Is Majority Rule fit for the 21st Century?

I listen to a lot of people, dedicated people, who are angry about what is happening to their country. They are sick of the behaviour of political leaders and the constant distressing news. The whole manner of political discourse is offensive to many people. There is massive disengagement from politics. People think there is nothing they can do. We have a government supported by only 24% of those eligible to vote, imposing ideological policies. Senseless cuts are impoverishing the country and delaying economic recovery, Government fails to create a strategy for a prosperous, sustainable economy that will benefit everyone throughout the whole country and not contribute to the destruction of planet Earth. The same is true in different ways and varying degrees all over the world.

Governing without a mandate In last year’s election, the Conservatives gained 51% of seats in the House of Commons with only 37% of the vote. 34% of those eligible to vote did not do so – compare with the 84.5% turnout in the Scottish referendum. Most votes were wasted. Of almost 31 million people who voted, 19 million (63% of the total) did so for losing candidates. Many of the MPs who won failed to get the support of most voters. Of 650 winning candidates, 322 (49%) got less than 50% of the vote in their constituency. Women and BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) are under-represented. First past the post leaves a vast number of people feeling unrepresented. This breeds powerlessness and disengagement. Widespread feelings of powerlessness are bad for a nation.

Proportional Representation Under Proportional Representation, the results in the 2015 election would have been (actual seats in brackets): Conservatives 244 (331) seats, Labour 201 (232), UKIP 83 (1), Lib Dem 52 (8), SNP 31(56), Green 25(1), minor parties 14 including Plaid Cymru 3. The Conservatives would still be the largest party, but 37% of votes should never equal 51% of seats in a real democracy.

Advantages to voters As the Electoral Reform Society says, with the Single Transferable Vote (STV) and multi-member constituencies, parties have an incentive to present a balanced team of candidates in order to maximise the number of higher preferences that would go to their sponsored candidates. This supports the advancement of women and ethnic-minority candidates, who are often overlooked in favour of a ‘safer’ looking candidate. It is a candidate-centred electoral system and encourages local campaigning and a strong constituency link. STV also offers voters a choice of representatives to approach with their concerns post-election, rather than just the one, who may not be at all sympathetic to their views, or may even be the cause of their concerns. That is an enormous advantage over the present situation in which many voters feel their views will not be taken into account by an MP not of their party choice. Proportional representation in local government would be good for voters whose chances of casting a ballot which elects their chosen representative would rise dramatically.Proportional representation in local government in England would be good for voters whose chances of casting faa ballot which elects their chosen representative would rise dramatically. In December 2015, pollsters BMG found that 57 per cent of the public agree with the principle that “the number of seats a party gets should broadly reflect its proportion of the total votes cast” – compared to only 9 per cent who disagree.

There is a real opportunity now after the most disproportionate election result in history.

A fair voting system is not enough. The UK cannot be described as a democracy while wealthy donors dominate parties and government is infiltrated by big corporations, many of which are larger than national economies.  Furthermore, democracy can only work when the electorate is well informed. Yet a predominantly right- wing press, mostly owned by wealthy individuals, misleads the public and leaves them ill-informed. People who want to be well-informed would do better to get their news and information from reliable think tanks.

It’s a condemnation of the political class that they have put party interests ahead of the nation’s and resisted reform for so long.

 Is majority rule appropriate in the 21st Century? We face the greatest challenges in human history: climate chaos; destruction of the ecosystem; growing economic injustice; millions of early deaths issues related to poverty, pollution, diet and unhealthy lifestyles; and the need to resolve conflict without violence – all interconnected. Humanity is confronted with the possibility of self-extinction.

Consensus government To meet these challenges we need collaborative, not adversarial, government. Like other species we need to evolve in order to survive. A fair democracy representing the nation’s full diversity is vital for engaging our collective intelligence and creativity in resolving the great issues of our time. In order to find effective long-term solutions, I believe it is axiomatic that we must “get the whole system into the room”. We need to embrace diversity and difference. We need consensus building rather than adversarial politics (politics is too important to be a smart debating performance). This, and a sense of fairness, is essential for a national wellbeing and a successful economy. We need as many people as possible to be committed and engaged. Enabling, transformative leadership is required to bring out the best in people. The same principles apply at the international level. Ultimately, failure to build consensus leads to violence and violence breeds more violence and chaos. That must be the lesson of recent world history.

Consensus design I am very interested in applying the principles of Consensus Desig practiced by architect Christopher Day to politics. His idea is that as an architect you go in with one view of what needs to be done but having listened to all the stakeholders you may come out with something completely different. Could we be heading in that direction?

Co-creating Change Currently we have government that is illiterate in many ways: some ministers do not understand how to lead people and engage them in co-creating change. This is one of the reasons why valuable staff become disillusioned, are leaving in droves and the crises are worsening in key services such as the health and education.

A 21st Century Magna Carta – A collaborative democracy

We need a clear vision of what a good democracy looks like. This is what we have to demand.

  • A written Constitution
  • A Citizen-led Convention to determine the Constitution.
  • Parliament to be the principal decision-making body of Government
  • First Minister as head of Government elected by Parliament as a whole
  • Proportional representation for national, regional and local government
  • 50:50 representation for women and proportionate representation for Black, Asian and ethnic minorities.
  • Devolution of power from Westminster to regions and local government
  • An elected reviewing chamber
  • ‘Total’ recall for all elected politicians
  • A cap on individual funding and complete disclosure
  • End the so-called “revolving door”
  • Votes from age 16
  • The Rights of Future Generations to be recognised

(Main sources Electoral Reform Society Unlock Democracy and Green Party)

Clearly there are risks to party interests. But parties are likely to gain more support by being seen to do the right thing. People are yearning for political leaders who are visionary and strategic, putting the nation’s interests ahead of party advantage. How refreshing this will be.

At a practical level, thousands of ordinary people need to exercise their power and campaign for an alliance of progressive parties committed to introducing a new constitution in the next Parliament.


  • Lobby all parties demanding their commitment to comprehensive constitutional reform in the next Parliament.
  • Support the Electoral Reform Society, Unlock Democracy, The Citizens Assembly Project, Assemblies for Democracy, Make Votes Matter, Counting Women In, 5050 Parliament and Voice4 Change.
  • Support Polly Higgins’s campaign for the UN Ecocide law – the fifth crime against peace.
  • Join New Economics Foundation, Compass, Positive Money, Global Justice Now and Jubilee Debt Campaign. Subscribe to James Robertson’s inspiring Newsletter
  • Use 38 Degrees and Avaaz to petition and lobby.

Bruce Nixon is an author, writer and speaker. He gives participative talks in communities, schools and at conferences. This article is based on Chapter 9 Transforming democracy in his new book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness published by Acorn Independent Press.

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