Proportional Representation: what is good about it?

What is democracy?

First of all, maybe we should define what democracy is. It’s generally described as a form of government in which ultimate power is vested in the people and exercised by their elected agents (in the UK by MPs) via a free and fair electoral system.

This would imply that the votes of the people should be reflected in the elected agents they vote for. Under our current voting system they are clearly not. let me explain why not:

It took just 38,300 votes to elect a Conservative MP, but it took 864,743 votes to elect 1 Green MP. Our ‘First Past The Post’ (FPTP) electoral system punishes parties that have huge support across the country but don’t have enough support in constituencies to elect an MP. Generally Labour does well because they have support in cities and urban areas while the Tories do well as they have support in the towns and villages. The Greens, Liberal Democrats and Brexit voters are spread out across the country so have very poor representation in our Parliament.

Majority of 80 for 43.6% of the vote

Our current government is an example of how FPTP skews the result of an election in favour of major parties. At the last General Election in 2019, the Conservative government had the support of only 43.6% of the votes cast but were rewarded with an overwhelming majority of MPs, a majority of 80, which gave them total power even though a majority wanted a different government.

A huge number of voters were effectively disenfranchised. Of the 32 million votes cast, only 9.4 million votes (29.2% of the total) were ‘decisive’ in securing a candidate’s election. 14.5 million people (45.3% of all voters) cast their vote for a non-elected candidate, while 8.1 million votes (25.5%) were ‘surplus’, ie they were cast for the elected candidate but did not contribute to their election. So over 22.6 million votes (70.8%) did not contribute to electing an MP. One could say that they were wasted.

Under a proportional representation (PR) voting system no votes are wasted. The share of seats a party wins would exactly match the share of votes it receives.

There are several arguments against Proportional Representation

Some opponents to PR argue that

a) you would lose the vital link between the MP and their constituency: This does not seem the case as nearly all PR systems retain a constituency link.

Others worry

b) that people would be elected representing ‘extreme’ parties: But, shouldn’t a democracy give all views within the law a voice however distasteful?

The argument for PR is not based on the belief that it will elect people we agree with; it’s based on a belief in the advantages of an open, free democracy. A safeguard is also possible, like in Germany where you must have a threshold of votes before someone is elected in order to exclude cranks.

Finally, some people are concerned that

c) PR leads to unstable governments: PR systems are used successfully throughout Europe. When there is instability it generally reflects tensions and divisions within a society. Plus there have been plenty of unstable British governments elected by our own electoral system.

Examining the Pros and Cons of PR, it seems that there are issues with the current FPTP system and PR comes out as the winner.

The advantages of Proportional Representation

  • Every vote counts
  • No votes are ‘wasted’
  • It returns a Parliament which truly reflects the views of the voters
  • It encourages collaboration, cooperation and consensus
  • Those elected tend to come from more diverse backgrounds
  • know they have to appeal to the whole country and not just the few ‘marginals’ which normally determine who wins.
  • No party can govern unless they get a majority of the popular vote or they have reached an agreement with another party which gives them a majority.
    New politics in the UK

There is a growing consensus that we need new politics in the UK, one that promotes collaboration rather than division. The majority of Labour members and affiliated unions want the party to adopt PR as official policy. The vote at the Labour Conference in September will be pivotal. Nearly all the other parties apart from the Conservatives want it. The time has come to upgrade our democracy.

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