Return to Website

Number Watch Web Forum

This forum is about wrong numbers in science, politics and the media. It respects good science and good English.

Number Watch Web Forum
Start a New Topic 
February's Number of the Month

My two penny's worth:
I was under the impression that in a party system of democracy party membership implied a collective of people with a core of shared beliefs and ideals.
The constituency party would then select its candidate for MP from amongst those who likewise shared those core beliefs.
This process extends then to electing, as leader, someone who shares those same beliefs and has the ability to lead and manage the party effectively.

However we should note the existence of what George Osborne refers to as a "political consensus on free trade."
For consensus read conspiracy and for free trade read "the EU".
George Osborne seemed to think this a normal part of a democracy (he did not say otherwise).
What this consensus means is that when it comes to issues that are EU initiatives a party leader like Cameron can, even within a coalition government, and even over a 100 strong backbench rebellion, put policy before parliament and rely on "cross party support" to see those issues through.

It relies on sufficient Europhile MPs across the parties being able to ensure that whatever party is in power, and all the establishment parties are the same, EU policy is thus independent of domestic politics - and the influence of the masses.
This is a common situation across the EU not just the UK.
This is not democracy. It just pretends to be since we still have elections as if that were the only criteria defining a democracy.
Note also that the leadership has increasing infected the candidate selection process. Dan Hodges, in the Telegraph, revealed one of the mechanisms in play; the "Delayed standing down" ploy. When an MP stands down and there is limited time available central office can impose its own candidate. This allows it to impose Europhile candidates and thus stack the deck.

One of the reasons why the leadership is so little in tune with the membership or the electorate is that it does not have to rely on membership fees when it can call on a few large donations.
The effect in the Uk and elsewhere is that what are supposed to be democracies are effectively running a single party system.
The Conservative party is said to be 70% in favour of leaving the EU. SO how can Cameron be thought of as representing the core beliefs (and in so many areas he doesn't even acknowledge them such as the military, green belt land etc.) How, one asks, could someone who idolises and is a personal friend of Tony Blair be considered a Tory? Or a democrat?

Re: February's Number of the Month

I came to the conclusion that it would be in the public interest for the Conservative party to split into two parties about twenty years ago, into a pro-EU faction and a more Eurosceptic faction. The pro-EU, more liberal faction might call themselves the "One Nation Conservative" party and the more traditional Eurosceptic faction the Conservative party.

Recently, following the appointment of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party, I've come to the conclusion that it would also be in the public interest for the Labour party to split into two parties, into the more moderate New Labour faction and the more left wing, mainly London-based faction represented by Corbyn and his friends. The left wing faction in Labour has managed to keep a low profile for many years, but presumably after seeing Labour in Scotland heavily defeated by a more left wing party, the SNP, they think the rest of the UK may have developed an appetite for more left wing politics.

But the reason the Conservative party hasn't split, and Labour may well not split, is that splitting into factions is pretty risky with the current British electoral system, "first past the post" (FPTP). With this system, it is more expedient for the main political parties to keep going as a sort of coalition and the factions within the party then wait for circumstances to improve for them. One of the main arguments against electoral reform is that it will increase the tendency for the UK to be run by coalition governments, but that overlooks the fact that the main UK political parties are already effectively coalitions in themselves.

Electoral reform doesn't necessarily mean switching to the major uncertainty of a full-blown proportional representation system as favoured by the Lib Dems and the Green party. An electoral system called AV+, which UKIP's Nigel Farage is in favour of, was proposed by Roy Jenkins in 1998 as a fairly moderate transition away from FPTP. In AV+ I think 80% of MPs are elected as in FPTP, but some consideration of the share of the national vote is used to elect the other 20%. A change to AV+ might be sufficient to get the main political parties to split into their true factions and simplify politics for the beleaguered British electorate.


If you're a UKIP supporter, like myself, we were particularly hard done by with the FPTP system, with nearly four million votes resulting in the election of just one UKIP MP, Douglas Carswell, at the 2015 General Election. And I've got a feeling that the Conservatives may have eased off a bit in Carswell's seat and let him win, possibly hoping that UKIP might have felt obliged to make him the party leader, as he is not particularly representative of UKIP and is probably more suited to being an independent MP (examples of Carswell's non-UKIP traits are that he was a member of Friends of the Earth in his youth, Zac Goldsmith is one of his fans, and he had no problem with the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony).

Re: February's Number of the Month

Wasn't it Churchill who said "The only thing worse that democracy is - everything else.
There is, and probably never can be a political utopia. That doesn't stop some people thinking that it is possible and, even less credibly, that communism or marxism is it. I think also that Churchill was referring to the UK parliamentary democracy with is evolved party system and bicameral organisation as being perhaps the best example, it was "the Mother of Parliaments" but he was not blind to its faults.
FPTP is, as we find in the glossary on this site, the majority ruled by the largest minority. PR is where the majority is ruled by the smallest minority and this is true wherever we see this and it results in some extreme and unpopular policies being followed. It does often result in coalitions, not consensual live and let coalitions that may exist within a party but some rather unfortunate coalitions such as in Italy and Israel where they appear to be either totally hapless or rather extreme.
Tony Blair was obliged, in his homage to John Smith and in exchange for the support of the party, to devolve powers to Scotland and to Wales, I do not think he intended them well when he gifted them with PR but rather, as is probably the intent of the EU, that they should be relatively weak in government. In the EU it allows the unelected a much freer rein than otherwise.
Switching from FPTP is usually the call of those who are unable to summon sufficient popular support to win. The Lib Dems in particular.
If the Lib Dem's could win power through FPTP for some reason, I rather doubt they would then want to introduce PR or AV if it then meant they would no longer be able to govern independently of another party's co-operation.
If the last coalition should have taught us anything it is that coalitions, internal or external, are not an effective way to govern.
Cameron, despite his inability to secure a clear majority over Brown and despite the years of misrule by labour, was patently unable to commend the support of sufficient of the nation to govern alone. He chose to think that we wanted a coalition and that while coalitions are usually weak and unstable, liable to collapse the moment some party can win enough electoral support for a clear majority under the FPTP system. They are weak in that they are often unable to gain the support needed to pass party policy into legislation and even have to adopt unpopular policies as part of their deal with their coalition partners but which is not what the electorate wanted.
Cameron's solution was the disgraceful and undemocratic fixed term act which he thought would deliver the strength and stability that normally comes from a clear majority, an electoral mandate. He certainly made the government stable as it was impossible, short of a military coup, to unseat it by the 2/3 margin he insisted on and which is virtually impossible to summon up in a coalition lead government. But he did not achieve strong government. Indeed, it was said that the coalition passed the least legislation since the 1950s. His successes came not through the coalition nor even through the internal coalition but through what Osborne refers to, as if it were a natural adjunct of democracy, the "political consensus on free trade" (the EU). This enabled Cameron to push through EU inspired legislation even over substantial party rebellions relying on "cross party support". That support due not simply due to the dispersal of sufficient Europhile MPs across all the parties but due to the Europhile leaders that every establishment party in the UK and across the EU seems to have acquired. This ought to be curious when it is reported that 70% of tories are in favour of leaving the EU yet somehow managed to elect a leader who holds views quite contrary to the party.
There is a great deal that is rotten in our system, perhaps more so than in Churchill's day, but also across he EU.
Governments with strong majorities are able to deliver policy more effectively than coalitions or governments where there is added division through the representation of smaller parties. There is much to be said for this. But we also know that parties with large majorities cna lose touch with the electorate and become more totalitarian in their approach. What we depend upon is the the duty of the opposition to oppose and in opposing to appeal to popular support. With popular support they can hold the government to account, can cause it to rein in its worst excesses or face losing the next election.
The Blair Brown years were typical of a government with a large majority but without the checks of a strong and opposed opposition. Indeed, the real reason for the poor showing of the Tories may be in a major part due to the lack of effective opposition.
During the coalition labour could only put forward Milliband. Hague criticised Milliband for delivering the least opposition of any opposition party in his experience but failed to note that in most areas of effective legislation it was the Political consensus that resulted in the lack of opposition.
And now? With Corbyn, labour is even more unelectable because, despite probably mounting quite clear opposition that opposition will not be based on policies acceptable, as an alternative to government policies, but far less acceptable. It will be meaningless opposition. Cameron has no fears now of the electorate and his measures within the party such as his nobbling of the 1922 committee and the leadership challenge rules make him relatively secure.
there is a great deal wrong with our democracy that will not, I think, be fixed by changing the system of government nor election but by repairing the party system. The parties are supposedly a coming together of like minded people who choose candidates that represent their views and who then choose a like minded leader.
But Cameron shows disdain for the membership and probably represents it the least of all tory leaders and that is, perhaps, because he can depend on a few large contributions rather than on membership fees. Ironic he should be so critical of labour funbded by the Unions and doing what the unions want when, however much we may not appreciate union power, it is at least how the system is supposed to work - but lacks the counterbalance of similarly cohesive opposition parties.
It won't get better in the EU, but worse and worse as time passes. UKIP were disappointed but partly because of the last minute Labour/SNp scare and because of an innate small c conservatism, the uncertainty about non-establishment parties. Time is the cure, not changing the system. Changing the system will simply change one set of advantages and disadvantages for another and unfamiliar set. We arrived where we are politically by slow evolution, not some giant meteor changing the climate.

Electoral Reform

A lot of people might think electoral reform in the UK is a dead issue for at least a decade or two following the referendum in 2011 where a proposed change from FPTP to the AV voting system (which would represent only a trivial change from FPTP) was defeated. But the Lib Dems seem to be plotting to bring it back again, as described in this news story last month:


The Lib Dems are trying to get the other left-leaning parties, Labour, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green party, to put an agreed position on electoral reform in their manifestos for the 2020 General Election, and in doing so by-pass the need to have another referendum on the issue if the left-leaning parties can form a coalition after the 2020 General Election. If the left wing faction of Labour under Corbyn stay in control of the Labour party up to 2020, I can see this going ahead. Corbyn is in favour of electoral reform, but the article says that he prefers the link between MPs and constituencies to be maintained, which sounds to me like he prefers something like AV+ rather than PR.