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This House would adopt proportional representation
This House would adopt proportional representation
Using the electoral system of Proportional Representation (PR) means that the percentage of the popular vote that a party wins becomes the percentage of the seats that party receives in parliament. The person elected to sit in that parliament is usually decided by means of party lists, where the party lists its candidates in order; if it wins 34 seats in parliament, the first 34 candidates on its list are elected as members of that parliament. Many countries use it for national elections, though there are variations in how it is done.
Other countries do not operate PR in elections but use majoritarian systems instead, which give the majority of the seats to the party with a plurality of the vote. Under this system each constituency (a defined geographical area) elects its own representative(s) from among a group of rival candidates competing only for that constituency. In the UK, elections are organised on a First Past The Post (FPTP) basis, where the candidate with the highest number of votes is elected to represent that constituency; in an area where more than two parties attract significant support this usually means the winner has little more than 40% of the popular vote (a Scottish MP was once elected with only 28% of the votes in a tight four-party contest). In Australia, the Alternative Vote (AV) system is used, where voters list candidates in order of preference; candidates with the fewest votes are progressively eliminated from the count and their ballots are individually transferred to the voter's next preference until one candidate receives over 50% support and is duly elected.
The above outline simplifies the situation in most countries, where varying forms of PR may be used, perhaps by having very large constituencies with multiple representatives elected by PR from party lists, or by using PR for some elections and a constituency system for others. Recently, Italy has moved away from PR while the UK has begun to use it for elections to the European Parliament and in the new Scottish, Welsh, Northern Ireland and London assemblies.
|Points For||Points Against|
|Coalition government is a good thing||PR decreases political engagement.|
|PR increases political engagement which benefits society.||Extremist parties will rise under PR.|
|PR returns fairer results.||PR creates an unfair balance of power.|
|Safe seats will be reduced.||PR leads to weaker government.|
|The link between constituencies and Members of Parliament is important.|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
Coalition government is a good thing
Adversarial democratic systems such as the United States, Britain and Australia have been becoming increasingly dysfunctional with politics simply being a shouting match. Coalition governments lead to cooperation and compromise between parties1. Governments which are forced to acknowledge a wide range of public opinion are less likely to introduce policies which victimise minorities or ride roughshod over public opinion for ideological reasons; for example, the poll tax in the UK, 1988-92. Empirically, countries with PR systems, such as Germany, show that great prosperity can result from the policies of such governments.Improve this
Cooperation and compromise often does not happen and acknowledging a wide range of public opinion is the main reason why they cant compromise. Firstly, they frequently won't agree, which will lead to tortuously slow progress or even to having no government for the country. This happened after the general election in Belgium in 2010, when the record was broken for the time taken to form a new democratic government after an election1. This occurred because none of the parties are willing to compromise over election promises and yet do not want to have to fight another election. However if a government is to be formed the parties involved will have to make compromises and resulting in tearing up some of their promises, betraying those who voted for them. The alternative is the expense of going to the country again, with no guarantee of a different result2.Improve this
PR increases political engagement which benefits society.
PR results in more engagement in politics as every vote counts1. Political participation is good and we should care about the low voter turnout in elections that has been caused by first past the post. Surveys show that that those who vote are more engaged in the community in other ways and have better personal wellbeing. Research in Switzerland has shown that voting does make people happier as well as being better informed citizens. The higher the stake the person has, and the more likely their vote is to count the more effort they will make to find out the facts so as to make informed choices.2
2 Marks et al., 2005, p5-6Improve this
There is no reason to assume that there will be an increase in political engagement. Votes will simply not count in different ways. If there are more coalitions, people could feel their vote doesn't count even more strongly, as they will see that the parties they vote for change their policies once in government. What is the point in voting for a platform if the party that is pledging to fulfil these promises is simply going to drop them as soon as the election is over and the negotiations begin?Improve this
PR returns fairer results.
First past the post (FPTP) often results in a party without majority support being able to dominate parliament. Minority parties, such as the Green party and UKIP (in the UK), which can win 5-10% or so of the vote all over the country, can fail to win a single seat. In the UK 2010 general election, UKIP received 919,546 votes across the country, but not a single seat1. Parties with a uniform vote across the country are punished unfairly. Thus in Singapore's general election of 2011 the National Solidarity Party contested 24 seats and won 39.25% of the valid votes across the wards it contested yet still failed to win any seats.2 Theoretically parties could win huge numbers of votes, potentially up to 49% in every constituency, without ever getting any representation in parliament. As such FPTP favours parties that appeal to local issues or to particular segments of the population these parties that are losing out are likely to be those parties that either appeal to a broad segment of the population or whose support is based upon an issue that affects everyone. Furthermore, in the UK 2010 general election, two thirds of MPs were elected without receiving a majority of the votes in their constituency3. This suggests that most people are being represented by people they didn't vote for.Improve this
As there are many different forms of proportional representation some of them will be fairer than others. Implementing AV for example may help sort out the problem of MPs not receiving a majority in their constituency as they will now need to receive 50% of the vote in order to be elected. Yet it will do nothing for the other two problems identified. Minority parties are still unlikely to get any seats and parties with their vote uniformly spread across the country will still be punished. AV in both cases still favours geographically centered parties and still favors the top two parties over any smaller one as the small parties will drop out as the ballots are counted.Improve this
Safe seats will be reduced.
All political parties have seats that they consider safe and unlikely to lose. If a person in an inner city constituency that has a strong Labour history, wishes to vote for someone other than Labour, then their vote is effectively null and void. Labour will win a majority however they vote. The fact that the seat is so safe means that there is effectively very little effect people can have, resulting in thousands of people's vote being wasted and having no effect when it comes to forming a government. In the 2010 UK general election the result was decided by less than 460,000 voters in only 111 constituencies. This gives an unfair amount of political influence to a tiny minority of the electorate while making the majority's votes close to worthless.Improve this
If seats are safe, that is because people are continuing to vote for a party that they are satisfied with. Furthermore, it is perfectly possible for politicians to lose safe seats if the electorate is no longer happy with them; for example, in 2008, the Scottish National Party (SNP) won Glasgow East, one of Labour's safest seats1.
In almost every constituency the number of people who do not vote outnumbers the vote of the winning party. This means if those who don't vote all got out and voted the election could go any way, they could elect in a fringe party if voting together. So look at Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, one of the safest seats in the country, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's seat. In 2010 Labour won with 65.2% of the vote,2 with 29559 labour votes compared to 6550 SNP a majority of 230093. However in this seat turnout was only 62.2% that means that 27863 people did not vote, considerably more than voted for Labour. If they voted together for someone else those who do not vote could always throw out the party in power. No seat is therefore really a safe seat, they are safe because who believe their vote is not worthwhile do not bother to vote when in reality if they did they could make a difference. Indeed in the Scottish elections of 2011 the SNP managed to take a large part of this same seat4.Improve this
PR decreases political engagement.
PR results in less engagement in politics as voters do not get what they voted for – instead post-election deals between the parties create coalitions which do not feel bound by manifesto promises. In order to create coalitions there is a need for parties to be flexible on their manifestos especially where they contradict each other. As elections seldom result in all the parties in a governing coalition leaving power, in practice accountability is blurred and voters feel alienated from the political process. In addition, many PR systems are very complex and off-putting for voters.Improve this
On the contrary having several manifestos used by a coalition actually means that there are many more people who get some of the policies they voted for passed. Under FPTP only a minority has ever voted for the manifesto that wins and gets implemented. If there is a coalition created by PR then more than 50% of the electorate will be getting a large amount of the policies they voted for implemented.
The whole issue of manifesto promises also makes the assumption that parties always stick to them when they get into power. This is not the case even under single party government. Election promises are often not implemented as politicians are simply using them to win an election, they may realise that the policy will not form the basis of a sensible government policy, or be too politically difficult to implement. Creation of a democratically elected House of Lords was in every New Labour manifesto, yet after three terms in power was at best half complete1.Improve this
Extremist parties will rise under PR.
A proportional electoral system is more likely to return seats for smaller parties. Amongst these smaller parties, it is likely that we will find parties on either extreme of the left-right spectrum. The British National Party campaign for PR for this reason1. It is not beneficial to the country to have extremist groups like this in parliament.Improve this
A democracy means that everybody's view should be valued equally. However much some people might dislike one party, other people still have the right to vote for them. If extremist parties do gain seats, then it shows the government needs to do more to address concerns.Improve this
PR creates an unfair balance of power.
Coalition government is actually unfair, as small parties with only a few percent of support nationally can hold the balance of power. This can result in them being able to force through unpopular or sectarian policies with no national mandate as a price for their support in parliament; for example, the Dutch coalition lost its majority in 2011, meaning it may have to rely on the support of the SGP, a very small conservative Christian party that does not even allow women to be members1.
Particularly when there is only one potential small party that could be a coalition partner for the biggest party(s) that small party potentially holds a lot more power than their number of seats in parliament would imply. When either of the main parties could form a government the small party can negotiate with both to get the best deal possible. And once in government they can threaten to walk out if they do not get their way on the issues that matter to them.Improve this
Junior partners are by definition junior. It is the biggest party in the coalition that gets the top job; President or Prime Minister while the minor party has to make do with much more junior roles – the Foreign Ministry has been popular in Germany. In the UK Conservative-Liberal democrat coalition the senior partner the conservatives hold all the big offices: Prime Minister, Chancellor, Foreign Office and Home Office. Even if they have to compromise on some issues it is the senior partner that is setting the government agenda.Improve this
PR leads to weaker government.
Typically under PR, no one party gains a majority of the popular vote, so coalition governments have to be formed often between four or more parties. This tends to produce unstable governments, changing as parties leave or join the governing coalition, and frequent elections. Governments are unable to put a clear, positive legislative agenda in place over several years or act decisively in time of crisis. Compare this to the strong governing majorities produced by FPTP, such as the Conservatives in the 1980s in the UK, which allowed them to push through unpopular but necessary policies, such as tackling trade unions and reducing inflation.
A lot of successful countries use PR, so clearly it doesn't lead to instability. In particular coalitions don't always mean weak government. For example, Germany uses PR and has coalitions, yet is one of the strongest economies in the world and a significant power within Europe. Furthermore, Canada, India and the UK use FPTP and all have had coalitions. The UK coalition has so far proven to be both strong and radical. Michael Portillo, a former Conservative Minister of Defence has argued "They have been more radical on deficit reduction than say Margaret Thatcher was, but on top of doing that very difficult fiscal adjustment, they are also reformed schools, health, welfare, and pensions - areas where Margaret Thatcher didn't care to tackle."1
The assumption that Proportional Representation leads to coalition also needs to be examined. Australia has for decades had strong single party government under the Alternative Vote.Improve this
The link between constituencies and Members of Parliament is important.
Most PR systems would result in a break between the constituency and parliament. It is important that there is a single MP that represents a particular area. Having constituencies means that every citizen feels that they have a personal representative in parliament. Much of the work of an MP is constituency business, resolving problems encountered by constituents and raising the particular concerns of their geographical area with the government. The importance of this link can be shown in the difference in feeling towards individual's own representative and the parliament as a whole. In 2010 there was a dissatisfaction in parliament as a whole of 38% whereas only 16% were dissatisfied with the job of their own MP1.Improve this
The link between constituencies and parliament is not relevant the issues MPs deal with are national issues that are relevant to everyone. This break could even be a good thing as MPs will not be distracted by local issues that have little relevance to the national parliament. There are other levels of democracy, such as County Councils in the UK that focus on local issues and provide individual representation for these issues. The MPs work should not be about solving individual's day to day problems but about making the best laws for the nation as a whole.Improve this
Guy Lodge and Glenn Gottfried, The Worst of Both Worlds, Institute of Public Policy Research, January 2011 - http://ippr.org.uk/publicationsandreports/?title=&author=&theme=&pubdate=&pg=3
BBC News, UK 2010 general election results (accessed 24/05/11)- http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/election2010/results/
BBC News, ‘SNP stuns Labour in Glasgow East’, 25/07/08 - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/glasgow_and_west/7522153.stm
BBC News, Vote 2011 Scotland elections, Kirkcaldy, 11 May 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/special/election2011/constituency/html/36117.stm
Belgium renews efforts to form a new government, DW-World.de, 3rd January 2011, http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14749972,00.html
Cathy Newman, Channel 4 fact check, ‘Would AV help or hinder the BNP?’, 13/04/11 - http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/factcheck-would-av-help-or-hinder-the-bnp/6273
Ed Miliband, Yes to AV is yes to a fairer politics, guardian.co.uk, 4th May 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/may/04/yes-to-av-fairer-politics
Klaas Woldring, Proportional representation must be the way forward for Australian politics, The Sydney Morning Herald, 2nd May 2011, http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/proportional-representation-must-be-the-way-forward-for-australian-politics-20110429-1dzr6.html
Bruno Waterfield, The Telegraph, ‘Belgium wins Guinness World Record for political impasse’, 19/04/2011 – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/belgium/8461452/Belgium-wins-Guinness-World-Record-for-political-impasse.html
‘How can Parliamentarians best re-engage the public?’, CPA/Wilton Park conference, 9-13 June 2003 –
Matt Steinglass, The Financial Times, ‘Dutch coalition loses Senate majority’, 24/05/11 - http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/ca81e332-8540-11e0-871e-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1NMncfkN3
Electoral Calculus, Majority Sorted Seats, http://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/orderedseats.html
Anthony Wells, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, UKPollingReport, 2010, http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/guide/seat-profiles/kirkaldyandcowdenbeath/
Nic Marks, Ruth Potts and Perry Walker, Spoiled Ballot, New Economics Foundation, 2005, http://www.neweconomics.org/sites/neweconomics.org/files/Spoiled_Ballot.pdf
BBC Radio 4, Today, Coalition ‘more radical than Thatcher’, 11th May 2011, http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9482000/9482460.stm
Deborah Summers, ‘Labour’s attempts to reform the House of Lords’, guardian.co.uk, 27 January 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/jan/27/house-of-lords-reform
Hansard Society, Audit of Political Engagement 7 The 2010 Report, 3 March 2010 http://www.hansardsociety.org.uk/blogs/press_releases/archive/2010/03/03/mps-expenses-scandal-has-mixed-results-march-3-2010.aspx
The Electoral Reform Society (UK)
Reflecting All of Us : The Case for Proportional Representation (New Democracy Forum Series, Robert Richie, Steven Hill , Joel Rogers
Proportional Representation and Local Democracy, Mark Lazarowicz
Proportional Representation, Vernon Bogdanor
Representation (Key Concepts) , David Runciman , Monica Brito Vieira
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