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Monday, September 09, 2019

The world on fire

If spontaneous combustion is a thing then the unwritten constitution of the UK and our democratic process are very close to that point. And that has nothing to do with MPs ignoring the result of the referendum, we are well past that argument. It is that the alliances and coalitions within the two main parties, which sustain our unrepresentative and disproportionate electoral system, are coming apart at the seams.

With a proportional voting system that would not matter. There would be room for the various factions and ideological bedfellows to breath and flourish by standing in their own right, on a platform of their choosing.

Instead we now have the Tory Party being pared back to an extremist pro-Brexit rump, enabling Nigel Farage to make common cause with them and avoid a mutually assured destruction at a first-past-the-post ballot box.

Moderate, pro-European Tories meanwhile are being cast out into the wilderness, where they must sink or swim as individuals in their own constituency, and without the comfort blanket of a core conservative vote to rely on. Their voters will now be torn between Johnson's no-deal Brexit and the reasoned opposition put up to it by their own MP.

Equally, the Labour Party is also retreating into a hard line, Corbynite position, struggling with anti-Semitism and seeking to purge MPs who fail the loyalty test. Those Labour MPs who do not pass are in a similar position to the Tory rebels, leave politics altogether, or fight on against a relentless party machine.

This is one of the reasons why the Liberal Democrats have gained three new MPs in the last week. We are also punished by the first past the post voting system, though at least we have a coherent ideology, a unity of purpose and an opportunity to carve a unique position as a result of the sectarianism of Labour and the Tories.

But the recent political chaos also presents an opportunity, one that can change the way we do politics for ever, and it all depends on whether the forthcoming General Election resets the system back into a familiar two party knock-about, or whether voters become alive to the possibilities and actually vote in a more heterogeneous Parliament, that properly reflects the views of the country in its grouping of MPs.

Normally, we would need a proportional voting system to achieve that result, but if all the manoeuvring over a no-deal Brexit can produce meaningful electoral pacts, in which dissenters are given a clear run against their former parties, and where the election is focussed almost exclusively on the remain versus leave arguments, then such an outcome is possible.

It is a big ask, and I still remain sceptical as to whether a General Election can be fought on a single issue in this way, or even if all the relevant parties can put aside their hubris and bring themselves to co-operate properly, but I am coming around to the idea.

Meanwhile, just so we can put things into their proper context, the Guardian reports that the Amazon is still burning and that as it does so the threat to the earth's future grows.
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