What makes an election system democratic?

How offended can you be before an election result is “not democratic”?

Our current system is by agreement of many rigged.  Last week’s by-election was won with 32% support.  Now we don’t actually know what would have happened under AV – it is possible that the Lib Dems may have scrambled to 50%+1 (a result that it is hard to be offended by in a single member constituency), but it is quite possible that UKIP might have won.

Should we be offended by results under the current system and should we be sufficiently offended to call it “undemocratic”?

I have never lived in a marginal constituency, so my vote has never made a difference.  I have never viewed the politics of my MP as reflecting my own. In these respects I am probably in a majority as are most “voters” in non-marginal constituencies.  The voice of most “ordinary people” is ignored.

Of course we are in a better position that say “voters” in Zimbabwe, but just because we are in a better position does that make our position “democratic”?

So what does?  I think as a minimum representatives should be able to claim some level of majority support (in single member constituencies, 50%+1 – i.e. all the other votes combined could not give another candidate a better claim).

However, this is a pretty pathetic minimum as large numbers of our fellow voters can be perpetually unrepresented – which strikes me as “undemocratic”.  This happens in non-marginal parliamentary constituencies and in local council elections.  Multi-member wards do not necessarily help.  If one councillor is up for election each election, the biggest minority will always win.  In all up elections where voters are given as many votes as there are seats to be filled, the biggest minority will still win all seats (saving where an individual may persuade voters to break party loyalty).  Clearly to avoid this situation some form of proportional system is required.  My preference is for the Single Transferable Vote (STV) as this also takes selection powers from the parties and gives that power to the electorate.  List systems do not do this.  Under STV you can demonstrate that if all the remaining votes for unsuccessful candidates were combined they could not give another candidate a better claim than the successful candidates.  (Such is the workings of the “quota”.)

Many in the Conservative party (and a large proportion of the Labour party) will argue that such systems give “undemocratic” results with unstable coalitions.  They may give unstable coalitions (particularly if there is no willingness to work across parties), but I would maintain that the result is “democratic”.  The “antis” are actually arguing for rule by a minority – which to me is a form of dictatorship.  They should be prepared to make the argument for dictatorship on the basis of efficiency of government (I would not argue that democracy is necessarily directly efficient) but I do not think they should call their prefered systems “democratic” – I am more than a little offended by such claims.

I notice incidentally that the Conservatives (who made up the core of the 2011 No to AV campaign) said that under AV the person who came second could win and this was “undemocratic”, and yet that is fundamentally what Daniel Hannan is now saying in calling for a UKIP/Tory pact – we should have stitch-ups so that either UKIP or the Conservatives (who came second and third in Eastleigh) might win.  They can’t have it both ways.

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