Mythbusting

 

“We’ve already had a referendum on PR”

The UK has never had a referendum on whether to change to a proportional voting system. The system put forward in the 2011 referendum was the Alternative Vote. This is not a proportional system, and shares the problems caused by disproportionality which afflict First Past the Post. David Cameron himself stated on one occasion: “I'm here today to explain as clearly as I can why AV is completely the wrong reform…let me take on this myth that AV is more fair and more proportional than the system we have currently”. As such, the outcome of the 2011 referendum did not indicate a rejection of, or indeed any comment upon, proportional electoral systems by the electorate.

In fact, only 28% of the electorate turned out in defence of First Past the Post - hardly a ringing endorsement!


“PR will damage the link between MPs and their constituents, whose interests they represent.”

Many currently feel unrepresented by their MPs - the majority of MPs won their seats with a minority of votes. Many MPs respond to constituents with template letters, failing to engage with the issues being raised. There are a number of PR systems that keep or even improve the constituency link. The Additional Member System (AMS) maintains the present principle of one-MP-to-one-constituency, while using top-up lists to ensure that the share of seats a party wins matches the share of the vote the people give them. Systems like the Single Transferable Vote (STV) use multi-member constituencies - meaning that a few, (for example, five) MPs are elected to represent a given area. One advantage of this is that many more people than at present have a local representative who is sympathetic to their views, who they can approach with their concerns.

For more information see our voting systems page.


“PR systems let in extremist parties”

It isn’t true that FPTP punishes extreme parties. In fact, it punishes any party whose support is spread evenly across constituencies rather than being concentrated in particular areas. Despite being perhaps the most centrist mainstream party, the Liberal Democrats and their predecessors have been by far the biggest victims of FPTP, routinely winning a tiny fraction of the seats to which they should be entitled over the last sixty years. FPTP is completely blind to the politics of the parties it harms and benefits - in fact, according to Herman Goring, the Nazis would have won every seat in the Bundestag as early as 1931 had Germany used the same system that we use.

Proportional Representation would mean the public is accurately represented in parliament. We live in a diverse and vibrant democracy and all views should be fairly represented. PR also means that a government must have majority support and unless parties and politicians reach out to a broad range of people, they will never achieve enough support to form a government. Extreme parties, by nature, are not usually able to command the support of large numbers of people, so cannot form a government in a PR system.

Representation of ‘extremist’ views in parliament allows us to shine a light on them. When extremists are excluded from any representation, they may look for ways to make themselves heard outside the democratic process, which can be extremely dangerous. When extremists are elected to office, they undergo far more scrutiny and are often exposed as being incapable of representing the interests of voters; democracy is a self-correcting system.

Designing a system (like FPTP) that wastes votes for extremist parties is likely to increase cynicism and can bolster support for extremist parties. Many people vote differently under FPTP because their vote will not influence the result, so extreme parties garner ‘protest votes’ which exaggerate their support. Disillusionment with politics, caused by our voting system, can also turn people away from mainstream ideas and plays into the hands of extremists.


“PR gives too much power to smaller parties”

Under PR systems, all parties receive a share of the seats that matches the share of the votes they received. A government will be formed by parties commanding majority support. Parties with more votes will have more seats and therefore dominate coalitions, with more executive appointments and more say in the programme for government. Smaller parties may achieve some of their objectives in government but will always be in a weaker negotiating position.

FPTP does not account for our diverse, multi-party democracy. Politics is no longer as simple as left and right which is why it’s important that all views are included in our political process. The government should be decided by the majority, not swing voters in a small number of marginal constituencies.


“First Past the Post is tried and tested”

FPTP only became universally used in the UK in the 1950s. Up until that point, many constituencies had multiple MPs and university constituencies used the Single Transferrable Vote system to elect multiple MPs. Most countries abandoned FPTP when they embraced democracy and mass franchise. PR is tried and tested across the world, used in the vast majority of developed countries.


“PR is too difficult for voters to understand / First Past the Post is simple”

If a party gets 20% of the vote, they should get 20% of the seats. Simple, right?

Casting your vote in an election held under a system of PR is simple enough to be understood by the people of almost every European country and over 80% of all developed nations.

The way in which votes are counted in some systems of PR - such as STV - can be a little more complex than the method in FPTP. Sometimes things need to be a little complex to make sure they are fair. What the voter sees at the ballot box, however, is very easy to understand.


“PR would lead to weak coalition governments”

Coalition governments around the world have proven to be effective and stable. In the UK, for example, the coalition government between 2010 and 2015 was far more stable than our current government. FPTP creates instability - when we switch from a Conservative to a Labour government or vice versa much of the work of the previous government gets undone, resulting in zig-zag policies. With PR and coalition governments there is more co-operation, collaboration and consensus, resulting in more stable policy making and implementation.
It’s worth noting that our main political parties are coalitions themselves, with their own factions and differences in opinion. They often suffer from internal disagreement - just look at the recent divisions in the Conservatives over Brexit and Labour over Jeremy Corbyn. The Conservatives and Labour are both coalitions of different opinions, with the balance of internal power decided by the leader. Under PR, the electorate would be given a choice about which of these views and policies they would like in government.