Of course I am interested in the UK election which is going on next door. It turns out that UK citizens like me and Dot can vote for 15 years after we were last resident in the UK, which takes us up to 2021. I arranged a postal ballot and have cast my vote already for Ming the Magnificent, though I doubt it will be needed in North East Fife.
(aside: My one reservation about him is that he doesn’t live in the constituency. There were only five candidates on the ballot (Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dem, Scottish Nationalist, and UK Independence Party), and only the UKIP candidate actually lived in the constituency. But maybe this is just a case of the pot calling the kettle black. How can I complain about my representative’s ties to the locality when I am absent myself. It is a little bit odd that for 15 years I will have an admittedly very slight influence in the electoral fortunes of somewhere I only lived for two and a half years. Perhaps there should be a special MP for UK citizens overseas. Ditto for NZ)
I’m in favour of a switch to a system of proportional representation, but I do not think that the current First Past the Post (FPP) system is unfair in any significant sense. Rather, the problem as I see it is a lack of match between what people think they’re voting for and what the system expects them to be voting for. The FPP system assumes that people are choosing a person to represent them in parliament, a person who WILL represent them even if the successful candidate is not someone they chose and who doesn’t resemble them very closely. But voters nowadays don’t share those assumptions. They think they’re voting for who should be the next government—voting, as it were, for their PM rather than their MP. When we hear a statistic like X% of the population voted for party Y and are not represented in parliament, or not proportionately represented because party Y does not have X% of the seats, we’re already rejecting the assumptions underlying the FPP model. From an FPP perspective, people don’t support parties, they support candidates and the people are represented by whoever won the seat. They are represented by someone who doesn’t resemble them.
I think it is quite confusing that the word ‘representation’ has a couple of loosely related senses and I suspect that people aren’t always clear about which sense they mean.
Representation 1: You representative is your advocate or proxy, the one who will present your interests in the national parliament.
Representation 2: Resemblance. A good true or accurate representation is one that shares the qualities of what it represents; like a painting which is dark where what it represents is dark and light where it is light and so on.
Clearly, one can be well-represented by someone who does not resemble one very closely at all. For example, a penniless drug-addict could be well represented by a court appointed lawyer who is a model of bourgeois respectability. Presumably, it is better for the drug addict not to be represented in this sense by another drug addict. An election under FPP gives people some influence over who will be their representative in the advocacy sense, without any consideration for whether that person represents them in the second sense. And it would be impossible for one person to represent everyone in the second sense because people are too different.
But I’m sure that most people believe that they will get better advocacy from someone who is like them in significant respects. On the whole, we think that someone who represents us in the second sense will do a better job of representing us in the first sense. I think this, but more from gut feeling than studied fact. It is an empirical question. Is it true?
Given that people want parliament to resemble the population, it would be a good thing if some form of proportional representation could be introduced, for you would think that people’s political beliefs are at least as relevant as their race or sex or religion for the determining the make up of parliament.