Monday, May 10, 2010

Hung up

John Gray, perhaps the most curate's egg pundit about, wrote a post-election article about 'bigoted' Tory MPs which strikes me as largely a load of old blather, like the worst bits of Straw Dogs.

But to the extent that it isn't blather, it does raise more awkward questions about our current electoral system versus proportional representation. First-past-the-post encourages broad church parties, where the fringes of the Labour left and Tory right are kept in check by the moderation that is perceived by the leadership to be needed to win elections. Under PR, there would be a much greater incentive for the partially-loony to abandon middle-ground politics and join or form wholly-loony spin-off parties. Those who call for PR generally assume that progressive, left-of-centre governments would dominate as a result. But might not the whole parliamentary centre of gravity shift rightwards? If we follow the percentages at this election, by some distance the biggest winners outside the big 3 would be UKIP, and the BNP gained twice as many votes as the Greens.

The theoretical arguments for PR are irresistible. The practical arguments against it are immovable. This is why liberals support it and conservatives oppose it; it's not just that each thinks their favoured system would deliver them power. In the long-term we'll probably end up with a greatly diluted version designed to deliver results as close as possible to those expected from FPTP, but with a few bones thrown in the direction of superficial 'fairness'.


worm said...

would PR mean that the tories or the labour party would become 'purer' versions of themselves, no longer aiming to attract floating voters? could be good

Brit said...

This whole business is piddled with raradoxes.

For myself, I don't want Parliament to be clogged up with people who have Theories and Ideas. I like the fact that as parties approach power they have to ditch the daft policies (eg. if they were really in danger of winning the Lib Dems would have to drop joining the Euro and scrapping Trident and other such luxuries only afforded to Opposition), and essentially present themselves as new faces doing much the same with more or less tinkering. On the surface, PR would deliver exactly this tinkering-only result anyway; but you lose the cathartic element of culling the old faces when we get sick of seeing them.

In summary: change is not good. Just say no.

David said...

Yes, forcing people into conformity and insuring that the right party is as far left as it can go while the left party is as far right as it can go are the great virtues of FPTP.

Sean said...

Its fun to watch the "left" with its progressive majority,block vote mentality.

Australias instant run off/preference system has produced plenty of right wing governments from both the Liberals and Labor, and would work well here. their political culture is pretty similar to our own.

There is no doubt fptp is not working.

Brit said...

But it's not so broke that fixing it won't make it worse.

David said...

It's not at all clear to me that FPTP isn't working. It's given you a hung parliament, but that's chance is implicit in the parliamentary form of government. PR will only make a hung parliament more likely, as more and smaller parties get the chance to be a necessary key to coalition government.

Brit said...

I think we all realise that David(though if we formally adopted PR we'd presumably also formalise some rules for dealing with the aftermath). But there are other glaring problems with the current system of FPTP - eg. it's biased towards Labour; and Scotland, as ever, is a problem.

Brit said...

It should be pointed out that even the Lib Dems aren't proposing a pure form of PR. I believe they want Single Transferable Vote; and Labour have been mentioning Alternative Vote though a lot of their members are happy with FPTP because it does after all favour them.

Joey Joe Joe Jr. said...

I suggest that that any referendum on voting reform be decided not on a popular vote but a first-pass-the-post basis where different regions of the country choose between seven options:
-AV plus
-FPTP with equally sized constinuencies (by population)
-Single Transferable Quite Proportional Vote
-FPTP with equally sized constinuencies (by area)
-FPTP as we know it

If half the regions go for one of the options they win. Of course, first a referendum on whether or not to have this referendum must be held, in which case we all must choose, in descending order of preference: YES, NO, or MAYBE.
In the absence of a clear winner, the Queen will decide between a YES-MAYBE and a YES-NO coalition.

Joey Joe Joe Jr. said...

In my proposed referendum, it goes without saying, in the interest of fairness the united countries, England Scotland etc, be given an equal number of deciding regions.

Peter said...

I don't want Parliament to be clogged up with people who have Theories and Ideas.

Brit, I swear I have never read a sentence that summed up the spirit of Anglo-conservatism better than that one. Somebody call Bartlett's.

Mark said...

"First-past-the-post encourages broad church parties, where the fringes of the Labour left and Tory right are kept in check by the moderation that is perceived by the leadership to be needed to win elections."

That is exactly what hasn't happened, though. The fringes of the Tory party destroyed it as a credible party of government in the 1990s. Arguably, the same may happen to the Labour Party as the Brown-Blair factions fight it out in the coming months. The danger of the broad church arrangement is that you think you are voting for a fairly moderate lot only to find Dave Spart or Sir Bufton Flogger calling the shots later.

If enough people want PR then it is going to happen, for good or ill. There's no particular reason it should be for ill. The public has lost faith in the present system so change of some kind is certain to come. I'm with Sean on this one.

Sean said...

The Problem Brit is the fracture of parties, (we now have 10% indies) this seems to producing the odd position where the system is stacked in favour of labours rotten boroughs.(low turnout, lots of seats)

This is adding up to the system having a legitimacy question hanging over it. dont get me wrong I would want to see an equalization of constituencies before giving a final judgment.

In fact we should have had a hung commons in 2005 and a conclusive Tory win in 2010.

Brit said...

Strange, I don't see that at all, Mark. As many complain (but not me) there's not a fagpaper's width between 'em ideologically. And fringes making parties unfit to govern is my point. Also, I think people did get sick, but sick of Labour (inevitable after 13 years and another big argument for the cathartic element of FPTP) and the expenses scandal. Hardly anyone except liberal types ever mentions the electoral system in the list of things they're sick of. Funnily enough I think the TV debates created a lot more interest in politics and undid some of the sick-of-it-ness.

malty said...

Anyone smiling favourably upon the PR system, go spend an hour or two in the Holyrood visitors gallery and peer into the abyss or in Salmonds case, the abscess.