The Mother of All Parliaments; Why the British System is Horrible, Broken, and Very Fun


Life sure does come at you fast! 2 years ago I wouldn’t have dreamt I’d write an article like this. Then again, a month ago Theresa May was still on for an absolute majority of seats. Two months ago Corbyn topping May favourability polls would be unthinkable. A year ago Brexit was a distant fantasy. So sit back and have a listen as to why our system is Horrible, Broken, and Very Fun.

Let’s start with the Horrible. The UK system of government is confusing, Byzantine in places, and is ruled by the party of the wealthy and business most of the time. The rest of the time it is ruled by people who seem kind of nice, but have their own failings. It is pretty authoritarian in bent and very moralistic while at the same time selling weapons to dictators for cynical and horribly pragmatic reasons. It presents itself as a force for good but, as in Frankie Boyle’s skeely style, it is “a nuclear-armed, money-laundering pirate ship”. The reasons for how it ended up Horrible are too many to mention, really. You would have to wade through a lot of different historical periods and get mired in a lot of blood – peasant, native, and royal – to figure out how our Horrible parliament exists, but here it is. Horrible and Broken.

The main reason it is Broken is not hard to route out: power. For hundreds of years Parliament has been the supreme edifice of State. It has tended to suck in people interested in power for its own sake as well as people who want to do good and reform it from within who instead become part of the furniture. To be fair, there are also the rebels of both major parties who do not toe their party lines, but these people do not redeem or fix the Brokenness of the system. The UK is a majoritarian system, though it doesn’t seem very democratic is is in fact rigidly so. Every MP is elected by First Past The Post – whomever gets the most votes in the area they want to represent gets the seat. It seems fair enough until you consider there are often 4 or 5 contestants for each seat and occasionally more. It is entirely possible to win an election with only 30% of the vote, which means that 70% did not vote for the winner, but the winner takes all. It redefines what the hell a winner even is. Every single percentage of vote share has a huge potential to change the makeup of parliament. And then it depends where those votes actually are. And hence the part where we can see where it is Horrible, Broken, and Very Fun.

in a winner takes all voting system like at Westminster, where a small percentage of the vote can make a huge difference, and there are at least four fairly significant parties to consider, which vary based on location, then pollsters have no idea. Some years they all cluster together and ‘herd’ results, too scared to say anything that differs from their competitors. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing, we’re it not for the fact that the margin of error is 6%. In a system where a half percent swing can be the difference of tens of seats, that’s pretty substantial. So then here’s the part that’s Very Fun – the sheer extent of information comining out about the election, the number of people saying things, the disagreements, the pollsters coming up with such wildly different projections which margins of error end up saying is between Labour +5 and the Conservatives +19, and then the fear and Horrible energy that comes from staying up all night only to find that the results are more Horrible, Broken, and Fun than you can imagine, and the Tory Party have humiliatingly gambled on public opinion, which is fickle, and the future’s fucked and it’s all bananas.

And that’s why I’m a politics enthusiast. And why my sleeping schedule had not yet recovered fully.


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