Wednesday, December 18, 2019

It's Time We Faced Reality. FPTP is Failing Us.

Boris Johnson is the prime minister of the United Kingdom and Brits are just realizing their democracy has been pistol-whipped by a thoroughly dysfunctional electoral system - First Past The Post.  FPTP, a powerful way to defeat the will of the public at every turn.

Guardian columnist, George Monbiot, writes that politics has entered a new paradigm, one that renders FPTP toxic to democracy.

You can blame Jeremy Corbyn for Boris Johnson, and Hillary Clinton for Donald Trump. You can blame the Indian challengers for Narendra Modi, the Brazilian opposition for Jair Bolsonaro, and left and centre parties in Australia, the Philippines, Hungary, Poland and Turkey for similar electoral disasters. Or you could recognise that what we are witnessing is a global phenomenon.

Something has changed: not just in the UK and the US, but in many parts of the world. A new politics, funded by oligarchs, built on sophisticated cheating and provocative lies, using dark ads and conspiracy theories on social media, has perfected the art of persuading the poor to vote for the interests of the very rich. We must understand what we are facing, and the new strategies required to resist it.
Monbiot argues that we can no longer trust top-down government to serve the public will.
At the moment, the political model for almost all parties is to drive change from the top down. They write a manifesto, that they hope to turn into government policy, which may then be subject to a narrow and feeble consultation, which then leads to legislation, which then leads to change. I believe the best antidote to demagoguery is the opposite process: radical trust. To the greatest extent possible, parties and governments should trust communities to identify their own needs and make their own decisions.
...Mainstream politics, controlled by party machines, has sought to reduce the phenomenal complexity of human society into a simple, linear model that can be controlled from the centre. The political and economic systems it creates are simultaneously highly unstable and lacking in dynamism; susceptible to collapse, as many northern towns can testify, while unable to regenerate themselves. They become vulnerable to the toxic, invasive forces of ethno-nationalism and supremacism. 
Monbiot's answer - radical devolution.
But in some parts of the world, towns and cities have begun to rewild politics. Councils have catalysed mass participation, then – to the greatest extent possible – stepped back and allowed it to evolve. Classic examples include participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre in Brazil, the Decide Madrid system in Spain, and the Better Reykjavik programme in Iceland. Local people have reoccupied the political space that had been captured by party machines and top-down government. They have worked out together what their communities need and how to make it happen, refusing to let politicians frame the questions or determine the answers. The results have been extraordinary: a massive re-engagement in politics, particularly among marginalised groups, and dramatic improvements in local life. Participatory politics does not require the blessing of central government, just a confident and far-sighted local authority. 
Is this a formula for a particular party to regain power? No. It’s much bigger than that. It’s a formula for taking back control, making our communities more resilient and the machinations of any government in Westminster less relevant. This radical devolution is the best defence against capture by any political force.
Jenny Jones goes directly for the jugular of First Past the Post.
Of the top 39 countries on the OECD list, only Canada and the US share our love affair with FPTP. The US has awful extremes of rich and poor, while Canada does manage to come ahead of us in 19th place. Yet Canada has never had a majority socialist government. Meanwhile, progressive governments in Denmark, Norway, Germany, Iceland, Finland and Sweden have almost never been the result of a single socialist party’s majority, but are made up of leftwing coalitions – and they do OK. 
As we’ve seen, the argument that FPTP delivers strong and stable government is nonsense. I know from my own experience on the London assembly, elected via a system of PR, that a more consensual and positive politics is possible. We fought each other in elections and then worked together between them. 
PR doesn’t guarantee that things will get better, but it enables us to generate a consensus about the direction of travel, whether that is ending austerity, stopping the NHS being privatised or ending domestic violence. As Friends of the Earth has pointed out, the electorate favoured parties who take the climate emergency seriously – yet we have ended up with a government that doesn’t. This is a failure of FPTP.
A refrain that harkens back to the summer of 2015.
I hope that the Labour leadership will not only start discussing PR, but also debating how best to work with other parties to beat the Conservatives next time. Although I find compromise with other parties very hard, I didn’t enjoy the constant battle of wills on social media about tactical voting between people who were all keen to see the Tories gone from government. The Greens, Liberal Democrats and Plaid did show that it is possible to work cooperatively, but while Labour was invited to talk, it wouldn’t engage.
There are many Liberals, individuals who consider themselves progressives, who defend FPTP. When you dig through it the grounds they cite are pretty specious. When you wind up with a majority government elected by just shy of two out of five voters on the strength of a platform of solemn promises that get trashed, in undue haste and on implausible excuses, shortly after it glides into power - that's not democracy, it's autocracy. To legitimize that is obscene.

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