In August 2017 I discovered that “political science on electoral systems” still is locked in the humanities and thus no real science.
- This field of study has been disinforming the world for a greater part of last century, see here.
- The 2018 USA midterm election contests are an example that the system of district representation (DR) that the USA, UK and France use is only proto-democractic. More than a third of US voters have taxation without representation, see here.
- Readers might find this interview by Protesilaos Stavrou enlightening on the choice between parliamentarian democracy and populism with referenda.
- See information on (i) the 2016 UK Referendum Question here, republished at the LSE Brexit blog here, (ii) YouGov data on UK voter preferences on Brexit here, and (iii) the UK confusion on democracy and statistics here.
The UK has proto-democracy and no proper democracy
It is rather damning for a claimed democracy like the UK that its main two instruments of democracy – the general election contests of 2015 and 2017 and the referendum of 2016 – do not generate clarity on what the people really want. Currently there are calls for a new general election contest or a second referendum as if these already failed methods would finally produce the miracle that everyone is hoping for. Instead, the UK could switch to equal proportional representation (EPR). This system provides clarity by its very mechanics and has no need for referenda. EPR creates the mentality of seeking compromises in the House of Commons (or the EU itself), while voters themselves obviously cannot do such bargaining in the voting booth. The UK is no stranger to EPR because this is used for the European Parliament so that Nigel Farage got a seat there. UKIP with its 12.5% of the vote got only 1 seat in the 2015 House of Commons, which is about when and where the situation started to become chaotic.
Three options: May-EU deal, No Deal, or return to Status Quo Ex Ante
Now that there is a Brexit deal at the level of government, the EU has stopped bargaining with the UK. Accepting the May-EU deal is Option A, and rejecting it with a No Deal is Option B. Likely the EU may still allow the UK time for a fundamental reconsideration of its democratic processes, including such EPR reconsideration of the UK relation to the EU. The EU might perhaps allow a return to the Status Quo Ex Ante before the invoking of article 50, because of the fact that this was invoked under a failing system of proto-democracy only. This would be Option C. Formally it might seem that there are three options on the table then. A referendum might present voters with the six preference orders A > B > C, …., C > B > A, and each voter could indicate the preferred order. However, each option comes with complications. Options A or B might cause Scotland to depart from the UK, so actually these would split into four options. Option C might be painted in a stronger or weaker role for the UK, depending upon one wishes for more federalism or a Europe of the Nations. Referenda can never cover this complexity, which is where the strength of parliamentarian democracy comes from.
Michael Portillo warns for resentment with wrong reason: resentment itself
Carrie Fisher (Burbank 1956 – Los Angeles 2016), or Princess Leia in the Star Wars films, once stated:
“Resentment is like drinking a poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
On BBC This Week, November 16, Michael Portillo stated:
“I think the European Union has made a substantial (…) strategic error, short of marching Mrs May into a railway carriage in Compiègne Forest, they could not have produced a more humiliating surrender. And all of history (…) tells us that when you humiliate countries with a surrender, it doesn’t go well thereafter.” (here)
Portillo intends to remind us about Versailles after WW1, that created German resentment that led to WW2. Indeed, imagine a UK locked in economic stagnation with such resentment. Awkwardly, Portillo’s statement already is such expression of resentment itself. The UK has fallen into its own sword and fails to face up to its own responsibility for its current chaos. Blaiming the EU for not solving the Northern Ireland border issue is curious when the UK created this border.
Avoid a Stab-in-the-Back Myth
Let the UK make the proper diagnosis before applying treatment. Having a proto-democracy bottles up discontent that can explode in strange manners. The best way to avoid a Stab-in-the-Back Myth is to switch to EPR so that all voices in the UK are duly represented, finally for the first time. Parties can split along their Brexit views in order to offer voters the full spectrum. Then the House of Commons can finally start from proper proportions to bargain for a compromise. Basic options are the May-EU deal, No Deal, and if possible return to the Status Quo Ex Ante (retract the invoking of article 50) if the EU allows. These options however have colours and shades. Compromises would focus on internal UK affairs, like compensation for those suffering from the final decision. (The UK also has a referendum lock but in Holland such major decisions rather require new elections and then agreement by the new parliament, see here.)
Hopefully the UK chooses for a role in the EU
The Dutch government has stated that it would want to see the UK within the EU. Let the UK not feel itself be unwelcome or unappreciated. The UK might regard itself as an island apart from the Continent but then it might forget that shipping is the cheapest way of mass transport, and that the UK has been at the core of European development even in the Bronze Age, with its supply of tin. The UK was victorious w.r.t. Napoleon, WW1 and WW2, and should be able to be victorious against the ghosts of the past.
NB. The EU can use UK comedians too: compliments for James Acaster’s tea bag analogy, here.
PS. A bias has been created against EPR
The discussion in the UK about EPR can be biased.
(1) The BBC has the following GCSE test bit on how the German nazis took power in 1933:
“Proportional representation – instead of voting for an MP, like we do in Britain, Weimar Germans voted for a party. Each party was then allocated seats in the Reichstag exactly reflecting (proportional’ to) the number of people who had voted for it. This sounds fair, but in practice it was a disaster it resulted in dozens of tiny parties, with no party strong enough to get a majority, and, therefore, no government to get its laws passed in the Reichstag. This was a major weakness of the Republic.” (here)
This is a gross misrepresentation. The nazis were handed power by big corporations and finance, see Henry Turner’s “Hitler’s Thirty Days to Power”. David Kennedy’s “Freedom from fear” clarifies that Huey Long might have turned the USA into fascism too except that FDR made some wise moves. FDR might have had it easier with EPR. EPR was also introduced in Sweden in 1907 and Holland 1917 and those are amongst the happiest countries in the world. EPR is only an element in the full story but a key element. In Germany after WW2 they chose for EPR with a higher threshold rather than DR. Times are different now too. Do not forget the failure of economic policy w.r.t. the German Hyperinflation in the 1920s and the Great Depression in the 1930s: we now do a bit better with economic planning. (See here.)
(2) The UK in 1884 saw the foundation of the Proportional Representation Society, now the Electoral Reform Society (ERS). While Dutch democracy uses open party lists, that allow voters to express preference e.g. for a regional candidate (though few voters actually use this option), the UK reformers got off track in a desire for misconceived mathematical perfection. The ERS idea is that voters rank candidates, so that when a candidate is not elected then the ranking can be used. This “single transferable vote” (STV) system is also applied to districts, to win over minds indoctrinated on DR. The ERS claims that their system is EPR but it isn’t. The method is cumbersome while districts are distractive for preferences on national policy. The ERS misconceptions helped cause the disaster of the 2011 referendum on the “Alternative Vote” that is not EPR either. (here) The ERS is a major cause of confusion and the UK better seeks information about EPR from Holland and Sweden. This again comes with the warning that “political science on electoral systems” is no science yet, so that one must head advice from that field of study anyway. Thus my proposal of a buddy-system of scientists and “political scientists”.
(3) The combination of points (1) and (2) can be found in Doug Cowan’s discussion at the ERS in 2015 whether EPR put the nazis into power. The very point that the nazis needed a coup (arresting communist members of parliament so that they could not attend a vote, creating an artificial majority) shows that EPR was blocking them. However, Cowan then offers STV as if it were EPR, and it isn’t.
(4) Timothy Garton Ash in 2017 called a “soft” Brexit most likely, like the May-EU deal has turned out to be. In July 2018 he warned for “A humiliating Brexit deal risks a descent into Weimar Britain“. This wasn’t a novel insight since negotiators have been aware from the beginning that there might be a backlash when phantasies met reality. In comments and twitter TGA was criticised that the article could be read as playing into the Stab-in-the-Back Myth. TGA replied that he precisely wanted to prevent this narrative. It is rather a “mission impossible” to try to prevent this narrative by presenting the most likely outcome as humiliating, while the true event is a facing up to reality. Nevertheless, TGA rightly criticised Tony Blair for not adopting EPR in 1997. In his discussion of the 2011 AV referendum he unfortunately did not criticise the ERS for their disinformation on STV. One wonders what he might think about the proposal of a buddy-system for science and the humanities, and whether he might set an example.