As Paul reported on Liberal Burblings on Friday, two senior Tories (Andrew Tyrie and Sir George Young) have authored a report where they are advocating a system of proportional representation for a mainly elected second chamber. Here is a snippet:
We favour a system of Proportional Representation for elections to the chamber. We believe that the First past the post system, with its ability to deliver clear party majorities, works well for the Commons and entrenches its role as the source of legitimacy for a government; however, the second chamber requires a demonstrably different systemElections for the chamber should be on the basis of the regions that are used for European elections, although the electoral system should favour greater voter choice than a pure party list approach.
As you would expect, I completely disagree with what they are saying in the first paragraph but what I wanted to focus on was the fact that they are advocating PR at all, for any chamber. It would seem from what they are saying that they are favouring some sort of Single Transferable Vote system for the second chamber (exactly the system that most electoral reformers including myself think should be used for the House of Commons). But just a few weeks ago at the start of June David Cameron wrote a piece for the Evening Standard which did its best to rubbish any arguments for PR at all. I did a blog post at the time which exposed the 4 main canards that he came up with.
What has happened in the last few weeks to change the Tories mind on this? What about Cameron's 4 main arguments (canards) from the Standard article:
1) PR is a move to faceless politics where all too often you find yourself voting for a party, not a person.
2) It gives smaller parties an unfair and disproportionate boost.
3) It leads to weak and unstable administrations.
4) It inevitably creates coalitions that degenerate into back-room deals.
It seems to me that if the Tories really believe Cameron's arguments then 2, 3 and 4 would still apply here to the upper chamber. Surely they would want FPTP to deliver a strong and stable revising chamber with no chance of small parties getting in and no need for deals in "smoke filled rooms" as they would doubtless characterise it (see my above linked post for my ripostes to these canards by the way).
What is most astonishing though is to discover that the Tories are after all aware that a system of PR exists that does not require party lists (STV). Judging by Cameron's comments where he said:
PR comes in many forms but more often than not you find yourself voting for a party rather than just one person.
I thought they were not aware if its existence.
OK, enough with the sarcasm already. What's happening here is that the Tories favour FPTP for the House of Commons because it suits them and will likely give them a decent sized majority on a minority of the vote when they are on or above 40% (as they are in polls at the moment). They also support proportional systems in the Scotland Parliament (where it has led to a Tory resurgence that would never have happened under FPTP) and the Welsh Assembly. It so happens that in those parliaments PR favours them so they support it.
An FPTP system would probably favour them in the second chamber as well but they know full well that to try and introduce a system that effectively gerrymanders things in their favour would not wash for any reform so they are talking up PR for the second chamber but trying to pretend that the fairness it brings is unneccessary for the House of Commons.
The system used in the House of Commons is an accident of history. If it was being created now, there is no way the system used would be as it is now with all its unfairness and inherent advantages for the major parties. The Tories (and Labour) can only get away with advocating it because it is the incumbent system, and boy do they advocate it.
The thing to remember, and it is starkly underlined here, is the Conservatives will advocate whatever system is most politically expedient for them. So for the House of Commons it is FPTP (they get a decent majority on a minority of the vote in a good year). For Scotland and Wales it is a form of PR (helps them maintain a foothold in those parliaments that they would likely not get under FPTP due to their unpopularity there). For the Second Chamber it is a form of PR (that under other circumstances they pretend does not exist) because they know they will not get away with advocating an antiquated system.
Remember all of this the next time you read an Op Ed piece from David Cameron earnestly trying to persuade us of the merits of the FPTP system for the House of Commons. They only favour it when it suits them and they can get away with it.
There is no principle here, only political expediency of the most cynical and hypocritical kind.