05 June 2009

Simon Jenkins On PR.

It is no surprise to hear Simon Jenkins is opposed to PR. But, I thought, ok, lets give him a chance and read what he has to say.

The answer is very little, it is just, yet again, the same tired old discredited myths.

PR is based on lists of candidates and the party decide who is elected...[PR is] antithetical to the independent, maverick, risk taking politician

Jenkins just ignores the existence of the Single-Transferable Vote and Open-List PR where candidates are ordered solely by the electorate (the party are powerless) and where radicals and independents flourish. (There are FIVE times the number of Independent MPs in Ireland compared to the UK).

This is unlike our present system first-past-the-post, where the party just parachutes its favoured candidates into the two-thirds (or more) of its seats that are safe and the government is packed full of lobby fodder. We can see how accountable the current crop of MPs are to their electorate by their expense claims - i.e. virtually none at all.

I predict now that very few - less than a dozen Independent MPs at most, will be elected in the wake of this scandal. There will be much media song and dance about it and people punching the air when Blears & Smith and maybe a Tory grandee fall (the national media might focus on 6 scoundrels, and the local media claim another 6 scalps), until people realise that these few Independents will be powerless against 400 Tory MPs (some of which may be even more unrepresentative and corrupt because they have got in on 25% of the vote because left-of-centre voters split between independents, Labour and others).

But more important than this, PR allows the voter to CHOOSE which party has the most democratic internal structures. Parties have to respond to this, otherwise they lose voters and members and most importantly under PR, they lose seats as a result. The Labour and Tory parties would be transformed under PR. They would have to open up, allow debate and members a choice in policy decisions, otherwise they would simply die.

At present, voters have to put up with the undemocratic nature of Labour and Tory internal structures that have a duopoly stranglehold on government because party leaders know the loss of members and voters probably won't lose them any seats. In fact it might make it even easier for the leadership to assert control over the party and easier to control the selection of candidates.

Cannot throw the rapskullions out...Lib Dems perpetually in power...Look at Norway

All I have to say is, look at how long this Labour government has remained in power on a minority of the vote. Just 35% of the vote gave them a big majority. Remember the long 18 years of Tory power where nearly 60% consistently voted against them. It is actually very hard to 'throw the rapskullions out' under this system. Even now, with universal disgust at their expenses, most MPs will keep their seats.

On Question Time last week, William Hague said 'Our system allows change of government', to which David Dimbleby replied 'Under PR the SNP have taken power in Scotland from Labour for the first time ever'. 'Ah!' Hague said, 'but that is a 4 party system, we have a 3 party system here'.

A clever and devious answer from the slimy Tory toad. The reason we have a 3 party system is because we have first-past-the-post. Just look at the spread of the opinion polls for the European election compared to the opinion polls for Westminster. 30% say they will vote for none of the 3 main parties in the Euros probably because they realise that under a proportional system their vote wiil actually count. And that is the crux, we will cease to have a 3 party system under PR, so no party will have a monopoly on power. In fact it is our present system that presents the possibility of perpetual Lib Dem power in hung parliaments. In Canada under our system this is precisely what is happening - there, it is the Bloc Quebocois who continually hold the balance of power.

So to Norway, where there is no evidence whatsoever of Jenkins assertion of parties perpetually in power. The centre-right coalition were completely trounced by the centre-left in 2005. All the parties involved in the centre-right coalition were thrown out of power.

Germans, Danes and Italians cry 'avoid PR'...France and Spain are corrupt because of PR...Coalition government is 'indecisive'

As far as I can find out, Jenkins has just made this up, which Germans, Danes and Italians? His mates? Who knows!

If we look at the democracy index, quality of life index, even general happiness. All these countries rank higher than us. Is Italy unstable? Yes. Is that because of PR? Well, no, because Italy has had several electoral systems including ours. It is an electoral chameleon country, not a PR country.

It really is silly to say that countries with higher economic growth and increasing political influence (as ours declines) are weak and unstable because of PR. They are just making it up, it is complete and utter hogwash. Jenkins is either a fool or a Tory stooge. I am not sure which.


  1. All true, and another point that people overlook is that turnout tends, other things being equal, to be higher in countries with a PR system. It seems plausible to argue that that is at least partly because people realise their vote counts, so they are more inclined to make the effort to vote than here in the UK, where many people perceive, correctly, that their vote will make no difference.

  2. pzt. In New Zealand, not only did turnout go up when they switched to PR, it increased most among the young, urban and poorly educated. Precisely the groups that vote the least.