Big Society vs Proportional Representation

Posted on Wed 05 May 2010 by alex in general

This will be my last post on the subject of politics for some time. Tomorrow is election day and even though blogging is not yet subject to the oversight of Ofcom the convention of not campaigning on election day seems like a good one to follow.

The campaign has taken a certain negative turn, a number of ministers have been calling on people to vote tactically to keep the Tories out. We'll see how it plays out with the electorate but asking people to vote for you because your not the other guy isn't exactly an inspiring call. Personally the view that the Tories will be making significant cuts to public spending is re-assuring and makes me wonder if we would reach Greek/Spanish-like positions if Labour had another 5 years of failing to tackle the size of the public sector. For all the rhetoric you'd think that Tories enjoy cutting spending and making themselves unpopular instead just being resigned to having to clean-up after yet another Labour crash.

Of all the ideas that have been articulated over the election that of the Big Society has been the most confusing. Parodied as citizens learning to do their own appendectomies or creating new schools when state schools fail it hasn't really moved on from a vague idea. If it's more about local empowerment and greater transparency of decision making then these are things I can support. Unfortunately the whole policy lacks detail on what real practical solutions would be possible. It also suffers from the sharp-elbowed middle-class syndrome as poorer sections of society have trouble getting the most out of public services as it is. Of course voter turnout and social status are closely correlated so poorer people will benefit less from electoral reform anyway. Perhaps this election is just all about the middle classes?

So I agree the national voting system is broken, my vote is worth less than most by virtue of where I live. Some of that could be rectified by better boundaries but really some sort of proportional system is needed somewhere in our national elections. On the other hand changing the composition of the MPs in the House of Commons is going to have less effect on things that matter to me day to day, like the state of the cycle paths and local services. If the big society is about making those things more reactive and accountable to local needs it could have a bigger effect on my life than who occupies Number 10? I suspect I'll still be trying to decide when I'm standing in the voting booth tomorrow.

The only thing I can gaurentee is I will be voting tomorrow, hopefully with more people going to the polls than in the last election.