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Why Does Britain Need PR?

It would be easy to say that the last few years are all the evidence we need to show that political change is needed in the UK. Certainly the abuses of power committed by Boris Johnson would not have been forgiven under a system of PR, and I cannot see a situation where Liz Truss’ appalling budget would have happened and remember that failed budget cost the UK economy tens of billions - the highest figure I can find suggests it is £74bn. Why would PR have made a difference? Because under a PR system, the Government would have been accountable, not just to its own MPs and its own whips, but to those of its coalition partners; we can be fairly certain that whoever those partners might have been, they would not have accepted the level of scandal and incompetence that was experienced under Boris Johnson, nor the economic stupidity of so-called ‘Trussonomics’. We either would have ended up with a no-confidence motion and a General election (similar to how the 1979 General Election came to be) or an alternative Government being formed without the Conservatives; it is legitimate to say that PR has the potential to better deal with political scandal.

However, the case for PR is not just about the experiences of the last few years, it is also about recognising that we have had an extremely unpopular democracy for a number of years. Cambridge University’s Global Satisfaction with Democracy report from 2020 highlights how the popularity of our democracy has slumped with only Greece and Spain being unpopular and it is a report that is far from unique. We either start to honestly discuss change within the mainstream political debate, or we wait for change to be forced upon us by those who operate in the political fringes.

Does this mean that PR will solve all of our problems? Of course it won’t, there is no perfect democracy, but the more I examine PR the more it becomes clear that it solves far more problems than it creates, but also that the perceived problems with PR are just that, perceptions. The single biggest objection is that under PR there is no constituency link - the link that exists between an MP and his voters. It isn’t true, there are many PR systems that include a constituency link. In some cases it can mean multi-member seats, which is not a bad thing because it can lead to multi-party member representation within a constituency, giving residents more than one representative to turn to when they wish to raise a concern. Given the utter distrust between some individuals and some political parties, having more than one option is a good thing. It is worth making the point that we had multi-member constituencies in the UK until 1948.

The other argument in favour of first past the post is that it creates decisive Government. The evidence for this does not stack up. Since 2010 we have had one strong majority Government, and that is the current one which, since it won the election in 2019, has given us three Prime Ministers. Even the current majority Conservative Government is made up of MPs from a wide political spectrum; the Conservatives are not a single political party, but a broad range of political views ranging from Libertarianism to the right of the party to One Nationism in the political centre.The Labour Party also has a wide political range with socialists to the left through to Social Democrats in the centre. I have had strong One Nationist Conservative MPs admit to me that they have more in common with true Social Democrats in the Labour Party than they do with Libertarian Conservatives. All-too-often Governments win votes, not because their MPs support them, but because they use the whipping system to bully, cajole and blackmail people for support. It is a system that is utterly incompatible with modern life and needs to change.

So, I have made a case as to why First Past the Post doesn’t work, but why would PR be better. Well let’s start by asking a question. How would you want someone to get a Bill through Parliament – using the morally corrupt whipping system, or through negotiation and compromise?It is true that PR would lead to coalition Governments, where agendas and votes would require negotiation and compromise to get them through. It would also make it much less likely that unpopular policies would see the light of day without first being extensively debated during an election campaign.

Many of the arguments I have made here need to be debated much more – and this blog will focus extensively them and why PR could work in practice. But the right starting point is a recognition that our current system is fundamentally broken and that the arguments that have traditionally been used to justify first past the post no longer wash.

There is one final point. Any move towards PR has to be part of a fundamental top to bottom review of UK politics, it is not something that can and should be done piecemeal, nor should anyone tinker with our political structures without first having the review that is needed. The Labour Party’s current policy of House of Lords reform in isolation should be resisted.


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