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.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London