Pragmatism and Foresight

cropped-David-Allen-170815.jpgI was particularly concerned that most PR systems contain fundamental flaws that cannot be eradicated so I devised a transparent system and applied it to the 2015 and 2010 general elections. That produced a complete set of alternative results exceeding expectations of existing PR systems by any critical criteria one might use to judge them. However, It’s a tough ask to get people in positions of influence to be capable of personally evaluating and adopting new ideas so, it may well remain an academic exercise but, with the consolation that it will not be alone amongst a number of PR systems destined for the same fate, in the UK at least. You can see the F2PTP system here F2PTP Voting System

Smaller, but electorally substantive smaller parties, include voting reform as a part of the mix, citing the great unfairness that resulted from the 2015 general election and seeking, what is seemingly an obvious solution. Change the system so that they can do better. The arguments though, so far presented are poorly constructed and rely too heavily on old ideas.

It might seem odd for someone (me) who spent a considerable amount of time and energy in developing a simple and understandable alternative voting system to now council against that but, sometimes, unless one has immersed oneself in the opposing arguments and practicalities,  it’s difficult to see clearly which way might be the best for the future. PR is always PR and the traditional set of systems almost always create coalition governments. Most systems (Not F2PTP) are also bewilderingly complex, contain arbitrary benchmarks, afford some people two votes and others just one and require computers to determine the results.

It’s clear that the 2015 general election threw up the most stark and visible contrast through FPTP. The SNP gained 56 seats with 1.5 million votes and UKIP only one seat with 3.8 million votes and it is easy to conclude that only a change to the way we choose a government will correct this but what isn’t considered is the probability that whilst solving one seemingly significant problem one could easily create something much worse or much less advantageous under different circumstances. It’s always as well to look at least one step beyond and analyse the range of possibilities that may play out. Had we done that before bombing Libya and invading Iraq, Afghanistan, and supporting the Arab Spring the current troubles may not have turned out to be so unmanageable.

So, what are we to do about voting reform?

What’s so good about PR for smaller parties?

Firstly, perhaps we ought to consider the position of UKIP and others and consider whether or not, despite the election results of the past, it would be to their advantage in the longer term. UKIP secured 3.8 million votes and got one seat but had they got 5 million votes that may well have been 25 seats and 8 million votes 150 seats so you can see that the payback becomes almost exponentially attractive the more votes one gets. This doesn’t happen with any proportional system.

partys with national agendas try to increase support because thay want to speak for all people and not just the fringe of society. Parties like the Greens and Liberal Democrats will always want a proportional system because their fundamentals appeal only to a small proportion of voters. The Greens will never be seen as economically competent and will always be an insignificant party and the LDs don’t have a mind of their own filching bits from all the other parties to appear to be centralist but which has always come across as sitting on the fence so they are unlikely to attract the 6.8 million votes they did in 2010 unless something bizarre happens between 2020 and 2025. Their flagship and solely LD policies were either completely wrong (€) or abandoned (tuition fees). However, UKIP isn’t like that so as a party with a real intention to be in government perhaps it should embrace FPTP or such ambitions could never be realised. FPTP sets the bar very high but, shouldn’t that be the case for a government?

Any party seriously seeking government mustn’t act or look like a protest party, particularly at a time when the Labour party is set to self destruct. Clamouring for some form of PR along with all the other permanently small parties just reaffirms an association with small thinking and short term advantage. That’s may not be how the third party wants to be seen.

Pragmatism

It is unlikely that enough pressure could be applied to get a second referendum before 2020 but, not impossible. It is also 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 UKIP can’t change the voting system in the foreseeable future then they should drop the subject, come out for FPTP unashamedly and fight for power under the current rules. It would make them look grown up (as a party) and resilient. However, such thinking hasn’t reached the movers and shakers yet but, if 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 evermore.

Perhaps the British people don’t like coalitions, or to re-phrase 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 completely sack your government?’

Conclusions

Whilst PR might seem to be to the advantage of UKIP today that may not be the case in the future so they need to be careful what they wish for. UKIP could be in government with 30% of the vote in 20 years but could never achieve over 50%. Why would they want to make it harder to achieve?

It’s not going to happen for at least 13 years anyway so why waste breath now? UKIP 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 all smaller parties should support.

ps: I now have to say and in accordance with my latest article on this site and because of the new analysis detailed in the new article that I do think another referendum could be achieved before 2020. I have also successfully derived an argument to overturn the ‘strong government’ argument and have myself been convinced of the revised paradigm.

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