A representative parliament or one that “looks like us”

One of the things highlighted by the formation of the current Coalition Government is that governments are formed by agreement of the Commons and not by agreement of the electorate.

My previous post highlighted that we do not vote for governments but for representatives – the government is indirectly elected through achieving a majority on a vote of confidence or a Queen’s Speech. I concluded:

if we are to live under a Parliamentary indirect system of democracy, that system must ensure that the elected representatives (as a Parliament) are more representative of the people who consent to be governed by them. Then if we accept that Parliament is representative, we should consent to being governed by them.

Today Democratic Audit UK carries a guest posting by Labour MP for Slough, Fiona Mactaggart. (British democracy is made stronger by greater diversity, though we still have much further to go) In making her case she misses a major element of the diversity that we need to ensure that those “who elect” our governments (our MPs) are truly representative.

She was speaking in the Commons on a debate arising from the Speaker’s Conference (on Parliamentary Representation). This conference and debate was very organised around the representation of particular groups:

  • Women / Men
  • The Disabled / Non-disabled
  • BME (Black Minority Ethnic) / White
  • LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) / Straight

Fiona Mactaggart strongly makes the point

The reason issues of representation became so core to this is that in order for democracy to work, people need to trust politics. In order to trust those of us who are professional politicians, they have to think that we get what is happening in their lives. That means that we have to look normal to them. When Ed Miliband demonstrated the other day that the composition of the Government Front Bench  was all-male on that day, one of the reasons that it had so much resonance was the sense that half the country felt that they were not there —that we are extremely odd, peculiar and not like them.

But surely it is not just a matter of “looking like” the electorate – even if “looking like” is defined against the four dimensions listed above – it is also a matter of the House of Commons sounding and thinking like the electorate – and you don’t necessarily get that by “balancing” the appearance of the House of Commons according to those dimensions. I am sure that it would be possible to assemble a “perfectly balanced” House of Commons according to those dimensions, but find that the result is wholly Progressive (or at a stretch, wholly Reactionary).

We need a House of Commons that is representative of the views of the electorate, not just the appearance of the electorate. We do not have a diversity of views.

The electoral system ensures that nearly all except what is seen as the “main stream” is squeezed out (to give “decisive election results”). The parties’ selection committees and whips then ensure that within parties diversity of opinion is squeezed out (to avoid the appearance of splits and disunity).

So if you do not support current Conservative, Labour or Liberal “orthodoxy” your views are unlikely to be represented. And yet it is quite possible that a (suppressed) minority view in one party may actually be part of an (unrepresented) majority view in the country.

Hardly surprisingly this now looks like a plea for “proportional representation” (and many who stumbled on this post by accident are instantly switched off!) . So rather than look at the geekish mathematics of STV (Single Transferable Votes) let’s just review some of the benefits:

  • It is practically impossible for a vote “to be split”, so local mavericks can stand with their parties confident that should the maverick get a derisory vote, it will get transferred (according to voters’ expressed preferences 1, 2, 3 etc.) probably to other candidates of that party.
  • Parties need not fear putting forward “minority” candidates, because if they prove unelectable, their vote is likely to transfer to other candidates of that party.
  • It is possibly that non-orthodox candidates can attract support from other parties. Thus the Conservative could put forward both pro and anti EU candidates, thereby potentially attracting Liberal or UKIP support in the form of second preferences (should Liberal or UKIP candidates prove to be unelectable in those areas).
  • Extremist candidates can only win if they have real support, they cannot creep in through split votes.
  • The resulting House of Commons would be more representative not just in the range of parties represented, but also in respect of the diversity of views within those parties. Thus we would have (approximately proportionally) representation of Greens, Socialists, Democratic Socialists, New Labour, Social Democrats, Liberals (Soggy and Tough Orange bookers), Libertarians, Conservatives, High Tories, UKIP, flavours of Nationalists, etc., etc.. That body surely is better suited to decide whether to support any proposed Coalition Government.
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  • By Parliamentary or Presidential? | Enfranchise me! on 12 July 2016 at 12:38 pm

    […] A system such as STV does not squeeze minority opinion out of either parties or legislatures. This argument has been made so often it does not need restating […]

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