Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Proportional Representation Is Gang Warfare Upon The Public

In today's 'Guardian', both Jon Cruddas and Polly Toynbee recommend the introduction of proportional representation.
Since the reconstituted Scottish Parliament began sitting in 1999, the experience which we in Scotland have had with proportional representation is that it has proved to be nothing but a means by which some of the gangs we call 'political parties', and the thugs in their service, can obtain power, pay, position, perks and pensions at public expense that they would never get under first past the post. Proportional representation should not therefore be considered to be a means of ensuring wider and more democratic political representation, but a form of gang warfare perpetrated by political parties upon the public instead. Political parties' members benefit from it, while the necessity of forming coalitions makes public life less stable. And it is always minority parties which call for it. They see what the others have got, and they want a piece of the action.
That two voices so closely associated with Labour are now calling for PR does not indicate a degree of confidence amongst the party's membership that it remains a party capable of forming a government. Given the Labour Party's historic record of avoiding PR where it could possibly do so (it could not avoid doing so in Scotland, due to the extravagance of Tony Blair's commitments prior to the 1997 election), that some voices within the party are now speaking in favour of it should make the public very suspicious indeed.
The theory behind PR is perfectly rational; first past the post elections inevitably result in the creation of majority governments for which a minority of votes have been cast. However, the underlying fallacy behind advocacy of PR is that those voters whose parties are under-represented in first past the post are the bought and sold creatures of the parties for which they cast their vote at the last election; that such voters are utterly incapable of ever voting for any other party; and that as voters they are permanently excluded from influencing a choice of government. This is not so; the Hillhead bye-election of 1982 (I was raised in the constituency, was resident in it at the time and can remember it vividly) is a classic case in point.
The SDP's victory was as much due to the West End of Glasgow's upper-middle classes having been dazzled by Roy Jenkins's celebrity candidature as by anything either he or his party actually said. It is often said that politics is showbusiness for ugly people - by any standard, the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead was one of the ugliest of celebrities. People who would never have voted for the Liberals on account of David Steel's sponsorship of the Abortion Act of 1967 trooped into the booths to vote for the creator of the abomination some call 'the civilised society'; a political irony if ever there was one. That he later lost the seat to George Galloway, of all people, is the certain proof of Powell's maxim that all political careers end in failure.
Proportional representation in Scotland has been an unqualified disaster. It has trivialised public life by enabling the election of self-imploding political wildmen like Tommy Sheridan, otherwise known as 'Pollok Pot, the Tartan Trot', and fanatics like the green on the outside, red on the inside little atheocrat Patrick Harvie. The 'List' system of proportional representation has brought the unedifying spectacle of politicians who have lost elections sitting in the Parliament nonetheless; Nicola Sturgeon, now Deputy First Minister, has participated in three elections to the Scottish Parliament, has lost two but has still worn the letters MSP after her name through thick and thin. As far as political parties are concerned, proportional representation really is a win-win deal - even when they lose, they win.
If we must have unstable government, then better for it to be a true government of the people, by the people, for the people kind of deal, than just seeing the same old faces laughing in the face of defeat - because even we reject them, they know they're going to win.


Blogger James Higham said...

Is first past the post better, Martin?

18 March, 2009 14:56  
Blogger Martin Meenagh said...

I couldn't agree more. The alternative vote, or primaries, or run-off systems are infinitely preferable. Even an open list with STV is open to abuse; but the closed lists of the European Parliament, Wales and Scotland, with or without additional members, are appalling. The political class don't realise that either--and the only reason they will is when they get badly hurt by it in June.

18 March, 2009 16:09  
Blogger Martin said...


In my opinion, for what that's ever been worth, both are unsatisfactory.

We don't have a democracy. What we do have is a system in which entrenched interests - gangs, if you prefer - are required to seek validation every few years.

The saving grace of first past the post as opposed to PR is that it is usually stable; usually a straight fight between two gangs. The gangs usually being equally matched, the polite fictions such as public audit and the independence of the House of Commons are capable of being maintained. However, PR increases the number of gangs which are in on the game. As I've said, this leads to instability. My preference would be or parties to be abolished, and all elctions fought on local issues. This might be even more unstable than PR - but at least it would be an instability for which we, and not the parties, have been responsible.

Martin M.'s idea of primaries is even better. Hadn't thought of that one. Curses!

18 March, 2009 17:35  
Blogger Wayne Smith said...

If proportional representation is so good for political parties, how come they hate it so much?

The truth is that proportional representation is about what's good for VOTERS. It's about giving voters the power to hold political parties accountable.

That's why some people don't like it.

18 March, 2009 19:29  
Blogger Martin said...


I like the tagline on your blog. Much the same has often been said of me.

All politicans don't hate it. The minority ones love it because it gives them opportunities they wouldn't otherwise have. If a system has had powerful parties, that's where it's avoided. It's not about the voters - it's about the parties.

19 March, 2009 04:29  
Blogger Wayne Smith said...

Politicians like proportional representation when they are out of office, whether they are "major" or "minor". When they are the ones with the unfair advantage, suddenly the voting system is working just fine.

A few politicians who have endorsed PR when they were out of office: Stephen Harper, Jean Chretien, Rene Levesque, Jean Charest, Dalton McGuinty.

Once they get elected, it slips their mind.

19 March, 2009 13:47  

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