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. Outside the marginal constituencies our vote makes no difference and the incumbent really only needs to make sure he or she does not fall out with their selection committee. Any pressure that the selection committee is likely to apply is to be more extreme on a particular aspect of the party’s policy. Otherwise they have to be good party hacks and obey the whips.

In the marginals, who wins could be a bit of a lottery, a sort of devil’s cocktail of local pork-barrel issues and national banana skins. Having “won”, they have to address the pork-barrel ingredient of this cocktail if they are to then retain their seats. Pork-barrel politics is an aspect of American politics that we could all well do without.

I have never really liked whipping (of the parliamentary sort – actually of any sort) and have often cheered those who have defied the whips. Yet in the sort of scenario outlined by Mark D’Arcy, we have two sorts of MPs; those who can rebel with relative impunity on behalf of their electorate and those who dare not rebel for fear of upsetting their selectorate.

The effect of having two sorts of MPs is that we become two nations; those who are represented by MPs sensitive to their electorate and those “represented” by MPs sensitive to their party machines. (See maps on Electoral Calculus, BBC, and Parliament. The Electoral Calculus map has the benefit of mapping by electorate size rather than geographical size – click the button to see the few seats predicted to change.)

Those of us in the “disenfranchised nation”, may well see an unpredicted Government governing unpredictably according to the whim of small groups of MPs in the “enfranchised nation”. This cannot be good for any of us and will only drive political disengagement and the break-up of our country.

The need for a political system where we all have a vote that has the same potential effectiveness is overwhelming. Are we too intellectually lazy to try and get our mind around the potential solutions or are we rendered too ignorant by our media to understand that things could be different?

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