The Infinite Monkey types

The Conservatives have not won a decent majority since the 1980s but have ruled. Labour managed a majority but it did not result in good government on all issues. If first past the post is meant to deliver strong government it does not work. And it does not deliver good coalitions either.

So, err, if the Tories haven’t won decent majorities but have ruled then FPTP has produced strong government in the absence of decent majorities, no?

43 thoughts on “The Infinite Monkey types”

  1. Candidly, FPTP doesn’t deliver strong results. We need European-style multi-party coalitions of SNP / Green / DUP to achieve strong and stable government.

  2. His first observation about the Tories is, remarkably, correct. It’s worth all the modernisers and ‘centrists’ from John Major, through Francis Maud and Peter Lilley right on down to Cameron and May reflecting on the fact that it is 30 years since they won a decent majority. And as early as about 1992, Norm Lamont was warning them of seeming to be in office but not in power.

    Not that I am especially attracted by the concept of ‘strong government’ no matter who’s in office, or of PR, but are the periods 1992-97 and 2010-17 really shining examples of strong government?

  3. Depends on your point of view I suppose but I suspect in places like Italy which seem to have 2 or 3 elections and governments every year, our system would be said to produce governments able to stay in power for long periods.

    Besides, the Spudatollah reveals his real thrust when he says

    “Labour managed a majority but it did not result in good government on all issues”

    So, yes, FPTP can result in strong government but that doesn’t count if the Spud doesn’t agree with what they do.

  4. Labour managed a majority

    Um, didn’t they manage three? His maths are usually so good, what with the Venn diagrams, so I am surprised to see such a blunder here.

  5. Incidentally, does he mention a system of government which results in “good government on all issues”?

    Also, does he really think he’d get his “Gotterdammerung” economic plan through a hung parliament?

  6. A cunning slide from “good government” to “strong government” to make his point. Blair did have a “strong government”, just what he is saying FPTP doesn’t deliver, but he says it wasn’t a “good government” so doesn’t count.

    Basically what he wants is himself as dictator.

  7. The Meissen Bison

    The DUP / Tory deal may be legitimate under our existing electoral system. But the system is rotten. It’s to Labour’s shame that it will not say so.

    Tory bad; Labour bad. PR Good.

    The only problem is that the LibDems already have an awful lot of peers.

    Oh dear.

  8. Ah, but it was a majority of about 25, wasn’t it.

    Although to be fair to Major, in ’97 if his party had been as popular as he himself was, then the Tories would’ve won, and I think I am right in saying the Tories won more votes in ’92 than did Labour in ’97, but of course Labour got a majority of about 170, to the Tories’ former 25-odd.

  9. I guess he’s not bothered to look over the channel.

    In NL, where I lived for 8 years, coalitions normally had 3 partners, a wafer thin majority, and the smallest partner got a disproportionate say in the running of the government since they could bring it down.

    Don’t care whether you think that’s better or worse than FPTP (my view is it isn’t better or worse, it’s just different), but it’s mad to think it’s a kind of panecea (unless you support a small party that will hold the balance of power).

  10. Abacab,

    I concur. I myself am open to electoral reform and change but I constantly find myself arguing with a certain type of person who thinks PR solves all FPTPs shortcomings and doesn’t replace/ change the trade offs.

    It’s not ‘more democratic’ and is only more representative on one dimension.

    As you say it isn’t a panacea

  11. @Rob – indeed. My overarching view is that no proposed system provides an objective improvement over FPTP, just a different set of tradeoffs. You may like or dislike these tradeoffs for subjective reasons, but it’s just that – subjective.

    Particularly with PR, I really don’t think that a small party holding a coalition together and hence weilding overwhelming power out of proportion to the 5% or so of votes they received could objectively be any more democratic than FPTP which normally gives a majority govt from the party with the largest number of votes.

    Of course, those who support a party who expects to be *that* one are welcome to their view, but they shouldn’t pretend that they support it for objective reasons any more than Lab or Con support retaining FPTP. But they should be careful what they wish for, if they think they’ll be the kingmaker (I’m looking at you, Limp Dims) – there’s always the possibility of ending up with permanent Tory/Ukip/DUP coalitions, too.

    There’s thus really no more reason for GB to adopt PR than there is for e.g. NL to adopt FPTP – why change what you’re used to for a system that’s no better or worse globally.

  12. Winning in 1992 was the worst thing that could have happened to the Tories. They should have lost by a wafer thin majority and let Labour take the blame for the mid 90s economic drama.

  13. Bloke in North Dorset

    My main objection to most forms of PR is that they involve party lists which centralises power further.

  14. The Meissen Bison

    The tremendous disadvantage of PR is that it it relies on party lists of candidates.

    FPTP means that the choice of candidate is important and while most electors may vote for the representatove of their party or leader of choice, there will always be some sufficiently awake to vote against their party if that party puts up a useless candidate. PR absolves candidates from that level of scrutiny and accountability and requires larger voting regions than FPTP constituencies.

    We have PR for EU parliament elections and nobody knows who their MEP is for the very good reason that nobody has “their” MEP. Instead every regions has a rag-bag of political appointees who are pretty much unknown to everyone.

  15. The Meissen Bison


    Yes, that’s how it struck me too but the big snag is that the HoL is already infested with disproportionate quantities of LibDem vermine.

    I can’t see him gnawing his way using that route.

  16. Matthew L, I read somewhere or other, possibly in Jonathan Hill’s co-authored account of the campaign back in the days when I still followed these things closely, that Major said as much. It was something like: “we’ve stretched the elastic of democracy to breaking point”.

  17. If you could select a party, then also choose from a short list of party candidates (so Tories might have 3 candidates for MP which Tory voters could then list in order of preference), that would get rid of safe seats as far as the individual MP was concerned, although not as far as the party was concerned. That would definitely be an improvement on the current situation. Whether voters could be bothered educating themselves about the candidates is another matter.

  18. Winning in 1992 was the worst thing that could have happened to the Tories. They should have lost by a wafer thin majority and let Labour take the blame for the mid 90s economic drama.

    We’d really be needing austerity now if the one-eyed Scotch fuckwit had been given another five years of spending our money like a drunken sailor on shore leave.

  19. It used to be commentated that only Tony Blair had succeeded in winning majorities for Labour since the 1974 election. This only underlines the fact that the country will have gone mad if it hands a working majority to Leftie-Trump.

  20. Bloke in North Dorset,

    Is there any form of PR that doesn’t involve party lists? Transferable votes are not really PR (they can produce equally unproportional results if compared to the first round ballots, which is presumably how you measure personal preferences in this system), and I’ve never seen a system of number-of-seats-equals-votes-cast-for-party that does not require the party to select the elected representatives rather than the voters doing so.

    But I agree this is the key criticism – and I think for many in the Greens, the pro-PR Labour camp and even in UKIP it’s a plus point.

  21. Way back in the dim and distant 50s, Kenneth Arrow published his eponymous ‘impossibility theorem’, which demonstrates (using rigorous maths) that no voting system can satisfy three simply (and most would say perfectly reasonable) criteria of ‘fairness’ is possible.

    In other words, all voting systems have flaws. FPTP has fewer than most of them (IMHO).

  22. Way back in the dim and distant 50s, Kenneth Arrow published his eponymous ‘impossibility theorem’, which demonstrates (using rigorous maths) that no voting system satisfying three simple (and most would say perfectly reasonable) criteria of ‘fairness’ is possible.

    In other words, all voting systems have flaws. FPTP has fewer than most of them (IMHO).

    [Sorry for premature post syndrome]

  23. Bloke in North Dorset


    “Is there any form of PR that doesn’t involve party lists?”

    Dunno, I don’t think so but was hedging my bets because if there is one someone will have picked me up.

  24. The point of elections is to let the electors replace a government without bloodshed. A system that makes that harder to is unappealing (at least to me). If FPTP makes it easier to throw the rascals out then I’d stick with it.

    In a gloomy political time let us cheer ourselves up by remembering that the People’s Party has never won 50% of the vote.

  25. “Is there any form of PR that doesn’t involve party lists?”

    I could imagine one.

    Start of with FPTP (districts) for x% of the seats.

    Top up (in full or in part?) to the PR %’s of the vote.

    Top up to be determined not by party lists, but by a top up list of candidates (who align to parties). When voting for FPTP, you also get a choice to put X is say 3 or 4 boxes (?) of the top up list (any party, not necessarily the party you voted for in FPTP).

    The most highly supported candidates (in any party getting top up) get selected as required.

    It requires a bit more knowledge by the electorate, but if you get to choose from the list you might make more of an effort. For better or worse, it might also favour well known candidates; is that better than the gits choosing the list themselves?

  26. Have the election of the top up the following week / month, so that (re top up) you can look and see what you are voting for. Two lots of voting is not uncommon.

  27. I agree that party lists are a terrible feature of PR. I live in a country that has PR. Here’s something I wrote about in on Quora a while back (in response to an American, so replace ‘house’ with parliament below):

    Careful what you wish for. I know that proportional representation seems like a great idea. But only until you see it in action.

    The one advantage of FPTP is that every member of congress was voted for by a majority. With proportional you have a list. And the first part of that list is the “safe positions”. But the media does not cover the entire list. Only the first 5 places get interviewed. But the others are also assured of elections even though nobody wants them.

    As an example, I give you Oren Hazan:

    Meet Oren Hazan, Israel’s most scandalous lawmaker

    Think About It: What can be done about MK Oren Hazan?

    Oren Hazan is the most embarrassing Knesset member Israel has produced since 2003 (when his father was forced to resign for double voting). He was suspended from the Knesset because of drug and prostitution issues. And keep in mind that the above articles are from before he grabbed the president of the US during a welcoming ceremony, whipped out his smartphone and took a selfie. I ain’t kidding:

    ‘We have to get Oren Hazan out of parliament’

    It takes a special person to be so brash and tone-deaf as to embarrass Donald Trump. But that is the kind of guy who slips into parliament with proportional representation, the kind of guy no electorate would vote for, but who can leverage his father’s political capital in back-room deals.

    Does this make the membership of the House look better? At least every one of them got elected.

  28. Watchman said:
    “Is there any form of PR that doesn’t involve party lists? ”

    There is one way, but I don’t think it has ever been tried and I’m not sure that anyone would want to.

    What you do is you elect the MPs by constituency FPTP, as we do now, but then weight the MPs’ votes in Parliament to make the parties proportional overall.

    So at the moment each Labour MP would have about 1 vote in Parliament, and a Tory or SNP MP about 0.9 of a vote, but each LibDem MP would have 4 votes and Caroline Lucas about 10.

    Whether you want such a system is another matter, but that’s how to get a proportionate result without party lists or taking the “best of the rejects” from the constituencies.

    Question then is what do you do about UKIP, who even on their poor showing this month should still, proportionately, have a dozen MPs? Either just say “tough” because they’ve not got an MP (which makes rather a sharp cliff-edge), or make the leader a non-territorial MP with all the votes (which would have been very amusing 2015-17, when Farage would have had over 80 votes).

    I used to think it would be a good system, but I’m now inclining more towards dearime’s view that the point of elections is to allow us to throw the bastards out if we want to.

  29. Martin, it’s to make each party’s votes in Parliament proportionate to its share of the vote in the general election.

    Compared to a proportionate system, currently Labour has about the ‘right’ number of MPs according to its vote share, but Tory and SNP are slightly over-represented in Parliament so they would get slightly less than 1 vote each under my system.

  30. @ Martin
    The usual answer is because no Tory should be treated equally as “all Tories drink blood”.
    But Richasrd is trying to weight MPs voting power pro rata with the total electoral vote for all candidates for his/her party so to get party voting power in parliament proportional to electoral votes for that party.
    Richard has just made a mistake on the SNP figure – it should be 0.45 not 0.9

  31. This would be very unfair on the SNP, who would be shafted.

    Why vote for an MP worth 0.45 of a vote, when you can have one worth 1.0? I doubt the SNP’s eclipse of Labour would actually have happened.

    The SNP is restricted to one nation, and their weight should reflect that, surely?

  32. What I would maybe like to see is two separate elections.

    Day 1: candidates with 50% + 1 of the votes are elected. If no one achieves that in a particular constituency, then the top 2 face each other a week, or a couple of days later.

  33. Party lists are not all evil. They do ensure that parties try to spread out some balance. If they make the list too party apparatchik heavy they will lose votes, which sort of defeats the purpose.

    Under FPTP it is easy for the dominant group to have 55% of the vote in any seat and you get the American system where almost all the senators have the same backgrounds.

    My own thoughts are that PR is very effective in small countries, where otherwise FPTP gives too little variety and the party whips rule everything. But it can fall apart in large countries as too many tin-pot parties can survive.

    in places like Italy which seem to have 2 or 3 elections and governments every year,

    And yet the ruling party of Italy is generally quite stable. It’s not like Berlusconi was in and out of office every time he cobbled together a new set of partners.

    Italy’s problems are not caused by the electoral system, as shown by very stable countries with the same system.

  34. PR need not involve party lists. In fact, it is suspicious that that notion that it does has taken such a firm hold in the UK, where everybody but the party bosses hates the idea.
    But here’s a UK PR/STV example with no party lists: The Northern Ireland Assembly is elected by getting 90 MLAs using the 18 Westminster constituencies. I.e. 5 MLAs per constituency. PR/STV is used, and parties nominate their named candidates. The Voter has a long ballot paper with a list of candidates with their party (if any), and votes 1,2,3 for the *candidates* of their choice. E.g. leave out the plonkers and headcases while voting, give a good preference to an interesting looking independent. Whatever choice you wish.
    After the count, 5 named people have been elected for that constituency.

  35. Direct democracy is the way forward. Those eligible to vote who do not, are automatic ‘no’s’. Either that or they could delegate the casting of their vote to some family member or local potentate (sure this is likely to lead to some East London Imam’s casting thousands of votes – but in practice this may be what already happens). It is very doable with technology that exists right now. I’d combine this with a president that has a veto power, also operative on a retroactive basis.

    Some may say that the electorate is not ready, but this is a chicken and egg problem which cannot be avoided. If you don’t give the teenager the keys they will never learn to drive.

  36. The disadvantage of *party-list* PR is that is uses party lists. non-party-list PR doesn’t have that disadvantage.

  37. “Is there any form of PR that doesn’t involve party lists?”

    There are some. The one I know more about is the Dutch system, which is something like this:

    Each county/large city elects 4-ish MPs.
    Voters vote for candidates (can’t remember if it’s 1,2,3 or X X X)
    The total votes for parties’ candidates is added up, then the candidates are elected in the order that the voters gave them votes.
    Eg, 3 seats:
    Fred (Red) 100
    Jim (Blue) 200
    Sheila (Red) 300
    Hazel (Blue) 400
    Sophia (Red) 500
    Steve (Blue) 600
    Red total=900 = 42% = 1 seat
    Blue total=1200 = 57% = 2 seats
    Sophia is elected for Red
    Steve and Hazel are elected for Blue

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