Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Why Britain Needs PR

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th December, 2015

imageBritish MPs will today have the chance of voting for a change in the country’s electoral system, from First Past the Post (where the candidate with the most votes in a given constituency wins the seat, irrespective of the percentage he or she gets) to a more proportional system. This debate has come about because the outcome of May’s general election was the most disproportionate ever. The Conservatives obtained an overall majority despite not having a majority of the votes, which is usually the case, but worse still, the SNP was grossly over-represented (winning all but three seats in Scotland) while the LibDems were reduced to a rump of eight seats. UKIP fared worst of all, winning just one seat despite having the third highest vote share. The Greens similarly managed just one. So all those latter parties are naturally keen to see a fairer system.

interestingly, it is the Labour Patty, or at least some key figures in it, such as Chuka Umunna, who have been pushing for a debate on the issue now. That is because they realise that Britain might be saddled with a Conservative government for a very long time otherwise. Of course there are some Labour MPs and activists who have always been in favour of proportional representation (PR), but no Labour government has ever done anything about it when in office, having benefitted from the current system. There was a referendum early in the last parliament about whether to adopt the Australian system of the Alternative Vote (a very inferior alternative, in the eyes of most supporters of PR), which would have made things slightly better had it passed. But Labour failed to campaign strongly alongside the LibDems in favour, while the Tories firmly opposed. The Conservatives will also oppose the motion on moving to PR, arguing that First Past the Post gives us strong government, but that “strong government” is one that does not have the support of a majority of the electorate. Better to move to PR and enjoy a system that works well in many continental countries, where coalition governments reach consensus on issues and the pendulum swing from left to right and back again, as has so often happened in Britain, is far less marked. Under PR, the Labour Party could also divide into a Socialist Party and a Social Democrat Party, which would avoid the self-defeating internal battles we are seeing now. So, all in all, Britain’s democracy would be served better by PR — ideally the Single Transferable Vite system in place in The Republic of Ireland. But the current government will surely disagree.

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