Dublin needn’t look down its nose at Westminster


So would we prefer PR STV for Westminster as well as for Stormont and council elections? I bet Peter would. Today he would only be lamenting failure to top the poll rather than struggling for his political life. For precisely the same reason some people prefer the sudden death of first-past-the-post over the shilly shally of STV.

Looking on from Dublin Noel Whelan, in a typically Irish mixture of sorrow and schadenfreude dismisses the old fashioned ” unwritten” British constitution and the “absurdity” of FPTP, fearing that “the mother of all parliamentary democracies could descend into a full-scale constitutional and economic crisis.” I think not, although we live in interesting times.

Adds.  Garret FitzGerald in his Irish Times column is far too pessimistic. Somehow, the old conventions of the “Queen’s  government must be carried on” will pull through and may even produce electoral reform eventually. 

Now granted that there’s an elegant simplicity of waiting three weeks after an election before TDs simply elect the Taioseach. But does the Irish system work out so splendidly? Brian Farrell, doyen of political scientists and for years presenter of RTE’s election nights describes how decades of placid changes of government came to an abrupt end. The alternation of Fianna Fail majority government and inter-party coalition gave way to the ruthless horsetrading of the swing doors coalitions of the 1980s when mounting economic problems and the Troubles imposed new strains on the system.   Not all of it can be blamed on the baleful personality of CJ Haughey. How gloriously democratic was Dick Spring’s notorious switch in mid -Dail from Fianna Fail to Fine Gael to form the rainbow coalition in 1994 and the role of tiny parties in coalitions ever afterwards? Did the Irish people vote for any of these governments?

There are downsides to every system. In NI regional elections, while it has its critics, STV promotes a spread of choice, softens the impact of polarisation and encourages cross community voting, if not enough for reformers. Without a proportional system power sharing would be unviable. Centre parties don’t deserve to exist if they can’t find a role under STV elections for an 108 member Assembly.  But for Westminster there’s always a place  for the sudden surgical strike.

  • Richard T

    Writing from Scotland, the huge benefit of PR STV has been to break the Labour stranglehold on local government in the Central Belt – 40 % of the vote 95% of the councillors. On that score alone it has been worth it. For Holyrood, there is probably a majority for the parliamentary elections – SNP + Lib Dems + Greens and I can see no basis against it in all UK elections. The arguments used about horse trading are specious since this tried and tested political technique takes place within the parties now anyway so it’s only a small step from intra to inter – and anyway didn’t the great Gordon do a fair bit of horse trading (some might say naked bribery) to bring your own dear DUPs in line when he was short of a vote or two?

  • Henry94


    I read the Whelan article today and had a similar reaction. The best argument anybody could make against PR is to point to the quality of government in Ireland. But it would be an error because the problem in Ireland is over-representation. It lowers the quality because TDs get elected on the basis of dreary “work on the ground” They are effectively jumped up councillors and don’t have the interest or the ability to handle national issues. We need to cut the numbers from 166 to around 100.

    PR would have delivered the same political situation as Britain faces with now. Seats in proportion to votes would have given Tories 234, Labour 188, LD 149, Others 78

    Cameron and Clegg would be having the exact same conversation.

  • PR is better, everyone has a voice, including minority parties, but would any of us have missed Thursday? I think not. It was ruthless and cold blooded. It was also the best tv in years. Admit it we loved it.

  • lover not a fighter

    PR or Alternative vote would force the conservatives and labour party to up their game and that would be no bad thing.

    The amount of safe seats in britain is a disgrace and would be in any country that would wishs to call itself a democracy.

    Is it any womder that so many were behaving like mini dictators in the last parliament.

    The percentage of the vote necessary to get elected has to be upped and using the electorate 2/3 preferences is the best way to do this.