Voices & Choices

Bloomberg magazine editorial: UK should adopt proportional representation

Bloomberg magazine editorial: UK should adopt proportional representation
As my colleague Sarah  John cogently explains on the FairVote blog, the winner-take-all, plurality (a.k.a.,"top of the heap") system in the United Kingdom has broken down.

Bloomberg Businessweek this week has an editorial in its print edition in which it concludes that "[British prime minister David] Cameron's government should make a priority of introducing an element of proportional representation." The online edition has a more detailed editorial excerpted below:

"Cameron's complicated new reality is partly a consequence of "first-past-the-post" elections that count only the votes of the winners. It disproportionately rewards parties whose votes are regionally concentrated -- such as the SNP [Scottish Nationalist Party] -- and penalizes those whose supporters are more evenly distributed across the country, such as the U.K. Independence Party. UKIP won more than twice as many votes as the SNP but 1/56th the number of seats. Even within Scotland, the SNP won, not 95 percent of the vote as their representation at Westminster would suggest, but about half.

"This system was tolerated when it supported a two-party system, but that no longer exists. Now that Britain's parliamentary order relies on multiple parties, and the U.K. is becoming more a union of nations than a centralized state, this way of electing the legislature has become undemocratic and unsustainable for a U.K. that includes Scotland. Cameron's majority government should make a priority of electoral reform -- to introduce an element of proportional representation. It will also need to devolve further powers to Scotland and begin a much broader constitutional change."

The case for proportional representation in the United Kingdom is strong, but it's different than the equally strong case for reform in the United States. We have a different party system (one with two "big tent" umbrella parties that historically could accommodate relatively large differences in views) and a different governmental system (we  have a presidential system, while the UK has a parliamentary system), but there is a common reality: old methods of winner-take-all, plurality voting have broken down with shifts in our demography, know-how of political consultants, big money politics and the media.

For more on our case for changing to American-style forms of proportional representation -- ideally the multi-winner form of ranked choice voting system -- see our Monopoly Politics and the Fair Voting Solution report and the paper I coauthored with Drew Spencer for our recent Democracy Slam that was rated by the audience and judges has likely to have the most positive impact on our elections among the range of major reforms presented at the Slam.

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