26 July 2005

PR debate continues!

Trees for Labour original post.

I agree with the points Vino makes and I'd also like to give my response to tamonou.

i) Sweden is a strong socialist democratic country. Socialism and democracy is everything you asked for in your original post. A very proportionate form of PR has delivered this, FPTP has not.

You say Sweden is a special case, but why is it a special case? It has a very highly educated, informed electorate that has led to a less right wing press than we have here. It also has much more equality and social mobility. Explain why this can't be the case in the UK?

I would argue that in the economic and social sphere, Germany has had a very strong government. It has a more successful economy and far greater social progress than we have had here.

In the international sphere Germany has been limited by it's war legacy. It's Nazi past has been a very heavy burden. (For instance it was never given a permanent seat on the security council).

It could also be argued that Germany's strong federal system with power devolved down to the regions has slightly weakened it's national government in the international sphere. But this system has been very beneficial to Germany's democracy and it is a system we could do well by copying, although it is independent of the argument for PR.

I would also like to point out that you CAN have radical policies and consensus. The two are not contradictory. Indeed I would argue that more radical policies have occurred in Sweden and Germany than here. FPTP causes radical views to be ignored. Look at how the left in the Labour party is now totally ignored.

Under PR, because radical views have to be listened to and their proponents have to be debated with, radical views are much more likely to become policy, but only if they can persuade the majority to accept them! It's called democracy! Think of how parliament will benefit from the radical views of the Green Party being debated in parliament. A lot of views start off as radical but end up as consensus, e.g votes for women. PR speeds up the process of radical views progressing to consensus policies by allowing radical ideas to be debated in parliament.

ii) If, all you are saying by responsible government, is that you prefer parliamentary democracy to presidential democracy, then I agree with you, but this is not a statement against PR.

The Jack Straw article you link to has many disingenious points and some that are just obviously wrong.

The starting point for his argument is; Parties do not get more than 50% of the vote in Britain therefore we should have a system that delivers a government with less than 50% of the vote.

When you really think about this statement, you realise how ridiculous it is, and it runs through the thread of his whole argument against PR. There are other points I could make about Jack Straw's article but I will leave that for another post. Suffice to say that even Jack Straw recognises that the present system is faulty and should be changed, hence his support for AV. The problem with AV is, although progress, it still leaves possible and probable, the gerrymandering of boundaries.

iii) 59% of people in this country do not know who their MP is, and 68% of the electorate didn't vote for their MP. So if this is the case, how can it be perfectly easy for them to know who to vote for to change things?

This also says a lot about this local MP accountability that FPTP supporters go on about!

People vote for a party, a local candidate, a variety of reasons, and an increasing number try to vote tactically because they are so disillusioned with the system.

At the end of the day, most voters who switched from Labour to Lib Dem would have been horrified to know that this led to a Tory MP being elected to represent them. This happened despite the Tory vote not rising. In fact in a lot of seats gained by the Tories, their vote fell!

The injustice of this present system is that without changing a single vote, I could rearrange the boundaries to get a totally different result.

I could easily rearrange the boundaries and get a Tory government elected without changing a single vote. Remember in England, the Tories got more votes than Labour but Labour got 92 more seats!

Do not think that the Tories are not thinking this as well. If elected they will reduce the number of seats to 500, because they know this will be a big advantage to them.

Contrary to what you think, this will mean a lot of safe Tory seats swallowing up Labour marginals and turning them into Tory marginals. The Tories are not suggesting it for any other reason than this. When you defend FPTP, it is this ridiculous travesty of democracy that you are defending.

iv) You are right to suggest that floating voters are paid more attention, but at least under PR it's floating voters all over the country that are needed, not just the ones in a few marginal seats.

This can be remarkably few people. With modern targeting techniques, it means the parties can neglect millions of us for these few thousand 'chosen ones'. Is this democracy?

Also the number of marginal seats has fallen from around a third of seats in 1950 to around 100 seats today (ERS report), so the situation is getting worse. The majority of MPs in safe seats can take very little notice of their constituents and get away with it. This is an awful situation for democracy.

You have got to get away from this middle class/working class hang-up. The majority of people who do not vote are from working class backgrounds, under PR, turnout will rise, so effectively this will help the working class vote more.

Also Labour has an awful lot of middle class support, a lot of it presently ignored in rural areas. In opinion polls the Tories only have a few percent lead amongst the middle class, as indeed we only have a few percent lead amongst the working class, so it is not as clear cut as you are making out.

v) This influence of minor parties under a PR system is over-played. Any government elected under PR must get at least 50% of the vote, this gives them 100% of power.

Under FPTP as little as 35% of the vote (as demonstrated at our last election)and possibly much lower, can give a party 100% of power.

Minor parties under PR only have an influence corresponding to their support. For instance the FDP got 5-10% of the vote, this would mean they should make up 10-20% of any coalition government and this is exactly what happened, with them getting around 10-20% of cabinet positions which points to them having 10-20% input on policy decisions.

As a centre party, this made them unique in being able to form a coalition with either of the two major parties either on the left or right. But being a centre party meant their areas of policy difference were less and had only a moderating effect in some areas.

Having only 10-20% influence on policy is not the same as having a disproportionate hold on power. The emergence of other minor parties has reduced the FDP's prospects of even this minor influence in government.

vi) I agree that without either compulsory or incentive voting, the disproportionate number of non-voters from poorer backgrounds will be dis-advantaged. This is true under any system. That is why I would like to see incentive voting introduced. It has no enforcement problems, unlike compulsory voting.

It is only a recent fluke of boundary positions that 'some' of this disadvantage has been accidently corrected. The boundaries have also had the opposite effect in the past, making this disadvantage greater as pointed out by Vino. Also the Tories have plans to change the boundaries in their favour in the future, so you shouldn't think this is a permanent bonus of FPTP, it is more likely to be a massive detriment to the poor. Look at the situation in the USA.

vii) I've answered this point in part of my answer to point iii). I'm afraid to say, moving the boundaries around does have a massive effect on the results under this system. The Tories know it, that is why they are proposing their changes.

viii) In the last century the Tories were only out of power for around 20 years, so to criticise the German system for lack of change seems ridiculous. Do you really think this much Tory government is what the British people wanted? Or could it be the FPTP system that helped the Tories achieve this?

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