It is interesting to note that no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves that our country has the oldest and best democratic system in the world, the facts point to the contrary conclusion. The more one looks at our governmental system and processes, the more one realises that it is an outdated democracy that needs upgrading. Despite our democratic pretences, we are a country that likes the security of our wholly uninspiring system of government and we are loath to change it!
This opinion is probably one that you would not agree with, and perhaps this view is extreme. However, it is interesting to look at our modern democratic system and ask questions. The more one looks, the more one sees and the more one doesn't like. Let us begin by looking at the current Labour government, New Labour with all its promises and policies of the manifesto. This was to be a new era of change, of radical reform and dramatic difference.
Three years on, one must ask oneself, how much has actually changed? The health service is still riddled with problems almost too profound to solve, the education system, despite labour's new initiative and huge promises of funding amounting to billions of pounds still retains many of the problems that existed under the previous conservative government. Why have some of New Labours key policies failed? Can this be blamed upon the democratic system of government?
New Labour bears a striking resemblance to the Conservative party of the late 70's under Edward Heath. It is a most interesting observation that as New Labour began to retake the middle ground that the conservatives had previously occupied they began to gain popularity. One also notices that when New Labour took power under the charismatic leadership of Tony Blair, it was the Conservatives that promptly elected a new more right wing leader in William Hague to fight against New Labours more central policies.
This brings to the forefront one of my key arguments, essentially, in Britain there are only two parties capable of being elected into government, the Labour and Conservative parties, perhaps including the Liberal Democrats as a potentially influential party with policies that bear a striking resemblance to those of New Labour at the present time. In our 'democratic' society, essentially if you do not vote for one of these three parties, your vote has been wasted.
So what does this mean for your average man on the street, how much choice does he have over government policy? Essentially, he has very little choice, he has to balance those policies that he likes and dislikes from the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos. He may generally agree with what the Labour manifesto talks of, but they may, for example want to tax him heavily as a middle class citizen to create a better education system. If he has no children the education system may have no impact over his life and therefore, he doesn't wish to pay thousands of pounds in tax to improve it.
However, what choice does he have, if he does not vote for Labour, Conservative or the Liberal Democrats, he has essentially wasted his vote. This raises more issues about our excellent democratic system. We in Britain allow universal suffrage meaning that everybody over the age of 18 can vote regardless of intelligence or social status. If we again take the example of our average man on the street who has read the manifestos of all three major parties and done extensive research into their policies and the potential improvements and detrimental effects of their being elected, and contrast his well researched vote with that of Tim, nice but dim, who either does eeny meany miny mo with the voting slip or else votes Labour or Conservative because he likes the leader having no real idea of policy, we can see that the universal suffrage system is not actually all that great.
Our average man's vote has been cancelled out effectively by someone with no clue regarding what they are doing. This is one of the major problems of our democratic system of government and it is very difficult to rectify without abandoning a fully democratic system and converting to a democracy of the educated classes.
To further this argument, there are only about 250 seats in Britain that regularly change hands out of the 650 available. Therefore, for a Labour voter in Malvern or a Tory voter in Ebber Vale your vote has essentially been wasted, either you move to a different constituency or else you change sides, otherwise your vote will effectively not count. This begs the question whether a fairer proportional representation system would lead to a fairer government, but as past examples such as the Weimar Republic have shown, proportional representation is not without its problems, the result of smaller parties gaining seats is that in order to gain a majority the larger parties must form a coalition government with the smaller.
This results in compromises and the phrase 'the tail wagging the dog' comes into being as the smaller parties gain a say in government as the larger party needs there support to get legislation through and as no government this century has been elected on more than 50% of the vote, even the recent 'landslide' victory of Blair's New Labour resulted in only around 40% of the voters voting him in.
This illustrates the point that the smaller parties would most certainly be necessary for a successful government in Britain. Therefore, although proportional representation certainly has its benefits such as giving a truer reflection of the vote, it can also have undesirable side effects resulting in more inefficiency, instability and more difficulty for the government to get legislation passed as much compromise is necessary.