Sunday, June 04, 2006

Bob Neill – man of the people

Most of the population of Britain is effectively disenfranchised. As a reminder, about 350 people yesterday chose the new MP for Bromley and Chislehurst. White, middle-class male, non-Tory-A-lister, barrister Bob Neill is he. Like the majority of the UK's population, the good people of B&C live in a non-marginal seat. In these the MP is chosen by the party members of the constituency from a list over which their Party organisation has, depending on the party and constituency, quite a lot or hardly any influence.

There’s almost no chance that Mr Neill won’t win the by-election however hard the local Labour and LibDem activists might try. PR wouldn't end this peculiar situation. There are at least 57 varieties of PR none of them completely satisfactory. It could even be argued (although not very convincingly) that FPTP is one of them. Whatever system is in place, getting past the local party’s selection system will be the highest hurdle anyone has to face.

If you want to have any influence over who your next MP will be, join whichever party always wins in your constituency. Or if, like me, you live in a marginal, join one that has a chance. Sound advice except that to follow it would mean me joining the Tories or LibDems. Arrrg, advice is so much easier to give than to take......


At 12:39, Blogger Bob Piper said...

Of course, if had been a Labour marginal in a by-election, you would probably have had an option to choose one of three bland lawyers from the home counties presented to you by the NEC. Although as yours is not winnable they may have let you choose a local.

At 14:31, Blogger skipper said...

You're right of course and the incentive of being part of the 'selectorate' and actually helping to select the MP might appear to be attractive. However, the reality of joining one of these strange political party things, sitting through boring branch meetings and delivering endless leaflets and letters through letterboxes seems, sadly, to deter all but 2 per cent of the population.

At 22:02, Blogger Hughes Views said...

Bob - one of Bill Shakespeare's characters put it rather well in Henry VI 'The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers'. As an engineer I often feel at odds with a world run by lawyers and accountants. Technical people like me make the mistake of making complex things appear simple while they make fortunes out of making simple things seem complicated....

Skip - with so many other things to do nowadays, it amazes me how many of us do still join political parties. John O'Farrell's 'Things can only get better' book nicely satirised branch meetings. We haven't had a quorate one since I became branch secretary two years ago, which is nice.....

At 21:30, Blogger Tim Roll-Pickering said...

Maybe a way to overcome this is to allow voters to register as supporters of parties and take part in primary elections to select the candidates?

At 21:59, Blogger Hughes Views said...

Welcome tim r-p. An interesting thought, registering as in the US might indeed help a bit with selection. It might also generate a little cash for the parties if there was a small registration fee.

At 06:37, Blogger Neil Harding said...

hv: Every day our electoral system takes us nearer to the dysfunctional unrepresentative state of democracy that the US is in.

The Tories openly mention in their manifesto that they are going to gerrymander the boundaries if they get back in.

FPTP is gerrymandering heaven. Where the boundaries are drawn is becoming more important than winning votes in the majority of places.

Just because there are many (actually an infinite) number of electoral systems does not mean that all of them are worse than FPTP, a lot of them are considerably better.

The Single Transferable Vote or Open List PR are the 2 systems favoured by true democrats, both are much better than FPTP. None of the new democracies would dream of choosing such an unrepresentative system as FPTP (i.e, S. Africa, E. Europe all chose PR).

60% of the electorate in this country consistently vote for progressive tax-raising parties. We would never have a Thatcherite government again. The drop in turnout is largely amongst urban left of centre voters who traditionally vote Labour. PR would raise turnout by at least 7% (look to New Zealand) and most of these voters would vote for left of centre parties.

PR is the best thing we could do to alleviate poverty in this country. A Harvard Study of electoral systems over the last 50 years has shown that countries with PR are more equal and have higher taxation. As the report concludes;

"The details of actual tax and spend policies for the purpose of redistribution are complex, but the explanation for redistribution in advanced democracies is probably fairly simple. To a very considerable extent, redistribution is the result of electoral systems and the class coalitions they engender.

"Electoral systems matter because they alter the bargaining power and coalition behavior of groups with different interests. In majoritarian systems, parties have to balance the incentive to capture the median voter with the incentive to pursue the policy preferred by their core constituencies. Because the median voter is closer to the distributive interests of the center-right party, any probability that parties will defect from a median voter platform once elected will make the median voter more likely to vote for the center-right.

"This result contrasts to multiparty PR systems where governments are based on coalitions of class parties. In this context, center parties will tend to find it in their own interest to ally with parties to the left. This result follows because the middle class can use taxation of the rich to bargain a tax rate and benefit level with the poor that is closer to its own preference. There is no opportunity for a coalition of the center and right to exploit the poor in the same manner."


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