Friday, 23 January 2015

Leadership Debate and the Smaller Parties

I was just listening to BBC 5 Live getting in a tizz about the prospect of leadership debates with so many party leaders expected to take part: seven at the current count, with the prospect of the DUP joining in as well.

Although the Dutch approach of a series of one-to-one debates, drawn by lot, does have merit, I think there is a more appropriate way forward for the current UK situation.  A series of regional debates.

First of all, formal debates take place, involving those parties that are represented either at Westminster or in the regional parliamentary body: SNP & Greens for Scotland, Plaid Cymru for Wales and none of the mainland parties (apart from the Greens maybe?) in Northern Ireland.  UKIP would be therefore limited to England only, which is a fair reflection of current representation.  Owing to the wide availability of modern media (internet or digital television and radio for example), it should be made easy for those who have an interest outside the respective region to tune-in and follow these debates.

This isn’t the end of it though.  Instead of then having an eight-way debate across the entire United Kingdom, as an finale why not have a Question Time-style format with all the party leaders?  This style of questioning is far more suitable for a large group holding a variety of view points.

Much has been written about the rise of smaller parties.  One of the reasons particular to the UK is that the first-past-the-post system is designed to funnel power towards two large opposing parties: the Conservatives or Labour.  Those who express dissatisfaction with coalition politics ought to remember that the large parties are in themselves coalitions, representing a wide range of views, often in direct conflict with each other.  Labour, for example, has a large section of their party divided by the future of Trident and as for the Tories and Europe, well, need I say more?

As people seek to organise around common views and opinions closer to their own, we are facing the partial dismantling of the larger parties.  In terms of democracy, this is no bad thing.  Instead of coalitions being a matter of internal discussion and debate inside large over-arching coalition parties, why should it not be a matter of public debate and discussion as governments are formed?  The biggest issue preventing it of course is that we do not have a Westminster voting system that allows for such an approach.

As for those who claim that the two-party system blocks the rise of extremism, have a look around.  Does it really feel that way to you?  The suppression of representation within the two largest parties has led to the poisoning of the body-politic as a whole and the widespread disillusionment now felt by many when it comes to mainstream politics.  The supporters of first-past-the-post are still plugging their finger in the dyke without realising that all around them that the levees have already burst.