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Nell Clover
Nell Clover
3 months ago

The distilled complaint about FPTP is that government policy does not reflect the majority view.

PR doesn’t change that. There is still only one government and one policy. Few if any policy decisions will have majority support because few if any decisions are binary.

PR at its worst is a mechanism for preventing any decision. Proponents might trumpet this as moderating, but no decision is still a decision: a decision to keep the status quo. In a changing world, that’s a recipe for failure.

PR at its best is a change to how the minority viewpoint becomes ascendant in policy. But nonetheless, it is still a minority viewpoint that the majority disagree with. In theory PR might give weight to the slightly more popular minority viewpoint but in practice the PR need for coalitions makes that outcome far from common. PR falls well short of its proponents’ claim of being more democratic.

It is no wonder that PR finds its most vocal support amongst those near to the seat of power but not quite in it. It isn’t a shock to find those who would most benefit from PR championing it most loudly. The actual majority of people aren’t that bothered one way or the other because it won’t change the fundamental nature of complex societies having non-binary decisions to make without having majority support.

If those championing PR weren’t doing so out of self-interest for their in-group’s control of government, they would be championing more direct democracy. However, I can already hear their cries for the necessity of representatives to make “informed” * decisions – also known as the decision they agree with.

*I use inverted commas because one thing the majority do agree on is that politicians and the media are poorly informed and consequently have an unhealthy reliance on lobbyists and self-selecting advisors fresh out of Oxford without a day’s experience in anything but politics.

Last edited 3 months ago by Nell Clover
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

PR can be a route to binary populist policies (like the Brexit vote). So a very high proportion of the electorate would vote for bringing back the death sentence for certain crimes, and a party with that in its manifesto would almost certainly at some point be invited to form a coalition government.
https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/explore/topic/Death_Penalty?content=all
Would Giles the vicar be happy at that outcome?

Last edited 3 months ago by Ian Stewart
Nell Clover
Nell Clover
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

PR still only offers you party political vote. No amount of voting reform will make the cosy Westminster / media club easier for outsider parties to crack. Which is why the likes of Giles do support PR because it is change that keeps them in the loop and moves their seat nearer to the top table, rather than change that puts the public in the loop.

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
3 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Not necessarily. Plenty of previous mainstream parties have been annihilated in PR elections in recent years. PASOK in Greece, Dutch Labour Party, Berlusconi’s Forza Italia etc. There’s a reason why the Brexit Party did so well in the 2019 EU elections as well.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
3 months ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

Rhat happens when the party loses touch with the will of the people (or at least its own voters).. It is a balance of leadership and listening: but populist alone is disastrous.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
3 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

With modern technology it is possible for the general population to vote on every issue proposed/before parliament which can then be used to persuade (individual members of) the govt. to at least take into account the will of the people.. I would also make the govt explain why it wishes to accept/reject bills and vote for/against them.. just a thought.

Dominic S
Dominic S
3 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

It isn’t. That would force many people to use and own technology they have no desire to possess or pay for.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Well the founder of his religion apparently had no objection to the death penalty as applied in his case, if the Gospels are to be trusted.
As to Brexit, it merely returned the UK to what it always had been, a constitutional position that should never have been altered by the sinisterly moronic, maniacal vandals T. Heath and T. Blair.

Dominic S
Dominic S
3 months ago
Reply to  Arnold Grutt

Jesus, being innocent, was unjustly condemned to death. And he’ll tell you that if you ask Him.

Richard Irons
Richard Irons
3 months ago
Reply to  Dominic S

Evangelicals will also tell you that Jesus was an innocent sacrifice for an angry, punative God that demand blood be spilt to sait his anger, which I think is what Ian Stewart is getting at. This of course leads to the question, if God needs to sacrifice his own son due to his unwaivering belief that sin needs punishing, can this God really be trusted? Thankfully, evangelicals, despite what they tell us, don’t have a monopoly on biblical interpretation. Thankfully too, Rev. Fraser believes in a kinder, more compassionate God, not made in the image of some of the worse aspects of human nature.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

You forget that all coalition parties have to agree a compromise set of policies. That means the most extreme elements of each maifesto have to be dropped, thereby usually resulting in a generally popular, centrist govt: ie safe, moderate, broad-based, responsible government: in other words the complete opposite of the LT+KK ideologically based, narrowly focused, extreme government now in tatters in the UK!

Dominic S
Dominic S
3 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

WE have three shades of red in the UK at the moment.

Bill Tomlinson
Bill Tomlinson
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Can’t speak for Giles the vicar, but I certainly would be.

Samuel Gee
Samuel Gee
3 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Excellent comment. I would add that PR is a less transparent system of democracy. FPTP is characterised by the need to create a broad coalition to win an election and to do it in advance of an election. The logic of that is that two broad coalitions form as rival political parties. Come the election they create a manifesto that sets out the objectives of that coalition. I don’t overplay the meaning of a manifesto but there it is. In advance of voting, you at least know the nature of the rival coalitions and what they “say” they offer as policy. Sensible voters know that governments everywhere operate on the medics’ mandate and must deal with events as they occur. But voters have the gist and can make their choice. With PR there is still the need to form a coalition to be in government but only after the election. The nature of the coalition is not known to the voters and nor is a program for government. Voters can’t approve of the make-up of the eventual coalition that governs (too far left – too far right or whatever) they just don’t know. Nor can they even know what the eventual governing coalition “says” that it will do. That information is not available either.
So, there is the contrast. FPTP is for adults. People who know that political compromise is necessary for government, who want to see who is making those compromises and what they compromise on. People who want to vote with their eyes open and their noses held if necessary. The adult way.
PR is for the less mature. The people that close their eyes and ears and hope for the best. Those that don’t want to choose something which they know is a compromise and would rather trust a lucky dip because they can vote not to compromise, but to vote for exactly what they want and to let the adults (politicians) do the compromising for them. In this way they can always keep their hands clean and their self-image intact. For them responsibility can always be avoided. Whatever the eventual government does is not your fault. How could you have known – right?

Last edited 3 months ago by Samuel Gee
P Stokes
P Stokes
3 months ago
Reply to  Samuel Gee

Very good overview. With Mr Clover’s comments, I think I’ll keep a copy of these for my Labour-supporting friend who was, until their poll ratings improved recently, arguing for PR. Much better considered than the good reverend’s article.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 months ago
Reply to  Samuel Gee

Tuition Fees …. (un)Liberal (un)Democrats breaking their word using coalition as an excuse
We must never forget this disgraceful – inexcusable behaviour.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

In a coalition both sides have to give up on things that are important to them; and the smaller party has to pay the higher cost. Given the voters’ response it’s clear that coalitions, and, therefore, PR, are not to the voters’ taste.

Andrew F
Andrew F
3 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

I am sorry but in PR small parties benefit in most cases.
The big parties on both sides of political spectrum need support of smaller parties to form government.
Therefore smaller parties can gain influence on policy far in excess of their electoral support by threatening to join the other side.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

In amy coalition compromise is an absolute requirement.. there may be redline issues of course but no one party can have everything it wants. That is obviously surely?

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Not forgetting Vince Cable’s anti business rhetoric.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
3 months ago
Reply to  Samuel Gee

Polls in Ireland consistently favour a coalition in preference to a single party govt as the latter is seen as dangerous! The LTKK debacle is a case in point! The favourite coalition is a centrist main party with a left wing watchdog! Centrists being strong and united but notoriously over ‘pragmatic’ and lacking in morals and so having a tenancy towards corruption. Similar to the UK!

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Samuel Gee

With your complaints about PR, how is that any different from a hung parliament or coalition?
Surely if a party strays too far from its manifesto ten it will be punished at the subsequent election, as we saw with the Lib Dems after joining the Tories and more recently in Italy?

Last edited 3 months ago by Billy Bob
Korina Wood
Korina Wood
3 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Voting will change nothing

Roger Irwin
Roger Irwin
3 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

I was in favour of proportional representation…until I went to live in a country that has it!
Look around Europe. Belgium, Spain and Italy are all classic examples of PR as some people would like it to be in the UK. They are notorious for stalled governments.
France has its presedential system with a dose of Sciences Po interference. Germany is federal. Whatever you want to say about their systems, it is not what a UK + PR would be. Unless each Region of UK had it’s own assembly on par with Scottland Wales and NI…and why not!
But back to reality. PR in the UK would be like the afformentioned Italian and Spanish states. A system beloved by party leaders (because they have a job for life), but where politics is increasingly detached from the electorate.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 months ago
Reply to  Roger Irwin

Your premise is absolutely correct.

PR, which we have in Scotland with our proportion of “list” MPs, is little more than a backdoor for unaccountable activists. Nobody I know can name any of them.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Roger Irwin

I don’t think you can blame the electoral system for the Italians dysfunction personally, they’ve had about a thousand governments since the war and it doesn’t seem to matter which system they’re elected by, they always fall apart after a year or two

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
3 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Your premise is incorrect. PR these days is very likely to result in coalition government: so at least two different policy positions have to coalesce as well. Indeed a 3rd or 4th coalition partner is not uncommon, often Green thereby ensuring some level of ecological responsibility (sadly absent otherwise)..
With FPTP a party with as little as 34% of the votes in a 3 party system ends up governing! Given a 60% turnout that would mean 22% of the population elect its government! Crazy stuff.
It means an extremely ideological faction can take over: eg LT+KK madness!

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
3 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

I literally mentioned coalitions being the best outcome of PR.

When policy A “coalesces” with policy B you don’t get policy A or policy B. In fact, coalescing isn’t even the correct word because coalescing means combining two things into one. By definition, in policy terms at least some part of policy A has to be removed to allow it to be combined with policy B, and something of policy B must be removed too.

Even those most simple analogies demonstrate how half way compromises are often the very worst decision because no one is happy and neither outcome A or B is achieved. It is the classic defect of decision by committee and why committees almost always lead to sub optimal outcomes.

Last edited 3 months ago by Nell Clover
Marcus Leach
Marcus Leach
3 months ago

As a fiscal and social conservative I find myself without any noticable representation in a Parliament almost entirely populated by social democrats content to watch our country’s history and culture be trashed . PR, therefore, has an innitial appeal. But as someone who follows European politics, where PR is the norm, the negatives far outweigh the positives.
Coalitions are touted as producing a reasonable compromise. In practice they mean nobody gets what they wanted. Worse, the desperation for power from the larger parties who have fallen short at the polls often means they will concede far too much in terms of policy to a smaller party that relatively few voted for, just to heave themselves over the winning line. With the coalition always under threat of falling apart, the small party continues to wield wholly disproportionate power.
Theoretically it could be my favoured right wing political party that finds itself holding the balance of power, and I might finally have hope of some reversal from the decades of drift leftwards. But the experience in Europe has been that the “mainstream” parties collude to exclude the right from power. A major party notionally on the right finds it much more palettable to go in to a coalition with, say, the Greens, rather than a party demonised as “far right” (and on cue, this morning this has just happened again in Sweden). One can imagine that the Tories would prefer to go in to a coalition with the LibDems, Greens and even Labour, before they would sully themselves with a “far right” party.
PR in Britain would not bring “Left on economics and Right on culture”. The Tories, Labour and LibDems have coalesced around an unsustainable social democratic economic model. On culture they range from full woke, to the Tories’ – we’re just going to ignore the culture war. The 10-20 MPs we might get from a real right wing party, won’t get far against this leftist blob.
What PR would deliver would be a permanent government of an interminable “progressive alliance” shiting between Labour/LibDem and Tory/Lib Dem, with the Greens occasionally making an appearance and asserting disproportionate power. Rather than shift right culturally, we’d see leftist ideology and woke become more dominant and entrenched.
For anyone on the right, then, it should be a big no to PR.

Last edited 3 months ago by Marcus Leach
Christopher Chantrill
Christopher Chantrill
3 months ago

I’d say that the two party system has served Britain well. Used to be two aristocratic factions, Tories and Whigs. And then in the 19th century they morphed into middle-class Conservative and LIberal. Then the Liberals got eaten by Labour, bless their hearts.
Now you Brits have a two-faction uniparty representing two factions of the educated ruling class. Next up, I expect, will be a populist nationalist party emerging in the face of opposition from all the best people. It will probably replace one of the two present parties.
If you do PR it will keep the current uniparty in power until Britain blows up. I wouldn’t recommend that.

polidori redux
polidori redux
3 months ago

I take your point entirely, except for one thing: It is very difficult for a new party to replace one of the currentencumbants under FPTP.

Last edited 3 months ago by polidori redux
Roger Irwin
Roger Irwin
3 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Labour did it.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 months ago
Reply to  Roger Irwin

and UKIP did it by giving the Conservatives no choice but to adopt their policy.

polidori redux
polidori redux
3 months ago
Reply to  Roger Irwin

Can we wait that long? How young do you think I am!

Samuel Gee
Samuel Gee
3 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

In some ways there is no need for other parties to replace the main ones. In essence, the two main parties are big broad coalitions which represent a huge spectrum of opinion. Having a large number of parties representing elements of that spectrum individually is neither here nor there. If we had PR they would have to form a broad coalition after the election.
However, smaller parties can make a difference to the two main parties. UKIP was able to attract enough of the Conservative vote for the Conservative Party to offer a referendum on EU membership. Then the Brexit Party was able to take 30.5% of the vote in the 2019 European Parliament Elections proving that it could take votes from the Conservatives. It followed that by taking 28% of the vote in the Peterborough by-election. Then it released a list showing it could stand candidates in 635 seats. After extracting the necessary assurances, it then did not stand in seats where the Tories could win and only in those where it would split the Labour Brexit vote. So, it can be done on issues where people feel strongly.
Where I think democracy would be better served and would result in more representative government would be if voters stopped voting the ticket and started being more discerning. We saw a glimpse of the effect of that by Red Wall voters in 2019. There’s a whiff that Blue Wall voters might adopt that approach in the home counties. If you want politicians to represent you then stop handing over your vote for free. Make them work for it.

Last edited 3 months ago by Samuel Gee
Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
3 months ago

There will be no challenge to the Uniparty while they exercise iron control over the media. Where once the media class was drawn from a broad cross section of society, it is now indistinguishable from the upper echelons of the politicised bureaucracy.

Roger Irwin
Roger Irwin
3 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

The media is currently 100% against the Tory government and activly plots to bring it down. Even The Spectator and Telegraph.
Yet the Tories have been in office for 12 years.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
3 months ago

The root cause of our difficulties isn’t FPTP, it’s over-centralisation, the concentration of far too much power in the hands of an isolated bubble class and its media servants – all of them educated in the same institution by ivory tower academics with even less real world experience.

Peter B
Peter B
3 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Agreed. Though I do sometimes wonder if it isn’t an isolated bubble media class and its political servants.

David Simpson
David Simpson
3 months ago

For years I voted for (and even joined) parties because they supported some form of PR. But I struggle to think of any country where PR is used who are better governed than we are. If Giles could point to just one where PR has worked well and over a sustained period, I might be persuaded.

Perhaps a better approach is the Swiss one, where a representative parliamentary democracy is balanced by the ability for specific issues to be decided by referenda. That way, single issue parties such as UKIP, or the Greens, who were never able to get seats in parliament under FPTP, could put their proposals to the people and start a national debate. With sometimes surprising results.

Roger Irwin
Roger Irwin
3 months ago
Reply to  David Simpson

Switzerland is also highly federal. Tht could be a solution for the UK…each region has it’s own assembly on par with those of Scotland Wales and NI.
After all, the population of regions like Yorkshire or the West Midlands are greater than Scotland, as well as many indipendent countries like NZ.

Last edited 3 months ago by techfell
John K
John K
3 months ago

The system by which people with power and influence are chosen is irrelevant; PR or FPTP still puts the wrong sort of people – career politicians – into office. And it’s become so much worse in the last 30 years.
As a start:
1) Anyone with a degree in PPE should be prohibited from being an MP, SPAD, senior Civil Servant, or other role with political power.
2) All MPs must have worked outside politics for 10 years.
3) At least 25% of MPs to have a career in Science, Technology, or Engineering.
4) Abolish the HoL.

Last edited 3 months ago by John K
Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
3 months ago
Reply to  John K

Totally agree. After hearing the abuse Kate Bingham the venture capitalist and vaccine chief got from your first No1 comment. Totally disgusted by their vitriol.

Matt M
Matt M
3 months ago

We had a referendum on this subject. The British people were asked and we decided to keep FPTP and to leave the EU. The Scottish people decided to remain in the United Kingdom.

Those decisions should not be retested for 40 years.

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Aside from the fact AV is not PR.

Matt M
Matt M
3 months ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

That argument might appeal to lawyers. I can’t imagine many voters seeing things your way. They were asked whether they wanted to keep FPTP and said Yes.

Roger Irwin
Roger Irwin
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

In Italy they had a referendum some years back and they voted overwhelmingly to abolish PR.
Of course the party leaders did not like that, so they kicked the can down the road for years before passing a new electoral law that reinforces PR.
The UK should be thankful they live in a real democracy.

Charles Corn
Charles Corn
3 months ago

It’s well argued, but I still disagree. I think the flaws of FPTP are more acceptable than the flaws of PR, not least that a) programmes of government are negotiated after elections, not before and b) it’s possible to be elected (and join the government) on tiny vote shares and never be budged.

I think it’s worth another look at AV or a similar instant run-off system for the Commons. And how about PR for the Lords? Best of both.

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
3 months ago
Reply to  Charles Corn

In my lifetime I have seen two things which for me render FPTP unfit for purpose. The first was in 2005 when Labour won a majority not far off the current governments but with only 35% of the vote. The Tories were only 2-3% behind but didn’t even win a third of the seats. The second has to be 2015 when UKIP got 12% of the vote but only won one seat. One in eight voters had effectively no representation. That is scandalous. At least in PR, everyone is covered.

Roger Irwin
Roger Irwin
3 months ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

Oh really. In practice, to each some sort of workable situation, PR systems bar parties that get less than a few percent at a national level and frequently add some sort of bonus to the party with the most votes.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 months ago
Reply to  John Dellingby

Maybe FPTP still works – UKIP didn’t get a seat, but they sure as h*ll changed policies in the main party.

Tony Reardon
Tony Reardon
3 months ago

If considering changing the voting system, the Australian system is worth a look.
The Australian voting system for the lower house – the House of Representatives, equivalent to the House of Commons, is not proportional representation but neither is it first past the post. It is a single transferable vote in each geographic constituency. Under this system, voters number the candidates on the ballot paper in the order of their preference. Votes for the least popular are eliminated and those voters who voted for this candidate have their second preferences allocated. The process ends up electing one candidate who has at least 50%+1.
The voting for the upper house – the Senate is on a state by state basis also has a single transferable vote system but, because one is voting for multiple candidates, as well as candidates with the least votes being eliminated, candidates with the most votes also have their “extra” votes over a quota allocated to their candidates. Quite complicated and could reasonably be called proportional representation. If used for the Lords might be on a regional basis.
Also voting is compulsory, always on a Saturday and voting stations will have numbers of volunteers with cakes, barbecued sausages, etc. for sale – generally a festive feeling.

Mark Duffett
Mark Duffett
3 months ago
Reply to  Tony Reardon

Indeed. I think any Australian psephologist reading this article would have an aneurysm, conflating as it does the idea of single vs multi-member electorates, with the voting system used to select them.

Jacqueline Walker
Jacqueline Walker
3 months ago

Yes and then you end up like Ireland with the two former main parties (effectively Tweedledum and Tweedledee for an incomer like myself – impossible to distinguish on policies since they go back to the Irish civil war and family loyalties) in a coalition with the Greens. Now desperate to stay in power they implement one mad Green policy after another and are destroying themselves and the country. Give me fptp any day.

Martin Brumby
Martin Brumby
3 months ago

It is absolutely clear (and not just from the last 3 years), that the present system is totally useless.

It would be greatly improved if the vote was contingent of the voter being a regular tax payer.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago

NZ has a form of PR which does try to minimise its lack of accountability locally.
Essentially 2/3 of MPs are elected via FPTP, and represent a seat in the same manner as the British system, while the remaining 1/3 are divided up between the parties so the make up of parliament represents the % they received of the vote.
The major drawback is that the final 1/3 are only really accountable to the party rather than the electorate directly, but it does ensure parties can’t win a majority of seats on a third of the votes.

Brett H
Brett H
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

But I don’t see much improvement in the country from the past as a result of PR.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Brett H

It hasn’t actually changed much, the centre left (Labour) and centre right (National) still dominate with the bulk of the votes, they’ve merely got smaller parties to the left (Greens) and right (ACT) who join them to form the blocs. It’s still essentially a two party system in NZ as it was during FPTP.

Roger Irwin
Roger Irwin
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

NZ is about the size of Scotland, and smaller than most UK regions.
But yes, there could be a regional assembly for each UK region, on par with Scottish/Welsh/NI assemblies. That would bring politics closer to home even if it did have PR.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Roger Irwin

I see no reason why the NZ system couldn’t be implemented in the UK, it would simply mean each MP representing an area would have more constituents than they do currently. I’d prefer that to regional assemblies personally, as I think the federalisation of the UK would ultimately lead to more division between its various parts

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

The major drawback is that the final 1/3 are only really accountable to the party rather than the electorate directly, but it does ensure parties can’t win a majority of seats on a third of the votes.

That seems like a pretty serious drawback!

Saul D
Saul D
3 months ago

Unfortunately PR embeds party barons and removes dissenters. The people who control the party lists determine who can be elected so no-one steps out of line, and the party barons have the opportunity to run black-books behind the scenes.
FPTP at leasts ties politicians to localities, though it does suffer from being all or nothing. But local does allow for non-party issues to emerge and leads to a looser whip with more dissent possible than with PR.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
3 months ago
Reply to  Saul D

And you don’t think the party machines control who can be candidate in FPTP? Surely not that naive!

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
3 months ago

I’ve voted in 4 general elections and only in the last one in 2019 did I vote for a party as opposed to against another which is what I did in the other 3. PR would change that in my view due to the variety of options and the reasonable level of success they can attain at the polls. Also, it more or less ensures Nigel Farage and George Galloway become MP’s so what’s not to like?

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
3 months ago

At first, my heart sank when i saw who the author was. But i was wrong. Giles has come up with a very pertinent article ensconced in the most basic aspect of the democratic process of engagement – the visibility of one’s representative at the court of power.

Lots of interesting points raised already. The thing about PR is there are several forms, such as STV etc. Would be interested to hear which form those countries with PR use?

One thing is clear, change is almost certainly on its way. The likelihood of the Tories recovering after what amounts to a 12-year process of exhausting themselves getting Brexit over the line is very low. That’ll result in a hung parliament where a coalition, most likely with Starmer as PM, will be formed on the basis of both change to the electoral system and to the unity of the UK. We might as well start preparing ourselves now, and this article is a welcome point of reference.

Last edited 3 months ago by Steve Murray
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I don’t think Starmer will need a coalition. Let’s hope he and Izzard have worked out what a woman is by the time they enter government.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
3 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

How interesting that Giles makes your heart sink! I am so curious! Is it his political views or his views on faith?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 months ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

I can’t speak for Mr Murray, but it is almost certainly the political views – that seem to be underpinned by high-minded Christian values – but don’t represent the real world.
e.g. articles encouraging increased immigration with absolutely no reference to the consequences on the existing population.

Last edited 3 months ago by Ian Barton
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
3 months ago
Reply to  Judy Johnson

It’s the hand-wringing righteous way he usually expresses his views. This article had some substance.
As it happens, i don’t agree with his political views and i’m an atheist, but i can appreciate a good article that’s been written in a non-preachy way by anyone.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
3 months ago

There seems to be no relationship between quality of our elected leaders and PR. We had a two party system throughout the C19th and very high quality politicians indeed; the quality of persons entering public life has deteriorated markedly in the last 30 years but surely (and obviously) due to other factors: the relentless spotlight in the media; the endless criticism and unfounded accusations by the terminally stupid in social media “corruption, corruption, back-handers, brown envelopes” they shriek – without any evidence whatsoever; the overload of tasks; the requirement for full time politicians so that political life cannot be combined with outside interests; poor pay and rations.
PR would not change any of that.

John 0
John 0
3 months ago

I’m confused – didn’t we the people have a vote on PR under the coalition government? Didn’t we reject it?
Is this another Brexit – where the “mobs” gave the “wrong” answer and so the elites need to educate them until they vote for the “right” answer (or just have it imposed on them by their “betters”?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  John 0

There are many different forms of PR, the Tories chose the least palatable one to put to a vote in my opinion.
Perhaps a 2 stage referendum could be implemented, firstly to chose the system proposed, and secondly whether it can replace FPTP, with a written guarantee that the question won’t be revisited for a generation

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
3 months ago
Reply to  John 0

All I remember was an offer to change the electoral system. But what was on offer was neither proportional nor representative. “Call me Dave” stitched up “I agree with Nick”!

Fran Martinez
Fran Martinez
3 months ago

Could the author name at least one country (of the many with proportional representation) where it really works? The problem with proportional representation is that you break the link of accountability between the politicians and the electorate. Hence, politicians srtart caring even more about what the party line is, and forget about whom they represent.

Keith Darlington
Keith Darlington
3 months ago

I agree with the author. But I can think of many more reasons why we need to abolish FPTP. It may have worked well once, but now it is badly failing our democracy. I’ve followed politics for over 50 years. The two main parties were broad churches once but not anymore. Johnson ejected all Remain opinion from his party before the last election and Starmer stopped MPs and members from talking about many topics – such as strikes, Brexit, criticism of NATO, and even Republicanism. This means we have no diversity of opinions anymore. Both parties espouse the party line come what may. A good example is Brexit. Millions of travelers experienced hell at Dover and airports during the Summer. Yet, both parties shut down the discussion. The Tories because they want to pretend that Brexit was done, and Labour because they knew that any talk about delays will get back to talking about Brexit. We had only one MP on both sides of the two main parties – Stella Creasy and Tobias Ellwood – who would dare say that there are problems with Brexit.
The most worrying sign of our democracy now is that minority opinions can’t get a look in – even though they may contain the seeds of good ideas. This is not good for democracy because we need a range of views and we cannot get it with FPTP. It’s disappointing to read so many comments on this thread advocating no change to FPTP because UNHEARD is supposed to encourage diverse thinking. We’re not going to get very far if we do nothing more than what the Tories and Labour want us to do. I.e., bang the FPTP two-party system drum.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
3 months ago

That was a thoughtful contribution until you expressed disappointment that comments included many who advocate no change to FPTP. What is Unherd supposed to do, filter those out? For goodness sake!!!

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
3 months ago

I agree with your comments about the Brexit debate – and I voted for it!

jim peden
jim peden
3 months ago

I think that Giles Fraser is right to observe that people can have socialist economic beliefs while espousing conservative cultural ones. Unfortunately there isn’t any way for our ‘representatives’ to take account of this.
I agree that Britain needs a voting revolution. However, I don’t think that PR is nearly good enough for a population that has been demonstrably disenfranchised for the past three years. I’m discussing a radical alternative that gives everyone a vote on every issue. Please comment!

Last edited 3 months ago by jim peden
Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
3 months ago

Not sure where you get the idea that PR will stop MPs “showing face” in the community? We in Ireland have had PR for ever and you cannot die in peace but some bloody MP turns up to your funeral for the photo op!
It does mean however, when one go to one’s ‘own’ MP (politically) one is likely to be well represented. If not, and one goes instead to an ‘enemy’ MP and gets better service it’s a guaranteed loss of a vote! It happened to me and I did change horses!

Chris Parkins
Chris Parkins
3 months ago

I always used to be in favour of PR but have become wary of it due to the disproportionate influence it can give to extremist parties. In the 2015 general election, the Greens got 4% of the vote but only 1 MP, whereas they ‘should’ have had 26 of them by proportion. But on the other hand, UKIP also only got one MP, and they got 13% of the vote. Under PR that would have been 84 UKIP MPs!

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Chris Parkins

That in my opinion is the major flaw with FPTP. 1 in 6 voters chose one of those parties, yet they received 2 seats out of 650. By contrast the SNP received only slightly more votes than the Greens but received around 60 seats

Peter B
Peter B
3 months ago

It’s a huge jump from gaining the satisfaction that you can vote for someone with views closer to your own to that actually translating into getting those views implemented in government. I doubt that PR would make much difference in that. In theory, it feels like it should. But in practice, I doubt it.
Giles also assumes that the two party system is responsible for low quality politicians and that in some unexplained way switching to PR would increase the quality of candidates. It’s an assumption with nothing to support it. Remember also that the two party system has worked well in the UK for the most of last 200 or so years.
One thing that FPTP does do (and it has many shortcomings) is allow the electorate to decisively kick out a government they do not like and force that party to rethink and rebuild. PR may well stop that happening. We do need a way to get rid of governments that are no longer fit. Sometimes clear and decisive action is needed rather than merely satisfying (or pacifying) the greatest number of people. Margaret Thatcher might well never have become PM under a PR system. Not everyone here will agree, but I think her government was needed.
Also, if the Tories continue to self-destruct at the current rate, the least worst alternative for me would be a Labour majority (and that’s something I really don’t want). But it’s better than a Labour-SNP coalition.
I used to be strongly pro-EEC/EU. I used to be pro-PR. I used to be anti two party politics. Over the past 15 years I’ve reversed on all of these. Better in theory. But not usually in practice.

Brenda Pilott
Brenda Pilott
3 months ago

The NZ example shows some flawed assumptions in this article. Firstly, PR has certainly not stopped the selection of MPs who are mediocrities. They’re still a mix of good, bad and indifferent, just as there was under FPTP. Secondly, the duopoly continues, albeit with minor parties attached to either right or left, sometimes in coalitions, sometimes in guaranteed voting arrangements. The two big parties remain broad coalitions within their own ranks. Small parties have come and gone and most find it hard to crack the 5% threshold. There’s been 2 examples of minor parties that can work with left or right governments, but neither is currently represented in Parliament. Maybe it would be different in the UK but do look at how MMP has played out in NZ, which is based on the Westminster system, before you decide its the key ingredient to the political change you need.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 months ago

I think we had a vote on this not so long ago.
Giles is being disingenuous again

Riccardo Tomlinson
Riccardo Tomlinson
3 months ago

We had a vote on changing the voting system 10 years ago. As usual the level of public debate was abysmal, and media interest low on that occasion. It was rejected, but that vote has had huge consequences.

The hard core Brexit merchants should have been in Parliament having their case properly examined.
We are stuck with the Labour Party, which has run out of purpose and ideas. It should have been replaced by a modern left of centre party by now.

Chris Hume
Chris Hume
3 months ago

We are happy to pay more tax to help out those in need

Yeah, so we say.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
3 months ago

I will never support PR. I am not prepared to make choices that could result in my first choice not being elected. The system we want is MPs would do not serve a political party and only elected if they obtain more than 50% of the registered votes.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Very few receive more than 50% of the vote. You’d only end up with a handful of MPs in incredibly safe seats

David Simpson
David Simpson
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Or you use the same system as the French presidential election – an initial open field and then only the top two go through to the final vote. And if neither manages to get 50%+1, yes that constituency would have no MP (which is probably not a bad thing in itself)

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
3 months ago

The problem with PR is it tends to put undue power in the hands of minority parties.
Because PR drives governments towards coalitions you all too often end up having to give concessions to minority parties to bring them into government – meaning the view of the minority concerned are given undue weight in the government policy
The tail wagging the dog.

AC Harper
AC Harper
3 months ago

Only proportional representation can save the nation

or possibly condemn the nation to endless musical chairs of coalition Government who agree on little and achieve little.

Nick SPEYER
Nick SPEYER
3 months ago

I am struggling to believe that anyone can actually think that PR would improve the ‘quality’ of politicians ………..
If you can just accept the underlying truth that government’s role is simply to govern and it is a short-term choice of who will be less bad at doing so, then you can save yourself a lot of angst.
If, conversely, you wish that governments ‘share your values’, then that is never going to work There are 68 million of us in the UK and we all have different values and views – you can’t make everybody happy with the result of any form of election.
Oh and the people of the UK voted overwhelmingly in favour of FPTP when there was a referedum on the subject ………

Sam Agnew
Sam Agnew
3 months ago

Giles, I think you’ve really sold me on the current system.

Hugh R
Hugh R
3 months ago

FPTP is underlined by compromise – but it’s also stable

Richard Heller
Richard Heller
3 months ago

Replace the present Upper House of Placeniks with one elected regionally by proportional representation. Give voters the option of ranking candidates on party lists, as partial safeguard against selection of loyal party stooges.
For House of Commons, keep single-member constituencies but allow voters option of voting AGAINST one candidate instead of FOR one. Choose winner on the basis of Goal Difference, Fors minus Againsts. Set minimum required total of positive votes (12.5 per cent as now for saving deposit) to get elected, as barrier to election of nice single-issue or joke MPs. If no candidate achieves this AND achieves a positive goal difference, the constituency holds a by-election with new candidates. If this achieves same result, it is left without an MP.
Would mean that all candidates and parties have to make voters want them, no one gets in just to keep another party out.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
3 months ago

A new Great Reform Act is needed which only allows manual working class people the vote, along with all in farming, plus those who have jumped the odd fence out Hunting, have bagged the odd ‘ one two’ out shooting, wear a blue red blue watch strap, own lurchers, and one or two other criteria. Kent, East Sussex, Surrey, Hertfordshire and Essex must become one single constituency, along with intra M25 land, excluding SW1- 8.. there, that should do it.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
3 months ago

Plus the owners of Patterdale Terriers, and readers of “Badger Diggers Quarterly”.

Sue Sims
Sue Sims
3 months ago

Satire rules!

Dominic S
Dominic S
3 months ago

PR favours the current parties over against independent candidates, who won’t even give people the chance of protest voting because there’ll be no way to stand. How can an independent compete aginst several candidates from each party in their area?

Ruud van Man
Ruud van Man
3 months ago

PR only works in countries where there is a fairly strong consensus about how things should be run (e.g. Switzerland). The UK is not such a country and PR would lead to truly horrible, paralysing compromises.

Martin Terrell
Martin Terrell
3 months ago

I’m almost persuaded. And yet, I expect we’d up with the same politicians and the same establishment running the show. Maybe, this also reflects the naïve belief that changing the structure gets better results. If we had a written constitution, or an elected head of state, or rejoined the EU, all our problems would disappear. Surely the clergyman’s perspective is that better people make better laws.

M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
3 months ago

Giles is very right to see that PP would sever the human connection where an elected MP is meant to represent all the people in his or her constituency – even if they voted for the other guy.
He’s also right to see that there are problems with the major parties not offering a good representation of the views of voters.
The advantage of two main parties is they should be fairly broad churches, and responsive to large swathes of voters. And this should happen because the MPs those voters return are representing their interests and values within the party, and in fact are in a real way constitute the existence of the party.
It’s a devaluing of the relationship of the MP to voters, and over-valuing the party hierarchy, that has caused this problem, so that the hierarchy is able to impose ideologies the voters don’t want, even impose MPs.
Further abstracting the relationship of voters to MPs, so they truly are voting for a party and ideology rather than a person, may in the short term seem to provide better representation, but in the long term will simply create a series of clubs, defined and led by powerful people , which voters may choose from.

Liam Keating
Liam Keating
3 months ago

Would it help to have a president chosen by one of the ranked vote systems and Parliament chosen by PR? Parliament would divide into many small parties so gridlock between executive and legislators would be rare. Horse trading of minor principles would happen but is unavoidable and at least the executive would not be a coalition. I’d suggest that Parliament be allowed to sack a president on condition this triggers a general election. I think this would tend against divisiveness and open up our choices, giving us more control than the two main parties.

Rafi Stern
Rafi Stern
3 months ago

We have proportional representation here in Israel and it is a bad system. Politicians are behoven to the party and its leader and are not responsible tonthe electorate. We vote for a party whose list of candidates we barely know. If you think that fptp produces mediocre candidates then just wait to see what pr will bring you…

Roddy Campbell
Roddy Campbell
3 months ago

The problem with PR is that politicians are hard-wired for expediency. So the immediate effect of a Labour government introducing PR would be a party getting into some sort of tryst with the SNP, or SNP acting as kingmaker: with the inevitable results.

PR does give a voice to smaller parties, allowing them to break into mainstream politics, which is good. However, the down side is that it gives single-issue groups a disproportionate amount of influence that does not in any way reflect the proportion of voters supporting that issue.

For example, SNP and Scottish Independence; greens and their loony tunes woo woo agenda.

Leejon 0
Leejon 0
3 months ago

Did we not have a referendum on this in 2011 (or a version of it)? Did it not get a resoundingly negative vote? Yet the same fools still continue (as is their right) to tell us that only their vision of democracy is the right and correct one. Do we still laugh at them? Are we still bored by them? Yawn!

Dave Weeden
Dave Weeden
3 months ago

One could be forgiven for thinking that Giles Fraser is proposing a new system of selecting a government, rather than one which exists in much of Europe given his lack of references to countries which actually use PR. There are plenty of Unheard articles reporting from those earthly paradises, why oh why doesn’t the author cite them, and dazzle us with the improvements to education, healthcare, policing in Scotland for example?
As others have pointed out, the Lib Dems secured a referendum on the voting system when they entered the government in 2010. Playing with the electoral system seems to be the death rattle of a party bereft of ideas.
FPTP may have it’s faults, but at least it’s clear who is accountable and to whom, which should please Graham Norton, if not Giles Fraser.

Max Price
Max Price
3 months ago

Yes, yes, yes! PR is more democratic. It’s a no brainer! I’d say abolishing the House of Lords is a more pressing concern though.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
3 months ago
Reply to  Max Price

Why not hang on to your FPTP system for the Commons, for now, and elect the Lords by PR? That way the smaller parties like the Greens will get some representation/voice in the parliament (the Lords) that reflect their support in the community. You could divide the country up into, well, whatever is a good number, 35?, Lords electorates of about equal population, and within those use a PR system to elect 175 MPs.

Last edited 3 months ago by Russell Hamilton
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago

Liking this! The Lords is just an axe grinders chamber of obfuscation now.

Last edited 3 months ago by Ian Stewart
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Max Price

Agreed the Lords should be gone. I’d actually prefer it if the chamber was still (nominally)apolitical peers, rather than the current system stuffed with failed politicians and government cronies

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Don’t forget those who have paid a sufficient sum to one of the main parties.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Precisely, it’s well past it’s use by date

Aaron James
Aaron James
3 months ago

Less should be allowed to vote – not more. If you do not pay taxes, or are not supported by a taxpayer, then why should you get to decide who pays tax, and who gets it given to them?

If you do not understand finance, history, Politics – all you get are voters paid off by $ or lies.

That is why we have Representative Democracy, because 90% of people do not have the information to actually know the issues they are voting for. FPTP is mere tyranny of the majority –

Thank God USA has its system of being a Representative Republic – or the lefty – and the ignorant and poor – in California and New Your would tell all the actual working Americans what the laws are. (and on Nov 8 sanity should be restored in the Midterms – because the system works – it can fight back from the insanity of the mob)

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Aaron James

So essentially you class pensioners, students and the disabled as lesser human beings unworthy of having a say in how their country is governed? A doctor who is in between jobs doesn’t get a say but a shelf stacker at the local supermarket would?
As for the American system, to most of us outside looking in it barely seems to function at all. It exists in a constant state of paralysis whereby Presidents are continuously prevented from enacting the policies that they campaigned and were elected on. Both major parties seem to be ruled by their extreme fringes

Brett H
Brett H
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Pensioners have paid taxes, students have tax paying parents, unemployed doctors have paid taxes. It seems to be a reasonable idea that only those who engage meaningfully with society get to have a say in how it operates. Why should those who play a part in damaging it or draining it of it’s resources have a say? Implementing it is the problem and governments are notorious for making things worse. So we’re forced to make allowances to avoid being cruel and destructive in other ways than what we’re fighting. Ultimately it weakens us.
I suspect the US is still on its feet, despite the jolts it takes, because of the system.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Brett H

So anybody who has ever paid tax can vote? That’s not going to rule out too many people is it, except maybe the disabled and a minuscule number of unemployed.
I’d argue that America runs in spite of the system rather than because of it, if it was a mid level power rather than the worlds reserve currency in my opinion the system of constant roadblocks would cause serious problems and economic stagnation.

Brett H
Brett H
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

“So anybody who has ever paid tax can vote? That’s not going to rule out too many people is it, except maybe the disabled and a minuscule number of unemployed.”
Im a bit lost here. What are we talking about? My comment was that the people you said would be excluded because they didn’t pay tax actually did pay tax. I think you’re arguing against the idea of allowing less people to vote, or depriving them of a vote, because of their circumstances.
I think Aaron is suggesting that to get the benefits of society one has to be engaged, to take part and contribute in some way. It’s probably true to say that those who overly dependent on the government are easily manipulated. Hence those who get the vote and drive the direction of the country should be those engaged enough to see the bigger picture.
Im not sure what you comment on America means.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Brett H

His argument was that only those who pay tax should get the vote, which you extended to those who have paid tax should get the vote. My point was that very few people have never paid no tax at all so not many would be excluded from voting, largely making the policy meaningless.
Also why is it just those struggling at the bottom who are easily manipulated? Would the wealthy not also be easily manipulated with the promise of large tax cuts for high earners? Why is this any different from those at the bottom voting to increase financial support for those facing hardship?

Brett H
Brett H
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

“Would the wealthy not also be easily manipulated with the promise of large tax cuts for high earners? “
I wasn’t referring to those struggling at the bottom, as you say. I was referring to those who don’t engage. It could be said the wealthy are manipulated by tax cuts. But I also think they engage with society on a much broader level than just tax cuts.
There’s nothing wrong with those at the bottom voting to increase financial support for those facing hardships. The problem is their view is distorted by their circumstances and so they’re easily manipulated. Anyone is if they’re dependent on the government.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago
Reply to  Brett H

Some benefits are taxable, so those receiving these benefits are included in the taxable cohort.
https://www.litrg.org.uk/tax-guides/employment/how-tax-collected-taxable-state-benefits

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Spot on, says this pensioner. The USA system just allows things to drift on with the occasional decision being made. The Supreme Court seems to be more active on the direction of governance these days.

Last edited 3 months ago by Ian Stewart
Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
3 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

We have three equal branches of government for a reason: to prevent the executive, or the legislative, or the judicial branches from just doing whatever the h*ll they feel like without the permission of those they work for – the American people. The current occupiers of the legislative body will be painfully reminded of that next month.

Max Price
Max Price
3 months ago
Reply to  Aaron James

Neve change Aaron!

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago
Reply to  Max Price

Tell us more! Is Neve Aaron’s carer?

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
3 months ago
Reply to  Aaron James

Do you mean the insanity of people whose view differs from yours?

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
3 months ago
Reply to  Aaron James

Even if you live in some remote place, living out a totally self-sustained existence, providing your own food and energy, I’d imagine there are some kind of property taxes to pay in any western country.
I pay tax on my utilities, any food other than basics, fuel, etc, as well as my income, and God knows how many other things.
So who are these mysterious non-taxpayers? Ever heard of ‘no taxation without representation’?