Monday, 19 September 2005

PR Disaster

It seems the Germans are not yet ready for a change.

The Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder managed to scare the electorate by proclaiming Angela Merkel's CDU party would spell the end for Germany's cosy social model. As a result, the CDU collapsed in the polls in the last weeks of campaigning.

The fact is he's right. Germany's social model is at risk from the (fairly modest) reforms proposed by the CDU. Nevermind the fact that the difficulty of firing employees makes it extremely risky for a firm to hire, so unemployment is around 10%. Those who have jobs remain the majority of voters, and they're loathe to give up the protection that a freer "Anglo-Saxon" model would sweep away. Most of the electorate seem to want reform, but are unsure and afraid as to the shape this will take. Thus the "Grand Coalition" is favoured by much of the electorate as exemplifying the German consensual political style.

It was the ability of Mr. Schroeder to portray Professor Paul Kirchoff as a robber-baron who would tax the poor more than the rich (thus totally mis-representing the benefits of a flat tax) which changed the tone of the election, from a shoe-in for Angela Merkel, to a hung parliament.

Whilst the British Electoral system is inherently unfair to my favoured party, It has been unfair in the past to the other lot. It is perpetually unfair to the wooly in-betweens, which is a good thing. At present, Joschka Fischer's greens can effectively choose the next chancellor, giving a casting vote to just 8.1% of the electorate. It is this position that the Liberal Democrats want to maneuver themselves to in the UK. The UK should resist Proportional Representation (PR) in all its forms, for all types of election, and instead attempt to address the inconsistencies in the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system.

The strong government, plus the relationship to local MPs, who can and do raise parochial issues in Westminster, are the benefit of the FPTP system, and this shouldn't be cast aside lightly. The system does tend to create results that are rarely disputed, and more often than not reflect the will of the people of the UK in all its contrary inconsistency.

The fact is coalitions in the UK are WITHIN parties, not between them. Thus the electorate knows what shape the government might be with each vote (even the wasted ones for the Lib-Dems). I feel a pang of pity for the German voter, who casts a ballot for a party, and then has to watch the post-election horse-trading. He might vote green and watch them get into bed with the CDU... an unlikely result, but unwelcome to the average green voter. Would those who voted for Ms. Merkel's reforms be happy with a sorry, stagnant "Grand Coalition"

If you want an even more eloquent argument for FPTP, look at Italy's parliament since the War. PR leads to chaos and stagnation or cosy compromise (or worse, both!). It prevents parliamentarians exercising Leadership when necessary and puts too much emphasis on back-room deals between politicos. This leads to the situation where a political elite can hold and excersise opinions vastly at variance from their electorate, often for decades, and face no electoral punishment. This has been the case in much of Western Europe for two decades on some issues. In the end, this is less democratic than brutal, winner takes all politics of Westminster.
*Cartoon by Roger Schmidt


Gavin Whenman said...

"It was the ability of Mr. Schroeder to portray Professor Paul Kirchoff as a robber-baron who would tax the poor more than the rich (thus totally mis-representing the benefits of a flat tax)"

How? The poor would be paying more and the rich would be paying less and that's what he told the electorate. The misrepresentation by Schroeder was in suggesting this was CDU policy.

"The UK should resist Proportional Representation (PR) in all its forms, for all types of election, and instead attempt to address the inconsistencies in the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system."

Up to a point. A pure PR system would be wrong, for this country and any other. It places, as you rightly point out, too much power in the hands of smaller parties. However, the current system of FPTP also has major flaws, namely:
1) "The Winner takes it all": No account is taken of the second place parties, who often receive only 1000 less votes
2) As a result, Governments can be formed by parties that don't receive the most votes (this can happen in some PR situations, although less infrequently)

The Government commissioned Jenkins Report came up with a good replacement for the current system, the full report can be found here, but it's principal recommendation is:
"... the best alternative for Britain to the existing First Past The Post system is a two-vote mixed system which can be described as either limited AMS or AV Top-up. The majority of MPs (80 to 85%) would continue to be elected on an individual constituency basis, with the remainder elected on a corrective Top-up basis which would significantly reduce the disproportionality and the geographical divisiveness which are inherent in FPTP."
He found that this would have only produced hung Parliaments in three out of the last four elections since WWII.

Jackart said...

We've gone through the regressive/progressive nature of flat taxes before. It depends on the Tax-free allowance, which if High makes a Flat tax system much more progressive than a progressive system with a low threshold.

I won't be polite about any further misrepresentation about flat tax being regressive. Typically the rich pay MORE under such a system because of the more limited opportunities for avoidance. And the poor pay less because more of them pay NO TAX AT FUCKING ALL. The rich pay a greater proportion of their income than the poor (which is not the case at the moment)… so lets have no whinging about regressive flat taxes. You’re intelligent enough to understand, why do you keep misrepresenting it? Do you wish to punish the rich? Are you a closet Marxist, or do you aspire to have a job for life in the inland revenue? Or do you just like complexity for its own sake? These are the only reasons for supporting the staus quo as far as the tax system goes

I agree with your points on the PR system… to a point

But Simplicity is a virtue.

Disproportionality is also a VIRTUE of the current system. It rewards the winner much more than any other, giving stable government after tight races. It’s not as if the system is at present vastly unresponsive to the country’s mood, more like “a bit geared”. An increase in proportionality would lead to minor parties cluttering up the commons with their ideological diahorrea, leading to unstable coalitions, minority governments etc…

Furthermore, two tier systems introduce the party list. Party lists vastly strengthen the parties over the individual MP. Think of all the great Parliamentarians from Labour and Tory benches who would have been extirpated by their party machines if they could. A list system would have denied us the electoral Theatre of Portillo (and this time the smug twat, Twigg) losing their seats.

Having MPs elected by differentiated methods (some constituencies, some party lists) would lead to different classes of MP, those with constituencies and those without. I know which will feel themselves to have the greater legitimacy.

Regional disparities can be ironed out within the current system by fairer constituency boundaries.

Any attempt to say what would have happened under different systems in previous elections is pointless. People vote according to the electoral system, thus more people vote in marginals and tight elections than otherwise (etc... etc... etc...) thus the research suggesting 4 hung parliaments since the war etc… don’t really reflect reality.

This debate revolves around whether you think Proportionality is more important than a strong executive or not. I think the current system has it’s flaws, but its simpler than any 2 tier system and better at producing good government than PR.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

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