Monday, March 21, 2016

Democracy is a bummer, eh?

Richard Murphy has woken up to idea that party politics might not be all that great. [Emphasis mine—DK]
But that means we need a political system that reflects the reality of division within the country. The politics we have can longer support the uniformity of opinion that first part the post demands.

Why, oh why, can’t we now liberate debate with a proportional representation system?
Because we held a referendum on a version of PR in 2011, and the British people overwhelmingly rejected it.

Isn't democracy a bastard, eh, Richard?


Radical Rodent said...

For a lot of people, it would seem that democracy is great - until it results in something that they do not agree with; then, it is deeply flawed.

Nigel Sedgwick said...


The Devil discusses the failed AV Referendum of 2011 and Proportional Representation (PR). I'd like to wade in with a bit of a correction (on what is PR) and a lot of warning. To be quick, and economical with my time, I am just editing the top and tail of my comment of 10th May 2015 on the blog of Charles Crawford, shortly after the most recent general election, with its anomalous result (few seats for many votes) of UKIP. Charles was good enough to give my comment a republishing with the title UK Voting System Doomed as a mainline posting on his blog on 23rd May 2015, with some further views of his own (which disagree with mine to a fair extent).

Charles originally wrote: "Here in the United Kingdom our “first past the post” voting system produces some amazing anomalies."

Though this is a minor part of his blog posting, I'd like to pursue it a bit. This is not least because this electoral problem is one that is going to affect the UK sooner and more long-lastingly that the failings of any particular losing politicians.

The trouble is that this amazing anomaly is bigger (IMHO) than all the preceding electoral anomalies. Somehow, Parliament is going to do something about it: and that is the danger.

END OF PART 1 of 2

Nigel Sedgwick said...


Almost exactly 4 years before the just completed general election, the UK had a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) versus the First Past the Post Vote (FPTP). AV was soundly trounced, by around a 2:1 vote. Thus it is very difficult to view AV as a likely candidate for the SOMETHING that Parliament is likely to do. Nevertheless, IMHO, AV is the best step forward - and was those 4 years ago. Around that time, I wrote on Samizdata, how the AV system (in fact 3 variants) allows each voter to express more information about their desires as voters; this based on information theory and the concept of entropy; and showing between 2 and 3 times as much voter information as FPTP, depending on the detailed variant of AV.

The first danger we now face is that there will be increasing, even overwhelming, desire for the so-called Proportional Representation (PR). However, PR is only one aspect of what voters as a group might want. Each and every electoral system offers, though only really on average, more or less PR than other voting systems. I view PR as a feature rather than an objective, even though (to an extent) that feature is desirable. So we risk a single feature, which FPTP does badly at, becoming the main or sole desire.

Without adopting AV, there are two other primary mechanisms for getting more PR. Both of these, I view as undesirable.

Firstly there is the concept of Party Lists. But this means giving up (partially, or totally as we have with EU elections in the UK) the concept of voting for the candidate. That I find abhorrent. It moves from our current method of general elections (combined selection of government by political party and protection against government by individually elected MP) to drop that protection: of a person who, when all the chips are down and the nation's back is against the wall, will do the right thing and stop bad government in its tracks. Simply put, it replaces parliamentary democracy with political party oligarchy.

Next there is the concept of multiple seats in each constituency. This may well be done using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) electoral system, which is effectively AV with 2 or more persons elected per constituency. Here again, we lose the concept of selecting a single personal representative for parliament. We have this, at close to the extreme, with EU MEP constituencies, of which mine (SE England) has, IIRC, 12 MEPs to represent me: which makes me feel I have none. [Note: for elections to a second chamber, such as a revised House of Lords, I am not against 2-seat, or even at a pinch 3-seat, constituencies. But we really must retain at least one house of parliament where there are only single seat constituencies: hence an unambiguously identified personal representative of each person who lives in each constituency.]

It worries me extremely that we will move to either Party Lists or multi-seat constituencies without even reconsidering that AV is: (i) more desirable than either on theoretical grounds; (ii) less of a change from FPTP than either.

END OF PART 2 of 2

Best regards

Lee said...

Any voting system that has constituencies isn't proportional representation.

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