7 progressive reforms to reboot British democracy

The UK political system is in dire need of reform. Here are seven changes that could improve our democracy.

1. Replacing FPTP with a proportional system

Britain’s archaic first-past-the-post voting system sticks out like a sore thumb beside modern European democracies. The system was designed for a by-gone age of two-party politics, and even then, the system could result in wrong-winner elections. Not only this, FPTP is inherently unfair as it discriminates against minor parties by subsidising support of the big two. In 2015, David Cameron’s Conservatives won a majority of the seats with just 37% of the vote. Compare that to UKIP, who won just one seat and 13% of the vote.

One of the main arguments against a change is that voters do not vote for parties - instead they vote for individuals and that each individual seat winner therefore gets a place in the House of Commons. There is a degree of logic to this, but it fails for two reasons. Firstly, elections are about the national picture. Local candidates play a part in determining how people vote, but the overwhelming factor is national party politics. Secondly, alternative systems can retain this element. For example, STV gives power to the voters, produces fairer electoral outcomes and lets voters support individual candidates. There are many different options for a change in voting system, but all reform proponents agree that FPTP is the worst of the lot.

2. Replacing the House of Lords

There is so much wrong with Britain’s upper-chamber. It is bloated to the extent that it is one of the largest legislative chambers in the world, and it is not in the slightest bit democratic. On top of that, the fact that there are still a significant number of hereditary peers is frankly an embarrassment to our so-called democracy.

But what’s the solution? Another elected chamber is one option – provided both have fair voting systems – but this would result in constant battles between the two. An alternative is the system used in Germany, which recognises individual parts of the UK and gives them power over UK-wide issues. With devolution now ingrained into British politics, this is an interesting solution to turn the Lords into something much better. Germany’s Bundesrat is made up of representatives from all sixteen states, with voting power varying slightly by population sizes. This is similar to the American Senate, where different states are recognised, but does so in a way that let’s sub-UK governments be heard.

3. A Written Constitution

The UK’s lack of a written codified constitution and reliance on precedence and tradition sets us apart from most of the rest of the world. Having a written constitution would set out clear rules regarding the powers of different levels of governments, the rights of British citizens, and most relevant for the current situation set out rules regarding referendums.

Referendums in the UK historically take place out of political necessity but look at Ireland. Amendments to the Irish constitution can only occur if voted for in a referendum. A written constitution that outlines such procedures like Ireland does will provide a much-needed framework for such democratic decisions while also protecting the rights of individuals and different levels of governance.

4. A Federal Britain

Federalism has long been called for in the UK, but little has been done to initiate it. The Liberal Democrats have long backed it while elements of Labour have shifted in that direction. A Federal Britain, in which powers are brought closer to the people, will loosen Westminster’s tight grip on the country and end the remnants of the one-size fits all approach from the time before devolution.

The main problem with this however, is England. Should England be regionalised, or should it remain one large entity within the framework of a federal Britain? That’s a question for a constitutional convention and a likely series of referendums.

Either way the people should have their say.

5. Improved Political Education

Education is the key to advancing individuals in society and advancing society itself.

Specifically, substantial, obligatory and non-biased political education is long overdue. If people are to be informed for elections, they need to understand how the system works, who the main political players are and the importance of voting in the first place.

The key to a healthy democracy is a knowledgeable population. Political education in schools is a much-needed solution to our ill democracy.

6. Automatic Voter Registration

One barrier to voting in the first place is the fact that individuals must register ahead of polling day. Generally, this is a simple procedure that takes a few minutes, however, that’s not the point. Individuals should have an automatic link with the political system via being able to vote from the get-go.

Automatic registration takes place in other countries, why not here?

Let’s make voting easy.

7. Compulsory Voting…For First-Time Voters

Many individuals, including myself, are very vary of making voting compulsory. The freedom not to vote is an important freedom and people should vote for the sake of it.

However, the proposal for first-time compulsory voting is a compromise that could set voters on a path to consistent engagement as there is strong evidence that voting is habitual, meaning that once individuals start they will continue to do so for the rest of their lives. Perhaps it would be worth piloting this to see its impact.

The proposal was suggested by centre-left think-tank IPPR in 2013 and is a valid option to boosting turnout. However, such a change would need to be accompanied by improved political education.

Democracy needs a reboot, let’s give it the medicine it needs.

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