Saturday, December 17, 2005

British Politics: The Future

So, Dave wants me to join him does he? I appear to be his target audience, a sometime LibDem who believes it's more important to defeat NuLab than to continue the old rivalries. He's saying the right things, I remain to be convinced if he's doing them. But, well, I'm not convinced that joining his party is for me. Scratch that, I refuse to consider it. He wants an end to petty point scoring in politics? Fine, let's talk. Openly, honestly, and with a perspective on both history, the future and on how things work.
I say to Liberal Democrats everywhere: we, like you, are on the side of the local community, and want to give local people more power and control over how their services are run, how their neighbourhoods are policed, and their priorities are delivered."
My post yesterday described the ideas of broad church politics, and pressed the point that each of the three main parties are electoral coalitions designed to maximise the vote share of those with broadly similar ideas. It seems to have gone down rather well in diverse quarters. What it didn't do is really explain why these coalitions form, nor analyse the electoral advantage that such alliances can create.

During the French 4th Republic (post WWII, pre-De Gaulle), philosopher and thinker Maurice Duverger formulated what has become known as Duverger's Law:
(1) a majority vote on one ballot is conducive to a two-party system; (2) proportional representation is conducive to a multiparty system
My opinions on electoral reform are already well stated, but this isn't about electoral reform, we know we're not going to get it for Westminster unless the Govt of the day truly believes in it. Blair promised a referendum, but, like many of his promises, well, he lied. In order to defeat NuLab, we need to defeat them using the current electoral system. I can't find a full copy of Duverger's original peace online, and it's a few years since I read it, but the essence of his argument (and he was arguing for FPTP and against the (even worse) system France was then using. Essentially, under Simple Majority/FPTP, in each given electoral district, it is a natural tendency for party support to crystallise amongst voters in favour of the top two parties. When commentators talk of 'tactical voting', they are actually referring to this process. Except in the rare three (or in Scotland four)-way marginals, support for the third and below parties withers down to simply the core, committed rump. This can be seen in areas like Torbay, where the Labour party has almost no presence, and in large swathes of northern England and Scotland where the Conservatives have no chance; in many inner cities, it is the LibDems challenging Labour, and in the shires, the LibDems were the challengers that unseated the Tories. Given the nature of the beast, the system contains a systemic bias against the Tories, but this bias is artificial, it is created by the system, created by Duverger's Law.

I identified yesterday that politics really goes 4 ways, not two. Yet we have three parties, each a coalition that exists for electoral advantage. Yet when one is entrenched, as Labour currently is, the only way to defeat it is for the other two to combine, as Labour and the LibDems did in 1997 and again in 2001. Another point made by Duverger is that
During a time of realignment, the first past the post system can create a wholly false picture of the balance of power between the parties
What was the 1980s if not a period of realignment? The SDP/Liberal Alliance was an attempt to break the mold. It failed, but as it was largely a split between the Left, with the arguments still being about economics, it gave the Right the ability to cement their hold with a minority of the support. In 1992, Major fought a very close campaign, yet it was acknowledged in most parts that a vote for the LibDems was a vote against Major, by default, for the change, for Kinnock. Blair's victory in 1997 was in large part due to the crystallisation that Duveger predicted; we knew who the enemy was, we studied the numbers in each constituency, we voted for the candidate most likely to defeat our then enemy. In Torbay, that was for Adrian Sanders, in Exeter, for Ben Bradshaw. Blair's NuLab has effectively destroyed that coalition. They've made themselves the enemy.

Cameron proclaims he looks to a liberal future; as I observed, it's to his electoral advantage to do so, he can't fight NuLab on the territory they've now made their own, that of the populist authoritarianism that was once the feature of Tory party conference speeches. So he's moved the gravity of his party towards the libertarian wing, always there, always quiet. It was the Conservative government that eroded local government in the 1980s, that centralised power into Whitehall because at least Whitehall was run by "people like us". Now, of course, they regret that policy, and seek to reverse it.

As Snafu observed on Once More back in October:
whilst the electoral system remains unreformed, there is very little chance of the Conservatives ever returning to Government. Labour forever!
He's right. Cameron wants me to join his party. Not going to happen, I'm on the bottom left of the Compass (which, despite popular opinion, has a long tradition, I first saw it referenced by Bob Worcester of Mori on a TV show I watched during my GCSEs years ago), and while I can respect the world view of the bottom right, I don't share it. Duverger asserts that in each district we need one candidate to defeat Labour. Not, as Cameron would have it, that we should all form one big party.

To defeat Labour, in those seats where Labour is in power, the anti-Labour parties must either openly or tacitly allow the best placed opponent to win. This does not necessarily require that they form a formal coalition or alliance, in fact, in those seats where Labour hasn't a chance, it's essential for democracy that the 'partners' duke it out; Torbay would be a battleground where no such alliance was possible. It's only in Labour held seats we need worry, or in seats Labour could capture from one of the other two. Working together, the liberal majority can defeat the authoritarian tendency. The Tories need to prove they are genuine. They need to not let the populists gain any ground. The LibDems need to grow up and act like a sensible party, and acknowledge that, no matter how nice we think Charlie is, they're not able, under any electoral system, to win on their own, especially with Dave taking the Right wing of their natural territory. It's not like the Liberals of old haven't worked with Tories in the past, whate were Churchill and Beveridge after all?

After that? If they defeat Labour? Well, that's a post for another day.


Anonymous said...

The difficulty I have with Cameron is that I don't know what he stands for. He hasn't made clear statements of policy on the issues that matter to the centre left.

He's saying to the LibDems "come and join me" but he is also saying to them "trust me; I stand for what you stand".

This sounds difficult to believe as he has refused, so far, to make explicit what he actually stands for.

His claim that there's now a "new conservative party" that stands for "liberal" values has the smell of pathetic opportunism, I'd say.

Anonymous said...

Haloscan's trackbacks are playing up still...

MatGB said...

Blogger's playing up still as well...