A month ago Labour lost the election and it’s not fair!
It’s not fair because when they lose an election, they have three main ways of blaming someone else for the result, but we only have two.
Firstly, they can blame the ‘Tory press’ (our equivalent is to blame the BBC).
Secondly, they can blame their leaders for not being leftwing enough (just as some of us blame our losing leaders for not being rightwing enough).
But, thirdly, they can also blame the electoral system – whereas we can’t, because most of us are in favour of it.
Consider the following from Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer:
“There is a big, basic and brute reason why we have just heard a Tory Queen’s speech, will soon be listening to a Tory budget and have five years or so of Tory law-making ahead of us. It is so bloody obvious that no one is talking about it – it is the electoral system.
“By no normal definition of the word popular were the Conservatives popular at the election. They received 36.9% of the vote. By no normal definition of the word mandate did they get the endorsement of the electorate to fully implement their manifesto.”
No normal definition? Since the Second World War, only one government* has had an absolute majority of the vote behind it. Yet each administration has been publicly, legally and internationally accepted as the legitimate government of the United Kingdom. How’s that for a norm?
(*The exception being the 2010-2015 Coalition, in which the governing parties had close to sixty per cent of the vote between them.)
As in most pro-PR opinion pieces, Rawnsley goes on to perform the ‘turnout trick’:
“Factor in the turn-out and the Conservatives secured the backing of less than a quarter of the registered electorate.”
This appears to diminish the winning result, but the same treatment makes the losing result look even more loser-y – unless, that is, one is so arrogant as to assume that everyone who didn’t vote for the winner wanted the loser to win instead. Rawnsley is far too sensible to say any such thing, but many of his fellow left-wingers have bought into the myth of the ‘progressive majority’ (debunked on LabourList by the equally sensible Conor Pope).
One also notes the rarity with which progressives apply the turnout trick to results they approve of – such as Barrack Obama’s historic win in 2008 (achieved with just under a third of the registered electorate) and Tony Blair’s third election victory in 2005 (just over a fifth).
Of course, there’s no denying the majoritarian nature of our electoral system:
“It is first past the post that alchemises a minority vote share into more than half of the seats in the House of Commons, every seat in the cabinet and the power to pursue an entirely Tory agenda for the next five years.”
But if it’s wrong for a party with thirty-something per cent of the vote to get all of the power, then why is it right for a party with thirty-something per cent of the vote to get none of the power? After all, under PR, the vote shares of the 2015 election would have produced a Conservative-UKIP coalition with no cabinet seats for Labour (or the other leftwing parties). Ultimately, the logic of the central argument against FPTP leads not just to PR, but to a Swiss-style permanent power-sharing government.
Is this what most PR supporters actually want? One would imagine not.
If we want things like a government with a clear sense of direction and a substantial opposition dedicated to the task, then we must accept that power cannot shared in direct proportion to the number of votes cast for each party. Instead, there must winners and losers, and our current system achieves this more clearly and openly then PR ever could.
Though power shouldn’t be shared around the cabinet table, it can be shared in the country as a whole – by devolving it to the home nations, cities and shires; by empowering independent community institutions like free schools; and by enabling individuals, families and neighbourhoods to exercise responsibility over their own lives.
If the left learns to love this kind of power sharing, then one day it might be trusted with the reins of government again.