29 June 2006

Arguing with "Trees-For-Labour" over the merits of PR (yet again).

I am trying my best to persuade "Trees-For-Labour" of the merits of PR. Here is my latest attempt.

“Errrm, no, it [a thatcherite govt] can happen under PR as well if the Lib Dems decide to prop up a Tory government, for example”

But a Tory/Lib Dem government would not be as bad as a Tory thatcherite government, which is what we are guaranteed under FPTP. Don’t you think it is much more likely the Lib Dems will join with us? Policies such as 50% top rate suggest so. The Lib Dem policies are far closer to ours than to the Tories. The majority of Lib Dem members would leave if they joined with the Tories.

Anyway think of all the Lib Dem voters who consider themselves ‘to the left of Labour’. They may be fooling themselves to think the Lib Dems are to the left of Labour but they genuinely do believe it. These voters/members will soon desert the Lib Dems if they join with the Tories and we and other parties on the left would be the beneficiaries. A Tory/Lib Dem govt could realistically only happen once (if at all) because the left leaning Lib Dem vote would punish them at the polls at the earliest opportunity.

You are making the mistake of believing that after PR, we would have the same parties in the same positions, we quite clearly wouldn’t. There are plenty of people forced to vote tactically at the moment. There would be socialists and Greens elected to the left of Labour. The Lib Dem vote (currently a dustbin for disaffected Labour and Tories) would collapse.

“Swing votes will always be the ones political parties focus their efforts on.”

Yes but surely swing voters across the whole country should have equal votes not just those who live in a few marginal seats.

“[in the 1935-45 UK coalition government] There was a bit of a foreign policy cockup as I recall. War of some sort.”

Look at the record of that government, the reductions in inequality, the grounding work for the welfare state, NHS etc. I don’t think any government could have prevented WWII.

“Yes, the Weimar Republic was a stunning success.”

Germany has had PR since 1948 and has done better than us, so be sensible. There was a very special set of circumstances that brought about fascism that had nothing to do with PR.

“Scandinavian countries don’t actually have all that much in common with Britain”

Well they are different, but PR has still been a success for them hasn’t it?

“New Zealand has only had PR for the best part of a week.”

Actually they have had nearly 10 years of Labour led government and still counting and Labour have increased their vote at each of their 3 successive election victories, unlike us.

“it’s the sign of powerful social democratic parties. I’m all in favour of powerful social democratic parties.”

And PR has delivered just that, what has FPTP delivered us for the past 60 years?

“Because most people don’t change their views between elections.”

FPTP just doesn’t represent the changes people make. For instance at this last election, most swing voters switched from Labour (-5.5%) to the Lib Dems (+5%) but the vast majority of gains went to the Tories whose vote was static.

“The parties decide who goes on the list and in what order on the ballot paper.”

You are talking about a closed PR system. I also notice you don’t deny that FPTP is a closed party list, the parties effectively decide the candidates in the majority of seats that are pre-determined safe (a candidate would virtually have to be caught having sex with a goat to lose in these majority of the seats that are safe).

Under open PR systems, the voters can choose between candidates from the same party and it is in the parties interests to have a range of views represented so to capture the most votes. The most popular candidates from each party that receives enough votes are elected, it is the voters who decide this. Also of course, the voters have a wider choice of parties as well, because it is now a viable option to vote for the minor parties.

“Oh yes, I’d love to see more Nazis in Parliament.”

In Germany there are no Nazis in their national parliament. Ditto in Scandanavia. The BNP vote is rising here and they get a larger percentage than their sister parties in Europe where there is PR. FPTP actually helps the BNP because it is so undemocratic a system it allows the parties to be complacent with their constituents which allows the BNP in. We all know that once elected the BNP soon lose the seat once their policies are properly exposed. Look at how well the FN has done in France under a majoritarian system. We have to beat the extreme right by winning the argument not by using an undemocratic electoral system. It is dangerous to rely on FPTP, we have to work hard to defeat the BNP , FPTP is the BNP’s friend and makes us lazy and complacent in stopping the Nazis rise.

“An alternative conclusion is that the dataset is tiny [on this Harvard study] and the effect is an epiphenomenon”

They looked at over 50 different countries electoral systems since 1945. Their results were pretty conclusive. I can provide you with links to prove the link between diversity of parliament and PR if you wish but it is common sense that more minorities can get elected under PR because they only need perhaps 5% of the vote and can set up their own parties if need be. Under FPTP you need to negotiate major party internal structures that might discriminate and also need to win a plurality to get elected among a majority population that might be hostile and prejudiced to your minority.

I hope this answers some of your concerns. I don’t mean to annoy you, lets try and find some common ground on this rather than just FPTP good, PR evil. I’m sure you don’t believe that, but that is the impression you are giving. The UK and the US have some of the highest levels of inequality and poorest public services and this has happened under FPTP. Germany and other PR countries have better public services and less inequality, so PR surely can’t be that bad a system?

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