One of the biggest challenges of democracy is its ability or inability to make difficult decisions. Turkeys rarely vote for Christmas yet it is clear that there is an increasing number of difficult decisions that lie ahead, both for the country and globally. Issues such as how will we pay for an ageing population and making the shift away from fossil fuels are going to require difficult and potentially unpopular decisions.
Unpopular doesn’t sit well with the democratic process. Requiring a majority means that it is much easier to make popular decisions than unpopular. Obviously, this is the basis of populism and we have seen recently how decisions have been made in the guise of being popular rather than necessary. Take the reduction in fuel duty for example. Taking 5p off the price at the pumps was lost in the general rise in the price of fuel, didn’t help those at the lower rungs of society and flew in the face of our need to move away from a dependency on oil. The Chancellor made the decision to appear popular and grab the headlines.
The archaic first past the post system still in use in this country makes the situation worse. Governments get elected by promoting attractive policies to the electorate. For attractive, read popular. To stay in power they need to continue to deliver popular things. When the government eventually has to do something unpopular it gives the opposition the opportunity to rail against it and threaten to reverse it when given the chance. This only adds to the pressure to deliver only popular policy.
I have heard it said that at times like this we need a benign dictator, someone who does the right thing however popular it is. I don’t agree, such a person does not exist, all dictators, however well intentioned at the start, become paranoid and corrupt. What we need is a system that allows a wide range of opinions to be involved in decision making and a broad church of people to be responsible for setting laws. First past the post can never deliver this whilst proportional representation could. Difficult decisions need consensus politics, something we are sorely lacking in this country.
We need proportional representation so that the government can make the difficult decisions that this country needs, however unpopular.