Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Do Most British Far-Left Groups Understand Proportional Voting Systems?

with 4 comments

The answer appears to be a resounding NO!

In Ireland – both sides of the border – we are used to the Proportional Representation (PR) Voting System – it is used for all state elections in the part of Ireland ruled from Dublin – the other bit, ruled from Belfast, uses PR for assembly and local elections, but is lumbered with the First Past the Post method in Westminster polls.

The system is not perfect by any means – but it does mean seats are won more or less in proportion to votes cast – it would be even more proportional if constituencies were larger than the current five seat limit which applies in 26 County Dáil elections, or if we used a list system, as is used in the German State.

These gripes aside, a proportional system is far more democratic than the “winner takes all” “First Past the Post” (FPTP) system used in the laughably titled “United Kingdom” – we prefer the name Britain.

All very simple really….

Apparently not.

Voters in the 4 bits of Britain – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – are being asked to make a small change to the FPTP system, and replace it with an Alternative Vote method – as Alan Thornett explains in the link below this is more democratic than FPTP but less fair than PR – still it is preferable to the existing system.

Remarkably, most British far-left groups seem not to have grasped this very elementary and basic point – sometimes you just wonder ; ten out of ten to Alan Thornett

We must ask 6 County candidates such as Eamonn McCann of People Before Profit for an opinion on this.

Written by tomasoflatharta

Apr 26, 2011 at 1:59 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Tomas,

    I think perhaps that you are more confused on this issue than the British socialist left is. Alternative Vote is not a system of Proportional Representation. Nor is it a halfway house between first past the post and PR or even a step towards PR. There is nothing at all proportional about AV. Arguments in favour of PR are in no way relevant to a decision about AV.

    Functionally AV is extremely similar to first past the post. There is an argument that it allows small parties to get a slightly higher vote, as they are less likely to be squeezed by the imperative to cast a “useful” vote. And there’s some validity to that argument.

    There is however, a counter argument that the system actually makes it harder for small parties to the left (or right) of the mainstream to actually win any given seat. The people who benefit from non-proportional preference voting are “centre ground” parties. Parties of the left are likely to have their best chances to win in constituencies dominated by the so-called “centre left”. Under AV the “centre left” candidate will benefit enormously from right wing second preferences, and so a left candidate would not only have to come first in the constituency, he or she would have to come first by such a margin that right wing second preferences wouldn’t overhaul his or her lead. Parties who positions themselves between the main contenders, by contrast, will reliably benefit from second preferences and from AV.

    AV is a system which benefits the likes of the Liberal Democrats. It’s not a system which particularly benefits the socialist left.

    Mark P

    Apr 26, 2011 at 3:27 pm

  2. What is on offer is either the status quo, first past the post, or AV? All UK voters should choose the better, and fairer, of the two, which in my view is the Alternative Vote. It is not perfect, but it gives greater legitimacy to our MPS which cannot be a bad thing.

    Julian Ware-Lane

    Apr 26, 2011 at 5:34 pm

  3. An interesting tool showing how AV would likely have affected last year’s Westminster election is here: (look under “how different systems work”)

    This seems to me to be a prime example of a reform that will do just enough to prevent real change, without making any practical difference itself.


    Apr 27, 2011 at 6:29 am

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