Sunday, May 09, 2010

Should we fear proportional representation?

There are vested interests opposing electoral reform. One of their subtler strategies is to propose pantomime-horse variants on the Single Transferable Vote (AV+ etc) , I suspect to muddy the waters sufficiently so that people will say change isn't worth it.

The fact is, under the present system 95.5% of the seats went to the three major parties; if seats had been allocated in proportion to votes cast, the top three would still have had 88.3%. Between them, quite enough to vote down everyone else.

Yes, some of the "wrong types" (e.g. the BNP) would have got a voice in Parliament; but actually, the fourth biggest party would have been UKIP, with 20 seats - and under a different system, UKIP might have gained switch-support from those who voted BNP because of concerns about national sovereignty and the economic and social effects of relatively uncontrolled (yet disproportionately locally concentrated) immigration; leaving the race-haters fuming in an even tinier corner. Some other minorities would have even fewer seats than they have now, and we'd have some fresh voices on the benches. Is it really necessary to uphold a flawed existing arrangement merely because it gags mouths that might offend us?

Another objection is that the LibDems would be the kingmakers, the masters of the seesaw. Not necessarily: how many of those who voted LD tactically last week, would have voted directly for Labour or Conservative if they had thought their vote would count as much as anyone else's?

PR would break the link between an MP and his/her constituency, say some. Yet it seems that so much voting is simply for the rosette, and we have just seen a General Election campaign fought on presidential terms, without our having the right to elect the President.

In 26 years, I've been doorstepped twice by Parliamentary candidates - both them in the last month, because thanks to boundary changes I'm now in a marginal constituency. Before then, I had two Labour bods in succession, each obviously taking the view that they needn't make any effort because the seat was usually bombproof under First-Past-The-Post. (I have a sneaking - perhaps totally unfair - suspicion that the boundary was altered partly to shut out Respect, who were threatening to do well in this part of Birmingham.)

I'm not a fan of the party list kind of PR, because that takes away the voters' right to reject individuals they consider unsuitable - but the Single Transferable Vote (STV) would give a voice to us voiceless people, and we might be heard from time to time among the hubbub.

I give below a list of seats actually won, and another showing how brutally simple national PR would have allocated them; what it can't show is how votes would have been cast if people knew every vote counted absolutely equally, nationwide; or how the picture would change if you could express 2nd and 3rd choices in constituency-based STV voting.


Joseph Takagi said...

" if seats had been allocated in proportion to votes cast, the top three would still have had 88.3%"

But the tactical voting effect means that people are more inclined to vote for the top 3. The whole emphasis is "the only way to beat Labour is voting Conservative". This reduces the share of minor parties.

Sackerson said...

It might. Or it might not - perhaps the LibDems would work a little harder at individualising their stance on various issues.

And in some constituencies you'd still get exceptional candidates or hot issues.

Are we looking to change the system to be fairer to voters, or to foster minority parties?

Paddington said...

If you have time, look up the Shapley-Shubik power index.