Friday, January 30, 2009

Proportional Representation

Polly Toynbee raises the question of proportional representation again, which I feel deserves a little bit of comment on this blog.

Columnist Polly Toynbee thinks this unlikely, but says if the result was a hung parliament that ushered in proportional representation that could prove a good outcome for progressives.

Now I have a fundamental problem with the idea of introducing proportional representation into our Parliamentary system. I think it leads to weak governments, where coalition is virtually always necessary, and it cuts the constituency link between MP and constituent.

However, I do have some sympathy with the proponents of PR, and recognise the more desirable aspects of a more representative system where smaller parties have a larger voice and no person's vote is wasted.

So perhaps the solution is actually more radical and even more democratic - have direct elections of the Executive, reducing Parliament to a humble legislature, and introduce PR for Parliamentary elections. This way the government will always be strong, mimicking the USA Presidential system, while the legislature which keeps a check on the executive would be more representative.



Paul Lockett January 30, 2009 at 1:45 PM  

If we were to have electoral reform, I’d prefer a move to STV, as it keeps the constituency link but increases proportionality.

I tend to agree with Thomas Paine “that government is best which governs least,” so, if PR does lead to weak governments where coalition is virtually always necessary, that counts in its favour for me. It would make it harder for legislation to get pushed through and would also reduce wasteful flip-flopping, where one party takes an action, the next party in power reverses it and then the previous government gets back in power and reverse the reversal.

Even if we just moved to AV, so we had STV in single member constituencies, it would still be a big improvement, as voters would no longer need to be scared of their vote being wasted if they voted for a smaller party.

For those who aren’t scared of trying something which looks insane, the Random Ballot provides a system which offers single member constituencies, proportionality and a guarantee that every vote will be valuable.

Vindico January 30, 2009 at 3:05 PM  

Paul, you make a good point about PR ensuring that governments are forced to compromise in coalitions and it keeps government weak. Although that would have a major bias towards the "centre".

I like AV, and in fact on the UKIP constitutional affairs policy group we ended up adopting AV as policy as it help counter some of the problems of FPTP while maintaining the constituency link.

I had not come across the Random ballot before, but it is certainly an interesting concept. Not exactly democratic though.

Old Holborn January 31, 2009 at 5:47 PM  

Under PR, my voice is heard.

Under the current system, it never will be.

PR can never create a facist or communist state. That alone is a good enough reason for it to be introduced tomorrow. If it's not too late, that is.

Anonymous February 25, 2009 at 9:12 AM  

"PR can never create a facist or communist state."

Weimar Republic?

Presidential systems all too frequently result in deadlock- numberous scholarly articles stating that they are far more prone to democratic collapse.

See: Przeworski- what makes democracies endure? or Linz Presidentialism and Democracy.

Paul Lockett March 17, 2009 at 10:38 PM  

I meant to respond to this earlier but completely forgot!

I agree that PR would have a bias towards the centre, but I don't think it would be any worse than under FPTP. The difference is that, under FPTP, the parties themselves tend towards the centre as they assume their core vote will stick by them, so they compete to appeal to the same small group of voters in swing seats who are close enough to the centre to switch.

With PR, while the average result would tend to the centre, at least the opinions represented would be more diverse as parties would be vulnerable to attack from both side - concentrate too hard on pleasing the centre and large parties core voters would go elsewhere.

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