From the Revd Peter Ould
Sir, - The article by the Rt Revd Martyn Jarrett about the
urgent need for electoral reform (Comment, 22
May) is ultimately an argument by assertion, and certainly not
in any way a matter of justice.
It is debatable whether any one form of voting is morally
superior to another. It is an entirely subjective argument that
says that forms of proportional representation (PR) are more just
than plurality voting. PR always (with the exception of the
additional-member system as used in Germany and Scotland, and even
in those places there are problems) destroys the link between a
constituency and a single MP, thereby making individual MPs less
accountable to their electorate.
In countries with a strict list PR system, constituencies end up
having allocated to them an MP who may not even live within 100
miles. Even under the additional-member systems, half the MPs don't
have to try to do anything for specific constituents.
At the end of the day, the decision on which electoral system to
have comes down to two things. First, there is a choice of how
proportional you want the final parliament to be. Some people
prefer proportionality, but it is ultimately a subjective opinion
whether that is desirable. If Bishop Jarrett wants to argue that
there is some objective morality that means that a representative
democracy needs to be highly proportional, by all means let him
have a go. I can't see it in the Bible anywhere. You may think PR
is more "just"; I just don't see it.
Second, there is a choice to be made about how accountable MPs
are. Single-member constituencies lead to direct local
accountability. Start moving to the single transferable vote, and
you water down that direct connection. If you have straight
national PR, then you lose that local accountability altogether.
For some, this notion of local accountability is a factor that
makes first-past-the-post far more just than PR systems.
The choice of electoral systems is a trade-off of benefits and
drawbacks. By all means argue for one position or the other on the
basis of the particular aspects of the system you prefer, but let's
put on to one side the nonsensical notion that PR is intrinsically
morally superior to first-past-the-post.
3 Goudhurst Close,
Canterbury CT2 7TU
From Mr Michael R. Cavaghan-Pack
Sir, - Proportional representation, for which Bishop Martyn
Jarrett makes an impassioned plea, was rejected in the 2011
referendum by 67.9 per cent to 32.1 per cent. He makes no mention
of this, presumably because he believes right is on his side; but
at least he did not follow European practice by demanding a rerun
on the grounds that the wrong result was reached!
Of course, the New Testament way of electing to office is by the
casting of lots (Acts 1.26). Were this adopted for national
elections, randomness would be combined with a measure of
proportionality in an exciting new way; and, in one fell swoop,
opinion polls would be rendered defunct and the funding of
political parties unnecessary, and a huge saving in electoral costs
would be garnered for everyone.
MICHAEL R. CAVAGHAN-PACK
The Manor House,
Somerset TA2 8RH
From the Rt Revd Dr Colin Buchanan
Sir, - It was good to read the article by my friend Bishop
Martyn Jarrett about electoral reform. While I strongly endorse
what he has written about the recent General Election, I wonder
whether he has been too modest on behalf of the Church of England
in omitting any mention of our corporate witness to fair voting by
our use of the single transferable vote (STV).
This came in at the very birth of the Church Assembly in 1920,
when Parliament itself had gone near to introducing it for general
elections. Not only has the central body of the Church of England
sustained STV since then for its own election processes, but three
times at least since the General Synod started it has called almost
unanimously on the main political parties to adopt STV as part of
their own policies for constitutional reform.
The disadvantaged smaller parties see this need clearly; the
larger parties, greatly advantaged by the disproportional returns
from first-past-the-post, have generally declined to notice. We
ought to go on pressing them: it is a justice question.
And with our own General Synod elections due this autumn, all
the licensed clergy and all the lay electors from each deanery
synod will find themselves using this just system of election, and
will be able to see the results in those elected. As we hold the
electoral high moral ground (and ought to be preaching more
strongly from it), we would be wise both to get our minds round it,
and exercise our full set of preferences within it. Long may it
last and its use expand.
(Hon. President of Electoral Reform Society, 2005-12)
21 The Drive,
Leeds LS17 7QB
From the Revd Julian Dunn
Sir, - If the UK Government is the government of all the people,
surely all the people should be involved in its election. A number
of countries, e.g. Australia, have compulsory voting, a reform that
Bishop Martyn Jarrett seems not to have considered.
One third of the electorate did not vote on 7 May and, ever
since the poll tax, an unknown number have failed to register; but
I have yet to hear a politician of any party advocate what would
surely constitute a universal suffrage.
Oxon OX44 7LS