Proportional Representation

I think we have to be very careful with proportional representation. Depending on the system used, there are circumstances under which the system is no better than first-past-the-post.

The Labour government changed the voting system for EUElections to a PR-based system, until the UK decided to leave the EU altogether. Instead of voting for a candidate, people voted for a party and then totted up regionally. A vote of x% would lead to y number of seats. I’m fine so far. The problem comes when you assign bodies to these seats. The parties use a “list” system – people at the top of the list were more likely to be chosen, people near the bottom less likely. So the important thing is how this list is compiled. Some parties are democratic, in terms of electing their delegates, but equally other parties rely on the list being defined centrally. You can’t help thinking that someone who disagreed with the party hierarchy over something might not rank too highly on the list! So, whilst the headline might say “proportional”, the devil is in the detail.

Expanding things to look at the EU, the Council of Ministers has a great deal of power, and this comprises representatives elected by a variety of national systems. So, before you’re confident of the Council of Ministers, you have to have confidence in how each of the national mechanisms which come into play. For example, the UK’s contingent is selected off the back of the UK’s parliament, so if you don’t like the way the UK parliament is elected….

As I understand it, the system of the single transferable vote is practised in Australia. I mean, that sounds like a fairer way of electing people, but of course once somebody is elected, you’ve lost that range of views, and the representative will vote in a contrary manner to at least some of their electorate. So, much like the UK’s system, I think this could be improved, too. For the French system too, the purpose is to elect a single winner, so I think that’s flawed too.

I suppose there is a danger that, in trying for a fairer system, you make the system too complicated for voters to understand. That’s why I like the system I mentioned a couple of weeks ago – in that system, the complexity happens (mostly) after you get to parliament. With such a small user base, anything should be possible.

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