It is amazing how much technology can change the shape of history, can shape our future, and can shape the outcome of elections. A little over a year ago we saw the election of Barack Obama to the United States Presidency off the back of a massive campaign using new media. Now thanks to two televised election debates we are seeing a mini revolution in UK politics. The only problem is this mini revolution may be the biggest political revolution that never happens because with the UK still using the First Past the Post voting system the party that wins the most number of votes may fail to govern.
Like Australia, the United States, and many other countries the UK has traditionally had two major political parties, the left leaning Labour Party, and the right leaning Conservatives. For a few parliamentary terms the Labour Party will rule and once the voters get sick of them the Conservatives will rule until the cycle reverses. The way in which these governments are elected comes down to local electorates rather than voting for the party you want to win you vote for your local MP. The party that has the most number of electorate MPs elected will get to govern. This is different from NZ politics where under MMP you have two votes one for your local MP and one for the party you wish to govern with the parliament being made up with a mixture of local MPs and party list MPs.
Now the reason a mini revolution has occurred in England is because for the first time Nick Clegg, the leader of the Social Democrats a small minority party, has been included in two televised leaders debates alongside the leaders of the both the Conservative and Labour parties. And in both of these debates Clegg has won. This has seen the Social Democrats rocket up the polls on the popular vote to a position where they are beating Labour and in some poles even leading the Conservatives. This has also thrown the May 6 election wide open with the real possibility of a hung parliament.
The biggest problem with all this analysis though is it may amount to nothing all because of the way FPP operates. The NZ Herald puts it this way:
The really surprising thing about the Nick Clegg surge is that almost nothing has changed.
That may seem an odd thing to say after 10 days in which Labour has been forced into third place in the opinion polls and the Liberal Democrats have broken through for the first time since the formation of the Social Democratic Party nearly three decades ago.
But the way votes translate into seats means that, unless the Lib Dems get up to 36 or 37 per cent of the vote, they remain the third party in seats.
And while Clegg’s party remains the third party in the House of Commons, the outcome of the election is decided by the gap between the Conservatives and Labour.
The shape of politics will be transformed on May 6. That may be the beginning of the end for the Labour Party. And yet the outcome of the election remains surprisingly unchanged.
The reason is that Clegg’s surge has been uncannily even-handed in its effect on the other two parties. The Conservatives have fallen 4.5 points in the polls, on average, since the first debate, and the Labour drop has been the same.
The gap between the two is therefore unchanged, at about 6.5 points, which suggests the Tories would be the largest party in a hung parliament – which is where the country was before the Cleggshell was dropped on this campaign.
The voters are likely to end up, therefore, with David Cameron as prime minister, leader of a minority Conservative government.
All of this screams out that the who democratic process of FPP is wrong, for a party to be able to gain the most number of popular votes and not govern is wrong, for a party to be able to govern on only 30% support is wrong. And focusing on New Zealand for a second this is the exact reason why we should not move back towards FPP or change away from MPP. It is often argued that MMP gives small parties too much power, but I would rather have good, cross party support for well written laws than be ruled by a minority forcing their sole thoughts on the nation.
This morning the Green Party posted a good video about the problems with the UK election to their blog: