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Proportional Representation - Win or Loss?

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posted on May, 9 2010 @ 02:09 PM
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Proportional Representation


- Win or Loss?

Proportional Representation (PR) is a idealistic process generally related to the allocation of government delegates based on their support within the wider community. Wiki provides the following succinct definition:


Proportional representation (PR), sometimes referred to as full representation, is a class of voting system aimed at securing a close match between the percentage of votes that groups of candidates obtain in elections, and the percentage of seats they receive (e.g., in legislative assemblies).


The aim of this thread is to stimulate some discourse to define what ATS posters think is the best alternative to the UK's current electoral system and on the face of it, PR seems the fairest system of representation imaginable, however, there is one glaring omission from the definition shown above and it is wholly concerned with the major viability problem of PR: Demography

To put it simply, pure PR is representative of a population without reference to geographic distribution. You might ask, "so what?" Unfortunately, this issue is the major stumbling block to the inception of a purely PR based voting system and I would like to demonstrate this with a simple illustration of the 2010 UK General Election.

The election results were as follows for the top 10 parties, based on constituency voting for control of 650 seats within the House of Commons:

Seats
306__Conservative
258__Labour
_57__Liberal Democrat
__8__Democratic Unionist Party
__6__Scottish National Party
__5__Sinn Fein
__3__Social Democratic & Labour Party
__3__Plaid Cymru
__1__Alliance Party
__1__Green

The results shown above are based on the majority vote with each individual constituency, however, if the geographic basis of local voting zones was completely removed the following result would have been produced:

Seats/Change/Vote%
235__71–_36.11%__Conservative
189__69–_29.02%__Labour
150__93+_23.03%__Liberal Democrat
_20__20+__3.10%__UK Independence Party
_12__12+__1.90%__British National Party
_11___5+__1.66%__Scottish National Party
__8___6+__1.08%__Others (independent candidates)
__6___5+__0.96%__Green
__4___1–__0.58%__Sinn Fein
__4___4–__0.57%__Democratic Unionist Party
.
__4___1+__0.56%__Plaid Cymru
__2___1–__0.37%__Social Democratic & Labour Party
__2___2+__0.35%__Ulster Conservatives and Unionists - New Force
__1___1+__0.22%__English Democrats
__1___0=__0.14%__Alliance Party
__1___1+__0.11%__Respect-Unity Coalition
__1___1+__0.09%__Traditional Unionist Voice

As you can see, the top 10 has changed somewhat even disregarding the seat allocation for the top 3 parties and the 650 seats are filled with a much wider range of party candidates, reflecting the proportional support within the population as a whole. The independent candidates have made a big impression and the UKIP and BNP parties have fairly respectable gains with 20 and 12 seats.

The problems is that these MP serve a purpose - they represent regional zones, so, the next question is, "How are the MPs allocated to the constituencies?"

Constituency Representation



Take the example of the Conservatives, they are still the majority party however they now have 235 MPs to be allocated to a notional 306 seats that voted for them in a regional sense. Clearly, there is a shortfall of 71 seats. The Labour party has the same issue with a shortfall of 69 seats. The LibDems have another issue, they now have a whopping 150 MPs but notionally, only 15 regions actually voted to have them represent them in parliament.

Clearly, there is an issue! Geographic representation is an inherent part of elected government; a local delegate who may present the issues of their voters within the context of regional politics, however, the pure PR system now requires locally unelected officials to be imposed upon them.

So, how can this problem be solved? The first way is to simply 'lump it'! A 'best fit' allocation of MPs is made to regional seats but this produces glaring issues which the electorate would not stomach... Would they? Would 71 notionally Conservative regions who voted for a Conservative MP be happy to have a LibDem in their place?

The point is, once you introduce demography then the system is possibly less fair than the system we already have. In order to surmount this issue, we have to be creative about the way geographic regions are represented. This can be achieved via fluid electoral boundaries.

This requires the introduction of zones which basically have the same number of voters in them. Allocation of responsibility would be based on relative groupings of zones even though they may not actually be adjacent within a specific geographic region. This is a highly mixed up affair and may cause issues with the reality of local government boundaries which controls local taxation spend (i.e. council tax).

The point here is that pure PR is not immediately compatible with regionally based politics and so some form of redistribution would be necessary. The key factor is how this redistribution would look and how it would interact with existing physical boundaries.

Ultimately, any radical electoral reforms would have far reaching consequences not just in terms of parliamentary representation but in the very infrastructure of electoral seats - not something that could be achieved in a few months and surely not something we would want without proper voter consultation?

So, although I am happy to state that I am in favour of electoral reform, I recognise the need to carefully define a system that would work in both and regional terms. I invite you to discuss and suggest some alternatives to our existing 'first past the post' system!

Thanks.




posted on May, 9 2010 @ 02:14 PM
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I'll be utterly honest in that I really prefer the FPTP system.. I like that I can choose my MP.. Norman Baker is a really good guy


I'll be honest that I wouldn't ever vote under PR.. I see no point in picking a party line to follow as I do not follow a party line.

What I hate and would like to see the end of is party politics and the Whip.. both these things destroy our system and make it an utterly dishonest and discredited.

Just my opinion...



posted on May, 9 2010 @ 02:18 PM
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Originally posted by SugarCube
Proportional Representation (PR) is a idealistic process


Why is it idealistic? It has proved a very practical system in a number of successful countries.

The same cannot be said for the FPTP system where we see undemocratic two party lock-in which leads to extreme government policies and no real choice.



posted on May, 9 2010 @ 02:24 PM
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reply to post by thoughtsfull
 


... and therein lies the problem. It can be seen that even under PR with no geographic bias, the 3 parties with the largest number of seats can still vote through bills based on horse-trading between parties to garner a majority.

The effect of the other 7 parties and independents is largely irrelevant. So, although PR has introduced a notionally more democratic representation, it has made no difference to policy implementation via voted bills, especially in the context of 'party whips' as you mentioned.

Combined with the fact that a large proportion of MPs would have to represent local zones where the majority did not vote for them, this all seems rather at odds with the notion of democratic change.

The major issue is still concerned with how regional affiliations are married to proportional representations. Note how UKIP would have scored 20 seats and yet not one single constituency actually voted a majority for them.

The only real solution to this is to introduce a 2-tier system, with MPs operating individually on a PR system in central government, also at a notional geographic basis where they then have to work together with other MPs within single geographic areas to deal with local council issues (i.e. defined by boundaries).



posted on May, 9 2010 @ 02:27 PM
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Re: your point concerning what form PR should take, and the apparent contradiction between pure PR and having MP's representing an area, doubtless there are a number of compromises.

A good place to start is to examine how do other successful PR democracies implement their systems. There are many to choose from--Australia, Germany, Holland, Norway, Sweden, Norway, etc.

In contrast, the FPTP system is proving disastrous in the only two Western democracies that use it: America and Britain (I exclude Canada). Both are in bits as a result of 1) Extreme policies 2) Two party lock-in, where both parties are very similar.



posted on May, 9 2010 @ 02:30 PM
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reply to post by rizla
 


I say 'idealistic' based on the points I raised in the OP regarding demography. Pure PR does not marry well with our existing regional boundary alignments and so these boundaries would have to have a secondary system imposed upon them to relate to the PR democracy.

You mention other countries and they have the same issues with geographic representation, essentially allocating delegates to deal with local issues that have not necessarily been voted by the local population that requires intervention in central/local government politics.

Often, there is an 'ombudsman' layer which oversees the work of delegates to ensure that they are acting appropriately but there is not necessarily a 'local' connection whereby voters can pressure MPs through the process of local regional election.



posted on May, 9 2010 @ 02:30 PM
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Originally posted by SugarCube
... and therein lies the problem. It can be seen that even under PR with no geographic bias, the 3 parties with the largest number of seats can still vote through bills based on horse-trading between parties to garner a majority.


No. Your logic is circular.

The smaller parties do not have votes because no one votes for them because it is accurately seen as a wasted voted. Implement a system where smaller parties can theoretically have an effect and people will start voting for them.



posted on May, 9 2010 @ 02:34 PM
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Originally posted by SugarCube
reply to post by rizla
 


I say 'idealistic' based on the points I raised in the OP regarding demography. Pure PR does not marry well with our existing regional boundary alignments and so these boundaries would have to have a secondary system imposed upon them to relate to the PR democracy.

You mention other countries and they have the same issues with geographic representation, essentially allocating delegates to deal with local issues that have not necessarily been voted by the local population that requires intervention in central/local government politics.

Often, there is an 'ombudsman' layer which oversees the work of delegates to ensure that they are acting appropriately but there is not necessarily a 'local' connection whereby voters can pressure MPs through the process of local regional election.



I don't understand the technical details and options of the various PR systems. All I know is that the Western democracies that use PR are doing better than the Western democracies that use FPTP, excluding Canada which is a very different place. Resource rich, low population, and a Quebec bloc that stirs the pot. They've had a minority government for the last two terms. If the Conservatives there got a majority it would not be pretty.



posted on May, 9 2010 @ 02:44 PM
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reply to post by rizla
 


The logic isn't circular, te results are simply an illustration of the results of the 2010 general election, although granted, the inception of PR would have an effect on the voting proportions over time. I would suggest, however, that this would not occur within a single term since the PR system would probably take at least 3 elections to infiltrate the national psyche.

Of course, the other aspect which I did not mention and which your post may allude to in the references to other countries is the allocation of posts within the cabinet. This could have a significant effect if the personnel are identified 'before' voting takes place - that is to say, engineering votes based on people fit to perform their roles rather than purely based on other ideological policies.

The point about 'majority' parties is important though and change does not start to bite in terms of the effect of other minority parties until the effect of voting is fully understood by the population.

The point is, it is still possible to end up with an ineffectual government based on the 'majority' party horse-trading with minority parties to garner a house majority in terms of voting, unless this is performed on a bill by bill basis.

Also, remember that you may get exactly what you wish for and I'm sure that we all remember the adage about being careful about exactly what you wish for. Note that both UKIP and the BNP make huge inroads into central government.



posted on May, 9 2010 @ 02:50 PM
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reply to post by SugarCube
 

My first reaction on any proposal of change is that I would be very anxious about any scheme which would transfer power from the voters themselves to the party machinery, by allowing the party machinery to decide which candidates benefit from the "party" vote. Is that going to be the effect of your proposed system?



posted on May, 9 2010 @ 02:58 PM
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Originally posted by SugarCube
The logic isn't circular,


I disagree. You are arguing against PR by saying it wouldn't make any difference based on the results received in a a FPTP system. You're argument is invalid. The statistics are invalid.



posted on May, 9 2010 @ 03:00 PM
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Originally posted by SugarCube
The point about 'majority' parties is important though and change does not start to bite in terms of the effect of other minority parties until the effect of voting is fully understood by the population.


You've said this several times and I don't agree. Why do you think people are so stupid?



posted on May, 9 2010 @ 03:01 PM
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In terms of other countries that use PR, I have personal experience of 2 of these where Germany and The Netherlands is concerned.

Remember than Germany is a federal republic and this has a significant factor in the way voting is utilised - an effort to reduce the impact of regional voting trends. The problem is that this essentially pits rural communities against urban communities and raises the question:

Should densely populated urban areas have a greater degree of control over political leadership than sparsely populated rural areas?

The obvious answer may be "Yes", there are more people! However, life is not that simple and it is clear that rural communities face different issues from urban areas and so tend to have different political affiliations. This goes right back to the very nub of early 20th century politics which argued the benefits of a farming economy against industrialised manufacturing.

Of course, things have moved on a long way but the argument still has some impact on modern politics.

In terms of The Netherlands, my own experience is that the system is not particularly liked by the voting public. Everyone appears to have a say and there is no tolerance for intolerance, however, in truth it doesn't get much done. The Netherlands has exactly the same issues as the UK although they cannot be fairly compared due to the disparity in size and population distribution.

The economy of each country is quite different and so direct comparison in terms of the benefit of each government infrastructure does not tell us very much. That it appears to work in in terms of Germany huge manufacturing capacity does not reflect the reality of the UK. That is works for the small population of The Netherlands (just over 1/4 of the UK) is no guarantee for the UK citizenship.



posted on May, 9 2010 @ 03:02 PM
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Originally posted by SugarCube
Also, remember that you may get exactly what you wish for and I'm sure that we all remember the adage about being careful about exactly what you wish for. Note that both UKIP and the BNP make huge inroads into central government.


Why is that a bad thing? Both BNP and UKIP are opposed to mass immigration of economic migrants from Central and Eastern Europe. I am no racist, but the current immigration policy makes no economic sense.



posted on May, 9 2010 @ 03:10 PM
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Originally posted by SugarCube
In terms of The Netherlands, my own experience is that the system is not particularly liked by the voting public. Everyone appears to have a say and there is no tolerance for intolerance, however, in truth it doesn't get much done. The Netherlands has exactly the same issues as the UK although they cannot be fairly compared due to the disparity in size and population distribution.

The economy of each country is quite different and so direct comparison in terms of the benefit of each government infrastructure does not tell us very much. That it appears to work in in terms of Germany huge manufacturing capacity does not reflect the reality of the UK. That is works for the small population of The Netherlands (just over 1/4 of the UK) is no guarantee for the UK citizenship.


"in truth it doesn't get much done". And that's a good thing where "progress" has become a bad thing (i.e. selling off of our national resources to the wealthy by increasingly right-wing governments, oh, and invading other countries for private corporations' profit).

" Germany huge manufacturing capacity does not reflect the reality of the UK". Circular logic again? We have no manufacturing base because it was destroyed by a govt. (Thatcher) with a political axe to grind (against trade unions) able to impose extreme policies because of the FPTP system. She believed (claimed to believe) that we could live purely on a services economy. This policy has proved to be as right as off-shore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Basically, PR reduces the likelihood of extreme policies. UK politics of the last 30-40 years is a catalogue of increasingly right-wing, "free-market" policies that have gutted the country. A more democratic system that is less easy for big money to control would have tempered this.

Now, not being an old Etonian with a share portfolio from dad, I must work.

[edit on 9-5-2010 by rizla]



posted on May, 9 2010 @ 03:13 PM
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reply to post by rizla
 


Rizla, if you reread my OP I made it clear that I am not against PR - I am simply pointing out the effect on regional representation. That is to say, PR can be a good thing but the problems of regional distribution have to be considered carefully.

Now, you make 2 points which I will respond to:

The statistics I presented are illustrative of the results of the 2010 general election in pure PR terms. Of course they do not represent the psyche of the population and I would not try to infer otherwise, however, many many people vote based on party recognition rather than in terms of "1 of 650" seats. As such, a local vote is fairly (not absolute though!) representational of the national trend to the parties shown.

I agree completely that after the inception of PR, a different voting trend would appear, however, many of these trends would still be regionally based - it is unlikely that an Ulster Unionist is likely to get many votes in London! As such, regional trends have to be taken into account and the illustration simply reflects how the current trends would translate directly to PR. I am not making a prediction for how voting would occur in 4 years time, simply showing a starting point based on the existing voting percentages

The point I am making is that there will always be a "top" three majority which for the foreseeable future is likely to be Conservatives, Labour and LibDems (in no particular order) simply based on their national presence.

I am not indicating that the population is "stupid", I am simply stating that it will take at least 12 years for the national infiltration of 'minority' political parties which would allow them to garner enough support to rise in the top 10 table. They no longer have to convince people based on regional politics but on a range of national topics.

For that period, the 3 main parties would maintain their hold on politics which would negate much of the immediate representational effects of PR.



posted on May, 9 2010 @ 03:20 PM
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reply to post by rizla
 


Rizla, I afraid that you are arguing in circular logic... If we could go back in time to change the voting system to PR then perhaps none of the problems that we face in the UK would have materialised, however, in the current reality we have a FPTP system and a host of issues that have to be dealt with.

Magically wishing them away by blaming the governments of the past makes you feel better over a pint down the pub but it doesn't change anything.

The whole point of the PR is not to argue the likely benefits of the system or the effect of procedural government - As I stated in the OP, the point is to understand where PR has an issue in terms of regional representation.

We have an existing regional representation system inherent within the FPTP system but this would not necessarily be compatible with PR and so I am asking for suggestions as to how these issues could be reconciled.

Thatcher may have stolen my milk when I was a child, but that doesn't have anything to do with the current negotiations that suggest that electoral reform is needed and perhaps necessary for a government to be formed.

As the statistics point out, a notable number of voters gave their X to UKIP and the BNP as is their democratic right and using the figures shown both UKIP and the BNP would have earned their place in parliament to represent the people that voted for them. I have no issue with this - I am simply indicating the disparity between the FPTP system results and the PR results. This has nothing to do with immigration policy, it is simply about how the PR representatives then represent regional constituencies.

Please stick to the point...



[edit on 9-5-2010 by SugarCube]



posted on May, 9 2010 @ 03:35 PM
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reply to post by DISRAELI
 


Hi Disraeli, good to see you about!

The issue you mention is entirely valid and this is especially so in terms of cabinet positions and how they are allocated.

One assumes that PR requires a mixed-party representation in the cabinet as well as in the house of commons, however, there are obvious issues in terms of compatibility which could have detrimental effects on the country.

Sometimes, strong leadership is the best thing regardless of the considered decisions that are made in real time. This is often the case in extreme circumstances - sitting still is more dangerous than moving!

In this case, you may be right to intimate that voting would have to take into account 'personalities' rather than just 'parties'. Think of it in the extreme case, a kind of 'fantasy Cabinet league'.

Would it be beneficial to vote and effectively pick the best man for PM, the best chancellor, the best Home Secretary? Maybe!

Again, this is an important factor that is not immediately considered when we look at the apparently simple case for PR.



posted on May, 9 2010 @ 03:36 PM
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Originally posted by SugarCube
Please stick to the point...


It's your thread. Have fun.



posted on May, 9 2010 @ 03:42 PM
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reply to post by rizla
 


Thanks Rizla, I will...




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