Bernard Owen, Maria Rodriguez-McKey
For democracies to work they must have well thought-out institutions. The choice of electoral system is therefore of the utmost importance since it is the translator of votes into seats. But however solid and stable institutions may be it cannot always stop human irresponsibility or stupidity.
In the nineteenth century the Liberal Party represented the radicals and the working class of Great Britain. The party chairman and prime minister was Gladstone. In 1886 Chamberlain had participated in the debate on “Home rule” for Ireland. It was difficult to reach an agreement as many thought that « Home rule » might lead to the beginning of the end of the Empire. In addition, Chamberlain was angry at the fact that Gladstone had proposed to him a minor role in the cabinet.
Chamberlain plotted his revenge by holding a meeting with the liberal association of Birmingham which was his constituency. His proposal did not take into account the British party system and so Chamberlain was not followed.
Although the opposition between Chamberlain and Gladstone was well known, the Liberal Party was too powerful within the trade union movement and the non-conformist electorate churches. It can be said that for the voter there could be confusion between the radicals-liberal-labour and in the past they had always stood united against a conservative candidate.
When it comes to the financing, the Conservative Party had no problems. The Liberal Party was financed by local associations such as the Fabiens which were strong in places like Birmingham or London, and by the trade unions.
In 1914 when the war broke out the United Kingdom had a two-party system and the government was liberal with Asquith as prime minister. At the same time Churchill headed the Admiralty. Unfortunately, the Dardanelles was a defeat and elsewhere there was a shortage of ammunition. All this resulted in strong criticism of Asquith who was a fine intellectual but did not possess political leadership qualities. On the contrary, Lloyd George appeared to have such qualities and he was a well-known liberal but who did not have the top position. Lloyd George flaired the right moment and surrounded himself with energetic liberals and conservatives who under his command in spite of a divided party was known as the “war cabinet ».
During the war Asquith had created a “coupon” which was given to liberals and conservatives who belonged to the “war cabinet”. And with the war continuing, Lloyd George’s image improved as a result of which he came to be considered as a possible leader of his party. When the war ended the Liberal Party was seen has having won it and Asquith was considered as the natural prime minister.
For the 1918 elections Lloyd George devised a strategy that represented a danger to the Liberal Party and the UK political system. He used the “coupons” to his advantage but in so doing caused the voters in the different constituencies to be confused as their choice was
1. One liberal candidate with a coupon loyal to Asquith.
2. One liberal candidate with a coupon loyal to Lloyd George.
3. 3. One conservative loyal to his party.
4. One conservative with a coupon loyal to Lloyd George.
5. One Labour candidate.
This means that the voter could choose among five candidates and sometimes more instead of the usual two.
Another change happened within the Labour as its members, although not affiliated to the Church of England were churchgoers, were not socialists in the true sense of the word.
The first meeting of the Labour Party had very few attendees but among the three groups there were the Fabiens who were socialist with a clear political affiliation. They convinced the others to include in the statutes of the Labor Party that the machines and tools should belong to those that use them. Yhis was the official acceptance by Labor of socialist ideology until Tony Blair did away with it.
Let us now look at another party but especially at the electoral system that made it rise. This new party is called UKIP comes about in our well-established and oldest democracy, Great Britain.
Great Britain has built its institutions with a one-round majority (plurality) system with the exception of the elections that resulted from devolution in Scotland and Wales where a mixed system (majority and proportional where one part compensates the other part).
UKIP was founded in 1993. In its beginnings UKIP was skeptical about using the the European issue as it did not win elections so as time went on they added other issues up such as immigration or even the environment. Many of the leaders do not want the party to be considered as a right-wing party. Their election results at local level were not good and many leaders did not have a strong political affiliation. In May 2014 UKIP published its membership: 37;00. During the House of Commons elections of 2001 UKIP presented 495 candidates but none were elected. As far as regional elections are concerned, those of Scotland and Wales, it did no better.
In the 2005 elections to the House of Commons UKIP had 495 candidates, obtained 3.3% of the votes but not one seat. In the 2010 elections it rose to 3.5% of the votes but still no seat.
In contrast, UKIP fairs well in the elections to the European Parliament. which use proportional one-round system. In 1999 UKIP obtained 7% of the votes and 4 seats. For the same elections but in 2004 UKIP obtains 12 seats and in 2009 it rises to 13 seats with 6.5% of the votes.
In Europe, « populist parties » rejoice at the fact that European Parliamentary elections are held with proportional representation.
The break-up of the Liberal Party was made evident by its financing. Asquith was still at the head of the Liberal Party and had at its disposal all the funds past and present. On the other hand, Lloyd George was short of cash and worked for the Honors which was paid for. As the new prime minister he could create new honors degrees as much as he wished or needed.
Thanks to the plurality system, the party system returned back to normal after 1945, the difference being that the after the war Labour replaced the Liberal Party which helped Labour when it did not obtain an absolute majority in seats in the House of Commons.
Electoral systems, which are key to the explain election results and the creation of party systems, are not a purely mathematical mechanism. Europe and South America have chosen electoral systems that provide stability in the very short term but not for the long-haul. In times of crisis, proportional systems give rise to parties that will cause the breakdown of the party system.Let us not forget that Hitler was elected thanks to a technical question, in other words, a very proportional system.
In Weimar Germany tyranny came as a result of a system created by mathematicians who forgot that they were working with human beings. In Great Britain miscalculated the short-term and long-term effects of his referendum but chances are that the party system has not floundered. But will it have the dreaded effect on the United Kingdom that « Home rule » would have had according to those who opposed it?
The plurality system has the advantage that even the actions of Lloyd George or Cameron will do with the party system. In the first case, there was a reorganisation of the party system when the Labor Party replaced the liberals as the left-wing government party. As far as Cameron is concerned, the Conservative Party will survive his irresponsible actions.
Bernard Owen, Maria Rodriguez-McKey