Conservative MPs back proportional representation, arguing First Past the Post “encourages conflict and aggression”

Josiah Mortimer
Author:
Josiah Mortimer

Posted on the 26th April 2019

MPs from across the spectrum made the case for reforming the Commons’ ‘divisive, broken electoral system’ on Tuesday, in a Westminster Hall debate on proportional representation.

The Lib Dems, Green Party, SNP, Plaid Cymru, members of Change UK (who organised the debate) and many Labour MPs back adopting a fairer voting system. But until now, few Conservative MPs have spoken up about the need for change.

Tuesday’s debate was highly significant, with several Conservative MPs speaking out in favour of electoral reform.

Daniel Poulter, Conservative MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, said: “There is a strong case and good evidence that in countries with proportional representation, or a more proportional system, there tends to be more consensus government, which tends to recognise certain common goods..In many other countries in Europe, climate change’s importance in the legislative agenda is reinforced by that sort of consensus politics.

“For example, the work done by the former leader of the Labour party, Edward Miliband, when he was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in the latter part of the last decade, was broadly supported across the House, but if there had been a sudden lurch to a Government who perhaps did not believe in climate change, a lot of that work could have been undone under the British system. That is much harder to do under a proportional system, under which there has to be much more work through consensus between political parties.”

Derek Thomas speaks on Proportional Representation

Below we share extracts from the speech by Derek Thomas, who is Conservative MP for St Ives, West Cornwall and Scilly Isles:

I recognise that there is a need to look at our electoral system and to explore electoral system reform. Why do I believe that?

I first stood for election in 2009, in the midst of the expenses scandal. We cannot blame this system for the expenses scandal but, despite having never been in this place before, I knew what it was to face people who had completely lost trust in MPs and the system that elected them to this place. As a result, ever since I was elected, it has been important to me that we find ways to restore trust in politics.

The problem is that that has not been very successful; since that time, we seem to have continued to erode trust in British politicians and the democratic system. We have a job to do and we need to look at whatever is necessary to restore trust in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with all our history and heritage and all that we stand for, for the future.

We exist at a time in this place when huge chunks of our constituents have almost given up on us and what we stand for. It is really important for the United Kingdom that we do something about that. I urge the Government not to ignore the issue and to look at what can be achieved.

In Cornwall in 2017, sadly, many of the smaller parties, which did reasonably well in 2015, felt that there was no purpose in even putting forward candidates, so they refrained from even standing. That meant that the three main political parties shared about 98% of all the votes that were there to be had. It was a shame to me that people across Cornwall, including my constituents, felt there was no point in engaging in the 2017 election.

People must have the opportunity to feel that they have a stake in their democracy, as well as a voice. Serious consideration should be given to electoral system reform. When I discuss the subject with people, I make it clear that we must retain the local constituency link [Editor: as STV does].

Our system encourages conflict and aggression; people are shocked to see the adversarial nature of this place. I agree with my hon. Friend Vicky Ford that proportional representation or any type of electoral system reform will not be the silver bullet that some believe it would be. 

However, something must be done to secure a more constructive and productive, and less adversarial, Parliament. I would love that: as a Back-Bencher, I find that working with colleagues across the House, through Select Committees or all-party parliamentary groups, can be really constructive. The idea that we sit opposite each other, trying to pull the most curious faces that we can, seems peculiar to me.

It is not for the main political parties to sort this out. I suggest to the Minister that the Government find an independent means to review our current system and see what opportunity exists to improve public trust and public engagement through electoral system reform. It is right that we look at this seriously, that we take voters seriously and that we listen to what they have to say.

I believe there is a sea-change in Great Britain and a desire to find a different way of moving forward…It would be better for the Government and the main Opposition parties to be ahead of the curve.

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