I’m keen on the idea of a Progressive Alliance to introduce fair votes. As I’ve indicated in a previous post, the only purpose of the Progressive Alliance would be electoral reform.
But electoral reform isn’t just about proportional representation. The present system is inefficient and unfair; it doesn’t reflect the will of the people especially when there are more than two main parties. In general, the main parties oppose electoral reform and the minor parties support it. This is the case whatever their political colour: notoriously, when the Labour and Liberal parties swapped places as the main opposition to the Conservatives, in the 1920s, they changed their policies on PR. The old Liberal Party, the party of Asquith and Lloyd George, opposed PR until it was overtaken by Labour, which itself supported PR until it became the second party. And if you want to find a party on the right which now supports PR, look no further than UKIP. Go figure: hypocrites all.
FPTP is clearly broken and unfair, but all the alternatives have problems. I personally favour the Single Transferable Vote, which the Electoral Reform Society supports. It is the most proportional system which still retains a constituency link – although the constituencies are larger, multi-member ones. But proportionality in a multi-party parliamentary system can be just as undemocratic as FPTP. The problem is that the small parties become kingmakers. The country that has suffered most from this is Israel, which has ended up giving a great deal of influence to small, extremist religious parties. Could we live with ourselves if electoral reform resulted in an extremist party like the BNP came to hold the balance of power?
The solution to this is to have direct elections for the Prime Minister. Theresa May’s undemocratic smoke-and-mirrors elevation to the First Lord of the Treasury makes a further case for this. The electorate, not a small group of MPs whether in a cabal in a big party or as a small party exercising the muscles given to it by proportionality, should choose the PM. For such an election, the Alternative Vote system would work well – as it does for the elections for the London Mayor.
But the difficulties don’t end there. We would have a directly-elected Prime Minister with the authority of his mandate, on the AV system over 50% of the electorate having voted for hime or her as first or second preference, and a legislature in which, in all probability, his party would be the largest party but without an overall majority. Result: gridlock. The worst of all worlds. The problem that has paralysed President Obama’s second term.
Traffic gridlock is avoided in the UK by yellow-box rules and we would need yellow-box rules to avoid political gridlock. The most important of these is that Parliament should not be able to veto the Government’s budget; but it should legislate for the framework in which the Government makes its budget. In relation to taxes, Parliament sets the base (income, Value Added etc) and the Government sets the rate. Parliament makes the laws, and the Government implements them.