LETTER: Important questions

Share this article

Brian Beck (letters, March 31) asks some important questions about proportional representation (PR), to which there are long and short, complicated and simple answers.

To my mind, though, he fails to ask the most important question of all. How is PR to be implemented? How, in other words, can the turkeys of Parliament be persuaded to vote for Christmas??

To start with Mr Beck’s questions. He asks if it would lead to coalition government. I say almost certainly, though the last result but one from the Scottish elections showed that it is not impossible for one party – ie, the Scottish Nationalists – to gain a simple majority of seats under a proportional system.

However, Greens, with our guiding principles around co-operative working and empowerment, believe that this is a good thing. Coalitions allow different strands of opinion to come to the table and be discussed constructively and openly to produce a programme for government. You could say that the big parties are already coalitions ramming together people with widely differing views like the Eurosceptics and the Remainers in the Tory Party, so it isn’t as if we aren’t already accustomed to the idea. However, a government coalition of different parties means that a greater proportion of the public can see how their views are being represented and what compromises are being made. That is grown-up politics and clearly works very well for countries like Germany and The Netherlands.

On his second point about local representation that depends very much on the system of PR that is adopted – and there are innumerable variations. In Scotland, for example, the majority of MSPs are elected to represent constituencies, but a top-up then adds in others to more fairly reflect the number of votes cast for each party. That seems like the best of both worlds for many people, who can either approach their constituency MSP or someone from the top-up list whose flavour is more in line with their political tastes. On the other hand we use a list system for the European elections. MEPs represent very large areas but their make-up much more accurately represents the number of votes cast. Thus in the South East I have a hard-working Green MEP I can contact, while Ukippers have MEPs representing their views. And there are innumerable variations on these, as well as the system I personally favour called single transferable vote (STV).

Mr Beck then asks about being able to vote for an individual candidate based on personality, experience, etc... This is where I think my favoured STV system really comes into its own and empowers the most people to make meaningful choices. Seats would be larger, electing perhaps five or six MPs and electors would have that number of votes giving an order of preference, but could then choose to vote on a party line; or they could decide, for instance, that more women or other under-represented groups in parliament are important to them and vote for them across party lines; or they might decide on the ones who have impressed them at hustings events or the ones with a good record in local politics or whatever. Powers would be back with the voters and parties would have to ensure a wide range of candidates in order to get a good share of the total votes cast. What fun filling in the ballot would be!! I can already hear Mr Beck saying, yes, but wouldn’t it be very complicated for the voter. No, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3 and if they can manage in N. Ireland or Germany I feel sure we Brits are up to it. Counting is a bit trickier, but the professionals and the computers will be working all that out.

And finally to Mr Beck’s big unasked question. How can we bring it about? This comes back to grown-up politics and parties working together on a common goal. I have just returned from the Green Party’s spring conference where a major item on the agenda was the question of electoral alliances. This would involve – in selected seats (of which Lewes could conceivably be one) progressive parties, in conjunction with local people, coming together behind one candidate for the 2020 general election who could defeat the Tories with a manifesto promise to introduce PR for the House of Commons as a priority. This change could transform our broken politics and enable every vote to count so that in future we could vote as our political conscience dictates secure in the knowledge that safe seats – for any party – were history and that our vote would really matter. That is what we so badly need to enable our democracy to flourish and secure the better future we all seek for our children and grandchildren.

Susan Murray

Clare Road, Lewes