Proportional Representation . . .

The following text is a cut and paste job from a “Guardian” editorial . . .

Proportional representation
The Guardian view on proportional representation: Labour should back it
House of Lords reform is necessary, but not a sufficient constitutional change to mend Britain’s broken politics

Fri 9 Dec 2022 18.12 GMT
Monday marks the third anniversary of the general election that delivered the largest Conservative parliamentary majority since Margaret Thatcher’s. Labour, meanwhile, dropped to its worst result since the 1930s. Governments are thrown out when voters want a fresh start. What was unusual in 2019 was that voters gave the Tories the task of reversing Tory policies. That perhaps explains why Rishi Sunak heads a government that resembles an opposition in office, pitting itself against actions of its predecessors.

This paradox highlights how close the two-party political system is to breaking point. People who voted Conservative at the last election know they have been had. Instead of getting a government that will fix the economy and the NHS, these voters have found themselves with ministers who are wrecking them. This has led to a widespread feeling of cynicism. Polling for the Compass thinktank shows that even if Labour replaces the Conservatives at the next election, the majority of voters think the political system is incapable of meeting the big challenges of our time – such as climate, wealth inequality and housing.

This despair has its roots in the electoral system. To see why, consider the vexed issue of immigration. Opinion polls show that half of the adult population now say that immigrants enrich society. But because most of the pro-immigration votes are piled up in 25% of parliamentary constituencies, and the anti-immigration vote is spread evenly over the other 75%, politics acts as a drag anchor on progress.

What needs to change is the distorting first-past-the-post voting system. In Britain, seats won at a general election are not shared out proportionally between the parties. But neither of the main political parties backs a fairer mechanism that matches seats to votes. Both benefit by disenfranchising people who back small parties. Defenders of the current system say that it gives voters two broad parties to choose between, and delivers durable, strong governments rather than shaky multiparty ones. Yet Mr Sunak is Britain’s fifth Conservative prime minister in six years.

The Liberal Democrats, and their Liberal forebears, have consistently favoured the adoption of proportional representation; the Conservatives have consistently opposed any reform; and the Labour party has been consistently divided on the issue. Labour is now promising House of Lords reform. This is a necessary but not a sufficient constitutional change to mend Britain’s broken politics. Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, was right to say in a speech last month that the current electoral system “fuels the disillusionment that feeds extremism. Proportional representation can help tackle it … [Labour’s] Lords reform without Commons reform is like changing the tyres when the car’s on fire.”

Labour sees electoral reform as at best a distraction. Yet the current system is stacked against it. Sir Keir Starmer still needs to retain every seat his party holds today, and get a bigger swing than either 1945 or 1997, to gain an unprecedented 120 seats for a one-seat majority at the next election. Sir Keir’s poll lead is shrinking. Voters will probably need to vote tactically to ensure that Labour stands a chance of winning power and that progressive parties, such as the Lib Dems and the Greens, don’t get squeezed out.

Britain has never been associated with just one way of voting. Proportional representation has produced more social democratic politics in Wales and Scotland. It could also be a pathway for extremist politics – as has happened in Europe. But a different UK electoral system would engender cooperation between parties and a more pluralistic political culture, as well as ending the damaging Westminster obsession over marginal voters. For the country’s sake, it’s time to change a voting system built for the benefit of the two main parties.

I feel very strongly about this. Thomas Hare pointed out well over a century ago that the so called “First Past the Post” electoral system did not reflect the actual views of the voters. So, although politicians are wont to prate about the virtues of this magic thing called ‘Democracy’ we haven’t got it yet, and our electoral system prevents its birth. To read about this in more detail one needs to go to the web site of the Electoral Reform Society (spoiler : of which I am a member) and read up both the ‘History‘ section and the section explaining the various possible electoral systems. It is often said that the country was offered a choice for PR a few years ago, but this is a lie. The system offered was the ‘Alternative Vote’ which CAN improve things, but which can also make things worse !

Very few countries now use FPTP, even those to whom we exported it in our colonising days. Proportional Representation using the Single Transferable vote is the only fair system. It may require reorganisation of constituencies, and ideally the rebuilding of the House of Commons chamber to get away from the confrontational layout we have at present. It also requires politicians themselves to change away from the two party dictatorship they (and we) are used to, to a more collegiate style of working. A style which puts the good of the country and its people first, and the childish behaviour we see at present very firmly in last place.

We see this type of layout in the Scottish Parliament, but alas, we also see that the politicians who are not of the Scottish National Party still operate on the principle of smashing the Government down, rather than the use of reasoned argument and possible alternative and better solutions to problems.

About Ian

Retired Clergyman, and former RAF person. Lives in Kirkcudbright, SW Scotland. One wife. Two children, three grandchildren and two great grandchildren scattered across UK, Europe and the USA. Long time member of the European Movement, and latterly of the Scottish National Party. ""Here's to us; who is as good as us? Damn few, and they're all dead"
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