Proportional Representation. It's not the electoral solution people think.

The call for electoral reform has been made again given the huge vote share for the smaller parties that culminated in a pitiful amount of seats. This perceived injustice has now given life to a debate that's very welcome but with arguments for proportional representation (PR) being made once again, as a fairer, more democratic electoral system.
Is PR a more fairer voting system than first past the post (FPTP)? Perhaps but we must consider it's drawbacks.

Vote share is often used as evidence to show the unfairness of FPTP but people fail to take into account constituency boundaries. We tend to have safe seats and a slight inverse correlation between parliamentary seats and vote share because, in some slight part, to historic gerrymandering of the constituency boundaries. Gerrymandering is the process whereby voting districts are redrawn to convey tactical advantage to a particular political party. This has to be addressed first. Even if PR was ever to be used as an electoral system, which is politically impossible right now, a full and fair redraw of the boundaries would be required. The Tories will most likely redraw the constituency boundaries in this parliament to favour 75000 voters in each boundary.

The intrinsic value of the vote is never mentioned in arguments for fairness, only vote share. With FPTP, every vote has the same intrinsic value regardless if it's used to select the victor. With PR, a persons vote, which is now a collection of preferences, can be used multiple times. Your vote may not be intrinsically the same as another. If for example a person votes for a party that is not popular, it is likely, although not always, that their vote will be used more times to select other winners in a voting district than the person who voted for the popular party. Is it fair that a persons vote can count for more if they're not as moderate politically?

Lastly, to think that PR would reduce cynicism of politics may be misguided. It could do the opposite. PR doesn't allow for majority government very easily. It is most likely that governments would need to be formed through coalition. Voters have to decide who to vote for on policies. This makes that decision very difficult with coalition politics. It would be unclear what policies would make the cut and which ones wouldn't given that voters would have no power over the compromises a party would have to make with others to form a coalition government. With coalition politics, parties are more likely to sell to the electorate promises it cannot keep, as these could be negotiated away when the coalitions are formed. It really would be very difficult for people to work out what policy pledges and promises will be kept. The cynicism for politics will not exactly ebb if parties are given the opportunity to blame coalition politics on their inability to see through manifesto policies, or to blame their coalition partners for mistakes made. It would be difficult for the electorate to accurately judge a government or a specific political party on its performance. It's possible in this uncertainty that political ideologies and tribalism will entrench and scatter opinion as opposed to moving to the moderate centre en masse that FPTP favours.

It is easy to consider PR as an alternative to FPTP to address the poor representation of vote share in parliament, but PR, as an alternative can be just an affront to democracy as FPTP when you consider the drawbacks. The question boils down to ones own personal morality. What is more fair? What is more helpful, to both the electorate and democracy in general? Is it better to have a vote with greater intrinsic value, political party policy that is achievable and majority government? Or votes with lesser intrinsic value that represent the broader view of the electorate, with party policy that's ambitious and negotiable and an uncertainty over which can be delivered and coalition government?

I'd call for a show of hands but I fear I may need to start taking off fingers and redistributing their worth.


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