction, which will always be a minority force, they will always be outweighed by the greater power of other factions which stand in opposition to them.
The truth is that the electoral system has benefited many opportunists within the big-tent parties and allowed them to sit in parliament unchallenged in their safe-seats and by virtue of this, it has allowed them a political hegemony which electoral reform would potentially undo. It'd require many politicians of strong, selfless moral character to enable electoral reform and potentially sacrifice their seats, and such a thing is a rarity nowadays. It is because of this that I believe a big-tent party cannot serve the task we ask of it.
Who we rally and coalesce behind, instead, must be a party that exists outside of the duopoly, that has no real power, little to no factionalism within it and that would in reality benefit from reform. A party such as the Greens, Lib Dems or even a single-issue party. In the event that Labour, for example, becomes the only party to offer electoral reform, we must make clear our reasons for voting for them vociferously. We can draw support from the electorate at large, other party members, and the trade unions.
In the meantime, we must work within our communities to build solidarity with each other. We must build mutual-aid networks to support each other and run those networks democratically. We must help each other to build tenents unions to protect against undue evictions and crowdfund solutions to resist the most oppressive instances of capitalism. This is more than doable as the response to the Covid pandemic showed; hundreds of mutual-aid groups rose in its wake to assist the frail, the elderly and the self-shielding.
It is imperative that we agitate for and propagandise this issue as much as humanely possible, to get people on board with the idea of weaponising a broken electoral system to our end, one that benefits all of us.
The question remains of how best to achieve this goal and unify our voice; a single-issue party, a campaign group or piggy-backing onto another movement?
Whichever way we approach this, one thing is for certain - parliamentary democracy is dead without electoral reform.
Let me know your thoughts on this.