There is much talk of EU reform, but what about Britain’s system of governance? Our system of governance has evolved over many years and experienced very little reform. It could be argued that the time has been right for reform several decades ago, but now it is becoming an imperative. The following paragraphs seek to lay the grounds for debate on the matter. There are many elements to British democracy that can be improved, but who would change them and how would that revision take place? Any change to our democratic system would have to be authorized by elected members, but there is a problem in that those members are unlikely to make changes that could jeopardize their future electability.
What elements should be discussed?
The topics below form integral parts of British democracy of which much has been written, but by far the most fundamental is our constitution, since it is from here that all the other elements are derived.
The following is a brief overview of the parts of our democracy that it would make good sense to periodically review;-
- The Constitution – Britain’s constitution is described as unwritten, but it would be more accurate to describe it as codified in that many of our laws are of a constitutional nature and are in written form in Acts of Parliament or law reports of court judgments. Learn more…
- The Electoral System – The electoral system of First Past The Post (FPTP) has been in place for a very long time. It results in one person being elected to represent a constituency, a good thing, but it favours a system of government with only two parties. In the case of the 2015 GE, to be one of those two parties, the minor party would have to receive at least 31% of the vote (the percentage achieved by the Labour Party). Even if that were achievable, it leaves the country being ruled by the wishes of a small percentage of the population. In the 2015 General Election, about 25% of the electorate actually voted for a Conservative Government (although the result was 37% of those that actually voted). This highlights another problem; why is it that so many people do not vote?
- The Law-Making Process – Elected MPs create legislation through the House of Commons. However before that happens, the Bill passes through the House of Lords who scrutinize the intentions of the primary legislators. Reform of the primary and second chambers has been mooted for quite some time, but probably due to the power of interested parties, never seems to get anywhere. It has been declared by the present Government that the number of MPs in the House of Commons will be reduced from 650 to 600. Why is that? It will obviously save money since there will be 50 fewer people to pay, but that will mean that the remaining MPs will have larger constituencies to manage. Not a problem if the MPs do little for their constituencies currently.Moving on to the second chamber; there are 815 peers, the second largest such chamber in the world outside of China. To become a member of this chamber used to be simply by birthright, anachronistic in modern times, but the present system is still seen as grace and favour. There is no doubt that this element of the Houses of Parliament is necessary, but the selection process and the sheer number of peers clearly needs urgent reform.
- National Government’s Relationship with Local Government – Following Scotland’s Independence Referendum, the resulting vote to remain part of the UK gave more powers to the Scottish Government. Because of this and the controversial subject of English Votes for English People, the subject of devolution was brought to the table. Britain has the most centralized system of government in the EU, so devolving powers down to local government makes sense on a democratic level, but it would also be more financially efficient, since running everything from the centre is very expensive. This process is currently underway and by the end of 2016, we should be seeing what Government intend for Hampshire. What is already clear is that it is intended to split Hampshire down the middle, north to south following the Local Enterprise Partnership regions and invoke a Metro-Mayor model to lead the newly created authorities.
The Electoral System
The FPTP system currently in force results in several disadvantages; such as “Safe Seats”, whereby in certain geographical areas, Political Party affiliation is so strong that anybody who is selected to stand, is more than likely to be elected, regardless of ability (read the piece in the Independent about selecting MPs because of their ability rather than party affiliation). This one thing in itself leads to an enormous democratic deficit. Another disadvantage of this system of electing constituency representatives is that the electorate often vote for the Party over the person, as their preference of political philosophy ruling the country is stronger than their preference of what the elected member can do for them locally. This deficit can be resolved at a stroke by giving the electorate two votes in General Elections, one for the National party leader and the other for the leader of the constituency.
The biggest disadvantage of this system is that it depends on where the electorate lives as to which party will get elected, so the chances of a Conservative being elected in much of the north of England is about as likely as a Labour candidate being elected in much of the south of England.
However, another disadvantage is that the resulting elected members tend to work against each other through party lines rather than consensually for the betterment of the country. This is evidenced by the House of Commons debating chamber, which is rectangular and each of the two main parties are separated by a red line (two sword lengths apart) in an adversarial nature rather that the circular debating chambers found in other countries who have more consensual political systems.