Another election, another disappointing showing by the LibDems, another round of calls for fiddling with the system. I can understand the reasoning that lots of votes should translate into lots of seats. It sounds so plausible, so self-evident. But is it?
I’m not so sure. Suppose, albeit an unlikely prospect, that in 100 out of our 650 constituencies the local candidates for a given party achieve some local feat of such overwhelming popularity that they garner every single vote in a general election. And suppose further that in the remaining 550 constituencies, many recounts later, that the winning candidates from a variety of parties all achieve their success by a mere handful of votes. In such a set of circumstances, would the absolute numbers of votes won by by the party with those startlingly successful candidates really entitle them to run roughshod over the more evenly distributed votes in the much larger number of marginal constituencies? Personally, I can’t see why that would be either just or logical. The “problem” with first past the post is simply the problem of distribution of support. And the only problem that confronts the LibDems is that they are not capable in a sufficient number of constituencies of persuading enough electors to support them. But isn’t that an inevitable, and entirely proper, problem confronting any national party? Isn’t it in fact the whole point of the democratic exercise?
What is stopping the LibDems from achieving majorities in a greater number of constituencies? Simply, and brutally, it’s the fact that they’re not popular enough, not persuasive enough. In what way do other parties have an unfair advantage? They have to engage in exactly the same process. They have to persuade a majority of voters in a given place to vote for their candidate. At the moment they happen to be a lot better at it than the LibDems. What’s unfair about that? It’s no argument to say that voting is “tribal”, whatever that’s supposed to mean. If it means anything, it simply means that voters who have interests in common often live in a shared geographical space. And often it’s that very fact that gives them the common interests in the first place. To object to that is really to examine the electorate and to find them wanting. The party was good, but the electorate were rubbish. Very persuasive.
The success of the Greens shows what can be achieved if you simply throw all your resources into one place. Maybe the LibDems should concentrate scarce resources and stop pretending that they can get their message across to the entire country, which it is very evident that they can’t. I have nothing against the LibDems, and have a lot of time for many of their policies, but I don’t buy their hard-done-by sales pitch. The objective in a parliamentary democracy is to persuade a succession of majorities to support you. That applies to every party, neither more nor less. That does not make the votes of those who voted for the unsuccessful candidates “wasted”. It makes them unsuccessful. Sorry, but you backed the loser. As a voter you can try backing the winner next time. As a party you can try to persuade more voters to support you so that next time your candidate is the winner. That’s democracy, folks. To say that the unsuccessful votes are wasted votes, and that the voters in question were robbed, is to say that the losing players in a football match might as well not have bothered to turn up, as their playing was wasted. The losing team might feel that “they was robbed”, but actually they just lost. I’d get over it, if I were you.