First past the post system comfortable for those who benefit

Date: Monday 13th January 2020

THEresponseofBryanClark(Herald, 28th December) to my (and others’) letters advocating a form of proportional representation for general elections in the UK was entirely as expected.

Basically, what he wrote was “we in the UK have the best form of voting because normally it brings single-party (and thus stable) government”.

But of course he neglects to answer the point that I made — that 43.6 per cent of the votes cast (less than 30 per cent of the eligible voting public) gained 365 parliamentary seats while 56.4 per cent of the votes cast gained just 285 seats.

Further, despite these indisputable figures, he claims that “the losing parties’ policies were rejected more than they were supported” but since when has 56.4 per cent been a lesser number than 43.6 per cent?

No other country in Europe uses the first past the post method of electing representatives to their legislature; all except for France uses a proportional system of various kinds and even in France the successful candidate needs 50 per cent-plus of the vote on either the first or the second time of voting.

Mr Clark rejects all of these systems by commenting that “one only has to look at post-war (and pre-war) Europe … to see where multiparty government leads”. This is not just pure jingoism (“the UK is the best”) but inaccurate. Such stable governments of recent decades as the German or the Nordic countries use proportional representation resulting in coalition governments.

I wonder whether at this point I can make a plea for people to stop referring to a “people’s Parliament”, the meaning of which is obscure to me. Does it mean that Parliament has been voted in by the people, for obviously this is not the case since the members of the House of Lords are not elected but appointed by other politicians (and there even remain some hereditary peers, a complete nonsense in a modern democratic society)?

If it means that the members of the House of Commons have been put there by the people’s vote, then this has been the case after every general election since universal suffrage was obtained finally with the 1928 Equal Franchise Act (although plural voting rights held by seven per cent of the population were not abandoned until the 1948 Representation of the People Act).

If what is meant by “people’s Parliament” is a government that acts on behalf of the people of the country, then I venture to suggest that this has been the published aim of all governments since (at least) 1945 and that this present Government does not deserve such a sobriquet until it proves that it is governing “for the many and not the few”.

The first past the post election system means that the members of the House of Commons are not fully representative of the voting public and it is time that reform took place.

It is pointless for Mr Clark to protest that “we can’t keep changing the rules” for if the rules governing voting rights in the UK had not been changed consistently for the better over the last three centuries, then Mr Clark himself in all probability would not have been able to vote in this past general election.

The status quo might be a comfortable position for those who benefit from it, but it is not so pleasing for those who feel themselves to be underrepresented (the majority of the voting public) and reforming the system would not be “a political stitch-up” but a mature and sensible method of promoting true democracy.

BRIAN NEEDHAM

Alston.