Britain’s Democracy Is Broken and In Need of Serious Reform

I have always believed, perhaps naively, that in a democracy, if a system is shown to be manifestly unjust and unfair, then those who have the power to address the problem will respond positively. Action will then follow to address the grievance. Alas, this often is not the case.

Take the case of reforming the “first-past-the-post” electoral system in Britain. The change to some form of proportional representation has been argued about for decades. I remember the Jenkins’ commission, chaired by Roy Jenkins, one of four senior Labour politicians dubbed the “gang of four”, who left the party in 1981 to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP). In 1988 the SDP merged with the Liberal Party to form today’s Liberal Democrats.

The Jenkins’ commission was set up in December 1997 and reported in September 1998. It suggested the alternative vote top-up system. Nothing much happened until the alternative vote referendum in May 2011. Holding the referendum was insisted upon by the Liberal Democrats as part of the coalition agreement with the Conservatives. It was rejected by the electorate on a 42% turnout. I believe part of the rejection was a punishment to the Liberal Democrats for entering a coalition with the Tories, and going back on their promise not to raise university tuition fees. Additionally, the campaign was badly organised, described by political scientist Ian McLean as “bad-tempered and ill-informed public debate”.


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