Sunday, March 09, 2008

Clegg against the system

Nick Clegg says:

We [the British people] are not the problem. It’s the system that’s the problem.

But he contradicts himself.

Which system is it that he’s blaming? The “two-party system”:

No wonder people are tired of politics. Tired of a system that swings like a pendulum between two establishment parties.

Let me tell you a secret: we don’t have a two-party system. We have a system whereby any number of parties can and do contest elections. It just so happens that the same two parties always head the popular vote. They swap positions with each other, but the other parties remain consistently behind.

Who’s responsible for that? We, the British people. The “system” is one in which we periodically and voluntarily change our favourite and second favourite parties, but not our third. We persist in liking the Lib Dems less than Hague and Howard, less than Kinnock and Foot.

Every general election, the Lib Dems tell us that that can take seats off both main parties, that there are ‘no no-go areas’ for them. And they’re right. There is no systemic reason why the Lib Dems couldn’t do better, and they do have some striking individual successes. But anything resembling a breakthrough eludes them. Because that’s how we choose to vote. Consistently, too few of us like them.

Clegg notes, though, that the share of the vote going to Labour and the Tories has fallen. He’s right: even if we look only at England (the nationalist parties make Scotland and Wales different kettles of fish) and only in recent years, we can see this trend.

In the 1992 election, Labour and the Tories shared 79.4% of the English vote between them; in 2005, they took just 71.2%. Where did these votes go? The Lib Dems rose from 19.3% to 22.9%; other parties rose more impressively, from 1.3% to 5.9%. In 1992, the Lib Dems took about 94% of the non-Labour/Tory vote; by 2005, they had dropped just below 80%.

So, while people are becoming more disaffected with the two main parties, it seems that these same people are also increasingly rejecting the third party. There’s no more a two-party system than there is a three-party system.

Turnout has fallen as well, but that of course reflects poorly on all parties.

Anyway, Clegg is going to smash “the system”. Or at least set up a committee to discuss smashing it. Or at least propose setting up a committee to discuss smashing it. Or something.


anticant said...

This ignores the unfairness of the FTPTP voting system when there are more then two candidates or parties.

If you compare the national percentage of votes cast at general elections, the LibDems consistently get fewer seats than they would under a proportional system, while the winner of the two major parties almost always gets more than its proportional entitlement.

Leaving aside the increasingly open question of whether political parties as presently organised are in the best interests of the voters [I don't think they are], a change to a fairer voting system is an urgent first step in 'breaking the mould'.

Tom Freeman said...

I think you have a decent point there. Although the mere fact of the FPTP system doesn't mean that we'll end up with two parties that alternate at the top, and another that's consistently third.

Chris said...

And yet Clegg made a speech in which he said he wouldn't join a coalition government in a hung parliament. And, you know, he could have made PR the price for that. So obviously he feels that FPTP isn't the issue.

Also, PR can also result in one party dominating (as in Sweden) as much as it can result in funtime happy hour many parties.