The problems of PR

A recent YouGov Opinion poll for Scotland suggested that if a Westminster election was held this week that the likely result would be Labour 32%, SNP 30% Conservative 21% and Lib Dem 13% (96% total so I assume others 4%). If this is stuck into the Scottish Calculator on Electoral Calculus this gives a seat result of Labour 35 seats, SNP 10 seats, Conservatives 5 seats and Lib Dems 9 seats.

Clearly there is an "unfairness" element here. Labour and the SNP almost neck and neck, but Labour win more than three times as many Scottish seats. The Lib Dems on a third fewer votes than the Conservatives get almost twice as many seats! I can understand why people want PR, but I remain an agnostic on the issue.

I am not quite opposed to PR, because I can see the obvious failings of First Past the Post that this example gives. But I'm not convinced of the benefits either.

If one listens to party propaganda Plaid Cymru has had a huge effect on Welsh Politics between Gwynfor's election in 1966 and Plaid becoming a party of Government in 2009. Some of the claims might be taken with a pinch of salt, but some of them are probably fair. Tories might claim credit for the Welsh Language Act and S4C and Labour might claim credit for the Welsh Office and Devolution, but if it wasn't for the existence of Plaid, as a thorn in their side, these things would, probably, not have happened.

If Plaid has had only a quarter of the influence that party propaganda suggests over the past 50 years then Plaid's influence has been more than proportional to its vote tally, even under FPTP.

In the 1989 European Election the Green Party received 15% of the vote. This was before the partially PR D'Hont system was used in Euro elections, so the party won no seats. Under the present system they would have won a significant number of seats for the same number of votes. But despite winning no seats the party had an influence that was much grater than the size of its vote merited. Since 1989 every mainstream party has had to take green issues seriously. Not as seriously as the Green Party might wish, but the influence of that one election has been much more proportional than the vote merited and very much more than the Green Party vote has merited in subsequent elections.

Most political pundits accept that the Fascists will gain at least one, possibly as many as three seats in this year's Euro Election. They won't gain anywhere near as many votes as the Greens got in 1989. Under a FPTP system it is unlikely that they would have saved their deposits anywhere, they probably wouldn't have got enough votes in any constituency to make the difference between who won and who lost. But with PR they will gain seats.

Those seats will give them a platform worth much more than their vote and will make some mainstream candidates compromise with Fascist policies in order to retain and regain votes in the same way as Green issues were taken on board post 1989. This is the frightening side of PR.

As I said I am an agnostic on the issue - I can see both sides of the argument I can see merit on both sides and problems on both sides. But how does one square the circle?

1 comment:

  1. Think about this one then - if the Tories got 40% of the vote under the current system while Labour got 35% & the Lib Dems come in on 20% - Labour still end up as the largest party in Westminster.

    This is hardly a democratic or satisfactory state of affairs.