Neil Kinnock famously (and anecdotally; he hotly denies it) described Charter 88 as a bunch of “whingers and wankers.” It’s good to see that the shoe is now on the other foot, as demonstrated by this whine by Daniel Kawczinyski.
What is amusing about this article is that it is wrong in almost every single important respect. To start with, he deplores closed lists. But he then goes on to exhort first past the post which is, erm, a closed list system. If he wants accountability, then why not advocate a system which encourages it, i.e. STV?
Secondly, he claims that voters in London were confused. Well maybe, but the vast majority of them managed to vote okay. Indeed, compare the number of rejected votes for the Mayoral election (1.67%) and the London-wide list (1.69%) with the first past the post constituency election (1.95%). It would appear that the system that caused voters the greatest confusion was the one Kawczynski is advocating!
He refers to Scotland’s elections debacle last year, yet fails to mention that the lessons of that incident have already been learnt – hence the low ballot spoilage. He claims that “the overwhelming will of the people of London was to get rid of Ken Livingstone and elect a Conservative mayor”. If that is the case, why didn’t they vote that way? Boris Johnson got 43% of the vote in first preferences – a plurality to be sure but well short of a majority. He fails to explain how the preferential system got in the way; all it did was illustrate that of the voters who preferred a candidate other than Livingstone or Johnson, more of them (not not that many more of them) preferred the former over the latter. And he claims that is in some way undemocratic. Inconvenient for an ideologue like him maybe, but undemocratic?
He then drops this clanger:
“The fact that Brian Paddick, Sian Berry and Ken Livingstone did well on second preferences only goes to show the bias which is built into the system in favour of left wing parties, parties which, in the case of the Lib Dems and the Greens were not well supported by peopleâ€™s first choice.”
Uh? How does this show the system is biased? Paddick and Berry could have carved up the second preference votes between them and it still wouldn’t have got either of them elected as Mayor. The system doesn’t care if you count the number of second preference votes for candidates who failed to come first or second or not. The system only considered those cast for Livingstone and Johnson.
In fact, this demonstrates almost the exact opposite: generally the public are left-inclined but the system made no allowance for that.
Not all of Kawczynskis are completely invalid, but his prescription certainly is. To claim that first past the post is a tool for engagement, when in fact it guarantees that come election time the parties will ignore that vast majority of voters is simply ridiculous. He knows this. He knows how it leads to a fixation on swing voters.
It is ironic that he bemoans that PR systems don’t allow for by-elections while FPTP not only does but allows for greater accountability. Bob Neill didn’t stand down and make way for a by-election for his Assembly seat in 2006, and yet in Bromley and Bexley the Tories had an increased majority. I’m sure that numerous Tories might like to think that was solely down to James Cleverley’s hard work, but we all know it had more to do with the Mayoral election. Where is this magical accountability that Kawczynski has been telling us about?
We certainly could make things more democratic. If we had open lists or, better yet, STV which would allow voters to rank candidates in order of preference rather than purely on party lines, then accountability would increase. In doing so we could also cut down the numbers of ballot papers to two. We could hold the Assembly elections on a different day, possibly on the same day as the London council elections so that they aren’t completely overshadowed by the Mayoral election.
Yet somehow I suspect that accountability is the last thing that Kawczynski wants. He just wants the system that he feels suits his brand of rightwingery, knowing that under any system of fair votes the majority would make his life much more difficult.
At least not all rightwing ideologues believe that the only recourse is to steal elections rather than compete in them. Douglas Carswell, no wet he, has been advocating multi-member constituencies for a while now. It seems that the days of the Kawczynski Tory sense of entitlement may be numbered.