19 August 2010

A Question for Majority Government Supporters

The supporters of retaining First Past The Post all seem to be supporters of majority government - where only one party is in control of the government and makes all the decisions that face the country. One of their main arguments against changing away from FPTP is that it would increase the chance of coalition governments - where several parties work together, compromise and moderate each other in the national interest.

I have a question for the Conservative and Labour politicians, members, activists and supporters who wish to retain majority government. Why do you want to guarantee that your main political rivals - whose values you oppose - are guaranteed to have periods of unfettered power over the country?

Because this is what supporting majority government guarantees. The option of (a small fraction of) the electorate to kick out unpopular majority governments and replace them with another will inevitably mean at times kicking out your party and installing your rival.

The effect of this means that Labour FPTP supporters are saying that it was right that Thatcher got unmoderated control of the UK in 1979, and Tory FPTP supporters are saying it was right that Blair got unrestrained power in 1997.

And if you don't support that, yet still support majority government? That must mean you want your party to have power over the country forever. That's not democracy, that's dictatorship.


Mike said...

I'll tell you why I don't like coalition governments-

A party aiming to enter government as party of a coalition has both heightened incentives to lie to the electorate and a way to hide that they lied.

Let's look at this scenario-

Party A wants no early cuts and referendum on AV and it aiming for a majority.
Party B wants early cuts and no referendum on AV and is aiming for a majority.
Party C wants early cuts and a referendum on AV, and is aiming for coalition.

The only way that Party C can get both of its policies is to lie about one- so it campaigns on a stance of no early cuts and a referendum on AV.

It's a hung parliament. In discussions, Party C tells Party B that they will give up "no early cuts" in exchange for a referendum on AV. Party B will accept because they fear pushing Party C to Party A and so getting nothing.

So Party C gets both of its policies. The electorate don't know that they voted for a party that wanted early cuts, and as long as the negotiators of Party C keep their mouth shut the electorate need never know, they can pretend to have campaigned honestly and only later changed their mind.

In systems with all parties aiming at coalitions, manifestos will be drawn up with an eye to playing mind games with the other parties, not what the party actually intends, any promises can be safely discarded by letting the other side bargain you out of them.

I agree with your criticisms of FPTP and majority governments, I just think the alternative is much worse. The electorate would speak and the parties of coalition would get to rearranging the letters as they like, in private.

Duncan Stott said...

An interesting hypothetical(!) situation, Mike.

Party C isn't "aiming for coalition". It is aiming for as much power as it can get, just like Parties A and B. Realistically that might mean a coalition, but that doesn't mean it is what it ultimately wants. With an electoral system that makes coalition governments highly likely, no party is realistically going to get a majority, but it still wants as much power as possible.

Party C campaigned on exactly the same ticket as Party A: no early cuts and referendum on AV. If a A/C coalition was possible once the results were in, it would be expected that they would go into coalition with each other. So Party C's strategy is risky. If Party C builds up a reputation of reneging on its promises, it would get punished by the electorate.

Majority government isn't without these problems too. Lets say early cuts are highly unpalatable to the electorate. Party B therefore campaigns on a stance of no early cuts, even though it secretly wants them. They get a majority, then start cutting early. This happens all the time under our current system.

Adam said...

Yes, what's so "stable" about switching between two ideologically opposed parties every few years?