In Praise of Indirect Democracy

We like to think that we elect governments – and most parties encourage this view with national campaigning, leaders’ debates and an emphasis on party discipline.

But we actually elect representatives to form a Parliament. It is members of that Parliament that vote to support a government and they decide issues rather than us. In that respect our democracy is “indirect”.

We are being progressively encouraged to think that more “direct” democracy is “better”. Witness the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners and the push for directly elected mayors.

I think this is wrong and that, for reasons of coherence and accommodating diversity, indirect democracy has a lot going for it.

This is particularly so as we face a potentially complicated hung parliament. This means that we are unlikely to have a government with a clear parliamentary majority – we will not have “elected a government”. So it will be up to our MPs, as a Parliament, to decide who forms the executive. This requires them to act as parliamentarians not as party hacks wedded to a series of “red-line promises”, “manifesto pledges” and “policy millstones”.

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Trends in Not Voting

Julian Ware-Lane (a Labour General Election Candidate) has published on his blog some interesting numbers for changes in voting behaviour over the last 80 years. Graphically they are sobering for the two main parties and worrying for all of us.

Voting at UK General Elections

Voting at UK General Elections (percentages as percentage of registered electorate)

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Vote Swapping

There was an article on the BBC Website last week (23 April 2015 : Election 2015: Does ‘vote swapping’ work?) discussing the idea of vote swapping.

In vote swapping two people in different constituencies agree to trade votes in the hope that they can both have more influence on who forms the government.

Even though I intensely dislike the effect of our current First Past the Post¹ voting system, I feel uneasy about mechanisms such as these which “buck the system”. Continue reading

Constituency Volatility?

Democratic Dashboard has published data showing the results of all four elections since 1997.

I have extracted the data for the North East of England (my region), showing the winner of the 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2010 election (plus the incumbent from the 1992 election) Assumptions made by Democratic Dashboard where there were boundary changes and constituency renaming. I have added the History note mainly from Wikipedia records. Often the seats have been held by one party since they were created. Continue reading

Local Government Reform

In the first article of the ‘Merger, He Wrote’ series, Steve Brooks director of the Electoral Reform Society Cymru reflects on the Welsh Government’s new white paper on local democracy.

So many of the issues he identifies could be improved by the introduction of STV. Continue reading

Low Majority Dangers

Mark D’Arcy BBC Parliamentary correspondent writing about the prospects for the next Parliament and Government notes:

… the arithmetic of the next Parliament is only part of the reason why it will be so difficult to construct an administration capable of lasting even a couple of years.

The rise of UKIP, the Greens and the SNP means more MPs than ever before may be elected on an extremely narrow mandate.

Take a look at the 2010 result in Norwich South, where Lib Dem Simon Wright won on 29.4% of the vote, a hair ahead of the former Labour Home Secretary, Charles Clarke on 28.7%, with the Conservatives on 22.9%, the Greens on 14.9% and UKIP on 2.4%.

Many more seats will see three, four or even five party politics at the next election, so it’s not hard to imagine plenty of the next generation of MPs taking their seats on the basis of less than a third of the votes in their constituency.

They would have an acute sense of vulnerability. They would be under huge pressure to bring back the goods for their constituency, to deliver bypasses or new schools, fight local hospital closures, or fracking or whatever. And they could be vulnerable to constituency pressures on big votes.
BBC News Website 19 December 2014 : The next Parliament: Coalition 2.0 or confidence and supply?

This raises an interesting reflection on what we might mean by democracy. Continue reading

Achieving Political Fission

Ian Birrell in the Guardian (Monday 27th September 2014) ponders whether a Conservative split may be the catharsis the party needs, concluding:

Yet what really binds the many decent and tolerant conservatives to those misanthropes filled with fear and rage against modernity?


To be “conservative” implies an element of holding on to the past – because it has to be better than an uncertain future. Too often this can overpower any search for change for the better.

Two problems stoke this fear.

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Kicking the F’ing Tories

The Huffington Post (10 September 2014 Cameron Pleads With Scots Not To Choose Independence Just To ‘Kick The F-ing Tories’ – other citations are available) reports Cameron as saying:

“People can feel like it’s a bit like a general election. That you make a decision and five years later you can make another decision. If you’re fed up with the f-ing Tories give them a kick and then maybe we’ll think again. This is totally different,” he said.

The Conservative Party only has one MP in Scotland. Alex Salmond has had some success in framing the debate as a chance for Scots to never again be governed by the Tories.

It’s a pity he could not go one stage further and suggest that Scots stick with the union so that in May 2015 they could give the Tories a Glasgow Kiss as well as an f’ing good kicking.

Only he wouldn’t, he didn’t and he can’t. Continue reading

STV as a tug-of-war

In a previous post having another go at the horse race analogy used by supporters of FPTP (First Past The Post) electoral systems, I tried to compare AV (The Alternative Vote) to a tug-of-war:

Initially the die-hard supporters of the two established foes (usually Labour and the Conservatives) take an end each. As they start pulling they scream out promises and threats to bystanders to try to persuade

  • their stay-at-home supporters to pick up their end of the rope and pull
  • supporters of minority parties to lend their weight (if only to stop the other side winning)
  • the apathetic to look at how things are going and if they don’t like what they see to also lend their weight.

As all of this happens you may find a few people changing ends, but the result is determined by who has the greatest weight of support and can pull themselves over the line at the close of polls.

Electoral Tug-of-War

Electoral Tug-of-War as an AV analogy

I also suggested that STV (the Single Transferable Vote – usually in multi-member constituencies) might be a multi-dimensional version of this tug-of-war with each candidate having a rope. I have since been trying to visualise this! Continue reading


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