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October 29, 2003


Charles Stewart

The defects of PR are well known, but a well-designed PR system, such as I believe Germany has, makes it possible for flawed political parties to fail without breaking the political system.

Vivienne Raper

You are fighting a straw man here... I've never heard the argument (before you writing it) that adversary politics is a bad thing. However, it is apparently the case that only 18% of the population's votes actually made a difference in the last General Election. Furthermore, where MPs have small majorities, turnout tends to be larger than where an MP has been entrenched for a long period. One of the best arguments for PR is that it makes votes count.

Whether it works or not depends on the system that you implement. Poorly implemented, it becomes ineffectual and also the candidates become detached from the people they are supposed to represent (some list systems). I think there is a better case now for PR than there ever was given the emergence of issues that cut across ideologies and parties, and dissolution of traditional left/right politics.

Oliver Kamm

Vivienne - If you've never heard the argument that adversary politics is a bad thing, then it would be worth your looking out an influential book edited by Professor S.E. Finer and published in 1975 entitled Adversary Politics and Electoral Reform. It was on this thesis - that British government is subject to unnecessary fluctuations in which each party acts as the prosecutor of the other - that the campaign for proportional representation sought support in the 1970s, notably in Roy Jenkins's 1979 Dimbleby lecture, which in retrospect could be seen as the original manifesto for the SDP. I'm sympathetic to your reluctance to associate with the argument yourself, for it has been thoroughly debunked by the practice of government under both parties over certainly the past 15 years, but you severely overstate your case in claiming that this highly influential nostrum is a 'straw man': it was in fact the central idea of your own party in the 1970s and 1980s.

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