Why Labour and Unions must campaign for AV
I am going to make an assumption here right from the start. And that is most people reading my blog are probably coming from an instinctive left wing/liberal persuasion. And I ask readers who fit into that category to start with a thought experiment.
Strip away all your tribal loyalty to whichever party you support, strip away your preconceptions about different electoral systems and what you think about the issue of electoral reform. Do away with any personality based conclusions you have. Done that? Right now think about what is your central core belief about why you are a leftwing progressive activist?
My answer is about making the world a fairer place. I don’t want to live in a world where some people don’t have what they need, and others have more than they could ever use. I don’t want to live in a world where children’s life chances are determined by the postcode of their parents. Simply I don’t want to live in a radically unequal society. The informs all of my politics, this core belief is what shapes the way I view the world.
I would imagine that most of you reading this probably come to a similar conclusion. As, I’m sure, would most members of the Labour Party, The Green Party, the Diaspora of “I’m more of a pure lefty than you” leftwing parties. Heck I would probably say most members of the Liberal Democrats would probably answer along these lines (even if the Tory Jnr leadership of their Parliamentary Party would disagree). Now we would probably all disagree about how to do something about this, and what our ideal society would look like. But this underlying assumption, on a woolly kind of a level is probably something virtually everyone on the left can buy into.
What, you might ask, has this got to do with the AV referendum? Well I’ll tell you, it is because the kind of political system we have materially effects what kind of a society and economy we have. Put simply the more plural and proportional the political system the less unequal the society.
Don’t just take my word for it, don’t just take the evidence of your own eyes if you contrast public policy in multi party western European countries like Sweden, Holland, Belguim, Norway, Germany, Finland, Denmark et al with majoritarian ones like the UK or America (Does anyone really think that outcomes for the poor are better in the UK than in Sweden?!?!?!?).
Rather look at what people who have actually studied it have to say. Look at academics Iverson and Soskice said in their seminal paper “Electoral Institutions and the Politics of Coalitions: Why Some Democracies Redistribute More Than Others”, or Vicenzo Veradi’s paper on the same subject “Electoral systems and income inequality”. For a good blog putting this in layman’s terms check out what Next Left had to say, but basically they show how in multi party, more proportional systems income inequality is reduced and broad social democratic outcomes are more likely to occur.
So for me that is “Game, Set and Match”, I’m “in politics” to make the world fairer, and more proportional multi party systems are more likely to deliver that. Before I even look at any other arguments that is the silver bullet, the killer argument which ought to mean the left support changing our political system.
I do wonder why anyone in Labour is opposed to pluralism and electoral reform. The obvious answer is dogmatic tribalism. People supporting Labour simply because they support Labour. And therefore not caring what they do as long as they are successful. I guess if this is what you think that as long as Labour are in full majority control periodically then that is an “end” in itself.
This probably explains some of the Labour hostility to electoral reform but it does not explain it all. I guess a much bigger factor is there is a whole generation of Labour Party Activists who remember the great reforming Labour governments of 1945-51 under Atlee and theWilson Government of 1964-70. Having seen what can be achieved by a majority Labour government I think some people are reluctant to give up on that possibility.
But the truth is the world has changed, both in terms of British society, public voting patterns. But most crucially in terms of the Labour Party. If 13 years, and three election wins (including two substantial landslides) of New Labour have taught us anything it is that a radical, reforming, majority, socialist, Labour majority government just isn’t going to happen any time soon (if ever). People think differently now and the fragmentation of the vote, the breakdown in traditional communities and class led voting patterns mean politics has changed and is going to continue changing.
And anyway the Labour party already is a coalition; a coalition of the Right Wing Mandlesonian “free marketers”, the Social Democrats and the Democratic Socialists. Except there is no formal “coalition agreement” which makes sure the left factions have some actual say in Labour Governmental policy.
And lets not kid our selves about what the British electoral, and frankly parliamentary system is. We didn’t have a revolution, we didn’t think about what would be the best and fairest political system and build that. No the entrenched elite, our Aristocracy et al gradually seeded the minimum possible about of power and influence downward. It was a fudge and a compromise and is one of the reasons why the British people are so disenfranchised. If you tried from scratch to come up with a decent and fair political system I doubt it would look like what we have in the UK.
It is for all these reasons and more why if we want a better, and more progressive UK the Labour Party and the Trade Union Movement have to campaign for a Yes vote in the forthcoming AV referendum. It is a once in a generation chance to change our politics for the better, and whilst AV isn’t perfect a “NO” vote will mean we are stuck with a regressive, broken political system for the next 30 years or so.