As I said earlier, I thought I would take a deep breath and blog about my feelings on PR, given the debate it occasionally generates in the blogosphere (BTW the power of the blog was mentioned very briefly in tonight's West Wing, which was interesting).
For a start, Antonia mentions on the issue in her blog:
"I like knowing who the government is when I wake up the next morning after the election. I like coalitions inside broad church political parties made before the election not in smoke-filled rooms away from public gaze as the very reasons one might vote for a party get traded away. I like governments that stay the course and have a chance of implementing a manifesto. I like MPs with a clearly-defined geographic responsibility so that they have to help their constituents rather than list members flitting around with no responsibilities free to undermine constituency members and fight a four-year election campaign. I like local parties choosing their candidates, not faceless lists chosen by central office. I like candidates’ names on the ballot paper, not just names of parties. I like not having the BNP in the House of Commons.
As for gender balance, there are mechanisms to improve that under FPTP as well, not just under the variety of PR systems."
I totally agree, ( wow that's about the fourth time ;) ) and Antonia has articulated well the very fears I have about PR. That whilst it has a good appeal (In so far that it claims to be more representative) when you look at the democratic costs, coalitions, smoke filled rooms, geographic responsibility etc.. I feel we might as well stick with 'First Past the Post..'
Neil takes issue with this argument, piece by piece, with the following (BTW I hope you can bear with me here and my apologies to all concerned if you feel I am not being at all helpful):
"I like knowing who the government is when I wake up the next morning after the election."
Is that really a reason? The incumbent continues in office for a few weeks (at most) while the coalition is formed. Usually it takes a few days if it isn’t a close election. In the US it is almost 3 MONTHS after the FPTP election before the handover!! In Canada under FPTP they have had EIGHT coalition governments out of the last 16!
“Of the 16 elections that have taken place in Canada since 1957, eight have produced majority government and eight have produced parliaments with no overall majority. The average lifespan of a minority government is about 18 months, and the Conservative party’s position in parliament in 2006 is weaker than any of these predecessor governments. The chances are that a reluctant Canadian electorate will have to go back to the polls before the end of 2007.British media and political discussion of the German election in September 2005 saw a great deal of criticism of proportional representation in Germany - although the result reflected the wishes of the electorate and a broad-based government has now been formed. Can we look forward to discussion of the chronic instability of first-past-the-post in Canada after two indecisive elections in a row?”
Alex FolkesElectoral Reform Society
" I like coalitions inside broad church political parties made before the election not in smoke-filled rooms away from public gaze as the very reasons one might vote for a party get traded away."
So manifestos (that are rarely honoured - 3 times Labour has promised a referendum on electoral reform for example) decided by a party that can only win a minority of the vote is better than a government decided by the majority. You are having a laugh!
"I like governments that stay the course and have a chance of implementing a manifesto."
We are heading to a situation, now that the Lib Dems have many more seats where we could get ‘hung parliaments’ continually like in Canada. Except being based on the electorate’s choice, it will be based on the curiosities of the boundaries under FPTP.
"I like MPs with a clearly-defined geographic responsibility so that they have to help their constituents rather than list members flitting around with no responsibilities free to undermine constituency members and fight a four-year election campaign."
The trouble is ‘clearly-defined’ boundaries lead to the situation where the party could get 7% more nationally than another party and ‘lose’ the election. On the other hand, changing the boundaries more frequently destroys this so called constituency link. The link is rubbish anyway, as you point out, sometimes 90% of the electorate don’t vote for their MP. Unless you study the latest local polls and previous results, most people end up not knowing the candidate best placed to beat the incumbent MP. FPTP, rather than making the MP more accountable makes them much less. It is such a travesty of democracy, I could tell you now which party is going to win in 85% of the seats in the 2009/10 election and bookies wouldn’t take any of the bets because they know in safe seats people don’t have a real choice. This is not democracy where only a small number of people in a small number of marginal seats decide the government.
"I like local parties choosing their candidates, not faceless lists chosen by central office. I like candidates’ names on the ballot paper, not just names of parties."
You are conveniently talking about the worst form of PR, a closed list system. Like FPTP, closed list PR has no place in a modern democracy. Under open-list PR or STV, ALL the candidates are chosen by the electorate, the voters have far more power than FPTP.
"I like not having the BNP in the House of Commons."
The evidence suggests that the reason for the growth in the BNP is the FPTP system which shuts down debate. The BNP thrive on the protest vote. They are their worst enemy, when people hear how ridiculous their policies are, their vote declines. It is FPTP that could lead to the BNP growing in strength not PR.Of course PR would flush more racists out of the mainstream parties as well. The Tories were virtaully running a BNP campaign at the last election with their insiduously racist posters and targeting of immigrants/asylum seekers and gypsies.
"As for gender balance, there are mechanisms to improve that under FPTP as well, not just under the variety of PR systems."
Yeah but PR is far more successful. Turnout is 10% higher on average especially amongst the urban poor and the gender and ethnic balance is much much higher.On this Antonia, you are very very wrong. PR is uninteresting and too academic for a lot of people, but it is the most important subject because it is about apportioning power. PR is the best thing the left could do to alleviate poverty, if only we could recognise this.
Neil, as we can see, puts forward his case somewhat forcefully and some of his points are fair, in that we need reform or else we are in trouble. Not just the Labour Party, but the current democratic situation as well. That said, Antonia is arguing for the principle and on that I think she is right. People vote for the manefesto general, not on whether they agree with page 32 or whatever, and what's more the BNP and other such organisations, won't simply wilt because of a change in democratic structures, they are too dangerous for that. As for PR alleviating poverty, if only that were true!
Louisa makes another fair point here (from the comments page on her Europe posting):
"Personally, I think that though coalitions aren't always good, they equally so are not always bad, and I would far rather have a coalition which represents more effectively (yes, it's not perfect, and yes, people don't vote for coalitions) than an extremely strong government with less than 35% of the vote doing really important things. We live in a democracy, and I think the values of the people are more important, and consensual government is more important, than "getting things done". What's the point in getting things done if the public doesn't want them done?But I know that this issue is often a matter of opinion- it can't always be debated"
The bit about 34% is valid, although it must be pointed out that none of the opposition parties did any better. That said, the way I feel about it is that electoral reform is needed, although I disagree strongly with PR per se for the very reasons Antonia gave.
But what about AV, otherwise known as the Alternative Vote. It's democratic, representative, no threat of coalitions, and each constituency MP gets in on a maj vote and allows for second and third preferences. However, Neil's response to my comments on this when I posted them on his blog yesterday were:
"I would accept AV as a step in the right direction but that still leaves the system wide open to more gerrymandering whether on purpose or accidental (as at present). You just wait until the Tories get in with just 20% of the electorate voting for them (as they eventually must under this system) and see what they do to the boundaries. The Labour party have been warned. If the Tories were willing to back a military coup to get rid of a Labour government under Harold Wilson, they will easily fiddle a few boundaries. "
Okay, but isn't that what the Boundary Commission is for! As I stated earlier, what about the principle? All systems are open to abuse, so long as you have the barriers in place to protect the system, then surely that helps to make a positive difference!