It seems that the prevailing post-Election reaction has been one of anger. The new Government is barely a week old and already people are demanding “change.” You don’t have to be subjected to the incessant cries on Facebook to know that the Conservatives only got 37% of the vote and that the seats in Parliament are not representative of votes. But these incontestable facts are being interpreted in very irrational ways.
Anti-austerity groups are forming under the premise that 63% of the electorate did not vote for “Tory Cuts.” Yet this interpretation conveniently forgets that the anti-Tory vote was split between all of the other parties, many of which are incompatible with the others. Supporters of the Greens and UKIP are both anti-Tory, but that does not mean that they are a unified force. Both sets of supporters would in fact be angrier if the other had more power in government.
Let’s focus just on austerity for a moment. A glance at the manifestos reveals that UKIP wanted to cut public spending aggressively, with the Lib Dems were also committed to cuts – though not to the same extent as the Conservatives. When we put aside Labour, who were committed to cutting public spending but offsetting it with higher taxation, we see that these parties still secured 57.4% of the total vote.
Yet protest groups are continuing to place all non-Tory voters together as one homogeneous opposition in order to advance their cause. Beyond austerity, it is a false argument to say that because most of the electorate voted against the Tories then the result is undemocratic and that we therefore need the #ToriesOutNow.
We must not forget the dangers of blanketing opposition in political contexts. In revolts and revolutions across the world, most notably in the Arab Spring, opposition groups coalesced into a sole entity, a unity against the government. Yet after the regimes were torn down, the protesters realised that they did not share the same vision for the future of the country.
Returning to the UK, it is worth remembering that not everyone who wants change agrees on what that change should be. The Tories won because more of the population supported them than any other party. Was it over half the vote? Not even close. Yet they won because everyone else disagreed on their visions for the country and so voted for several distinct and often diametrically-opposed groups. 37% is not a lot, but it was more than any other party achieved, and that’s the reality of the victory.
This argument quickly segues into the wider Voting System debate. Yes, a lot of people want to remove it for valid reasons, and some want to remove it because they lost the election. But what happens after we remove FPTP? Are we agreed on its replacement? Do we want full PR? Do we want to maintain a MP-Constituency link? These are questions that need addressing, and zealously sharing pie charts and voting statistics does nothing to help that.
The 2011 referendum on using the Alternative Vote system returned a 68% No vote. Turnout was only 42%. Yet now commentators on the Right are irrationally interpreting that result. The No vote was not a vote for FPTP, those who voted against AV could have supported a number of different alternatives and they were only united by their dislike of AV. That referendum proved the difficulty of proposing an actual solution.
Currently, PR is being championed as the answer to our political woes. I would treat any such statement with immediate suspicion but there does need to be public discussion about what system could serve the needs of our electorate best. It is conceivable that the result of that discussion is the realisation that FPTP is the best of a bad bunch. Or we could find consensus on another system.
The point here is that in shunning debate and simply shouting for change we are brought no closer to agreeing on a viable alternative. Without an agreed solution, there is no guarantee that future changes will actually be for the better.
So if you are angry about the election, don’t attack or generalise those who voted for the Conservatives. The mathematical reality is that more people supported their party than yours, and your opinion carries no more weight than their vote. If you want change, then explain to everyone what change you would like to see. Help people visualise your plan for change and you may find that a number of people support it. Or you may find that people don’t. But either way that’s fine because, ultimately, that’s politics.