01 August 2005

My plea to Labour Party Members!

This is my plea to Trees for Labour in our PR debate, but it could just as easily be addressing all Labour Party Members. After hearing Antonia Bance call my views on PR odd, it made me realise that despite over 100 Labour MPs supporting me on this, there is still not enough support amongst Labour Party members for PR, hence my post here.

Tamonou, I appreciate your time is precious, sorry to keep bombarding you. If you only have time to read one article please read the PR and equality article.

I think I understand exactly why you believe what you believe on this issue, but you are on very shaky ground. I feel compelled to show you as much evidence as I can to persuade you of my case.

You talk of being consistent on this issue. You said in the past, that you were a believer in PR for the UK, this just happened to coincide with Labour being in opposition for 18 years and it being (not surprisingly) official Labour policy. You are very much a party man, all dissent has been quelled in the chase for the discipline needed to get elected under FPTP. This has been terrible for Labour party democracy and terrible for the working class who rely on us.

Of course when we got elected in 1997 with a massive majority, PR suddenly seemed less interesting and Labour has quietly buried the issue.

This IMO has been a big mistake. PR is about democracy, it should not be about which party can temporarily win.

It saddens me immensely to hear you say that another dose of Toryism will be a price worth paying for having our chance once in a generation. Look at how far Thatcherism knocked the Labour progressive movement back and remember that it will happen again, except this time they will be worse and gerrymander the system to take the urban vote out of the equation.

Whether you believe it or not, the Lib Dems are closer to us than the Tories will ever be. They even have a policy of increasing taxes for earners over £100,000. This is a policy to the left of us.

You talk of a Lib Dem/Labour coalition, but the Lib Dems are a funny lot. They will not survive PR, infact the whole political landscape will change. There will be a left of centre bloc, including us, the socialists, the greens and a right of centre bloc of UKIP and a pro-Europe Tory rump. The Lib Dems are a curious mix of protest votes and a spectrum of ideologies. I can't see them holding together for more than one election after PR.

As social democrats, Labour is very likely to be the biggest party. This is demonstrated by looking at PR systems around the world. We will be helped by the Tory split which will become more divisive under PR.

Look at the National party in NZ, which like the Tories consistently had absolute power on a pitiful share of the vote, now their vote has plummeted under PR, and they are a powerless rump.

In NI there is a big difference between the local PR elections and the FPTP elections for Westminster. Under FPTP, Sinn Fein and the DUP have taken over. In other words extremists have drowned out the moderates. In the PR elections the Alliance, SDLP and UUP win more seats and have more influence, moderating the debate.

Its good that you accept that where there are ethnic and political divisions, PR is important, essential even!

What you don't realise is that the UK ethnic population or other working class views are completely ignored. There are so few ethnic and working class MPs compared to the number you get under PR systems. PR is just as important in this country to give everyone a voice.

I admit that in urban towns the Tories did have MPs, but in the big metropolis outside London, the Tories have been minimal to non existent since the early Eighties. This has made them even more out of touch and dangerous if re-elected.

Just 35% of the vote on a very low turnout, was enough for a 66 majority, you argue this is legitimate because we were the biggest party, but what if the Tories were elected with a majority with just 30% or 29%, how low would you go and still consider it legitimate? Also remember FPTP doesn't guarantee the vote winner the most seats, as the vote fractures chances increase that even third place could guarantee a majority. That's how illegitimate this system is.

Don't you accept that being elected with an ever smaller percentage of the vote, (let alone electorate) leaves us open to extreme policies being rode roughshod over the population, hence the poll tax, Iraq war!

Labour despite its low vote has governed very consensually on most issues. I wouldn't trust the Tories to do the same!

I can see how tempting it is to keep FPTP while we are winning but we have to look at our long term future. For socialism to grow we need a long term democracy, PR will give us this.

AMS as I explained cannot be gerrymandered because it always produces a proportional result. The two tier MPs, you talk about are a disadvantage but quite a small disadvantage compared to the manyfold disaster that is FPTP. In terms of middle class MPs, there are far fewer under PR. There is a disgraceful lack of ethnic, female and working class representation under FPTP! Look at Scotland and Wales, Scandanavia, Germany, New Zealand to see how this is corrected.

I think the executive/legislative point you make is irrelevant here. PR can work just as well. Government under FPTP is still a government of consensus and differing views, but with the difference it is restricted to one party. FPTP is like consulting a 100 people to make a decision when there are 300 people's views to consider. PR consults everyone and the majority opinion prevails, it is just as easy to come to a decision, it is just that everyone has had an input to the debate instead of just a few.

Socialist ideology does far better under PR, see the article from harvard.


  1. Here is something to add to the debate - thanks for reading the Henley Blog I will respond later in more detail

    A rough estimate of the effects of the proposed boundary changes to constituencies suggests that if the changes had been in force in this year’s general election, Labour would have had a majority of 53 or thereabouts rather than 67. The Conservatives would still need a lead of 9-11 per cent to win power.
    While the Boundary Commission is obliged to work on outdated electorate figures, using the most up-to-date figures possible would involve the transfer of only three more seats from the cities to the shires. While Wales is over-represented, if it were cut down to size it would lose about five Labour and two other seats.

    All these changes, which some imagine would eliminate the pro-Labour bias in the electoral system, would merely cut the current majority to around 44. A very narrow lead in the popular vote would suffice to win a Labour majority, while a tiny Conservative majority would require a popular vote lead larger than the party has managed at any election since 1945, with the exceptions only of 1983 and 1987.

    The reasons for electoral bias — differential turnout, more or less efficient distribution of the parties’ votes, and tactical voting — cannot be addressed within the current electoral system. If the Conservatives imagine that revising the constituency boundaries can cure the bias, they really are rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.


    I think there are three issues here, the question of people not voting, the types of PR and the size and design of constituencies
    You could argue that increasing rates of non participation in elections demonstrates the success of politics in this country in solving many of the issues that concern people today. In fact the low turnout at the last election is an indication that people are very satisfied with the Tony Blair.

    If the political elite was truly concerned at low turnout rates, the answer is easy to resolve, copy the Australian system of compulsory voting, where if none of the parties is fancied by the voter, there is a box to tick saying ‘none of the above’.

    As for PR, the question is which system to adopt, the French system of election appeals to me, where there is a run off between the top two candidates in a second election if the leading candidate in the first election does not win 51% of the total vote.

    I would be totally against the Israeli system which means very small minority parties can push through policies against the will of the majority of voters.

    As for New Zealand, there is much dissatisfaction about the system and reforms are being planned to the system, even a return to a modified form of first past the post is now being considered by political parties in New Zealand.

    Looking at constituencies, the South East Region Constituency for our Representatives in the European Parliament is considered a big mistake by many. In my interview with Peter Skinner MEP see http://www.oxfordprospect.co.uk/Peter%20Skinner%20MEP.htm he finds it very hard to cover such a large constituency. His patch of 8.1 million people covering 83 Westminster Constituencies makes our MEPs seem remote from us.
    In the case of MEP I think the Region should be divided into 3 or 4 European Constituencies, in order to make things easier for both MEPs and voters.

    As for Westminster MPs, I think the constituencies are too small, take Oxfordshire, we have 6 Seats, 1 Labour, 1 LibDem and 4 Tory, even though only 34% of voters, voted Tory. If we had a multimember constituency in Oxfordshire, the Conservatives would have 2 seats, Labour 2 and Lib Dem 2.

    Editor Oxfordprospect.co.uk & Webmaster Henleylabourparty.co.uk

  3. I'm developing a proper response on the question of PR which I'll put up on my blog soon, but I really don't like the idea of things like multi-member seats - apart from anything else, why the hell should the tories get to represent the people of Oxford when we haven't directly elected a single tory at any level, from the city council to the county council to Parliament?

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. My idea is as I said for a multi member Oxfordshire constituency, I am not talking about Oxford. If we explored the idea further as it would apply at County Council level, then the Tories would not have 58% of the County Council seats today. Then we might have the Tories in opposition today. The current Oxfordshire County Council Election Share of the vote was LibDem 28%, Labour 23%, Green 11%, Tory 34% ,Others 2% ,Spolit vote 2%. Because the whole point about fight elections is winning. In effect the present system, Tory candidate needs fewer votes to win a seat than a Labour candidate in Oxfordshire at County or General Election level.

  6. Nicholas, You are right to point out that the current Boundary Commission changes will have little effect. The boundary commission still takes into account the geography of an area and natural community boundaries. The Tories have said they will get rid of this consideration. This is the road to US style gerrymandering of boundaries.

    The current electoral bias in our favour is partly as a result of the constituency sizes centred around urban areas. But enlarging these areas or 'sandwiching' these areas with rural areas is where they become Tory marginals.

    The reason the Tories want to make the constituencies bigger by reducing the number of westminster seats from 659 to 500, is precisely because it will benefit them. Remember the Tories won the vote in England by 0.5%, so potentially with certain changes they could win more seats than us instead of winning 92 seats less, as happened.

    I know it seems unlikely that the Tories could get a lead of 9% over us, but that electoral pendulum will swing. Also the electoral bias of the system is becoming more well known, it could become a big vote loser for us. The voters don't like the idea of bias, and this might win the Tories votes through sympathy.

    We shouldn't assume the Tories cannot win under the present bias. They still only need a minority of the vote say around 36%-39% for victory. And if they do win, as I have explained they will make changes to favour them.

    The most likely result of the next election is a 'hung parliament'. This is because the economy is undoubtedly heading for a downturn. Too much personal debt is going to be a big headache for the economy over the next few years, just as the credit boom in the late eighties contributed to the recession for the Tories.

    With this hung parliament in mind, it is better for Labour to consider what system is best now, rather than being pressured by the Lib Dems.

    You talk about the 'run off' system used in France. This is effectively a messy form of the Alternative Vote (AV). This at least takes into account preferences and ensures 50% of the vote for the winnning candidate in constituencies, but it is still open to the same gerrymandering as FPTP and consequently does not produce proportional results, i.e. it is not PR!

    I'm interested to hear what news you have heard about AMS in NZ. I know the National party have launched a campaign against STV used in local elections, but have heard nothing of disatisfaction of AMS, apart from the usual suspects on the right who have always campaigned against PR.

    The only reasonable criticism I have heard is that the increase in MPs from 99 to 120 was disliked by the public. But that is irrelevant to the PR argument.

    I have nothing against compulsory voting in principle, but prefer incentive voting to encourage those on lower incomes to vote, rather than the expense of trying to fine people.

    Jo, I look forward to your post.

    Cheers, Neil.

  7. Also almost forgot, don't we have a moral obligation as socialists to ensure majority rule?

  8. Oh Nicholas, and another point you made.

    Disaffection, apathy or satisfaction. There is only one way to find out which is prevalent, and that is to make every vote equal regardless of geography.

  9. Jo, why was AMS introduced by Labour in Scotland and Wales when FPTP would have meant no Tory seats? The reason is fairness and moral obligation. It is important to have consensus, because of AMS in Scotland and Wales, the Tories there now support these parliaments wholeheartedly. It has invigorated democracy on the ground.

    Ignoring Tory urban voters as we do and ignoring rural Labour voters as we do exacerbates the problems we face and leads to parties becoming more out of touch and less democratic!