General Election 2017: Democracy and Politics
This general election is being turned into a presidential style election – into a vote on who we want to be Prime Minister. It’s not a presidential election. I would actually like to be in the position of electing a head of state, but that is not our system unfortunately. No, we live in a representational democracy. We vote to elect MPs to represent us in Parliament, and make decisions on our behalf. And the important question to ask is: To what extent is our democracy fit for purpose? To what extent does (can) our elected representatives truly represent our views and values?
The obvious answer is, of course, ‘to a very limited degree’. Even if there is a 100% turn out, and 51% of people who vote are satisfied that the winning person, the person that they voted for, very closely represents their views and values, who represents the views and values of the other 49%? At the last general election, 5% of voters in my constituency voted Green. Who has represented their views in Parliament? Who has stood up in debate and argued from their perspective? Probably Caroline Lucas, the sole Green MP. But one MP, no matter how good she is (and she is very good) cannot make the case that 30 MPs could. And if we had a system that ensured that a party’s representation in Parliament reflected their share of the popular vote, the Green Party would have had 32 or 33 MPs in the last Parliament. Nearly all countries in Europe have a system of Proportional Representation, with many ensuring that once a party achieves 2% or more of the popular vote that share of the vote is represented in their Parliament. We need such a system urgently. Until we do most people will rightly feel that their views and values are not being taken into account.
But PR is not the only thing that needs to change. So does the way we actually make political decisions. We need to accept that there are no right answers to the problems we face, but that decisions still need to be made. Even more fundamentally, we need to accept that in the real world (as opposed to the abstract world of ideology) there are no certainties. There is absolutely no way of knowing, for certain, what the outcome of any decision made will be – the world, especially the social world is just far too complex. Instead we need to go more with the flow of evolution. We need to experiment a little more, be prepared to do things differently, take chances. If this starts going in the wrong direct we need to reconsider, let the experiment become extinct – but if it starts moving in the direction we want, or starts producing something we were not trying to achieve but is good anyway (as so often happens in evolution), we need to not only stick with it but do more of it.
Politically we need to learn to talk and listen more, especially with people we don’t agree with. We need to remember that no matter how passionately we hold our convictions there is no certainty that they are ‘right’ or will achieve the outcomes we want. We need to learn to make compromises, to try things out – to become engaged in a more complex and dynamic system of decision making, one that more accurately reflects the complex and dynamic processes of life. Such a way of doing politics is just not possible in our current oppositional and confrontational system. But if we had a system of PR in which the make up of our Parliament represented to the diverse make up of the country we would be required to move in this direction.
But it’s not all down to politicians to do politics differently. We all need to become more engaged in the debates. Students in school need to be taught about our political system and the main issues affecting us. They need to be taught that it is the responsibility of all citizens to become engaged in the way society is managed and governed. And this message needs to ripple across the entire sea of society. We need to accept that if we want a healthy and flourishing society we need a healthy and flourishing democracy – and to achieve this we need everyone to accept that politics is something we do, not something that is done to us.