Who wants a slice of the pie?


o some, the first past the post (FPTP) system creates stable majority governments; to others, it is not truly representative, and makes it impossible for smaller parties to make leeway – the antithesis of democracy. With all these issues swirling around before May 7, Matei asks whether proportional representation (PR) could be the answer for Britain.

By Matei Sacerdoteanu
The issue of PR vs FPTP all boils down to how much of the pie everyone should get, and who should get what. (Source: The Varsity)

Proportional representation is an electoral system in which parties gain seats in proportion to the number of votes cast for them. There is an idea that this system is “much better” and much “more fair” than our current first past the post system that we use.  There have been many calls for it from voters and smaller parties, particularly those on the left, who believe that it would lead to proper representation of the masses as a whole and possibly higher voting turnouts. 

I disagree.

There is a different side to this coin; PR has a few clear disadvantages, which may affect how effectively it actually works.
The first session of the Nazi-
controlled Reichstag. (Photo: scepticism.org)
Firstly, PR sometimes leads to extremist parties gaining the upper hand in local and national politics; this does not happen with the first past the post system. An example that many point to is Weimar Germany, where PR allowed both the communists and fascists to slowly gain a high number of seats in the Reichstag (parliament). This undermined the Weimar Republic and led to the rise and takeover of the Nazi party in 1933, nonetheless highlighting a real possible flaw in the PR system. 
Of course we don’t really have a Nazi party, however, there are still extremist parties and many people do support them. If we switched to PR, it is possible that we could see a shift in UK politics for the worse. 
Another problem with PR is that in a majority of cases, a coalition government needs to be formed because no party has a clear cut majority. This means that the government is sometimes weak and incredibly indecisive, which can have catastrophic consequences for the country. 
Take for example, Italy, which runs on a PR system. Italy has come to the point where it has been necessary to dissolve its parliament early seven times in just the past 40 years. That is not a good sign of a healthy government; it shows that PR can sometimes lead to governments that are so incredibly weak or just completely unable to cooperate that the whole government needs to be dissolved. That would be catastrophic for our country, possibly even capable of bringing our country to a slow and painful halt until a whole new government could be formed.
Finally, a problem with the PR system is that there has to be a lot of compromise in government because parties are able to more easily interfere with each other and the laws or policies they try to enact. If we had such a system then we would not have been able to pass the trade union reforms Margaret Thatcher pushed through, or the improvements of public service that Tony Blair carried out. These acts would simply have not been achievable if a party was without a strong governing majority. This is one of the biggest flaws of PR; by giving every party a piece of the power based on their votes, there is no strong party left anymore, just a number of different groups all fighting each other and getting in each other’s way because they can’t agree on how the country should be run.

So, do you want our country to become weak? Do you want the extremists to become stronger? Do you want more coalitions that cripple any real progress? Of course you don’t. Keep our country strong and keep proportional representation out of it; our political system has worked for hundreds of years as it is. 

Having your cake and eating it. (Peter Brookes – 27/09/2010)
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3 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Entirely disagree: FPTP is fundamentally and pragmatically terrible.

    If people want to vote for extremists, let them. That's what democracy is about. Far better having their voices heard and ridiculed than pushing them out of the electoral system entirely. That's not fair to democracy in any case. The impact is mostly on populist parties, not necessarily hate-preaching or racist ones. Who are we to tell people what to think?

    As for coalitions, well the current one hasn't done too bad of a job, all things considered. Sure, they make weak governments, but they also force parties to compromise and that's a good thing. Besides, perhaps the problem lies within FPTP itself. One of the main points raised in the AV referendum of 2011 was that AV forces MPs to work harder and compromise more, because they could no longer rely on a minority of voters or fractured competition: They had to be appealing to everyone.

    That being said, as an AS Politics student, cheers for all the work you guys have been doing. Useful stuff for revision!

  2. Anonymous says:

    The key function of democracy is for it to represent the people and the issues that affect them.
    Now FPTP – is the main electoral system used in the UK for our supposedly 'democratic elections'. And far from democratic it is!
    For starters with first past the post there can only be one winner. And further in the majority of constituencies that are strongholds for either the conservatives in the country or Labour in the cities and big industrial areas. So it is more than obvious that they will win. These 'safe seats' have MP's parachuted in, case and point is Somerton and Frome, Liberal democrat safe seat has recently had David Rendell parachuted in. David Rendell is from Newbury. How can someone from across the country some represent the broader interests of the people? With the chance of the liberals retaining this seat now lower than ever it is hardly surprising they have shipped in a charismatic career politician.

    So with constituencies where only one party can win, what is the point in voting for a minority party, your vote will be in effect wasted. What i'm saying is not that your vote will be wasted but instead that your vote will be effectively nullified by the small amount of people who vote with you. And the people know that voting for minorities in 'safe seats' is a pointless farce. A comical waste of time, so they won't vote for who they want. they will either vote for the biggest party or the party that is most likely to compete with them. And this being said, neither of these will be the person or the party they most wanted.

    Why else is FPTP undemocratic?
    Well in 1997 the Labour party made a commitment to making the UK more democratic, HOL reform with the removal of hereditary peers and the introduction of party neutral cross benches.
    The introduction of devolved governments to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and an increase in power for the EU.
    The HRA became enshrined in UK law

    But a promised change to the electoral system never occurred. The planned referendum on a change to a proportional system for election never happened. And this certainly made me wonder why this had not happened. It is obvious THE MAIN PARTIES WILL NOT CHANGE IT BECAUSE IT WILL DISADVANTAGE THEM. The Conservatives would only have around 235 seats and the UKIP would have 20 if it was a proportional representational system.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Good job having the guts to actually present this side of the argument, it is quite obvious that this site is full of left wingers, it really is a fresh breath of air to see some more differing opinions on here.

    Good job making FPTP plausible and actually providing some valid/decent reasons to keep it around, personally I believe the UK had it's choice back in 2011 and squandered it, so they more than deserve to be stuck with this system. Might teach people to care more about politics in the future.

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