THE BLOG

MPs Will Now Debate Proportional Representation In Parliament - Here's A Handy Set Of Prompts To Help Them Out

15/03/2017 11:20 GMT | Updated 15/03/2017 11:20 GMT
Peter E Stokes via Getty Images

A petition calling for Proportional Representation to be adopted for Westminster elections has reached 100,000 signatures on the Government petitions website.

Now, the petition - started by campaign group Make Votes Matter - will be considered by Members of Parliament. Campaigners are planning a major demonstration outside Parliament to take place before Parliament debates the issue.

Unfortunately, MPs have a poor track record when it comes to debating voting systems. It does not have to be this way. MPs read on.

TIP ONE: The 2011 referendum was not about Proportional Representation.

2017-03-14-1489526432-7038567-CQQTDZNWcAA4Tdw.jpglarge

Really, it wasn't. Stop saying it was.

Sadly, the Government's official response to the petition fell into this pitfall. Opponents of electoral reform claim that we have already had a debate over PR and that it was rejected by voters. This argument conveniently ignores the fact that in 2011 the referendum was on the 'Alternative Vote' system - not PR. AV can, in fact, be less proportional than our current system.

David Cameron himself claimed he was going to "take on this myth that AV is more fair and more proportional than the system we have currently". Nick Clegg dismissed AV as "a miserable little compromise", hardly a ringing endorsement. Voters deserve a genuine alternative.

In fact, MPs (including Theresa May) actively denied the British people a say on PR when they voted down an amendment to the AV Referendum Bill. The amendment would have included two truly proportional systems as options on the ballot paper.

2017-03-14-1489524447-5221812-ScreenShot20170314at20.46.04.png

Potential results of the 2015 General Election under alternative systems

TIP TWO: Proportional Representation does not mean losing the constituency link.

To right this misconception we need only to look at the voting systems in the UK.

Scotland, Wales and London use the Additional Member System in their devolved assemblies. This system is a hybrid with constituency members elected by First Past the Post, topped up with regional members to ensure proportionality. Northern Ireland uses STV. This system means electing multiple members to represent each constituency. The elected members work as a team to represent the constituency and engage with constituents.

These systems maintain a constituency link whilst ensuring a proportional assembly. MPs realised this when they created the devolved assemblies 20 years ago. Current MPs should keep this in mind if they intend to claim that PR means cutting the constituency link.

2017-03-14-1489524656-6488436-Scottish_Election_Results_2016.svg.png

Results of the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, under AMS

Proportional representation can, in fact, strengthen the constituency link. Under PR, more people have a representative they feel comfortable approaching and politicians can work together to represent their area most effectively. Ask yourself, does the MP for South Belfast - elected by 24.5% of votes cast - accurately represent their constituents?

TIP THREE: Proportional Representation will tackle extremism, not help it.

First Past the Post doesn't punish extreme parties, it punishes parties that don't have concentrated support. It does not discriminate between 'good' parties and 'bad' parties, it distorts election results arbitrarily and unpredictably. The biggest victims of FPTP in UK politics are the Liberal Democrats - hardly extremists.

Proportional Representation means that forming a majority government requires majority support from the public. It is only "winner-takes-all" systems like First Past the Post that can hand parties power with the support of a minority of voters - whether they are extremists or not. You have only to look at the US, where a system that is very similar to First Past the Post has put in place a President that many consider to be extreme, and on an historically very low share of the vote.

Our politics is diverse and vibrant, the wide range of views in the country should be represented in parliament where they can be held up to proper scrutiny. No party in the UK is dangerous when their power is proportional to their public support - but any party can be dangerous when they are handed disproportionate power. Election to public office shines a light on extremists and means they can be held to account, rather than allowing extremist views to fester in the shadows.

TIP FOUR: Voters understand Proportional Representation - First Past the Post is the peculiarity.

"So you're saying UKIP got 4 million votes but only one seat? That makes no sense!"

Yes, it makes no sense. If a party gets 13% of the vote they should get 13% of the seats. Simple.

Of course, some methods of allocating seats under PR can be complicated, but sometimes thing have to be complicated to be fair. The calculations used are available for all to see and open to scrutiny. Most importantly, what voters see at the ballot box is simple and they see their choices reflected in the final outcome. If voters in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, London and the vast majority of developed countries can understand PR, voters in the rest of the UK can too.

TIP FIVE: Countries with PR have strong, stable, functioning governments.

The opponents of electoral reform paint a dire picture of life under proportional representation. Just look at Germany - chaos. Politicians working collaboratively, high levels of public trust in government, political stability - awful!

2017-03-14-1489525217-9237073-Angela_Merkel_Juli_2010__3zu4.png

Proportional Representation means Governments are based on majority support from the voters. This anchors them in the centre of the political spectrum and shields them from sudden swings in public opinion. Politics is less combative and more collaborative, making the government and country stronger. Whereas in the UK we can swing from left to right at General Elections, from one extreme to another, countries with PR experience more gradual shifts, coalition building and consensus politics.

Whatever happens when MPs debate this petition, the tide is turning on electoral reform. An alliance behind proportional representation is building; of politicians, organisations and activists. Almost 70 MPs have added their names to an Early Day Motion for PR, the Make Votes Matter PR Alliance is engaging parties and organisations from across the political spectrum, local groups of activists are springing up around the country. The pressure for proportional representation is building; a trickle becoming a torrent, a torrent becoming a flood.