Polly Toynbee suggests that proportional representation (PR) is now mainstream party thinking, but she does not elaborate on how this might be achieved in the face of entrenched opposition from the Tory party (This leadership contest is a chance to seal electoral reform, 14 January).
The experience of the Lib Dems in Canterbury at the last general election was salutary. Tim Walker, the Lib Dem candidate, took the principled decision to stand down when he realised that his votes would detract from support for Rosie Duffield, the sitting Labour MP. Sadly, and against the wishes of many in the local party, Lib Dem HQ installed another candidate. However, without the support of local members, she failed to make an impact and Rosie Duffield was elected with an increased majority.
The lesson from this is that local parties are best placed to realise the potential of building a progressive alliance. Local parties must be given autonomy from the heavy hand of the central party HQ to stand aside in favour of the party and candidate most likely to win and advocate for proportional representation.
Dr Peter Old
• If there’s to be a referendum on PR, we can do better than try again to go for simple AV (as in 2011). I hope campaigners will read the Jenkins report (1998). It recommends a voting system in which 80% to 85% of MPs are elected on an individual constituency basis (so that everyone has their MP) with the remainder elected on a corrective top-up basis, significantly reducing the disproportionality and geographical divisiveness inherent in the first-past-the-post system.
In the past, only the “third party” has wanted to be rid of FPTP. But the recent general election will have made it manifest to many (including in the Labour party) that only some form of PR will deliver us from the Tories. Perhaps it is now clear to most people that the “leader’s bonus”, which in 2019 the Tories got in England and Wales and the SNP got in Scotland, simply isn’t fair.
Of course the present government won’t want a bill for such a referendum. Perhaps someone could let them know that this concerns the functioning of our democracy, and the government of the people must seek to determine the will of the people (as they might put it).
• We have equal pay and equal rights, why not equal votes? It’s a bit more catchy than proportional representation as a campaign slogan.
Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands
• The 2019 Conservative manifesto committed to “making sure every vote counts the same – the cornerstone of democracy”. As I pointed out in the Lords debate last week, this is mathematically impossible under FPTP. Last month, electoral inequality ranged from votes required to elect a Green MP to those for a SNP MP by a factor of 33:1. To fulfil its pledge the government will have to address this in its remit for the proposed Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission.
Liberal Democrat political and constitutional reform spokesperson, House of Lords
• Your assertion (Editorial, 13 January) that “Labour’s would-be leaders must take up the question of electoral reform” will no doubt please those parties that fared badly in last month’s general election.
PR is clearly attractive to smaller parties, as it would give them the chance to leapfrog into government as part of a coalition even though they don’t win many seats.
It is disingenuous to suggest that such a system is somehow fairer than FPTP. On the contrary, PR would restrict the ordinary voter to plumping for a party while having no control of its potential coalition partners or of the political programme that such a coalition might then seek to implement.
• Polly Toynbee cites some powerful statistics about numbers of votes per elected MP which support the case for PR. But its proponents need to deal with a number of questions. Firstly, does PR enable the link between MPs and their constituencies to be maintained? If so, how? Secondly, how does PR cope with the four nations of the UK where there are regional parties as well as national parties?
Some say that single transferable voting in each constituency would deal with these issues, and has an element of PR sufficient to meet the criticisms of FPTP. But STV assigns the same value to second preference votes as to first preferences. Some would describe this as unfair.
One form of STV which might deal with all of these issues is to assign a value of a half-vote to second preferences, a third of a vote to third preferences, and so on. It could be named proportional transferable voting. I suggest that this would meet the requirements outlined by Peter Kellner, and supported by Keir Starmer and Jess Phillips.
• Whatever the flaws of PR, the risk to the “constituency link”, which Keir Starmer is keen to protect, need not be one of them. Having several MPs in one constituency is no less intimate than being a patient in a group practice of GPs. In both, you can choose which one suits your particular concern, and you may find that colleagues support each other on behalf of their constituents.
Dr Sebastian Kraemer
• Polly Toynbee writes that tactical voting won no seats in December’s election. In ousting the sitting Tory MP in St Albans, voters certainly think tactical voting secured a Liberal victory here.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
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