Stalemate: PR and PR, Ice Cream, Bananas and Fudge


One of the most puzzling features of the current unstoppable wave of political punditry that is flooding all channels and outlets at the moment (including this one of course) is the peculiar propensity of commentators to feel qualified to extrapolate from the election results the Manifest Will of Britain.  “The people have voted for change”, “The people have told Gordon Brown that he has got to go” , “The people are saying that they don’t really trust any one party”, “The people have said that they want Parliament reformed, the tea room in the House of Commons redecorated, new carpeting in the women’s lavatory of the House of Lords and a vegetarian option in the canteen.”  What fevered branch of electoral hermeneutics allows any such interpretations on the basis of the summing of millions of individual’s single votes I cannot imagine. It is possible that people do want real change, but a single cross next to a single name is no way to deduce it.


We only get one vote, one cross to put next to one name. If you put your cross next to Victoria Tory’s name you declare that want her to be your MP, representing you constituency, although it is perhaps also permissible to assume that you are up for her party and her party’s leader winning an overall majority in the Commons in Westminster as well. If the cross is next to Fabian Labour’s name or Libby Dem’s one might be justified in assuming the same there too. There really is almost nothing more nuanced or sophisticated that one can infer from our recent general election except to say that that of the 68% who voted there weren’t enough who wanted Conservatives to win to allow Cameron to claim first prize, and even fewer who wanted to vote for candidates from the other parties. One could deduce a huge amount more if voters were allowed to express their preferences in an intelligent way that reflected how they really feel and think. The Electoral Reform Society is a good place to go for information as to how precisely such a form of voting could be implemented, as it is all round much of the civilised world. My friends at Vote For A Change have also been campaigning for the same thing. Proportional Representation is the prize that many of us hope this “confusing” election will deliver. But there is an obstacle. An obstacle so huge that I cannot see it being overcome.

The Sitch

Here is the situation as I read it.

  1. David Cameron’s Conservative Party elders and backbenchers will never allow him to seal a pact with Clegg that guarantees electoral reform in the shape of proportional representation.
  2. Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrat Party elders and backbenchers will never allow him to seal a pact with Cameron that that does not guarantee electoral reform in the shape of proportional representation.
  3. Cameron will spring an obvious trap by saying, “We’ll see. We’ll look into it. You can have concessions on schools and hospitals.” Children who want an ice cream know that when their parents say “We’ll see, but you can have a banana” it means no ice cream. The Lib Dem and PR pressure groups are perfectly aware of that too. Any talk of “an independent enquiry … a Royal Commission … a committee to look into it” will be treated for what it is. Fudge.
  4. Stalemate

It comes down to this: the Conservatives believe that under a PR system they will never achieve full supremacy in the country again. This would mark a sharp reverse in their ambitions. Their manifesto commitment to a 10% reduction in MPs and a consequent redraft of constituency borders would necessarily gerrymander massively in their interest, all but guaranteeing Tory power for the foreseeable future. The idea that they will for one moment countenance PR reform that will see them reduced, as they would interpret it, to the role of Euro-style hedgers, compromisers and pragmatic consensus inclusionists is more than a bitter pill, it is a suicide pill and Cameron knows that he could never induce the party to swallow it.

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98 comments on “Stalemate: PR and PR, Ice Cream, Bananas and Fudge”

  1. bonnie hughe says:

    The old adage “Be careful what you wish for…” sprang to mind as I read your blog. Here in New Zealand we adopted MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) in a bid for Electoral Reform. It has proved to be an unmitigated disaster in terms of social reform and economics. You also mentioned in your article the reduction in the number of MP’s … well we have in excess of 120 MPs which serve a population of just over 4 million souls.

    Since the introduction of MMP successive governments have spent the greater proportion of their allotted time in office behind closed doors, trying to hammer out deals with the minor parties who seem determined to hold the country to ransom and to prevent the country from progressing at all; despite campaigning for said reforms and progress. Electoral mandates have consistently been forgotten and the ever widening gap of “The Haves and The have Nots” continues to grow.

    Several attempts in the form of Citizens petitions have been made to seek a referendum to revert to the old system of FPP (First past the post) to no avail – a system which in hindsight gave greater opportunity for progress and economic reform. The diminishing distinction between Labour and National is alarming to both Labour and National supporters, not to mention the ‘Undecideds”. It is now quite confusing at the polls to distinguish who is who, largely because so little is achieved by the sitting government that all parties seem to campaign on the same issues. In conclusion, the grass make look greener over the fence … just watch out for the cow pats!

  2. deevybee says:

    One way things could work would be if Brown steps down and Milliband (*not* Harman, much less popular) anointed as new Lab leader.
    Clegg could form coalition with Milliband , on condition that Labour promise of referendum is kept.
    He could retain his reputation for integrity on the grounds that he had tried with the Conservatives and failed.
    Much less of policy gap with Lab than Con, and new election likely soon anyway – main thing to get PR in before it happens, so we can have fairness in voting system.

  3. neilfairbrother says:

    Can you stick some more carriage return in the piece? Those massive and heavy blocks of text are frightening the children.

  4. georgek says:

    BlindingPhil and Fryphile raise the question of what we can do:

    BlindingPhil said: “We can all sit and pontificate about what we need endlessly. Unfortunately it’s not us that needs to hear this”

    Fryphile said: “Sorry, but I can bring absolutely nothing to this table”

    And Dougal has touched on the obvious answer. Tootle your browser over to and join the Liberal Democrats.

    If you’re worried that you disagree with chunks of Lib Dem policy. That’s true of many Lib Dem members.

    If you’re reluctant because you don’t want to spend hours helping in campaigning, don’t worry. Lots of members just pay an annual subscription, and that’s all they do. Though, I found it very satisfying to give a little bit of practical help at the last election.

    By joining you’ll strengthen Nick Clegg’s hand in his negotiations, and you’ll get a say.

    As a member, you’ll have the right to join forums that are only available to Lib Dem members, you’ll have a vote for the national leader, your local candidate, and local party officials. And the party will ask you what you think at each stage of the negotiations. I’ve already had two opportunities to give my views.

    Oh, and Stephen. A big thanks for the endorsement at the last election. These endorsements really do help. Are you willing to take the next step and take out a membership?

  5. thenickoftime says:

    Not making a deal with the Tories would NOT necessarily mean
    a tory minority government. Remember that Brown has first
    chance to form a government if he can; according to the
    unwritten constitution. That is why he is still in No. 10.

    Some people are saying that Clegg could avoid this Triple
    lock thing if he just does a confidence and supply deal, but
    what would that get the Lib Dem’s? Nothing. And he can’t get
    more than this,(if he can even go this far),without
    overcoming the Triple Lock.

    I reckon Clegg knows this perfectly well. If he doesn’t get
    a PR promise, and one that is good enough for the Lib Dem’s
    is, by definition almost, not going to be tolerated by the
    Tories, he will be able to go to Labour, and see what they
    have got. He has got nothing to lose by going back to
    Labour. The Tories will bash the wall with their heads,
    screaming that their investments are losing value, but Clegg
    would be best positioned to play the other two against each
    other, and take his time.

    He will have the Tory proposal in his back pocket to keep
    Brown scared, and he will have the small parties on his

    If he has the gumption to do it, he will be able to get fast
    legislation on PR, and then have another election. Labour
    would agree because the alternative is a decade of Tory

    He has to go this route with the Tories first, or there
    would be too much of an outcry. There will be anyway of
    course, but as they say, politics is the art of the
    possible. He will be able to claim that all avenues have
    been explored, and a Lib Lab coalition is what the public
    voted for.

    If he doesn”t get PR, he will bust up his own party. It is
    just the media hunting the story that is speculating a quick
    deal with the Tories. I just can’t see it happening.

  6. RuthJohnson50 says:

    This piece should be published and broadcast as widely as possible. Absolutely spot on. Particularly the shame of living under Thatcher. I went to a couple of Europe-wide conferences at that time, and the British were looked on like the poor mad aunt in the attic. Not to be trusted but not to be blamed either. I was ashamed to be part of the British delegation, even though Labour members obviously didn’t endorse Thatcher.
    The only thing is, I’m kind of confused about Labour & PR. Didn’t Tony Blair start to do something about it in 1997? Wasn’t Roy Jenkins involved somehow? I’m going to have to research this because people are saying Labour’s only just thinking about PR now, and I’m sure that’s not the case. Wasn’t Charter 88 half Labour?
    Not that anybody cares about history or the truth nowadays, it’s all spin and gloss. Whatever the media want to publish they are allowed to get away with in the name of “free speech”.
    Better stop before it turns into a rant. All I wanted to say was thank you for setting out the issues and reminding us how bad life was under the last monetarist government.

  7. RickSeymour says:

    PR is all about empowering people to actually have their say, whatever their persuasion, their vote will directly not have the YES or NO to whether someone gets in (in the case of FPTP) but their vote is added to public opinion.

    By the way does anyone know the SPECIFIC type of PR that John Cleese talks about in his 1980s video?
    DM me @RickSeymour on Twitter

  8. MartinRogers says:

    Cameron a “Man of Principal”?. I can’t work out if that is accidental (shurely not?), Freudian or subtly deliberate ;)

  9. Dewin Cymraeg says:

    How wonderfully you put it, Stephen. It’s so rare that I read something that I so wholeheartedly agree with.

    Agree, that is, except for one thing. The Australian system of the automatic run-off (what here we are calling the Alternative Vote or AV) can and does lead to even less proportional parliaments than our First Past The Post system. As such, I’m not convinced that it is better than what we currently have. AV would not lead to any real change – it’s just rearranging deckchairs.

    I tend to agree with your pessimism, though. All the more need for online campaigning to try to push for real electoral reform. I don’t believe the ordinary people of this country understand the arguments yet. If we can make people understand that most of the votes cast in the election are unrepresented in parliament, then they may sit up and listen.

    It seems to me, also, that the kind of discussions that the Tories and the Lib Dems are having now need to be chaired by someone with a proper constitutional role to make sure that no-one is being stitched up.

  10. elpida says:

    The economic and political crisis can never be solved by a single sub-democratic election Or any election in one country. Politics is an ages-long process.

    We must hope, be brave and grab opportunities to change unfair political process. Good Luck to Nick Clegg.

  11. PeteKercher says:

    Frustration with Britain’s obstinate wish to remain stuck in the nineteenth century and, perhaps, even to repeal the Reform Act of 1832 and get back to “Decent Government” eventually drove me away from the UK over 30 years ago. I chose Italy, at a time when the country was neither awash with Blairites in Chiantishire, nor the me-first domain of TV-obsessed Berlusconi fans that it has since become. Those with the infallible wisdom of hindsight may criticise my choice…

    As I watch Britain’s history in the making (?) from the distance of my self-imposed exile, I have an uncanny feeling. Is this how it felt to emigré observers who monitored developments in Paris in 1788-1790? The surge of hope that there may be life left in the old carcass yet, despite all the evidence to the contrary? The bemusement, the heady alternation of hot and cold showers of emotion and reason, the uncanny feeling of inevitability, the threat of real violence in the offing, the instinctive concern for friends and loved ones caught in the potential melée…

  12. BKdrummer says:

    S Fry’s on the money as usual. I always wondered why we had a preferential voting system in Oz: now I know for sure! And I agree with fellow ex-pat, Jai: voting should be compulsory. It’s painless and won’t affect your summer holiday: vote at practically every school and community hall; post a vote; lodge an absentee vote from wherever you are in the country at the time. Oh, alright, you might miss a bit of the footy while you saunter down the road to cast your vote, but you can probably buy a bag of fudge or coconut ice at the school-run stall while you’re there to make it worth your while! There’s no excuse for not achieving 100% involvement. Cheers, BK

  13. scarimor says:

    On the upside – the economy (such as it is) will toddle along without direction and intervention, however long it takes them to decide on whatever they will or won’t decide. Much as the Icelandic volcano will puther out more or less ash at will, people will just get on with things in the interim. All the guff in the media about “Britain on hold” is likewise dusty hot air. Clegg can and should hold out for that ice-cream.

  14. corblimeyguvnor says:

    There are a few things worth remembering in all of this that bear repeating. Firstly, the Labour party is not – has never been – in favour of PR. A poll of their new PPC’s shows that only 10% would be so if given a free vote (although this may be a toeing of the party manifesto line). Secondly, with a short term collapse of a LibLab coalition more likely than not, it’s hardly the case that Gordon’s promise of a referendum on PR / electoral reform can be delivered – it’s doubtful whether it would even make it through Parliament in those circumstances. Lastly, there are many examples, at council level, of ConLib ‘alliances’ working in a productive fashion – it’s not as ‘daggers drawn’ as the popular myth has it.

    Those who would accuse Clegg of playing personality politics are missing the point. He’d already made a commitment to give the party with the largest proportion of the vote the chance to form a government – note the use of the word ‘chance’ there, rather than ‘god-given right’ – useful for a way out if the current talks go nowhere.

    Calculate it by seats or % percentage of the vote, the answer is the same – the Tories have been handed that chance by the electorate. With their 23% share of the poll, the Lib Dems just aren’t in the position to demand PR as a right in any negotiations, with any party. Lies, damn lies and statistics unfortunately work against them.

    In other news… does the Tory party still conform to the popular bogeyman image – the slavering, demonic bunch of upper class, homophobic, racist halfwits in Thatcherite clothing? I’m not so sure… my constituency (mostly white, middle class, semi-rural) voted in a Muslim Conservative MP, and Wolverhampton South West returned a Sikh Conservative MP. If nothing else, I think it shows some progression both within the party itself AND it’s ‘grass-roots’ supporters that gives the lie to the popular image.

    We have, for the first time in my memory, politicians of different hues attempting to work together and negotiate a political solution based on shared rather than self interest. To my mind, that’s a step forward rather than back. We’ve been spared the likely excesses of a majority Tory administration (which was really the best Labour – and the country – could hope for) and have the very real chance of some progressive policies AND political (if not electoral) reform being delivered over the life of the next parliament, which is a completely different picture to the one we were facing pre-Cleggomania.

    It’s fashionable to say all politicians are immoral, self interested scumbags, particularly when the result isn’t the one you really wanted. Looking at it with a glass half full, we seem instead to have principled and sincere party leaders who are genuinely attempting to take the longer, more pragmatic view on what can be achieved through coalition government.

    Hopefully these are the first baby steps of a maturing political system.

  15. bfasupport says:


    Never a truer word spoken as usual from your good self. However, I feel the current to-ing & fro-ing on this issue clouds the deeper issue. Although I believe we need to attack injustice in all its guises on all fronts to work towards fairer national & global societies, it is the global nature of the fight which causes some (too much?) realism.

    Whoever, whatever, whenever the new UK government manages to sort itself out, I consider that it will be dealing with forces far beyond its remit or powers. The amount of salt you pinch when taking in “conspiracy” theories can sometimes cover a certain amount of truth but if we take the extremes of the current global monetary-based (“New World Order”?) system against the futuristic global resource-based system (“TheZeitgeistMovement/Venus Project”?), the truth lies somewhere in between.

    Whether they are prepared to say so or not (and there were varying degrees of economic truths throughout the first “Networked” UK election), they face faceless economic oligarchs. These of course have always been there and I hope that social media allows more Howard Beales to shout at us from 1976. We have to ask what is the purpose of business and politics in the 21C (see

    Your prophecy touches a nerve with me and we only have to look at Greece as a very real, very current reflection of this. When traffic wardens are renamed “Civil Enforcement Officers” (, I wonder what is really being planned behind the televised debates and press coverage of political positioning.

    Best regards, brother Fry!

  16. Uni Versal says:

    In my opinion we need to consider the facts of the current political system, which has delivered minority Governments (in terms of votes) since the Second World War.

    This time round, about two-thirds of those who could vote either did or were able to. Which means that at least a third of the population didn’t want any political party to represent them, so who speaks for them? Of the two thirds who voted, around one third of them voted Tory, so the rest voted for others. How can we call such a system ‘Democracy’ when the result is always ‘minority rule’ where only the hopes, desires, wishes or ideology of roughly, only one fifth of the voting population are represented by any Government dictating the future of the whole population?

    Even in my cheap and nasty paperback dictionary Democracy is defined as “a form of government by the people, through elected representatives; a country governed by its people; political, social or legal equality” neither of which definitions has ever actually applied at any time in the UK. However, that is what was promised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. I.e. a change for the betterment of all mankind, in the aftermath of War.

    Consider this extract from its preamble “Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people”.

    That one use of the word ‘aspiration’[you can check this out for yourself at in your own language, of 375 translations] has been persistently latched on to by Politicians since 1949 to claim that all Human Rights are simply ‘aspirations’ rather than what we are due as of right.

    Consequently the UK has never delivered all those rights and fundamental freedoms to all its peoples, yet sends troops abroad to ostensibly defend the rights of others. Even the Human Rights Act of 1998 ignores all the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights contained in the Declaration or the International Covenant on them, which became ‘legally binding’ in 1976. So the truth is that all our UK Governments have lied for decades and have never represented ‘the people’ only themselves, or their friends.

    Article 2 of that Declaration also stated that “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind” and Article 21 stated in part that “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government”, as well as including the right to vote.

    So if our system doesn’t actually return a Government which represents ‘the will of the people’, but rather the will of the minority, then how can it be called ‘democracy’? It is utterly insane to propose that it ever has done so.

    Even if it takes a coalition between Lib Dem’s; Labour and all the rest to push through Constitutional reform to voting, and an immediate Bill of Rights to give proper effect to all those rights promised in the Universal Declaration of 1948, then I suggest it would be worth it in the long run. Even if that were all they achieved in 6 months, it would be more than any other Governments of the UK have achieved in nearly 62 years under our present system, because they have not really been trying to ‘achieve’ it.

    It would be better for Nick Clegg to prop up an ‘ailing Government’ to achieve this end rather than accept fudge from Tories who have historically no interest in Universal Rights for all, because that would mean their supporters couldn’t employ cheap labour to make themselves richer. The UDHR has always been seen as a socialist document by the Republicans in the USA, who have similar ideals to the Tories, but they get confused by such concepts and label them all as Communist, which isn’t actually true either.

    Do we, the people of the UK, have the ability to sort the wheat from the chaff or will we be dazzled forever by political propaganda based on fear. Until we do, I suggest we will never be free from fear and want or the fear of War.

    Wouldn’t we rather believe in this “Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” for all not just the few?

    Had Mr Clegg and the Lib Dem’s run their campaign along these lines they might have been swept to power by all the people, who knows?

  17. artumi_richard says:

    I had a discussion about PR with some friends recently. There were some interesting points made, and now I’m not so sure what to think. Here’s some points made against PR that threw me:

    Parties in power will be in coalition. As a result there will be no manifesto that can be carried out, every manifesto will contain items that their authors know will never come to anything after a negotiation. In short, no manifesto will ever be carried out in full. At the following election there will be “we wanted to do X but the other party wouldn’t let me”.

    More over, look at the current situation. Lib dems talking to Tories about taking power. Who we end up with will be to do with the outcome of these backroom deals, because as soon as you command a majority in parliament you win and can do pretty much anything. Who commands that majority today, and under PR, will be more to do with these backroom deals rather than the will of the electorate.

    So although we may end up with a more representative parliament under PR, that in itself does not translate to equal power when it comes to making laws and running government.

    On the other hand first past the post is full of problems, it distorts the views of the electorate because so many voters vote against X rather than for Y. Who would rule if tactical voting was outlawed?

    I am sure there are wiser minds than mine who have thought long and deep on this one. Can anyone see a way of electing our representatives such that

    1) The winning party can do what it said it would.
    2) The other parties can still represent and fight for their beliefs.

  18. Ed Syrett says:

    I’m particularly concerned about the section on the last page beginning:

    “Britain will be shown to be incapable of evolving in its own interests as a nation…”

    I am proud to be British, descended from ancestors whose relatives colonised the Americas, the Indies and Australia and for many years led the world in science and the arts. Can we not now come together to decide who will run our country?

    The conspiracies currently being generated in the two parties really do confirm to me that the whole basis of politics in this country is fatally flawed – politicians are motivated to win votes, not to do what is best for the country.

    In what other business do we hire a Batchelor of Laws (Alastair Darling) to run finances?

    In what other business do we hire a postman (Alan Johnson) to run our Home Office.

    In any other business, we would expect to hire somebody with an academic grounding in their subject, but in politics we let these amateurs loose to run our country.

  19. Uni Versal says:

    Here’s another novel idea.

    Instead of simply voting for candidates of ‘political persuasions’ which are unattractive to most people, how about the electorate being able to vote on their policies?

    Even better than that would be the people choosing the policies which they want their government to follow, rather than the government putting forward policies which they never keep their word on.

    For example, in 1992 John Major promised to help Forces Personnel to buy their own homes, but by 1995 he was somehow ‘persuaded’ by William Hague, I assume, whose friend Guy Hands worked for Nomura, to sell all the Married Quarters Estate to a company Hands had set up for Nomura, called Annington Property Ltd. They got just over 57,000 houses for £1,622M which was an average price of slightly over £29,000.

    Had the serving occupants been able to buy them at that price then that promise could have been kept and even perhaps their human rights upheld (Capitalism forbid). So much for politics by strong Governments in a first past the post system, who are the first to break their promises.

  20. beavesp says:

    I assume you include the Labour Party as practising ‘conservative politics’ to which you assign the attribute ‘everyone acts in their own interests’. As a previous comment pointed out, the Labour Party has been in a position for 13 years to change the electoral system and have done precisely nothing.
    The only main party to champion PR in this election was the Lib/Dems. They came 3rd and lost seats. Does the electorate as a whole actually want PR? If they desperately did so, would they not have voted in greater numbers for their Lib/Dem candidate? I accept that many people do want PR of some kind (me included) but at the risk of incurring your wrath for divining meaning where there is none, haven’t the electorate actually just said ‘PR?… well, not really that bothered actually’?

  21. EmmaJane says:

    What wise words Stephen,

    I for one want my Ice-Cream. I wouldn’t want to be in Nick Clegg’s shoes now for all the tea in China. I hope that in this poker game going on in Whitehall right now that the Lib dems manage to hold their nerve and win out in the end. But your right in that I can’t see the Tories giving a concession that allows for thier marginalisation.

  22. ChoccyFish says:

    A brilliantly accurate assessment of the situation. Clegg would be better staying out of any arrangement with either Tory or Labour. Weasel words mean no fudge, no bananas, and definitely no icecream.

    As to the belief that PR/STV leads to “weak government” – most other European countries use PR in one form or another, and we already use PR/STV in Scotland.

    PR means that politicians have to talk to each other rationally instead of merely hurling insults at each other. The FPTP countries include Greece, Spain and Portugal – all in the deep s**t financially. “Strong” government too often means a small coterie of professional politicians treating the country as a personal fiefdom without any reference to all those that disagree with them (often a majority). And if anyone thinks backroom deals (often made within a single party) aren’t made regardless of system, then they live in a different world to me.

  23. djm4 says:

    I’m not quite sure *what* you want Nick Clegg to do, though. You tell him to stick to his guns, but you’ve already explained why that won’t achieve anything other than making David Cameron look principled about saving the economy in the face of Nick Clegg making silly electoral reform demands (as the media will most certainly paint it).

    Any way Nick Clegg plays it, the Lib Dem vote will be seriously reduced at the next election, and you (and I) can see no outcome that actually brings electoral reform.

  24. Tony Fisk says:

    Well, we had ten years of Howard. I’m rather glad his manifestos didn’t get implemented in full. Of course, we’ve also had the frustrations of having no progress toward a greener economic model either!

  25. Danfox Davies says:

    If you stood for election, Mr Fry, I’d vote for you in an instant.

  26. racingsnake says:

    Moses on a moped, Mr Fry… for someone who professes pessimism, I have to admire your confidence that the Upper House will/could set a long-term strategy for Britain’s digital future. I mean, there’s Merlin Erroll, but the rest of them probably think an Ethernet is what the dentist puts over your mouth & nose to conk you out.

    The problem I see with either a hung parliament/coalition, or the most probable outcomes of more representative voting systems, is that they require politicians to collaborate constructively for the good of the rest of us. Sorry – if you did have a faint spark of optimism left, that should have stomped on it pretty thoroughly…

  27. emmalittlewood says:

    I am so depressed at the idea of the Lib Dems throwing away my vote on the unspeakable Tories, I wish I could take it back… They may think they’re doing the right thing for the country by facilitating some sort of government, albeit of the minority nasty party variety, but in fact pushing through radical electoral reform is more in the country’s interests, and more in the individual’s interests, than the morally-blackmailing concept of ‘forming a secure and stable government to see us through the financial crisis’ – we all know that’s disingenuous on the part of Cameron and his Croons. If they really cared about the welfare of the country they wouldn’t have dismantled all our industries and sold of our state-run enterprises at rock-bottom prices to their chums. Sigh…

  28. reasonandaether says:

    I, for one, am finding some genuine optimism in this situation. I mean of course despite the looming dread of a possible Tory government; encapsulated in the cold, dead disinterest in Michael Gove’s eyes that speaks of schemes involving large nets and extreme anti-truancy measures.

    Stability breeds stagnation in systems over long periods and Nature appears not to like that much. Here we see an opportunity, through strife and uncertainty, for significant change.

    If Nick Clegg sticks to his principles (and early signs are that this will be the case) while David Cameron does the same, which, for the reasons above is more than likely, it is conceivable that Labour will quickly find a new leader, pull down the duvet and beckon seductively to the Lib Dems while winking saucily at Caroline Lucas, the SNP, Plaid Cymru et al.

    Another election is pretty much unavoidable if we still want to call ourselves a democracy, so whomever gets to sit in the coveted seats in the HoC will need to get there quickly to allow any reforms Clegg negotiates to be in effect by then. September seems to be the month to bet on.

    The best outcome I can see here is that the inevitably short-lived coalition government that will form over the coming weeks will lead to the beginnings of reform and a new era in British politics.

    And frankly, thank buggery for that.

  29. spiked says:

    Long time reader, first time botherer here. As an ex-pat Brit without the fire-hose of punditry that a resident of the UK is currently enjoying/suffering I have not heard expressed one possible upside of PR for the Tories, so forgive me if I appear to be repeating some comment previously uttered on Andrew Marr’s show…

    Surely the current Tory Party could benefit from splitting their “Broad Church”into several parties that would be more easily managed day to day, and then come together to form coalitions when necessary. The “Drys” could split from the “Wets”, the Euro-Phobes from the -Philes. After all the Tories haven’t even agreed on a government yet and half of the party are sharpening their knives for Cameron’s failure to win an outright majority already.

    Bear in mind that under a PR system we would not be limited to voting for the parties as they currently stand. There would in all likelihood be an evolution of the parties on offer if You could put your favoured flavour of Tory (or socialdemocrat) in preference order.

    we could vote
    Wet Tory – 1
    EuroPhile Tory – 2
    Dry Tory – 3
    Lib Dem – 4
    New Labour -5
    Red Labour -6
    SWP -7

    or Vice Versa.

    Sure, no one manifesto would get into Government un-touched by compromise, but frankly, who votes for every element of a Manifesto?

    The Beauty of a vibrant PR-based system is that – on average – the Government that comes out of the Election and Negotiation will reflect the muddled confused and contradictory views of the electorate.

    -That is all.

  30. Neville Farmer says:

    As one of the LibDem candidates who stood last week (and lost for now), I am gutted that the electorate were duped into bottling out of voting FOR something and suckered into a tactical vote against the leader they didn’t want. Had the Clegg bounce held we might still have had a hung parliament but with a much stronger mandate for the one party that believes in fighting on a level playing field.

    Like many of my colleagues I sit and pray that Nick Clegg will hold his ground on PR as this is our one and only chance to offer Britain something resembling democracy. But I also hope that those of you who are clearly intelligent enough to see the truth in Stephen’s words and build support for this cause rather than throwing up your hands and surrendering to the “what’s the point trying” crowd.

    As I hope you can imagine, standing as a LibDem is not something one does if one seeks the easy route to government. I have done it once and will do it again regardless of this week’s outcome because I believe in it. A bit more faith and belief from the brightest and best of British and we really could change this crooked system. You don’t have to become a LibDem but you do have to speak up.

  31. scepticwoody says:

    I looked up PR on Wiki. There are many different types. They are very complicated.
    I suspect most people don’t have a clue what they are asking for when they say they want PR.
    What type of system are the LD’s proposing.
    Shouldn’t we know? Shouldn’t they be trying to tell us how it all works (or not)?
    FPTP at least works most of the time. PR works all the time but does not give us what we want.

  32. Neville Farmer says:

    Since writing the above, Gordon has announced his (eventual) departure and the possibility of a Lib Lab coalition. Oh palpitations!

    Oh, and incidentally, I was one of those LibDems who fought and won a change in our party policy on the Digital Economy Bill at our national conference. We are against this sledgehammer Mandelsonian approach to piracy (despite having been thoroughly pirated myself)and that is now official Lib Dem policy.

  33. Eudaemonist Dickie says:

    This is eminently good sense from a man who is, quite rightly, a self-avowed Humanist.
    It’s such a shame that it takes the writers of the world to see through to the truth and make the suggestions that politicians and politics simply can’t, or won’t, admit. Perhaps it’s simply the oldest axiom in the book that writing is lies told to tell the truth while politics is postured truth concealing pot-holes of lies.

    Well done, Stephen!

  34. GrahamM says:


    What a great argument “Hung Parliaments Stink!”, and then you go on to trot out nonsense that sounds like it came from Tory Head-office.

    Tell me, please, when was the last time we had “lovely clean open inclusive government” in this country instead of unelected peers like Mandelson doing deals on private yachts whilst the Party Whips force through whatever legislation the Leadership wants (remember the Poll Tax?) and dismissing the views of the voters whom the MPs are supposed to represent by claiming that “we have a mandate to do whatever the hell we like because a few years ago enough people put an X in a box”

    “Strong Government” is just Labour and the Tories saying “we want to be able to ignore the people whilst we’re in power.”

    As for your sneering comments about PR, I think it is you who need to do some more reading, because it works well in Ireland (South and North), Denmark and Germany to mention a few.

    The system of STV when applied to consituency MPs would mean that instead of one candidate getting elected with 18,000 votes whilst 25,000 votes went to all the other candidates, those 25,000 votes would be redistributed until one candidate actually gets a majority of *all* the votes cast, so there are no longer any “safe seats” nor “wasted votes” as happens with the current system.

    You conclude “It’s our fault. Voters like us sometimes don’t deserve to be represented, proportionately or otherwise” yet if the turkeys keep voting for Xmas and sneering at the opportunity for reform, throwing away a golden opportunity for change because it doesn’t deliver “strong government” (Greece had a strong government…!) then it most certainly *WILL* be “our fault”!



    “Now you can see the wisdom of the two party system we enjoy here in these United States.”

    You mean the one where you can vote for the Right Wing Party or the *REALLY* Right Wing Party…?!

  35. beavesp says:

    Don’t get too excited just yet. Labour are only offering a referendum on PR. Nearly 20 million votes were cast for the Labour and Conservative parties against nearly 7 million for the Lib/Dems. An awful lot of those ‘big’ party supporters will need a fair bit of persuasion to give up the chance of their party ever being able to form a majority government again, before a referendum will support PR.

  36. Mr Melow says:

    PR is as undemocratic as any other system. You could theoretically end up with the BNP with hardly a brain cell between them let alone a party or people capable of running a country running the show and putting up road blocks in Epping. The British are a perverse lot basically, I blame the P factor effect, any idiot can win it, let’s face it a spanking act is a sure fire winner for the Eton bloaters. I like PR at some points, if they put up a dancing dog he would be PM tomorrow. I recall Florida electing Mickey Mouse, and a Texas state electing a sheriff’s dead dog for 6 years running, good old fido !

    But back to the U of K. If you are Welsh (and among God’s chosen few), then our total population is about 2 and a bit million (Give or take a few sheep). London (The home of all evil basically), is mooted to have that many loitering at the DWP and passport offices, and queing up for for jobs in Norfolk picking spuds. This last election (Has it gone yet ?). Wales needing about 30 odd MP’s, saw the Labour party win 26 and the majority of them.

    For some reason at present highly obscure to welsh people, England favoured the Botox party. So PR under those circumstances would not see poor old Taffy getting his Labour representation to make a difference, because English numerical superiority, over-ruled. You would have to free the Taffy from the yolk of English paternalism (But keep the cash coming), and let then hash up their own lives. Electoral reform is a no-win for Wales or any other country in the UK, even IF we accept Tory opposition to PR.

    Question has Cleggy or Cameron got the most slappable face….?

  37. SarahDiac says:

    Well, well; it’s ebay time. Gripping, probably worrying, but I can’t help but be just a little bit excited that things might actually change.

  38. wendysunney says:

    Oh dear Stephen. I so enjoy your humour and style but I had a business in the Thatcher era and took a lot of pain which I hated but I realised it was about the British gritting their teeth to get back into the 20th century. This was borne out when I was camping in the wilds of New Zealand and spent an afternoon with an ex-pat who had recently gone back to UK and was thankful to find we had been rescued from the downward spiral we were on. At the grass-roots we were given a lot of freedom to innovate and to build this new society which you espouse. Much of that has disappeared with New Labour and none of the promise of the better society has actually been delivered. In fact we’re in more of a mess now than we were in the 70s. I’ve been so heartened by the adult behaviour of Cameron and Clegg and really excited about a whole new world on which you throw such scorn.

  39. TimWaterfield says:

    It’s weird isn’t it? The single largest objection to PR that Victoria Tory and Fabian Labour have is that it would result in a parliament that represents what the people want. And yet both Labour and Tories have so cosied up to the political centre in recent years, to woo those same people, that there is now a broader spectrum of political thought within each of their parties than there is across the combined manifestos of all three major parties.

    It may be that the current Labour and Tory parties could never again command a house majority were PR to be introduced. Fortunately Charles Darwin came up with a mechanism, 150 years ago, by which the individuals within those parties may still have a future in the political limelight – and one which I’m sure would appeal to their instincts.

  40. Evertype says:

    The Tories have been wrong-footed. The Tories have been set up and have fallen for it. If a deal is done on PR, there will not be a majority Tory government again. There is a two thirds non-Tory majority in Britain.

    Fingers crossed….

    Michael Everson

  41. Jaclyn says:

    I have to say, as a working class girl from the 60s, I am bemused by this anti-Thatcher commentary. Thatcher did one thing that no government has done since – she gave us back some pride, she told us as a country we were great, she did not smack down the country, and she put the Unions in their place and if the Labour lot were so opposed to the closing of Coal mines, why on earth did they not start them up again? Labour has been in bed with the bankers, big business, put more unelected Peers into government than ever before – don’t preach about Thatcher when this lot are the greediest bunch of self serving hypocrites that have ever disgrace that beautiful building.

  42. Jaclyn says:

    Oh and whilst I am on a rant Neville Farmer – some of us don’t want PR, some of us find the wimpy politics of the PC lot too much to stomach, even so, I am prepared to accept a referendum which must contain every single fact about that system, it’s flaws, its drawbacks as well as ‘it might get more Libdems in power’ because right now, Sir, as far as I can see, that’s all you’re interested in. It’s time we started to work for ourselves and stop the handout culture – help should always be there for those that truly need it, not for those that think they’re owed it!

  43. Peter Whiteford says:

    This is my first time here as I had not previously realised that as well as being a fine actor, Mr Fry is a keen political observer.

    Let me put in my support for the Australian federal political system – compulsory voting means that well over 90% of the adult population actually vote and most people put in valid votes. Then preferential voting system (the AV system) then means that you are very unlikely to get into government unless more than half the voting population prefer you to the main alternative.

    In combination, compulsory and preferential voting means that governments don’t get elected unless at least 45% of the total adult population over 18 years would prefer you to be government. In contrast in this election the Conservative party got 36% of the 65% who voted or about 23% of the adult population.

    What this means is that the Australian political system drives political parties into the centre. Both the labour party – as we call it here – and the liberal party – amusingly our name for the conservative party – are much more middle of the road than UK political parties.

    Mrs Thatcher’s policies would have been impossible to implement in Australia (as would have been Mr Foot’s I suspect). Or rather they would have implemented their policies and then lost the next election.

    This effect is reinforced by having an upper house that is elected on a different timeline and through proportional representation, plus having states that have more constitutional separateness and powers. Australian politics is therefore more boring than in the UK, but probably less dangerous.

    A good example of this is the fact that since 1901 only two Australian Prime Ministers have lost their seats in general elections, John Howard in 2007 and Stanley Bruce in 1929. In both cases, they introduced radical changes to labour market regulations and then lost the next election and their seats.

  44. DMinghella says:

    @GrahamM says:

    What a great argument “Hung Parliaments Stink!”

    Quite right, Graham, apologies. I ought to have been less jejune. I was in a hurry. I have expanded my argument elsewhere, if you can be bothered – see my blog at (does Stephen allow links?) minghella dot com.

    “and then you go on to trot out nonsense that sounds like it came from Tory Head-office.”

    Yes, I do sound like a Tory on this. It’s a problem! (As democrats we ought to remember, though, that Tories speak for more people than any other party, on percentage of vote as well as seats.)

    “Tell me, please, when was the last time we had “lovely clean open inclusive government”.” Never. I badly want cleaner politics. I just don’t think PR is the right way.

    …”dismissing the views of the voters whom the MPs are supposed to represent by claiming that “we have a mandate to do whatever the hell we like because a few years ago enough people put an X in a box”

    Even coalitions end up dismissing the views of voters. Eg. a LibLab coalition would freeze out the Tories, and leave their voters in the cold.

    “Strong Government” is just Labour and the Tories saying “we want to be able to ignore the people whilst we’re in power.” You might be right. I don’t think I mentioned “strong government” in my post.

    “As for your sneering comments about PR, I think it is you who need to do some more reading, because it works well in Ireland (South and North), Denmark and Germany to mention a few.”

    Sorry to sneer. I was reacting, among other things, to the ERS website which characterizes counter-arguments to its PR advocacy as ‘myths’. I will look further at the Irish and other systems. I don’t doubt that PR ‘works’ in those countries, I just debate its value as a panacea. I found the Irish Republic’s system even more complex in its redistribution rules than the example given by the ERS, and/but it still redistributes in ways that I do not like.

    “The system of STV when applied to consituency MPs would mean that instead of one candidate getting elected with 18,000 votes whilst 25,000 votes went to all the other candidates, those 25,000 votes would be redistributed until one candidate actually gets a majority of *all* the votes cast, so there are no longer any “safe seats” nor “wasted votes” as happens with the current system.”

    That redistribution is what I was specifically addressing. The redistributing of second and subsequent choices is a complex, counter-intuitive and, in the way that it prioritises the second choices of those who support fringe candidates, unfair.

    “You conclude “It’s our fault. Voters like us sometimes don’t deserve to be represented, proportionately or otherwise” yet if the turkeys keep voting for Xmas and sneering at the opportunity for reform, throwing away a golden opportunity for change because it doesn’t deliver “strong government” (Greece had a strong government…!) then it most certainly *WILL* be “our fault”!”

    I do want change. I just don’t think PR as a system is so wonderful, and I don’t think coalition government as an outcome is necessarily desirable. We will, I think, have the chance to judge the latter very soon. Please, please, please can I be proven wrong?

    For clean politics we need clean politicians. Give me Fry any day. But he’s too clever to stand.

    All the best,

  45. TLC says:

    In my view Camoeron & Clegg will do what ever has to be done to get into power – they’ll both agree (publicly at least) to work together & discuss differences in the future. The Tory Grandees also want power & will feel they have the better of the Lib/Dems – the same old disregard for what anyone not of their ilk want or need.
    We have lost an honest honourable man in GB.

  46. killerbee says:

    I’ve read most of the comments here and some people seem to be confusing Proportional Representation with Preferential Voting.

    Proportional representation as an election method allows all voters a degree of influence on the political process. 15% of the votes under such a system award the party in question 15% of the seats. There are different ways of deciding how the individual candidates are elected.

    Preferential Voting is where you mark your ballot paper from 1 to how ever many candidates are standing in order of your preference. If no candidate achieves 50% or more of the first preferences the candidate that got the lowest first preference vote is eliminated and his second preference votes become first preference votes for that candidate and so on till someone gets 50%.

  47. Evertype says:

    Well. I certainly hope Clegg gets PR in exchange for his soul….