Britain is at a political crossroads. Whilst the country faces its most signifcant challenge since the end of the Second World War, both the governing party and the opposition are crippled with internal divisions around the future direction of the United Kingdom on the world stage, as well as those openly questioning the ability of each leader to govern.
On the right, the Conservatives under Theresa May are struggling to unify a position on Brexit. Although the Chequers agreement was supposed to put an end to such infighting, instead it has thrown fuel on the fire. Hard-line Brexiters have been outraged and attempted to destabilise an already weak minority government to stop a less extreme Brexit than they had envisioned. Meanwhile, Remainers in the party have accused the leadership of giving in to ‘ideologically driven’ colleagues, ignoring the economic damage a harder Brexit would cause.
On the left, Labour is chastised under Corbyn’s leadership for not calling for Britain to remain in the single market from Remainers and for not adopting a harder stance from Brexiters in his party. All whilst activists call for the heads of anyone not seen to be following the party line consistently (something which Corbyn did not do on the backbenches) and whilst the party remains mered in accusations of anti-Semitism.
For those calling for a second referendum and those disillusioned by the factionalism on both sides, where should they turn? The Liberal Democrats? The anti-Brexit centrist party holds little of the influence it had almost a decade ago and even its leader appears to be jumping ship for something new.
This presents us with a big dilemma. The two main parties are forced marriages of people of different political leanings who struggle to get on in these increasingly polarising times, to the point that governing is becoming more and more difficult.
It would make more sense for these factions to get rid of the shackles they are bound by and form their own parties, and to do that, the voting system needs to change.
First-past-the-post and its inherent trend towards a two-party system forces members of Labour and the Conservatives to stay together, despite their differences, for fear of electoral defeat if they tried to go it alone. On eonly needs to remember the SDP experiment of the 1980s, which failed to grant electoral success (despite once attracting one in four votes in 1983).
However, it doesn’t have to be this way. A proportional voting system would allow these factions to break away knowing they will take a good portion of their base with them. With PR, these parties would then have a lot more of their own power and influence on a national level. Not only would they be able to convince the public of their own vision for the country and garner support, they would have the opportunity to exert power to achieve their goals in coalition talks that would follow any election. Compare that to the current situation, where factions vie for influence in brutal and destabilising fights for power and face being silences by deselection of MPs or not having their views reflected in party policy. PR would leave politicians to be free to fully endorse and promote views that they personally believe in, not just those that their party wants them to.
As well as this, a new voting system would give voters more choice when they cast their vote on election day. With a more diverse range of directions for the future of the country and with a system that will ensure that their vote won’t be wasted or act as a spoiler to let a candidate they dislike in, voters will feel more empowered to vote for these different parties.
In a PR system, there could easily be five main parties that could dominate political discourse, mirroring that of other European countries. These could end up being:
- A left wing party, Momentum, made up of many of Corbyn’s supporters in Labour, as well as other parties on the left (eg. the Green Party)
- A centre-left party, Progress, made up of the centre/centre-left of the Labour Party
- A centrist party, the Liberals, made up of the right wing of Labour, the left wing of the Conservatives and centrist parties such as the Liberal Democrats
- A centre-right party, the Democrats, made up of socially liberal Conservatives
- A right wing populist party, People’s Party, made up of more radical hard-line Conservatives, as well as reactionaries from parties such as UKIP
Of course, regionalist parties, such as the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru, would still continue to exist, as well as the parties of Northern Ireland.
Democracy should be like the country it claims to represent, but at the moment, it fails to capture the diversity of political thought by forcing an unholy alliance of factions to fight elections under the same umbrella. To end the squabbling of the past, it’s time to wipe the slate clean and refresh Britain’s broken politics with proportional representation.