A few weeks ago Theresa May announced that there would be a general election, despite previously saying that there wouldn’t be, and is now out on the campaign trail endeavouring to lie her way back to power. The Tories currently have a poll lead that, whilst shrinking, at this point still puts them on course to win a handsome majority on 8th June. If the Left is going to successfully stop the Tories, it needs to strategically work to prop up anti-Tory candidates. Given my own radical views this is hard for me to say, but unfortunately we haven’t got the luxury of time.
What is the most important issue in this general election? Some will say the NHS because the Tories are cutting social care, demoralising doctors, and failing to invest in the service. Others will argue that it is housing as private rents are spiraling out of control and not enough genuinely affordable housing is being built at the moment. Others will argue that it is Brexit and all its implications including trade, immigration, workers’s rights and so on. However for me it is an issue that doesn’t get any attention because it can only be described as ‘unsexy’. That issue is electoral reform.
The British political system used to be dominated by two hegemonic parties: Labour and the Conservatives. One represented the Left, and the other the Right. The creation of the Lib Dems in 1988 revived a long-standing liberal tradition in British politics and essentially made the British system into a two and a half party system. However the same cannot be said any more. In all parts of the UK, there are at least five political parties who regularly stand for election and as such to argue that our current electoral system fairly represents the views of the British people would be laughable.
This issue is most important because it is one that impacts all others. If the types of governments that are formed change as a result of a new electoral system, the whole policy discourse of the UK will be transformed. Parties like Labour and the Tories will consolidate into smaller ideological groups that are more coherent than the current big-tent coalitions that often result in different wings of the same party being diametrically opposed to one another. But aside from this more abstract dimension there is a fundamental argument about equal representation.
Take the 2015 election. As much as I thoroughly loathe the policies of UKIP, they have genuine popularity and it would be undemocratic to deny them representation in the House of Commons. This is particularly obvious when compared with the electoral fortunes of the SNP. In 2015 UKIP won nearly 3.9 million votes and 1 MP, however the SNP won less than 1.5 million votes and had 56 MPs. This is clearly wrong. The job of the voting system is to reflect the will of the people, not to arbitrarily skew the results in favour of established political parties.
What does this mean in practice? For me, it would mean hard-nosed consequentialism. If you live in a Labour seat then vote for Labour. If you live in a Tory-Labour marginal then vote for Labour. If a left-wing politician was under threat from the Tories then Labour should stand aside in an attempt to unify the anti-Tory vote. Given the extent to which the Tories have moved to the right, I would even go as far as to say that in a Lib Dem-Tory marginal, the Left should coalesce behind the Lib Dem. Again, not because they believe in their agenda, but because electoral reform is the most effective way at stopping Tory rule in future and decentralising power back to communities.
At the risk of sounding pedantic, I would reject the term ‘progressive alliance’. Be in no doubt that the Lib Dems’ ideological position is harmful to individuals and society because is fundamentally based on capitalist economics. They do nothing to address the structure problems with capitalism and so should not be seen as progressive. Further, they were complicit in five years of crippling austerity that cut benefits, lowered taxes on the wealthy and allowed the Tories back into power. But despite all this, it is not possible to argue that they are worse than the Tories.
Even if the Lib Dems did jump into bed with the Tories again, the policies enacted would be less harmful and at this point in time we cannot talk about ideal situations. I want to see the working people of this country emancipated through communism and I personally believe that the focus of activists should be in radicalising civil society and bypassing government authorities altogether. However, electoral reform will allow parties that reflect the concerns of working people to emerge.
The current system puts working people into an impossible position where they are forced to choose between the least bad option. In the upcoming election I would support any attempt to throw the Tories out of office, but this is in pursuit of a specific policy goal. I have no problem working with people I fundamentally disagree with if we are united by a common goal. For instance, UKIP want to renationalise the railways. I believe UKIP to be a party that peddles racist and homophobic social attitudes, but if they have MPs that will vote to take the railways back into public ownership then I would work with them on that issue.
This is my approach to electoral reform. If political parties that I fundamentally disagree with want to create a more representative and locally-focused democracy, I don’t care what their policies on other issues are. As much as I would love the majority of voters to support a radical left-wing government, if a group of MPs of a series of different political backgrounds came together to vote for electoral reform I wouldn’t mind that that government would only be able to get more moderate policies through. This would be because I would be safe in the knowledge that a hard-right Tory government couldn’t come into power and sweep away these modest gains.
A government that is more responsive to the people gives the citizenry more scope to drive decision-making. But electoral reform would also encourage the decentralisation of power as I believe citizens would be more willing to get involved in their communities if the change in Westminster was unsatisfactory. If a moderate centre-left government was in power, the radical left and the trade unions would seek to make change without the support of the state. This invigoration of civil society is essential if people are to become more politically active in their communities, and electoral reform is the policy that starts us on this road.
So in conclusion I would desperately want the Tories to be thrown out of power. Draconian cuts to welfare payments to the disabled, the removal of bursaries for nurses, the refusal to invest in social housing, and the reduction of taxes for the wealthy are all reasons in and of themselves to throw the Tories out of power. However if these horrific policies are going to be avoided in future the dynamics of the current political system need to change.If the Left can unite behind forces that are willing to change the electoral system, irrespective of substantive policy disagreements, we can politicise parts of society that often feel neglected by Westminster politics. Labour will change the voting system, as will the Greens, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems.
To be abundantly clear, if the choice is between three candidates and they all want to ditch first-past-the-post, then you would be unsurprised to hear that I would vote for the most left-wing one, We all have political principles and I would never endorse abandoning them. If the Left wants to prevent a Tory majority government in future it must change the electoral system. However this cannot be a one-off action. The day after the election, everyone who voted for any of the pro-reform parties must pressure their MP to vote for change. With these caveats this communist, in some cases at least, is fine with you voting for the Lib Dems.