The UK is a great place to live, but there are some truly bizarre things about it. If you delicately suggest to a Brit that maybe these ought to be changed, and, you know, made a little more sensible, coherent and fair, they will look at you in shock and horror. “It’s the Mother of Parliaments, you know?” Yes, that might be true. But the Mother of Parliaments is looking rather tired and haggard. Three particularly bizarre things are hard to explain to a bewildered foreigner:
- First Past the Post
If there was a prize for the most cack-handed way of allocating seats at elections, you wouldn’t have to look much further than First Past the Post (FPTP). It’s a hard thing to explain to anyone who is not from the UK (unless you are from the US, Canada, India or many of the Commonwealth countries to which this hapless export has been received).
Whatever you may think of UKIP, and who doesn’t, it is patently absurd that a party can get 12.6% of the vote at an election, and still only get one lonesome MP. If the philososloth’s maths serves him rightly, that amounts to 0.15% of the seats in parliament. For 12.6% of the vote! Equally, another right wing party can receive 4.7% of the national vote and still get 56 seats in Parliament (8.62%). In all seriousness, Britain, it’s time to make the seats match the votes.
- House of Lords
Another thing that is patently absurd is that the UK has an overfilled and unwieldy second chamber. It might be an idea to have an unelected second chamber, if it comprised of a small group of policy expert technocrats, who know a particular policy field in and out. But as it stands, it is the depository for MPs who failed to get reelected or gave enough financial support to their party when they were young and spritely. Don’t get me wrong, there are doubtless some extremely competent peers, but we don’t need 790 of them. We don’t need to support the large numbers who don’t even turn up to vote. It has become bloated beyond all usefulness.
Scotland has its Parliament, Wales and Northern Ireland have their Assembly, but England does not have a Parliament or an Assembly apart from the UK Parliament which represents the whole of the UK. Politicians are ringing their hands at what should be done. There is little appetite for an English Parliament as it would incur added expense and another layer of distrusted politicians. Part of the solution is at the moment to devolve power within England, but there is no synchronised process as some places want more power and others less. Here, as in many other areas, the Brits will just have to muddle along with an imperfect system.
It’s clear that FPTP, the House of Lords and the centralised-decentralised patchwork quilt of power in the UK would not be the model of choice for any sensible country. Rather these oddities are the result of being a country that is too stuck in the past to make wideranging reform. Now these issues are not likely to quicken the pulse of a normal person, and I’m sure that the old adage “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” will come to the fore as ever, but at some point a root and branch approach must be taken with the UK constitution.