Tuesday, 31 October 2017

PR debate in Westminster Hall

The record of the debate sparked by a petition to parliament is here.

The case for PR was well summed up my local MP, Labour's Stephen Kinnock:
 I thank the Petitions Committee for enabling this debate. I rise to argue that the central purpose of the campaign for proportional representation must be to shine a light on the clear, strong and manifold causal links between the state of our broken politics and the state of our discredited voting system.
The simple fact is that the British people deserve an electoral system in which every vote counts. Why do the vast majority of developed nations use proportional representation, while our electorate are forced to accept second best? Why should our people be forced to accept the fundamentally flawed logic of a system whereby seats in Parliament do not reflect vote share? Why should we have to tolerate tactical voting? Polling found that on 8 June 20% to 30% of the electorate voted tactically. Why should we have to put up with a system whereby almost 7 million people felt that they had to hold their nose while voting?
What does it say about our democracy when millions of people are going to the ballot box to vote for the “least worst option,” as opposed to voting for the party or individual they feel will best represent their values, beliefs and interests in this place? Can we really sit here today, in the building that is sometimes referred to as the cradle of modern democracy, and defend a system that fails to pass the most basic principle of democracy—namely, the right of voters to vote for the party or candidate that they actually support? Perhaps most importantly of all, why should the British people have to accept a system that delivers the winner-takes-all political culture that is the root cause of the deeply divided, polarised and fragmented country that we have become?
Decades of research from around the world shows that proportional representation correlates with positive societal outcomes: greater income equality, less corporate control, better long-term planning and political stability, fairer representation of women and minorities, higher voter turnout, better environmental laws and a significantly lower likelihood of going to war. This is the real prize of electoral reform: building a better politics. It is the means of shaping a more inclusive society in which resources are allocated on the basis of real needs and opportunities rather than cynical swing-seat electoral calculations. It should therefore come as no surprise that polls consistently show that a majority of the public want PR. The latest poll shows that 67% want to make seats match votes, and those people are joined by a growing alliance of parties, MPs and public figures who want real democracy.
There are those who argue that the great advantage of first past the post is that it delivers “strong and stable” government—I think the less said about that, the better. We are also told that the great danger of PR is that it will mean back-room stitch-ups. What, like the £1 billion bung for the DUP?
There were also contributions from Liberal Democrats Wera Hobhouse and Tom Brake. Indeed, Labour's John Spellar apart, all the opposition representatives spoke in favour of PR while Conservatives defended the existing system. It was disappointing that the debate should be split on party political lines, as I know that there are Conservatives who favour PR, while Spellar is not the only conservative on the Labour benches.

It was also disappointing that no new arguments were deployed against the body of evidence, which continues to be augmented, supporting the case for fair votes. We heard again the tired old assertion that first-past-the-post delivers strong government, even in the face of the experience of two out of the last three general elections in this country.

The pro-PR cause clearly had the upper hand yesterday evening, but a Westminster Hall debate cannot directly change the law. It was another case of winning a battle, but not the war.

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