Wednesday, May 27, 2009

If the Answer is PR, You’re Asking the Wrong Question

As the details come out of ‘Flipping-gate’, or whatever the term is for the current MPs’ expenses scandal, there is a general feeling that we have had one rule for ‘them’ and another for us, and ‘something must be done.’

David Cameron set out the Conservative response yesterday. It was sensible and proportional.

However, beware Liberal Democrats reaching for the ‘Proportional Representation is the answer’ lever.

First, under PR we – as voters – would lose the direct link with a person whose job is to represent us in Parliament. You may disagree with the political affiliation of our MP but at least we know he is responsible for Cambridge and cannot pass the buck on to anyone else. He, in turn, knows that he has to report to us for his activities. That is right and fair. However with PR we would have several MPs and none of them would be directly responsible to individual voters. The sharing of responsibility among public bodies, as the Chancellor found out in the banking crisis when he set up a three-way system, means that nobody is really responsible.

Some types of PR take MPs further away from the voters than others. The closed list PR system we use for European Election is a case in point. Even the Single Transferable Vote means having multiple MPs for the same area and brings about the anomaly that the successful candidates are elected using the second preferences of the votes for third, or lower, preference candidates.

Second, PR puts power in the hands of minority parties. In the coalition-making process the mainstream parties can be held to ransom by single-issue sects or fringe interests. Under PR we would vote at the election but the politicians would go on to decide who was actually in the governing coalition.

This moves us neatly to another benefit of the current system: one of the joys of our first-past-the-post system is that we – as voters – can sling parties out of power. PR could put voters at the mercy of a party that would merely change its coalition partners rather than leave office.

The British people have the right to tell a party when its time in government is over.

“Gordon, it’s over.”


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