Vernon Bogdanor: 'Proportional representation has been called charitable giving'

From a lecture by the professor of politics and government at Oxford University, delivered at Gresham College in the City of London
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The Independent Online

The number of seats a party wins depends not only upon the number of votes that it receives, but on how these votes are distributed geographically. The system helps parties whose votes are geographically concentrated - such as Labour and Plaid Cymru - and disadvantages parties whose votes are more evenly spread across the country - such as the Liberal Democrats and UKIP.

Thus, in the 2005 general election, the electoral system failed to yield a government representing the majority, and failed to ensure that all significant minorities were represented

Let us look at the actual experience of proportional representation in Britain. In Northern Ireland, it was introduced to contain extremists and to encourage the centre ground. It has not done very well so far in achieving these aims. In Scotland, proportional representation was introduced in part to contain the SNP, and perhaps it has helped to achieve that.

In both Scotland and Wales it has ensured that the Conservatives, who are a minority party, achieve effective representation. The late Labour Secretary of State for Scotland, Donald Dewar, called it an example of "charitable giving"! In Scotland, since the Parliament was set up in 1998, and for some of the time in Wales, proportional representation has led to coalition government.

There is no perfect electoral system. Should there be a referendum on proportional representation?

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