Alternative voting systems are no alternative

The fourth in a series looking at and debunking specific 'tactical voting' strategies and election narratives from an anti-electoral perspective.

Submitted by Phil on February 21, 2015

Part one on holding your nose to vote labour is here. Part two on voting for radical third parties is here. Part three on voting as anti-racism is here.

The argument periodically arises around elections that our voting system needs reforming. The argument is currently gaining in popularity due to the fact that, while Syriza has stormed to victory in Greece, and despite surges by the Greens and the SNP, the General Election is still essentially a two horse race between Labour and the Tories.

As Mark Serwotka argues for the Huffington Post:

Mark Serwotka

The next general election will arguably be the most important in this country for decades. Yet it will be characterised by a paralysing absence of political choice, with voters essentially asked what brand of austerity they would prefer: Tory Full Strength or Labour Lite.

Looking enviably to Greece, Syriza's stunning election victory is an inspiration to those of us who know there is an alternative to this fear and gloom. In little over a decade Alexis Tsipras's coalition of left wingers has enjoyed a meteoric rise, while the former centre-left party of government, Pasok, has been all but wiped off the political map.

This is a resounding rejection of austerity by the Greek people whose suffering under brutal cuts programmes has become emblematic of the latest economic crisis. By voting Syriza into office, they are saying they want hope to return to their country for the first time in many years.

While any comparisons with the UK come with a health warning, it is worth considering to what extent our electoral system would limit the kind of Greek-style uprising that many of us want to see here.

Although I've already dealt with 'radical' electoral alternatives, and no matter how far Syriza retreat from their anti-austerity platform, this idea will persist. Every individual example that the state's structural functions under capitalism don't change depending on whose arse is in the seat can be written off as an aberration. And the hope will remain that if only we can vote differently, the outcome will be different.

Well, the winner might look less like an android...

Mark Serwotka

It has been clear for some time that 'first past the post' is broken and the arguments in its favour are no longer relevant. The chances of another hung parliament and coalition are very high, so it even "fails on its own terms" by not providing the stability of a one-party government. In May MPs and the party or parties of government will be elected with a lower share of the vote, and more questionable mandates, than ever before.

Designed for another era of two-party politics, FPTP now stultifies elections and degrades our democracy, alienating voters and skewing voting patterns, as YouGov found when it asked people who they would vote for if a party's candidate had a chance of winning in their constituency.

So what we have is bland and complacent two-dimensional politics, where Tories and Labour vie for a mythical centre ground and target policies at handfuls of voters in marginal seats. A fairer system that fostered a greater range of credible alternatives would genuinely shake this consensus and could help diminish the concept of the protest vote, sidelining those who play the system only to stoke fear, hatred and suspicion.

Proportional representation is already well established in our devolved legislatures and in Scotland, for example, it has opened up space for socialists and the Greens, giving them seats in parliament that more closely matched the votes they received at the ballot box.

But as nice as this is in theory, when looking at whether it works we have examples to look at in practice. Proportional representation isn't a theoretical, untested idea, or a transitional demand which threatens the foundations of capitalism. A whole list of countries around the world use it.

Types of proportional representation by country

Yet how many of those countries have a Syriza, even one which is flawed, backtracking, and in coalition with right wing racists?

Parliamentary democracy the surrender of decision-making power to persons assumed to know better on such matters. Because of the makeup of society and what the state needs to function, those people act for the ruling class and in the best interests of capital. This doesn't change if the method of surrendering power is "fairer" or "more representative" of which party people choose. We are still choosing from a range of parties whose only differences are strategic – reflecting differences of opinion amongst the ruling class.

Whether we have first past the post or proportional representation, the fundamentak nature of the state remains unchanged. Not only that, but campaigning around votes takes an enormous amount of energy, time, and resources, all of which could be much better spent building practical alternatives to the current system.

Our voting system, flawed or otherwise, isn't a barrier to change. But the belief that it matters and its existence as a focus of attention are a distraction from it.


Noah Fence

9 years 4 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Noah Fence on February 27, 2015

Phil, if edited to make them a bit more compact these articles would make great leaflets. Would it be cool with you if I did this to hand out to friends and possibly the public? Would you prefer to edit them yourself? Shame to cut stuff but I reckon there's just a bit too much to put on an A5 sheet. Maybe not though, it could be tried in full and see how it looks.
What do you think?

mig ale

9 years 2 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by mig ale on April 20, 2015

Great read, just to let you know in the 2nd to last paragraph there's a typo; "the fundamentak nature of the state" I also agree that these would make a great leaflet.