Tag Archives: voting system

How the system hurts UK democracy

My article in Global Discourse is temporarily available for free.

Shortly after the UK general election of December 2019 I wrote a policy article for the spring 2020 edition of Global Discourse, setting out what my involvement in politics has taught me about the UK’s flawed democratic system. Now, until the end of November, the article is available free to read as part of Bristol University Press’ Populism and Democracy Collection.

Read my article for free before 30 November 2020 (click the ‘Download PDF’ button on the right-hand side of the article title).

Image of the Global Discourse journal cover page

In the article, I argue why in my view the UK system undermines rather than delivers democratic outcomes. The piece explores the many negative consequences of the system and focuses on that most blatant of all flaws, the first-past-the-post system used for general elections. But it isn’t all grimness: I end with some reflections on how politicians and citizens can work together to overcome the injustice that’s hard-wired into the voting system.

Many of my reflections are informed by the organising and campaigning work I have been doing as an active member and occasional candidate for the Green Party of England and Wales, and a staff member of the political platform Compass, that works across progressive parties and organisations to create the political preconditions for a Good Society.  

Through both, I have had the privilege of experiencing first-hand the potential as well as the complexity of alliance-based politics, which I would describe as a temporary arrangement between two or more political actors to prioritise a joint ‘bigger picture’ objective over immediate narrow party-political objectives. 

Looking at how the first-past-the-post system works and how it disadvantages smaller parties by design and progressive parties as a result of the national political landscape, it’s not difficult to see the potential of ‘progressive alliances’. Collectively, with their respective votes adding up instead of cancelling each other out, progressive parties have a much stronger chance of achieving a House of Commons majority.

Yet, the simplicity of the maths can easily obscure the complexity beneath, the often historical and cultural differences that affect relationships between political parties and their activists, even when their broad political aims are aligned. Mutual understanding, trust and generosity are key ingredients of a genuine alliance and these take time as well as perseverance to build. 

This is where my article turns from despair to hope: by looking at the people and organisations who have shown how to overcome the political tribalism that the UK voting system prescribes, and by arguing that the successful alliance-based politics that they are putting in practice can lead the way to a revival of genuine democracy at a time the country needs it more than ever.

Let’s not be complacent, though. To achieve what is needed, to win, progressives in the UK have a serious challenge to overcome. In the article I put it this way:

“To be successful, the next chapter of progressive collaboration will have to start from an acknowledgement that we all have things to learn. Everyone will have to understand that past behaviours – our own and those of our potential allies – cannot shape how we treat each other in the present and in the future.”

Betrayed by the system: how the UK’s inadequate democratic system thwarts grown-up politics, and how we can begin to change this appears in Global Discourse, vol 10, no 2, 395-399. Global Discourse is a publication by Bristol University Press. Due to its inclusion in the ‘Populism and Democracy Collection’ the article can be read for free until 30 November 2020.

Linking directly to the article is disabled by the publisher. After following a link from this blog, you’ll need to click on the blue button that says Download PDF on the right-hand side of the title. Apologies for that.