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The fashionable view is: the British political system is broken/corrupt/out-of-touch (delete according to taste); we are now in an era of three-party politics; first past the post is outmoded; it is "unfair"; and some form of proportional representation is needed.

To say that first past the post is "unfair", because Party A, receiving x per cent of the national vote, does not receive x per cent of MPs already presupposes that "fairness" is the same as PR. It begs the question.

Rival electoral systems represent rival and alternative definitions of fairness. That is why there are so many permutations of PR and every country that follows it has a slightly different version. First-past-the-post defines an MP as the representative in parliament of a specific community. What is the fairest selection method? The person with the most votes wins because he/she is the most representative (or if you prefer, the least unrepresentative) of the views of the people in the constituency he is being elected to represent. It is irrelevant how people voted in the neighbouring constituency or at the other end of the country: the MP isn't being elected to represent people who live there.

In 2001 and 2005, Dr Richard Taylor was elected as the MP for Wyre Forest on a platform of "Save Kidderminster Hospital". The proportion of the UK population who wanted to save Kidderminster Hospital would have been so small as to render Dr Taylor unelectable under PR — which, if you think about it, would have been savagely unfair to the people of Wyre Forest.

Dr Richard Taylor: As an independent, he wouldn't have been elected under proportional representation 

PR would drive out independents forever and confine politics even more to parties who can afford to run national election campaigns. That's an odd way to become more in touch with the voters. Under first past the post, parliament represents constituencies. PR on the other hand represents parties. Which do you think is more important?

It also raises the question of what we mean by "nation". Do we need separate ways of counting the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish? What about the Cornish? You can quibble about the current rules, but at least we can more or less agree who lives in Wyre Forest.

First past the post is not an outmoded system: it is used in more than 60 countries, containing over half of the world's democratic electorate.

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William Norton
June 8th, 2010
11:06 AM
Wayne: I think you're confusing Independents and Minor Parties, such as the Greens, UKIP or the BNP. The example of Dr Taylor was chosen precisely because he was a true Independent: a local candidate standing on a local issue unconnected to a national party. Although he is unusual in recent times at the parliamentary level there are many examples of Independents being elected to local councils under first-past-the-post. A system of proportional representation would almost certainly help minor parties with thinly spread support across the country, providing they exceed whatever threshold is required to get elected. The Euro and London elections in the UK are a good example of this - and Israel is an example of what happens when this is carried to the extreme of a national list PR system. The Save Kidderminster Hospital Party, however, gaining votes only from people in Kidderminster, would never cross that threshold once the election is run on an area greater than one constituency. You cannot aggregate the votes of Independents precisely because each one is a separate and independent candidate. A form of preferential/transferable voting even at the single constituency level would harm an Independent unless he/she was already one of the highest first-preference candidates (and so avoided early elimination) - which puts them in no better a position than they are already under first-past-the-post.

Wayne Smith
June 1st, 2010
7:06 AM
It is not true that independents cannot be elected under proportional representation. Either an additional member system or a single transferable vote system would be better for independents than first-past-the-post. How many independents have you elected lately?

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