The UK is having another General Election, the third in 4 years. Why? You might be forgiven for thinking it’s because of “Brexit”, but that’s not really true. The reason we are, yet again, trooping off to the polls is because our political system is broken and, as a result, incapable of acting decisively in the National Interest.
For generations the UK political system has been ossified by the competition between 2 main ‘blocks’ of self-interest. The Conservatives (a.k.a. the Tories) and Labour. The former is generally perceived to represent the interests of individual, rather than state, wealth whereas the latter promotes collectivism. Our system of elections has (until recently in Scotland) been based on “winner takes all” and “first past the post” voting that, with a few notable exceptions, ends up disenfranchising most of the electorate in a constituency by electing MPs who have garnered fewer votes than the rest of the candidates in that constituency combined.
Instead of winner takes all we could have single transferrable votes, and proportional representation (PR), and many in the wider electorate might then feel their individual votes count for something. It’s no accident that the smaller parties, and independents, are all for PR while the main parties, the great historical ‘blocks’ of power, are completely against it because it would break their control, perhaps for ever.
Voter disinterest is one result of disenfranchisement, with historically low turnout at elections of any kind, and however important. The 2016 EU Referendum, arguably the most significant decision we have been asked to make in 40 years, saw almost 30% of the qualified electorate fail to vote at all. Vox Pop interviews often elicit comments such as “They’re all as bad as each other” and “It doesn’t matter what I vote, they’ll do what they want anyway”. A political vacuum like this is dangerous as it is fertile ground for those who bring a simple message, skillfully presented, a popular promise to “break the mould”, to a group of electors who feel left out politically, socially or economically.
And so, in the UK General Election of 2019, we have the spectre of a populist Brexit Party standing candidates in most constituencies, on the single issue of achieving a “clean break” Brexit. One thing we can say about the existing, party based, political system is that most of the candidates are known quantities. Many will be either the incumbent MP, or a former challenger in that or another constituency; they have been “vetted” and sponsored by their party. They have “form” and they will, more or less, stand by a policy platform agreed by their party conferences. Nobody, so far, has asked questions about the Brexit Party candidates. Who are they, what is their “form”, what do they believe in, and how would they vote on anything other than Brexit? Apart from Proportional Representation, what is the Brexit Party’s policy on The Environment, Education, Health, Security, Defence, Social Services, Housing, Education, Justice, International Development and Aid and Immigration – oh, and the Economy?
Having seen how, for the last 2 years, a handful of Northern Irish MPs of an unrepresentative minority in their own country have controlled events in our ‘hung’ Parliament, how will it be if the Brexit Party does the same in 2020 and beyond? It doesn’t bear thinking about.