River Wissey Lovell Fuller


August 2001

Parliamentary Election

Party politics have no place in the Village Pump, but it may not be out of place to add my voice to the moans about the electoral system. With the 'first past the post' system that we use in this country it is not unusual, or rather it is nearly always the case, that we have a government with almost dictatorial powers elected by a minority of the electorate.

The last election was no exception. Labour has an overwhelming majority in the House yet they had only 42% of the vote with a 60% turnout, which means that they had positive votes from just 25% of the electorate. Making voting compulsory, as happens in some other countries, would help to ensure a more meaningful result but it would not overcome the fundamental weakness in the system.

In school geometry I remember, there was a test for the validity of an hypothesis called 'reductio ad absurdum' or something like that, whereby it was possible to show that a particular hypothesis was a nonsense by, in effect, testing it in an extreme case. It is possible to similarly demonstrate the absurdity and therefore the invalidity of our electoral system: - Imagine that we had a situation where there were three political parties, each with practically equal support spread uniformly through all constituencies. Come the election, Party A achieves 34% of the vote everywhere and Parties B and C each get 33%. Party A then takes all the seats and the others have none. Come the next election there is a swing of just 1% away from A to B. B then takes all the seats and A has none.

Of course such an extreme cannot occur, but it is very clear that the system can produce very inequitable results. Some form of proportional representation is long overdue. Some argue that this produces weak government but it seems to work in other countries. We are often told by our politicians that our European partners are doing this or that wrong, but how come they are doing it so wrong but apparently getting it so right? What PR would do is restore power to our representatives in parliament, which is where it belongs. Naturally the political party in power is reluctant to introduce a change that could result in that party never again having an overall majority in the House.

In the Labour Party's manifesto for the 1997 election they pledged that, if they won, there would be a referendum on PR. The actual words were "We are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. An independent commission on voting systems will be appointed early to recommend a proportional alternative to the first-past-the-post system". There never was a referendum, of course, and there was no reference to it in the manifesto for the recent election. It now looks as though it was just a ploy to attract those wanting electoral reform along with some Lib-Dem voters and to encourage the Lib-Dem politicians into thinking that they had more in common with New Labour than was the case.

It seems as though we will never get any electoral reform until the voters demand it in no uncertain terms.

Ron Watts

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