Today (15th June 2015) is the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta. To mark the occasion here is a short educational video explaining the meaning and significance of this important historical event:
May I recommend the exhibition associated with Magna Carta’s 800th birthday at the British Library, running till the beginning of September? Not only is the BL showing its two copies (four survive and nobody knows which was the ‘original’ as all are countersigned by the barons and King John) but many other documents inspired by it: the 1689 Bill of rights which William of Orange was required to sign as a condition of being welcome as king after James II was deposed, the US Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights on loan from Washington (obviously we’ll be lending them one of the Magna Cartas sometime soon) and the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Anybody planning to go at a busy time should prebook online.
Both the UK and the USA, rightly, pride themselves in being among the first modern democratic states. But for the same reason, they have been resistant to change, and more modern and, importantly, better forms of democracy have been developed elsewhere. It would really make sense to introduce PR, for example. (I really can’t understand how anyone can call a country without PR “democratic” in any meaningful sense.) It’s like a parent telling a child “I’m older than you, so of course I know what is right”.
Just compare the popular vote to the distribution of seats and note the difference, and realize that it would be even greater if people didn’t have to fear “wasting” their vote. I think the swingometer pretty much sums up what is wrong.
The counterargument is that a PR system fails to necessarily associate a Member of Parliament with a constituency, so that people may not have anybody to represent them at national level who is guaranteed to have a local connection. Can a PR system be found which overcomes that drawback?
Personally, I think that this need is exaggerated. The whole idea of representing a district (the boundaries of which are often not objectively justified) in which much less than half of the voters voted for the representative is somewhat absurd. This assumes a) that there are issues which are important to a majority of the people in the district and b) that the representative would act to support these, rather than his party’s positions. It can also lead to pork-barrel projects.
But there are ways to bring the two together.
One is the German system (which might be used elsewhere, I don’t know) where half of the MPs are elected in a first-past-the-post system via the so-called “first vote” and the other half are elected via PR via the so-called “second vote”. Crucial point: only the second vote determines the number of seats, i.e. those from the same party elected via the first vote are part of the contingent based on the second vote.
Another is to have regions such that there are, say, at least ten times as many MPs as regions, and PR determines the candidates from each region. (Actually, something like this is used in Germany as well, where each of the 16 states has a number of MPs corresponding to the population and each state’s contingent is based on PR.)
If regional representation is important to the voters of a party, then the party can and does arrange its list so that all regions are represented, so even parties which have no direct candidates still represent a region in some sense.