Media and FPTP

The mainstream media community, to use a term we hope it can identify with, gives the impression that the attitudes, manners, values and beliefs of the people you tune in to watch or listen to are the same as yours. We are meant to think these personalities – the Faces of the Media – are just like us.

Clarkson Punch

Join the team, Jeremy. We need big hitters in the electoral reform movement.

Yet most of the stream of media presenters and entertainers broadcasting to you are different in one very important respect. Compared to us Average Joes, they are high earners. It might knock you back a bit if you didn’t know the figure Jeremy Clarkson is said to be worth annually is £14m! (in his pre-punch career, anyway; it’s probably more now).

But what about the everyday presenters, reporters, commentators, pundits, soap actors, TV chefs and so on…? We talk about the 1% in this country as holding extraordinary personal wealth. A decent number of high-profile Face of the Media personalities, including Clarkson of course, will fall comfortably into the 1% bracket. And those who don’t are still going to be well up there near the top and probably in the 2-5% wealthiest people in the country.

We are only stating facts. If that’s the rate for a media job and you can land one, whether on merit or, as often seems to be the case, through being a well connected name who’s developed an interest in something, so be it. So what should this matter to a site like 5.5.5 & Counting which wants electoral reform?

Well, day by day, we get our dose of media personalities who are trained well and paid well to do jobs that put over news, entertainment and information in an organised, prepared and choreographed way. They work to production agendas. And when it comes round every five years, there is a well tried and tested production agenda for the general election too. Continue reading

New Voters

This chart tells us something very significant.  Look at the first two segments. The number of people registered to vote  (black) has increased between 2001 and 2015 and the number of non-voters (grey) has decreased. So who are these extra people voting for?

Look at the third and fourth segments (Change m and Change %). There has been only a very small increase in the number of new votes for Labour and Tory (brown) whereas the much bigger share of the increase has gone to other parties (green). In fact, Change % shows us that other parties have increased their vote share by 38%.

You might be able to spot straightaway what the bad news is for our democracy. With the current electoral system, other parties do not get a corresponding increase in the number of seats in parliament. Nearly all new voters have therefore ended up being unrepresented in parliament.

Despite how the politicians, the media and all society’s general do-gooders encouraged stay-at-homes to get out and vote, it’s hard to see what good has been done. Millions have gone to polling booths to support new or alternative parties only to go through the motions of participating in a voting procedure that brought them no measurable benefit.

The only positive is that we can at least identify and count them in the vast numbers of spurned voters and with that evidence step up the case for electoral reform without delay.


2001 Chart

Looking at the charts in this section of 5.5.5 & Counting should soon show you that a very similar vote split has emerged in UK politics in the four elections since 2001. Start by taking a look at 2001: 2001 enlarged update Aug 2015 You may want to glance at how similar this is to the charts for 2005, 2010 and 2015.

More figures for 2001 are shown in this table. We have added an extra row to show the combined vote for Labour plus Tory. This reveals that together they attracted the support of only 43% of those entitled to vote. The non-voter group at 40.6% (18 million) nearly equalled the joint vote for our two largest political parties.

Yet neither one of these two parties ever has qualms over claiming the right to govern with an outright majority when they get the better of their rival. Getting the better of your rival in this context has come to mean polling the few more per-cent that boosts the triumphant one to a total of 10.5 to 11 million votes. In this instance, Labour crept back into Westminster to claim their outright majority in 2001 with the support of 10.73 million, less than one in four of the electorate. But we invite you to see how it actually gets worse next time round. If you’re of nervous disposition have something steadying to hand before you look in close detail at the analysis for 2005.

The national dynamic

An author of this site writes:

“I am a white, Caucasian, English man. But this unalterable fact of my birth and history is not about politics or pride. My view of nationality is like the ironic one taken by Tom Paine when writing more than two centuries ago. A pregnant Englishwoman could have sailed on the ferry to France or walked across Offa’s Dyke to Wales, delivered her baby and immediately returned home to raise the child in England. Would we have any problem identifying the child’s nationality when it grew up?  Would we listen to any objection to a claim of nationality simply because at birth the mother was passingly on foreign soil? Believe it or not, many people thought that it was the soil of the place of birth that gave real meaning to nationality and hence imposed a duty of patriotism.

man with pen and q mark

Does anyone really care?

Next, as for race, I recognise that no supernatural power selected me to be born into the relatively comfortable life of Western Europe to white parents. It was pure chance. I could just as well have been born in Asia, Africa or South America to Chinese, black or Hispanic ones. Or have been a child mortality. Or not have been born at all. So I don’t believe in anything fundamental to my life and maturation to an age which gives me the capacity to understand concepts like ‘nationality’ being down to where or into which race I was born.

I’ve lived in different parts of the country and arrived in late middle age without ever feeling very English. What really affects a person’s life are the cultural and social dynamics of the country or countries they’ve been raised in and live in. So those of England have dominated my life. Unfortunately, ‘Englishness’ has some quality or other that has always jarred with my outlook on the world. I seem not to have been able to find a very harmonious fit with the English perspective.

When you find yourself in a minority you look inward fearing the problem is something to do with you. My feeling of being semi-detached lacked any explanation until I read “I’m okay, you’re okay. Games People Play” by Eric Berne. I was well into my forties, encountering the subject of relationship dynamics for the first time. The book proved an extremely useful tool, helping me ‘deconstruct’ foggy confusion about not fitting in that had built up over long decades.

Berne breaks relationship dynamics down into three main actors or modes: Adult, Parent and Child. As you mature you need your parent less and less, your child slips into the past and the sort of dynamic you look for in your relationships is Adult:Adult. Parent:Child relationships are appropriate for parents and children but if adult relationships become contaminated, inappropriate Parent:Child dynamics can emerge between adults (as can Child:Child, Child:Adult and others).

Light started to dawn when I applied this Parent:Child model to the dynamics I was seeing in work, social, political and media contexts. Suddenly it started to make sense that the English find something very meaningful in Parent:Child dynamics. I now have the distinct feeling they even get a buzz out of being in or witnessing people or groups in Parent:Child mode.”

If there is some truth in what this author has written, we can turn it round and look from the other direction. In terms of sustaining the more mature Adult:Adult dynamic, we have a national weakness. Why should this be a matter that concerns 5.5.5 & Counting?

Unfortunately, it may be that our electoral system, first past the post (FPTP), contains very strong elements of Parent:Child dynamic. Anyone who analyses the statistics of our four elections between 2001 and 2015 can see within minutes that it’s unfair to voters. It can’t be right that a political party can get between 20 and 25% support of the electorate and then take power to govern the country outright. This could never happen in other Western European democracies because that party would only get its proportional share of power. It would then have to form agreements to work with other parties to get its policies passed. It would have to negotiate. In 2017, in the unusual circumstances of the snap ‘Brexit’ election, this has become the reality for the moment. The pattern was broken and the two parties got big increases in support. But ironically, neither got an overall majority and the largest party, Tory, is having to try and negotiate a working arrangement with a smaller party in true PR fashion.

There are two problems here though as far as the English dynamic we have been talking about is concerned. First, if the dominant dynamic is Parent:Child, FPTP fits very well with that. Parent:Child relationships aren’t meant to be fair. They’re based on the one telling the other what’s best for it and the other having to accept, fair or not. Second, if you haven’t earned an outright majority fairly and have to work with others to get your policies through, you need to be prepared for plenty of Adult:Adult dynamic. As has been argued above, there’s evidence that the English aren’t good at Adult:Adult.

To get round this, the biggest party could try adopting the powerful ‘Parent’ position and enforce the last word on everything. But either it won’t work because actually that power is not real or it could work sometimes but cause resentment among the partners. None of that is particularly good for trust, respect and relationship building.

Political parties in coalitions or working arrangements are never expected or required to negotiate away red-line policies. These are policies in their manifestos ranked high priority and they represent party principles and promises or can even be inseparable from the movement’s ‘raison d’etre’.

We saw how the Liberal-Democrats made a hash of this in the 2010-15 Coalition by breaking their promise on student tuition fees and throwing away their negotiating advantage on electoral reform with an ill-advised AV referendum. Their virtual wipe-out followed immediately in the 2015 election.

It is not difficult to predict the response of FPTP advocates. They will trot out all the familiar arguments about FPTP producing a decisive result, proportional representation being indecisive, leading to weak government, breaking the close link between the MP and the constituency and so on. Although it is easy to show with statistics or the design of proportional systems why such fears can be dealt with, the problem is that FPTP advocates hold all the aces. They are, by definition, going to be on the side of those who at any given time are in power virtue of being elected by the FPTP system. The familiar cliché is ‘Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas’.

Let’s put it a little differently: ‘We have the decision. You can’t do anything about it. You’ll have to accept you’re not getting electoral reform.’ In other words, classic Parent:Child! How can we – and anyone else who feels the time has come for reform – get over this enormous hurdle? A national Adult:Adult perspective on the issue still seems a long way off. If you wanted to wrestle with the challenge of an almost intractable problem, look no further. We need you to stop and contribute your ideas, ingenuity and determination to the blog. We don’t have all the answers. Please help.