“Elections rule the political process but not the government’s policy; they do not rule themselves” – Ian Gilmour, 1971: 136
The House of Commons originates in the 13th century. It plays a powerful role in the affairs of the nation, despite it’ power being limited by Royal Patronage. Despite this, it provides constraint on the actions of the government and represents the people, as it has to give its assent to measures of public policy. The issue of methods of formation of The House of Commons is essential. With the power to impose taxes, to vote money to, or to withhold it from, a just and efficient group of people should have power, as well as them having access to public departments and services, decisions for formation are essential in order to produce the most efficient group. The central representative function of the House of Commons is to represent the political parties who have been elected by voters, and so determine the political complexion. Additional considerations include members of parliament being elected to represent the respected parties in their social characteristics of the wider electorate.
The UK has a range of Proportional Representation electoral systems across it. As seen in the 2014 elections, the closed party list for elections in the European Parliament is arguably the most representive system, as opposed to the First Past the Post. This will be discussed in more detail later, along with the positive outcomes. This essay will therefore discuss the formation of the House of Commons through methods such as proportional representation (Thus known as PR) and the prosperity of this method. A focus will be provided to which to analyse this concept and whether this is the most successful way to elect, and whether this system is superior in comparison to First Past the Post (FPTP). Resulting from in-depth research into the establishment of the House of Commons, this essay explores the view that proportional representation electoral system (PR) among other systems may be beneficial to the house of commons. Despite this, the essay will argue opposing views in order to come to a conclusion as to what system works most efficiently.
A system of PR is one in which the proportion of allocated seats is directly proportional to the number of votes won by a party. Currently, First Past the Post is used, a “winner take all” style approach. Criticisms of this include a failure of true representation of minority groups, as well as reducing the influence of smaller parties, thus ensuring the continuity of the two- party system. There are benefits to all methods of election for the House of Commons, however some are objectively more effective than others. The effective legislative authority holds power, such as to impose taxes and has only” infrequently held up major legislation” (Britannica, 2017) 1. Bills may be rejected or accepted, as seen as when the last bill was rejected by a monarch, the Scottish Militia Bill of 1707. Aside from passing legislation, another important business held is the question period. Opposition is provided with a chance to attack government policy as well as raise negligent issues during this time. Proportional representation is an electoral system. It aims to create a body that is representational, reflecting the distribution of public support for political parties. Systems of PR are used in many countries such as Denmark, Finland, Greece and Russia. There are many methods to using PR, such as single transferable vote, party list system and additional member system which will be discussed.
The single transferable vote (STV) hasn’t been as widely adopted as other systems, having been used in Ireland and Malta, as well as local and European elections. Under this system, voters may rank candidates on a ballot in order of their personal preference. Henry Richmond Droop developed a quota in the 1860s, a method aiming to determine the number of votes necessary for a candidate to win an election under this method. “This was calculated by dividing the total number of candidate votes by the number of seats needed to be filled, additional with a one, and another one being added to the quotient” (Britannica, 2017) 2. Votes received by the candidate in excess are transferred to other candidates, according to the voters second preference. In the case there are seats vacant, this continues till all are filled. Due to this, results may fairly reflect the preferences of the voters. The system provides representation for minor parties and outcomes have shown “minor centrist parties benefit” and others such as minor radical parties are penalised. This was seen when the Democratic left, Daonlathas Clé, the political wing of the Irish republican army received similar shares in the national vote in the general election of 1997, the more centrist Democratic Left won four seats to their one. Often, results lead to a result more proportional, with percentage of cotes for the party being equal to the seats gained. This was seen in the case of the 2012 Scottish Local election, the SNP gained 32% of the first-choice votes and were awarded 35% of councillors across Scotland. For the house of commons to be elected through this, results may include a more varied group of MPs, based on the votes of the Constituency’s. It is believed by some that smaller parties “rarely win at local levels, where costs are not prohibitive” (Richie and Hill, 1996) 3. Thus, the representation of this geographical zone may increase, as opposed to hyper-representation, a possible outcome of the House tending to become more middle class with more male members as it has since 1945. Law making and questioning the decisions of the Government is an important role, and to prioritize and look after the needs of the people and the constituencies in order to create and question public laws that can meander the future, the community should be one that represents all. Through the STV, society may vote for the member that they best believe can provide for their needs. A varied and representative group can be created, as opposed to a pre-existing one that consists of white middle class men. With the future of constituencies in hand, a community that understands the needs is essential, created by using this method of PR as power remains in the people.
As mentioned previously in the introduction, A range of PR is currently in system across the UK. In 2014, UKIP won 26.6% with 24 seats, the first time any other party other than Labour or conservative had one since 1996. Thus, in large constituencies with more than one party, smaller parties such as Lib Dem can be represented to win a proportional number of seats. A rising concern with PR is that extremist parties may gain power and de-stable the political structure in the UK. However as seen in the case mentioned previously, there were 20 parties such as the Green party that received votes without seats, such as Britain First. One argument against PR is that some voters may not have their view represented in seats, however in this case with a minority group, tyranny may be prevented.
Despite this argument, it can be said that STV has led to a lack of cooperation at a local authority level, making it more difficult for councils to agree on policies. This can be seen as currently there are a number of Labour conservative coalitions. In these circumstances, two political enemies have joined to keep the Scottish National Party out. Coalitions are not voted for by people, with the formation of these more likely under TSV. However, in retort to this, STV results in a situation where it is harder for one party to dominate a local authority, it will become more likely that two parties will have to work together, such as the Labour Conservative, encouraging the interlinking and transcendence of boundaries in order to create a better environment locally. With an election through this method, people may be better represented with two parties coming to compromises in order to decide on what is most effective for people, prioritising the needs of the many not the few.
As mentioned previously, the STV is a successful method of PR, as seen in the case of Westminster, where elections use the method of First Past the Post, where votes are wasted as a party needs a majority to win a seat. Thus, resulting in less point in voting for smaller parties e.g. Liberal Democrats. STV ensures a fair distribution of seats, ensuring the votes of the many count. Another system in PR is the party-list system. Through this, the elector votes are not for a single candidate but a list. Each list is submitted by a different party however, an individual may put forward his own. This system is used in Chile, where district magnitude may vary. Chile elects its members by using two seats constituencies. The overall proportion depends on the district magnitude; the higher the proportion the higher the magnitude. Two principles are involved in this, the largest remainder and the higher average rule. Under the highest average rule, seats are assigned one at a time to the party with the highest total. After the assignment of each seat, the party that wins is adjusted. The original vote is divided by the number of seats won, and adding one. Another method is the additional-member system, one that combines proportionality with a geographic link with a citizen and a member of the legislature characteristic of the constituency. This was adopted by many areas after the fall of communism in the east of Europe, such as Germany after WWII. Half of the legislature is elected through constituencies and the other half through PR. Two votes are casted by each person, for a party and a person. The party vote is usually the basis for determining the composition of the legislature.
As a system, FPTP has its benefits. In the UK, devolved elections have had lower turnouts despite using PR, as seen in the case of the 2014 European elections, where the turnout was 36.5%, worse than the turnout of Europe (42.6%). Some believe the result of a PR electoral system would form a coalition government. These are time consuming and creates time where there is no parliament, and therefore no representation. This type of government may also cause conflict in policy making, if there are disagreements, reducing effectiveness and compromising the representativeness of the people due to these conflicts, as seen in the example of the abolition of University tuition fees, leading to future instability. PR can be seen as idealistic, as few systems are exactly proportional.
During the 1980-90s, movements pressed for a change in voting systems. PR in Britain was adopted to the European Parliament as well as others such as local elections in Ireland and London. Other European countries such as Italy adopted a modified constituency based system to reduce the number of political parties in the legislature to create cabinets more stable. The systems mentioned previously, the STV, additional member and party list are part of PR. This is used in order to create stable cabinet and has a multitude of benefits.
Firstly, every vote is counted. Not only does this give power to the constituencies, but allows seats to be produced in proportion to votes. Thus, the phenomenon of the wasted vote is rid of. This is also beneficial to third parties as fairness is ensured. Some argue that it becomes more difficult to ensure accountability to electors – if a coalition was to be formed. However, a coalition enjoying majority support can ensure the continuity of a policy than changes in government under the existing first past the post system. These can prove to be stable and effective. A main argument towards PR is current dissatisfaction with FPTP. This system
may result in safe seats, a consequence of single party constituencies. This was estimated to be at 368 seats, according to the Electoral reform society. In a safe seat, any voters who identify with a party that did not win majority votes may feel there is no chance of their view being presented, and thus reduce voter turnout. Despite arguments against PR that strengthen FPTP, PR coalitions resulting from elections can prove stable, whilst ensuring moderate policies that look out for the needs of all constituencies. A coalition enjoying majority support may enjoy a greater legitimacy than a single party government elected by a minority number of voters. PR provides a system that involves more than one method, allowing fuller representation and fairness to all parties, a party that truly represents its constituencies in ways that are proportional with the seats and number of votes received.
Currently FPTP elects governments with majorities. In the case of the most recent election, 71 seats went to parties that were not Labour or Conservative, a large 11% of the HoC. According to Doré, 20174, results in the votes of constituencies may have changed under a PR method. In the case of Cambridge, which had a FPTP party of Labour, the PR would be labour, with 51.9 vote share for FPTP; a 22.6 difference. Other areas such as Guildford were Conservative under FPTP, however Lib Dem under PR. FPTP had a 54.6 vote share, with PR at 23.9, a difference of 30.7. Thus, the use of PR is one that truly makes a difference.
Having discussed both PR and FPTP, each system has had favourable instances with their elections. This can be seen in the case of 2014, where UKIP won 26.6% with 24 seats, a first for any other party other than Labour or Conservative since 1996. In large constituencies with more than one party, smaller parties such as Lib Dem can be represented to win a proportional number of seats. There are advantages to both, such as a clear-cut choice being presented for voters with FPTP as well as the advantage of greater representation. In the case of implementation in the UK for the HoC, I believe PR is successful as despite the fact that there is a risk of a coalition government, something that may possibly create instability, PR ensures a link between candidates and constituencies, ensuring accurate representativeness and an association with votes and seats.