The House of Commons originates in the 13th century. It plays a powerful role in the affairs of the nation, despite it’ power being limited by Royal Patronage. Despite this, it provides constraint on the actions of the government and represents the people, as it has to give its assent to measures of public policy. The issue of methods of formation of The House of Commons is essential. With a group of people that have the right to impose taxes, to vote money to, or to withhold it from, as well as them having access to public departments and services, decisions for formation are essential in order to produce the most efficient group. The central representative function of the House of Commons is to represent the political parties who have been elected by voters, and so determine the political complexion. Additional considerations include members of parliament being elected to represent the respected parties in their social characteristics of the wider electorate.
The UK has a range of Proportional Representation electoral systems across it. As seen in the 2014 elections, The closed party list for elections in the European Parliament is arguably the most representive system, as opposed to the First Past The Post. This will be discussed in more detail later, along with the positive outcomes. This essay will therefore discuss the formation of the House of Commons through methods such as proportional representation (Thus known as PR) and the prosperity of this method. A focus will be provided to which to analyse this concept and whether this is the most successful way to elect, and whether this system is superior in comparison to First Past the Post (FPTP). Resulting from in-depth research into the establishment of the House of Commons, this essay explores the view that proportional representation electoral system (PR) among other systems may be beneficial to the house of commons. Despite this, the essay will argue opposing views in order to come to a conclusion as to what system works most efficiently.
A system of PR is one in which the proportion of allocated seats is directly proportional to the number of votes won by a party. Currently, First Past the Post is used, a “winner take all” style approach. Criticisms of this include a failure of true representation of minority groups, as well as reducing the influence of smaller parties, thus ensuring the continuity of the two party system. There are benefits to all methods of election for the House of Commons, however some are objectively more effective than others. The effective legislative authority holds power, such as to impose taxes and has only” infrequently held up major legislation” (Britannica, 2017) 1. Bills may be rejected or accepted, as seen as when the last bill was rejected by a monarch, the Scottish Militia Bill of 1707. Aside from passing legislation, another important business held is the question period. Opposition is provided with a chance to attack government policy as well as raise negligent issues during this time. Proportional representation is an electoral system. It aims to create a body that is representational, reflecting the distribution of public support for political parties. Systems of PR are used in many countries such as Denmark, Finland, Greece and Russia. There are many methods to using PR, such as single transferable vote, party list system and additional member system which will be discussed.
The single transferable vote (STV) hasn’t been as widely adopted as other systems, having been used in Ireland and Malta, as well as local and European elections. Under this system, voters may rank candidates on a ballot in order of their personal preference. Henry Richmond Droop developed a quota in the 1860s, a method aiming to determine the number of votes necessary for a candidate to win an election under this method. “This was calculated by dividing the total number of candidate votes by the number of seats needed to be filled, additional with a one, and another one being added to the quotient” (Britannica, 2017) 2. Votes received by the candidate in excess are transferred to other candidates, according to the voters second preference. In the case there are seats vacant, this continues till all are filled. Due to this, results may fairly reflect the preferences of the voters. The system provides representation for minor parties and outcomes have shown “minor centrist parties benefit” and others such as minor radical parties are penalised. This was seen when the Democratic left, Daonlathas Clé, the political wing of the Irish republican army received similar shares in the national vote in the general election of 1997, the more centrist Democratic Left won four seats to their one. Often, results lead to a result more proportional, with percentage of cotes for the party being equal to the seats gained. This was seen in the case of the 2012 Scottish Local election, the SNP gained 32% of the first-choice votes and were awarded 35% of councillors across Scotland. For the house of commons to be elected through this, results may include a more varied group of MPs, based on the votes of the Constituency’s. Thus, the representation of this geographical zone may increase, as opposed to hyper-representation, a possible outcome of the House tending to become more middle class with more male members as it has since 1945. Law making and questioning the decisions of the Government is an important role, and to prioritize and look after the needs of the people and the constituencies in order to create and question public laws that can meander the future, the community should be one that represents all. Through the STV, society may vote for the member that they best believe can provide for their needs. A varied and representative group can be created, as opposed to a pre-existing one that consists of white middle class men. With the future of constituencies in hand, a community that understands the needs is essential, created by using this method of PR as power remains in the people.
As mentioned previously in the introduction, A range of PR is currently in system across the UK. UKIP won 26.6% with 24 seats, the first time any other party other than Labour or conservative had one since 1996. Thus, in large constituencies with more than one party, smaller parties such as Lib Dem can be represented to win a proportional number of seats. A rising concern with PR is that extremist parties may gain power and de-stable the political structure in the UK. However as seen in the case mentioned previously, there were 20 parties such as the Green party that received votes without seats, such as Britain First. One argument against PR is that some voters may not have their view represented in seats, however in this case with a minority group, tyranny may be prevented.
Despite this argument, it can be said that STV has led to a lack of cooperation at a local authority level, making it more difficult for councils to agree on policies. This can be seen as currently there are a number of Labour conservative coalitions. In these circumstances, two political enemies have joined to keep the Scottish National Party out. Coalitions are not voted for by people, with the formation of these more likely under TSV. However, in retort to this, STV results in a situation where it is harder for one party to dominate a local authority, It will become more likely that two parties will have to work together, such as the Labour Conservative, encouraging the interlinking and transcendence of boundaries in order to create a better environment locally. With an election through this method, people may be better represented with two parties coming to compromises in order to decide on what is most effective for people, prioritising the needs of the many not the few.
As mentioned previously, the STV is a successful method of PR, as seen in the case of Westminster, where elections use the method of First Past the Post, where votes are wasted as a party needs a majority to win a seat. Thus, resulting in less point in voting for smaller parties e.g. Liberal Democrats. STV ensures a fair distribution of seats, ensuring the votes of the many count. Another system in PR is the party-list system. Through this, the elector votes are not for a single candidate but a list. Each list is submitted by a different party however, an individual may put forward his own. This system is used in Chile, where district magnitude may vary. Chile elects its members by using two seats constituencies. The overall proportion depends on the district magnitude; the higher the proportion the higher the magnitude. Two principles are involved in this, the largest remainder and the higher average rule. Under the highest average rule, seats are assigned one at a time to the party with the highest total. After the assignment of each seat, the party that wins is adjusted. The original vote is divided by the number of seats won, and adding one.
Another method is the additional-member system. This combines proportionality with a geographic link with a citizen and a member of the legislature characteristic of the constituency. This was adopted by many areas after the fall of communism in the east of Europe, such as Germany after WWII. Half of the legislature is elected through constituencies and the other half through PR. Two votes are casted by each person, for a party and a person. The party vote is usually the basis for determining the composition of the legislature.
During the 1980-90s, movements pressed for a change in voting systems. PR in Britain was adopted to the European Parliament as well as others such as local elections in Ireland and London. Other European countries such as Italy adopted a modified constituency based system to reduce the number of political parties in the legislature to create cabinets more stable. The systems mentioned previously, the STV, additional member and party list are part of PR. This is used in order to create stable cabinet and has a multitude of benefits.
Firstly, every vote is counted. Not only does this give power to the constituencies, but allows seats to be produced in proportion to votes. Thus, the phenomenon of the wasted vote is rid of. This is also beneficial to third parties as fairness is ensured. Some argue that it becomes more difficult to ensure accountability to electors – if a coalition was to be formed. However, a coalition enjoying majority support can ensure the continuity of a policy than changes in government under the existing first past the post system. These can prove to be stable and effective.
One of the strongest arguments in favour of a move towards proportional representation is dissatisfaction with the current FPTP system. The FPTP system, because of single-member constituencies can result in the existence of so-called safe seats (estimated by the Electoral Reform Society to be 368 seats of the total 650 constituencies ahead of the 2015 General Election). Indeed, 225 constituencies have not changed hands since before 1950, despite big changes in cultural attitudes and the UK’s demography. In a safe seat, such as David Cameron’s Witney constituency which has been in Tory hands since 1910, any voters who identify with the non-majority party may feel that there is no chance of their view being represented, and this can in turn reduce voter turnout and political participation (accentuated by voters who tend to identify with the dominant party in a particular safe seat and feel that there is no need to turn out at all because their chosen party will win regardless of their vote). However, there is actually scant evidence available to suggest that voter turnout is higher in proportional systems. In the UK, devolved elections typically have lower turnout despite using a range of proportional representation systems. The 2014 European elections only had a turnout of 35.6%, worse than the (still poor) turnout across Europe of 42.6%.
This situation may be worsened in a winner-take-all system as a result of gerrymandering e.g. the controversy over the Boundary Commission’s recent review of constituency boundaries which seemed to protect Tory seats over Labour and Lib Dem seats. This said, previously safe Labour seats in Scotland were lost to the SNP in the 2015 General Election, showing that the FPTP system can lead to different outcomes if there is enough consensus amongst voters that a change is needed.
The inevitable result of using a more proportionally representative system for Westminster is the increased likelihood of coalition government. Coalition governments can sometimes take time to form e.g. it took around a week for Cameron and Clegg to form a government. In the meantime, there is effectively a power vacuum, and no Parliament – this reduces the quality of representation. Arguably a week is not a long time, but in some countries such as Germany and Greece, coalition governments take much longer to form. Furthermore, whilst coalition government can lead to greater compromise and conciliation between parties in relation to policy-making, it can also slow down the policy-making process if there are strong internal disagreements (e.g. in the Tory-Lib Dem coalition there were different views on electoral reform, university tuition fees, military intervention overseas and so on). This makes government less effective and reduces the desirability of proportional representation.
Coalition government also means that the governing group have no clear mandatebecause their combined policies, such as the Coalition Agreement, have not met with the direct approval of the electorate at the ballot box via a manifesto. Furthermore, the compromises reached between different parties may actually lead to voter anger if they feel that their views are even less likely to be represented e.g. the Lib Dem climbdown over the abolition of university tuition fees (a key manifesto pledge) leading to “punishment” of the Lib Dems at the 2015 General Election, effectively removing them almost completely from the Commons. This has resulted in instability in the political system at Westminster, with the Lib Dem’s position as 3rd most populous party being taken by the SNP, which only has Scottish interests at heart.
Overall, whilst the current FPTP system for Westminster elections certainly has its flaws, stable government and a close link between MPs and their constituents are key strengths that would be lost if the UK moved towards a more proportional system.