Levelling Up? Or knocking down?

By John Patrinos

I grew up believing that the job of a government, whatever its political persuasion,  was to protect us and to help us to thrive, as individuals and in our cities, towns and villages. So I was a little heartened to see the 2019 Conservative manifesto promise to “level up every part of the United Kingdom, while strengthening the ties that bind it together."

Has this Levelling Up happened? Let’s look at my own small town of about 2,000 people.

  • Just before the 2019 election the last bank branch closed its doors and was replaced by a van that calls for one morning a week, but that can’t do many of the transactions of a real branch.

  • The District Council told us it can’t afford to run our public conveniences any more due to cuts in funding but the Parish Council is stepping in to keep most open.

  • This year the last Post Office will close its doors at Christmas.

  • The biggest blow was a month ago when we were told that our GP surgery would close at the end on April 2024.

  • Now we have been told that the bank van will stop.

  • And I haven’t even mentioned the continued reduction in public services that we all suffer that degrades the life of our community, such as holes in the road, blocked drains causing floods, and food banks.

How did Levelling Up turn into knocking down? How can a party be elected promising one thing then do the opposite?

It is because in our antique electoral system a minority of the vote can give a majority of the MPs and all the power. I just wrote “can give” when actually it’s more accurate to say “always gives” because the last time a government was elected with a majority of the votes was in 1923 when Stanley Baldwin became Prime Minister of a National Government made up of a combination of political parties. Even then they only got 50.5% of the vote.

The gift of political power being bestowed by a minority means that, irrespective of promises, the government of the day must pander to its view of what that minority wants. The needs of the whole nation come a distant second.

So the question arises; if the majority of voters don’t get what they vote for, do we live in a democracy? Or are we more like the only other European country that uses our first-past-the-post system of counting votes? That country is Russia’s staunch ally Belarus, run by the longest serving President in Europe, Alexander Lukashenko.

In my view our electoral system urgently needs modernisation to include proportional representation. There are a variety of PR systems but they commonly make the number of MPs elected represent the proportions of votes cast. This leads to a government that has been voted for by a majority of the electorate. And crucially this means that the government is much more responsive to the needs of the majority of the people that currently happens in the UK. It means that Levelling Up isn’t just an empty slogan it’s a reality of daily life.

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