Shifting the Paradigm

Mary Southcott argues that not only does our voting system warp our politics and divide our country but explains the narrow EU referendum victory for LEAVE.  She believes a Labour victory from reengaging our heartlands, reversing BREXIT during the transition or backstop is better than desperate calls for ‘Norway’ or a people’s vote.

In a Somali café in St Paul’s, Bristol, on 23 June 2016, during Eid when normally closed in daylight, Labour ran a REMAIN committee room. People came in from the street to discuss how they would vote. The WARP knock up sheets excluded core Labour voters but we went out to them and although tempted by the LEAVE promises on NHS and jobs which resonated with older Jamaicans, we won them round. But Labour did not trust its supporters, who needed often to be told Labour’s policy was REMAIN and was frightened we would be knocking up for BREXIT.

Go back to when Labour thought that the rise of UKIP was a good thing as it “split the Tory vote”.  In 2015, Lynton Crosby worked out exactly what policies would prevent their vote haemorrhaging, Cameron won the election outright and the referendum was legislated. For those who say extremists would benefit from PR if UKIP had MPs, look at how they hijacked the country under first-past-the-post.  Our voting system gives us a winner-takes-all culture.

When half the country votes one way and the other votes another, there is no “will of the people” or “democratic mandate” for BREXIT.  We know from the British Election Study that “Labour is the party of REMAIN not just in the south and London, not just among the young, but in every age group, every social grade and every region of the county.  In safe seats and marginal seats, in REMAIN voting seats and LEAVE voting seats, it was the REMAIN voters, whether Labour supporters, new voters or voters from other parties who helped deliver Labour’s shock result in June 2017.”

What we witnessed was an inducement to non voters in general elections, due to voter suppression in Labour majority seats, to vote because in a Referendum they counted.  Pre Corbyn Labour was not about appealing to people who under our current voting system could be taken for granted. We fought elections at the margins, with switch voters and dumbed down our policies to fit their priorities and anxieties. In 2017, Labour changed the centre of gravity by arguing for the popular vote so voting Labour made sense wherever you live. We fought a PR election without a PR voting system, and lost.

Now areas which were ignored are waking up to the fact that they too need the voting system to change so their ‘vote mountains’ translate into influence.  This Bootle or Easington effect is where turnout is lowered by our voting system. Other voter suppression measures are highlighted in the Conservative manifesto:  

  • Boundaries based on equalising the registered voters underestimate the population often living in Labour seats especially where the population “churns” with young people and others living in multi-occupation.
  • Reduction in seats down to 600 will affect the precious MP-constituency link and leave more people unrepresented.  
  • Identification to vote is not so much about absolute numbers who are turned away but those who are put off voting before they go.  
  • Not having votes at 16 linked to citizenship education and registration in schools affects the result not only of general elections but referendums.  

EU citizens who have lived in the UK for years should not have been deprived of a referendum vote which affected them directly.  

The quick fix of a people’s vote which might at the margins reverse the result, but will still leave the divisions and disillusion, is not the answer.  We need to see this for the constitutional crisis it is. With no written constitution this is difficult for the UK and marks us out from other EU countries.  We need an opportunity to update the way we are governed.

Those watching Poldark can see the relationship that some MPs have with their constituencies has not changed much but people have.  No one person can represent the political views of their constituents particularly on cross cutting issues which divide most parties.  We need to recognise that populism is not the only thing invading out politics, the social media, with or without constraints expected in press and broadcasting, education levels, the onset of automation, the money slushing around in campaigns, the accurate targeting of individual voters, did I mention Cambridge Analytica, Paul Dacre or Richard Murdoch?, means it is catch up time for politics. Jacob Rees-Mogg is not the only person living in the wrong century.  Our whole system and political culture is.

The blame game UK politicians and media played over Europe, taking credit for all the good and pointing to the EU for the rest, has to stop.  We need a paradigm shift in our politics. We need to move from binary to what Rawls called “overlapping consensus”. Of course we need to bring back control but to the lives of individuals, by devolving down and sharing up.   Soft power is not exercised just at Westminster or in the EU. It needs people to know how they can influence decisions made in their name. It is wherever people meet and can have influence.


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