25 July 2005

Response to 'Trees for Labour''s argument against PR.

Firstly, I'm really pleased that someone has picked up on this debate, thanks go to Trees for Labour,original argument here. I think it is a debate that we really should be having up and down the country in every constituency party as a matter of urgency and I will explain why.

You state that you disagree vehemently with my post, but you cannot surely agree that having a government whom only 21.6% of the electorate voted for, could possibly be good for democracy? I'll go through each of your points one by one.

You say you don't want PR because you are a democrat and a socialist. I'm sure those in Sweden who have had a democratic socialist government far to the left of Labour for most of the post-war period would be as perplexed as me by this statement.

i) SOCIALISM REQUIRES STRONG GOVT!
Can you possibly argue that Germany and Sweden have not had strong government in the post war period. They have also had far more socialist policies, better growth, more investment in health, education, public transport, better environmental policies. In fact a much more long term consensual strategy that has been a huge success compared to our stuttered, confused, stop-go policies!

ii) RESPONSIBLE GOVT!
By responsible government, do you mean accountable and responsive? Just by looking at turnouts in PR countries and comparing them to our country we can see which system voters think is more accountable. We have an appalling level of accountability, ever since Thatcher virtually abolished local government. This is something she never could have got away with in Germany or other PR countries.

iii) 'CHECKS AND BALANCES' AND VOTER CONTROL
In this election just gone, most of the 33 gains for the Tories came about as a result of voters switching from Labour to Lib Dem. In most of these seats the Tory share of the vote actually fell. Is A Tory MP what these voters wanted? Is this what you mean by being able to vote out who you want? Because it clearly doesn't work!

It's like playing Russian Roulette, with voters having to guess how 'tactically' someone else is going to vote in a despairing hope of getting what they want. A lot of voters are so despairing of the lack of choice, they are giving up altogether (especially in safe seats). This appalling turnout is a disaster for our democracy. FPTP actually distorts how people vote.

As for 'checks and balances', that is nothing to do with PR, but how the system of government is arranged.

iv) VOTERS SHOULD FEEL VOTES CHANGE SOMETHING.
Are you joking with this one? That is what PR does, it makes every vote equal regardless of what arbitrary boundary is drawn. Everyone knows their vote counts! The parties will have to campaign for everyone's vote all over the country rather than just a few thousand in marginal seats.

I think Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium etc. will have something to say about your claim that the most proportionate electoral system is in Germany.

As for this smoke filled room nonsense. Generally negotiations take a few days to form a government, hardly a problem. What influence does the average voter have on party manifestos in this country? Indeed what influence does the average party member have? Most voters don't even know most of the policies, and the parties do their best to keep their policies secret half the time. Manifesto commitments are not always kept anyway(e.g. look at Labour's one on PR). At least under PR you get a choice of policies and know your vote is counting towards those policies being put forward. What real difference is there between negotiation of policies by coalition governments and the negotiation that takes place in a coalition of party members. Every party is a coalition of members' views. Under PR, parties have an incentive to promote their policies whereas under FPTP parties have an incentive to hide them.

v) MINOR PARTIES, TOO MUCH POWER AND BLOCK CHANGE.
If the FDP blocked social change in Germany, they didn't do a very good job, because they have much more generous social policies over there than here. One question, are the FDP in power now? The answer is no, and they haven't been in the last two governments either.

If your argument is that coalition centrist parties hold back social progress then what about the Lab/Lib Dems in Scotland and Wales. They have stopped foundation hospitals and scrapped prescription charges, hardly right wing, unpopular policies!!

You are however right about Israel, it is an extreme case of PR, and nobody is proposing their system here!

vi) COMPULSORY VOTING
I wouldn't be averse to compulsory voting and I think PR supporters are just as likely to favour it as anyone else, I accept your argument about the poor having a lower turnout, it's obvious! It's what the Tories rely on to get into power. I would like to see incentive voting instead which encourages the poor to vote and is easier to administer than trying to fine people.

vii) DIFFERENTIAL TURNOUT HELPS POOR
This may be the case now, but don't think the Tories don't have plans to change it. They are proposing making the consituencies bigger so their overwhelming rural vote will outnumber the Labour urban vote.

If the Tories get back into power, (which is highly likely under FPTP, as they might only need about 20% of the electorate support), then Labour voters poor urban turnout will come back to haunt us and keep us out of powers for decades. This is why we have to stop the Tories getting in again, because even in the latest election manifesto they make it clear they are going to gerrymander the boundaries to favour them! They propose abolishing the current geographical privisos and making the constituencies larger.

This is what FPTP leaves us open to, it is the rotten boroughs syndrome once again. If you don't believe it can happen, look to America where the governing parties draw the boundaries as they please, to suit their party advantage.

This leads to the most ridiculous boundaries all over the place, taking no account of communities whatsoever. All they care about is protecting encumbents and doing corrupt deals between candidates. This is what FPTP has in store for our democracy. This is not democracy!

We are sleepwalking into a nightmare. And don't think the electorate won't let it happen, they have little stomach for electoral system complexities, or they would be storming parliament already about the present unjust system.

viii) CAN'T GET RID OF GOVT UNDER PR
It is actually easier to get rid of a government you don't like under PR because you know your vote actually makes a difference to who is elected.

This really is the last chance saloon folks. It is up to us, the Labour Party to save democracy. We do not just have a moral duty but also it is in our self interest. The Labour Party in New Zealand changed to the German system of AMS and has seen its' share of the vote rise by 10%.

NZ shows us that FPTP can be gotten rid of, lets do it before it is too late! Propose a motion in your ward party, lets get some pressure on the government here. Remember our manifesto commitments in 1997 and 2001 promised a referendum on this issue and even our latest manifesto mentions a referendum. WE must hold the government to this.

1 comment:

  1. there is a major difference between a vote counting and a changing vote changing something: if you like, the latter is the first differential of the former. for more detailed comeback, see http://tamanou.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete