Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

On party politics

Originally posted as a comment to a post at the Local Democracy blog, a brief summary of my dislike of the British system of government/elections. The prime reason why I am still not sure if I’m going to bother to vote in the upcoming EU elections is precisely for the reasons stated below – I don’t like any UK political party. At general and local elections it’s easy – I vote for a candidate. The way EU elections work in the UK, I won’t get that choice when voting for an MEP – I only get to vote for a party.

Anyway, here’s my brief summary of what I don’t like about party politics:

I continue to hate party politics with a passion. Even ignoring the distortions that have come about thanks to whipping and politicians’ reliance on party funds, Labour and Conservatives alike (and arguably the Lib Dems too) really aren’t parties in the old sense any more anyway. There’s no real unifying ideology, just vast coalitions with hugely disparate, often contradictory beliefs, brought together merely by the pursuit of power. What we need is not party politics, but a return to factionalism – lots more smaller, focussed groupings based on clearly-stated beliefs, aims and policy positions. That would give voters a broader, clearer choice, and give a far better indication of just what it is the public is voting for at elections.

But, of course, with first past the post such a system will never come about. It needs a decent system of proportional representation – something hard enough to sell at the best of times, let alone the day after an Israeli general election…

And for proportional representation knockers, my preferred method is something like the single transferable vote system. It’s got a few problems, for sure, but fewer than FPTP in my books. Plus it’s got a good track record.

(For more on electoral reform – including a handy explanation of why Israel’s system of proportional representation is not *ahem* representative of PR as a whole, for when you see Israeli election chaos used in anti-PR arguments – check out the long-running and rather good Make My Vote Count blog.)


  1. The disenfranchised! jolly good points on the parties, I am still open to be convinced about PR, would we not have to reduce the power of the parties first. Still anything would be an improvement.

  2. Yeah, basically the problem in Israel is not PR but the low threshold (2%) which makes a massive difference. If people are worried about the lack of strong government and proliferation of small parties then this threshold can easily be increased (in Russia, it’s the very high 7%).

    I like STV because it gives you representation by an individual candidate, as well as creating a result that is fairly representative of the country as a whole.

    However– I think Additional Vote Plus is also interesting, where you vote for an individual candidate in a FPTP (or other) system, and then those parties who are not represented (or under-represented) gain seats in a PR system (see: Germany)

    electoral system geekery end.

  3. Ken, STV as a form of PR does reduce the power of the parties, it’s one of the reasons I really like it.

    @NM: I reckon you’re an old style National Liberal/Constitutionalist, the half that grudgingly merged into the Conservatives in the 50s because they didn’t want to work with Labour but were never really happy.

    The problem is that the party system is determined by the electoral system, change the system you get different parties; I’ve had a post on this planned for, oh, two years now? I even have a sketch note written down pinned to the noticeboard on it. It might get written eventually. Thus I prioritise changing the system.

    When I started blogging I was determined to stay non partisan, I eventually figured that the only way to really make a difference was to get more MPs elected that were close(ish) to my views.

    Don’t know if you read any of my posts about it when I was pondering it back in early ’06, but I basically picked my 5 key issues and compared what I wanted with the parties, the Lib Dems won on 4 out of 5, and on my big three (democratic reform of UK, democratice reform of EU, civil liberties and basic social freedoms) they’re way ahead.

    So I paid up. Now I’m helping write policy proposals and similar. And campaigning to get our decent (Labour rebel) MP replaced by a Lib Dem and not a noxious Tory from the unprincipled careerist wing.

    They’re still a useless party with little hope, but they’re getting less useless, the more not-useless people on board the better I reckon.

  4. One of the things I value in Finland is the electoral system. I vote for an individual on a party list. The lists get proportional representation and the candidates within the list are elected on the basis of their individual counts.

    Naturally, there is some room for the parties to maneuvre on who get on the lists (since primaries among members are not that prevalent), but the party leaders have a genuine interest to find good canidates if they want their party to succeed.

    For me as a voter the system offers the possibility to vote for a candidate I think has the right moral stature and opinions more or less in line with what I believe.

    I have noticed that I feel a tinge sad every time I read about closed lists elsewhere, not to mention first past the post.

  5. You put into words what I have been thinking. As a Tory Councillor I don’t know whether I believe in what my party believes in because it is such a broad coalition — I can only know what I believe in and try to communicate that to an electorate who look only at the colour of my rosette.

    But if I stood as an independent or for a different party I would lose my vote to the new guy wearing the blue rosette… As you say, the self-interest of the politician.

    If only the age of the internet made the electorate more willing to challenge their governors.

  6. Glad to see acknowledgement of the seminal impact a voting system has upon the shape/form taken by ensuing democratic governance.

    The level of public ignorance about this vital issue is quite frightening – when mention of STV is made, the usual response indicates that the listener thought you meant some kind of unusual disease acquired when visiting the public toilets!

    I’m a active member/supporter of both Make Votes Count and Unlock Democracy – we’re trying to hook up with the Students Union at our nearest large university to hold some kind of debate in advance of the forthcoming EP elections – one of the points we’ll be highlighting is the fact that whilst the Euro elections are based on proportionality, it is instructive that the UK govt. insisted on the worst kind of system possible; namely closed party lists.

    It’s as though they had conceded the overwhelming pressure (due to being the odd man out across the whole of Europe – AGAIN!) for a fairer, ie. proportional, system but thought to themselves: OK we’ve got to allow proportionality but let’s make sure we discredit the system by using closed lists – that way we also maintain control of the candidates helping us to keep everyone towing the party line!

    Now who’d have thought that – a government minister acting in the best interests of his (and it was “his” because the minister in question is none other than Jack Straw) party rather than the electorate – surely not?