Make Votes Matter

Once upon a time, opponents of PR used to say that we needed the UK and USA’s ‘First Past the Post one-party-takes-all’ voting systems in order to keep out extremists. As events this week in Washington have shown, it does the opposite.

Under Proportional Representation, all parties are represented in accordance with their share of the vote. An extremist government cannot come to power unless a majority of voters wanted it to.

Under First Past the Post, those with minority support can win total power (modern records were set by Bill Clinton with 43% of the vote and Tony Blair with 35%). But if an extreme faction wins control of a major party, they have a chance to win control of the entire country – even if the people reject them in the popular vote

Some opponents of PR like to say that we need First Past the Post because they think that it provides an excellent constituency link between the people and Parliament. Every major campaign for PR in the UK calls for a system that maintains or enhances a constituency link… continue reading here

But at present most of us don’t feel well-connected to Westminster 70% of people think that they have little or no say in how the UK is run, according to a recent YouGov poll. The truth is that extremists grow precisely when they can play into the fears of people who have been forgotten and unrepresented by First Past the Post politics.

According to Cambridge researchers, every single developed country that uses a winner-takes-all system has seen plummeting levels of faith in democracy over the past 25 years. Proportional Representation is used in every country that bucks this trend.

And there was a time when opponents of PR said that we needed First Past the Post to ensure strong and stable government. Those aren’t exactly the first words that come to mind for many of us when thinking about British or American government and opposition parties over the past few years.

First Past the Post polarises politics and misrepresents the people. It allows extremism to fester and grow without the light of scrutiny. Is America the inevitable end point of a polarising winner-takes-everything voting system in the age of social media and “fake news”? We don’t want to find out

Dear Ms Pahl

Thank you for your recent letter, and for your kind festive wishes.

I hope you had a very pleasant Christmas, despite the strange circumstances surrounding it.

I do not agree with your views on Proportional Representation (PR) and I fully support First Past the Post (FPTP). This tried and tested system ensures stability and clear governance, preventing disproportionate influence by minority parties with minimal public support, who typically end up holding the balance of power in PR systems.

The British people were clear on this matter in a referendum on voting systems in 2011. FPTP is well established and understood by voters. It provides a clear and robust way of electing Members of Parliament and there is an unambiguous link between constituents and their representatives in Westminster.

For the most part, FPTP produces governments with working majorities in Parliament. This leads to efficient and effective decision-making. FPTP also allows for the formation of a strong opposition party that can provide a check on the power of the government of the day. I believe that alternative systems are less transparent, more complicated and less likely to lead to effective government.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Yours sincerely

Bill Wiggin MP
Member of Parliament for North Herefordshire

Dear Mr. Wiggin,

I hope you have had a good start to the new year.

With regard to your  recent email, I am not at all surprised that you are satisfied with FPTP: it is after all the system that allows your party to remain in power and carry out your policies, even when you know that majority consent is clearly lacking.

I am well aware that effective governance and governability are always cited in arguments for FPTP. But it is democracy I am talking about, and the right of every voter in the electorate to be represented, not the means to pass unpalatable laws and measures in Parliament with greater ease.

Is efficiency in suppressing dissent and “getting on” with unpopular and damaging decisions a desirable feature of government?  FPTP does of course facilitate governability, but at the expense of dangerously overriding a plethora of aspects that even the “strong opposition party” will not be able to address.

In my view, the British Parliament needs a “round table”, or at very least a semi-circular arrangement, to encourage input from all sides, rather than the two-party slanging-matches (and worse) we frequently witness, to Britain’s shame.

The UK was obviously not ready for PR in 2011, when a particularly complicated and badly understood system was selected. What is more, we have seen that referenda in this country have not always been conducted with a clear presentation of information to the public, while other campaigns have been frankly driven by deliberate misinformation aimed at achieving your party’s ends. And you speak of lack of transparency?

Effective government should be neutral in its information and seek consensus without pulling the wool over the electorate’s eyes.

We should at least make a solid move towards exploring more democratic voting systems, rather than sliding inexorably down to third-world levels.

Yours sincerely,

Harriet Pahl

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