The Communion of Saints

The Communion of Saints
I hope there's room for me.

Welcome all - especially Mancunians.

Hello anybody lost in the blogosphere. Welcome to the ruminations of a politically left of centre, Man United supporting, blues loving, history-fixated, Catholic wanderer. Be warned, I am a bit of a curmudgeon.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Even if you are wedded to First past the Post, is this really representative democracy?

I will put on record that I am not a natural supporter of Proportional Representation - I believe that some of its more 'pure' forms allow for the growth of extremes and can give too much power to those in a minority position. Added to this, I do believe in the importance of the link of the legislator to his/her constituents. So, I was quite in favour of the recently defeated AV proposition.
On the whole, I am not an enemy of FPTP as such though I feel there is a need for Electoral Reform.
On the night of the Local Elections, the rather untidy figure of Mick Hancock (Lib Dem MP for Portsmouth South) appeared on the television from the Portsmouth count urging the Lib Dem leadership to listen to the voices of their members and supporters, who were going to give the party a bit of a battering. The surprise was ,despite the looks of concern on the faces of Mr Hancock and his fellows, the Lib Dems did remarkably well in Portsmouth, taking 9 of the seats on offer, with the Conservatives on 4 seats and Labour on only 1 (technically a loss of 1 as their former leader, Leo Madden, was re-elected as a Lib Dem in his seat having been elected as Labour in 2007). Having paid attention to the running commentary from the local press online, it had seemed for a while as if the Lib Dems could have been in for a tough night as the votes piled up on the tables, but the jump in the Labour vote (for instance) seemed to make no difference to the result.
As it happens, there was a big swing away from the Liberal Democrats and towards Labour in terms of votes cast, with a big increase in turnout between 2007 and 2011 (from over 43,000 votes to over 51,000 votes). Obviously, 2010 turnout was high due to the General Election falling on the same day, but even the interest (such as it was) with the AV Referendum can't explain away such a rise in votes cast since 2007. I suppose one could say that the Labour vote was more motivated to turnout with an unpopular Labour government having been replaced by the Conservative/Lib Dem national coalition, but it would be just as true to say that a more competitive series of battles led to a better ground operation from the parties and much more voter interest.
It has to be said that the Portsmouth Lib Dem 'get out the vote 'operation appears to have been what saved the day for many of the sitting councillors.
The astonishing fact is that with less than a third of the votes cast, the Liberal Democrats won 9 seats, whilst the Conservatives, with over 37% of the vote managed only 4 and Labour, with nearly 26% of the vote, managed to hold only Paulsgrove ward. It almost puts you in mind of the old gerrymandered wards of Northern Ireland, but that isn't true because this effect is simply to do with the way the vote was spread in the Portsmouth wards.
You have to admire the success of the Liberal Democrats over the past few years in taking over from the Labour Party as one of the two major parties in the city. Labour presently only hold 2 council seats out of 42, which is stunning when you consider that until the last general election they held one of the two parliamentary seats (Portsmouth North) and they ran the council until the year 2000, the Lib Dems only finally gaining control in 2010. For Labour, when a party falls so far, it takes a long time to climb back. The party can at least congratulate itself with the knowledge that it increased its vote from 2007 by nearly 10%, whilst the Conservative vote fell from 40.61% to 37.33% in the same period. The Liberal Democrat vote held up pretty well, dropping by just 1%.
It is the 'Others' where the big drop occurred this year, with the English Democrats' surprisingly strong showing in 2007 being much reduced from 5.91% to 1.93% (they stood in only 4 seats this time, instead of 10 in 2007), the Greens from 2.47% to 0.95%. In all the 'Others vote fell from a 'protest vote' level of  9.55% to a more usual level of 3.97%. Where the vote went is an interesting question and one would guess that there has been a fair amount of between the party movement.
The question is, I suppose, do I feel comfortable with a system which allows a party which comes second in terms of the vote, to win so substantially in terms of seats. Fair enough, parties often win with less than another party when one has a FPTP system, but to win regularly, whilst second, seems to begin to put into question the validity of the system. I am put in mind of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the Premier of Queensland in the Australia, who managed to hold power by winning the most seats whilst being clearly behind in the number of votes cast in the 1983 elections. To be fair, the Liberal Democrats had, unlike Sir Joh in Queensland, no unequal say in the boundaries of the wards of Portsmouth.
So, I suppose one has to say that there is always next year when the Lib Dem vote may, as in the North, other parts of the South and much of the Midlands, begin to collapse, in which case there are several wards which are ripe to be taken : Labour could take Nelson and Paulsgrove from the Conservatives, and Charles Dickens from the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives could take Eastney and Cranewater , St Jude and St Thomas from the Lib Dems. Also, the rise in the Labour vote makes things interesting in Central Southsea, Copnor, Cosham and Hilsea.
The fluctuations of the political system create anomolies, I suspect this one will begin to right itself at the Local Elections of 2012. Also, to be honest, it is no worse than the fact that in some areas, parties with less than 50% of the vote can take all of the seats up for election.
Still, is this really representative democracy?

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