I am well aware of the arguments against proportional representation. I even sympathise with some of them. But, for me, the case in favour of proportional representation is emphatic.
It would be naïve to claim that we could solve all of our problems overnight if we simply adopted PR. But it is equally naïve to think that we can address our most pressing social issues without it. What matters now is that we have the debate and that we frame it properly.
People across the political spectrum are already weaponising the arguments for PR. Those on the far right say proportional representation would give people such as Nigel Farage a deserved voice in Parliament, while those on the left see it leading to a progressive utopia in which the Tories are permanently outnumbered.
Whatever you might think of those objectives, the truth is, the fight for electoral reform is far bigger than any ideology. It is not about giving one side of the political spectrum an advantage over the other. Fundamentally, the campaign for Proportional Representation is about fairness, and trust in the system.
Right now, our electoral system drives division. MPs in safe seats spend more time courting party donors and attempting to win the approval of their party activists than they do trying to understand the needs of the constituents they serve. This leads to increased polarisation, as MPs drift further to the extremes in an attempt to appeal to the base of their parties. Those who value consensus and compromise are marginalised and policy proposals formed across political lines and through civil debate are less and less likely to come to the fore.
All the time the credibility of democracy is undermined in the eyes of the public.
At a time when our society is so divided, consensual voices are needed more than ever to guide us through the challenges ahead. As this country enters the next chapter of its long history, we will need to find ways of meeting the many challenges arising out of Brexit and the pandemic, and find decisive solutions to older problems like climate emergency, gender inequality, racial injustice and wealth inequality. Seeking to solve problems like those in an environment of intolerance, hyper partisanship and purist ideology is a fool’s errand.
British people care more about bread and butter issues than they care about petty party squabbles. Regardless of our political beliefs, we all want to vote for inspirational candidates who have clear ideas how to solve our political problems. All too often under 'first past the post', we feel obliged simply to vote for the least worst candidate to prevent the worst one getting in. That’s not just depressing, it’s unsustainable for a country going through a period of such massive change. Under proportional representation, we could leave our calculators at home and vote with our hearts.
The current Conservative party is highly unlikely to support proportional representation any time soon, and there are as yet few signs that the Labour Party will formally adopt it at their September conference, despite huge support at CLP level. But that doesn’t mean we should give up making our case. In fact, we should redouble our efforts.
Everyone who wishes to see democracy win out over the creeping authoritarianism of recent years should be part of the movement to bring about proportional representation. Those who want to see effective solutions to the problems of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic should be part of it. Those already campaigning to fix the climate emergency, to see true gender equality, to put an end to racial injustice, and to ensure younger generations do not have their prospects crushed by extreme wealth inequality should all be part of this movement. As should the many traditional Conservative voters who are appalled at what Boris Johnson and his cronies are doing to their party.
A democratic alliance such as this would be a powerful force in British politics, more than capable of freeing the country from the shackles of first past the post, and restoring civility, nuance and integrity to our politics.
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