Totally Losing Their Sense of Proportion; Hopes for Electoral Reform Could Be Casualties of Labour's European Elections Disaster, Says Chris Gray

The Birmingham Post (England), June 15, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Totally Losing Their Sense of Proportion; Hopes for Electoral Reform Could Be Casualties of Labour's European Elections Disaster, Says Chris Gray


As an advertisement for proportional representation it could hardly have been worse.

Labour's switch to PR in the European Parliament elections was supposed to have displayed the benefits of a new, fairer system.

People would be able to vote for their favoured party knowing their opinion would count.

Every vote would matter and as long as there were enough like minded people, they would be sure of seeing someone from their party elected.

So what happened ?

Party leaders rowed with activists about the selection of candidates, peers protested at the unfairness of the whole system, would-be Euro-MPs fell out with their own parties, voters stayed away in droves and Labour crashed to its worse defeat since 1992.

Apart from the Liberal Democrats, who would support PR even if it caused a zero per cent turn out, there will be few people wanting to repeat the whole experience.

Labour's latest experiment with PR has proved the most bruising so far and must have put an end for the time being to any thought of it being introduced for Westminster.

It ensured the Euro-elections were deluged with bad press from the moment they started, to the morning after the results began to roll in.

Quite why Labour adopted the most controversial method of PR for the first national election held on the new system is a mystery, assuming they did not want to put people off the idea for good.

There were plenty of people warning against the so-called closed list system, which allowed voters to pick only a party, not an individual candidate.

They pointed out it would be seen as undemocratic and urged that an open list method be used instead, which would allow people to vote for a candidate as well as a party.

Their arguments were not heeded, the Labour machine ground on regardless, swiping aside legal challenges, and the closed list system came to pass.

There was something about the ballot papers that indicated all was not well. They were massive, often with more than a dozen parties and scores of candidates, but all a voter had to do was pick a party.

So who decided which of the candidates were elected ?

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