One of the traditional objections to proportional representation electoral systems is that you don't know what you are getting when you vote, and so the sense in which the people rule is seriously attenuated. They do not and cannot control the compromises which the parties they vote for will inevitably make if they participate in the equally inevitable coalition government, the horsetrading and logrolling that are the price of enacting even a part of a party's programme under a proportional system.
Since these compromises are a significant, perhaps the most significant, factor in determining the eventual government's programme, their existence increases the distance between a party's ostensible programme at an election, with which voters engage, and its actual practice. The possibility of accountability, of a vote being connected to a particular political programme or even attitude, disappears in the fog of the smoky backrooms where the division of the spoils is conducted.
This situation is contrasted with the lack of such dubious and disenfranchising practices in a first-past-the-post system, where, because one party typically holds a majority in the legislature, there is no need for these mendacious bargains between various reluctant allies. A party receives a mandate from the voters, and then enacts it, without deviation, without dissembling, without deceit. Hardly. Contingencies arise. Priorities change. Events intrude. As a result, what is promised is rarely totally delivered.
The role of events in politics is not decisive here though, for a reasonable reply, one which reduces but retains the contrast, is that even in the absence of a programme, a particular ideology can be expected to guide the decisions of a government under a first-past-the-post system in a way that, because of the dispersal of power, it cannot in a proportional one. At least we might expect to predict fairly accurately how a single party would react to a particular event, whereas with a coalition, the possibilities multiply endlessly.
That points us directly towards the real weakness in the argument for first-past-the-post though. Under first-past-the-post, parties are coalitions, simply formed before, rather than after, the election. The risk of letting full-blown ideological opponents in by insisting on sharp distinction between you and your fellow-travellers is too great to make it worth standing up for specific, rather than relatively general, policy programmes. Think of the spectrum of opinion across all three of the main parties in Britain: it is hardly as many of those who voted for them, were they to form a government, would have their views perfectly represented, even allowing for the effects of events, over the course of that government.
Worse than that, the coalitions under first-past-the-post are even less accountable than those under a more proportional system. If voters disapprove of the way a particular group within a coalition has behaved, under a proportional system they can punish it directly at the polls the next time an election comes around, either by defecting to some existing group or by creating their own. In doing so, they do not run much risk of splitting the vote and thus letting in the devil's own, whoever that, for them, may be. Not so in a first-past-the-post system. Voters can only really punish the coalition as a whole. Either you vote for the person standing in your constituency, or not, and if you do, then it is counted as a vote for the coalition, and if not, as a vote against. Voters are left with the nuclear option. Some are willing to take it; I'm not, yet.
In the absence of a properly representative electoral system, what is needed is a way of effecting the distribution of power within the various coalitions. That is, after all, where the real power lies, with those who pick policies, who pick leaders. Unfortunately, the coalition with which I am particularly concerned has rather reduced its mechanisms of internal democracy under its current leader, making it somewhat difficult to remove him by conventional means. However, it has one rather obvious vulnerability which I propose to attempt to exploit.
The Labour Party is currently short of money. Indeed, this shortage of funds has been rather newsworthy recently. Of course, were it not haemorrhaging members who, through their dues and activism, reduce reliance on external sources of funding, one has to suspect this would not have happened on such a grand scale, which of course one would expect the party's heirarchy to be aware of. This link between the shortage of members and of money is the current leadership's vulnerability. Those on the left who wish to get rid of Blair need to exploit it.
This is what I propose doing. If a large enough group of people, in return for the removal of Blair, promised to either leave or join the Labour Party, that would presumably weigh heavily, if not with Blair and his coterie, other members of the parliamentary party who already see him as something of a liability. The problem with the party's declining membership thus far has been that it lacks focus and can be attributed to a variety of causes. If it is publicly and explicitly linked to one single demand, rather than a disparate, unarticulated set of dissatisfactions, then it carries a much greater weight. Collective action problems have given the party's leadership the threat advantage; it needs to be returned to its members.
Pledgebank and a coordinated letterwriting campaign to MPs seem the obvious tools. I'm prepared to work to coordinate it if I think enough people are interested. Either say so here, or email me at robjubbATgmailDOTcom.