In her acceptance speech, Heywood & Middleton’s new MP Elizabeth McInnes began by declaring that “people have given their backing to Ed Miliband’s plans” – to a raucous reception in the hall.
After looking at the above video of Ms. McInnes, British Gazette readers may well reflect that the use of the Greek bucolic poet Bion of Smyrna’s quotation in the article’s title is most apposite.
It is however directed at the unfortuante Ed Miliband and his coterie for despite her public declaration of loyalty towards “Unfortunate Ed” she is fully aware that she was not Ed’s choice.
Following the death of the sitting member, the MP Jim Dobbin, Labour attempted to parachute in a choice of outside candidates to what they viewed as a safe seat. These included former BBC presenter Miriam O’Reilly, Tameside doctor Kailash Chand and Basildon councillor – and main union candidate – Byron Taylor. These candidates were rejected by the local Labour Party in favour of Elizabeth McInnes who worked locally as a health worker and represented the Longholme ward on Rossendale council for Labour.
Given that Labour’s margin of victory over UKIP was 617 votes – 11,633 votes to UKIP’s 11,016; a swing of 17.65 per cent swing from Labour to UKIP – it is clear that had Miriam O’Reilly or Kailash Chand been selected as “Unfortunate Ed” wished, victory for John Bickley would have been more likely had he faced Miriam O’Reilly and virtually certain had he faced Kailash Chand.
So, how does this play out for UKIP?
Well as the British Gazette predicted, Mr Greg Shapps, the Tory Chairman’s reaction to Douglas Carswell’s and UKIP’s success in Claction has not been to challenge UKIP on its vision but to stress that a vote for UKIP is a vote for Labour.
Given Labour’s “success” in Heywood and Middleton the Reader may be forgiven into thinking that his argument is moot. It is however not.
British Gazette readers old enough to remember the then Liberal Party leader David Steel declaring to his party’s conference; “Go back to your constituencies, and prepare for government!” That he made this rash statement that was subsequently subject to ridicule was due to a string of stunning by election victories.
They may also remember the spectacle of Jeremy Thorpe selecting his Cabinet on TV following the Liberal party’s stunning success in the Sutton and Cheam by-election of 7th December 1972 – held after Conservative MP Richard Sharples was appointed Governor of Bermuda.
Thankfully, Nigel Farage has not held a Jeremy Thorpe style cabinet selection!
However, by elections should not be taken as predictors for General Elections.
What Heywood and Middleton demonstrates is the rotten and broken system of democracy we have in Britain today.
The First Past the Post system needs to be replaced. The Editor – a former Social Democrat – would prefer the Single Transferable Vote with seven multi-member constituencies. This however would give permanent coalition government and what is clear beyond peradventure is this: the British People do not like coalitions and like the clarity that the First Past the Post offers.
The First Past the Post system currently used in the U.K. fails as it cannot fairly deal with three or more parties. In the USA where they effectively have two parties – Democrats and Republicans – the First Past the Post system works – and works well. In fact, Americans call the system “the two party system”. This emphasises the fact that the First Past the Post can only work fairly when there are only two parties.
We suggest that the limitations inherent in the First Past the Post system be addressed by using the Second Ballot method of election.
The Second Ballot works as it is described. Voters go to the polls and vote for their preferred candidate. The candidate with the largest number of votes together with the candidate the second largest number of votes (the runner up) go into a second round (run off) election. The second round is in fact the First Past the Post but with only two candidates.
This would mean that British governments would very much carry on in a similar manner as before: that the Sovereign would call upon the leader of the largest party in the Commons to form a government. Such a government would have a clear majority in the Commons which would enable it to function as a coherent administration.
In addition to these proposals we suggest two “twists”:
The first “twist”: One of the problems in British Elections is low voter turnout. The Australian answer to this is compulsory voting. It works. Very much in the manner of the GATSO camera. Few motorists – save for those in foreign plated cars – will knowingly break the speed limit in front of a GATSO camera as they do not want a £60 fine and three penalty points. By the same reasoning, few Australians fail to turn up at the polls on Election Day as they do not want to pay a fine. However, we do not propose making it compulsory for British Electors to vote in all three elections (Revising Chamber + Commons 1st & 2nd rounds). Instead we propose that only the 2nd (final) round of the Commons elections be made compulsory. This would in fact help the political process as the minor parties would realise that with a small voter turnout in the first round elections would give their candidate a greater possibility of coming second and therefore going through to the run off. This in fact happened in France when the Front National candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen got through to the second round as a result of a low poll.
The second “twist”: this is connected with the first. Since the voter is required by law to cast a vote there MUST be an option made available to them if they do not wish to vote for either of the two “run off” candidates. Therefore there should be a “Neither of these” box – which we consider will very quickly become known as the “NOT box.” This of course throws up a possibility which must be considered and planned for – even though it may be considered unlikely: were the results in such an election to mean that the number of “NOTs” exceeded the number of votes cast for either one of the candidates (NOTs 1st; Candidate A, 2nd and Candidate B, 3rd) then neither run off candidate should be elected and a writ would have to be moved in the new parliament for a by-election – the “First Past the Post” to be used here – compulsory voting not to apply. Our preference would have been the Alternative Vote in these circumstances. However, following the comprehensive defeat of AV in the recent referendum, the Peoples wishes should be followed.
The above system offers clear advantages to the major two parties and the minor parties alike. It enables the continuation of majority government whilst at the same time opening up the very real possibilities of minority parties being elected.