Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Time for PR?

As with every election, there is a lot of talk about proportional representation. In an effort to get a better understanding of what effect PR would have on a UK general election I have taken a look at the 2001 results (source: Parliamentary Library). Yes I am a very sad geek sometimes!

I decided to assume the most basic form of PR were all seats in Great Britain are decided solely on the percentage of votes each party gets nationwide.

The results of the 2001 election were as follows:

Labour - 412 seats
10,724,953 votes
42% share

Conservative - 166 seats
8,355,193 votes
32.7% share

Lib Dem - 52 seats
4,814,321 votes
18.8% share

Other - 11 seats
1,662,542 votes
6.5% share

Total - 641 seats
Total votes cast in GB: 25,557,009

Note, that there are actually 659 seats in parliament, but I have excluded the 18 in Northern Ireland as these are not contested by the three main parties in Great Britain.

Now if we simply take the percentage share that each party received and awarded the entire of GBs parliamentary seats accordingly the result would have been.

Labour - 269
Conservative - 210
Lib Dem - 120
Other - 42 (60 if we add Northern Irelands seats to this figure)

Of course, the biggest thing of note here is that no party has an overall majority. In fact no party has claimed over 50% of the share of the vote in the post war years. The closest any party has come to this was in 1950 when Anthony Eden took 49.6% for the Tories.

While I accept that a hung parliament can act as a serious ball and chain, preventing real policy movement as the parties fail to agree, I would still argue that such a system would promote more coalitions over key issues and guarantee that even the small parties have a voice in parliament.

Of course, there are many problems to work out, such as ensuring that MPs are still evenly and fairly distributed throughout the nation. A PR system would also need to take into account the various regional parties in Wales and Scotland.

However, I feel that in this election, many people have come to the realisation that the importance of their vote is directly related to whether the constituency they live in is a key marginal. In my local constituency (Sheffield Brightside) there has been little or no campaigning. The incumbent, David Blunkett, has spent most of his time travelling the nation bolstering support in key marginals. Blunkett knows that his seat is safe, so why bother campaigning there. Is that right? Is it fair?

Even more critically, the last election saw only 59.4% of the electorate turnout. With more and more people realising that their votes are almost meaningless in some places, a new system needs to be considered. Labour promised to look closely at the pros and cons of proportional representation, but as with the Tories before them, once in power they are unlikely to do anything that might remove their commons majority.

It's time for a change. In a PR system, EVERY vote would matter, and I can't think of anything more democratic than that.

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