When I did my talk to Labour party members a few weeks ago, I had no problem persuading them that our present system - first-past-the-post, was pretty awful and undemocratic. (I talked about the 'gerrymander wheel' and the countless local authority results (pdf) where the party with the most votes ended up being beaten by a party with less votes - e.g. from the dozen or so 'wrong winners', Birmingham where the Tories rule despite getting less votes than Labour). What I didn't convince them of, was what to replace our crap system with.
As I didn't want to go into massive boring detail of different electoral systems, I didn't go prepared with the electoral alternatives on offer.
This was a mistake - they really wanted me to go into detail and explain as comprehensively as possible the alternative systems and all their advantages and disadvantages.
One of the comments from one of the members that really haunts me is 'better the devil you know'. I ended up not properly answering this mantra that seemed to echo around the room.
Of course it is a really ridiculous thing to say, because we do know the 'devil' of PR. It works perfectly well in most developed countries - Germany, Ireland, Scandanavia, Spain, etc etc - none of these countries have collapsed into chaos because of PR - in fact the reverse is true - they are very stable democracies with very impressive public services and a politically engaged electorate. They have had excellent economic growth and come top of 'quality of life' indexes and democracy indexes. They have low levels of corruption and high levels of transparency and democracy. PR could clearly improve our country.
Lets have a closer look at some PR systems and nail some lies that are put about.
List systems give no choice of candidates
In Sweden, voters have a choice of either voting directly for a party (and accepting the order of the list) or choosing a ballot paper for their particular party and ordering the candidates themselves. 75% of seats in the UK allow no effective choice as they are 'safe seats'.
'Pure' PR leads to a fracturing of the vote and loads of parties in parliament
In the Netherlands they have a very low threshold of only 1.5% of the vote needed to get into parliament - yet they have only 10 parties represented, whereas in the UK we have 12 parties represented in our parliament.
PR helps the Nazis
In Ireland they have no far-right representatives elected either at local or national level. Whereas in the UK 2 councils have the BNP as the official opposition and are in danger of being BNP run - Dagenham and Redbridge and Stoke on Trent. Over 70 far-right councillors have recently been elected in the UK and the BNP commands a million supporters nationwide.
PR makes it impossible for independents to be elected
Ireland has FIVE times the number of independent MPs in its parliament compared to the UK.
PR takes away our local geographical representative
In Germany, New Zealand, London, Scotland and Wales under PR, everybody has a constituency MP. In Ireland everybody has at least 3 constituency MPs. In Ireland most voters can go to an MP or councillor from their area that is also from the party they voted for. In the UK most voters cannot name their MP or councillors and nearly 70% did not vote for their local MP or councillors. When your local MP is running a government department or is speaker - how much time can (or should) they realistically devote to constituency work? When 75% of seats are 'seats for life' how accountable is your 'local' MP anyway. Most MPs are not orginally from the area they represent. Indeed most have already contested (and lost) in a completely different part of the country before being chosen for their present seat.
In short, we should change the system whether to list or STV, we will be making a big improvement on what we have at present.