But the link that is broken is only broken in name, because it was broken in practice a long time ago. Our national parliament does not have the time and is not the appropriate venue for the resolution of local matters. It is a national parliament that concerns itself with national issues, and so it should.
The denunciation of a patently more democratic voting process based on its impact on a fundamentally flawed democratic structure betrays adherence to the latter. But it is hardly novel to point out that those in power are unlikely to support, or even to see, changes to the existing framework of power distribution as important or necessary.
Proportional representation is an excellent method of distributing power amongst representatives within a constituency. However if a single constituency is broken up into smaller pieces, the system falls apart. This is not a weakness of proportional representation, it is the logical result of the fundamentally flawed notion of segmented constituencies.
Improving the responsiveness of government, enhancing our democratic processes and more closely connecting the citizen to the actions of the government requires that we layer our government by constituency. We need local governments to tackle local issues and regional governments to tackle regional issues, just like we need national governments to tackle national issues. This will require national governments to give up their control and say over all issues that are not of truly national concern – this is probably a concept that hasn’t even crossed their minds.
Of course introducing proportional representation to the election of national representatives will result in a national chamber full of duly elected members who are concerned with, and were elected on, national issues. This is only a problem if the power to affect local issues is vested in the national parliament.
In reality the “constituency link” is a euphemism for
- the false promise that you can elect a local MP to go to Westminster so that they can fix your local issues and represent your local perspective
- the concentration of power at the national level
- the further concentration of power within the national parliament to a select group of “ministers” (who I am sure have all the time in the world to devote to the matters, affairs and concerns of their local constituency)
- a breeding ground for porkbarrel politics
- the fundamental disenfranchisement of individual citizens because they vote locally for national representatives and end up with neither local action nor national representation
- the protection of investment that “safe” constituencies provide
- a system of waste that requires every MP to have two houses and travel continuously, such that they are rarely in touch with the reality of their local constituency, the broader electorate or even their own families
So Mr. Brown is right that introducing a fairer voting system will break the constituency link, but he is wrong to identify this as a problem. The problem is the lack of real democracy, and the solution is to break up the monolithic power structure of a single national parliament and devolve power down to constituencies. That will truly link the citizen with their community constituency.