27 July 2005

Why we need PR!

i) Think of the countries that have FPTP.

e.g. UK, Canada, USA, Jamaica, India, Pakistan, South Africa (Apartheid), Brazil (deputy elections PR since 94 but real power lies with FPTP elected officials), Zimbabwe, most of Africa..etc.

i.e. Most countries that have FPTP are not even considered democracies and all FPTP countries have very high levels of inequality in their societies (with the possible exception of Canada and they are moving towards PR)! The UK has the highest levels of inequality in Europe!

Now lets look at countries that have PR.

Sweden, Norway, Germany, Finland, Belgium, Netherlands, New Zealand (changed from FPTP in 1996), Italy, Israel, South Africa (post Apartheid), Argentina

These are countries that have very high levels of equality, especially in comparison to the rest of their regions, i.e. compare Argentina to Brazil, South Africa to Namibia, Germany to the UK etc.

No new democracy has chosen FPTP, they all choose systems of PR, look at Eastern Europe!

Obviously changing the electoral system is not a panacea for good. There are many other distorting factors, most importantly media control and political party funding can be detrimental (as in Italy).

But the evidence is overwhelming that countries with PR have more equal societies!

Name me one democratic socialist country that has FPTP, the answer is, there isn't one.

ii) Germany, Sweden, Finland etc are all parliamentary democracies. PR works best as a parliamentary democracy. These countries are more socialist than us.

iii) The point is that under PR, there is higher turnout because people know they will have a representative elected because of their vote.

You really didn't answer my question of how the electorate would know who to vote for to change things, when on average 68% of registered constituents didn't vote for their elected MP!

George Galloway was elected with 82% of his registered constituents not voting for him. If we remember he lives in an area where registration is low (tenants, low socio economic) then maybe 90% of his constituents didn't vote for George Galloway! Not a single MP had 50% of their registered constituents support! Even the most supported MP-Gerry Adams had 54% of his registered constituents not voting for him!

iv) You ask for an example of turnout rising after the introduction of PR. Look at how turnout in the European Elections has risen, look at how the turnout in NZ has risen. And most of all compare turnout in FPTP countries to PR countries! I'm afraid the evidence is clear (empirical evidence shows a rise of 7% on average, see above link). Turnout in European Elections is now higher than it was under FPTP despite the massive drop in overall turnout (general and local elections) that has occurred over the period. This is also despite a very unsatisfactory form of PR being used (closed list).

Could it be that the reason Labour ignores the working class is because FPTP encourages that?

v) Most Germans found the FDP a moderating force on the extremes of the main parties. I don't think picking out one bad policy is relevant when FPTP inflicted Thatcherism on us despite nearly 60% consistently voting against it!

vi) Look at the inequality you get under FPTP countries and tell me poor people are not better off under PR (even without compulsory voting).

vii) You are totally wrong! How can you say making constituencies bigger will not make a difference? Think of a hypothetical town, say the urban centre is labour voters. Starting in the middle draw bigger and bigger constituency boundaries, the larger the circle the more rural Tory voters are included until eventually it becomes a Tory marginal! QED!

Why are the Tories proposing the reduction of constituencies to 500?

It is impossible to gerrymander a proportional system! That is why it is called proportional. Remember STV is not strictly a proportional system!

Don't forget the Tories got more votes in England than Labour. If it's possible to draw the constituencies so Labour won 92 more seats, it's possible to do the reverse!

You have got to get away from the delusion that FPTP is going to protect non-voting urban voters. That is the case at the moment (to some extent), but the USA shows how that will change.

The writing is on the wall. If we don't realise what the Tories are going to do to the boundaries, we are going to let them in on a small percentage of the vote and then they are going to change the boundaries and make it virtually impossible for us to get elected again.

The Tories already have the advantage of press support, we don't want to give them electoral system advantage as well!

viii) Okay it's 25 years that the Tories were out of power to be exact. 4 years of Liberal Government and 21 of Labour. Remember the National govt from 1931-45 was a coalition! Just shows how strong a coalition govt can be, that in times of crisis we turn to one!

You are right to say that changing the electoral system is not a short cut to winning the arguments and votes. But you shouldn't be afraid of the voters!

The overwhelming majority of voters vote for progressive parties (around 60%). PR is a way of capturing those votes and turning them into seats. The only way the Tories can get elected is under FPTP, that is why they are implacable supporters of it!

The FPTP system is even a contributor to the divisive society we have. The Tories are ignoring urban voters because under Thatcherism they had 18 years of power without them.

All the parties including us are ignoring their voters in safe seats and concentrating on a few marginal seat voters. This is why the Labour party ignores its left.

Me and you are on the same side here. We both want more redistributive policies. Sorry to argue so aggressively over this issue but I implore you to consider the equality of countries with PR, and ask hard questions as to why we are the most unequal country in the EU!

There are now over a 100 Labour MPs who support PR. All the Tory MPs support FPTP.

It's a complicated debate, but the facts are there to support PR. What we all agree about is that our present system is not working at all well.

Obviously no system is perfect and changing the electoral system is only part of the answer to solving our democratic dysfunctions but FPTP is one of the worst electoral systems we could have.

We had the royal commission, they recommended a PR system. Our manifestos promised a referendum on this outcome, for once lets' be true to our word.

1 comment:

  1. Aware as I am that we could both go on at some length, a few points.

    You say:
    >>>

    i) Think of the countries that have FPTP. e.g. UK, Canada, USA, Jamaica, India, Pakistan, South Africa (Apartheid), Brazil (deputy elections PR since 94 but real power lies with FPTP elected officials), Zimbabwe, most of Africa..etc.

    i.e. Most countries that have FPTP are not even considered democracies and all FPTP countries have very high levels of inequality in their societies (with the possible exception of Canada and they are moving towards PR)! The UK has the highest levels of inequality in Europe!

    >>>>
    Neil, as you must be aware, this is a dreadful argument. India, the US, the UK, Canada, Brazil, Jamaica, many African states and modern South AFrica are democracies. Brazil even has a fairly left-wing president. As for South AFrica, the question of whether a country has FPTP for its elections is rather different from whether there is a racial disqualification or whether the elections are rigged or whether the President (as in Zimbabwe) gets to appoint a portion of the legislature himself. Pakistan had a military coup, I'm not advocating that. I would have been disqualified from voting in SOuth Africa myself and I find it offensive to have it suggested that the use of a given electoral system in a racist state disqualifies it from use in a non-racist state. One might with equal absurdity argue that the use of lavatory paper by Tories made it imperative that we didn't use it.

    You go on:

    >>>>>>>>>>

    Sweden, Norway, Germany, Finland, Belgium, Netherlands, New Zealand (changed from FPTP in 1996), Italy, Israel, South Africa (post Apartheid), Argentina

    These are countries that have very high levels of equality, especially in comparison to the rest of their regions, i.e. compare Argentina to Brazil, Germany to the UK.

    >>>>>>

    I am interested in the argument that social inequality is lesser in South Africa and Argentina than it is in the UK (metric? comparative statistics? source?) but I don't find it very convincing.

    In any case, even were these correlations to hold, which although I doubt it, I accept they may do, that is no evidence of a causal link between electoral system and social outcomes. Britain between 1940 and 1951 had the same electoral system as now and was a much more socially just country than many of your examples. New Zealand's great leftwing governments were in the early twentieth century under FPTP.

    I am not sure that looking to Eastern Europe for examples of best practice in building a political system that might sustain a transition to socialism is a terribly good idea, and several of the countries there have a separate executive and legislature, a point you still don't seem to understand why I keep banging on about it. I'm not nearly as opposed to PR for non-executive legislatures, but I don't think those systems are desirable.

    You say "But the evidence is overwhelming that countries with PR have more equal societies!": there is no evidence I have seen or that you have presented that that supposed correlation is other than coincidental.

    You say "Name me one democratic socialist country that has FPTP, the answer is, there isn't one." Name one one that has PR, there isn't one of those either. There are, as yet, no societies that can properly be called democratic socialist in my book.

    You say:
    "ii) Germany, Sweden, Finland etc are all parliamentary democracies. PR works best as a parliamentary democracy. These countries are more socialist than us."

    Agree with sentences 1 and 3, disagree with 2 and would like to see your argument for PR-elected Westminster-style legislatures, remain to be convinced of a necessary connection between the truth of sentences 1 and 3 and them having PR. Spain and Italy both have more Catholics than the UK and both are also hotter in the summer but I am unclear that the two are especially closely connected.

    You say "iii) The point is that under PR, there is higher turnout because people know they will have a representative elected because of their vote."
    Bollocks they will. People who vote for raelly unpopular small parties will still get hardly anyone elected. The only people to whom PR gives more power are those who can't bring themselves to vote either Labour or Tory but vote for a large third party. Since these people tend to come from a certain socioeconomic background, and since I didn't join the Labour Party to advance the interests of those sorts of people, I don't want to start rigging the electoral system to give them a bigger voice.

    You point out, fairly enough "You really didn't answer my question of how the electorate would know who to vote for to change things, when on average 68% of registered constituents didn't vote for their elected MP!"

    The short answer is "the 1997 election". That election showed massive swings against the Tories which varied tremendously from constituency to constituency in terms of which party benefitted. In Oxford West & Abingdon, the Lib Dems came from a long way behind as Labour voters switched to them to knock the Tories out of the seat. In Sittingbourne in Kent the reverse happened. When people want to get rid of a government, they know how to do it.

    On your Galloway points, yes low turnout is an issue, but I don't regard it as an issue that most MPs have less than 50% support. They still have more people supporting them than anyone else and if the others can't agree among themselves about what they'd prefer then frankly that's their lookout.

    Thank you for the links to articles which I will study in detail. I'm afraid I believe the relationship between electoral systems and turnout is extremely complicated and I note that the NZ study singled out people with extreme political views as more likely to participate, explaining the rise in turnout. Whilst I welcome all rises in participation, the problem in Britain, at least in my view, is not the non-participation of people with strong political views but the disaffection from political views in general that many of the population seem to exhibit, which at least in my book is a very different story.

    I don't think Labour does ignore the working classes, except in press releases, and I think this government has actually done a hell of a lot, albeit all too often on the quiet, to redistribute power, wealth, and opportunity to working classs people. It could do a hell of a lot more, and it could be braver about it, but the record idn't bad and doesn't substantiate the claim of ignoring the working classes. If you will forgive the remark, aimed at me as much as anyone else, ignoring those of us with socialist views is not the same as ignoring the working classes.
    You say "Most Germans found the FDP a moderating force on the extremes of the main parties. I don't think picking out one bad policy is relevant when FPTP inflicted Thatcherism on us despite nearly 60% consistently voting against it!"

    We got Thatcherism because the left was in disarray and too busy attacking one another. If we can't agree among ourselves we are unfit and unable to form a government: it is a useful discipline that FPTP imposes. Can you imagine a coalition of Michael Foot & David Owen? It was called the Labour Party, and the SDP decided they didn't want it to be in existence, let alone in government. The SDP was founded to replace the Labour Party electorally: not to form a different party and end up cohabiting with Labour in government. The Lib Dems reached for PR because the Alliance failed in its basic aim, and they know they can only win by rigging the system in their favour.

    "vi) Look at the inequality you get under FPTP countries and tell me poor people are not better off under PR (even without compulsory voting)."
    This argument does not hold up. Correlation is not causation.

    You add
    "vii) You are totally wrong! How can you say making constituencies bigger will not make a difference? Think of a hypothetical town, say the urban centre is labour voters. Starting in the middle draw bigger and bigger constituency boundaries, the larger the circle the more rural Tory voters are included until eventually it becomes a Tory marginal! QED!"
    Yes, and the fewer Tory safe seats there are for exactly the same reason: make every rural constituency larger and you import Labour voters. The position of the boundaries, not the number of constituencies, is what determines the balance.

    "Why are the Tories proposing the reduction of constituencies to 500?"
    Well, because ultimately, not being socialists, they don't have our views about the importance of a democratic national assembly and they think representative politics is an unwarranted intrusion into the affairs of the market, and because (less pompously) it was a cheap and easy line during the election as a populist "we're not politicians really, we're against all that" line.

    "It is impossible to gerrymander a proportional system! That is why it is called proportional. Remember STV is not strictly a proportional system!"
    Nonsense. Any system with geographic constituencies can be gerrymandered more or less effectively.

    "Don't forget the Tories got more votes in England than Labour. If it's possible to draw the constituencies so Labour won 92 more seats, it's possible to do the reverse!"
    But more difficult because of the distribution of Labour voters, and also for another reason to do with the way Labour fights elections.

    "You have got to get away from the delusion that FPTP is going to protect non-voting urban voters. That is the case at the moment (to some extent), but the USA shows how that will change."
    Britain's future urban development may have no relation to the trajectory of the USA. WHen the facts change so that they no longer support my argument, I will change my views. Until then, perhaps you could change yours to reflect the actual reality in this country rather than some possible future which isn't like what we have at the moment?

    "The writing is on the wall. If we don't realise what the Tories are going to do to the boundaries, we are going to let them in on a small percentage of the vote and then they are going to change the boundaries and make it virtually impossible for us to get elected again."
    There is a natural majority in every country in the world and in every city for left-wing policies. The fact that they have had very little success worldwide or in Britain is a measure of our incompetence at communicating them, our lack of organization, and our extraordinary capacity for disunity. These, not the rules by which we elect people, are the key issues we have to sort out.

    "The overwhelming majority of voters vote for progressive parties (around 60%). PR is a way of capturing those votes and turning them into seats. The only way the Tories can get elected is under FPTP, that is why they are implacable supporters of it!"
    Having spent much of my time an active Labour party member fighting the Liberals, I am afraid I don't actually swallow this stuff about them being 'progressive'. They're Liberal, which is different. They opposed the minimum wage, every suggestion they make is to remove something from democratic control (various things to panels of middle class experts, or to the ECB) and their record on TU legislation is horrific. There is no more and no less a natural anti-Labour majority in Briatin than there is an anti-conservative majority.

    "The FPTP system is even a contributor to the divisive society we have. The Tories are ignoring urban voters because under Thatcherism they had 18 years of power without them."
    This is simply not true. One of the most interesting things about 1997 was the near eradication of urban Tory MPs. There had been lots and lots, especially before 1992.

    "All the parties including us are ignoring their voters in safe seats and concentrating on a few marginal seat voters. This is why the Labour party ignores its left."
    It is my profound belief, as someone who thinks of himself as on the left of the party, that the reason the Labour Party in fact ignores us so often has very little to do with that and a great deal to do with the fact that we have very few positive things to say and most of our national spokespeople are tedious and incompetent windbags who take no part in actual organizational and electoral hard work. To quote one popular NEC member from the Grassroots Alliance, at a canvassing session, "if I'd known so many people were coming I wouldn't have come along myself".

    I've said enough, and I do hope I'm not being overly aggressive. I do agree that there are problems with our system, problems of turnout and people feeling disenfranchised, but I don't think the answer is PR. Although I think referendums in general are a waste of time, I would in fact welcome a referendum, because I think FPTP could win, and I think it would lay the issue to rest for a generation.

    Thanks for starting this debate, by the way!

    ReplyDelete