Well the public have spoken and after a manic couple of months since Theresa May called a snap election to massage her ego and solidify her mandate going into Brexit we have a reduced Conservative majority and a resurgent Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn.
I have been involved in a local tactical voting campaign in Somerton & Frome that was sadly unsuccessful and whilst I revel in the reduced strength of our current government I can’t help but be disappointed that our constituency remains occupied by a Tory MP.
So what have we learned? Well, first and foremost I wouldn’t have changed a thing. We launched ourselves into challenging the status quo and in the process brought together a number of people from all political allegiances and backgrounds who wanted to fight for an opportunity at positive change. I am extremely proud of the work and compassion shown by everyone that helped us and in the process found friends and comrades that believed in a cause and threw all their energy into it.
Our electoral system
At a time where all our politics seems to be divided: right and left; remain and leave; soft and hard; Trump and sensibility; we need to appraise how it works and – more importantly – whether it works at all. The fear of a snap election called to the fore people who tried to work around the constraints of our First Past the Post system. Initiatives like Compass, Swap my Vote and Tactical 2017 tried desperately to pool the resources of the progressive left in a bid to overthrow the system we have in the face of a Tory landslide. And to a significant extent it worked. But what it highlighted was the need for compromise and unity across disparate voices and allegiances to achieve this. For many places this worked. In our constituency it didn’t.
As I have mentioned before, our current system of government is an anachronism. It is a bi-partisan democracy based on the idea of a two-party state rooted in the dominance of two political parties from the eighteenth century: Whigs (Progressives) and Tories (Conservatives). Our politics and democracy has thankfully moved on but our political system has not. This system emphasises the need for an absolute majority whilst pitting the House of Commons into a “them-and-us” dialogue that ultimately leads to extreme, reactive legislation built on short-term political cycles.
This system is completely unreflective of our population and means that only rarely are the views for the majority considered in the actions of governance. After the polls last week we have a ruling government that was supported by 42% of those who voted and only 29% of the electorate, propped up by the DUP, a party that won 0.9% of the popular vote. According to the Electoral Reform Society, as much as 74% of votes cast didn’t make a difference in their constituency. The SNP have 35 seats in parliament with 3% of the national vote, whilst the Liberal Democrats have 12 with more than twice those votes (7.4%). UKIP needed 593,852 votes to elect an MP whilst the Conservative party only needed 42,979 votes and the Labour party 49,141 votes.
Our system is broken. A more representative form of voting is fundamentally required. Indeed, we need a form of government – and electing it – that emphasises dialogue and collaboration rather than dogmatism and division. There are a number of options available and I am in no position to say which is best but I can say with complete belief that ours is not working and pits those with comparable beliefs against each other when we should all be working together.
Somerton and Frome
Which brings me nicely onto our efforts locally. Whilst the coming together of a wide range of people for this election has been rejuvenating and opened up a political conversation for many that would not have happened before, it has also tragically opened up rifts which our current electoral system has amplified. I was disappointed at the Frome hustings this year to see four parties all broadly preaching the same message but touted under different tribal allegiances. Imagine what could have been achieved if all these people had worked together. Sadly with our current system the Greens, Labour and Liberal Democrats wouldn’t concede a chance at any collaborative endeavour. In fact it was utterly disheartening seeing ‘progressive’ candidates and their supporters focus their energies on attacking what we were trying to do rather than on their own campaigns.
Again, these are all amplified under our current electoral system which only emphasises division and competition rather than constructive collaboration, a clamorous jostle for the most votes; a popularity contest rather than a meaningful form of engagement where participation felt valued. Since the results of the election came in I have read some quite angry posts from Labour supporters that have said our efforts have damaged the Labour party locally or worse that ours was some kind of Liberal Democrat conspiracy. Particularly stating that because the Conservative candidate had an outright majority the progressive candidates could not contest this seat.
I completely disagree with this argument. There is no denying that ours is a largely Conservative constituency and with that in mind I think it would be largely impossible for Labour to realistically challenge our current MP within our current system. Whilst I support Labour nationally and was delighted at their rise in popularity at the polls last week, I do believe we were right to throw our support behind our Liberal Democrat candidate because historically this was our best chance at contesting the seat. But imagine what we could have done if we had thrown all our energy into one candidate; if the resources, energy and passion that went into the campaigns for our Liberal, Labour, Green and independent candidates was instead placed behind a single candidate? What might have been achieved? Instead David Warburton was able to sit back, largely uncontested, watching the rest of us divided by a common enemy.
Sadly, with our current voting system collaboration seems unlikely. Labour would not concede (sadly they refused to stand down for any progressive candidate nationally) and the deep-rooted political tribalism and – in some cases – pride means that it would be extremely hard if not impossible for us all to come together behind any one candidate from an existing political party because too often the points of difference are policies rather than ideologies.
But what if we could stand for something else? What if we could all get behind a candidate that represents the wide range of views across progressive parties? Imagine what our combined energy could accomplish? Frome (albeit a small part of the constituency) perhaps represents one of the most fertile constituencies for such a reimagining of politics. Our town council is completely independent representing a range of views but ultimately unrestrained by political silos and dogmatism.
I do not think it is long before we will have another election. The confidence in Theresa May is rock bottom, her mandate for Brexit is weak, and the Conservative majority is largely dependent on a group of terrifying religious fundamentalists. And with this in mind we cannot rest to lick our wounds now this battle has been lost.
Because the war is just beginning and for that we have to work together.
Thanks for sharing, good read.Are you suggesting a progressive independent candidate Cole?