• Mat Paterson

Why we need proportional representation


The 2017 general election has put many of us in a serious dilemma. Lots of people see this as an ‘exceptional’ election: a snap election called by Theresa May to exploit the perceived weakness of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, to create a massive majority and to give her more room for manoeuvre in Brexit negotiations with the EU.

At the same time, the Tory government since 2010 has engaged in some of the most vicious assaults on those already living in precarious situations: young people, those with disabilities, and those in part-time or zero hours contract work. And they seem to be hell bent on privatising the NHS, selling it off to their friends, as they have been doing subtly for years already.

So it’s not surprising that many people opposed to Tory misrule feel like it’s a moment where they have to put their differences aside and unite behind single candidates to maximise the chance of defeating the Conservatives. High Peak Green Party took a decision to do this, to step aside and support the Labour candidate Ruth George.

But it’s worth remembering this is only a dilemma because of the backward electoral system we have. A system which promises ‘strong and stable’ government but which, in the words of the Conservative Lord Hailsham in the 1970s, delivers ‘elective dictatorship’. A system that delivers a Parliament that is increasingly unrepresentative of citizens’ views – the combined vote of Labour and Tories has gone down from 90% of the vote in 1970 to 69% in 2015 but these two parties still overwhelmingly dominate Westminster.

Source: UK Parliamentary research briefings, at http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN02632

The crisis is particularly strong for the Labour Party, which in the last decade has shipped votes in large numbers to the SNP in Scotland, to UKIP, and to a lesser extent to the Green Party. Many of these they are highly unlikely to get back anytime soon, and the chances of a majority government for Labour in the foreseeable future are practically nil. The only way they can become again a Party of government again is by recognising this fact.

We urgently need an electoral system that reflects the broad range of views of UK citizens more adequately. It would at the same time mean that coalition government becomes the norm, and ‘elective dictatorship’ would end. Parties would have to learn to collaborate, compromise and learn from each other.

There are any number of systems that are better than ‘first past the post’. In Germany they have the mixed member proportional system - a single member consitituency elected like ours combined with regional lists that Parties get MPs elected from to make the overall Parliament representative of the view of parties. In Ireland they have the Single Transferable Vote system, where there are multiple MPs per constituency, and voters rank candidates in order of preference, and candidates are elected when they reach a certain quota of votes, with candidates ‘surplus’ votes being redistributed according to second preferences, and so on. There are many other systems, including the Alternative Vote Plus that the Green Party favours for Parliamentary elections.

But any of these would deliver much fairer results than what we have now. And it would end the dilemma many people now face between their principles and their desire to ‘get rid of the Tories’. For example under the German system or Alternative Vote Plus, you could vote Labour in the constituency and Green on the list, while in STV you could rank candidates – voting 1st preference Green and then 2nd preferences for those in other parties.

The crisis is particularly strong for the Labour Party, which in the last decade has shipped votes in large numbers to the SNP in Scotland, to UKIP, and to a lesser extent to the Green Party. Many of these they are highly unlikely to get back anytime soon, and the chances of a majority government for Labour in the foreseeable future are practically nil. The only way they can become again a Party of government again is by recognising this fact.

We urgently need an electoral system that reflects the broad range of views of UK citizens more adequately. It would at the same time mean that coalition government becomes the norm, and ‘elective dictatorship’ would end. Parties would have to learn to collaborate, compromise and learn from each other.

You can get more information on the different voting systems and on Green party policy:

Mixed Member Proportional

Single Transferable Vote

Alternative Vote Plus

Green Party policy


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Promoted and published by High Peak Green Party, 16 Davenham Avenue, Buxton, SK 17 6LS

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