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)