Pros and cons of proportional representation

Jun 12, 2009

Should we still use a First Past the Post voting system to elect our leaders?


Moving to proportional representation (PR) would give minority parties and independent candidates a better chance of ending the hegemony of our three leading parties. This would introduce different voices to our national political life.

The current system is unrepresentative - it gives all the power to one party, however small its majority might be. For instance, only a quarter of those eligible voted for Labour at the last general election. As it is, many MPs are elected to Parliament despite 75 per cent of their constituency voting against them.

Under PR, those supporting Labour in a safe Conservative seat, or vice versa, would not be wasting their vote. This would mean that the parties would have to appeal to their core supporters, rather than the 200,000 or so swing voters in marginal seats.

There would be a higher turnout at the polls under PR, as the electorate would come to realise that their votes really counted.

Proportional representation is used by the majority of the world's leading democracies. Only a few countries, including the UK, the US, India, Canada and France, still have elections that are decided by plurality voting systems.

In the UK, we already use PR for the European parliament elections, and for London Mayoral elections. So we have no reason to fear the system.

Solid, centrist policies will result. As PR seldom results in one party holding an absolute majority, it requires governments to compromise and build consensus.



PR allows extremist parties to gain a foothold in national life, which our current system of first past the post doesn't. This happened in Austria, where Jorg Haider's far-right Freedom Party formed a coalition in 2000.

The coalition governments that PR tends to produce are often weak and indecisive. Italy, which has such a system, has had to dissolve its parliament seven times in the last 40 years.

Compromise is not always ideal. Neither the trade union reforms which Thatcher pushed through, nor Tony Blair's improvement of public services, could have been carried through without a strong governing majority.

One of the strengths of first past the post is that MPs serve the constituency they campaign in. This makes them more inclined to tackle important local issues.

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