Friday, November 02, 2007

The case for p.r. is unanswerable

"If this government is happy to go into the next election chasing 8,000 miserable votes, then let's hear less high-flown talk about national unity, Britishness and public engagement. What voters need is a fair voting system - and something clearly worth voting for."


writes Polly Toynbee in today’s Guardian.There are many things that need to be done in order to democratise Britain. Moving to a voting system in which every vote counts is one them.

Here’s my Times article making the case for proportional representation, from 2004. It’s a case that grows stronger with each passing day.

4 comments:

Luke said...

While FPTP may appear to give too much power to, as you say, those 8000 voters (although, of course, those 8000 are only as powerful as they are because the other 99% of people are voting more or less 50/50 - every vote is exactly as powerful as any other), in its own way PR gives too much power to minor and fringe parties as well. For example in the recent Scottish elections it appeared for a while that the Lib Dems would hold a wildly dispoportionate amount of power because the SNP needed them to form a majority government. Of course, that never happened in the end. PR creates nonsense coalition making and destabilises sensible government.

Martin Meenagh said...

I think that the alternative vote and/or a system that builds in real, strong independent parliamentary committees is appropriate for a big country. It would also be useful if independent candidates could have a fair 'crack of the whip'. The basic problem as far as I can see is two fold; parties, which are probably essential to politics, have an inbuilt tendency to want to rig any system towards themselves. Secondly, though, the problem is more the people in parties. Our development of a monoculture springing from university student unions, most of whom have the same attitudes and responses, and many of whom have never been near a paycheque or non-political world, would undermine any system. Maybe we need an age restriction or standing for office or some sort of open nomination system. David Lindsay's blog discusses this at interesting length.
Nice article!

matthew said...

in its own way PR gives too much power to minor and fringe parties as well.

Absolutely - and the case for PR is extremely answerable for that reason alone. For starters, it would guarantee the election of several BNP MPs - and might well give them a voice in government if, say, a putative Tory-UKIP coalition fell slightly short of a majority.

We got a very good example of a PR-style situation in the dying days of the Major government, when he was effectively held to ransom by the Ulster Unionists, for whose votes he increasingly came to depend. PR would merely guarantee that such a situation continued indefinitely, as we'd probably never get a majority government again.

I also suspect that an immediate upshot of PR would be that the Lib Dems would lose massive amounts of support - given a huge percentage of their votes is made up of people like me voting for the candidate most likely to beat the Tory.

David Lindsay said...

I have always objected to the EU and to proportional representation on similar grounds. I object to being legislated for in secret and by Stalinists, Trotskyists, neo-Fascists, neo-Nazis, members of Eastern Europe's kleptomaniac nomenklatura, people who believe the Provisional Army Council of the IRA to be the sovereign body throughout Ireland, and a growing band of neoconservatives who have of course stolen other people's parties, the last soon to be joined by their ever-dependable Islamist allies (from the resurgent Caliphate of Turkey).

Likewise, I have always objected to the idea of being legislated for in the House of Commons by Stalinists, Trotskyists, neo-Fascists, neo-Nazis, people who believe the Provisional Army Council of the IRA to be the sovereign body throughout Ireland, spokesmen for Northern Ireland's "Loyalist" paramilitary organisations, and a growing band of neoconservatives who have of course stolen other people's parties, the last soon to be joined by their ever-dependable Islamist allies (from the emerging Caliphates within this country).

But First Past The Post has not stopped this from happening. It may be 60 years since Labour had to expel a small caucus of pro-Soviet MPs, but that incident really did occur. Labour MPs later served on the Editorial Board of the unyieldingly pro-Moscow Straight Left (now Harry's Place, a key Eustonite website). Three members of Militant sat as Labour MPs, one of them the world's leading Trotskyist theorist of his generation.

Meanwhile, the Tory benches were long replete with stooges and hangers on of a Boer Republic set up as an explicit act of anti-British revenge in a former Dominion of the Crown, of that Republic's satellite created by an act of high treason against the present Queen, and of similarly charming regimes such as (especially) Pinochet's Chile.

Today, the coming together of the Euston Manifesto Group of old Stalinists and Trotskyists, and the Henry Jackson Society of old Pretoria and Santiago hands, constitutes the leading edge of the neoconservative hijacking of Parliament even under FPTP. (The neocons, it is worth pointing out, also supported Argentina during the Falklands War. EMG/HJS types invariably lionise the late Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the neocon heroine who, as UN Ambassador at the time, gave such help and succour to General Galtieri.) The Islamists might well already be there, and certainly will be soon enough.

Undoubtedly there are Sinn Feiners (even if they don't take their seats), members of at least one other party whose activist base is opposed in principle to the existence of the United Kingdom, members of at least two (arguably three) others ambivalent on that question, and unrepentant old front men for the Ulster Resistance (and whose party is only Unionist in that it wants the British taxpayer to foot the bill for a statelet of its own devising).

So might the damage already be done? Might we as well move towards a system in which each of the 99 areas having a Lord Lieutenant elects six Senators and (grouped into nine elevens, depending on the relative size of the electorate) between two and ten MPs, always by means of voting for one candidate, with the requisite number declared elected at the end? What difference would it make, apart from making it possible for proper expressions of real public opinion to secure election, and probably driving out the neocons altogether?