Hoodwink ‘populists’ or reform the electoral system?

 In September elections in Mecklenburg, the home state of Angela Merkel, the rightwing party Alternative for Germany won, beating the chancellor’s Christian Democrats.

afpIn the FT today, Jan-Werner Müller, professor of politics (Princeton), author of ‘What is Populism?’ comments, “The AfD’s subsequent strong showing in a regional vote in Berlin, Germany appears to fit a conventional diagnosis of European politics: populists are on the rise”.

The politics of fear resurfaces; mainstream media, representing corporate advertisers, express fears that this might make individual countries — and the EU — ungovernable

Müller soothes these fears: “What are described as populists are often protest parties which can potentially play a constructive role in existing political systems”. He adds that they are more likely to develop if established parties reject legitimate grievances and pretend there can be no alternative to their policies.

He implies that these can be appeased – witness Theresa May’s current concern for working families struggling to make ends meet – but making no reference to even more needy families – the two generation unemployed. Müller fears less easily deflected “genuine populists who claim that they are the only ones to represent the “real people” and that all other political contenders are illegitimate”.

“The fact that citizens actually cast ballots or peacefully demonstrate shows that they have hope of being heard” – an ill-founded hope?

Müller offers a panacea: “What is needed in Europe is a sense that citizens have choices, and that leaders make decisions for which they assume responsibility. This is important nationally but also at EU level. It presumes that individual nation states in a system of majority decisions can live with being outvoted.” (emphasis added)


This sounds remarkably like the theory of ‘managed politics’ – the current system in England, where two parties have safe seats and alternate in government, ensuring that others are excluded by continuing to use the first last the post voting system.

A BBC report recalled that, since 1935, no government has had the support of a majority of voters according to the Electoral Reform Society. In 1929, 1951 and February 1974, the party with the most votes actually lost the election.

Only an alliance for electoral reform advocated by the Green, SNP, Plaid and Lib Dem parties offers a prospect of a more truly democratic government

As people at the most recent WMNEG meeting were reminded, in 1997, Labour’s manifesto said there was a strong argument for modernising the electoral system. The current shadow chancellor John McDonnell and Labour MPs Ben Bradshaw, Paul Blomfield, Stephen Kinnock, Clive Lewis, Jonathan Reynolds, Chuka Umunna, and Daniel Zeichner have now signed a letter to Mr Corbyn in May calling on him to support a change in the voting system to proportional representation.

More recent polling from December 2015 shows the public now broadly back a proportional voting system. A BMG survey shows 57% of the public agree with the principle that “the number of seats a party gets should broadly reflect its proportion of the total votes cast” – compared with only 9% who disagree.

lucas-bartleyIn July, Green MP Caroline Lucas proposed electoral reform in a private members’ bill which received cross party support but was ultimately voted down by 81 votes to 74.

The party’s new co-leader Jonathan Bartley (right) has campaigned vigorously on this issue for many years.

This was a narrow majority – many MPs abstained: if all persevere, eventually a truly democratic system will be put in place. It is hoped that the coalition government then elected will be one which works for the common good.





Posted on October 5, 2016, in Democracy undermined, Government, Politics, Vested interests and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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