Two days ago Cornish Stuff published an article 1,500 Cornish People Demand Proportional Voting System as Petition Hits 100,000 Nationwide. I am glad for I was one of the 1,500 locally and 100,000 nationally who signed the petition which now triggers a debate in Parliament. As the article says:
The election was dubbed by campaigners as the ‘most disproportionate in British history’ with the FPTP system accused of distorting the result. The distortion was evident in Cornwall, where 6 Conservative MPs were elected with just 43% of the vote between them. Although 170,000 people in Cornwall voted for parties other than the Conservatives, everyone is now represented in Parliament by a Tory.
But why the continued drumbeat on this website and others about electoral reform? How does this connect to a broader public whose overwhelming concern is the NHS, Housing, Education and employment? Few will blurt out PR as top of their list of demands if asked to do so.
The answer – and one that we need to make time and again -is that we will never get a government that truly responds to the concerns of ordinary people when our election system fails utterly to ensure that every vote counts and every voice is heard.
Consider this: the Conservatives won 37% of the votes cast but 51% of MPs, handing them absolute power to push forward the austerity bandwagon of cuts and privatisation.
Now consider this: opinion polls consistently show overwhelming support for public services. 68% want energy taken back into public ownership, 66% want the same for rail and 71% for water. And 84% continue to support a publicly owned NHS despite an overheated right wing press that relentlessly peddles scare stories and scandals about NHS ‘inefficiencies’, bloated bureaucracy and failed medical care.
So the critical question is: how does an ‘elected’ government whose agenda flies right in the face of public opinion, come to win power again and again? The answer in large part lies in a failed election system that cannot cope with our new multi party politics; one that punishes insurgent parties, splits the progressive vote and allows a reactionary Tory government back in.
We can campaign till the cows come home to save our local hospital or library, stop benefit sanctions, defend employment rights, fight for affordable housing, better social care, environmental protection and more. We may win all these battles yet still lose the war.
Electoral reform is not an end in itself but a beginning. It has to be part of a larger package of far reaching constitutional reform that embeds essential public services at the heart of a new social contract between government and people – forever beyond reach of a predatory corporate agenda that co-opts our elected representatives to do their bidding. It must be one that imposes a constitutional obligation on every future elected government to protect public services, not privatise them.
This is a long term project, ambitious, slow moving – and compared to a street demo to save our NHS – pretty dull stuff! It is subject to all sorts of ‘if’s and ‘buts’, protracted discussion and legal wrangles but ultimately it is the only way forward to bring about a new settlement.
Never again should a people be put in the invidious position of endless weekends spent pouring over complex health and social care plans or planning applications because they can no longer trust their elected representatives and public experts. We cannot continue the kind of sustained fire-fighting where campaigners are battling on multiple fronts against a relentless neoliberal agenda that puts the primacy of the Market above all other considerations – ethical, social, and environmental. There has to be a better way.
So keep fighting your battles – they are important! But I would rather plan for war.
Please note: this is very much a personal viewpoint. It does not reflect the diverse views found within the progressive alliance. We have common ground on many issues but no formal policy definition that is distinct and separate from the parties to which we belong.