29 July 2009

How Do We Persuade Labour Grandees Of The Merits Of PR?

Brian Barder is defending first-past-the-post and attacking PR systems. A lot of his arguments are fairly typical myths and plainly wrong. BB has form in arguiing against PR, has most opponents do.

Now, Brian is an educated bloke (public school no doubt?), so why is he doing this? It is as incomprehensible to me as an evolution denier just denying the existence of the mountains of evidence in favour of evolution.

If someone was starting from scratch designing an electoral system, no-one would choose fptp. Yet because it is established, some people feel the need to defend it. Brian's arguments are really tedious. He states things that are just untrue - like PR is responsible for low euro turnout, when turnout was abysmal and falling fast before PR was introduced. PR has arrested this decline. And as London, New Zealand and others show, turnout can rise quite a bit when we move from our system to PR.

The facts don't really interest these people, yet his probable public school background and longevity in the party gives him disproportional weight with his prejudiced opinions.

I have nothing against people from public school holding positions of power - they should hold 7% of the top jobs, including MPs. But 35% of MPs? and the vast majority of other professions? Brian doesn't seem to think this is a big problem. He thinks fptp is the best system we can have to represent us, yet all the political science evidence and experience of most of Western Europe and beyond, point to higher living standards, higher political engagement and better public services under PR - Brian thinks this is all a coincidence - like I say, this guy is no better than an evolution denier.

So what are his objections to PR?

He likes the geographical link - but we can still keep this and have PR. Each area can have 5 MPs and people can go to the MP more likely to be sympathetic to their views. Isn't this better than for example, a socialist having to argue their case with a Tory MP - who is there for life in a safe seat and knows this socialist will never vote for them?

He doesn't like coalitions and 'back room deals' - but what is the Labour party when it contains Jeremy Corbyn and Alan Milburn? There is nothing more backroom and secret than the horse trading that goes on amongst the small number of Labour and Tory party apparatchiks that decide policy behind closed doors.

Brian feels coalition government is indecisive and slow Like I say, look how much better the health service is in Germany and Scandanavia. Look how well their citizens are educated compared to us. And crucially look at how much more equal their societies are. This is no coincidence as Brian suggests. To suggest that coalition government is the end of the world is just so ridiculous. For once talent can be taken from a cross section of parties rather than just having to rely on one party that has minority support amongst the electorate. It makes much more sense. Consensus between parties makes policies more longer lasting. Constant switches in policy can be as damaging as following the wrong policy all along.

He doesn't like the fact it might take a week or so for the new government to take their place - whoopee doo! come on, this is clutching at straws. We all know this current Labour government is dead in the water yet will carry on for another 10 months. What is the problem with an administration carrying on just a few weeks at most while the new government is formed. Absolutely nothing - in the US, the changeover takes 3 MONTHS without there being any comment about this or constitutional crisis or calamity as BB claims.

He feels 'small parties' have disproportional power - No, Brian, they have PROPORTIONAL power - it may seem strange when we are so used to ignoring the votes of ten million or so people who vote for minor parties, but listening to minorities is called democracy. In Germany, the FDP had 20% of the cabinet posts because they made up 20% of the coalition. Ditto the Greens when they were in government and the same happens in other countries. This is what the voters voted for, but Brian thinks it better than one party has ALL the power with just 35% of the vote. Some democrat you are!

Brian objects to more power to 'the party aparatchiks' under PR - Two points to make here, firstly, parties have to listen to their members under PR. This is because voters and members can easily move parties and know their vote will count. The limited choice under fptp means the party aparatchiks can dictate policy and choose candidates and overule members wishes knowing they have nowhere else to go. The second point to make is that party lists can be ordered by the voters - it is easy, it is called open list and it happens in Sweden and elsewhere successfully. Brian ignores all these inconvenient facts.

Basically Brian trundles out all the myths about PR oblivious to the facts of how PR actually works in other countries. Brian likes maverick MPs and suggests these would disappear under PR. Brian, open your eyes. The leaders grip on the Tory and Labour parties are already making mavericks an endangered species, whereas abroad they thrive because they can start their own party if they are ignored by their parties and if they have enough support in the country they could end up a junior partner in government - i.e having much more say.

Here the parties are such wide coalitions (something Brian claims he is against) that voters have no choice about the party candidate, who may be well to the left or well to the right of their opinions. Under PR they can choose a candidate far more in line with their views and know their vote is likely to count.

I despair of people like Brian in the party, because he is the roadblock to getting real reform and will saddle the country with a pathetic choice between hard-right Tory and weak centrist Labour. More public school boys running the country while the rest of us tear our hair out in frustration at how unfair it all is. How can someone call themselves a democrat and deny even the promised referendum on PR?

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