And they are right.
So concluded the Power Inquiry in a report sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Trust, prepared with the help of more than 1,500 public submissions, and released on 27 Feb.
The report is about Britain, but with suitable changes to country-specific references, its fundamental conclusions apply
just as much even more to America.
The report… concludes that a two-party political system moulded in the early 20th century was out of kilter with a “far more complex” country. The inquiry says that there is a “very widespread sense that citizens feel their views and interests are not taken sufficiently into account”.
Actually, the two-party system–and criticisms of it–are far older than the earlier twentieth century, even if the identity of one of the two major parties indeed changed early in the 20th century. Critiques of bipartism and FPTP date at least as far back as the still very relevant writings of Henry Droop, from 1869.
[The Power Inquiry] delivers a damning verdict on the first-past-the-post voting system and calls for a “more responsive” electoral system such as that offered by the single transferable vote…
“A system which reduced the security of safe seats and thus required all parties and candidates to campaign vigorously could prevent some of the [recent] surges of support for the British National Party.”
Of course, that reference to the BNP, ironically, shows how much healthier British electoral competition is, compared to American. Disaffected British voters have parties like the BNP as outlets in many constituencies, whereas similar expressions in the US are highly localized, such as ‘Minuteman’ James Gilchrist’s 25% in a special congressional election, or episodic, such as the period eruptions of what I have called “the radical middle,” but which always become “domesticated” by the two-party system and plurality voting.
The Power Inquiry also warns that “The executive in Britain is now more powerful than it probably has been since the time of Walpole.”
Its recommendations include many items other than electoral reform–e.g. lowering the voting age to 16, more participatory lawmaking (including initiatives), and caps on campaign donations. Also upper-house reform, yet another idea we could use.
The Power Inquiry report is very comprehensive and could have far-reaching impact.
Both main political parties are understood to be sympathetic to the inquiry’s findings…
Mr [Gordon] Brown [Prime Minister Tony Blair's likely successor] believes that such a radical programme could become a “dividing line” with the Conservatives.
If that is accurate, and both parties would find themselves competing over who is the better reformer, reform is likely to happen.
Will we Americans ever see the two parties both disposed towards reforms to close our democracy deficit, and competing over who can deliver? I am not holding my breath, but in the meantime, I will continue to support budding movements like the California Citzens Assembly and National Popular Vote, while watching the process unfold across the Atlantic.
All of the above quotes (emphasis added), except the last two, are from Nigel Morris, “Bleak View of the Gulf Between People and Government,” The Independent, 27 February, 2006. The Independent’s web site requires a fee, hence no link. (I am using Lexis Nexis to access the story.) The other two are from Greg Hurst, “Brown backs scheme to engage lost voters with more power,” The Times of London, 27 Feb. (also accessed via Lexis Nexis).
Hat tip, Make My Vote Count.