Our current situation, unprecedented in modern times, in which the amount of self-serving hypocritical cant produced has actually increased following an election, has nothing to do with first-past-the-post versus proportional representation.
It’s because, as I keep saying, we think as though we vote for a party to be the government when we actually elect a parliament – whose members then form a government. Usually this mismatch between electoral psychology and constitutional reality goes unnoticed, because one party’s MPs have a majority and so the choice they make in forming a government is automatic, barely a choice at all.
The election result is utterly clear: 649 men and women have each won a mandate to be our MPs. Now they have to put together a government that can command majority support – or at least acquiescence – among them.
Under our system, popular vote share counts for nothing - but even under PR, once it had been used to determine who the MPs are, it would then count for nothing when those MPs were deciding how to align themselves. So all this talk of ‘legitimacy’ amounts only to popularity.
As a Tory friend of mine pointed out, Labour has got a lower vote share than the Tories did in 1997, and obviously then they had no right to govern, so Labour don’t now, either. But on the other hand, the Tories now have a lower vote share than Labour did in 1979, and obviously then… When you start treating vote share as meaning the moral legitimacy rather than merely the popularity of coalition options, you can tie yourself in all sorts of knots.
Yes, the Tories got the highest vote share with 36%. But that means most people voted against them. Labour and the Lib Dems between them got 52%, which is surely much more legitimate. But the Tories and Lib Dems between them got 59% - even better! But then the Tories and Labour together got 65%, so maybe they should get together? Although including the Lib Dems too would take that to a spankingly legitimate 88%! But then why do that when they could bring in the DUP, SNP and so on as well?
It’s just silly. Of course in a democracy popularity has to drive legitimacy, but the way it does that is in determining who gets elected, not what the elected representatives then do.
If we elected parliament and the government separately, this sort of nonsense wouldn’t arise. It’d create other complications, sure, but the separation of powers would mean we could be clear on what an election was for.