PR as code for Lib-Dem coalition

Submitted by AWL on 12 October, 2021 - 5:25
Progressive Alliance graphic

I agree with Billy Hayes (interview in Solidarity 608) that proportional representation is more democratic than First Past The Post (FPTP).

I think he’s closing his eyes, though, to the political drift shown in many of the PR motions to Labour conference: “In 19 of the last 20 general elections [back to 1950] parties to the left of the Conservatives won the popular vote yet the Tories have governed for two-thirds of that time”.

The exception would be 2015, when Tories plus Ulster Unionists plus UKIP added to over 50%. (Going back further, the Tories alone got 50.2% in 1900).

But in every election ever, parties to the right of Labour have won the popular vote. The assumption projected is that “to-the-left-of-the-Tories”, essentially Labour/Lib-Dem, coalitions should govern continuously.

Yet the major coalition governments of modern British history outside wartimes (after World War 1, in 1931-9, and 2010-5) were all Tory-Liberal coalitions (plus a few “National Labour” in 1931-9).

In 1951, FPTP showed one of its flaws — and Britain came maybe the nearest it has ever done to PR, as possible oil for a Tory-Liberal coalition. Labour got the biggest vote (48.8%). The Tories got more seats with 48.0%. Tory leader Winston Churchill, worried by his narrow majority, offered a cabinet post to the Liberal leader Clement Davies, and floated introducing PR (which Churchill had favoured since 1931). Davies wanted to accept. He was pulled back by the other Liberal MPs, fearful of their party being swallowed up by the Tories as the “National Liberals” already had been; but agreed to support the Tory ministry.

Coalition with the Lib-Dems falls far short of the sharp alternative needed to the Tories.

Alan Gilbert, London

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