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Saturday, June 14, 2014


    A few days ago I was, as one is, involved in a pub discussion over Proportional Representation V the First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system.

So this is a list of the arguments for PR, most of which I never thought of at the time:

1 - Its democratic. We get the results we actually voted for.

2 - PR is far more stable than FPTP since a small change in % voting doesn't mean an utterly opposed party gets a majority.

3 - In economics one of the few things almost all economists agree on is that free competition is better than monopoly for customers and in particular for encouraging innovation. And in turn that maintaining a monopoly requires barriers to entry to the industry. FPTP is a very high barrier
 since, at least in theory UKIP, to take 1 example, could get 25% of the national vote and 0% of representatives (ie 0 MPs).

4 - FPTP artificially enhances differences between different geographical regions. In Scotland FPTP gives us an overwhelming Labour majority on under 40% of the vote. In the south of England there is an overwhelming Tory majority, again on about 42% of the vote. In fact neither are remotely as "leftist" or "rightist" with the majority voting against the ruling "consensus". This has led Scots to actually believe the guff we are told of how we have different political values - leading to the current referendum.

5 - Where a particularist party (ie one which deliberately appeals to an ethnic group or "working class") gets a hold and its supporters live together (thus no feminist party can use this) it will get representation far greater than similar non-particularist parties. Particularism means people not caring for society as a whole which is a bad very thing for society.

6 - MPs in marginal constituencies get changed but those in safe seats have a job for life. In safe ones the only electorate the MP need fear is the tiny number of people in their constituency selection committee.

7 - Where there are several parties, as now, the majority of people in the large majority of constituencies are going to be represented by somebody they didn't want. How "represented" that makes them feel must be questionable.

8 - Thus under FPTP people, correctly, feel their own vote doesn't count.

9 - Indeed parties' political analysts often say the election turns on about 50,000 floating voters in marginal constituencies.

10 - In some areas you get 1 entirely immovable party that has held complete power for generations, which encourages corruption and contempt for the electors (yes I do mean Glasgow Labour).

11 - The US civil war is an example of the breakdown of trust that FPTP can produce. The South's secession was as brought about by Lincoln winning an overwhelming majority of electoral places on 39.7% of the vote. Had there been a run off he would probably have lost.

12 - Because FPTP tends to dragoon politics into a 2 party system it means the nuances of dissent aren't shown.

13 - Theoretically FPTP should produce a 1 party system because a party that gets 60% of vthe vote in every constituency will get 100% of MPs. Normally this doesn't happen because ruling parties turn out uniformly to be so bad that opposition coalesces into an 2nd party - hence 2 party system. The only exception to this is Singapore where 1 party has won since independence, but Singapore has actually had remarkable competent government.

14 - Gerrymandering (setting constituency boundaries in such a way as to ensure voters for those in charge are spread evenly enough for them to win a small majority in some areas while all opposition voters are in one constituency where they get only 1 member) is a constant problem, sometimes more blatantly than others.

15 - Feedback. The great advantage of democracy, or any sort of parliamentary government, over other systems is that when something isn't working society sends a sign. This is known as negative feedback and is a requirement in any complex machinery (the centrifugal governor made the steam age).  The glandular system does the same for the body. I believe such feedback is equally vital to governmental systems. FPTP does allow some feedback but it takes much greater effort and usually limits the signal that can be sent to the official opposition party's.

16 - Because power is in the hands of big parties, the individual MP's fate is very much in the hands of whoever is party leader. When MPs stand in their own name they are almost always squeezed out. Compare this with both Margo MacDonald and Dennis Canavan both of whom refused to accept being fired by their parties.

For PR

1 - It maintains the constituency link - everybody can find out who their representative as (though as #7 shows) the odds are they will not represent their views.

2 - It provides united government able to take action. Thus when Mussolini took power he introduced an FPTP rule applying to the total Parliament - that the largest single party must automatically get 60% of the seats. This system is in some ways better than our sort of PR in that the barrier to entry is only at the government level not at the getting into Parliament level so parties with new ideas are not so wholly excluded. Decisive united government is a bonus, if you are sure it will be decisive in the right direction.

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