Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Pacts are a poor substitute for proper reform

With an election in the air, politicians’ fancies, it seems, turn inevitably to the subject of pacts and deals, and in Wales, that raises the perennial question of the ‘progressive alliance’ (whatever that actually means) between Plaid, the Lib Dems and the Greens.  The Labour Party can probably be relied on, as ever, to take its ball home.  How useful all this is is another question entirely.  It seems to me that the approach being adopted to assessing this is far too mathematical.
I agree with the premise of the would-be pacters that Brexit is a defining issue for a generation, and that the ‘wrong’ outcome will be seriously damaging to Wales, although I also fully understand that not all independentistas see things that way.  But even if we did all accept the monumental importance of defeating Brexiteers, will a pact actually deliver that objective?  In practice, the objective comes down to defeating Tories (on the basis that Labour MPs will, even if not part of the formal pact, be likely – although not certain – to vote for a second referendum given that that’s part of their policy for this election).  So, in order to make a difference to the outcome, the basic equations boil down to (in terms of votes cast for each party):
Lib Dems + Plaid + Green > Conservative, and
Conservative > Labour
Based on previous election results, the number of constituencies where these will both be true is vanishingly small, and even if we try and project forward from some of the latest opinion polls, such a pact doesn’t seem likely to make a huge difference.  To make things worse, the outcome isn’t just a mathematical one – voters aren’t ‘owned’ by their traditional parties and can’t be ‘instructed’ to vote in a particular way.  Many Lib Dem supporters are die-hard unionists and will vote Tory rather than Plaid; and there are more Plaid supporters than the party would wish to acknowledge who would prefer to vote Tory rather than Lib Dem.  A more accurate equation would be (using the Lib Dems as the chosen ‘remain’ candidate in this case, but the same applies in principle to other options):
LD + a* PC/100 + b*Green/100> Con + c*Plaid/100 + d*Green/100
Where a, b, c, and d are the percentages of supporters of the parties concerned which will choose to vote for the anointed or unanointed alternatives.  And here’s the thing – a, b, c, and d are unknowns; they might be what Rumsfeld called ‘known unknowns’, but no-one has a clue what values to assign to them.  If the numbers fall the ‘wrong’ way, a pact could even end up achieving the opposite of its aim.
I don’t blame the pacters for their feeling that ‘something’ needs to be done, and there is always, I suppose, the hope that being seen to be forming a pact will appeal to voters by giving the appearance of a qualitative change in the style and nature of Welsh politics, although I’ll admit to being doubtful about that.  And there’s always the complication that people can see what is going on elsewhere – Wales can’t be isolated from the impact, for instance, of a tacit LD/Tory (+Labour?) pact against the SNP in parts of Scotland, giving the absolute lie to the suggestion that the Lib Dems’ number one aim is to stop Brexit.  Pacts are a poor substitute for what is really needed – an electoral system which allows for the more accurate representation of electors’ views rather than a majoritarian system under which the winner takes all.

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

Preseli highlights the truth of what you say. Plaid 4th, Lib Dems 3rd, Labour very close to beating Crabb (the Tory Leaver). A Plaid-Lib Dem alliance is useless because it (a) will not be enough to beat Crabb and (b) will(if it works) tend to weaken any Labour challenge. So, vote Labour if (like me) you to Remain? Well, local candidate is ex-foreign office, ex-Brussels. Remainer, surely, so promising. But she's led by Corbyn. I can take him being London left, but I can't take him being the Leaver he is. And the Preseli Candidate told me personally that she'd put party loyalty first. That's FOUR parties so parochial and self-obsessed that something dreadful this way comes. My neighbours and relatives in Preseli, who need EU money, the CAP, product standards, employment rights, free trade with 500m people, will lose all of them. Everything.