Socialist Party documents

British Perspectives 2015


Dysfunctional system

44. Britain effectively now has a five party system, excluding Scotland and Wales. In terms of the balance of power in Westminster, it will be a six party system, as the SNP could be the third biggest party. British politics is increasingly dysfunctional. At a certain stage, the demand will grow for a change in the electoral system to a democratic form of proportional representation (PR) which would allow the votes received by smaller parties to be represented in parliament. When the Liberal Democrats spearheaded a campaign for a switch to an 'Alternative Vote' system in the 2011 referendum, it was overwhelmingly defeated on a low turnout. In fact, AV was no more democratic or proportional than the current 'first past the post' system; even Nick Clegg called it a "miserable little compromise". In addition, the hatred of the Liberal Democrats for joining the coalition just a year earlier meant that their campaign in favour of AV had the opposite effect. If the campaign for PR is prominent on the agenda of one or more of the 'protest parties', it can become a popular demand. It is important that a new workers' party campaigns on this issue. The capitalist class will do all they can to resist it.

45. Thirty years ago a big section of the capitalist class in Britain were enthusiastic for PR. Seeing that the Labour Party had swung to the left, they saw it as means to prevent a radical Labour Party forming a majority government. At that stage, we correctly opposed PR. The transformation of the Labour Party into a capitalist party has changed the situation, both for us and the capitalist class. There is no doubt that the capitalist class will resist for as long as possible any change in the electoral system, fearing correctly it will speed up the fragmentation of politics already underway and make it easier for socialists, including ourselves, to win seats. Of course, at a certain point the discrediting of the current system can go so far that the capitalists have no choice but to reform the electoral system, as was the case with the 'Mani Pulite' (Clean Hands) reforms in Italy (although this was moving from PR to a more majoritarian system). While campaigning for a change in the electoral system is an important aspect of our programme, it would be wrong to give any impression that the first past the post system is an insurmountable barrier to electoral gains by socialists. After all, Kshama Sawant was elected in Seattle under first past the post and, historically, the early Labour Party became a mass force despite Britain's electoral system. On the basis of the struggles that are coming, the same will be possible for a new mass party of the working class.