As the shadow of welfare gallows loomed, and the great cutting machine sharpened their blades, all but a prescient few forewarned of a hung parliament. The polls proclaimed and the world echoed the sentence. The pre-election hunger games were underway, and as they ran to their taxing conclusion, speculation drew upon who would form a government with whom, focusing on the small exchanges that would take place nationwide for fiercely contested hot seats, rather than the distant prospect of an unlikely majority government.
There were many stories to be found in the election: the SNP’s meteoric victory over Labour in Scotland, the complete (and predictable) capitulation of the Lib Dems, the fall of prominent pre-election leaders, but none more noteworthy than the catastrophic failure of Labour to contest in key battlegrounds—attributed, in part, to Miliband’s skewed focus amidst the descending mist, on the rescue mission to reach Lib Dem voters abandoning ship, a hope that UKIP would commandeer enough Conservative seats on the Southern front and an electorate still reeling from a warmongering ‘New’ Labour era that left the coffers all but spent.
Whilst some will feel that this result offers a chance for fiscal stability after a 2010 election that ended in watered-down compromise, the disappointment for many will be the consequent likelihood that we won't now see electoral reform within the next five years: the Prime Minister has a platform from which to assert that the majority win for his party proves that the system works and represents the country’s interests.
The reality, however, is that it doesn’t. A combined seven and a half million people voted for UKIP, the Lib Dems and the Green Party, but, from those votes, only 10 seats will be taken between them. That accounts for a mere 1.5% of House of Commons’ bottoms; ten people to sit and represent just short of 25% of the entire electorate. Whilst the views of some 11 million of us, the third of the electorate who voted in favour of Cameron and his welfare butchers—24% if we consider the entire eligible population (not just those registered to vote)—will be represented in full. The ideals of a minority are to be embodied at the cost of the rest, their puppet masters wielding the power and, crucially, making all of the decisions.
When we talk of legitimacy, that is, the legitimacy of our general elections and their consequently formed parliaments, we need to frame it in context. The need for clarification of context here is highlighted by those figures mentioned above. A democratic government is supposed to represent as many of its citizens as possible. Or, as a dictionary definition of democracy tells me, implies the ‘control of an organisation or group by the majority of its members’. The talk is of majorities, and yet the numbers tell us that this result was actually a significant minority in correlation to the want of the people. The only way a parliament supported by less than a quarter of the population can be considered ‘legitimate’ is through the context of the political system. But if the political system fails to achieve its purported purpose—i.e. doesn’t give a voice to the majority of its members—then any and all context for the legitimacy of any government elected by its use, must, it follows, be invalid, and therefore illegitimate.
Understandably, fair representation is something that those outside of conservative circles are calling for. Speaking after the successful retention of her Brighton Pavilion seat, MP for the Green Party Caroline Lucas said: “It is only proportional representation that will deliver a parliament that is truly legitimate, and that better reflects the people we represent.” Paint them in whichever shade of blue you like, but the Tories are not green. It will require significant external pressure to spur them into action—indeed, until they feel change is a necessity to save face, and not before—because they are a party that subsist upon unwavering support and any introduced system of proportional representation will threaten their ability to retain both that and, that which is most dear to them—power.
Photo credit: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor