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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:23 pm on 23rd April 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Chuka Umunna Chuka Umunna Independent, Streatham 5:23 pm, 23rd April 2019

I congratulate my hon. Friend Angela Smith on initiating this debate. I will try to make three quick points in the three minutes that I have.

First, while I do not want to repeat the points made in favour of proportional representation—hon. Members can take it as a given that I agree with them all—the big problem, which Jo Swinson mentioned, is that our system is a two-party system. It is essentially rigged in favour of two parties. That worked, one could argue, in a Britain of a different age, when our country was essentially divided between the interests of business and capital on the one hand, and the interests of labour on the other. We cannot divide up our country in that way in this day and age. I do not see how two political parties can possibly do justice to the modern tapestry that is Britain, and to the range of interests within it. Traditionally, the response to that argument has been that they are closed coalitions of interests in any event—that they are broad churches. They are not broad churches. I know, because I used to be a member of one. They are straining to keep those divisions and different interests in one place.

We therefore end up with the absurdity that on an issue as crucial as the national security of our country—“What would you do with the future of our nuclear deterrent?”—we have a whole group of people in the Labour party, which I know well, who are committed to retaining the nuclear deterrent, but a leadership and a potential Prime Minister saying that they will never use that nuclear deterrent. I use that simply to illustrate the unsustainability of the system, and how impossible it is for the two main parties in British politics to do the job in the way they used to.

Surely it is better and more honest to have open coalitions governing together. Perhaps each of the two main parties in this country should become two or even three parties. In practice they might govern together, but at least everybody would know where everybody stood and people would not have to pretend that they agreed with each other when they did not. It would make for an altogether more honest system of politics.

Secondly, the other problem with the system is that millions of people in this country vote for a party not because they want to, but because they think they have to in order to keep the other lot out, or because it is the least worst option. How can we go on with a system that forces people to make that kind of choice? If I am wrong about that and people do want to vote for those parties, why does poll after poll show that when we have the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister and “Don’t know” lined up as the options available to people, “Don’t know” scores much more highly than any other option? Thirdly—