The grim machinations unfolding in and around Westminster are merely what would happen every election if we had some sort of more ‘proportional’ voting system.
In countries where coalition politics is the norm governments can take many weeks, sometimes even months, to form. This wastes time and demoralises the public.
It also is a leading reason why many European governments are so obsessed with form, not substance, and so for many purposes completely useless.
Some points to bear in mind.
Coalitions often favour the weakest and/or most intransigent and/or most unreasonable elements.
Why? Because the closer a deal becomes, the more outlandish the concessions which may be extracted by selfish brinkmanship, as we are seeing now.
The process now unfolding in the UK is not decided by the Lib Dem party leaders in the national interest, but rather by what they think they can win from their key party members and MPs, whose views may well be out of line with almost everyone else who counts.
Sure, this is more ‘democratic’ – more people get more say in important decisions. But what we gain in participation, we lose in coherence and sheer blackmail.
Plus the blackmailers get to play the same game over and over again, every time a key vote comes along. This sort of thing (of course in a different context) has led to corruption in the US Congress and Senate in the form of ‘earmarks’ – huge bungs of taxpayers’ money given to politicians in the form of pet schemes to win their vote.
You might say that this is not really different from a minority of MPs within a ruling party threatening to vote against the government and cause trouble, in the hope of winning policy concessions.
It is different – because those MPs are subject to some sort of internal party discipline by the ruling party who have been elected specifically to guard the national interest. If the rebels overdo it, they can get de-selected and in all probability fall from politics.
In the coalition blackmail case, a few MPs from a minority coalition party can not be so threatened by the main coalition party. A quite different, undisciplined situation.
Moreover, as many examples round Europe show (see eg Poland and Serbia where I have served), disgruntled minority factions within a coalition party can simply break away to form their own new grouping, perhaps bringing down the government. They then get into bed with some other smaller parties on a joint slate to win enough votes to sneak back into Parliament, when they again start jostling to get their snouts back into public funds as part of a new coalition.
It is almost literally impossible to get rid of specific politicians under those schemes, if a PR voting system is combined with party list voting. See Italy for decades. This again leads to institutionalised corruption and incompetence.
In short, coalition politics are necessarily inefficient and destructive of good government. There are hard trade-offs to be made between governmental coherence/responsibility and wider ‘involvement’ by the public.
Which is not to say that our first-past-the-post is the best system. Many others are available which would give outcomes which the public might see as ‘more proportional’ and therefore fairer.
I like the idea of keeping larger constituencies but having two MPs elected from each area. This could be done in different ways.
It could be the first two past the post, which usually would guarantee that the two MPs represented a majority of local opinion.
Then question arise: would each voter get two votes or one, and could any party put forward two candidates for the two constituency seats?
Thus as a voter I might have two votes which I could cast either for one candidate (ie two crosses) to propel that person towards victory, or for two candidates from the same party (one cross each), or for two candidates from different parties (one cross each).
A system with two MPs per constituency and two votes per voter would allow far more sophisticated choices by voters, and therefore be better. Quite how much ‘fairer’ it would be than eg an Alternative Vote system where voters rank candidates in order of preference is unclear, to me at least. And what does ‘fair’ mean in this context anyway?
Either you get a clear-cut election result, and a speedy, honest transition of power to an unambiguous winner.
Or you get prolonged, debilitating haggling where wider issues of fairness for voters quickly vanish amidst extended cynical power-plays which may have nothing to do with the policies on which any party was just elected. And which seriously diminish the impact and negotiating advantages the UK traditionally has enjoyed in Europe and the wider world.
Who knows, maybe this episode will end up so disgracefully that voters and the current hapless crop of MPs insist on keeping the voting system we now have plus we get chronic instability, with a landslide Conservative result in a few months.
If there is one cheering feature of this current mess, it is reading the hilarious Guardian articles gushing about heroic, noble, tragic, selfless Gordon Brown.
And watching with awe as the Guardian‘s assembled Marxists and collectivists scramble around trying to justify their favoured Coalition of Losers.