We Need Proportional Representation 48

The current convulsion in our politics, and the meltdown in support for New Labour, will throw into sharp focus the risible unfairness of our electoral system. As a mechanism for representing the views of the British people, it plainly fails.

That is true in “Normal” times, where just 42% of the vote can hand a large majority in parliament to a Thatcher or a Blair. On the basis of this “Mandate” of a minority, they rule with breathtaking arrogance and utter disregard for the views of the majority who voted.

It is argued that this provides “Decisive” government. That is a misnomer. It provides domineering government with an inflated self-regard. It provides corrupt, inefficient, over-centralised and irresponsive government. For God’s sake, it provides the kind of crap governments I have suffered my entire life.

As New Labour goes into well-deserved meltdown, the inanities of our electoral system will become more apparent. You can find various swingometer predictive engines all over the web, but none of them copes too well with the effects of a three party system. Trust the back of my envelope instead.

New Labour benefits hugely from the concentration of its support into urban constituencies. A hundred of these rotten boroughs are virtually impervious to challenge. For the Tories to get a parliamentary plurality – more seats than New Labour – they need to get about 3 per cent more votes than New Labour.

But should the Liberal Democrats beat New Labour into third place at the General Election, New Labour will still on most scenarios get many more seats than the Lib Dems. If New Labour and the Lib Dems each polled 23%, at a general election, then New Labour would get approximately 80 more seats than the Lib Dems.

Get this – if the Lib Dems were to get 27% to New Labour’s 21%, astonishingly New Labour would still have around 40 more seats than the Lib Dems. In Parliament New Labour would still be the “Official Opposition”. with all the enormous privileges that postion brings over the third party.

In fact, you need a result which goes something like Conservative 41, Lib Dem 29 and New Labour 18 before the Lib Dems overtake New Labour in parliament and can become the official opposition.

Convinced of the case for reform?

There then comes the thorny question of which system should be adopted. I completely reject the AV+ system recommended by Roy Jenkins’ report, produced when Blair was pretending to be interested in constitutional reform. Any system which lets political parties decide the order of candidates on the “Party list”, and does not allow voters to choose between them, is Stalinist. We have this appalling party list nonsense in Scotland now, and the quality of list MSPs is abysmal.

I strongly favour Single Transferable Vote, as giving the most complete choice to the voter and much the best opportunity for Independents and small parties. Here, you have multi-member constituencies and a list of all the candidates. You rank them in order – 1,2,3,4,5etc, as far as you wish to go. So you can give your first prefence to an Independent, then a couple of Tories, then a Green, if they happen to be the candidates you like.

I support the Vote For A Change campaign, while having strong views on the direction I wish it to go. I rather liked this sentence from their launch statement:

Too many MPs seem more interested in changing their homes than changing the world.


Do sign up.

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48 thoughts on “We Need Proportional Representation

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  • Chris

    No, PR is not the answer to the current problems. In fact it would be worse.

    Do we really want candidates selected by a “list” making them even more tied to the party line and not the voters?

    This happens in Scotland now and it’s crap, corrupt and throttles any chance of anyone good (aka “maverick”) coming through.

    (please nobody mention Margo “we are worth it” MacDonald – her comment made when the Scottish parliament voted initially for Westminster scales of pay and expenses)

    The FPTP system works as it “centralises” our system, making those extremists like the BNP or their opposites at the other end of the extreme spectrum have no chance.

    This may be frustrating to those who now want to support the BNP, but the numbers are still (thankfully) small enough that democracy can safely ignore them and still work.

    Our system also localises politics. One of the refreshing things about the recent issues over expenses is that “local” people have started to think about their “local” representatives and how to get rid of them. What is missing is some power to allow them to do something about it.

    The answers are simple :

    – The ability to recall MPs, by a percentage of their majority or those who voted – not those qualified to vote. If they could only get a turnout of 40% then a % of that 40% can order a re-run.

    – Fixed terms between general elections, why the feck does Brown or anyone else get to choose when we get rid of him ? Councils run on fixed terms as does Cardiff and Edinburgh.

    – General election now to get this started.

    PR is nonsense. Come on Craig you can do so much better if you put your back into it 😉

  • David Boycott

    The merits and demerits of the fundamentals of PR aside (and I am sceptical), one cannot seriously propose that now – after twelve years of centralisation, impingement of liberties and tax and spend – is the time to condemn us to the stasis of government by coalition.

    Now is the time for a radical government to roll back the state and free the individual. That is likely to require two terms of a Cameron government committed to the principles outlined in his speech of last week.

    (Well, we can hope)

  • Craig


    Plainly the bee in your bonnet was buzzing so hard that you could not actually read my post.

    I specifically reject party list systems.

    Actually FPTP does not centralise our system at all. It gives nutters like Thatcher and Blair virtually complete power.

    I also happen to believe that if people are daft enough to vote for the BNP, or the Communists, or whoever, they are entitled for their view to be represented. You cannot wish people out of existence because you do not agree with them.

    There is actually plenty of experience of BNP councillors being elected, being shown up for the twats they are, and being rejected subsequently. No bad thing.

  • SJB


    If the Single Transferable Vote system had been used for the 2001 General Election, it is submitted that Labour would have required the support of the Lib Dems to govern. Had this been the case, would the UK have participated in the costly Iraq invasion? Would civil liberties have been infringed?

  • Abe Rene

    Personally I am against proportional representation because I believe that it leads to political instability, and Israel is a classic example. As to STV, I prefer one MP to represent one constituency, because that makes the link between voters and their MP that much more real. Regarding alleged ‘unfairness’, no-one is compelled to vote for or against anyone. If Labour have built up a solid community of urban supporters thanks to decades of activism, good luck to them – they might also lose it if they disenchant too many voters. I am quite happy that nutters don’t stand a chance of being elected to Parliament under FPTP. Therefore, on balance, I would retain the present system as it is.

  • KevinB

    Yes, Proportional representation would be a good thing……

    ……but would the differences such a system would make be merely cosmetic.

    What difference would PR make to the current debacle?

    We are so dumb we are letting this ridiculously inflated scandal obscure a hugely more important issue.

    How much money has been fiddled by M.P.’s fraudulent expenses claims? A million pounds? Two?

    We have had a month of this saturation coverage by the entire media. Surely enough is enough.

    The Bank of England’s ‘quantitative easing’ programme is picking the publics pocket to the tune of £150 billion.

    That’s one hundred and fifty thousand million pounds.

    For this disaster our government is also responsible but this is a more serious matter BY A FACROR OF ABOUT ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND.

    Come on!

    Whose strings are being pulled here?

    It is an amazing thing. Bankers can bankrupt themselves (and if they were forced to reveal the extent of their ‘toxic assets’ we would all know that they are, truly, bankrupt). Because of this, many thousands of families or perhaps, who knows, millions of them will lose their jobs and their incomes. They will fail to pay their mortgage debts. Then what will happen. They will be evicted.

    Then what does society do. It hands over the homes of these poor wretches to the bankrupt party that caused their unemployment in the first place.

    There is a satanic madness to this that takes the breath away.

    If PR would sort out this nightmare for us I’m all for it, but if we can be so easily manipulated and abused can we really expect PR to correct for our witlessness when even directing our attention to this issue is to somehow miss the point?……

    ……we don’t have time for this.

    Let’s take on the (penniless, if we could force the truth to be revealed)thieves who not only bind us all in debt but have ALREADY done the same to our grandchildren!

  • Ruth


    If the Single Transferable Vote system had been used for the 2001 General Election, it is submitted that Labour would have required the support of the Lib Dems to govern. Had this been the case, would the UK have participated in the costly Iraq invasion? Would civil liberties have been infringed?

    To answer this question you have to find out why the UK took part in an illegal war and why our civil liberties have been infringed under the pretext of terrorism.

    Of course in the war there would have been support from the arms industry and corporations and those within the Establishment/permanent government who would personally benefit. But I don’t believe this is enough. I believe the government was driven/is being driven to act illegally to keep the country from drowning. Its economic position has been dire for many years and survival has been brought about by massive frauds of all descriptions. With this activity at the heart of government it isn’t really surprising that it filters down to MPs lining their pockets.

    Hence, if a political party comes into power it will have little choice but to succumb to illegality and repression.

    Democracy (if it can exist) is a luxury for rich nations.

  • Strategist

    Good post, Craig, agree with pretty much every word.

    After reading such a well-expressed case for STV and against closed party lists, it’s dreadfully dispiriting to read poorly informed comments like Abe Rene’s – that he is opposed to PR because it leads to Israel, where the situation is an extreme case of a national closed party list with a very low threshold for representation (2%).

    STV has none of these problems, you vote for the individual. Crucially, you can choose between different individuals of the same party – a very powerful tool where (say) you oppose a party’s leadership but respect the individual.

    Against these virtues Abe Rene posits the classic fallacy that there is some kind of mystical sacred bond between a constituent and their single MP. All I can say is that I have never lived in a town that didn’t have to be split into 2 or more completely arbitrary and artificial constituencies, and I have never ever felt this mystical bond. More frequently, I wished I lived on the other side of town.

    I am represented by three local councillors, and I have a sense of the strengths, weaknesses and specialist subjects of each of the three, and, if I needed help with something, would approach the best one for the task in hand. I object to voting for them under the unfair FPTP system and if I was represented by 5 or 6 councillors and 5 or 6 MPs from a suite of parties, I would be absolutely delighted.

  • Drew Murray

    The system operating at present in the UK has delivered one dimensional politics favoured by the “two” parties that have a stranglehold on power A healthy political system would include diverse opinions and views. Sadly many issues of concern to the electorate are ignored or taboo.

    Change in this system is not going to come about through the willing participation of Labour or Tory – two faces of the same agenda. It’s going to be forced on the elite through folks voting for “extremist” parties as the centrists represent no one but themselves and their corporate masters.

    The only obstacle to reform is postal voting fraud as witnessed in Glenrothes and elsewhere.

  • Gerard Mulholland

    Spot on, Craig.

    There are absolutely no rational arguments against STV.

    In Ireland, where they’ve had it since 1921, governments have three times held referenda to get STV abolished and three times the people have told them to get lost.

    There is no other electoral system that so firmly ties the Mp to their constituents.

    No absenteeism there!

    If they’re not constantly on the spot finding problems to solve, they don’t get the second or third preferences most of them need to get in.

    80% of Irish voters vote for a winner!

    And the Dail represents Irish opinion in accurate proportions.

  • Abe Rene

    Concerning Strategists’ post, I should have mentioned that Italy as well as Israel are examples of the results of the political instability that PR can bring. When Roy Jenkins’ commission came to the Midlands, I was able to make a contribution to the discussion, along the lines I have indicated, and Jenkins subsequently said that they had had the most rational and informed contributions there, which would have included my own. The relationship between constituents and their MP that I referred to was an ordinary one that operates by email or conversation, not mysticism, but is real for all that. It would not be the same with a ‘parliamentary team’, and the constituency involved would be too big with too many candidates to choose from. This is a reason in fact that the Jenkins Commission rejected STV. The FPTP system will not change in the foreseeable future, which is fine by me.

  • Vronsky

    Abe Rene

    Israel and Italy are usually quoted as examples of the shortcomings of PR, but they are exceptional, for many reasons. A dispassionate look at all PR systems shows that governments and ministers have around similar terms of office under PR as under other systems.

    You also implicitly assume that political stability is a good thing. If that is what we currently have, I’m afraid many people would dispute its value with you. The cheerleaders for this ‘stability’ – which in fact is simply stagnation – tend to be politicians.

    PR alone will require long timescales to bring about change – all Craig’s other measures are also needed. In Scotland despite several years of PR (albeit the limited and unsatisfactory party list system) there is little sign of evolutionary progress. Labour still cannot see themselves as anything other than a thwarted political autarky, carrying along the Lib Dems as an auxiliary of useful idiots. Socialists and Greens, who I expected to flourish under the system, have yet to do so (although they may have lost out unfairly in the Dougie Alexander designed debacle of the last elections).

  • rob

    Great post, Craig, and convincing just on the unfairness of the disproportionate number of seats achieved by New Labour under the existing system. (As an aside, I suspect – being a bit cynical – that whichever party was in power long enough under the FPTP system would manipulate the constituency boundaries to favour themselves in the same way. Didn’t the Tories do that in the 80s or 90s?)

    @Abe Rene

    “I prefer one MP to represent one constituency, because that makes the link between voters and their MP that much more real.”

    I don’t get the need for this link at all. I would be a very happy indeed for a team of people to work on ‘my’ behalf, perhaps with specialisation in different areas of life: health, schooling, policing, etc. But above all I want them to be there holding Government to account.

  • Chris

    Surely the one thing that everyone misses about PR is that any party that could prove itself popular enough with electorate to get 51% of the vote wouldn’t need coalitions anyway. Perhaps that should be the incentive.

    As for the BNP etc… They are loathsome but if they represent the views of a proportion of the population then it is truly anti-democratic to refuse them representation. Perhaps we should instead look at the factors that lead to the rise of extremists and address those, and put the blame for their very existence on the current system and the two main parties (and the Daily Mail) where it squarely belongs.

    And, please, Craig. Can you address the issue of why there are two people posting here called ‘Chris’, as the views of the other are driving me nuts.

  • technicolour

    I would just like to say that to categorise people who are voting BNP as “daft” is a little worrying. They are not daft. They are being systematically lied to. How many of the recent articles on the BNP have highlighted this? None that I have found. And yet, here is Griffin,

    setting out his stall in an address to white nationalists in 2000. “We are determined now to sell. That means basically to use the saleable words: freedom, security, identity, democracy….Once, by being rather more subtle, we get ourselves in a position where we control the British broadcasting media then perhaps one day the British people will change their minds and say, yes, every last one must go…But if you hold that out as your sole aim to start with you’re going to get absolutely nowhere. So instead of talking about racial purity we talk about identity”.

    The Youtube video of his speech (shown by the BBC) is below. The thought of this man in a tent controlling anything seems amusing, if anything. And yet apparently they just got the funding to distribute 29 million leaflets. Not quite so funny?


  • Anne Savage

    The present party system and first past the post are inventions of the last century. They may have had a place when society was polarised between rich and poor, workers and land owners etc and two main parties could represent the majority of the population.

    This no longer applies, a new system is needed. We have instant electronic communications and the ability to organise a much better voting system than we have been given so far.

    FTP is as corupt and out dated as both Tory and NuLiebour. RIP!

  • Abe Rene


    I wouldn’t call Italy or Israel exceptional. I understand that the Netherlands, Belgium and Finland have all had this problem, and PR in Weimar Germany got Hitler to power. Therefore I view stability as basically a good thing; stagnation leads to electoral loss, as it did for the Tories in 1997, and I expect it will for Labour next year.

    To be fair to advocates of PR-STV, it appears to work well in smaller countries where there is a broad political consensus. So far as I can tell, it works well in the Irish Republic, and it might work well in an independent Scotland. But in Australia, a bigger ‘laboratory’, we have an interesting return to FPTP from STV in Western Australia:


    Therefore, in the UK I’m still not convinced about alternatives to FPTP, though an AV+ system may be worth considering that uses STV for a ‘regional’ top up vote.

  • technicolour

    Electronic voting in the US has been proved to be completely corruptible – do the research.

    Society is still split into rich and poor – the problem is that the party who previously represented the poor no longer do so.

    I researched the STV. It took me several days and conversations to understand it. There are also many variations on it.

    Is it really worth allowing the ideologically mad into our parliament, in order to get this shower out? Would it not be better to change the electoral boundaries to produce a proportionate result(something which would have to happen for the STV to be brought in anyway)?

    The Irish may like the STV but they still hate their politicians, who have proved to be as corrupt and incompetent as anyone else. So how has that worked, then?

  • paul

    You never know, if Labour get really hammered on the 4th it would be in their interest to change the voting system before the general election.

  • SJB


    Abe: “… PR in Weimar Germany got Hitler to power.”

    I would like to see some evidence that the electoral system was responsible.

    Arguably under a first-past-the-post (“FPTP”) system the Nazi Party would have obtained an overall majority of Reichstag seats with their 33.1% share of the vote (November 1932 election); for instance, 35.3% was enough under FPTP for Labour to have a 66-seat majority in our 2005 election. However, under PR the Nazi Party failed to win an overall majority.


  • SJB


    Thanks for the link. But 107 out of 577 deputies did not get Hitler to power. The Nazi Party’s representation in the Reichstag (18.5%) corresponded almost exactly to the “mere 18.3[%]” share of the vote. Contrast this with our dear Labour government who in 2005 got 55.1% of the seats in the House of Commons on 35.3% share of the vote.

  • Abe Rene


    My point was less that without PR the Nazis would have gotten much less than the 107 seats that they did. thus the rise of Nazism could have been held back.

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