Monday, April 26, 2010

Arguments Against PR (and an extended dialogue on silly Green Party policies)

Is proportional representation really a good thing? I am sceptical. The problems I see are as follows:

1) Constant coalition. It is much more difficult (near on impossible?) for any one political party to win an overall majority. To my mind, this would not necessarily mean giving power to the people, as it is often argued PR would - every vote counts, and so on. At the moment, you vote for a candidate because you like their policies, or you really dislike opposition policies - that party then has a mandate to govern. About right so far? Under PR, no party wins, so no party has a mandate. Instead, policies are vetted by a process of ‘horse trading’, which the public is excluded from, during which politicians decide amongst themselves what policies to adopt and what to drop. Now, how is that more democratic? To me that sounds like a system laid open to corruption and destructive self interest.

2) No more local MPs. With FPTP you vote for a party, repsented by an individual - and you know who that person is before the election. With PR you vote for a party and then politicians decide who to install in what position, after the fact.

3) Smaller parties. Sure, the Green Party would have a seat, and I think that would be a good thing (Although, I am thoroughly disappointed by their 2010 manifesto. I thought they had moved beyond being a one issue party to a legitimate parliamentary force. But their recent manifesto seems to say otherwise. Granted I have not read the whole thing, and I will likely be pilloried (maybe rightly so) for throwing my hat in the ring when I don’t have all the facts. So be it. First, the Greens want to raise the national minimum wage to £8.10. Small and medium sized businesses would be crippled! Second, they want to introduce a non means tested £170 state pension. Yes, the state pension is too low but the Greens proposal to address this is to give much more money to poor and rich alike. Eh? Where is it going to come from? £116 billion in tax rises. I can’t help feeling this displays either stupidity, on their part, or contempt for the voting public. These policies are unenforceable, and very disappointing from a party that I thought was looking like an interesting, progressive alternative. Anyway, rant over and back on the other side of the bracket I’ll return to the subject of smaller parties getting seats under PR). The BNP would also have a seat or two, and do we really want that? That is all. Maybe it wouldn’t make a lot of difference. Who knows?

There are a couple of other arguments I can’t call to mind right now, but, is that a fair reflection of PR? Or have I completely missed the point?


Blogger Paul said...


As a supporter of 'some PR' I think I should say something here :)

Points 1 and 2 are very big failings in the PR system. To be honest I've always felt that part of Britain's long held political stability has been because of its FPTP system and of course we don't want to detach local people from local MPs. It was interesting the other month or so I was googling to see how many asian MPs there were in the Tory Party to find that there were very few indeed - but yet a large proportion of their MEPS - elected by PR and hand picked by the party were indeed asian. A coincidence? I think not.

Therefore I wouldn't want to see an entirely PR based Parliament precisely for the reasons you state.

But a compromise would be nice, something to make it a little easier for the smaller parties to enter that sacred chamber and voice their concerns. Yes, it means electing the BNP, but if Britain's sick enough to elect them then we should address the problem in the open rather than trying to hide it. (incidentally I saw their political broadcast today and ugh, how dare they claim Britain's war effort as their own).

I genuinely think that if people's votes had a larger direct impact than voter turnout would be higher and political engagement more intense. Disinterest with politics has deeper roots than just the voting system, but I think it is part of the problem.

The Scottish system could be a good model whereby something like 70% of MSPs are elected via FPTP and the remainder come from a PR system - and this is how the Greens and previously the Socialists gained their MSPs.

Or if a reformed House of Lords could include some PR than perhaps that too could be another answer (both even?).

You're right in saying that PR leads to unstable coalitions and government is effectively sorted out behind closed doors - and even a small degree of PR would increase the likelihood of that occurring. But i'd argue that we're already closed off in other ways because of FPTP.

And as for the Greens, well, I'm afraid I can't agree with you about them being a one issue party. I thought their manifesto was glutted with non-environmental stuff and it actually annoyed me. I personally would prefer them to be a one issue party, it's when they start talking about massive pensions and higher wages that I get turned off by them.

Could not a major party just steal the Green's green ideas and make them their own? Please, please, please.

So who do you like the look of come May 6th? You're in a Tory seat aren't you? I'm getting in the pizzas and coke and setting up camp in the living room :D

2:47 PM

Blogger Eric said...


That's exactly what I was hoping to tease out. It's an interesting issue.

On the Greens, maybe I didn't make my argument clear enough. I think we are actually agreeing with one another. It was the non-environmental stuff that riled me. Totally unenforceable policy ideas that make the party easy to ridicule and dismiss without engaging with the 'meat' of their ideas, which are largely environmental. Of course, their environmental policies are excellent.

Turning to the election itself. I am actually in a Labour seat, which they have held since 1997. In fact, their majority increased in 2001 and in 2005, thanks to the good work and likability of local MP Bob Blizzard.

It is interesting to see the pre-election literature we have been getting, given this context. Each party playing to its strengths. The Conservative stuff ostensibly from David Cameron saying, 'you don't want another five years of Gordon Brown do you?!' And the Labour stuff ostensibly from Bob Blizzard saying, 'you know me, you like me, I'm a local MP fighting for local causes.'

Historically, of course, the Waveney constituency has always been Conservative. So, it will be interesting to see. Come My 6th it is quite likely to be a key swing seat for the Tories if they are going to gain an overall majority.

Pizzas and coke sounds good. Count me in :)

11:43 PM


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