Conservative Diary

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We are currently witnessing the best advert against changing the electoral system

More than 80 hours after the polls closed last Thursday night and we still don't have a new government. And there was me thinking that saving General Election Night would mean we get a new Prime Minister by dawn on the Friday morning...

Seriously though, the situation in which we find ourselves is of course unprecedented and unnerving as we are used to the current electoral system delivering a clear election result, with a majority government.

As Allister Heath describes in today's City AM:

"If that’s the new politics, I already miss the old kind, warts and all. What we witnessed yesterday was embarrassing: groups of exhausted men meeting in secret locations in Whitehall; behind-the-scenes discussions about the future of the country, with everybody tearing up their manifesto promises; and all the while Gordon Brown, who has been humiliatingly rejected by the electorate, remaining defiantly in power, clinging on as long as possible, his lame duck Chancellor somehow supposed to represent us at crucial EU bailout talks. Nobody is happy: not the Lib Dem voters who backed Nick Clegg’s party because they don’t like the Tories; not the Tories who backed David Cameron’s party because they loathe the Lib Dems."

But what we must not forget is that this situation is very much the exception to the rule. First Past The Post has in the main always delivered a decisive result, with a Prime Minister re-appointed or turfed out within hours of the votes being counted.

And we must not allow those who want to change the electoral system to claim that the result of last Thursday's election proves the need to introduce PR for Westminster elections.

If anything, it is a demonstration of exactly why we should not change the electoral system.

For it must be remembered that proponents of proportional representation actually want to institutionalise the very confusion and chaos which we are currently witnessing.

  • They want to ensure that no party ever wins a Commons majority again;
  • They want to make the behind-closed-doors horse-trading a fixture in the days after every future general election;
  • They want to create a system whereby no party can ever seek to implement its programme as manifestos would merely becomes a list of aspirations ready to be sacrificed in an inevitable post-election negotiation.

No electoral system is perfect, but, as Labour MP Tom Harris blogged at the weekend, "first-past-the-post is a bit less rubbish then the rest".

There are of course those who bleat that the current system is unfair to a party which gains a smaller proportion of seats as compared to the votes it gained.

But what would be equally, if not more, unfair would be for that small party to hold disproportionate sway - permanently, after every general election - as to which is the majority partner in the coalition government (also giving almost perpetual power to that smaller party, as has been the case for the German FDP over the decades).

Jonathan Isaby


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