Dear Clive Efford,
I have been thinking a lot about the upcoming elections. I’m faced with a number of choices, none of them particularly palatable.
The Labour party seems to lack strong leadership and direction, which makes a vote for Labour a vote for essentially unknown policies. The Conservatives simply do not reflect my views at all. The Liberal democrats were my traditional choice, but their leader, Mr Clegg, has amply demonstrated that he lacks the political nous to spot a political trap, specifically the coalition that he walked into.
However, there is a deeper underlying problem, which is the structure of our democracy itself. The FPTP electoral system, combined with the party whip, effectively creates a system in which only two parties have real power. The third party (currently Clegg’s Liberal democrats) occasionally gets a “kingmaker” role, but never really changes things. This creates an inherently adversarial system, where the two big parties debate against each other rather than with each other, as if the nation is something to be fought over rather than something to be built up together as a team effort. Both parties have good ideas (as well as bad ideas) from time to time, but the whip system means they can’t allow themselves to admit a mistake or to see a good idea in their opposition.
Another big problem I see in the whip system is that it exposes governments to external interests. MPs are given great incentives to follow the party whip. The incentives to follow the wishes of their local constituency are comparatively small. The party whip system has made a situation where MPs are strongly encouraged to follow party leadership decisions. These leadership decisions are very often influenced by outside interests. The Conservative party is a glaring example of this — one need only look at who their chief donors are to see why their policies are the way they are. But the Labour party is not immune to being influenced by large donations either. This massive influence from large donations is unfortunately a result of declining party memberships generally, which is reflected in declining voter turnouts in elections.
I apologise for the long preamble, but it is necessary in order to better explain what my key priorities are and the focus of my questions.
I am strongly in favour of electoral reform. I would like to see the following policies in place:
* There is talk of introducing compulsory voting for first-time voters (i.e. those eligible to vote for the first time). I am against this, as it effectively criminalises those who would simply stay home. Doing nothing in the privacy of your own home should never be a crime.
* I am very strongly in favour of adding a “none of the above” option on ballot papers. In the event that “NOTA” wins in a seat, the leading “live” candidate would be elected on a “pro tem” basis for one year, then a by-election must be held. As a practical consequence, I don’t expect “NOTA” to win more than one seat every general election or two, but it would accomplish a more important goal. It would allow protest votes to be objectively measured as distinct from abstainers and spoiled votes. Additionally, it would take in votes that might otherwise go to extremist political parties trying to take in the protest vote. This will mean the larger parties won’t feel the need to shift policies to match that extremist party to “recapture” those votes, and instead they can investigate why those voters were choosing NOTA and chase votes by shifting policy in that direction instead. I suspect the final result would be that both Conservatives and Labour will end up shifting towards more populist ideals, instead of the current situation here they chase the moneyed vote.
* The House of Lords is over-stuffed. It is one of the largest second bodies in any nation. While a proper reform is needed, including a proper public debate on the matter, one stop-gap measure is possible. I would like to see a moratorium on new nominations to that house until the current number falls below 650 (equal to the number of MPs), through resignation or otherwise, and that the number never be allowed to rise above that number again.
I would be pleased if you could outline your policies (and where you can speak for your party, those of the Labour party) in these three areas. I would be especially interested if there are any discrepancies between your personal views on these items and the policies of the Labour party.
I hope to advise my friends and associates of your responses, so that they may make informed decisions on how best to vote in the elections in 2015.