Right of Reply: Jonathan Shaw
Thursday 13 May 1999
a leading article
on proportional representation
YOUR EDITORIAL described the elections in Scotland and Wales as "a victory for proportional representation".
However, fans of PR should take note of the frenetic horse-trading that has taken place. In neither Scotland nor Wales did any party achieve a majority to form an administration. The proposals for power-sharing in Scotland tell us much about the policy sacrifices that some smaller parties are willing to make in order to have a slice of power. So now we see a party campaign for specific policies which are promptly ditched in the hope of a few seats around the cabinet table! It's clear that PR leads to policy inertia and political instability.
However, it is also fair to say that first-past-the-post voting for the Westminster parliament is perhaps not the fairest system. In the past we have seen administrations that have been in power without the support of the majority of the electorate.
Alternatively, what I, with over 100 hundred other Labour MPs, favour is a preferential system that makes voting fairer - yet maintains the vital link between an individual and their MP, what Jack Straw called "the basis of our democratic accountability". The Alternative Vote provides for stable government but also requires each MP to command at least 50 per cent of the vote. PR is not going to address low turnout. People vote regardless of the method.
The people of Scotland and Wales deserve their new assemblies and perhaps PR is OK for devolved assemblies. But at Westminster I want to see MPs who represent a majority of constituents. I want a stable government that is free from the horse-trading and the ditching of policies to satisfy minority parties which PR brings.
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