Is it time for PR?
The arguments in favour of electoral reform
•Problems with the current system:
•Governments are elected on a minority of votes cast. Labour received only 35% of the votes in 2005 and the Conservatives received only 36% in 2010. In 2015, the Tories received 37% of the vote. In 1974, Labour even received fewer votes than the Conservatives but still received more seats!
•These statistics call into question the government’s legitimacy.
•The House of Commons is not representative. UKIP won 4 million votes in 2015 but won only 1 seat. The Green Party won a million votes yet also only won a single seat.
•The Liberal Democrats received only half of the combined UKIP and Green vote, and one four times as many seats as those parties.
•Votes are not of equal value. The parties targeted 100 “marginal” seats in 2015 and barely campaigned in the “safe” seats.
•Turnout is lowest in safe seats
•Voters feel their vote is wasted. Perhaps this explains the low turnout (66% in 2015), which is among the lowest in Europe (most European countries use PR).
•The voters for the main two parties are more concentrated in specific areas (e.g. Labour is strong in inner cities). This means that a Tory candidate only needed an average of 34,000 votes to win a seat in 2015. A Lib Dem needed 300,000 and a Green Party candidate needed more than a million!
•Britain is the only country in Europe that uses FPTP.
•FPTP is supposed to produce stable, strong, one party government with a clear mandate. The 2010 General Election shows that this is not a given. As Vernon Bogdanor said, “if the result is the same [as PR] what’s the point of keeping it?” Why not opt for a fairer system if the result (coalition) is the same?
•The Tories’ 12 seat majority in 2015 is hardly an advert for strong government. Cameron’s government has already lost a vote in the House of Commons on relaxing Sunday trading laws, is tearing itself apart over the issue of Europe and is struggling to implement its manifesto promise to scrap the Human Rights Act.
•The benefits of PR:
•Voters would be given more choice. Under STV, several candidates could be chosen, even ones from the same party.
•Parliament would be more representative: In 2010, the Lib Dems won 8% of the seats despite winning 23% of the vote.
•The government would be more accountable: Parliament would be far more likely to open an inquiry on the handling of the war in Afghanistan, for example.
•New parties would gain influence: Caroline Lucas’ victory as the country’s only Green MP would not be an exception.
The arguments against
•FPTP has produced stable government, unlike in Italy and Israel. Why change it?
•It USUALLY produces a clear winner with a clear mandate – In 1979, the Conservatives said they would privatise industry. They did. Labour said it would introduce the minimum wage. It did. It allows the government to govern.
•2010 is a rare exception of two-party rule.
•Under PR, the mandate (based on the manifesto) becomes open to compromise.
•Do we want a permanent coalition? Wouldn’t this mean that the third party (Lib Dems or the SNP) would become a permanent feature of government, despite winning fewer votes than the two main parties? Is this fair?
•Coalition has already shown that third parties are less able to hold government to account when they are part of the government – the tuition fees vote shows this.
•The current system is capable of holding government to account, as government climb downs on tax credits show.
•The current systems allows voters to make a clear decision on the record of the party in power. In 1997, the electorate rejected the Tories after 18 years of Conservative government and in 2010 voters clearly rejected Brown’s Labour.