Arguments in favour of AV from the Plant and Jenkins Commissions

The Plant Commission 1990-1993

“There are whole areas of the country represented almost exclusively by one party in Parliament.  We regard this as wholly undesirable.”

“This leads to a sense of alienation and frustration in these regions where people feel they lack political representation.”

“We believe that there is evidence that a change of culture and style of politics which a reformed electoral system would produce would make politics more attractive to women.”

“House of Commons and central government needs enhanced legitimacy and this can only be achieved by a change in the electoral system which makes them more sensitive to regional issues and interests.  This objective requires a move away from First Past the Post (FPTP).”

“It may be argued that the task of Labour is to formulate policies which overcome the geographical concentration of votes and have national policies to enable us to win in the South.  It is not clear there is a set of coherent national policies available to meet this need.”

“It can hardly be good for any national party to have no representation in some areas of the country.”

“A new system must seek to provide representation for Labour voters where there is a substantial Labour vote.”

“FPTP depends on doctrine of the mandate.  We question this assumption when governments can win large majorities on a minority of the vote and pursue unpopular policies (Poll Tax).”

“Mandate via manifesto brought into disrepute by present government (John Major’s) intent on cuts and reductions not in manifesto.”

“FPTP does not rule out hung Parliaments.  None of our reform options would guarantee hung Parliaments.”

“FPTP gives parties an incentive to occupy the centre of political spectrum – this has happened – as such, critics of PR (or reform) cannot claim that FPTP means preservation of ideological purity.”

“We have to be concerned of the needs of those who depend on a strong Labour input into government rather than maintaining a high level of ideological purity at the cost of political impotence.”

“It is surely better to be able to carry out a very substantial part of a programme rather than be left powerless to make a difference to the lives of those who have suffered the depredations of a Conservative Government elected with just over 40 % of the vote.  This will be misrepresented as defeatism.  We reject this view.”

“FPTP can hardly be defended as being in the electoral interest of the Labour Party only having produced two good working majorities (1945, 1966 before 1997 – 2010).”

“If achievement of democratic socialist values has to depend on FPTP and strong and effective government this is supposed to produce, then its contribution to these values has historically been extremely intermittent.”

“FPTP has a record of producing strong single party governments, but we note that on all but two occasions (before 1997) they have been Conservative Governments.”

“FPTP can produce hung Parliaments with more minor parties than would be typical under PR systems.  In 1987 there were 11 parties in the Commons, far more than in most PR countries.”

“It is a travesty to argue that reform would mean unstable government.  FPTP has hardly produced effective government.”

“Reform would be fundamental alteration in British political tradition.  But many of us feel that ‘tradition’ is at the heart of some of the most intractable British problems.”

“Genuine concern that minor parties could transfer allegiance without election. But Labour is moving towards a written constitution and there is no reason of principle why a change in government could not be put to electorate without specified time.  We went to Germany and SPD senior members made it clear that SPD wanted the change in 1982.  The election followed within six months and approved the change.”

“Political parties are not and should not be seen like religious sects keen to maintain clear boundaries of belief and anathematising those who want to work across boundaries.  Maintaining such a tribal approach make parties appear irrelevant to modern world.”

“FPTP can give hung Parliaments and legitimacy of mandate will be in doubt.  This leads to a strong democratic claim that wider interests than that of one party would have to taken into account.”

“Claims of deals behind closed doors are a travesty of what would happen.  Party leaders have to take account of MPs and other democratic pressures.  We know from local government that the evidence is that local Labour leaders are very much accountable to Groups and CLPs in hung or balanced Councils.”

“If Labour was largest party in these circumstances under FPTP we wonder whether defenders of FPTP would seriously argue that Labour should not seek power because we could not countenance the possibility of negotiation with others.”

“We would not want to endorse any system which might lead in any way to a diminution in participation in politics by the ordinary citizen.  People are likely to be put off by a political system which can lead to strong single party government which represents only a minority of the people.”

“We are looking for a renewal of British democracy.  We believe voting reform is an indispensible element.  Labour will be judged on its commitment to democracy by the attitude to voting reform.  We believe Labour should stand for a new style of politics – which accommodates pluralism – which allows majority interests in society to assert themselves.”

“Voting reform is therefore an opportunity for Labour to distinguish itself completely from the Conservatives and place democracy above all the vested interests in the nation.”

“This image and morality of Labour’s position means we can be quite positive about being a beneficiary of FPTP in order to bring about a change to the system.”

The Jenkins Commission 1997-1998

“Nor does the respect in which Parliament is currently held, or the turn-out at elections, or the degree of commitment to the political process exhibited, particularly by the young, constitute a ringing endorsement of the present system.”

“Those who resist change have to argue that the preference of a fifth to a quarter of the nation is irresponsibly inimical to the British tradition, and that such a considerable proportion ought either to be forced back into a more acceptable pattern of behaviour or effectively ignored.”

“While systemic bias could, on the record, be argued to display a certain impartiality, running for one long period in favour of one party and then for another period in favour of another, such irrational alternations must be held as a count against the system.  It is moreover a bias which could not by definition occur in a fully proportional system and which would be reduced by an significant move in that direction.”

“1951 – when the Conservatives although polling 250,000 less votes than Labour, won a small overall majority of 17 seats and skilfully built 13 years of power on this slender base.  The irony of that result for Labour was that in terms of crosses on ballot paper it was their best result ever.  Both in absolute numbers and percentage of the votes cast they did better than they have ever done before, or have ever done since – better than in 1945, better than in 1997 – and yet they lost.”

“A fundamental weakness of FPTP is that it is inherently ill-at-ease with anything more than a two-party system.  It is a heavy count against a system which claims the special virtue of each MP being the chosen representative if, in the case of nearly half of them, more of the electors voted against them than for them.”

“The same properties of FPTP tend to make it geographically divisive between the two main leading parties, even though each of them can from time to time be rewarded by it with a vast jackpot.  … the 1997 election drove Conservatives out of even minimal representation in Scotland, Wales and the big provincial cities of England.  … in both 1983 and 1987, there was not Labour MP for a predominantly rural English constituency.  This is a bifurcation which has recently become increasingly sharp.  Such apartheid in electoral outcome is a heavy count against the system which produces it.  It is a new form of Disraeli’s two nations.”

“There has been an element of ‘The devil was sick, the devil a monk would be, the devil was well, the devil a devil he’d be’ about the attitude of all parties to electoral reform.  Their desire to improve the electoral system has tended to vary in inverse proportion to do anything about it. … On the grounds of wider statesmanship, perhaps with a shrewd instinct that when you have as much as this you are historically very unlikely to hold anything like the whole of it … the Labour government will have the unique distinction of having broken the spell under which parties when they want reform do not have the power and when they have the power do not want to reform.”

“That the voters do not get the representation they want is more important than the parties do not get the seats to which they think they are entitled. Parties should, like the electoral system, be servants rather than masters.  …  if the nation as a whole is to function well they need also to show some respect for the opinion of their opponents.”

“A natural tendency of the system (FPTP) to disunite than to unite the country. FPTP exaggerates movements of opinion.  There are also disadvantages to ‘landslide’ majorities which do not in general ondoce to the effective working of the House of Commons.  A party’s breadth of appeal is surely a favourable factor from the point of view of national cohesion, and its discouragement a count against an electoral system which heavily under-rewards it.”

“FPTP does not allow the elector to exercise a free choice in both the selection of a constituency representative and the determination of the government of the country.  It forces the voter to give priority to one or the other, and the evidence is that in the great majority of cases he or she deems it more important who is Prime Minister than who is member for their local constituency.”

“FPTP … narrows the terrain over which the political battle is fought, and also, in an associated or not unidentical point, excludes many voters from ever helping to elect a winning candidate.  Outside the chosen arena voters were deprived of (or spared from) the visits of party leaders, saw few canvassers, and were generally treated (by both sides) as irrevocably damned or sufficiently saved as to qualify for being taken for granted.”

“The semi-corollary of a high proportion of the constituencies being in “safe-seat” territory is not merely that many voters pass their entire adult lives without ever voting for a winning candidate but that they also do so without any realistic hope of influencing a result.”

“The role of the House of Commons is to ensure that the executive is held fully accountable for its actions.  This task is hard when governments elected by minority votes can command large majorities.  Fortified by the whipping system, by their natural loyalty to their leader of most MPs and by an equally natural desire on the part of many for political preferment, this can lead to what Lord Hailsham in 1976 memorably described as ‘elective dictatorship’.”