For politicians and political parties, it is possible to be too certain of yourself – to believe in your divine right to represent or to rule. People can go to extraordinary lengths to shore up the positions of themselves or their political parties. We have recently seen how a superficially trivial incident, with licence points being applied for speeding, has become something so much bigger.
Such cases can illustrate how an offence or transgression in itself is not necessarily an instrument of ultimate downfall. It is more about the attempt to cover up, to lie or in more technical terms, to try and pervert the course of justice. On a larger scale, this was the case with US President Richard Nixon. It was the cover-up and the lie that did for the Presidency at least as much as the original burglary at the Watergate Hotel.
Other mechanisms can serve to keep some politicians in power and others out of power, outside of the basic act of voting. A classic example in a democracy is that of constituency boundaries. Scotland had long been over-represented in Westminster in relation to its electorate. Some pundits have suggested that a number of Labour Governments simply would not have existed without this over-representation.
The General Election of 1992 saw the Conservatives returned with more than 14 million votes but a majority of just 21 seats. Subsequent Labour General Election victories produced larger majorities but with a much lower vote for that party. Boundaries do make a difference to the result.
Another important factor is the voting system. Our first-past-the-post method can produce some distorted outcomes. It favours and encourages the success of two major political parties – one ‘conservative’ and one ‘progressive’. The two major parties can win seats without having majority public support. Many other minor parties might be less disliked by electors but the opportunity to register that thought does not exist.
In Scotland and Wales, they have addressed this issue in elections to their Parliament and Assembly. They operate hybrid voting systems where some representatives are elected for constituencies and others from regional lists – based on a party’s share of the vote. This system gives a more representative outcome with people able to see the value of their vote even if it is cast for a minor political party.
In a sense, I suppose that we are lucky to be able to debate these nuances within our democracy. It is true that we do not have a truly representative Parliament but at least we have the opportunity to vote at quite regular intervals for different levels of government.
Many people around the world still do not have this privilege. We should be thankful that we do.
by Cllr Bob Lanzer
Leader of Crawley Borough Council