If we had PR, would we be in this mess?

Neither Labour nor the LibDems seem to be showing much interest in an electoral pact with each other and with the Greens – though, the last I heard, Caroline Lucas was saying that the door might still be open. It seems to me that Labour are very suspicious of Proportional Representation (PR) – which has surely got to be a deal breaker – and that is deeply, deeply sad – writes blogger Libby Hudson.

I say this because, as luck would have it, about a week before the election was called, I took delivery of ‘The Alternative’i and have been dipping into it occasionally, particularly during the long, dark night of the soul which followed a claim that the Tories had hit 48% at the polls. (Incidentally, let’s hope this means the era of the ‘shy Tory’ is now well and truly over).

Anyway, I flipped through to Katie Ghose’s chapter on PR (‘Embracing Electoral Reform’) and it struck me, whilst reading it, that if we had had a decent system of PR, we probably wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now. (If you don’t agree we’re in a mess, it’s probably not worth your while reading any further.)

I voted for PR at the last opportunity – which was 2011, by the way. Yes, it does seem like a lifetime away. However, I was sceptical – I was worried about losing the constituency link, and I was even more worried about focusing power in the hands of party leaders. I was a Labour party member back in the day, and the leadership’s behaviour over regional lists in the EU elections in 1999 was one of the first indications that the Blair project wasn’t turning out quite as I’d hoped.

Ghose’s comments on how constituencies have worked out in Wales and Scotland were suitably reassuring, but what really leapt out at me was this comment (about STV):

Candidates can be put forward who reflect different wings of a party – challenging the dominance of any one faction”.

And so, I surmise, if we had a decent system of PR:

  • Maybe Cameron wouldn’t have needed the referendum to appease his own right-wing. It would either have one control – thereby probably forcing a Tory split – or been slapped into place by the electorate.
  • The Labour party would have a relatively pain-free way of resolving their internal issues, not least of which is the supposed discrepancy between what members want, what voters want, and what the so-called ‘Westminster elite’ thinks.
  • Furthermore, if PR of almost any kind had been operating since 2011, UKIP would probably have gone off like a damp squib, and the Greens would have more of a voice.

All arguments about PR handing power to extremists are blotted out by the puss oozing from the running sore of news stories about people being abused or beaten for the crime of being foreign and hate-inducing headlines about ‘Enemies of the People’ and ‘Saboteurs’. There’s something pleasingly ironic in the Daily Mail wrapping itself in the Union jack and yet using the same words as Lenin when he sent armed troops to dissolve the All-Russia Constituent Assembly.

In summary, then, my answer to the headline question: If our democracy worked properly, would we still be in this mess? Probably not. And, let me add that if Labour are holding back from a pact because they don’t like PR, then they are actually refusing what is probably the only remedy for their current malady.

iNandy, L., Lucas, C & Bowers (eds) 2016, The Alternative : Towards a new progressive politics’. Biteback publishing.