FPTP change; stuck in a snowdrift?


Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1565)

The artistry and detail in Peter Brueghel’s masterpiece ‘Hunters in the Snow’ is enough to take your breath away. But the story it depicts is equally intriguing. A group of hunters cross the foreground, heads bowed returning with a very slim catch. Even their line of dogs looks depressed, stooped over with snouts almost dragging the snow.

In the middle ground, though, all the folk are out on the frozen village pond clearly having a great time playing winter games. They seem separate from the harsh reality of the environment, not wanting to acknowledge that they might become very unfortunate victims of it quite soon.

Probably we can all think of examples in modern life where we’ve seen this dynamic at play. 5.5.5 & Counting cannot help wondering whether the political parties in this country who want and need FPTP elections replaced are a bit like the villagers. Take Nigel Farage whose UKIP party laughably gained one seat on the back of nearly 4m votes in 2015. What could possibly be more urgent – more of a priority – than getting the ball rolling for a Brexit-like campaign for electoral reform? Yet off he went to the US to give valuable time and resource to, of all people, Donald Trump.

Now we have a lot of time for the Green Party but what was the point of Caroline Lucas a little while ago seeking a pact with Labour, a party that has never mentioned electoral reform in a manifesto. We have heard no more since. The Greens suffered under FPTP too gaining one seat with just under one million votes. They might be trying to send a strategically placed curling stone down the rink but look again at history. Mainstream interests invariably have the power to swallow up or clear out whatever it suits them to label a marginal interest and without ultimately conceding anything of much worth at all.

The Lib-Dems are a bit of a mystery. We know that as willing capitulators to the no-hope 2011 AV referendum and their subsequent electoral collapse, they must be feeling a little reserved and glum about where to go next. Could they ever admit that had they organised and led a concerted, focussed campaign on an appropriate timeline to get the messages over and over, a bit like Brexit did, the outcome could have been much different. Once, they would naturally have been at the head of an electoral reform campaign but now we think the leadership focus would have to be elsewhere.

The integrity and consistency of Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP is thus far quite impressive. The one smaller party that did benefit from the FPTP system but still with a manifesto commitment to electoral reform because it is fair to voters. Sustain that and it’s the best and most powerful position of principle to work from. Continual media obsession with a ‘will she/won’t she?’ on a second independence referendum hogs all the attention on politics north of the border. But Sturgeon doesn’t need propping up by FPTP, independent Scotland or not. We think she’d say that if Labour returns 25%, that should translate to something like 25% representation in Holyrood, Westminster or wherever. Simple!

Rabbits aren’t going to come running out of their cosy warrens into the waiting nets of hunters and there will be sports and fun fairs again on a frozen Thames before turkeys in their hundreds of safe seats in England vote for Christmas. The Other parties must become acutely aware that nothing less than a professionally organised campaign in a Brexit format – a direct and sustained campaign without the lies and deceptions that targets the jugular of the political establishment – is going to shift anything.

The two-party system is being kept artificially afloat thanks to FPTP. Voters need to be given a stake in electoral reform and the critical question at this moment is not a campaign how, why, who, where? It’s when and what on earth is the delay all about? The snow melts away but winter soon comes round again to bite painfully with its harsh reality.