Our democracy is broken

ballot box

We have been through a pretty depressing general election for those interested in democratic debate, whatever your political allegiance.

Around 34% of the electorate didn’t vote – a voting bloc just a couple of percentage points short of the winning Conservative vote. Not only do a third of the electorate not vote but this group is disproportionately made up of the poorer and younger groups in our society. Changes in voter registration in the build up to the election accelerated this bias. You can argue that it is people’s own fault if they don’t vote, but a political contest for the country’s future which fails to connect with one in three potential voters does not suggest a political system in rude health.

Last year’s Scottish Independence referendum showed that it is still possible to engage a large majority of the electorate in an informed and passionate political discussion. The issues at stake in the 2015 general election were arguably no less critical, and yet large numbers of potential voters remained resolutely uninvolved.

A key factor in the public’s disillusion with our political system is our ludicrously unrepresentative voting system. You do not need to be a fan of UKIP to recognise the manifest unfairness of a party polling nearly 4m votes and returning only 1 MP. In addition,

the quality of the debate in the weeks leading up to May 7th made watching paint dry look an attractive alternative. The pre-election period was dominated by politicians talking in bland soundbites, more concerned with avoiding mistakes than connecting with the electorate. The debate focused on an ever-narrowing range of ‘legitimate’ topics, and was further distorted by the massive disparity in the funding of political parties and a mass media which is unrepresentative of public opinion.

The 2015 election could be the launch pad to gather support from across the political spectrum for a major change in our political system, based on the underlying principle of trusting the electorate’s ability to make decisions for our country if they are offered genuine and relevant choices and a system where votes really do count. If, on the other hand, your interests are served quite nicely by the current system there is a lot to be said for the status quo and encouraging large numbers of the electorate to remain disillusioned and apathetic….

This article was first published in the Sheffield Star 19th May 2015