Frequently Asked Questions about PR


  1. Does Proportional Representation increase the power of political parties?
  2. Does Proportional Representation lead to permanent coalition governments?
  3. Would it take longer to count the votes and announce the winners if we had Proportional Representation?
  4. Is there only one way to achieve Proportional Representation?
  5. Is Proportional Representation used anywhere within the UK?
  6. Is Proportional Representation used anywhere outside the UK?
  7. Does Proportional Representation cause lots of parties in Parliament?
  8. Does Proportional Representation make it easier for extremists to gain power?
  9. Does Proportional Representation give too much power to minority centre parties?
  10. Does Proportional Representation allow party machines to choose the government instead of voters?
  11. Does Proportional Representation create political instability?
  12. Can Proportional Representation increase the number of women MPs and MPs from ethnic minorities?
  13. What's wrong with the system we've always had?
  14. Is Proportional Representation foreign?
  15. Is Proportional Representation complicated?
  16. Do you have to vote for a party instead of an individual with Proportional Representation?
  17. Would we lose the link we have now with our MPs?
  18. Did Proportional Representation bring Hitler and the Nazis to power?


Does Proportional Representation increase the power of political parties?

Although Proportional Representation (PR) based on list systems can increase the power of the party machines, PR by the Single Transferable Vote (STV) actually reduces it and increases the power of voters. This because STV lets voters choose not only between parties but also between candidates of the same party. Remember the old disproportionate "first past the post" system is a list system anyway - usually with only one line and the parties often decide who will be elected.

Does Proportional Representation lead to permanent coalition governments?

No. If coalition governments are elected, it is only because the voters have chosen not to give a majority to any one party but they can if they want to. With the old disproportionate "first past the post" system, most governments are elected by only about 4 out of 10 of the voters.

Would it take longer to count the votes and announce the winners if we had Proportional Representation?

With electronic systems, counting for an election by Proportional Representation need not take any longer than at present but, if it does, it will be worth it to get the right result. With the old disproportionate "first past the post" system, results are usually quick but they are also usually wrong; they are not what the people voted for.

Is there only one way to achieve Proportional Representation?

No, there are numerous voting systems that will provide proportional representation. STV is unique in that it does not only ensure each political party receives its fair share of seats but it also provides proportionality on any criteria which the voters feel is important. For example if 75% of people voted for pro-European candidates then pro-European candidates would fill about 75% of the seats. This principle will hold true for any decision(s) which the voters feel matter to them.

Is Proportional Representation used anywhere within the UK?

Yes, all European elections in Great Britain are carried out using the D'Hondt method which is a form of PR. In Northern Ireland, PR by the single transferable vote is used for European elections, Assembly elections and local elections. In Scotland, PR is used for Scottish Parliament elections and (from 2007) local elections. PR is also used to elect members of the Welsh Assembly and Greater London Assembly.

Is Proportional Representation used anywhere outside the UK?

Yes, Australia uses the single transferable vote form of PR to elect its Senate and the Republic of Ireland uses it to elect the Dáil Éireann (lower house of the Irish Parliament). Other European countries using forms of PR include Denmark, Germany, Greece, Sweden and Switzerland. PR is also used by many non-European countries such as Argentina, South Africa and Venezuela.

Does Proportional Representation cause lots of parties in Parliament?

No, The number of parties in a parliament seems to depend more on the national political culture than in the voting system. For example, Germany with Proportional Representation (PR) usually has fewer parties in parliament than France without PR. However, if the Single Transferable Vote (STV) has any effect on the number of parties represented, it is more likely to reduce, than increase, them. This is because, unlike most PR systems, STV encourages each party to maximize its votes by nominating a broad range of candidates and this discourages them from splitting off to form their own parties.

Does Proportional Representation make it easier for extremists to gain power?

No. Although it may make it easier for them to gain a little representation, it makes it harder for them to gain power because their representation will be roughly proportionate to their number of votes. Hitler formed a minority government after the 1933 PR election in Germany and did not gain full power until he seized it in a Putsch. Goering's evidence in his war crimes trial was that, under the British "first past the post" system, Hitler's Nazis would have won every seat.

Does Proportional Representation give too much power to minority centre parties?

No. The fear that a minority centre party would always have a share of power and exercise influence beyond its support is groundless. It would have power to modify the policies of a larger party to reflect the views of the majority of voters but, if it pressed its own, minority policies too hard, the larger party could call its bluff. The larger party could form a minority government and know that the smaller one would probably not want to force an election or it could form a grand coalition with the other large party. This has happened sometimes in Germany and in English local government.

Does Proportional Representation allow party machines to choose the government instead of voters?

No. With Proportional Representation by the Single Transferable Vote, voters can indicate with their votes what coalition they would like. Politicians who ignored this would probably suffer at the next election.

Does Proportional Representation create political instability?

On the contrary, Proportional Representation would create more stable government. The "first past the post" system creates an illusion of stability that masks instability. The "first past the post" system allows one government, with only minority support in the country, to introduce controversial measures only to see them reversed by another government, also with only minority support in the country. That is hardly stability! Mrs Thatcher's large majority in the Commons created the illusion of a mandate to introduce the notorious Poll Tax, although her majority was based on only a minority of votes. That mistake led eventually to her downfall. If the Thatcher Government had depended on minority party support, she could not have made that fatal mistake.

Can Proportional Representation increase the number of women MPs and MPs from ethnic minorities?

Yes. A political party's aim is to maximize its representation so, in a single-member constituency, it will try to nominate the one candidate who it considers has the best chance of winning. Most often, this will be a middle class white man and it does not really matter to the party if women and ethnic minorities are under-represented.However, with any form of Proportional Representation (PR), the best way to maximize its representation is to appeal to as many groups as possible by nominating members of those groups. PR would, therefore, encourage parties to nominate more women and members of ethnic minorities.The Single Transferable Vote (STV) form of PR in particular would enable people to vote for women and/or ethnic minority candidates if they wanted more of them in Parliament.

What's wrong with the system we've always had?

Where do we start? Everything is wrong with it. It is inefficient, unrepresentative and unfair. It denies representation to small minorities and over represents large minorities. It alienates the unrepresented and creates an elected dictatorship in which a Government, supported by only a minority of voters, can exercise virtually absolute control over us all. In fact, we haven't always had this system. Before the Reform Act 1832, men (women couldn't vote) cast their votes by a show of hands so woe betide anyone who voted against the local squire! And, of course, women didn't get the vote until after the First World War. Now a further improvement is long overdue.

Is Proportional Representation foreign?

There are many forms of Proportional Representation, some invented in the UK and some abroad. The one we recommend is the "Single Transferable Vote", which was invented in the UK. It is already used for local elections in Scotland and all elections in Northern Ireland except for elections to the House of Commons.

Is Proportional Representation complicated?

Most European countries use some form of Proportional Representation (PR) without confusing voters. STV Action does not believe that British voters are less intelligent than German, Spanish or Polish voters who all vote by PR or Irish voters who use the Single Transferable Vote PR system that we recommend.

Do you have to vote for a party instead of an individual with Proportional Representation?

Although some systems of Proportional Representation (PR) require people to vote for parties, the Single Transferable Voter system that STV Action recommends encourages people to vote for individual candidates – more than they can under the old "first past the post" system.

Would we lose the link we have now with our MPs?

The so-called link we have now is rather one-sided. Although many MPs may feel a link with their constituents, the feeling is not always reciprocated. After all, most constituents will either have voted against the MP or not voted at all. With STV, constituencies would be larger and there would be several MPs (say, 5) for each one. Constituents would, therefore, have a choice of MPs to approach with their problems and most constituents - unlike now - would have at least one MP of their own party - probably an MP for whom they voted. We believe this would strengthen and improve links between MPs and their constituents.

Did Proportional Representation bring Hitler and the Nazis to power?

No. As Enid Lakeman wrote in How Democracies Vote, "Once public opinion had turned to the Nazis, an election under a majority system [e.g.First Past The Post], would have resulted in a landslide in their favour. Under proportional representation, the party never won a majority in the Reichstag in a free election." The Nazis seized power in a Putsch. Miss Lakeman adds that Hermann Goering gave evidence in his war crimes trial that, under the British system, the Nazis would have won every seat in the 1933 election.