PR for Westminster

The Electoral Reform Society has an NI based argument for introducing PR to Westminster elections. My friend and colleague Graeme Smyth shares my view that just because the UUP aren’t winning the game, that is no reason for us to start calling for the rules to be changed.

  • jpeters

    not a question of winning the game if looked at objectively PR more accurately reflects the will of the people, all elections should have it

  • Dewi

    I saw that on the BBC but can’t for the life of me find any such statement from ERS. Can anyone ?

  • interested

    Michael,
    Good to see you using much more civil language towards your fellow Young Unionists than is normally the case on the YU blog.

  • Dawkins

    By any measure PR is the fairest system of all. Be suspicious of all who oppose it and question their motives.

  • Dewi

    I reckon the BBC made this report up.

  • lumpy proletarian

    Hey, is no one going to blog THIS?!

    http://www.newsletter.co.uk/entertainment/Calm-down-boys-it39s-only.3145947.jp

    sorry nowt to do with subject but surely worth a thread? 😉

  • Dawkins

    Dewi,

    Surely you’re not accusing the BBC of fabricating news?!

    Lumpy Proletarian,

    Fear not, Mick won’t let that go unnoticed :0)

  • Michael Shilliday

    Interested, I’d appreciate some evidence for that accusation.

  • interested

    Michael,
    I wasn’t accusing you of the uncivil language, more the general level of abuse which has been flying around on that site for the last while, quite a bit of which seemed to be actually directed at yourself.

    Merely praising you being able to rise above it.

  • Michael Shilliday

    I see what you mean now, I’m sure you can see the reason for my misunderstanding!

  • Dewi

    I dunno Dawk – but would be interesting in reading what they have to say. Their website don’t seem to mention anything

  • PR would be a good idea in the north, and indeed elsewhere, as it more accurately reflects the political beliefs of the electorate and reduces the need for tactical voting. Think how different Westminster would be with a broad range of parties reflecting society today in the UK.

    Big parties do disproportionately well under FPTP, whereas smaller parties do disproportionately badly- democracy is about representing the people, so clearly the existing system isn’t fit for purpose. I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for ‘Labour’ to do anything about it though- they’ve long since abandoned any adherance to the idea of working for the interests of Joe Bloggs.

  • IJP

    It’s a weak report because it doesn’t specify the type of PR. That is crucial.

    Personally, I am fiercely against STV for “legislative” parliamentary elections (as it produces too localized campaigns), and fiercely in favour for “representative” local elections because that is where the elected candidates will have to act as advocate for the communities which elected them (therefore localization is a good thing).

    I would advocate a German-style MMP system (done properly, unlike in Scotland) for legislative elections in most cases. Still “PR”, but an utterly different form of it from the one we use in Ireland (and the one, I believe, referred to).

    It depends on the election and on the actual system.

  • Ignited

    No need for PR for Westminster at all. FPTP works, and works well.

    Look forward to hearing your views on the process of the UUP review and the change that we are meant to believe is happening. Maybe a blog on that would actually gain some interest and be a marker to track progress and change.

  • Aquifer

    ‘It’s a weak report because it doesn’t specify the type of PR. That is crucial’

    Yep IJP

    There was an interesting Democratic Dialogue report that suggested that even the dreaded first past the post could give more politically nuanced outcomes than say 5 seater PR, with communities voting for ‘least bad’ candidates rather that the extremists getting in each time. Other work has shown that with 4-6 seater constituencies and ‘Irish’ PRSTV, that very few ‘cross community’ vote transfers are made or are effective.

    As it is, the current PRSTV count has had a systemic subsidy to the binary extremes, where people who would not think of voting DUP or SF, disliking their violence or sectarianism perhaps, effectively have preferences they never expressed invented and handed as votes to these parties, resulting in them achieving their quotas before votes begin to linger in the middle or cross the sectarian divide.

    It may be possible to tinker with the local version of PRSTV to get more cross community consensus on who gets in. e.g. Fewer seats, maybe higher quotas, or an all NI proportional top up.

    A bigger choice of non sectarian parties would help too. Labour, Progressive Democrates anyone?

  • IJP

    Hi Aquifier

    I’m aware of DD’s work – and although I’ve no doubts about the quality of thinking that goes into it, I fear I basically disagree with the outcomes!

    Firstly, the system should not skew towards cross-community candidates. If 90% of the population prefer single-community candidates, it is right that that is the outcome. We really must get away from this notion that there’s this big body of cross-community people just because the NI Life & Times survey says so! (That survey also puts SF support at 11%.)

    Secondly, it’s not up to the electoral system to determine which parties stand. “Labour” candidates stand quite frequently, but with the exception of the outstanding and hard-working Niall Langhammer, they basically get nowhere. The reason? People don’t want them. Nothing to do with the system!

    If we want cross-community politics, it’s up to those of us who believe in it to be harder-working where it counts, less arrogant, more relevant, etc.

    My problem with PR-STV is that you get Assembly (or Dáil) members who act effectively as local councillors basing their decisions on their home area, rather than as legislators working for the whole jurisdiction (see Maze and Shannon debates for recent evidence). That is, of course, a personal view.

  • slug

    IJP

    Many of the debates in the NI Assembly are a bit of the local councillor style and I tend to think that fewer representatives might help.

    My problem with STV is that representatives may tend to think of themselves only representing those who voted for them rather than all constituents. While I guess that does still happen with FPTP in practice there is at least in princple that the MP is there for all his/her constituents.

    Who is Niall Langhammer?

    General:

    The new House of Lords elections will be interesting (although not imminent!). It looks like this will be mainly elected, and its sure to use some kind of PR.

  • slug

    …and therefore we WILL have PR for Westminster.

  • splurge

    PR is good for electing legislatures and bad for electing governments (executives), except in northern ireland where we have PR executives. In Britain and Ireland we have a pretence of separation of powers between exective and legislature with the legislature holding the executive to account. But how can it when the election for the legislature becomes a delegate election for the executive. Imagine how much more interesting Westminister might be if you had two elections – a PR one for house of commons and another one for Prime Minister.

    Of course in Britain nobody actually elects the PM – he is appointed by the Queen without a vote by the house of commons and nobody elected the queen – whole thing is a travesty really.

  • Comrade Stalin

    In Britain and Ireland we have a pretence of separation of powers between exective and legislature with the legislature holding the executive to account.

    It’s not a pretence at all. The government has no power to enact legislation without the support of the legislature.

    But how can it when the election for the legislature becomes a delegate election for the executive. Imagine how much more interesting Westminister might be if you had two elections – a PR one for house of commons and another one for Prime Minister.

    In other words, make it like the USA. You would you prefer, an pork-barrel executive made up out of the elected PM’s unelected best mates ? Fair enough, but I wouldn’t.

    Of course in Britain nobody actually elects the PM – he is appointed by the Queen without a vote by the house of commons and nobody elected the queen – whole thing is a travesty really.

    The UK parliamentary system is not perfect, but the above is rubbish. A vote in the House prior to the appointment of the PM is redundant. The PM is appointed on the basis that he/she already has the support of the House of Commons, which is pretty fickin’ obvious given the outcome of the largest party’s leadership selection process. If at any time he/she does not, it would be a straightforward matter to have a vote of no confidence and remove the PM.

  • splurge

    Despite what Stalin thinks, there is no real separation of powers. The Government controls the legislature. Originally the legislature tried to hold the king to account, then the king became the officers appointed by the king and now those officers are, as Stalin says, the leader of the main party. That’s not separation. At least with the US system there is a separation with checks and balances.

    And at least in Republic the Dail elects the Taoiseach for appointment by the President. In a hung parliament the queen has too much scope to invite without accountability except after the event through a no confidence motion. and she doesn’t even have to invite a member of the commons.

  • Comrade Stalin

    The Government controls the legislature.

    The distinction between the legislature and the government in the UK isn’t that clear. Parliament can and does pass laws all by itself. The government in parliament essentially amounts to a planned legislative timetable which adheres to the governing party’s manifesto. You could say that the legislature is the government.

    Originally the legislature tried to hold the king to account, then the king became the officers appointed by the king and now those officers are, as Stalin says, the leader of the main party.

    So ? The UK parliamentary system evolved into the (imperfect) democracy that exists now. What’s your point ?

    At least with the US system there is a separation with checks and balances.

    The US system is deliberately set up in opposition to itself in order to prevent the government from doing anything in a hurry. It’s easy to confuse this with “checks and balances”, but that’s not what it amounts to. The US government can and does easily pass dangerous legislation, as we saw with USA-PATRIOT, and there is little to stop a popular President from packing the Supreme Court with his friends in order to do what he likes.

    And at least in Republic the Dail elects the Taoiseach for appointment by the President.

    I much prefer the Irish system, but in this example, in practice, is no different from the UK system. You are hung up on technical matters involving the monarchy which play no practical role in UK politics whatsoever.

    I do remember quite amusingly when President Robinson once exercised her right not to sign a certain piece of legislation. The reaction to that decision was indignant.

    In a hung parliament the queen has too much scope to invite without accountability except after the event through a no confidence motion. and she doesn’t even have to invite a member of the commons.

    The question is, how likely is it that she would ? Any attempt by the Queen to fiddle with the workings of parliament would lead to the swift end of her role as head of state, and she knows it. The monarchy is in no way ever going to try to dick with the UK parliament.

  • IJP

    Slug

    Agree with every word.

    And sorry Niall [Cusack and Mark] Langhammer… type-process faster than think-process…

    Comrade

    Also agreed.

    Actually you could argue the Head of State’s role is a benefit of the Westminster model. In February 1974, a tied election led to the neutral Head of State having to determine the Head of Government, and few doubted the fairness of that decision (confirmed correct by the people in a further election in October that year). Likewise in Australia, the 1975 “Whitlam Dismissal” resulted in an Opposition win, showing that the stand-in Head of State acted in line with the popular will. Compare that to the chaos of the 2000 US Presidential Election, determined not by a neutral Head of State but by a partisan Supreme Court, and I know which I too prefer.

    Doesn’t seem to be helping the Belgians much, mind… 🙂

  • IJP

    Above, I mean that the Feb ’74 UK and Nov ’00 US elections, to all intents and purposes, were tied (in both cases, one side got more votes and the other got more seats, and both were awfully close).