The Politics Club met again on Tuesday evening, 13 May, for another hour and a half of lively debate, this time on the subject of proportional representation and its desirability.
The Chair welcomed everyone and reminded participants that this is the this is the fourth year of the Politics Club, the fourth year of discussion and debate on any subject of political interest, with full freedom of expression, indeed with contrasting views encouraged.
This evening’s debate began with an introduction to the subject. Starting at the very base of society we outlined the need for trust built upon consent, cohesion and identity, and how electoral systems can affect these basics. By common consent first past the post (FPTP) is the least democratic arrangement, reflecting the general preferences of the electorate less than even the most modest version of PR. 94 countries world wide use some form of PR for at least part of their electoral programme yet only two use the most reflective system, the Single Transferable Vote (STV), for their national parliament. Mention was made of some of the drawbacks of PR, for example the power of an unrepresentative minority if there is a hung parliament, or the probability of coalitions to form effective governments. Various factors can influence the results such as concentrations of populations which affect outcomes differently in PR or FPTP.
The discussion widened out and all eleven members contributed to the debate. There was universal agreement that some form of PR was much more preferable to the present FPTP system and that the unfairness of existing elections is both undemocratic and a threat to national cohesion. It was mentioned that a form of PR was once promised by the Labour Party but not enacted when they were in power. Others suggested STV was the best option which maximised choice and the fracturing of the Labour Party ,which has been splitting since the 1970’s, was noted. The direct and simple question was asked of how do we get PR, and there was a general discussion drifting towards the idea of a political alliance. We were told about the Compass group which is trying to build exactly the alliance most of us had in mind. Both the Lib. Dems. and the Greens are involved with Compass, and Caroline Lucas, the MP for Brighton, and Layla Moran have taken part in their discussions. The Labour Party seem to be coming around too to the idea with 250 branch parties out of a total of 645 voting for PR. There are of course hindrances, not least the tribal attitude of the Labour left and the prohibition within Labour on recommending any other party at an election.
The results in Bramber in the recent elections for the County Council where an alliance of Lib Dems, Green and Labour would have turned a safe Conservative seat. There must be many other examples nationwide. The conclusion reached was that PR was a desirable aim and that we should promote an alliance with other parties, the Greens in particular, to achieve the breakthrough needed to give parliamentary weight to achieving this aim. The subject was a matter of such interest that we will certainly return to it again and hopefully a member who originated from Holland, will be able to join us then. Unable to be along on this occasion he sent us a lengthy email setting out his views. We urge our party to strengthen contact with other like-minded groups to ally for electoral success and to commit to introducing PR to our elections.