Election campaigning is currently in full swing here in the UK, with voting to elect a new Parliament (and thus government) due to take place in May. And as usual, the Green Party is busy fielding its own crop of candidates and promoting its election manifesto.
But again, as usual, it’s all mostly in vain. Because although the party might win a seat or two and receive 5% (say) of the national vote, the end result will be the continued marginalisation of the party and the policies it promotes. This is the inevitable consequence of the first-past-the-post voting system, in which the winners take all and the losers, no matter how many votes they receive, get nothing.
This voting system means that huge numbers of votes are wasted – not translated into elected representatives. Even if a party were to contest every seat and lose in each by only a tiny fraction of the vote, they would end up with no elected representatives at all …. no matter that their national share of the vote might be 30 or 40 per cent.
Clearly this is a travesty of democracy. So it’s little wonder that many voters either don’t bother to vote, or else are deeply disenchanted with electoral politics, voting merely to keep ‘the other party’ out … because they know that voting for the party they most favour will be a wasted vote.
Yet still the Green Party persists in playing this rigged game, just as it has done since the 1970s. The party activists will argue that electioneering provides them with publicity – a public platform from which to explain and promote their policies. Yet whilst this is true, what is the real point in promoting policies that the voting system will ensure can never be implemented? So the party is left hoping that one or two of the mainstream parties’ policies become slightly more green-tinged in reaction … a very marginal gain at best.
The alternative – a radical movement for true democracy:
Instead of playing a rigged game to little practical effect, the Green Party should boycott all elections and transform itself – involving alliances across the wider range of green and progressive currents – into the cutting edge of a radical, campaigning movement for the creation of true democracy. This should centre on the demand for a truly proportionally representative (PR) voting system for elections: if a party gets 1% of the vote then it should get 1% of the elected representatives.
Of course true democracy consists of more than just a fair voting system – it includes the decentralisation of power, for example, and the creation of a more participatory democracy – but without a fair voting system, and the electoral shake-up this brings with it, there is little chance of ever gaining the elected power to implement these other aspects of true democracy.
(A side note: the usual arguments against PR don’t stand up to scrutiny, especially not in the face of the democratic travesty we’re saddled with. They boil down to three main themes, which, for those that are interested in such details, are looked at below, after the conclusion of the ‘main portion’ of this blog-post.)
Democracy has evolved in stages, historically speaking. To begin with, only a tiny percentage of any given population were allowed to vote (the ‘nobility’ and landowners of a certain size, for example) and women not at all. But then the democratic franchise was extended in stages to remove all restrictions relating to property or land ownership, later to also include women and later still to lower the age of voting eligibility.
And now we must take it on further, creating true democracy. In so doing we can look to halt the decline in voter turnouts, to change the current cynicism and disenchantment with politics and politicians, to deepen democracy’s roots, to broaden its scope and – partly by putting an end to wasted votes – to make it truly representative of what people think and want, in all its diversity.
The suffragettes – the ‘votes for women’ campaign in late 19th and early 20th century Britain – brought about the last major change in the democratic system. It’s well past time that the Green Party looked to their inspiration and took up their mantle. It’s well past time for the Green Party to drop the election game and enter the arena of radical campaign for true democracy.
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The three main things said against a proportionally-representative voting (PR) system:
- It’s said that PR removes the ‘sacred’ link between an elected representative and a given geographical seat. But most people, in most constituencies (in the UK at least), wouldn’t be able to tell you the name of their elected representative, wouldn’t be able pick out their photo from a line-up and have never met (nor likely will ever meet) their representative. Besides which, party favourites are often just parachuted in to contest a particular seat, with little or no prior connection to it.
- It’s also said that PR will allow ‘extremist’ parties to gain seats. The answer to this is ‘guilty as charged’ and what a good thing too. It’s for the electorate to decide which candidates/parties are ‘extremist’, not a small coterie of people with a vested interest in the status quo. And far better to bring extremist views into the mainstream of democratic debate and scrutiny, rather than having them denied fair representation and thus likely pushed further into the anti-democratic extremes.
- And finally it’s said that PR makes coalition governments more likely. Well, whilst this can be true (although here in the UK we currently have a coalition government despite the first-past-the-post voting system) … so what? Most political parties are internal coalitions anyway, containing a range of views, many of which are suppressed under a party-whip system. A true PR voting system will encourage birds-of-a-feather to flock together through the dissolution of the old party blocs and the possible formation of new parties in which suppressed views no longer need to be suppressed … and that’s true democracy and freedom of expression in action.