Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Fair Votes, Yes; PR, No

Both John Curtice in the Independent (and most of the rest of that newspaper) and Jarndyce at The Sharpener have been thinking about the need for Proportional Representation today.

I'm a Liberal Democrat, but I don't like Proportional Representation. Jarndyce rebuts some obvious criticisms, but not the one that bothers me the most. To be specific, I dislike the fact that Proportional Representation necessarily shifts power into the hands of parties. It does this partly by breaking the constituency link- that we each have a single MP -which has been part of British politics for over a century, but the need for a party list also places massive power into the hands of party bosses. I very much like the idea of a link between a single MP, rather than a multitude for a certain locality, and I really like the principle of electing an individual as well as a party. The idea of allowing parties to be institutionally- rather than practically -important within the pale of the constitution is repulsive: let them decide who they'll sign up as their official candidate, but the idea that voters would vote for a party and the party bosses then decide who to install in those seats is... un-British.

Far better to look at Eliminative Alternative Voting within the existing constituency boundaries. It would certainly be different from the current system, but I feel that charges it produces the lowest-common-denominator are unfounded. It fulfils one of the hardest criteria for a good electoral system, which is that it allows preferences to be ranked without prejudicing your higher choices by the ranking of your lower ones. Additionally, it preserves our traditional constituency link. But what it does do is allow people to vote for whom they really wish to support, without tactical considerations of keeping completely hated candidates out. In other, words people actually vote for their genuine choice, rather than a strangely-filtered compromise. Indeed, AV seems to me to be less likeley to produce lowest-common-denominator choices than the bizarre tactical choices people have to make under first-past-the-post.

To finish, I think John Curtice is being rather unfair in suggesting that AV would have resulted in a less proportional Parliament than the current system. To take votes cast under this system and hypothesise how they would be cast under a new one is a bit naive: voters are canny things (as their use of tactical voting shows) and they will surely behave rather differently under AV. More details can be found at the Electoral Reform Society's website.