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  • Lawrence Bailey

Democracy isn’t always what you imagine

Someone once uncharitably wrote that governments and nappies should be changed regularly - and for the same reason. However, others would say that it’s the way that they get elected that needs an overhaul.

Here in the UK, we are given the democratic opportunity to vote for the party of our choice, right? Well, actually, no. Parliamentary elections only allow you to vote for a candidate, not a party. This isn’t just a matter of semantics.

Voters are lumped together into 650 notionally similar-sized constituencies. The system we call First-Past-the-Post only requires someone in each constituency to get the most ballot papers with a cross against their name to win. It’s been known for a candidate with less than 25 percent of the votes cast to become an MP.

If the party you favour fields a candidate then things are straightforward. If they don’t then choice becomes limited. It is similarly restricted when so-called ‘tactical voting’ is deployed. You’ve probably seen how Liberal Democrats, Green Party and Plaid Cymru have formed a pact not to stand against each other in some areas. Its an arrangement they believe will maximise the Remain vote.

Similarly, the Brexit Party has recently opted to leave Conservative-held seats uncontested to give pro-Leave voters a clearer choice. This last particular move may not work out entirely as foreseen by Nigel Farage as he and Boris Johnson expend resources in slugging it out over Labour strongholds as well as the usual key marginals. Even if you do get a decent quota of candidates per party, per seat, there’s no actual guarantee that the individual originally slated to stand is the name that eventually appears on the ballot paper. Like others, this election has seen the usual clutch of social media related casualties. It’s amazing how few understand that offensive, obscene and just plain off-the-wall comments from a decade ago will always come back to bite you the moment you decide to stand.

I find it intriguing though how an inverse rule of thumb seems to apply in such cases whereby the more obscure you are as a candidate, the more your misdeeds get trumpeted by a scalp-hungry media.

Besides the extensive Facebook roadkill, we’ve had messy ministerial resignations and general bad judgement by respective parties over their selections.

One noteworthy example is Mims Davies, briefly a Wales Office minister, who earlier stood down in a marginal Hampshire constituency, to “seek a different path”. It turns out the path led to a safer Mid-Sussex seat where she is now standing as candidate.

There’s long been a view that the current electoral process isn’t fit for purpose. This is especially so in these days of ‘managed democracy’ and polarised public opinion.

Yet when the nation had a chance in 2011 to change the system, a referendum rejected a more representative approach to electing members of parliament.

That’s probably more to do with how the Lib Dems, Plaid and Greens supported the idea while the Conservatives and Unionists opposed it; meanwhile, Labour took no official position. Not much changes, does it?

Anyway, you’ll no doubt be delighted to hear that candidate nominations close tomorrow. Don’t forget to vote.

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