Proportional Representation: House of Commons — [Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 23rd April 2019.

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Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Independent, Penistone and Stocksbridge 4:30 pm, 23rd April 2019

I do not intend to go through the different PR models available, because I am establishing the principle, but I believe there are models of PR that prevent the accession of small extremist parties to a parliamentary system. Germany has such a system.

The recent British Social Attitudes survey found that only 8% of voters identify strongly with a political party. Polls regularly report not only diminishing support for the two parties, but a sense that “none of the above” is an increasingly attractive choice for British voters. That is best expressed by a gradually reducing turnout. In 1950, 84% of voters cast their preferences at the ballot box. In the 2017 election, turnout was 68%. There is other firm evidence that voters are losing confidence in our representative democracy. The report by the Institute for Public Policy Research on the 2015 election established that less than half of 18-24-year-olds voted, compared with nearly 80% of those aged 65 and over. That is a worrying trend.

The past 30 years have seen the emergence of a dramatic divide in how people vote, especially as far as the age demographic is concerned. The evidence is clear: voters increasingly demonstrate that they no longer trust the two main parties to manage the democratic process. Both Labour and the Tories have traditionally held a huge responsibility under first past the post. In an electoral process that offers only limited opportunities to change the political colour of a constituency, we have relied on the two major parties to provide candidates who are capable of taking on the coveted role of Member of Parliament, and to provide a well-thought-through programme for government that is realistic and promises to meet the needs of the country. Increasingly there is a feeling that both parties are failing to take those responsibilities seriously, to the extent that voters are no longer content to be managed by political parties. They increasingly seek plurality, so that they can sift for themselves the range of policy choices available in any given election. Voters no longer want to be patronised by the democratic process; they want to be empowered by it.