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Debate:Proportional representation

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With the UK general elections just round the corner and with the possibility of a hung parliament (a parliament in which no party has a clear majority) the question of electoral reform and and proportional representation (PR) will no doubt come up.

Against PR[edit]

I live in a country with a parliamentary democracy and PR and I think it's crap. Here's why.

  • We almost never get a clear result and every election is followed by weeks of horse-trading in which any significant electoral promise is traded away.
  • In "first past the post" a percentage of the people get with they voted for. In this system nobody gets what they voted for.
  • The small nationalist (or potentially extremist) parties usually end up with the balance of power which allows them to screw better deals for their regions out of the national government.
  • Because nobody votes for an "MP" - just a party - no MP feels any real loyalty to their electorate. Their loyalty is only to the party. In all my time here I can almost never recall an instance of a deputy disobeying his party's instructions and going with his electorate. Compare this with the mass rebellion in the Labour party over the Iraq invasion.
  • The result of all this is that the Spanish are incredibly cynical about politics and politicians who they never expect to achieve anything. (Yes, a lot more cynical than the British.)--BobSpring is sprung! 19:16, 6 April 2010 (UTC)
And that's the result from a (relatively) mono-national state. Take it to a multi-national state, or one with great regional disparities, and the problems get much worse. Many Canadian reformers want to institute PR, which would provide a great many seats to regional and separatist parties (It's bad enough with the Bloc Quebecois at the moment), destroying any possibility of stable government and national direction. I fear much the same is true for Britain, though hopefully to a lesser extent. PR is just begging for permanently hung parliaments, and while the citizenry likes to cry "work together!" they actually massacre any party that tries to. PubliusTalk 17:25, 15 April 2010 (UTC)
Actually Spain is rife with small nationalist parties and its regions have different degrees of autonomy. And they are all able to screw extra concessions from the government in return for their support for coalition governments.--BobSpring is sprung! 17:42, 15 April 2010 (UTC)
Living where I do, we have PR as a result of the good old "one man, one vote" system. In one respect, I like PR in that if you get 10% of the vote, you get 10% of the seats. With FPTP, losers aren't represented. However, my biggest gripe with PR is that there's no accountability. You aren't voting for a person, you're voting for a party and they decide who goes on the list and in what order and if a minister doesn't perform, there's basically nothing you can do about it... except vote for the non-democratic list of another party. --PsyGremlinKhuluma! 18:00, 15 April 2010 (UTC)
Grr! Not Necessarily. –SuspectedReplicant retire me 18:05, 15 April 2010 (UTC)

For PR[edit]

On the other hand...

  • With 'first past the post' (FPTP) those with minority views never get representation. I'm thinking particularly of the Greens who, whilst I wouldn't trust them to form a government, do have some valid input if only someone would listen. However this also applies to other minority parties.
  • With FPTP my vote is irrelevant - whilst I'm not in a minority nationally - I voted Labour last time - I'm in a minority in my constituency. Why bother voting?
  • With FPTP gerrymandering is all too easy.

Jack Hughes (talk) 09:53, 7 April 2010 (UTC)



I live in a country with MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) and it works brilliantly. Acei9 09:56, 7 April 2010 (UTC)

Looking at the WP article it appears to confuse the heck out of the Scots. Jack Hughes (talk) 10:06, 7 April 2010 (UTC)
I remember that. It was rather amusing, if a little embarrassing for Scotland. Educated bastard Phantom Hoover! 16:56, 15 April 2010 (UTC)
I sent this "New Scottish Flag" to my Scottish friends after that. Now I don't have any Scottish friends. –SuspectedReplicant retire me 17:03, 15 April 2010 (UTC)

Different Types of PR[edit]

The Party List method Bob describes is an example of a bad PR system. Just because one system is bad, there's no reason to assume that they all are.

Scotland and Wales already use PR for the elections to their national parliaments. In their method, there are a set of FPTP elections AND a vote for a party. The party votes are used to allocate extra MPs to iron out any discrepancies between the share of the vote and the number of MSPs/AMs won in the FPTP elections. When the system was first suggested, some said that it would create two classes of MPs, but in practice this hasn't happened.

My own preferred system is the Single Transferable Vote in Multi-member constituencies. I'm not going to go into detail, but it gives you a proportional result and maintains the link between MP and constituency.

The objections to FPTP are many. Bob comments that "a percentage of the people get with they voted for", which is true, but it's usually a tiny minority of people who end up with total control over the rest. In 2005, for instance, Labour achieved a solid majority on just 35.3% of the vote - representing only 22% of the total electorate.

Additionally, the votes of most people simply don't count. The fate of an election is controlled by around 100 marginal constituencies and if you live outside those then there's almost nothing you can do to influence the election. For example, a Green voter in Huntington has absolutely no chance of getting a candidate elected.

People criticise PR because you get what the fewest people object to rather than what most people want. That's also true of FPTP, where tactical voting comes to the fore. I may end up voting Labour just to stop the Tories winning here.

The point about MPs being able to rebel under FPTP is overstated. Yes it happened on Iraq, but Labour still won. A better example would be John Major's defeat on the Maastricht Treaty a few years ago: he simply phrased the same question as a vote of confidence and the rebels came back to the fold.

Lastly, a FPTP system is far more open to Gerrymandering than most kinds of PR.

The sooner we get a decent system of PR, the better. –SuspectedReplicant retire me 10:23, 7 April 2010 (UTC)

Hear, hear. For all the reasons above and because my party (Lib Dems) deserves more than 9.6% of seats in Westminster when they win 22.1% of the vote. Which isn't as bad as 1983 when the SDP-Liberal Alliance (what we were then) got a quarter of the vote (25.4%) but only 3.5% of the seats.--Stunteddwarf Spirit of the Cherry Blossom 16:49, 15 April 2010 (UTC)

I object to the way that some people are using my name.--Gerry Mandering (talk) 17:05, 15 April 2010 (UTC)
Sorry about that Gerry, no doubt there is some confusion somewhere.
I will concede that good types of PR may potentially exist - but the one that I have experience with is really bad. I won't repeat my points above, but I'm not convinced by any of the counter arguments.--BobSpring is sprung! 17:08, 15 April 2010 (UTC)
The Electoral Reform Society may be better able to convince you. "We believe that where candidates are being elected to multiple vacancies, STV offers voters the best and most effective choice." –SuspectedReplicant retire me 17:12, 15 April 2010 (UTC)
I shall give them that opportunity. Though the list of countries who have taken it on board is not that impressive.--BobSpring is sprung! 17:17, 15 April 2010 (UTC)
I have to admit, the Welsh system seems to work pretty well. It would be nice to have more powers devolved to Wales so we are equal to the power-making abilities of Scotland, but apart from that I can't say I have much complaint about the Welsh electoral system.--Stunteddwarf Spirit of the Cherry Blossom 17:22, 15 April 2010 (UTC)

Objective of elections[edit]

I've been thinking about this some more. What is the objective of a British election? is it:

  • To select the most popular party and give them power to govern the nation.
  • To select an individual to represent a particular area in parliament.

If the objective is to select a party then full PR is obviously the best method. No doubt about it, you discover which party is the most popular and give them authority. Unfortunately no single individual would then take any particular interest in your area.

If the objective is to select the individual you most trust to take care of your particular area then FPTP or Instant Runoff are the way to go. On the other hand, this system would work best if political parties simply did not exist and individuals only cared about their electorate.

For the sake of contrast I've expressed the views in fairly stark terms and I am aware that you can try to force-fit them together.

(The position is complicated even further by the current tendency to move towards a more "presidential" style of debate and selection of government.)

These two (or, with presidential, three) views would seem to be pretty naturally opposed as they are based on differing ideas on what an election is for. My feeling is that getting a good compromise between these all these is pretty difficult.--BobSpring is sprung! 12:09, 12 May 2010 (UTC)