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Showing posts with label democracy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label democracy. Show all posts

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Can the Greens retain their first and sole Westminster seat?

Photo © 2011 Patrick Duce

With May 2015 just over a year away, battle lines are beginning to be drawn between political parties in marginal seats around the country and many seats are likely to swap hands. One such seat is Brighton Pavilion where Labour is hoping to win back the seat gained by Parliament’s sole Green MP, Caroline Lucas.

Many constituencies across the UK are losing their ‘safe’ status and becoming far more marginal, and those that have long been considered marginal are now split among several parties. The result is that small parties have a far better chance of gaining seats in Westminster than they did do fifty years ago. As the share of the vote for Labour and the Conservatives continues to decline, parties like the Green Party, UKIP and local Independent candidates can begin to feel more of a chance of their victory.

However, a small party with little experience in a position of authority is incredibly likely to come across difficult hurdles when trying to enact their political agenda for the first time. This is something we have seen in Brighton and Hove Council, made worse by the fact that the Greens, although the largest political group, do not have overall control. Hence, the Conservatives and Labour have bargaining power and they have both made sure to use it. Having coincided with the necessity to respond to Government cuts, this has left the Greens in an extraordinarily unpleasant situation: to be forced by Westminster to make unpopular cuts but to also build a popular reputation for a party that has just gained its first position of authority.

The political situation in Brighton has undoubtedly left its electorate confused. They have a council where an unlikely coalition of Labour and Conservative representatives has co-conspired to defeat Green bills. They have a council where the Greens are being forced to do exactly the opposite of what they stand for – make cuts. They have a council dominated by a party that has an MP of the same party protesting against it. Each of these is noticeable to the electorate and, in politics, it is the decisions that you see that matter. When rubbish collected on the streets and pickets of refuse workers formed, the electorate noticed and vowed never to forget, forming a negative image of the Green council from then onwards.

Competition for the Westminster seat, therefore, is going to be heavily fought. A three-way marginal between the Conservatives, Labour and the Greens in 2010, it is likely that at the next general election it will be a contest solely between Labour and the Greens. And, dishearteningly, it is looking like it will be a tight win for the Greens at best. With the Conservatives suffering massively in the polls and Labour retaining a strong lead, the national swing plus general dissatisfaction with the local authority will likely lead to a strong surge in Labour support in the area. A swing of only 1.2% is needed for Labour to regain the seat and, thus, it is featured on their list of target seats.

So, if Caroline Lucas is to remain an MP, the Greens have a lot of work to do. Somehow, the party must simultaneously defend the city council’s record whilst also explaining why Caroline joined the picket against her own party. She will undoubtedly be put under immense scrutiny and pressure by the electorate as soon as campaigning gets underway. She must also respond to Labour’s increasing presence in the area and fight against the replication of the national swing. She must find a way to work with the party’s local councillors that show that internal factions do not adversely affect the party and demonstrate that the visibility of these factions can only be good for a democracy.

Running such a campaign would also likely use up the majority of Green resources for the election, negatively affecting the efforts of other candidates. For example, in 2010, the candidate for Norwich South doubled the number of votes from 7.4% to 14.9%. If such an increase were to be repeated in 2015, the seat would be considered a four-way marginal with the Green Party in the running for a second MP by 2020. Pouring a considerable amount of resources into this secondary constituency could make this far more successful.

Before any decisions can be made, a number of questions need to be answered. How successful will the Green Party be in the European elections this year and will such a success reinspire some confidence in the party? Will the referendum on council tax prove beneficial for the Green Party’s image? Will Caroline’s popularity as an MP trump over the negative perception of the council that has grown? Will the national swing to Labour feature heavily in Brighton? We have just 16 months until the election and, as we know, in the political sphere, anything can happen.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Sorry Nick, but the Lib Dems Are Not the Solution to the UK’s Democracy

Photo by Dave Radcliffe

In his speech to the Liberal Democrat conference today, Nick Clegg made a series of remarks, the gist of which being that we, as a nation, are better off with his party in government.

Maintaining, despite the prolonged criticism, that entering a coalition with the Conservatives was the best deal for the UK, Clegg argued that he saved the UK from a number of policies wished to be implemented by his parliamentary partners. Claiming that their presence in Government allowed them to valiantly protect us from the evil Tory policies of the ‘Snooper’s Charter, ID Cards and tax breaks for the rich, Clegg seems to be suffering from a bout of convenient amnesia.

The Deputy Prime Minister forgot to mention how the party had conceded on their own policies in Government – settling for a referendum on Alternative Vote rather than the Single transferrable vote and the hike in tuition fees – and helped vote through horrendous cuts that have caused detriment to thousands across the country.

What the Liberal Democrat leader also omits is the fact that if the Liberal Democrats had not entered coalition with the party, we would have been protected from all these policy measures anyway, the party would have been saved from ridicule, and people would have far more respect for the party for sticking to their principles.

The Deputy Prime Minister also seems to hold the view that it his party that is driving down the votes down for Labour and the Tories, meaning that the probability of a hung parliament in future General Elections is higher. Hence he argues that the Liberal Democrats are needed in Government to hold back the Tory from their detrimental cuts, and Labour from their excessive spending. But again, he misses the point that it is not satisfaction with the Liberal Democrats, but mass dissatisfaction with the status quo that is the three main parties. After all, his party has been overtaken by UKIP in successive polls for months now.

Clegg’s speech today shows the new-found pragmatism and realisation that he wants his party to hold. Knowing that his party has no chance of electoral success, Clegg is attempting to pull his party to a bargaining position, understanding that in the next instance of a hung parliament, the party needs to raise its credibility by negotiating exactly what the Liberal Democrats want to achieve if part of a coalition Government. 

This is another ridiculous attempt by the party leader to reunite his party, distance himself from his coalition partners, and bring back support for his party by making promises that he'll curb the worst characteristics of the other parties. This ploy is completely transparent and it is not easy to be duped into this belief. The Liberal Democrats have made devastating mistakes under Nick Clegg's leadership and, much like the Tories and Labour, no amount of rhetoric will return the trust for the party has that been lost. 

Monday, 9 September 2013

Fear Will Maintain Our Status Quo

It is a much discussed topic that the UK suffers from the illness of a two-party system, whereby either Labour or the Tories hold power over the Government, even though it is not evident that either party actually received the support of over 50% of the entire eligible electorate. Medicine for such a problem ranges from compulsory voting to increased relevance of parties to a change in the voting system. However, the tumour that eats away at British confidence in our political system is unlikely to be defeated for one simple reason - fear.

Since the early twentieth century, government control has remained firmly in the hands of either the Tories or Labour. Yet, especially as of late, dissatisfaction with this established status quo is high, represented in a drop of party membership and electoral support; for example, neither party received a majority in the 2010 election. As such, you would be forgiven for thinking that the popularity of smaller parties may have soared and these two parties would have been displaced. Sadly, this is not the case. Again, a number of reasons have been previously been given to this decline, including similarities between political parties and the lesser prevalence of political activism in modern-day life. Where membership of a political party used to be a major part of an individual's lives, this practice no longer remains, with a wider range of activities preferred.

Poll levels for these two parties are always fairly close or perceived to be close but are in no way representative of support from the full electorate. As such, the make-up of the House of Commons is even less representative of public opinion as the First Past The Vote (FPTP) voting system does not allow for such. Take, for example, the 2010 election. Out of an electorate of an estimated 45,603,078, 29,687,604 voted but only 10,703,654 voted for the Conservative party. Therefore, of the estimated electorate, only 23% voted for the Tories, whereas of those who voted, 36.1% voted for them. Yet, inexplicably, the Tories hold 47.1% of UK seats, representing roughly double the number of constituents who voted for them. In contrast, the Green Party received 265,243 (0.9%) votes, meaning that, for a properly representative House, the Green Party should have at least 5, possibly 6, MPs. It's no surprise that people become increasingly disenfranchised with politics as such a House doesn't represent them.

It is this lack of proportionality in the House that makes the situation worse. As people recognise that wide support for a small party doesn't necessarily result in representation in the House - the support needs to be concentrated under FPTP - they realise that their vote will only make any real difference if they vote for the Tories or Labour. It becomes a protest vote - worried that the worst of the two evils will take power if they don't vote, or they vote for a small party, people vote for the lesser of the two evils. People are fearful of a situation where the worse of the two options take power. Even though this feeling is quite widespread, and people know that concentrated voting for a smaller party could wreck the status quo, people fear that it won't work and, thus, stick to voting for one of the two major parties. While this attitude to voting continues to exist, we are unlikely to see anything different - maybe further coalitions are in our future, but we are bound to see the Tories or Labour form the majority of these.

Hence, the only real way to inspire confidence in voters and show them that there is a way to oust these two parties, is to introduce proportional representation, where every person's vote influences the makeup of the House of Commons, where 1% of the vote means 1% of the seats. Unfortunately, even this is unlikely to ever occur. Whilst Labour or the Tories hold control of Government and they know that a system of proportional representation would be detrimental to their prospects, we are unlikely to ever see this proposal make its way into law. The closest opportunity we had was when the Liberal Democrats coerced their coalition partners to hold a referendum on the Alternative Vote, a step-down from their original Single Transferable Vote preference, which would have barely bettered the situation but was voted away anyway, reducing any chance of us changing this system.

There are only two ways in which we are going to be able to change our two-party system. Either it will be a long process as small parties slowly grow in support as their small local successes begin to get noticed, but this is not an ideal approach. Alternatively, the process could be achieved through coalitions where smaller parties garner support through their successes in government but if we are to take the Liberal Democrats in this coalition as an example, confidence in smaller parties is unlikely to grow.

Also posted on Backbench