Assess the advantage of using proportional representation electoral systems

The Labour government in 1999 paved the way for the use of proportional representation (PR) in elections in the UK. By the turn of that century PR had been used in elections to European parliament, the Scottish parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Greater London Authority Assembly and for the Mayor of London elections. Proportional representation is the principle that parties should be represented in an assembly or parliament in direct proportion to their overall electoral strength.

There are many electoral systems that are PR in the UK, such as; additional member system, single transferable vote, and regional party list, supplementary vote and alternative vote (both SV and AV are seen as middle ground between PR and majoritarian systems such as FPTP). In 2011 there was a referendum to change the Westminster electoral system from First pass the post (FPTP) to alternative vote, 68% said no, meaning that we are better off with a majoritarian system. There has been a strong case presented in favour of PR, many argue that it creates a multiparty system.

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Minor parties that are denied representation by FPTP are more likely to win seats in the other voting system. This broadens the basis of party representation and creates multiparty system. For example, until 2010 when the Green party only one seat, it had no representation at Westminster, despite having gained more than a quarter of a million votes in some previous general election. However, the Greens were represented on most other bodies: two sit in the Scottish parliament, two sit in the Greater London assembly, and three sit in the European parliament.

The UKIP party won almost 4 million votes in the 2015 general elections but gained only one seat, comparing this to SNP who won only won 1. 5 million votes and still achieved 56 seats, that 55 more the UKIP who had more votes than SNP. This clearly shows that PR electoral system will produce a more reflective and accurate outcome for smaller parties who under simple plurality system will suffer, in reality this may mean growth and fair representation.

However it may mean that some extremist parties would gain a foothold in parliamentary politics which might have racist or un-democratic views and this could de-stabilise society. The adoption of PR would probably decrease the power of the PM and increase the influence of cabinet government. The PM would no longer have the ability to dominate the House of Commons by virtue of the parliamentary majority which is almost guaranteed by the present simple majority (FPTP) system e. g. in 2005 the Labour party gained55% of the seats in the commons from a vote of 35%.

The cabinet, however would be more powerful as it would contain minsters from more than one party who could bring a government down by resigning if they were unhappy at Prime ministerial dominance. The relative weakness of a PM in a coalition government is highlighted by the plight of David Cameron in the conservative/Lib Dem coalition government. He had to abandon preferred policies like reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 600. On the other hand, many argue that PR is not the way to go, as they still view the majoritarian system (FPTP) as still effective; ‘if it ain’t broke why fix it’.

In an age when large portion of the electorate abandons its previous partisan affiliation, it is helpful if electoral systems enable voters to judge individual candidates, irrespective of their parties’ reputations. Since the late 1990s, this has been underlined by the introduction of a ‘closed list’ PR system, which has ‘depersonalised’ voting in Britain’s European elections. In the general election of 2015, the fate of most candidates was sealed by the status of their parties. Yet FPTP still allowed some candidates to attract a personal vote that defied their parties’ reputations.

Liberal Democrat Tim Farron and UKIP’s Douglas Carswell managed to survive as MPs, possibly because their profile locally countered the limitations of their parties nationally. Green Party support in Brighton Pavilion also increased far more than elsewhere — probably due to the reputation of its MP, Caroline Lucas. Meanwhile, senior MPs who personified unpopular parties could not dodge the wrath of voters — what The Scotsman (10 May) called ‘the pound of flesh factor’. Under certain forms of PR, unseated politicians like Jim Murphy and Douglas Alexander might have survived, via a top posting on their party’s list.

But such electoral systems — allowing protection for ‘establishment’ politicians — may not have impressed angry voters and could have fuelled public resentment towards the political system. One of the main arguments for a majoritarian system (FPTP) that PR was not able to avoid was its capacity to avoid hung parliaments, however it had not always done so. But, FPTP’s historical tendency was to ‘self-correct’ at the election that followed. In 2015 general election, many believed that such ‘self-correction’ was now vital.

Opinion polls were pointing to the strong possibility of another hung parliament, with a minority Labour government beholden to the Scottish National Party, a party unlikely to be backed by more than 5% of UK voters, and inherently committed to the destruction of the UK. Yet FPTP, it was noted, still had the potential to avoid such traumatic outcomes. When the 2015 results were declared, it was apparent that FPTP had fulfilled this ‘potential’ and ‘come to the rescue’: the party with a plurality of votes received a majority of seats and a hung parliament was avoided.

Single-party government are stable and cohesive, and so are generally able to survive for a full term in office. This is because the government is united by common ideological loyalties and it’s subject to the same party disciplines. Coalition governments, by contrast, are often weak, unstable, and often create gridlock in order to propose new legislation, not to mention that there is no clear manifesto to follow so the electorates do not know what they are voting for. In conclusion, there are arguments for and against the clam that PR systems should be chosen to change the Westminster electoral system from First pass the post (FPTP).

Those who argue that it should be change consider that FPTP is un-proportional between votes and seats and is a two party system, unlike PR. Others argue that PR is not fit for Westminster elections because it creates hung parliaments, creates confusion upon what choices the people have on who to choose or on what they will represent when they are in power. In my opinion I this that PR will not be fit as the Westminster electoral system because it will undermine stability and accountability.

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