The Two Cultures

and electoral lawlessness in Britain by the turn of the twenty-first century.


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By 2000, the British mainland had half a dozen undemocratic voting methods where one democratic method would do.

Currently five different kinds of electoral system are in use or legislated for, in the United Kingdom: first past the post, the alternative vote, the single transferable vote, the additional member system, and a party list system.

That is not all. First past the post at general elections may differ from local elections with more than one member per constituency. Also, the Scottish assembly is set to have a higher proportion of additional members than the Welsh assembly.
That's seven different voting methods in Britain. Eight, if there are elections to the House of Lords on yet another variant system.

The Jenkins report goes one better than this, by recommending 'Alternative Vote Top-up' for general elections, a system that has never been used anywhere on the planet. Not to forget that this and the other additional member systems are themselves varying combinations of two systems, usually requiring two votes. These attempt ( vainly ) to correct each others faults.
Moreover, the Commission's proposal would count the alternative vote differently than for a Mayor of London.

Britain's rulers are prepared to use more voting methods than there are elected institutions to use them for. Swop all these methods round the various assemblies, parliaments, councils and what-nots, and the same voting intentions would elect more or less different sets of politicians every time.

Does the public not know its own mind? Does the public have a mind? Is democracy a figment of the imagination? Or is it just what the politicians, making the rules, say it is? Are elections doomed to be a delusion, in a dangerous world, that the governed have given their consent to the government? Dare no parties face what the people honestly think of them?

What has caused this crisis for democracy? ( I think it fair to call it that. )

The traditional voting method of first past the post has dissatisfied parties not getting enough seats for the votes to their candidates.
These are politicians who could get themselves heard in the media but not get into office. Hence, the power struggle in the Establishment over the last quarter of the twentieth century.

This has been pitched to the public as a cause for 'fairness' in the voting system. And people may be left to judge for themselves how much the ruling class really intend fairness to the public in Britain's anarchy of voting methods.

Most in Britain's two main parties wanted to continue to take turns with victories in majorities of seats. The reformers wanted rule by majorities of votes. This usually required the proportional representation of smaller parties, as partners in majority coalitions. But most politicians only wanted parties, not individuals, to benefit from any proportional count. There's the sting. This was how more became less democracy.

Thus, the Jenkins report is a truce between a proportional party system, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and a seat-majority party system on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays -- if you consider successive general elections as days of the week. Since neither the single-member nor the party-proportional systems are satisfactory, as a compromise, the British electorate are to be impaled partly on both horns of the dilemma. This is a fair specimen of Establishment logic on elections.

A referendum on first past the post against an additional member system, such as that of the Jenkins commission, is only an Establishment request to favor one or other faction of party monopolists: single member majorities or single member majorities more or less proportionally offset by list members. Such a referendum does not offer a constitutional settlement. Elections perhaps decide what faction takes power. But the purpose of a referendum is not to sanction, in the constitution, party monopoly systems at all, whether of old or new bias. Base rules musnt be biased.

Actions speak louder than words. The single member system was abandoned by the 1997 Labour government for a party list system of Euro-elections that gives voters only a choice between parties, the so-called 'closed lists'. It is evident that the real value of single members to MPs was not so much individual MPs 'constituency links' but the monopoly of representation they give MPs. For, those MEPs highest on the closed lists, made by party bosses, likewise monopolise their parties' representation.

Five times in 1998, the Lords threw out closed lists, 'to rescue democracy', as one of the peers put it. But 'open lists' are similar to the Regional List proposed by a previous Labour government in 1978. Because it is still based on party-proportional counting, a mere X-vote for an individual candidate on a list may count toward the election of a party colleague you did not choose, or indeed a candidate who received no individual votes. If this is the only rescue option for democracy, then God help us.

Tho he had wished single members retained in a reform of general elections, Tory, Richard Wood MP ( later Lord Holderness ) said that not allowing the voters to give their ordered choice ( 1,2,3,..etc for candidates, for the multi-member system of PR by transferable voting, in the Euro-elections ) was 'an insult to the intelligence of the British people.'

Peter Hain MP wrote a book on 'Proportional Misrepresentation' to persuade the Left to keep the single member system for single party majorities ( of seats ). But he admitted this made no case against the single transferable vote ( STV ) for Euro-elections.

This is a sad comment on Labour prime minister Tony Blair, blaming 'an affront to democracy' on the peers for supporting 'open lists' ( ineffective individual choice ) against closed lists ( no individual choice ) of candidates. Likewise, the PM's ally, Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown misrepresented 'the peers against the people', when party list systems are boss elections that set the parties against the people.

In a letter to The Independent ( in November 1998 ) Andy Spring expressed confidence that the Green Party would win MEPs. They naturally look to Germany's party-proportional systems. 7% of party votes had just made them a coalition partner with the Social Democrats. In the 1989 Euro-election, British Greens set a record vote for their movement.

But that was before their caucus got rid of their best leaders, like Jonathon Porritt. To prevent the parties putting their own choice above the people's, STV proportionally elects the most preferred individual candidates, say, Porritt as an Independent Green. With STV, he wouldnt have to be on the official Green list of candidates, to benefit from a proportional count: Because, with STV, votes are transferable by the people's preferences. With party lists, votes are transferable by one preference voter, the party boss, who has ordered his choice of which list candidates shall go into parliament.
There is the difference between elective democracy and 'elective dictatorship'.

The single transferable vote can be used at all levels of government and is, in Ireland. There is no need for more than one, much less five, seven or eight different systems in Britain. ( STV could even elect, in a two-member constituency, a mayor and deputy mayor of London, as is usual in local government. That is to say STV can serve as a primary election for single -- as well as multiple -- vacancies. )

What makes the Establishment prefer five or seven, possibly eight, or as many different electoral arrangements as it takes, rather than let the British people use STV ( sometime called the super-vote ) as many already do, for non-political elections?

Why do the rulers prefer electoral anarchy to electoral principle? Why wont they suffer effective popular mediation for the peaceful progress of the people?

Democratic electoral reform side-lined by 'the two cultures'

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The divide between the sciences and humanities

Proof of C P Snow's 'the two cultures' comes from the tragi-farce of British muddling-thru electoral reform. Four years after the original lecture, he summarised its claim:

It is something like this. In our society ( that is, advanced western society ) we have lost even the pretence of a common culture. Persons educated with the greatest intensity we know can no longer communicate with each other on the plane of their major intellectual concern. This is serious for our creative, intellectual and, above all, our moral life. It is leading us to interpret the past wrongly, to misjudge the present and to deny our hopes of the future. It is making it difficult or impossible for us to take good action.

I gave the most pointed example of this lack of communication in the shape of two groups of people, representing what I have christened 'the two cultures.' One of these contained the scientists, whose weight, achievement and influence did not need stressing. The other contained the literary intellectuals. I did not mean that literary intellectuals act as the main decision-makers of the western world. I meant that literary intellectuals represent, vocalise and to some extent shape and predict the mood of the non-scientific culture: they do not make the decisions, but their words seep into the minds of those who do. Between these two groups -- the scientists and the literary intellectuals -- there is little communication and, instead of fellow-feeling, something like hostility.

( C P Snow, The Two Cultures And A Second Look. Mentor, The New American Library, 1964.)

There is nearly no representation of science, or technology, in the House of Commons ( as tables show in Robert Blackburn's The Electoral System In Britain ). Nor will there be, if party leaders appoint the Lords. Administration is recruited after Chinese civilization's competitive examinations in the classics.

Academics have used the distinction between knowledge and values, to supply information without judgement. ( Of which you'll find some examples in volume II of the Jenkins report. The Stationary Office. ) Charles Snow also criticised this doctrine of value-neutral science, at the end of his book, The Physicists.

Of course, scientists have a perfect right to keep out of politics, if they wish ( and so far as the consequences of their discoveries allow ). The objection is to treating academic freedom as a privileged deal with the state -- you leave us alone and we'll leave you alone -- instead of acknowledging that general knowledge depends on a generally free society.

Academic freedom without a free society is as narrow as 'party democracy' without representative democracy.

C P Snow never forgave the Royal Society for snubbing the aged H G Wells' wish to be a Fellow. Wells no doubt did more than that obscure fellowship, put together, to promote science. But he was 'a literary man'. And, as Snow said, British education has been the most compartmented, in the world, between 'arts' and 'sciences'.

As for 'social science', the Royal Society didn't believe there was such a thing. But then they didn't admit engineers -- the people who got their hands dirty -- without whom there would be precious little modern science, in all its uses and abuses.

Sir Charles Snow ( in his 1968 lecture, The State Of Siege ) was especially concerned about gathering the strength of science and technology in the rich nations to help the world's poor. The Brandt report on world development wanted more humane aid. But governments that rejected that plan cannot be said to have made any less desperate the crisis of too many helpless people.

However, some scientists have changed their direction of seeking generalised understanding. For instance, systems analysis studied what specialties have in common. This may be adapted to solving human problems. For suchlike reasons, Murray Gell-Mann ( as explained in The Quark And The Jaguar ) helped set-up a cross-disciplines institute, one of the new 'broad churches' of science.
Man is, after all, a part of nature and some natural scientists are beginning to seek a unified understanding of this fact.

John Maynard Smith once called The Royal Society 'a club for gentlemen,' which is what the historian, Ensor said the House of Commons was changing from. Whether the humanities or the sciences have done less to bridge the two cultures, electoral reform has shown British government as a science-free zone.

British Muddling-thru electoral reform

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General election results were grossly out of proportion to the third party's support in 1974. Most in the big two parties didn't want to know. Most of the rest only wanted patch-up answers. The Hansard Society's Blake report of 1976 and the Plant report of 1993 are both dubbed 'admirable' in the Jenkins report of 1998.
They are three attempts that 'things must change so that things can stay the same.'

Like the Plant report, the Jenkins report avoids general considerations that might render invalid their particular and ad hoc approach:

Our proposition for this country stems essentially from the British constituency tradition and proceeds by limited modification to render it less haphazard, less unfair to minority parties, and less nationally divisive in the sense of avoiding large areas of electoral desert for each of the two major parties.

(The case for and the functioning of a mixed system, p.V, last para.)

Like Blake and Plant, Jenkins is concerned to keep the ( single member ) constituency system, which most restricts locality and therefore prevents the extension of choice. Sticking with the most local system, they vetoed a more electoral system. It is not really elections but locations that the place-holders want.

The Jenkins proposition restricted the terms ( regardless of their terms of reference ) on which reform might be allowed. So, no genuine reform took place. As a rule, one tries to find the truth on its terms, not on ours. One has to have an open mind.

Such makeshift reformers saw the problem as giving the third party seats more in proportion to their votes, by ad hoc additional members from party lists ( implicit or explicit ). Monopolistic single members must be wrong, if they need so 'correcting'. The scientific approach would be to replace them with a theory of elections based consistently on sharing. Instead, the wrong of monopoly is not admitted by the ad hoc reformers, who only compound it, by giving parties a monopoly of the proportional count, thru list systems.

The ad hoc reformers extend equality, more or less, to the smaller parties but confirm an electoral monopoly of equality on the parties, in a one-dimensional partisan society.

An analogy may illustrate why this is wrong in scientific, as well as democratic, terms. The geocentric theory of the planets' motions is wrong, despite the 'correction' by epicycles to describe apparent reverses, in traversings of planets, from an Earth-centred point of view.

The Jenkins commission's likewise unwieldy system is akin to an ingrained 'geocentric' theory of single member elections, modified by 'epicycles' of list candidates. ( Sometimes the whole list is 'rotated' or given a turn in parliament. ) To those more or less against change, a 'heliocentric' theory, with Earth as just one in a multi-member solar system of planets, is much too 'remote' and 'breaks the link' between God and His Earthly constituents, as mediated by the holy church of party.

A theory of elections based on inconsistent principles of monopolising and sharing will be mutually defeating in practise. The ad hoc reformers answer is to extend the monopoly more or less to third parties. In this, they confirm G K Chesterton's adage: There is really only one party. Their tacit agenda of the partisan monopolising of representation for a partisan state is not all that far removed from a one-party state.

This is the logic of the direction the ad hoc reformers are going in. For, even the limited pluralism they offer with ad hoc additional members is inconsistent with the monopoly of one party rule per single member constituency. Being so at odds with itself as a system, AMS wont work for all kinds of elections at every level of government.

Monopoly is inconsistent with representation, whose general principle must be one of sharing. That is proportional representation as distinct from proportional partisanship. But sooner than accept genuine PR's freely shared choice, which explains why it is the scientific theory that applies to all elections, the ad hoc reformers shunned an all-purpose system.

The reduction to the absurd of denying a system for elections in general is to deny general elections.

But, in the Stationary Office's second volume of the Jenkins report, Key Evidence, the Labour party submission held that the Labour government accepted the Plant report's principle ( that is, lack of principle ) of different voting systems for different elected institutions.

John Preston ( of Surrey, in a Nov. 1998 letter to The Independent ) wondered if anyone realised what a muddle of voting systems Britain was in. He suggested this was because of neglect to ask: What is the real aim and purpose of it all?

Early reception of the Jenkins Report.

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My criticism of the Jenkins report and note of electoral reform as a prime casualty of 'the two cultures' was written shortly after the report's launch.
Just out of interest, I make some reference here to immediate reactions ( in early December back to end of October 1998 ). Tho, I know this news rapidly dates.

The government sensibly allowed time for public debate. At the time of writing, there is no way of knowing whether 'Alternative Vote Top-up' will be the voting system the government offers the people a referendum to change to.

The Conservatives, at party conference, said the Independent Voting Commission was 'rigged' before its conclusion was published. But the members represented a good spread of opinion. The government's terms of reference were, I thought, fair and well chosen -- which has not always been the case for official bodies set up in recent years.

Nevertheless, I believe there was a basic error of approach that general elections could be looked at, without regard to a general electoral system. This neglect of scientific outlook is why I bring in C P Snow's judgement that 'the two cultures' is responsible for bad government.

The home secretary, Jack Straw's name was put to the Commission's terms of reference. His response on television to 'Alternative Vote Top-up' seemed a little breath-bereaved. He didn't know the system would be as complicated ( or some tactful word for that ) or take so long to implement. And the commission itself had reached no decision, to closer than a crucial 5%, of just how many top-up MPs there should be. How can one vote on an unmeasured measure?

The Conservative party leader, William Hague also admitted he didn't know the reform was going to be 'so extraordinarily complicated.' His definitely untactful summing of AV top-up was 'a dog's breakfast', others have repeated since. He also pointed out that top-up lists give power to the parties, rather than the people. This predictable enough response from the Tories was, unfortunately, also true.

Simon Jenkins, in The Times, denounced party lists, 'open' or 'closed' as croneyism. But the most committed newspaper opposition came, as expected, from The Daily Telegraph editorial, captioning the Jenkins report as 'rococo and wrong,' and in rebellious mood against such an imposition. That is right but their opposition to all change limits their influence.

Perhaps the most significant early warning to the Labour government came from over 100 of its MPs forming the Labour first past the post campaign, led by Stuart Bell. He predicted AV top-up would sink without trace. Such a swift and strong rejection must give the government pause for thought.

I was impressed by the intelligent attention of the audience in Jonathan Dimbleby's tv panel debate. Mr Bell reckoned two-thirds of the Cabinet were against the Voting Commission's proposal.

The Liberal Democrats would certainly support a system that goes some way to proportionally representing them. Roy Jenkins, their former 'Prime Minister designate' was politely spoken of. Tho, two Lib Dem councillors announced their opposition to his reform.

The Green party sees it as a step in the right direction ( to them, a German-type additional member system ) tho they've no immediate hope of benefiting from it. The Liberal party ( who broke away when renamed Liberal Democrats ) considered a historic opportunity had been squandered. They would work for the single transferable vote.

I've seen a photo opportunity for a panel of bright young things, in the parliamentary Labour party, supporting AV top-up, but as yet nothing to match their colleague, the formidable Mr Bell.

The editor of 'Red Pepper' in a Guardian article, appearing with the eight-page Guardian edition of the Jenkins report, admitted straight-off it was a 'fix' and a 'fudge'. This wasn't admitting much of a fairly obvious freak, even to the uninitiated. But it was about as far as anyone writing in The Guardian was prepared to dissent. She still urged 'the Left' to support it.

The political commentator in The Independent was also favorable. But an article by John Curtice showed what an uphill struggle awaited reformers prepared to support AV top-up. On the whole, the media, full of C P Snow's 'literary intellectuals', weren't going to de-rail the report.

There were signs the report had been leaked. Robin Cook and Paddy Ashdown had hinted the reform might not be highly proportional.
A Guardian editorial, several days before their paper's massive endorsement, surmised that the report would be a hotch-potch that would please no-one.
This may turn out to be the final verdict.

Richard Lung

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