Electoral reform – if at first you don’t succeed, try again?

In the aftermath of the election there has been a lot of whinging by the usual sources that the electoral system is unfair, and a system of proportional representation is what is really needed to reinvigorate democracy. There are a number of flaws in this thesis, not least the fact that Britain voted in a democratic referendum for a more proportional system in 2011, and resoundingly decided to keep the first-past-the-post system. Aside from this democratic confirmation of FPTP, there are several other reasons why it should be retained:

1. PR would mean that there would be no government right now. The spread of votes means that no party would have commanded an absolute majority, and no viable coalition would be possible. For example, the Tories (on 36.8%) might attempt to form a coalition with UKIP (on 12.6%.) This would leave them with just under 50% of the votes, meaning that they could not pass any law. But Labour (30.4%) wouldn’t have it better – they would probably endeavour to go into coalition with the Lib Dems (7.9%) and the SNP (4.7%) But this would give them barely 40%, giving them no chance of forming a government. No other reasonable permutations are possible – Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP would never go into coalition alongside UKIP. Therefore FPTP creates workable majorities that permit the formation of a government and a stable country.

2. PR would destroy regionalism. At present, MPs represent a particular constituency and are personally accountable to those constituents. If they have a problem they have a local representative in the form of their MP, who should represent his constituents as a central part of his role as a Member of Parliament. But under proportional representation this link between representative and locality would be destroyed; people would simply be voting for career politicians with no accountability to a locality. There would be no voice for the people of a particular area, and hence the system would be infinitely less responsive to regional concerns.

3. PR would disenfranchise all the provinces. It is incontrovertible that Scotland, Wales and Ulster form integral parts of the United Kingdom – there is no British nation without them. And it is similarly incontrovertible that they require representation in the Westminster Parliament as long as they remain part of the UK. But because the population of these nations is much smaller, the tyranny of the majority means that they would not have adequate representation in Parliament. If PR was implemented, the SNP would have perhaps four seats, whilst Plaid Cymru and all of the Ulster parties would have none. This is an intolerable situation; not only is it unfair in not affording appropriate constitutional weightage to the Home Nations apart from England, but it would mean that there is no democratic accountability between the peoples of these nations and Westminster.

4. PR has hardly been successful around the world. Countries which operate on a proportional system tend to have some of the worst political atmospheres in the world – for example, consider Israel, which is perpetually split between left and right. In Israel coalitions are a necessity, but break up continuously; there is regular acrimony within a coalition, whilst even to get to the stage of forming one is a marathon process lasting many weeks if not months. Even countries like Germany have different issues – they negate Israel’s problem of too many small parties by having a high threshold, but this simply ignores small regional parties.

5. PR leads to a tyranny of the majority. Britain is not a country of 65m people. It is a country of innumerable towns, villages, hills, mountains, lakes, rivers, fields and moors. Having Proportional Representation would undermine this diversity and create a constitutional framework in which no heed is taken of this diversity and the will of the majority of the people is imposed upon the rest. Seeing as most British people live in urban areas this would be unfair towards those who lived in rural areas or indeed smaller cities. It would further entrench the dominance of London to the politics of this country, and would negate the wonderful diversity of Britain.

The most fundamental issue, of course, is the fact that the system at present simply isn’t broken. We’ve had FPTP for many centuries now, and it has ensured a fair and efficient system of government for the entirety of this period. Britain has never had a civil war (England has, but that’s a different matter.) Nor have we had a constitutional revolution, a public uprising, or seen an administration fall due to revolt. Why? Because the system works. With all its complexities and subtleties, which might seem odd and archaic, it always has worked. Attempts to tamper with hundreds of years of history rarely work. And that is why any attempts to change the voting system of this country are pointless, unfair and should not be accepted by any democratic regime.


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