Friday, May 06, 2005

The election's over: it's time to get political

"Would you like to know the results?" asked my girlfriend as I awoke to another five years of New Labour government. "Yes please" I blearily replied, having given up watching the results come in at about 3am to catch four meagre hours of agitated sleep. "Labour have won again but with a smaller majority, with the Conservatives gaining most of the seats that they lost. The Lib Dems have lost ten seats". "WHAT? How can they lost ten seats? Every bloody result had a swing to the Lib Dems! Oh sh*t." And with that, I decided that I couldn't face getting up. I stared out of the window, turning over miserable thoughts in my mind about once again supporting the losing side. It's not that I'm not used to that by now, but you know, I'd allowed myself to believe for a few weeks that this time around, Blair and his gang would take a severe pasting to the benefit of the Lib Dems. I was also rather keen on the idea of Robert Kilroy-Silk having to sit next to George Galloway for the next five years. Anyway, the Lady bought me a cup of coffee to ease the pain, and I decided to face the world and have a detailed look at the election's results.

At which point it turned out that She had completely misunderstood the result summary dispensed by the half-asleep political junkies who were passed out in the living room and that the Lib Dems had in fact gained some seats, that Tony had indeed taken a serious kicking, that half of my little daydream about Kilroy and Galloway had come true and that all in all, it wasn't too shoddy a result. At least there'll be no more of Tony steamrolling stuff like the Flat Earth and Terracentric Cosmology Act through the Commons, which is a pretty good start. He may even have to consult with other people every so often.

However, this does not detract from the fact that it is perfectly feasible that the Lib Dems could have lost a load of seats despite gaining a load of votes because the UK's electoral system is almost as unfair as the US' one. Here's what I mean.

Currently, 619 seats from a total of 646 have been declared, or 95.8% of them so I consider that the following statistics are significant enough for our purposes. Of those, Labour have 57.0%, the Tories 31.5% and the Liberal Democrats 9.5%. But their shares of the vote are respectively 36.3%, 33.2% and 22.6%. The Tories and Labour should be neck-and-neck as regards the number of seats in the House of Commons. The Liberal Democrats should really have more than twice the number of seats that they have. Regardless of the actual political parties, this means that over half the people who support the Lib Dems aren't represented in Parliament, and conversely, Labour supporters have ridiculously more clout than their share of the vote entitles them to.

I'm pretty damned unhappy about this, and you should be too. In fact, I'm so unhappy that I never want to see this sort of travesty of democracy again. We theoretically have a representative form of government, and this pine marten thinks that we should be represented properly. In other words, now that everyone's in the swing of political things, instead of forgetting about politics for the next five years as usual, I propose that we should all start badgering our political masters about electoral reform until their ears bleed. I want to see people out on the streets and newspaper editors drowning in a deluge of angry letters. I reckon that a really good way to combat political apathy would be to have an electoral system in which everyone's vote counts, not just those of floating voters in marginal constituences. Essentially, what I'm driving at here is that we need proportional representation.

So what can you personally do? Well you can start by clicking here and signing up. Then you can get yourself properly involved and stuck in to some political militancy. Introducing proportional representation is the necessary condition to ensuring that your voice is heard, that any change can happen, that you decide how the country is governed. Whether you care mostly about Iraq, the environment, third world debt, transport, the EU, you should support proportional representation because that's how you can guarantee that the political class will listen to you.

Admittedly many in the political class have a vested interest in avoiding electoral reform like the plague so it's not likely to be an easy change to bring about, but with enough popular support (and remember that your MP depends on that for his job) it can happen.

And particularly for those of you whose immediate reaction is to dismiss the idea as a no-hoper, I leave you with a quote by from Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand:

Que dites-vous ?... C'est inutile ?... Je le sais !
Mais on ne se bat pas dans l'espoir du succès !
Non ! non, c'est bien plus beau lorsque c'est inutile !

(What say you? It is useless? I know!
But one doesn't fight in the hope of success!
No! No, it is far more beautiful when it's hopeless!)

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