Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 23 April 2012

The public did *not* reject proportional representation last year

Over the weekend I have seen comments from a couple of Conservative MPs who in the context of the potential change to the Lords to a (partially) elected and proportional system are stating that the public rejected a form of proportional representation in the referendum last year.

Here is Elainor Laing, MP for Epping Forest quoted in The Independent on Saturday:

“What Conservative MPs are angry about is that Nick Clegg’s Bill [will] create in effect a new House of Commons to be elected by proportional representation. Less than a year ago, the British people rejected PR in a referendum.”

And here is old stalwart of the right John Redwood writing on his own blog yesterday:

"...There is concern that the Bill may include electing the Lords by a system of proportional voting, so soon after the public decisively rejected such a voting system for the Commons.  What part of “No” did they not understand?"

There is not really a delicate way to put this. Laing and Redwood are lying. What the public rejected was the Alternative Vote. AV is not a proportional system. In fact it can be less proportional than First Past the Post.

But don't take my word for it. The fact that AV is not proportional was one of the main planks of the No2AV campaign itself! Laing and Redwood along with virtually all Tory MPs were strong supporters of the the No side. You'd think they would at least remember what their campaign said. Here's a little reminder taken from the official No2AV website:

"There are strong principled arguments for and against PR, and it's a debate worth having. The Alternative Vote, however, is a step backward rather than a step forward.
AV combines the weaknesses of both systems; it isn't proportional – three out of the last four elections would have been more disproportional under AV"

I expect other Tory (and those small c conservative Labour) MPs and their media cheerleaders will be promulgating this nonsense in the coming days and weeks as the Lords reform debate intensifies.

We need to squash this mendacity before it takes hold.

The public have never been asked about a proportional system in a referendum. It is simply untrue to say otherwise.


Anonymous said...

What you say is quite true, of course.

But equally if it was right to hold a referendum on changing the voting system for the Commons, how can it be right to introduce a new voting system for the Lords without a refererendum?

Nick Clegg's line seems to be that it's not necessary because the proposals aren't controversial. I think he's going to have to come up with a better argument than that...

Mark Wadsworth said...

Ah, Mr Thompson, I can see your mistake here, you're trying to argue against powerful propaganda on the basis of logic, consistency, facts and so on. You may have noticed that is not how things work.

I suspect that politicians start off with the easiest to understand argument which has some popular appeal (even if it is deeply flawed and you'd have to be an idiot to believe it) and then work backwards from that and try and use that argument in favour of whatever they want to do.

Compare and contrast:

1. England is the [second] most densely populated country in Europe. 30,000 acres of greenbelt were lost under New Labour. Net immigration is hundreds of thousands of people a year.

2. Less than 10% of England by surface area is developed, and nearly half of the developed bit is not concreted over, i.e. it's gardens or school playing fields. Under new Labour, maybe 0.01% of available agricultural land was built on. The UK population increases on average by 1% or so a year.

The first argument - while probably factually correct - has people punching the air with rage and drawing all sorts of wrong conclusions. The second argument is a bit boring and doesn't really give us any steer as to what 'should' be done (probably nothing, leave well alone is usually the answer).