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Those of Faith Should Think about Voting Reform

March 10, 2017

Christians try to engage with government over a number of public issues, but must often be frustrated by dumb government decisions.

On its website the Joint Public Issues Team (formed by several non established Christian churches) has posted a document entitled, “Faith in Politics: Preparing Churches for The General Election 2015”

In the section ‘Constitution and Democracy’, there is one significant omission, namely any mention of reform of the House of Commons or the way in which MPs are elected. I find this odd as it is the dominant chamber and is the body that gives the Prime Minister her enormous power. The authors appear to have assumed that now most MPs have adopted the ‘settled view’ that the existing First Past the Post ,(FPTP) voting system be retained, reform was off the agenda. I argue that this is too timid a view. Of course the document was written before an election in which the relative numbers of MPs from each party elected differed widely from the relative numbers of votes cast, but it could do with updating in view of renewed interest in voting reform. A Conservative government was elected with just 37% of the vote or just under 25% of those who could have voted. But it is not just that most of us did not want them, but also that under FPTP party loyalty ensures that there is virtually no check on the Prime Minister’s power.

As Lord Acton said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Under our system the temptations are almost irresistible. The effects on the quality of government are:

  • Those in power make stupid mistakes through not looking at the evidence,

  • They use their position to benefit themselves, their friends, or their donors, and

  • They bend the truth to avoid disclosing bad news on the grounds that they are the best people to run the country and thus must on to power.

The best remedy is not to try to identify and punish the transgressors but to lessen the temptations. I think this something that Christians and those of other faiths should argue for. I believe that the adoption of the Single Transferable Vote system for electing MPs would help in this. This is the system that the Church of England has used in its synod elections some the 1920s. In a booklet entitled ‘An Ethical Case for Electoral Reform: A Christian Approach’, retired bishop Colin Buchanan expresses the wish that the C of E ‘preach what it practises’. I have written to Lambeth Palace suggesting that at least parishes be encouraged to discuss the matter but nothing has resulted from this. Perhaps the non established churches can afford to be braver.

I believe those of faith need to take a lead because most of those currently interested in politics have allegiance to some political party which gets in the way of radical thinking about reform. Polls indicate that most people support a fairer voting system but need motivating to do something about it.

For more information on voting reform refer to:

http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/

https://www.makevotesmatter.org.uk/

https://stvact.wordpress.com/

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