Blame the Electoral System or Blame the Party Leaders?
Jonathan Bernstein stands up for first past the post voting in the UK. He starts with an observation I agree with, namely that “the ultimate goal of a political system cannot be to accurately reflect the strength of each party in parliament, much less accurately reflect the strength of all the views of the citizens in parliament, which is essentially impossible anyway.” Then he offers another view I agree with, namely that what really matters is “is whether the government is responsive to citizens.” What follows is a kind of Burkean defense of caution about radical reform away from a system that seems to be okay.
For my part, I’ll say that as I look at the scene emerging it does seem to be the case that what’s plaguing the UK isn’t so much a weird electoral system as it is a weird party system. If you look at John Cleese’s very funny pitch for electoral reform from the eighties you have to remember that he was talking at a very different time in the British party system. At that point, Labour and the Tories seemed determined to debunk the median voter theorem by being shockingly far apart ideologically. That paved the way for a revival (in alliance with some renegade moderate Labourites) of a centrist Liberal Party, a revival that was severely curtailed by the electoral system. Flash forward to 2010 and you have a situation in which Labour has moved to the right and the Tories have moved to the left, and the ideological posture of the Liberal Democrats vis-a-vis the other parties is pretty murky and contestable.
Arguably if the Tories manage to secure a parliamentary majority with 37 percent of the vote (as seems at least plausible) that would be more the fault of LibDem and Labour party leaders than of the electoral system. If the parties don’t have major systematic ideological differences, then they should cooperate with a formal electoral pact rather than running candidates against each other and winking and nodding at tactical voting.