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Entries in The Sun (1)

Saturday
Jun202009

Broken Britain

Sections of the UK's right-wing media have been running a rather odious campaign for a while now, called 'Broken Britain', which selectively highlights examples of moral or social failures, and, you guessed it, places the blame for them squarely on the so-called British nanny state. 'Britain's broken society' was a soundbite used very cleverly (if cynically) by David Cameron to group together things that people generally don't like - teenage pregnancies, knife crime, obesity and so on - and present them as the result of left-wing policies. It's a shrewd PR tactic, and the press have run with it, but it's got little to do with reality.

And the reality is this: Britain doesn't have a left-wing government. Or even an elected left-wing political party. In fact, in Westminster, there hasn't really been a sniff of Leftyness in years. Both the main parties have been trying to out-do each other on how right-wing they can be, endorsing or initiating privatisation after privatisation; dodgy tax cuts; talking down of the Human Rights act; clampdowns on asylum seekers; taxpayer-funded posters with crosshairs on poor people (read benefit thieves); a hang-'em-and flog 'em approach to crime. The Lib Dems have been a bit more restrained, but they too propose a low-tax state and public services which are essentially run by (and arguably for) big business. These are the kinds of policies which the press has campaigned tirelessly - and successfully - for, so, to misquote the paper, if Britain is broken, it's arguably The Press What Broke It.

There is one thing in Britain though which is unquestionably broken, and has been for years: its democracy. The way that MPs are elected is shockingly undemocratic - under Britain's First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system, MPs - incredibly - do not need to get a majority of votes to get elected.
 

Under FPTP, the candidate with the biggest chunk of the vote gets the seat. Say I was standing for election in Britain for the Chris Singleton Party (I doubt you'd elect me), against two other candidates. If I win 40% of the votes, and my opponents get 30% each, I still win the seat, despite 60% of the electorate voting against me. This is crazy, and, when repeated all over the country, leads to a parliament which doesn't remotely reflect the votes cast. A good example of this is Thatcher's 1983 landslide - the Tories won 42% of the vote and ended up with 61% of the seats. Labour did something similar in 1997, winning 43% of the vote and getting 63% of the seats.

Looking at the 1997 example more closely, here's what the UK voted for:

Labour: 43%
Tory: 31%
Lib Dem: 17%
Others: 9%

...and here's what it got, in terms of parliament seats:

Labour: 63%
Tory: 25%
Lib Dem: 7%
Others: 5%

This is basically electoral fraud: a massive con job where every general election that takes place in the UK is effectively stolen. It may be the voting system that is defrauding the electorate - as opposed to say, a dodgy dictator - but by preserving this wickedly unfair system, the politicians at Westminster are doing something far more sinister than fiddling their expenses: they are disenfranchising millions of people.

The alternative to FPTP is proportional representation, and it's something that Britain needs above all the other measures which are being touted as ways of cleaning up politics. Sadly it seems years away. Our PM-in-waiting, David Cameron - knowing that the current unfair electoral system provides the only way he'd get a Conservative majority - has already come out against introducing proportional representation. Brown has hinted at some reform, but his position is so weak that anything he proposes in this area is likely to be seen as an attempt to get out of his current jam by 'fixing' the next election.

But until a fair voting system is introduced, Britain is going to continue to be a basket-case democracy, where your vote doesn't count unless you live in a marginal seat, and where shows like the X-Factor generate more votes than elections. Virtually no other modern European democracy uses First Past The Post, and if British politicians are serious about reforming politics, this reform has got to start with the most fundamental aspect of democracy: making votes count.

Visit http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/ and http://www.makemyvotecount.org.uk to support the campaign for a fair voting system. You can also join the little 'Fair votes' Facebook group that I've set up at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2398924840