It is time for consensus: Revamping British democracy

17 Jun 2017

Everything about British politics is combative. From the electoral system, to the relationship between the government, interest groups, and trade unions, everything is focused on conflict. Even the seating arrangement of parliament is framed as a gladiatorial contest, every debate a winner-takes-all fight to the death.


Whilst British politics has always been founded on these adversarial principles, we now live in a period of drastic political polarisation. Though both major parties promote a form of closed British society that remains outside the EU, Corbyn’s socialist vision is a far cry from the more authoritarian future proposed by Theresa May and the Conservatives.


Yet with another hung parliament, the public took a look at both visions and ultimately decided upon neither. For this reason amongst many, it is now time that we begin changing British democracy. Changing it from one centred on conflict, to one focused more around consensus, as pioneered in the work of Arend Lijphart. To begin this, we need first to look at the electoral system.


There are multiple decisive arguments against First-Past-the-Post. It is highly disproportionate, wastes votes, and forces voters between voting for the best local representative, and who they want for the national government - and this election again undermined it’s core claim, that being that it provides (ironically) 'strong and stable' government. It is an outdated system that is well past its sell-by date.


What should replace this old, tired system? There are a range of options - the popular consensus amongst academics and theorists being the Single-Transferable-Vote (STV), although the Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) representation, like that used in Germany, also has its benefits.


Arguments that proportional electoral systems create unstable governments are rarely viable. MMP in particular helps to maintain stable coalition governments, whilst also striking the balance between local, and national representation. Furthermore, the introduction of a minimum vote threshold needed to enter parliament - usually about 5% - prevents far-right and far-left parties from gaining disproportionate influence in parliament.


Yet the changes that must be made to revamp British democracy go far beyond its electoral system.


Whilst it may not seem that there is too strong an appetite for such reforms given that larger issues like Brexit are on the table, the current upheaval shows, in fact, that now is the time to begin looking at such reforms. Many feel as though British democracy no longer serves them, and is beholden to a small number of elites - be they the supposed 'liberal elite' or 'right-wing media barons', who exploit the majoritarian and confrontational nature of the system.


Thus, another popular reform would be changes to the interest group system, where instead of being in a constant confrontation, the government works with corporations and trade unions in order to secure the fairest deal for employers and workers. This corporatist system for interest groups would avoid future conflicts and reduce strike action, even when a Conservative government is in power.


There is far more that can, and should, be done to turn Britain into more of a consensus-based democracy. Devolution should be expanded, granting the Welsh Assembly the same powers as the Scottish Parliament; and the role of the House of Lords must continue to be examined, with the possibility of an elected second chamber kept on the table.


These reforms would fundamentally improve British democracy, eradicating undue influence for singular figures, making the system fairer, and politicians more accountable. It will be a long road to change British democracy, but now may be the best time to start.






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