Sunday, 7 November 2010

2 Party Systems - An open letter to an American chum.

Dear Kev,

You've got to ask yourself if political systems like yours and ours, with space for only two parties are sensible systems. I think you need electoral reform in the US to eradicate the duopoly - just as badly as we do here in the UK - but you have a constitution that won't allow it to happen under almost any foreseeable circumstances. As a consequence of this constitutional stasis, nobody in the States even thinks about constitutional reform seriously. It seems to me that constitutional reform has become a major taboo - the quickest route to the political dustbin. Every time I suggest reform to an American they reject it as an impossibility – almost a stupid thought but…….here we go again!

My suggestion to you chaps, for what it is worth, is that the great taboo may have to be broken. It may well be time for major reform of the constitution. It may seem to be a terribly European social/liberal democratic notion, but in my experience it is a truth that all politics is a negotiation (and when the negotiation breaks down that means the politics has broken down). But in the US you have a two party system where one party can refuse - and is refusing - to negotiate = political breakdown in the middle of global financial and environmental crises = not sensible.

I think your blog on the Republicans having only the single aim of brutally removing Obama from office in 2012, and the extraordinary gridlock that will arise as a consequence of it, totally hits the mark. And the consequences are anything but of domestic US concern only. They have a serious knock on effect around the globe, whether we like it or not. If US politics really has degraded to the level where one side genuinely believes that the other side is evil, and this is going to happen for years on end, you really, seriously, determinedly need to tackle the problem. If we are to successfully tackle the economic, social and environmental problems faced by our planet in the next few decades, it will be much easier if the governmental system of the world's largest economy isn't stalling all the time like a cranky old engine, and then taking a minimum of two years to get fixed each time it happens.

Believe me this is NOT an anti-American rant. I really do feel your pain. After all, I've lived all my 53 years in a country with a constitution that also only really works for two parties at a time. In many respects our two-party system is even more crude than yours.

We "Brits" only have the option of being governed by the currently largest minority gang in the political playground - and we have an electoral system that almost inevitably means that the second largest gang is the only serious replacement option. Ever increasing numbers of voters begin to understand that there are many more than two ways out of any given political situation. Too reflect this fact, they decide that you need a system that recognises the truth that there are, as a matter of fact, more than two gangs in the playground. Elections should not be about deciding which gang "wins". Oh no. Elections should be about the strength of the negotiating hand each gang will have in the negotiations for the next four or five years.

But if our electoral system parallels yours in its effect on our political culture, our "constitution" is even worse than yours. Because we haven't actually arrived at a point where we write down the rules (and this makes it rather terribly difficult to change the rules) it has taken a terribly long time to move towards changing the electoral system. It has taken over a century to reach a point where electoral reform is achievable (and my party is currently blowing the chance. AAAAARGH!)

But I really hope that you are going to try and reform too. Believe me when I tell you that our experience of an Anglo-Saxon, democratic, pugnacious, adversarial legal and political culture has not been unerringly pleasant. Experience informs my strong opinion that two party systems are childish and it is time to grow up. I think it is in the interests of both our countries if we move to a more proportionate, balanced and generous political culture. The Anglo Saxon model of democracy is becoming increasingly ugly and divisive.

Best wishes


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