Election and constitution: the debate continues

by
05 June 2015

iStock

From the Revd Matthew Baynham

Sir, - The chief vice of our electoral system is caused by a combination of the factors that your correspondents ( Letters, 29 May) raise. Because one third of us did not vote, and, of those who did, about two-fifths voted Conservative, the first-past-the-post system has given an overall majority to a party for whom three-quarters of us did not vote.

This would matter less if the system did not give such unfettered power to the winning party. Proportional representation would be one way to combat this. An elected Second Chamber would be another. Some real separation of powers between the legislature and the executive might be a third. But our system has none of these checks. All we have is the unelected House of Lords, constitutionally obliged not to hold the Government up for long.

Notably, this is the situation in England only. In Scotland, there already is a Second Chamber, elected by proportional representation. The Scottish people have fairly clearly decided that they are going to use it as a bulwark against a British government with which they disagree. Wales has a similar arrangement, which the people may use similarly, if they choose.

So, when we hear, as we shortly shall, the Conservative Party wittering about English votes for English laws and the iniquitous boundaries of some English constituencies, perhaps we might sweetly suggest that a similar Second Chamber for England, elected by proportional representation, would meet all the concerns that they purport to have - and also make our electoral system nationally rational.

 

MATTHEW BAYNHAM
Y Ficerdy, Penrhiwgaled Lane
Cross Inn, Ceredigion SA45 9RW

 

From Mr Alan Bartley

Sir, - With apparent pride, the Rt Revd Dr Colin Buchanan draws attention to the Church of England's adoption of the single transferable vote as showing the way to a fairer voting system, and says that the General Synod has several times recommended this to our politicians ( Letters, 29 May). But surely there is still the serious injustice of denying the laity a direct say in who represents them in the Synod.

As for the parliamentary representation: the merit of the two-party system, besides its favouring stable government, was that it forced prospective politicians to come through the ranks of the two main parties, thus weeding out those with impractical and extreme views. If we are to return to this, the main parties need to review the over-tight discipline that seeks to exclude mavericks and suppress dissent from the politically correct party line.

The idea that MPs represent constituents is relatively new. The older view was that, once elected, MPs had to represent the interest of the whole country, not just their constituency. Again, while the constituency system works well, on party-political points one can hardly expect an MP to represent a constituent in opposition to his own convictions and those of his party, and this leaves constituents without a champion when this happens.

 

ALAN BARTLEY
17 Francis Road
Greenford UB6 7AD

 

From Prebendary Pat Dearnley

Sir, - Peter Ould writes ( Letters, 29 May) that it is nonsensical to regard PR as a more just electoral system than any other. Instead, since no one method is perfect, the argument should be about which is preferable. He then raises two objections of his own against PR, namely, residence and accountability.

Regarding residence, he notes that, in European parliaments that use PR, members may live 100 miles from their constituents. In the UK, most MPs, in practice, reside more than 100 miles from their constituency, having a base there for occasional surgeries or special meetings. As for accountability, accessibility through surgeries and correspondence should be no more difficult in multi-member constituencies than under the current single-member system.

Growing up in north-east Surrey with four strongly Conservative-supporting constituencies, I soon recognised that the 25 per cent of those who voted Labour would never secure a representative in Parliament. Conversely, it was apparent to me, as a resident for two general elections in Liverpool, that a similar percentage of staunch Tories in four traditionally Labour seats would be disappointed every time.

It is hardly surprising that in both regions eligible voters felt that it was a waste of time going to the ballot box. In a multi-member constituency, the prospect of gaining one representative would have encouraged both minorities. From experience of participating in 15 general elections in seven very different constituencies, I conclude that it is the current first-past-the-post system that is nonsensical.

 

PAT DEARNLEY
14 Beanlands Parade
Ilkley LS29 8EW

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear alongside your letter.

Latest Cartoon

The Church Times Podcast

Interviews and news analysis from the Church Times team. Listen to this week’s episode online

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read five articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)