Democracy requires a weak government to prevent prime ministerial dictatorship
For most of my life I have been opposed to proportional representation. I had been swayed by my politics tutor as a student: PR leads to weak governments and the people need a strong government.
That may have been true in the past. It is not true today. Years ago, politicians were basically good. Today, politicians are basically bad. The art of lobbying has become an efficient science; and vocational politicians have been replaced by money-worshipping, expenses-fiddling, favour-selling careerists.
It is possible to get very rich through a career in politics, but only if you achieve high office. Backbenchers are poorly paid. The higher the office, the greater the rewards – so all backbenchers aspire to ministerial positions. This is basically achieved by brown-nosing the PM and Cabinet; and the PM to stay in the Cabinet.
The result is inescapable: we do not have government by Parliament, nor even government by Cabinet: we have government by the Prime Minister. And this is precisely where and why we do not need a strong government. A strong government simply means that the Prime Minister is free and able to do whatever he wishes.
Democracy now needs a weak government. But the first past the post electoral system used in the UK makes it very difficult for any more than two parties to gain the number of parliamentary seats that reflects the number of national votes – and almost impossible for fourth and fifth and sixth parties to get any seats at all.
Normally we get a left-of-centre Labour government or a right-of-centre Conservative government with very little difference between the two and no chance of new ideas like environmental protection (Greens) or European secession (UKIP) or internet freedom (Pirate Party) being seriously heard.
Instead we get the whim of the PM steam-rollering the wishes of the lobbyists through the Conservabour party. A case in point is the Communications Data Bill – a bill that is wanted by the copyright holders and the intelligence agencies but just about nobody else.
The current government is a coalition; but only just. That coalition has forced the prime minister to think again about the Bill (he still wants it, and he’ll still get it, of course). But that is precisely why we need multi-party coalition governments – to stop the steamroller and make the prime minister horse trade over his (or her) more ridiculous and draconian wishes.
The irony is that weak governments make for strong democracy – and we’ll only get that in the UK with proportional representation.