My response to the recent Telegraph.co.uk article claiming Britain does not need proportional representation.
Okay, I'll start with the title "No, Britain does not want proportional representation" because even that is misleading. Are we forgetting Northern Ireland, because Great Britain (commonly referred to as Britain) is simply the name of the Island on which Scotland, Wales, and England sit upon, not the country that votes in the General Election. That would be the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
While this may not seem significant at first, we must remember that Sinn Féin, a Northern Ireland (NI) party that is notoriously known for not taking their seats in the House of Commons, gained over 20% of NI's seats (4 out of 18). One of the reasons they do not take their seats because they object to how Ireland is ruled mostly by parties than can, for the most part, ignore NI and their measly 18 seats. While this isn't the only reason that they do not take their seats (they also object to the monarchy, I believe), it is easy to see that they would welcome any change to the system that would give more democratic power to the people of NI. Another major NI party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) gained a massive 44% of NI's seats (8 out of 18), giving them the same amount of seats as the Liberal Democrats. This is another party which wants to give more democratic power to the people of Ireland, which a replacement for First Past The Post, or FPTP (such as the Single Transferable Vote, or STV), would provide. In fact, most elections in NI already use STV.
For these obvious reasons, it is foolish to ignore Northern Ireland when discussing electoral reform or proportional representation. Unfortunately, the rest of the article also follows this trend, being either purposefully misleading, or simply dense.
Part of me wants to ignore the first two paragraphs for the rhetorical horseshit that they are, but I just can't ignore the end of the second paragraph, which states:
The last election was the “most disproportionate in British history”. Yes, they may have said that at the previous election. And the one before that. But this time they really, really mean it.
This doesn't inspire me anymore than the title for the quality of the rest of the article, as that's kind of the point. The affront to democracy that the first past the post system provides is getting worse and worse every term. They meant it every time, because at the time, it was the most disproportionate. And then it got worse.
The article goes on to say
The current electoral system is “archaic” and “divisive”. Yes, it may be the same electoral system the British people voted to retain in 2011.
Yes, we voted to retain it, but that's entirely misleading. At this point, it's widely known that the "No to AV" campaign was anything but a fair fight, with entirely unfair and untrue propaganda stating "Say NO to spending £250million on AV". I see no need to repeat the countless criticism of this referendum here, as articles such as the NewStateman's "No to AV’s new campaign is beyond parody" sort of say it all. The basic implication is that replacing FPTP would kill babies and leave the military without the equipment they need to do their jobs, which is quite frankly ridiculous.
It's also not surprising, as this was probably the plan when The Conservatives agreed to the referendum in the first place. It was nothing but a slap to the face for the Liberal Democrats (the party that pushed the referendum), their voters, and to be honest the entire electorate. It was designed to put to bed the question of Electoral Reform for at least a few decades, with no real risk to the Conservatives.
You think ERS is the one with the problem? Well aren’t you all high and mighty. Why don’t you take a look at yourselves. You’re the one with the problem. Everyone’s started “shopping around”, they're “supporting a wider range of parties than ever before”, “the system's really struggling to cope”.
I appreciate the rhetoric, however incorrect you are. This election, the only parties that saw any real growth were parties outside of the two party system that FPTP creates. So yes, people are "shopping around" and yes, they are "supporting a wider range of parties than ever before".
Four years ago we had a referendum on electoral reform
No, we had a referendum on AV, which failed for so many reasons that have nothing to do with proportional representation itself.
Six million people (32 per cent) voted to change the system. 13 million (68 per cent) voted to keep it.
Is that really surprising considering the quality of the before-mentioned "no" propaganda?
This morning the ERS has kindly produced an assessment of what last month’s election result would have looked like under that AV system. The Conservatives would actually have had an additional 6 seats, (337), Labour would have had 5 fewer (227), the SNP 2 less (54), and the Lib Dems an extra 1 (9). Seat allocations for the other parties would have remained the same. A big difference? Oh yes. That result would certainly have been one in the eye for the old political establishment.
This paragraph is particularly infuriating and misleading. as it is widely accepted that people vote differently under different voting systems. Proportional Representation would allow the electorate to discard with tactical voting, giving them the ability to support minor parties (such as GRN and UKIP) without worrying about wasted votes. This data about the results an AV system may have provided was actually part of a wider data set, comparing different voting systems. This was in no way advocating for AV, an entirely flawed system, but simply showing the results under well known voting systems, had the electorate voting similarly to how they did under FPTP. The article that this data set was from then goes on to explain how they actually support STV.
One criticism I do have for this data set, is that they included STV in the data set, as it is almost impossible to port results from FPTP elections to a theoretical STV one, due to how you order parties on an STV ballot, rather than simply picking your favourite. I believe that under a real STV election, the results could differ much more drastically than what that table suggests, especially for The Green Party and The Liberal Democrats, who would be many peoples #1 or #2 parties under an STV system.
Before the election we were told by the ERS “the two party system is dead”. On 7 May the percentage of votes cast for the two main parties increased.
Right, so you criticise a data set for showing not enough difference in results (where it actually suggests a possible 54% increase for UKIP and a 17% loss for the Conservatives, seats wise), and then praise a 0.8% and 1.5% vote share increase for The Conservatives and The Labour Party respectively? Make your mind up! This is also misleading, for that reason, and that it conveniently ignores the 9.5% vote share increase that UKIP saw, the 3.1% vote share increase the SNP saw, and the 2.8% vote share increase that the Green Party saw. In fact, the only party that lost vote share this election was The Liberal Democrats (losing 15.2% of the vote share). In perspective, it's easy to see that the vote share increase the 2 party system saw (2.3% between them) is... well irrelevant.
Before the election we were told by the ERS that the current electoral system was leaving the voters “disillusioned”. Last month turnout was the highest we have seen in a UK general election for 18 years.
Wait, what? A higher turnout doesn't mean that voters aren't disillusioned, especially when this increase in turnout did not translate to a meaningful impact of the seats produced by the election. The increase in voters actually went to parties like UKIP, the SNP, and The Green Party, and for the most part, their votes were "wasted" under the FPTP system.
On 24 March the ERS said: “People’s wishes have changed. They want to see multiple parties competing for their votes, and then working together when they get to Westminster. That means coalition and minority government are likely to become the norm." On the 6 May they doubled down, claiming: “What we’ve seen in this election period is the two main parties pursuing the fantasy of a majority, instead of dealing with the reality that they should work with other parties”. 24 hours later, the Conservatives secured a majority.
Right, I've said this before and I'll say it again. Suggesting that a majority was possible when looking at any evidence we had BEFORE the infamous exit poll, was ludicrous. A raving madman isn't suddenly sane because one of their predictions somehow comes true. The Conservatives WERE clutching at straws when they suggested that they could win a majority, when all evidence pointed to the contrary. Regardless, a majority does not mean that they will not have to make compromises and work with other parties, especially with their tiny majority of 12. The most obvious evidence of this is when the "British Bill of Rights" was notably missing from the recent Queen's Speech. There is no assurity that the Conservative backbenchers will toe the party line 100% of time, and I suspect this will become evident as this parliamentary term progresses.
The article then goes on to suggest that the only alternative result would have been a Conservative-UKIP coalition, and gave that as support for FPTP.
So the practical result of a change of electoral system would be that, under any of the options, David Cameron would still be prime minister. The only difference is that under two of them he would be serving at the whim of Nigel Farage. The crackdown on HIV sufferers. The right to discriminate on grounds of race or gender in the workplace. A 50,000 annual immigration cap. These policies would all now be heading for the statute book. True, Nick Clegg would have won a lot more seats, and Nicola Sturgeon a lot less. Which the ERS clearly feels would have been a much more accurate representation of the national mood.
Regardless of how you feel about UKIP policies, there would be FAR more of a mandate for a Conservative-UKIP coalition than a Conservative majority government and that is not something you can simply brush under the carpet, and this is coming from a Green Member who vehemently disagrees with UKIP policy. This is again ignoring that an STV system would produce different results than an FPTP system in both votes and seats. The idea that the article suggests that it is okay to disagree with a form of democracy because you don't like the parties it may support is absurd.
There is a reason that four years ago the British people made the decision in overwhelming numbers to retain our current electoral system. It works, and they recognise it works.
The system we all voted under last month is specifically designed to fulfil three main functions. The first is to provide democratic accountability. And it clearly does, which is why we’ve all just sat through the longest election campaign in living memory.
The second is to provide stable government. And again, it has done. Indeed, the British people used the voting system to turn their backs on the very coalition scenarios the electoral reformers insisted were an inevitable outcome of the election.
No, no it does not "work". Even after a 3 term Labour government in which a PM (allegedly) committed war crimes, the Conservatives were only able to form a coalition government. If it "worked" at forming majority governments, it should have been a landslide victory for them, but alas. And even after that, they were only able to gain a measly 12 seat majority, and this was without any significant gain to their voter base (it is actually quite clear at this point that the Liberal Democrat political suicide with the Conservatives gaining seats where they were already in 2nd pace, was the cause of this thin majority). It didn't work last election, and I believe it will soon become clear that it did not work this election either. The only thing that the FPTP works at doing is ignoring a massive majority of the electorate. The Conservatives had 36.9% of the vote, and with that gained over 50% of the seats and 100% of the power in government.
I also take issue with the following quote:
Indeed, the British people used the voting system to turn their backs on the very coalition scenarios the electoral reformers insisted were an inevitable outcome of the election
Yes, this election saw a massive haemorrhage to the Liberal Democrat vote, but there was no equal gain to either of the major parties. While, as voting is anonymous, we can only speculate as to why that is, it stands to reason that there was no mass transition from the Liberal Democrats to the Conservatives or Labour, or if there was, it was offset by losses to both parties in the form of a UKIP vote share increase. An election where the massive growth was outside of the two party system does not show the electorate turning their back on coalition at all. In fact, it's probably more of an example of the electorate embracing coalition. The Liberal Democrats loss this election is just proof of their loss of credibility, and has little to do with the electorate's opinion on governmental coalition.
The third is the current system guarantees moderate government. Extreme or fringe parties like Ukip or the Greens or the Liberal Democrats have to pass a high electoral threshold to be in a position to get their hands on the levers of government. They may not like it. The electoral reformers may not like it. But the British people value this padlock on extremism and superficiality.
Tell that to the over 4 million people represented by 2 MPs.
Now, does that look like an electorate that values the 2 party system? People are voting for "extreme" and "fringe" parties en-masse, and this is a trend that looks set to continue.
In conclusion, this entire article is delusion and or the deliberate misleading of their reader base, and to be honest, I'm not sure which I would condemn more.