In Support of PR

Before I was born my mother joined the Liberal Party. She used to tell me about canvassing with me in a pushchair (And about how she met my father — another Liberal — when she called him a fascist bastard for agreeing with her).

Another story she used to tell me was that when she first joined she told them that she generally liked their policies but didn’t agree with Proportional Representation. Apparently their response was “Don’t worry, stick with us long enough and you will.”

It was true, of course. There’s nothing like being a third party supporter to make you realise how undemocratic first past the post is.

Now — with the most unproportional General Election result ever — I think the rest of the country is finally catching up to that.

Which makes the Labour people blaming the SNP and the Greens for their woes more sad than anything.

I mean look at the result:

Conservatives 37.9%
Labour 30.9%
UKIP 12.6%
LibDems 7.8%
SNP 4.7%
Greens 3.8%

That means 62.1% of the British Population did not vote for the Tories. And Labour’s amazing landslide in 1997? They won 43.2% of the vote so 56.8% didn’t vote for them then. (And in both cases this is ignoring the fact that millions didn’t even bother to vote).

Is it any wonder that so many people feel disenfranchised by the current system? We need to know that our votes actually count for something and under First Past The Post except in the few marginal seats that decide elections they never will.

But won’t PR mean we’re forever stuck with coalitions?

Not really. Majorities are less common in PR systems but they do happen, and there’s something else. Something more important.

Let me tell you a little secret.

All governments in a FPTP system are coalitions. Yes, even the majority ones.

What do I mean?

Well, FPTP favours two party systems but there aren’t just two political positions, so the major parties tend to be broad coalitions of people who in a proportional system would make up two or more parties. It’s just all the deals in dark rooms take place before the election not after. That’s why the party of Thatcher is also the party of Clarke and the party of Healey and Blair is also the party of Foot and Benn.

This is why parties feint Left or Right — it just depends on which part of their membership is stronger at what point but if they feint too far the other wing gets fractious so eventually they swing back again. (Usually anyway, sometimes as with the formation of the SDP the cracks become too much and a split occurs).

This being so wouldn’t you rather have a voting system where the compromises are obvious and where people don’t feel they have to vote for a party just to keep the other party out?

But extremist parties would get representation…

Possibly true — though in equal measure feeling disenfranchised is part of what drives people to the extremes. If a significant part of your populace is glowering at you from the extremes ignoring it will only make things worse.

And yes if we split the MPs by overall vote share UKIP would get 83 seats but that doesn’t mean this would happen under PR.

1. Even if we were using the D’Hondt method it’s highly unlikely we’d be using a country-wide Party List so the extreme regional voting differences in this election might influence it. (I’d love to see someone do a region by region breakdown on this).
2. People are less prone to tactical or protest voting when they know it counts if they vote for what they want. We don’t know how much of UKIP’s vote were those things.

Didn’t Hitler get in to power through PR?

When it comes to PR someone always Godwins the discussion, so let’s pre-empt that.

In 1932 the Nazis took 37.27% of the popular vote, under FPTP that vote share would have got them a majority but under PR it didn’t. In 1933 they took 43.91% which would have been a landslide under FPTP.

In other words you can’t blame PR for Hitler.

But we had a referendum for PR and the people rejected it.

Actually we had a referendum for the Alternative Vote System which is not a PR system but majoritarian system — albeit one more resistant to tactical voting than FPTP. Like all majoritarian systems it tends to exaggerate the number of seats won by the largest parties and in landslide situations it can actually be worse than FPTP. That link there gives a good summation of the pros and cons.

But yes it was rejected. In part, I think, because the Yes campaign was sadly lacklustre and let the No campaign control the narrative, and also because some PR supporters voted No because it wasn’t PR. (I voted yes because it would still have been a start).

So, no, strictly the people did not reject PR.

But the Tories will never give us PR while they have a majority.

This, sadly, is most likely true, but that doesn’t mean we should stop asking.

There’s a petition here. Go sign it now if you agree.