Web Analytics Trust People (once an Englishman in Philly): Disproportionately dull

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Disproportionately dull

This intriguing piece from quite an intriguing blog:

"Stopping the BNP

Interesting press release from the Electoral Reform Society today demonstrating how the BNP have benefitted from the First Past the Post system of elections. I have to say that the psephology of their argument was a bit dodgy to say the least. Their premise was that the BNP won six seats last year in 12 wards on the basis of a third of the votes. If this pattern is repeated in the next two years then that will give them a majority. However, if my memory serves me correctly the BNP have subsequently lost one of those seats in a by-election and the complacency that allowed them to make these gains in the first place is being addressed. In particular the Liberal Democrats have shown themselves very adept at defeating the BNP simply by campaigning on the issues and showing people that the premise that the main political parties don't care and have let them down is not true. The Electoral Reform Society do have a very good point however in illustrating how under First Past the Post it is possible for a small minority party to pick up seats and gain influence in local Councils on a small proportion of the vote. It is a fact that a large number of Councils are balanced in no overall control on First Past the Post, undermining the argument that PR will lead to such results. It can happen under any system. The issue is that STV will give an outcome that reflects the way people voted, First Past the Post will not. As a result Councils will be more accountable and receptive to public opinion and needs. If that is not a convincing argument for change then I don't know what is."

All sounds very comfy and nice doesn't it? Well, actually it's not as 'nice' as it might sound. What really peeves me about much of the debate which gets thrown at us by the pro-PR platoon is that it will be 'fairer' and more representative. In doing this though they really fail to answer several key questions.

Firstly, how is the system unrepresentative? It may not be perfectly proportionately representative of votes cast across the whole area up for election but the current system ensures that every voter is represented by one person who is directly accountable to that individual.

Secondly, Mr Black says he doesn't know what is a convincing case for change if the case he lays out isn't. That probably explains why I always find the LibDems so unconvincing. I fail to see how councils will be more receptive to public opinion under PR - the only viewpoint which council leaderships will be more receptive to would be local Party opinion. It will, after all, be the Party's view of their actions which would guarantee them a berth high up the list at the next election!

If anything, I would prefer to see some de-politicisation of local elections so that our elected representatives actually do fight for the interests of the small groups of people who elect them. That way we can be sure that councillors positively try to represent the interests of their voters. Under the current system elected representatives' positions are more greatly affected by their reputation for getting things done amongst a relatively small population than under a PR system where one person's view matters much less.

I know there are (some) advantages with PR, but the greatest disadvantage must undoubtedly be this fundamental change in the accountability of our politicians.

And the ERS (originally name Campaign for PR...or something very similar) may have a 'good point' about the BNP being more likely to win seats under first-past-the-post systems, but it is a 'point' which should have no 'point' at all. We cannot and should never decide what system we use to manifest our democratic will in elected individuals with reference to the relative success of any party, least of all one which most of us want to destroy. Let us destroy it at the ballot box by reason and argument, not by fixing the system.


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