Matt Jones

Celestial mechanics and the new political landscape

In 2013 Comet ISON, a frozen lump of dust and gas about 1 kilometre in diameter was falling towards the sun. Known as a ‘sungrazing’ comet, ISON’s orbit meant that its 3 million year journey from the outer solar system would end in a perilous encounter with our Star, and no-one knew if it would survive.

On November 28 that year, the comet reached perihelion - its closest point to the Sun - and astronomers waited to see what came round the other side. Something did emerge, but it wasn’t the comet, it was just a remnant of it, fizzing out as the tidal forces and heat from the Sun pulverised it.

I think what just happened to the political landcape in the UK is a bit like that comet. If the comet, on its long approach to the Sun, represented the political status quo, then its uncertain encounter and subsequent annihilation represents the political chaos that we’re now experiencing.

I believe the only thing that can provide any sense of hope for the future of our political system is complete electoral reform.

At the root of the problem is the our First-past-the-post system of electing government; it means that a Party can hold a majority with a relatively small share of votes cast across a few marginal seats. This is the reason why people feel so disenfranchised, and why parties feel they have to do the bidding of the popular press to get into power.

The attempt by the PLP to remove Jeremy Corbyn and move the Labour Party back to the centre ground in order to win power is merely addressing a symptom of the problem. Even if the centrists are successful, a large section of the electorate are going to feel as underrepresented as they do under the centre-right Government we have now.

So, let’s have a truly representative Government, one in which no single party has overall control and is made up of broad coalitions that represent the full political spectrum of the electorate. The prospect of parties on the political extremes gaining more power as a result would be bitter pill to swallow, but in my opinion, worth it if more people vote and feel engaged in politics.

For a new form of Government, we’ll need a new building. Let’s vacate the crumbling Houses of Parliament and commission a new beautiful building for our representatives to assemble in, with a chamber that encourages cooperation across party lines - not the confrontational two-sided design of the Lower House.

Finally, I’m not sure where the matter of the possible break up of the Union fits in to all this; I prefer the status quo as far as this is concerned. There’s speculation about the emergence of the UK as a federal state but I’ll leave that to another post.

Join me next time when I attempt to use a Supernova collapsing into a Black Hole as a metaphor for what’s just happened to the Labour Party.