Do the right thing
The Chartist goal of a representative parliament and
majority government is still sadly unrealised
Whenever Gordon Brown decides to call the general election, one thing is certain: the party elected to power, like all its predecessors since the 1950s, will have no genuinely democratic, popular mandate. It will win office with the support of a minority of voters.
This flawed outcome is guaranteed by the distortions of the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system. In the 2005 general election, Labour won 35 per cent of the vote but secured 55 per cent of the seats. The result was even more skewed in Scotland where, with less than a 40 per cent share of the vote, Labour took almost 70 per cent of the seats. Across the UK as a whole, of those eligible to vote, almost twice as many people did not vote (39 per cent), as those who voted Labour (less than 22 per cent). So, despite being supported by only one-fifth of the registered electors, Labour was able to ease back into power with an overall 66-seat majority.
This voting sham is reminiscent of the gerrymandering and ballot-rigging of two centuries ago, which galvanised the Chartists to campaign for a democratic, representative parliament.
Further proof of the "rigging" of the electoral process is the fact that, in 2005, it took just 26,906 votes on average to elect a Labour MP, but 44,373 to elect a Tory MP and an enormous 96,539 votes to elect a Liberal Democrat MP. That is almost four times more votes required to elect a Lib Dem MP than one for Labour. Such huge electoral anomalies shame our body politic.
The current government lacks democratic legitimacy. It does not have a mandate from anywhere near half the British electorate, let alone a majority. This represents a perversion of the popular will and a subversion of democracy itself. Not since the rotten boroughs of the 18th and 19th centuries have elections been so debauched.
At the last general election, the Conservatives polled more votes than Labour in England but won 92 fewer seats. Conversely, in Surrey, they won every seat despite winning only half the votes.
Other parties got a raw deal, too. In 2005, nationwide, the UK Independence Party (Ukip) polled 603,298 votes and the Green Party won 257,758 votes. However, neither party secured any seats whatsoever, leaving their voters totally disenfranchised and alienated by the electoral system. This denial of parliamentary representation to vast numbers of voters is a crime against democracy.
First-past-the-post was designed for a two-party electoral contest. It worked well when there were only Whigs and Tories. But we now have five significant UK-wide parties: Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Green and Ukip - plus nationalist parties in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
First-past-the-post is ill-suited to this multiparty political landscape. It thwarts the will of the voters, leaving millions without political representation in parliament because, in effect, the electoral system is "fixed" in favour of the two main parties. Labour and the Conservatives conspire to maintain the anti-democratic FPTP voting method, which allows the election of MPs and governments with minority support. It serves them well, conveniently ensuring that power alternates between the "big two" parties.
Principles and integrity are trumped by electoral opportunism. No wonder the voters are fed up and have deserted the polls. They can smell the stench of an unfair system.
Labour's connivance with the undemocratic FPTP system, and its readiness to take power without a majority mandate, is a betrayal of its democratic socialist traditions. I want a green socialist government, but not through an unfair electoral system that defrauds the voters.
Without first-past-the-post, we might never have had the Thatcher and Major governments and, as a result, quite possibly, we might never have had New Labour and the ditching of socialism under Blair and Brown; perhaps even no poll tax and no Iraq war.
In 2005, not a single current MP won the votes of more than 50 per cent of the eligible voters in his or her constituency. A mere three MPs secured the support of more than 40 per cent of their electorate. Three candidates became MPs with less than 20 per cent of the registered electors voting for them. They included the Respect MP, George Galloway.
This is not democracy. The "mother of parliaments" has become the thief of political representation.
We have had too many elections stolen by FPTP. It is now time to cleanse the House of Commons of members of parliament who owe their seats to the unjust voting system. The doors of Westminster need to be opened wide to the representatives of the millions of voters who are denied a parliamentary voice under the current system.
We need a House of Commons that reflects the people's will; a fair voting system, ensuring that every vote counts, that the government has majority support, and that parliament represents the full spectrum of voter opinion and is not just stuffed with MPs from the big establishment parties.
It is time to finish the parliamentary reform process that was begun by the Chartists in 1832, with a new Reform Act to remedy the democratic deficit and secure a fully fledged representative democracy for the people of Britain.
The election systems in Scotland and London are practical examples of a fairer electoral process. Electors vote for both a constituency MP and for a party list.
This combines the accountability of single member constituencies with additional "top-up" MPs, based on the total list vote received by each party, thereby ensuring proportionality between the number of votes cast for a party and the number of seats it secures. It works well in Scotland and London, so why not at Westminster?
If the two main parties will not give us a fair voting system, "people power" might be our only option. The Chartists created a mass movement to demand a democratic, representative parliament, and so must we.
Peter Tatchell is the Green Party's parliamentary candidate for Oxford East. greenoxford.com/peter
You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PeterTatchell or join the Peter Tatchell Human Rights Campaign Facebook group at tinyurl.com/cj9y6s
Tags: Electoral Reform