When a winner isn’t

Can any politician really want to win the next UK General Election? The next time the nation goes to the polls, the party with the most votes will inherit a massive headache and sorting it all out will be either impossible or massively unpopular – or both.

That is one immediate reason for all parties to embrace the principal of proportional representation to replace our current first-past-the-post system that usually results in a party with less than half the votes of the people being put in power.

Could our representatives actually come up with policies and put them into action under a reformed system? Of course they could. Take any of our major parties and examine what goes on under the surface. Few if any individuals in any one party actually hold identical views on any range of topics.

The political parties are simply coalitions of people who share broad common ground. This is evidenced through the constant internal schisms that surface and routinely lead to headlines of ‘splits’ appearing and such and such a party being ‘in crisis’.

It is worrying in a way to witness the internal systems that try to dampen such diversity. Parties have ‘whips’ dedicated to imposing discipline and bringing views into line with those of the leaders. The very terminology tells much about the process. It determines that the general process will be that of brow-beating or bullying, though it is also fair to say that some ‘whipping’ of the party will be to offer the carrot of advancement or a concession in another area for acquiesence in the current cause.

Britain is currently being massively disadvantaged by its political and parliamentary systems because the formulas for each have been left to fester in comfortable traditions that have proved unsuited to circumstances.

Sadly it is the scandals of Westminster that have prompted moves to do something about the outdated processes and values of the systems because the greater truth is that the mechanisms are simply not up to the job of managing our economy and supporting or guiding the complexities of our communities.

Take one simple example – we have a pattern of sessions that would be familiar to the MPs from fifty years ago. The gaps or recesses are fitted to a time when the world developed at a gentler pace, when messages from far places would take a while to cross the planet. Now, what took months, weeks or days to reach base arrive in fractions of a second.

The main concession to modernity has been a shift in daily scheduling that has made attendance more in line with other jobs and less something bolted on at the end of the day (and into the early hours) after the member had made money at his main (non-parliamentary) employment.

This isn’t a rant about MPs having long holidays but it is about the health of the decision process during those historically-based recesses.

The traditions of the British Parliament are quaint – like the slamming of the door in the face of Black Rod – but do they really pull in enough money from curious tourists to justify their continuation. Surely a group of actors could recreate it all and it might not be such a bad idea to turn the whole Westminster complex into a theme park and move parliament to a more efficient building in a more suitable location.

Where do you start? Well, changing to an electoral system that directly reflects the balance of opinion in the country has to be the foundation stone. You might say that with such a system, the choice of the individuals who represent each area becomes selection from a centrally-determined list of approved candidates for each major party, but is that such a far cry from what we currently have?

Actually the thinking needs to go one stage further. For a long time there has been disatisfaction about the House of Lords and attempts to change it. While we have had a first past the post system, the Lords has acted as a dampener to policy excesses and that will continue to be needed as long as the staus quo continues. Once you determine that the electoral system should be altered, their role becomes questionable.

Consider instead that we continue to have two sections to parliament. One determines policy on the basis of majority opinion and the second section represents geographical areas, essentially delivering the constituency element. The two groups would hold joint forums as a regular part of their consultative business. Rather more productive, surely, than talking about “The Other Place”.