Letter: Distortions and myths of voting

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The Independent Online
Sir: John Diamond's comments on proportional representation (Letters, 7 May) need answering, to correct some of the myths spouted by first-past- the-post (FPTP) advocates.

In general, politicians are open about coalition-forming in countries where this happens. Where they are not, it is largely as a result of the country's political culture. Some of the arrangements Mr Diamond suggests, such as Lib-Tory or Lib-Tory-Green-Referendum-Bell, would not happen, either because they have been specifically ruled out or the parties concerned would not agree to it.

It is only a quirk of geography that causes FPTP to create stable single- party governments in the UK. In India it does nothing of the sort. Under FPTP, India has a fragmented party system and an unstable coalition government.

The possibility of getting more seats on fewer votes is something on which FPTP advocates are strangely quiet. This, of course, happened in the UK in 1951 and 1974. Another example of where FPTP has failed in this way comes from Liverpool in the late 1980s, where the Liberals consistently out-polled Labour, but Labour had an overall majority on the city council. FPTP is a lottery: the distortions it produces are arbitrary.

Mr Diamond is concerned about unpredictable coalition arrangements; there are many ways to skin this cat. In Israel, the Prime Minister is directly elected. In Greece and Turkey, the largest party is systematically given a bonus of seats in an otherwise fairly proportional system. Under the single transferable vote electoral system, voters can indicate their coalition preferences by way of their transfer of votes between candidates: in fact, in the Republic of Ireland, where STV is used, it is not at all uncommon for two parties to propose coalitions with joint manifestos, and for each party to invite its voters to support the joint programme by supporting the other party in its lower preferences. In 1973 there was a Fine Gael/ Labour manifesto.

ALEX MacFIE

Keele, Staffordshire

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