Frank Little

Candidate for Pelenna in 20th June by-election Learn more

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Proportional Representation (PR) and cross party co-operation – what are the potential benefits?

by franklittle on 14 September, 2020

Thanks to Liberal Democrat Voice for the following

The Make Votes Matter website is a great resource, including details of the ways in which PR often leads to a reduction in inequality, better minority representation, greater political engagement and voter turnout and swifter and stronger action against climate change.  In short, -how PR leads to better government.

However, there are some recent and (perhaps) less well known studies which also highlight the value of PR.

In January 2020 the Cambridge University Centre for Future Democracy published its’ ‘Global Satisfaction with Democracy’ Report based on four million respondents from 3,500 country surveys. This covers a period of almost 50 years for Western Europe, and 25 years elsewhere. Whilst dissatisfaction has grown to an all time high globally since the mid 1990’s, the UK and the US (both still use FPTP) have registered extremely dramatic rises. By the end of 2019, dissatisfaction in the UK stood at over 55%, and at 50% in the US. When dissatisfaction is this high, it surely raises concerns that the polarising effects of FPTP make effective government unsustainable – witness armed militias on the streets in US cities.

The authors contrast this situation with another so-called Anglo-Saxon democracy, New Zealand, where dissatisfaction has decreased to just over 25% from an already relatively low level and make the point that this may well be linked to the switch from FPTP to PR in 1993. Other countries (e.g. Denmark, Switzerland, Ireland, Netherlands, Germany) using PR have high and increasing levels of contentment with their democracies. The evidence seems to point to a consensual balm that PR imposes on governments to make them more responsive to the needs of ordinary citizens.

More recently, the outperformance of female leaders, compared to ‘strong men’ leaders, in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic has been noted by many observers. As far back as April, Forbes Magazine highlighted the effectiveness of measures imposed by the female Prime Ministers of New Zealand, Iceland, Norway, Taiwan, Germany, Finland and Denmark. All of these women were elected under PR systems. Two more points flow from this:

  • PR systems result in greater gender equality (all countries with over 40% women MPs use PR), so it is no surprise to see female leaders emerge from these countries.
  • As Joel Selway (Professor of Political Science at Brigham Young University) wrote in the Washington Post in May, countries with PR tend to have broader coalitions that design more efficient, less centralised (administratively and geographically) health systems. This resulted in significantly fewer deaths in percentage terms of Covid-19 cases, -just over 4% for PR countries as opposed to 6.6% for majoritarian (incl. FPTP) systems.

So, in summary, now must be the time for all progressive parties to work together to rid the country of this substandard band of democracy deniers currently masquerading as a government. Only then can we change to an honest voting system and prevent further damage by extremist parties working in the interests of a powerful minority.  The benefits of consensual government elected by Proportional Representation are becoming more and more apparent, and have been thrown into greater focus by the pandemic.

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