The Socialist Unity Network

Against Proportional Representation

Jim Jepps

How can you be against proportional representation! Doesn't PR mean that the left has a way way better chance of getting elected ? doesn't PR mean that everyone has a much better chance of being represented by someone that shares their views?

Well I am against it. And I'll tell you why.

Firstly elections should not just be about getting someone elected.

Whilst the left may have a better chance of getting someone elected under this method than others (and that's not strictly speaking true if you look at the election results for June 10th) elections have more of a function than simply getting a couple of left wingers elected.

When we stand in elections we hope to help build the movement, build rank and file and grassroots campaigns. We hope to have an argument with people about the widest political topics and speed bumps on their roads.

PR elections, which involve a number of people being elected for a wider area than first past the post take us one step further away from the issues on the estate or the local area. In the regions for the Euro elections for instance we are literally talking about areas covering millions of people.

Not once for the Euro campaigns was it possible to highlight the threats to local day services or problems in your area. It can't be done. Yet these are important issues that must not be ignored.

If elections were only about getting elected then the left should not worry - but we have a more principled political agenda that is deeply rooted in the movements that gave birth to the left in the first place. It's our duty to strengthen that movement where we stand - PR is a blunter tool for this.



Secondly elected representatives should be accountable to the electorate.

In terms of how democratically accountable the elected representatives are PR is far far weaker than first past the post.

If your local MP makes outrageous comments or votes in a way you find repugnant you can write to them, protest to them and they have to take some notice or potentially suffer the consequences.

If your 'local' MEP does the same first of all you are unlikely to know about it, and secondly what are you to do? The party they represent may have them high on the list and the only way you can not vote for them is by not voting for the party you may have total loyalty to.

In fact it is the those who control the order of the list that have more control than the electorate itself. This means that on controversial votes the central party has more control over how that person votes than the electorate. that cannot be good for democracy or healthy politics - but it is good for cronyism and corruption.


Thirdly know one knows who their MEPs are, but most people know who their MPs are.

Name them. Name your MEPs, I bet you can't. Name your MP. See? This isn't coincidence, it's because the first past the post system puts the elected representative closer to you than PR does. The closer the elected person is to the electorate the more content democracy has.

Fourthly it leads us to think there are easy answers - when we should be doing deep work.

Big electoral areas lead us into trying to cover everywhere in a shallow way, when we should be trying to get to people where they are, to see politics as relevant to them. you can get more people out campaigning for a local election than you can for a Euro election in any one ward simply because they feel the local election effects them more.

The number of activists you can get out (even if this is the only thing they'll do all year) is extremely important to the life blood of any political current - and because the left is ideologically committed to the millions this goes double for us.


Fifthly it means fascists getting elected too.

How many BNP MPs is too many? What cost are we willing to pay in order to further our sectional interest? I'd rather no fascists at all, even if the price is no left wingers elected - we don't need to have a toe in the door of the state apparatus - they do.

PR makes it easier for the far right to win some seats - that's too high a price - and if the left think isn't then they need to question their own motivations for standing in elections in the first place.




Whether you believe that socialism can come through Parliament or not socialists are democrats and we should press for the most democratic system available to us. Proportional representation may look more democratic and seem in our interests but the content of the that democracy is weaker - and it is on that principled basis that socialists should oppose its introduction.

We use it of course where it exists - just as we use all elections available to us in our unions, in parliament or local councils and in our political organisation - but that does not mean that we think any of these institutions are the most, or least, democratic system available.

In these days when the left has begun to see PR as the quick fix to getting one or two people elected, it's important to remember there are democratic principles involved here too.


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July 2004


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