02 September 2006

PR will help end social exclusion.

Poorer people are less likely to vote. The more the major parties ignore them, the less they vote. The less they vote, the more they are ignored. This is the viciuos downward spiral in voter turnout happening across the world. The lowest turnouts are in the US and the UK - not surprisingly these are the countries that have electoral systems that discriminate against smaller parties the most.

If we are to tackle social exclusion, we need to tackle low voter turnout. As a first step in tackling this we need to improve our electoral system by moving to Proportional Representation - PR (open list PR is my favourite though any PR is better than first past the post - FPTP). There are of course other things we need to do as well. We need to free up our media from the stranglehold a few wealthy foreign owners have to push their own agenda of tax cuts and cuts in public services. And we need to restore and safeguard local democracy with a written constitution. If I was PM I would embed these changes in a constitution then retire safe in the knowledge that the majority would have to agree any future government. This is the best safeguard of all to stop political abuse of power.

These three simple changes could be done quickly. Indeed Labour have promised a referendum on electoral reform twice (and sadly reneged on it twice). The guidelines on impartiality in the broadcasting media seem to work quite well and could be extended to the press to curtail the media moguls worst excesses of bias. Finally local democracy worked well before the lack of a constitution allowed Thatcher to abolish it. All 3 major parties now say they are in favour of restoring local democracy, so let's have it.

Some of you might be asking what all this has to do with social exclusion. The answer is simple - improve the political influence and power of the poorer voters and not surprisingly you improve their access to opportunities and reduce inequality.

Of course these changes will not make a difference over night. Electoral systems can take several elections to bed down - for the electorate to realise their increased power. The hangover from FPTP can temporarily boost the far right when PR is initially introduced - (until voters scrutinise policy and see what a bunch of weirdos the BNP are, this scrutiny will happen under PR far more than it does under FPTP because minority viewpoints cannot be ignored). Under FPTP it makes sense for the rightwing press to promote the far right because the poorer voters who vote BNP might otherwise have voted Labour. Under PR this would not be beneficial to the Conservatives, unlike under FPTP where any splintering of the poorer vote benefits the Tories.

There is a lot of talk of an English Parliament amongst the Right at the moment. They cite the favoured stat that the Tories got 60,000 more votes than Labour but 93 less seats in England. What they conveniently fail to say, is that the Tories in England, only got 35.7% of the vote and yet received 36.7% of the seats, so they are actually OVER-REPRESENTED in England. If you are going to criticise FPTP for bias, you can't at the same time pretend the much larger bias against the Lib Dems and others is ok. What the Tories also fail to mention is how the English vote is not uniform. The Tories get 45% of the vote in the South East but only 19% in the North East and 28% in the North West. To say any one party can speak for the whole of England is absurd. Regional assemblies make much more sense, as obviously does a proportional system. Under FPTP, regions are dominated by one party that continually have a massive majority of the seats on a minority of the vote. This is bad for democracy and encourages corruption. In my opinion anybody who supports FPTP cannot be truly called a democrat.


  1. I don't think that adopting PR is a panacea in respect of achieving a greater focus on social exclusion.

    Surely without an active programme of voter registration and awareness of the electoral process, it is largely immaterial which electoral process we employ?

    I very much doubt that legions of the socially excluded spend election days at home thinking 'I would vote if it weren't for that pesky First Past The Post system'. Dare I say we need an Operation Poor Vote?

  2. "Dare I say we need an Operation Poor Vote?"

    Or less cynically - just some policies people might care about...

  3. The difference PR might, possibly, just make to turnout by the poor is smaller than the difference that compulsory voting would, almost certainly, make.

    It's extraordinary that Neil fails to mention this.

    The smear against FPTP for discriminating against smaller parties isn't so much untrue as woefully ambiguous. Does Neil mean parties with small numbers of members? Small numbers of voters? Small numbers of areas in which the voters are concentrated?

    Neil may be right that the US, where some public authorities at state level explicitly recognise the two main parties for the purposes of voting in primary elections, may discriminate against small parties. But the UK? We don't have any provisions which explicitly discriminate against small parties in the same way, so we shouldn't be lumped in with countries like the US. Why the hell isn't Germany mentioned? Don't they have a rule saying parties whose vote is smaller than 5% get no top-up MPs?

    Also, can we have less of this crap about "foreign" owners of newspapers? It reeks of the racism of the far left. Will we next be told that these people are "rootless cosmopolitans", possibly practising "Jewish science"? Aren't the owners of the Independent foreign? Does that august viewspaper push a tax cuts agenda?

    The most interesting thing about this blog is the sheer density of wrongness it achieves.

  4. henryg: I don't think PR is a panacea either but I think it would work crucially to increase turnout in groups that currently vote the least - the young and the poor. The programmes you suggest would certainly make a difference as well. For me PR increases choice for voters and that can be a big incentive for people who are disillusioned with the present parties.

    anon: If you notice my words in the post I said that FPTP discriminates 'the most' against smaller parties.

    As for compulsory voting, I don't like it because it discourages registration by the very people who vote the least. Incentives to vote are a much better route to take.

    Foreign ownership of newspapers is important because these people don't live in this country and they avoid our taxes, so why should they have so much power? If they lived here I wouldn't mention that they were foreign.

  5. Sorry, it should have been obvious, indeed it was obvious to all of reasonable intelligence, that compulsory voting would have to be accompanied by compulsory registration.

  6. If I lived in Canada instead of in England, but EARNED my money in England through a business I OWNED in England, I would be paying
    municipal taxes
    county taxes
    federal taxes
    federal licences
    vat on everything my business buys.
    personal income taxes
    business taxes
    surtaxes of various sorts
    and all my employees would be paying taxes as well on the little bit of profit I can spare to pay THEM.

    In fact, this would be true even if said business was a newspaper.

    I am fairly certain that if I lived in Canada, owned a business in England, and owned a newspaper, I would still pay taxes, even though I am Canadian. Lord Beaverbrook certainly did! Heck, Conrad Black is going to jail for attempting to avoid said taxes!

    If this is not true, and I can get away without paying taxes, well, my goodness. I will move my business there tomorrow.

    Somehow I suspect the taxman will still cometh.

  7. anon: If I remember right the poll tax involved 'compulsory registration'. Do you remember how millions of people 'disappeared' from the register. It was so bad it actually ruined the 2001 census.

    On the other hand child benefit has almost 100% take-up. The way to ensure people register and vote is to offer incentives.

  8. Why do all politicians persist in destroying the UK with federalism, if I had four kids and gave three an ice cream the fourth would eventually start shouting and screaming, isn't this an example of what has happened to England and now that they are asking for a parliament, they are told 'it's just too big' who exactly thought of this mess in the first place? and what was their solution for a answer of NO to regional assemblies for England? Don't tell me they didn't have one?
    The United Kingdom was fine before, ONE parliament, barnett formula warts and all so why change it. With so much talk AGAINST federalism and being ran by the EU, who exactly did they ask?
    No wonder the English are feeling a bit miffed, No parliament and the most anti European nation on earth who only now in 2006 discover that England as a nation no longer exists.

  9. Anon: England has voted for regional government. Or don't you count the 5 million electorate in London?

  10. You're being disingenuous. Londoners voted for an elected Mayor. Not living in London, I don't recall being asked for my vote. Therefore England most certainly did not vote for regional assemblies. London is not England.

    For the record, I do not support regional assemblies in England. England is a nation, despite what the Labour leadership would like.

  11. Are you going to throw your weight behind Clare Short?

  12. PR is actually LESS democratic.
    With FPTP, candidates that have the most votes from a constituency get elected... with PR you could end up with the majority of poeple in an area voting Labour and getting a BNP council member instead...


  13. longrider: "London is not England'.

    Well it is 10% of it and they voted for their own devolution with powers invested in a Mayor. To call for an English Parliamnet is to overide their wishes.

    praguetory: "Are you going to throw your weight behind Clare Short?"

    Clare has it wrong. A hung parliament will make it LESS likely we get PR. We need to persuade the Labour party. Only when PR has majority support in a Labour govt will we get it. Sadly a hung parliament will mean less Labour MPs and many more Tory MPs universally hostile to PR.

    The Lib Dem members could do more to get PR by mass defecting to the Labour Party and voting for a PR friendly leader.