Proportional Representation

Recently I had a flashback to this year’s general election and remembered a debate that springs up each and every time. Well, not so much a debate as a whinge across the broadsheets that we should have Proportional Representation. There are various ways that this could be applied but the upshot is that every party gets represented according to how many people voted for them nationally. The ultimate fair system, wouldn’t you say? Broadly speaking, I’d agree. This system is so much fairer and even allows the fringe parties their say which, bizarrely, is the only argument against PR I’ve heard in more than one place: so-called ‘liberals’ are usually mortified by the idea that free speech can allow us to hear the views of the BNP and UKIP…

Anyway, little thought has been given to further consequences if we were to initiate a system of PR. PR could reduce the number of constituencies in the UK and thus, potentially, help to increase the number of areas represented in debates. It would allow parties such as the SNP and Plaid Cymru a greater say in national government. It would mean that individual areas would have government representatives that don’t have their interests at heart.

Yes, you read that right.

There is a reason that the pro-PR argument is splashed across the broadsheets and pushed by students in city universities: Contentment. The government represents the views of the middle-class, London-based journalists who write columns in the Guardian and the Times. The government is based in London and thus has the needs of big cities at heart. MPs, be they Tory, Labour or Lib Dem, are essentially urbanites and the party line is formed with only the needs of people in similar circumstances in mind. They don’t need to care what other communities think, because there is no political party available to give a local alternative. Under PR, they would be able to cut their last ties to their constituents as misrepresenting a community would not put them out of a job. Meanwhile, life would get harder for us, governed as we would be by MPs with no sense of the views of the man on the street and no obligation to act as a democratic representative in the literal sense of the term. It’s happening already – we only see the party and we vote for the party. I’m not convinced that most people could tell you who their MP is.

The results are plain to see. The most obvious example is the fox hunting debate and the bill banning the practice of the sport that was ushered through the system recently. The fact is that public opinion was divided roughly 50/50 over the future of the sport yet the government took it into their hands not only to draught the bill but also to use an emergency law to pass the bill through the House of Lords despite the protests of the peers. Democratically speaking, the bill should never have been passed. The people who were clamouring for the bill to be passed were not the people whom the bill would have affected. Fox hunting was not just a sport, but a staple of some rural communities – a staple that the London-centric government has wiped away at a stroke. And this under a political system where communities are supposed to be individually represented. Imagine how much worse this would be under a system where MPs have no direct obligation to the people – democracy ceases to be ‘the rule of the people’. If we had Proportional Representation, who could we rely on? What right do our leaders have to rule if we only choose the party, not the individuals? We may as well have an elected monarchy…


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