This is my response to Paul Burgin's views on PR.
"People vote for the manifesto general, not on whether they agree with page 32 or whatever"
This is a very very crucial and important point. PR allows the electorate a far more nuanced choice than FPTP. FPTP is a very blunt electoral instrument and effectively means accepting a manifesto in its entirety even if you only support 50% of it. PR allows you to influence which bits of the manifestos of different parties are implemented. It's difficult to explain without resorting to degree level maths (which is probably why so many people are turned off the subject, thanks by the way for bearing with me on this), but hopefully this simplified model will help.
Imagine all the parties have just 3 policy areas.
Cut taxes by 10%.
Ban gay sex.
Increase taxes by 5%.
Gay sex at 16.
Increase taxes by 10%.
Gay sex at 18.
Party A wins 40% of the vote
Party B, 25% of the vote
Party C, 35% of the vote
Under FPTP, Party A wins a majority, cuts taxes by 10%, invades Iran and bans gay sex, despite 60% of the electorate voting against ALL of these policies. How can this be justified?
Under PR, parties B and C forms a coalition, increases tax by 8%, lowers age of consent to 17, and doesn't invade Iran. This is much closer to what the majority wanted.
"the BNP and other such organisations, won't simply wilt because of a change in democratic structures, they are too dangerous for that."
The BNP are growing in strength under FPTP, ignoring them is not the answer, we have to beat their arguments head on constantly. FPTP leads us to be complacent of the far right. New Zealand has implemented PR (with a 5% threshold) and the far right have won NO seats.
"As for PR alleviating poverty, if only that were true!"
A Harvard study of electoral systems and governments around the world over the last 50 years has demonstrated that left of centre governments dominate under PR, and as a consequence PR run societies are more equal in terms of wealth disparities.
"The details of actual tax and spend policies for the purpose of redistribution are complex, but the explanation for redistribution in advanced democracies is probably fairly simple. To a very considerable extent, redistribution is the result of electoral systems and the class coalitions they engender.
"Electoral systems matter because they alter the bargaining power and coalition behavior of groups with different interests. In majoritarian systems, parties have to balance the incentive to capture the median voter with the incentive to pursue the policy preferred by their core constituencies. Because the median voter is closer to the distributive interests of the center-right party, any probability that parties will defect from a median voter platform once elected will make the median voter more likely to vote for the center-right.
"This result contrasts to multiparty PR systems where governments are based on coalitions of class parties. In this context, center parties will tend to find it in their own interest to ally with parties to the left. This result follows because the middle class can use taxation of the rich to bargain a tax rate and benefit level with the poor that is closer to its own preference. There is no opportunity for a coalition of the center and right to exploit the poor in the same manner."
"they will easily fiddle a few boundaries."
"Okay, but isn't that what the Boundary Commission is for!"
The last Tory manifesto hinted at revising the rules of the boundary commission to ignore geographical and administrative considerations, it also proposed reducing the number of seats to 500, thereby bringing rural Tory votes into more urban seats to make them Tory marginals. Peter Oborne in the spectator even scandalously proposes enlarging seats by ignoring voters who don't turn out. Urban Labour seats have much lower turnout. Labour voters would be disenfranchised even before they got to the polling booth, this already happens to some extent because unregistered voters mainly in poor urban areas (10% of total electorate are not registered to vote) are ignored in drawing boundaries. Extending this to the 40% who don't vote, would be disastrous for Labour, because their voters have been much less likely to turn out, this would effectively disqualify them from having an influence for ever.
Don't think the party that abolished local govt care about democracy. All they care about is winning elections. There is already a precedent for this in the US, where the winning party are allowed to gerrymander boundaries at will, to their advantage. The boundary commission over there was abolished, don't think it won't happen here.