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Proportional Representation by John H. Humphreys

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_First Published in 1911_







I believe this book will generally be welcomed as opportune.
Proportional Representation has made very rapid, almost startling
advances in recent years. In one shape or another it has been adopted in
many countries in Northern Europe, and there is a prospect of a most
important extension of this adoption in the reform of the parliamentary
institutions of France. Among ourselves, every political writer and
speaker have got some inkling of the central principle of proportional
representation, and not a few feel, sometimes with reluctance, that it
has come to stay, that it will indeed be worked into our own system when
the inevitable moment arrives for taking up again the reform of the
House of Commons. They know and confess so much among themselves, but
they want to be familiarized with the best machinery for working
proportional representation, and they would not be sorry to have the
arguments for and against its principles once more clearly examined so
that they may be properly equipped for the reception of the coming
change. This little book of Mr. Humphreys is just what they desire. The
author has no doubt about his conclusions, but he goes fairly and with
quite sufficient fulness through the main branches of the controversy
over proportional representation, and he explains the working of an
election under the system we must now regard as the one most likely to
be adopted among us. His qualifications for his work are indeed rare,
and his authority in a corresponding measure high. A convinced adherent
of proportional representation, he stimulated the revival of the Society
established to promote it. He was the chief organizer of the enlarged
illustrative elections we have had at home. He has attended elections in
Belgium and again in Sweden, and when the time came for electing
Senators in the colonies of South Africa, and Municipal Councils in
Johannesburg and Pretoria, the local governments solicited his
assistance in conducting them, and put on record their obligations for
his help. The reader can have no better guide in argument, no more
experienced hand in the explanation of machinery, and if I add that Mr.
Humphreys has done his work with complete mastery of his subject and
with conspicuous clearness of exposition, I need say no more in
recommendation of his book.

It may be objected that the Royal Commission which issued its Report
last spring, did not recommend the incorporation of proportional
representation into our electoral system. This is most true. One member
indeed (Lord Lochee) did not shrink from this conclusion, but his
colleagues were unable to report that a case had been made out for the
adoption "here and now" of proportional representation. Their hesitancy
and the reasons they advanced as justifying it must lead many to a
conclusion opposite to their own. They themselves are indeed emphatic in
pressing the limitation "here and now" as qualifying their verdict. They
wish it to be most distinctly understood that they have no irresistible
objection to proportional representation. They indeed openly confess
that conditions may arise among ourselves at some future time which
would appear to be not necessarily distant, when the balance of
expediency may turn in favour of its adoption. They suggest "that some
need may become felt which can only be satisfied by proportional
representation in some form or another," and I do not think I
misrepresent their attitude in believing that a very small change of
circumstances might suffice to precipitate a reversal of their present
conclusion. All who are familiar with the conduct of political
controversies must recognize the situation thus revealed. Again and
again have proposals of reform been made which the wise could not
recommend for acceptance "here and now." They are seen to be good for
other folk; they fit into the circumstances of other societies; they may
have worked well in climates different from our own; nay, among
ourselves they might be tried in some auxiliary fashion separated from
the great use for which they have been recommended, but we will wait for
the proper moment of their undisguised general acceptance. It is in this
way that political ideas have been propagated, and it would be a mistake
if we were hastily to condemn what are sure and trusty lines of
progress. When the Royal Commissioners, after all their hesitations
about the intrusion of proportional representation even in the thinnest
of wedges into the House of Commons, go on to say that "there would be
much to be said in its favour as a method for the constitution of an
elected Second Chamber," and again, though admitting that this was
beyond their reference, express a pretty transparent wish that it might
be tried in municipal elections, the friends of the principle may well
be content with the line which the tide of opinion has reached. The
concluding words of this branch of the Report are scarcely necessary for
their satisfaction: "We need only add, that should it be decided at any
time to introduce proportional representation here for political
elections the change would be facilitated if experience had been gained
in municipal elections alike by electors and officials."

A few words may be permitted in reference to the line of defence
advanced by the Commissioners against the inroad of proportional
representation. Mr. Humphreys has dealt with this with sufficient
fullness in Chapters X and XI which deal with objections to proportional
representation; and I refer the reader to what he has written on the
general subject. My own comment on the position of the Commissioners
must be short. Briefly stated, their position is that proportional
representation "cannot be recommended in a political election where the
question which party is to govern the country plays a predominant part,"
and, as elsewhere they put it, "a general election is in fact considered
by a large portion of the electorate of this country as practically a
referendum on the question which of two governments shall be returned to
power." The first remark to be made upon this wonderful barrier is that
a general election avowedly cannot be trusted as a true referendum. It
produces a balance of members in favour of one party, though even this
may fail to be realized at no distant future, but the balance of members
may be and has been under our present system in contradiction to the
balance of the electors; or in other words, a referendum would answer
the vital question which party is to govern, in the opposite sense to
the answer given by a general election. This is so frankly admitted in
the Report that it is difficult to understand how the Commissioners can
recommend adherence to a process which they have proved to be a
delusion. Even on the bare question of ascertaining what government the
nation desires to see installed at Westminster, the present method is
found wanting, whilst the reformed plan, by giving us a reproduction in
miniature of the divisions of national opinion, would in the balance of
judgment of the microcosm give us the balance of judgment in the nation.
If a referendum is really wanted, a general election with single-member
constituencies does not give us a secure result, and an election under
proportional representation would ensure it. A different question
obviously disturbs many minds, to wit, the stability of a government
resting on the support of a truly representative assembly. Here again it
may be asked whether our present machinery really satisfies conditions
of stable equilibrium. We know they are wanting, and with the
development of groups among us, they will be found still more wanting.
The groups which emerge under existing processes are uncertain in shape,
in size, and in their combinations, and governments resting upon them
are infirm even when they appear to be strong. It is only when the
groups in the legislature represent in faithful proportion bodies of
convinced adherents returning them as their representatives that such
groups become strong enough to restore parliamentary efficiency and to
combine in the maintenance of a stable administration. It may require a
little exercise of political imagination to realize how the transformed
House of Commons would work, and to many the demonstration will only
come through a new experience to which they will be driven through the
failure of the existing apparatus. Meanwhile it may be suggested to
doubters whether their anxiety respecting the possible working of a
reformed House of Commons is not at bottom a distrust of freedom. They
are afraid of a House of chartered liberties, whereas they would find
the best security for stable and ordered progress in the self-adjustment
of an assembly which would be a nation in miniature.



Current constitutional and electoral problems cannot be solved in the
absence of a satisfactory method of choosing representatives. An attempt
has therefore been made in the present volume to contrast the practical
working of various methods of election; of majority systems as
exemplified in single-member constituencies and in multi-member
constituencies with the block vote; of majority systems modified by the
use of the second ballot or of the transferable vote; of the earlier
forms of minority representation; and, lastly, of modern systems of
proportional representation.

Care has been taken to ensure accuracy in the descriptions of the
electoral systems in use. The memorandum on the use of the single vote
in Japan has been kindly supplied by Mr. Kametaro Hayashida, the Chief
Secretary of the Japanese House of Representatives; the description of
the Belgian system of proportional representation has been revised by
Count Goblet d'Alviella, Secretary of the Belgian Senate; the account of
the Swedish system by Major E. von Heidenstam, of Ronneby; that of the
Finland system by Dr. J.N. Reuter, of Helsingfors; whilst the chapter on
the second ballot and the transferable vote in single-member
constituencies is based upon information furnished by correspondents in
the countries in which these systems are in force. The statistical
analyses of elections in the United Kingdom were prepared by Mr. J.
Booke Corbett, of the Manchester Statistical Society, whose figures were
accepted by the Royal Commission on Electoral Systems as representing
"the truth as correctly as circumstances will permit."

The author is greatly indebted to his colleagues of the Proportional
Representation Society, Mr. J. Fischer Williams and Mr. Alfred J. Gray,
for the cordial assistance rendered by them in the preparation of this
book. Acknowledgments are also due to the editors of the _Times_, the
_Contemporary Review_, and the _Albany Review_, for permission to make
use of contributions to these journals.





The spread of Representative Government--The House of Commons and
sovereign power--The demand for complete sovereignty--Complete
sovereignty demands complete representation--Strengthening the
foundations of the House of Commons--The rise of a new party--The new
political conditions and electoral reform.



The exaggeration of majorities--The disfranchisement of minorities--The
under-representation of majorities--A "game of dice"--The importance of
boundaries--The "gerrymander"--The modern gerrymander--The "block"
vote--The election of the London County Council--The election of
aldermen of the London County Council--The election of Representative
Peers of Scotland--The Australian Senate--London Borough
Councils--Provincial Municipal Councils--Summary.



False impressions of public opinion--become the basis of legislative
action--Loss of prestige by the House of Commons--Unstable
representation--Weakened personnel--Degradation of party strife--The
"final rally"--Bribery and "nursing"--The organization of victory--Party
exclusiveness--Mechanical debates--Disfranchisement of minorities in
bi-racial countries--Defective representation in municipal
bodies--Wasteful municipal finance--No continuity in administration--The
root of the evil.



The Limited vote--The Cumulative vote--The Single vote--The need of
minority representation.



Three-cornered contests--The second ballot--Experience in Germany,
Austria, Belgium, France--The bargainings at second ballots in
France--The "Kuh-Handel" in Germany--The position of a deputy elected at
a second ballot--The Alternative vote--The Alternative or Contingent vote
in Queensland, in West Australia--Mr. Deakin's failure to carry the
Alternative vote--Probable effect of the Alternative vote in
England--The Alternative vote not a solution of the problem of
three-cornered contests.



The essential features of a sound electoral method--Constituencies
returning several members--Proportional representation of the
electors--Experience in Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, German States,
France, Holland, Finland, Sweden, Australasia, South Africa, Canada,
Oregon, The United Kingdom--The success of proportional representation
in practice--An election by miners.



Its present application--An English movement--The system in brief--Large
constituencies--The single vote--The vote made transferable--How votes
are transferred--The quota--A simple case--The transfer of surplus
votes--The elimination of the lowest unelected candidate--The
result--Different methods of transferring surplus votes: The Hare
method--The Hare-Clark method--The Gregory method--The Gove or Dobbs
method--The Model election of 1908--The counting of votes: general
arrangements--The first count--The quota--The transfer of surplus
votes--The elimination of unsuccessful candidates--The fairness of the
result--Improved arrangements in the Transvaal elections--Criticisms of
the single transferable vote--Effect of late preferences--Elimination of
candidates at the bottom of the poll--Quota representation the basis of
the system.



The Belgian electoral system--The Franchise--Compulsory voting--Partial
renewal of Chamber--The presentation of lists--The act of voting--The
allotment of seats to parties--The selection of the successful
candidates--A Belgian election, Ghent, 1908: the poll--The counting of
the votes--The final process--Public opinion favourable to the
system--The relation of the Belgian to other list systems--The different
methods of apportioning seats to lists--Criticism of the d'Hondt
rule--The formation of Cartels--The different methods of selecting
successful candidates--Panachage--The single vote and _case de
tête_--The limited and cumulative vote--Special characteristics of
Swedish and Finnish systems.



The influence of previous conditions--Party the basis of representation
in a list system--The freedom of the elector within the
party--Comparative accuracy--Panachage--Applicability to non-political
elections--Bye-elections--Relative simplicity of scrutiny.



Proportional representation and the two-party system--Burke's view of
party and party discipline--Narrow basis fatal to a large
party--Proportional representation and party discipline--"Free
questions" in Japan--The formation of groups--The formation of an
executive--A check on partisan legislation--Unlike the referendum,
proportional representation will strengthen the House of
Commons--Proportional representation facilitates legislation desired by
the nation--Proportional representation in Standing Committees--Taking
off the Whips--New political conditions.



The question of practicability--The elector's task--The returning
officer's task--Time required for counting the votes--Fads and sectional
interests--The representation of localities--The member and his
constituents--Objections of party agents--Alleged difficulties in the
organization of elections--Alleged increase of cost--The accuracy of



Electoral problems awaiting solution--Simplification of the
franchise--Redistribution--Should be automatic--Secures neither one vote
one value nor true representation--The problem simplified by
proportional representation--The case of Ireland--Three-cornered
contests--Partial adoption of proportional representation not
desirable--Proportional representation and democratic principles
--Constitutional reform--Federal Home Rule--Imperial Federation




Failure of single-member system--Multi-member constituencies: Single
Vote adopted 1900--Equitable results--The new system and party
organization--The position of independents--Public opinion and the new



The effect of unequal constituencies on representation--The effect of
second ballots--Second ballots and the swing of the pendulum--The second
ballot and the representation of minorities--Summary.



The former constitution of the two Chambers--The struggle for electoral
reform--The Swedish law of 1909--The Swedish system of proportional
representation--The allotment of seats to parties--The selection of the
successful candidates--Free voters and double candidatures--An election
at Carlskrona--The poll--The allotment of seats to parties--The
selection of the successful candidates--The election of
suppliants--Comparison with Belgian system--The system and party
organization--The great improvement effected by the Swedish system.



The influence of the Belgian system--Schedules and "compacts" in place
of lists--An election in Nyland--Returning officer's task--The allotment
of seats--Successful candidates in the Nyland election--Equitable
results--Elector's freedom of choice.



Explanatory notes--The representation of minorities.



I. The element of chance involved: Its magnitude. II. Method of
eliminating the chance element--Example.











"The object of our deliberation is to promote the good purposes for
which elections have been instituted, and to prevent their




"The virtue, the spirit, the essence of the House of Commons, consists
in its being the express image of the nation."--BURKE.

"It is necessary," said Burke, "to resort to the theory of government
whenever you propose any alteration in the frame of it, whether that
alteration means the revival of some former antiquated and forsaken
constitution or state, or the introduction of some new improvement in
the commonwealth." The following chapters are a plea for an improvement
in our electoral methods, and although the suggested improvement and the
arguments with which it is supported are not new, yet it is desirable,
in the spirit of Burke's declaration, to preface the plea with some
reference to the main feature of our constitution.

_The spread of representative government_.

The outstanding characteristic of the British Constitution, its
fundamental principle, is now, if not fully so in Burke's time, the
government of the nation by its chosen representatives. Indeed, so much
is this the case that, in spite of the continued presence of elements
which are far from representative in character, originating in that
distant past when commoners had little, if any, political influence, the
British Constitution and Representative Government are almost synonymous
terms, and the "mother of parliaments" has given birth to so long a
succession of constitutions of which the cardinal principle is
representative government--the association of the governed with the
government--that we cannot now think of our House of Commons save as the
most complete expression of this principle. Nor, despite the criticisms,
many of them fully deserved, which have been directed against the
working of parliamentary institutions, has the House of Commons ceased
to be taken in other lands as a model to be reproduced in general
outline. New parliaments continue to arise and in the most unexpected
quarters. China is insistently demanding the immediate realisation of
full representative government. Japan has not only assimilated western
learning, but has adopted western representative institutions, and in
copying our electoral machinery has added improvements of her own.
Russia has established a parliament which, although not at present
elected upon a democratic basis, must inevitably act as a powerful check
upon autocracy, and in the process will assuredly seek that increased
authority which comes from a more complete identification with the
people. The Reichstag has demanded the cessation of the personal rule of
the German Emperor, and will not be content until, in the nation's name,
it exercises a more complete control over the nation's affairs.
Parliamentary government was recently established at Constantinople amid
the plaudits of the whole civilized world, and although the new régime
has not fulfilled all the hopes formed of it, yet upon its continuance
depends the maintenance of the improvements already effected in Turkey.
Lord Morley signalized his tenure of office as Secretary of State for
India by reforms that make a great advance in the establishment of
representative institutions. Some of these experiments may be regarded
as premature, but in the case of civilized nations there would appear to
be no going back; for them there is no alternative to democracy, and if
representative institutions have not yielded so far all the results that
were expected of them, progress must be sought in an improvement of
these institutions rather than in a return to earlier conditions. The
only criticism, therefore, of the House of Commons that is of practical
value must deal with those defects which experience has disclosed, and
with those improvements in its organization and composition which are
essential if in the future it is to discharge efficiently and adequately
its primary function of giving effect to the national will.

_The House of Commons and sovereign power._

"The essential property of representative government," says Professor
Dicey, "is to produce coincidence between the wishes of the Sovereign
and the wishes of the subject.... This, which is true in its measure of
all real representative government applies with special truth to the
English House of Commons." [1] This conception of the House of Commons as
the central and predominant factor in the constitution, exercising
sovereign power because it represents the nation which it governs, has
been notably strengthened during the last fifty years. A change having
far-reaching consequences took place in 1861, when the repeal of the
paper duties was effected by a clause in the annual Bill providing for
the necessary reimposition of annual duties, a proceeding which deprived
the Lords of the opportunity of defeating the new proposal other than by
rejecting the whole of the measure of which it formed a part. This
example has since been followed by both the great parties of the State.
Sir William Harcourt embodied extensive changes in the Death Duties in
the Finance Bill of 1894; Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, in 1899, included
proposals for altering the permanent provisions made for the reduction
of the National Debt; Mr. Lloyd George, following these precedents,
included in the Finance Bill of 1909 important new taxes which, prior to
1861, would have been submitted to both Houses in the form of separate
Bills. The House of Commons, however, has not yet attained the position
of full unqualified sovereignty, for, whilst the relations between the
King and the Commons have been harmonised by making the King's Ministry
dependent upon that House, the decisions of the House of Lords are not
yet subject to the same control. The Lords successfully rejected the
Education, Licensing, and Plural Voting Bills, all of which were passed
by the Commons by large majorities during the Parliament of 1906-1909.
Further, it refused its consent to the Finance Bill of 1909 until the
measure had been submitted to the judgment of the country, and by this
action compelled a dissolution of Parliament.[2]

_The demand for complete sovereignty._

These assertions of authority on the part of the House of Lords called
forth from the Commons a fresh demand for complete sovereignty--a demand
based on the ground that the House of Commons expresses the will of the
people, and that the rejection by the hereditary House of measures
desired by the nation's representatives is directly opposed to the true
principles of representative government. In consequence of the rejection
of the Education and Plural Voting Bills of 1906, Sir Henry
Campbell-Bannerman, in June 1907, moved in the House of Commons the
following resolution: "That, in order to give effect to the will of the
people as expressed by their elected representatives, it is necessary
that the power of the other House to alter or reject Bills passed by
this House, should be so restricted by law as to secure that within the
limit of a single Parliament the final decision of the Commons shall
prevail." The first clause of this resolution advances the claim already
referred to--that the House of Commons is the representative and
authoritative expression of the national will--and in support of this
claim Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman quoted the declaration of Burke, that
"the virtue, the spirit, the essence of the House of Commons consists in
its being the express image of the nation." In the Parliament elected in
January 1910, further resolutions were carried by the Commons defining
more precisely the proposed limitation of the legislative power of the
Lords. It was resolved[3] that the House of Lords should be disabled by
law from rejecting or amending a money Bill, and that any Bill other
than a money Bill which had passed the House of Commons in three
successive sessions should become law without the consent of the
House of Lords.

These resolutions were embodied in the Parliament Bill, but the measure
was not proceeded with owing to the death of King Edward, and a
conference between the leaders of the two chief parties met for the
purpose of finding a settlement of the controversy by consent. The
conference failed, and the Government at once took steps to appeal to
the country for a decision in support of its proposals. Meanwhile the
House of Lords, which had already placed on record its opinion that the
possession of a peerage should no longer confer the right to legislate,
carried resolutions outlining a scheme for a new Second Chamber, and
proposing that disputes between the two Houses should be decided by
joint sessions, or, in matters of great gravity, by means of a
Referendum. The result of the appeal to the country (Dec. 1910) was in
favour of the Government. The Parliament Bill was re-introduced, and
this measure, if passed, will mark an important step in the realisation
of the demand of the Commons for complete sovereignty.

_Complete sovereignty demands complete representation._

The Parliament Bill does not, however, contemplate the establishment of
single-chamber Government, and it would appear that complete sovereignty
is only claimed whilst the House of Lords is based upon the hereditary
principle. For the preamble of the Bill declares that "it is intended
to substitute for the House of Lords as it at present exists a Second
Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis," and that
"provision will require hereafter to be made by Parliament in a measure
effecting such substitution for limiting and defining the powers of the
new Second Chamber." But whatever constitutional changes may take place,
the national will must remain the final authority in legislation, and
the ultimate position of the House of Commons in the constitution and in
public esteem will depend upon the confidence with which it can be
regarded as giving expression to that will. It cannot claim to be the
sole authority for legislation without provoking searching inquiries
into the methods of election by which it is brought into being. At a
General Election the citizens are asked to choose representatives who
shall have full power to speak in their name on all questions which may
arise during the lifetime of a Parliament. But, although invariably
there are several important questions before the country awaiting
decision, the elector is usually restricted in his choice to two
candidates, and it is obvious that this limited choice affords him a
most inadequate opportunity of giving expression to his views upon the
questions placed before him. There can be no guarantee that the
decisions of representatives so chosen are always in agreement with the
wishes of those who elected them. Even in the General Election of
December 1910, when every effort was made to concentrate public
attention upon one problem--the relations between the two Houses of
Parliament--the elector in giving his vote had to consider the probable
effect of his choice upon many other questions of first-class
importance--the constitution of a new Second Chamber, Home Rule for
Ireland, the maintenance of Free Trade, the establishment of an Imperial
Preference, Electoral Reform, the reversal or modification of the
Osborne Judgment, Payment of Members, Invalidity Insurance; in respect
of all of which legislative proposals might possibly be submitted to the
new Parliament. Obviously before the House of Commons can be regarded
with complete confidence as the expression of the national will, the
elector must be given a wider and more effective choice in the selection
of a representative.

It is, however, contended by many politicians that the main object of a
General Election is not the creation of a legislature which shall give
expression to the views of electors on public questions. "A General
Election," says the Report of the Royal Commission on Electoral
Systems,[4] "is in fact considered by a large portion of the electorate
as practically a referendum on the question which of two Governments
shall be returned to power." But were this interpretation of a General
Election accepted it would destroy the grounds on which it is claimed
that the decisions of the Commons in respect of legislation shall
prevail "within the limit of a single Parliament." Some means should be
available for controlling the Government in respect of its legislative
proposals, and the history of the Unionist administrations of 1895-1906,
during which the House of Lords failed to exercise any such control,
demonstrated the need of a check upon the action of a House of Commons
elected under present conditions. Mr. John M. Robertson, whose
democratic leanings are not open to the least suspicion, has commented
in this sense upon the lack of confidence in the representative
character of the House of Commons. "Let me remind you," said he, "that
the state of things in which the Progressive party can get in on a tidal
movement of political feeling with a majority of 200, causes deep
misgivings in the minds of many electors.... Those who desire an
effective limitation of the power of the House of Lords and its ultimate
abolition, are bound to offer to the great mass of prudent electors some
measure of electoral reform which will give greater stability to the
results of the polls, and will make the results at a General Election
more in keeping with the actual balance of opinion in the country." [5]
The preamble of the Parliament Bill itself implies that the decisions of
the House of Commons may not always be in accordance with the national
wishes. It foreshadows the creation of a new Second Chamber, and the
only purpose which this chamber can serve is to make good the
deficiencies of the First.

The fact that our electoral methods are so faulty that their results
produce in the minds of many electors deep misgivings as to the
representative character of the House of Commons must materially
undermine the authority of that House. All who desire the final and
complete triumph of representative institutions--a triumph that depends
upon their success in meeting the demands made upon them--all who are
anxious that the House of Commons shall not only maintain, but increase,
the prestige that has hitherto been associated with it, must, in the
face of possible constitutional developments, endeavour to strengthen
its position by making it in fact, as it is in theory, fully
representative of the nation. For Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's
quotation from Burke is double-edged, and may be expressed thus: "the
virtue, the spirit, the essence of the House of Commons departs as soon
as it ceases to be the express image of the nation." Such a House cannot
furnish an adequate basis of support for a Government. For the
Government which issues from it will not command public confidence. The
debates in the House in 1905, before the resignation of Mr. Balfour,
bore testimony to the fact that the strength and power of a Government
which, according to the theory of our constitution, depends upon the
number of its supporters in the House of Commons, in reality rests upon
its reputation with the country. There was quoted more than once with
excellent effect this dictum of Sir William Anson: "Ministers are not
only the servants of the Crown, they represent the public opinion of the
United Kingdom. When they cease to impersonate public opinion they
become a mere group of personages who must stand or fall by the
prudence and success of their actions. They have to deal with disorders
at home or hostile manifestations abroad; they would have to meet these
with the knowledge that they had not the confidence or support of the
country; and their opponents at home and abroad would know this too." [6]
The strength and stability of a democratic Government thus depend upon
its capacity to interpret the will of the country, and the support which
the House of Commons can give is of value only to the extent to which
that House reflects national opinion. The Commons, if it is to maintain
unimpaired its predominant position in the constitution, must make good
its claim to be the representative expression of the national will. The
measures for which it makes itself responsible must have behind them
that irresistible authority, the approval of the electorate. If then our
electoral methods fail to yield a fully representative House, and if, in
consequence, the House cannot satisfactorily fulfil its double function
of affording an adequate basis of support to the Government which
springs from it, and of legislating in accordance with the nation's
wishes, the resultant dissatisfaction and instability must give rise to
a demand for their improvement. The House of Commons must re-establish
itself upon surer foundations.

_Strengthening the foundations of the House of Commons._

Each change in the constitution of the House of Commons--and its
foundations have been strengthened on more than one occasion--has been
preceded by a recognition of its failure to meet in full the
requirements of a representative chamber. Large changes have again and
again been made in consequence of such recognition since the day when
Burke alleged that its virtue lay in its being "the express image of the
nation." At the close of the eighteenth century, when these words were
spoken, it could be alleged with apparent truth that 306 members were
virtually returned by the influence of 160 persons.[7] The
consciousness that such a House could not be the express image of the
nation produced the Reform Bill of 1832, and a further recognition that
a still larger number of the governed must be associated with the
Government, produced the further changes of 1867 and of 1884, embodied
in measures significantly called Acts for the Representation of the
People. These changes, by conferring the franchise upon an ever-widening
circle of citizens, have, from one point of view, rendered the House of
Commons more fully representative of the nation at large. But even
whilst the process of extending the franchise was still in operation, it
was recognized that such extensions were not in themselves sufficient to
create a House of Commons that could claim to be a true expression of
the national will. The test of a true system of representation, laid
down by Mill in _Representative Government_, has never been successfully
challenged. It still remains the last word upon the subject, and, until
the House of Commons satisfies that test with reasonable approximation,
it will always be open to the charge that it is not fully
representative, and that in consequence its decisions lack the necessary
authority. "In a really equal democracy," runs the oft-quoted phrase,
"any and every section would be represented, not disproportionately, but
proportionately. A majority of the electors would always have a majority
of the representatives; but a minority of electors would always have a
minority of the representatives. Man for man, they would be as fully
represented as the majority." [8]

Mill's philosophy finds but little favour in many quarters of political
activity to-day, and the rejection of his philosophy has induced many to
regard his views on representative government as of little value. Even
so staunch an admirer as Lord Morley of Blackburn has underestimated the
importance of Mill's declaration, for, in a recent appreciation of the
philosopher[9] he declared that Mill "was less successful in dealing
with parliamentary machinery than in the infinitely more important task
of moulding and elevating popular character, motives, ideals, and steady
respect for truth, equity and common sense--things that matter a vast
deal more than machinery." Yet Lord Morley, in his attempt to make a
beginning with representative institutions in India, found that
questions of electoral machinery were of the first importance; that
they, indeed, constituted his chief difficulty; and he was compelled in
adjusting the respective claims of Hindus and Muhammadans to have
recourse to Mill's famous principle--the due representation of
minorities. Mill, as subsequent chapters will show, understood what Lord
Morley seems to have insufficiently recognized, that the development or
repression of growth in popular character, motives and ideals, nay, the
successful working of representative institutions themselves, depends in
a very considerable degree upon electoral machinery. Its importance
increases with every fresh assertion of democratic principles, and the
constitutional issues raised during the Parliaments of 1906, 1910, and
1911 must involve a revision of our electoral methods before a complete
solution is attained. The demand on the part of the House of Commons for
complete sovereignty must evoke a counter demand that that House shall
make itself fully representative.

_The rise of a new party._

But the relations which should subsist between the two Houses of
Parliament, whether the upper House is reformed or not, is not the only
question which is giving rise to a closer examination of the foundations
of the House of Commons. To this external difficulty there must be added
the internal, and in the future a more pressing, problem created by the
rise of a new organized party within the House of Commons itself. The
successive extensions of the franchise have given birth to new political
forces which are not content to give expression to their views along the
old channels of the two historic parties, and the growth of the Labour
Party must accelerate the demand for a more satisfactory electoral
method. For a system which fails in many respects to meet the
requirements of two political parties cannot possibly do justice to the
claims of three parties to fair representation in the House of Commons.
It is true that some statesmen regard the rise of a new party with fear
and trembling; they imagine that it forebodes the bankruptcy of
democratic institutions, the success of which, in their judgment, is
necessarily bound up with the maintenance of the two-party system. The
two-party system must indeed be a plant of tender growth if it depends
for existence upon the maintenance of antiquated electoral methods. But
those politicians who deprecate any change on the ground that
single-member constituencies afford the only means by which the
two-party system can be preserved, have failed to explain why this
electoral system has not prevented the growth of Labour parties in
Australia and in England, or why numerous parties and single-member
constituencies go hand in hand both in France and Germany. Single-member
constituencies may distort and falsify the representation of parties,
but they cannot prevent the coming of a new party if that party is the
outcome, the expression, of a new political force.

_The new political conditions and electoral reform._

Why should the rise of a new party cause so much uneasiness? Can
democracy make no use of that increased diffusion of political
intelligence from which springs these new political movements? Mr.
Asquith takes no such pessimistic view. He, least, realises that our
present system is not necessarily the final stage in the development of
representative government. He does not imagine that, whilst we welcome
progress in all things else, we must at all costs adhere to the
electoral methods which have done duty in the past. Speaking at St.
Andrews, 19 February 1906, he declared that: "It was infinitely to the
advantage of the House of Commons, if it was to be a real reflection and
mirror of the national mind, that there should be no strain of opinion
honestly entertained by any substantial body of the King's subjects
which should not find there representation and speech. No student of
political development could have supposed that we should always go along
in the same old groove, one party on one side and another party on the
other side, without the intermediate ground being occupied, as it was in
every other civilized country, by groups and factions having special
ideas and interests of their own. If real and genuine and intelligent
opinion was more split up than it used to be, and if we could not now
classify everybody by the same simple process, we must accept the new
conditions and adapt our machinery to them, our party organization, our
representative system, and the whole scheme and form of our government."
This is not a chance saying, standing by itself, for a fortnight later,
speaking at Morley, Mr. Asquith added: "Let them have a House of Commons
which fully reflected every strain of opinion; that was what made
democratic government in the long run not only safer and more free, but
more stable." Mr. Asquith's statements take cognizance of the fact that
a great divergence between the theoretical and actual composition of the
House of Commons must make for instability, and his pronouncement is an
emphatic reinforcement of the arguments contained in the earlier portion
of this chapter.

On a more important occasion, when replying to an influential deputation
of members of Parliament and others,[10] Mr. Asquith, with all the
responsibility which attaches to the words of a Prime Minister, made
this further statement: "I have said in public before now, and am
therefore only repeating an opinion which I have never ceased to hold,
namely, that there can be no question in the mind of any one familiar
with the actual operation of our constitutional system that it permits,
and I might say that it facilitates--but it certainly permits--a
minority of voters, whether in the country at large or in particular
constituencies, to determine the representation--the relative
representation in the one case of the whole nation, and the actual
representation in the other case of the particular
constituency--sometimes in defiance of the opinions and wishes of the
majority of the electors. The moment you have stated that as a fact
which cannot be disputed, and it cannot be contradicted by any one, you
have pointed out a flaw of a most serious character, and some might say
of an almost fatal character, when your constitutional and Parliamentary
system appears at the bar of judgment upon the issue whether or not it
does from the democratic point of view really carry out the first
principles of representative government. I therefore agree that it is
impossible to defend the rough and ready method which has been hitherto
adopted as a proper or satisfactory explanation of the representative
principle. It is not merely, as more than one speaker has pointed out,
that under our existing system a minority in the country may return a
majority of the House of Commons, but what more frequently happens, and
what I am disposed to agree is equally injurious in its results, is that
you have almost always a great disproportion in the relative size of the
majority and minority in the House of Commons as compared with their
relative size in the constituencies. That is the normal condition of our
House of Commons. I have had experience of some of the inconveniences
which result." In speaking at Burnley in support of the Parliament Bill
during the electoral campaign of December 1910, Mr. Asquith again laid
stress upon the need of making the House of Commons fully
representative. "It is," he said, "an essential and integral feature of
our policy ... that we shall go forward with the task of making the
House of Commons not only the mouthpiece but the mirror of the
national mind."

There can be no doubt that the question of electoral methods must now
occupy a prominent place in all discussions which centre around the
purpose, efficiency and authority of the House of Commons. John Bright,
in addressing the people of Birmingham, on the eve of an election,
exhorted them to "bear in mind that you are going to make a machine
more important than any that is made in the manufactories of Birmingham
... a stupendous machine whose power no man can measure." [11] Can we
afford in the manufacture of such a machine to be content with rough and
ready methods of election? Accuracy and precision are being demanded
with ever-increasing force in all other departments of human activity;
on what grounds then can we in the most delicate of all--that of
government--refuse to recognize their value? The necessity of ensuring
the predominance of the House of Commons in our constitutional system,
the problem created by the rise of the Labour Party, the increased
recognition of the need of reform, cannot but contribute to one result.
The House of Commons will make itself more fully representative by the
adoption of more trustworthy electoral methods, and in so doing will not
only increase its stability and efficiency, but will render its
constitutional position impregnable.

The indispensable preliminaries to any such change are, in the first
place, an analysis of the results, both direct and indirect, of existing
methods and, in the second place, a careful comparison of the
improvements possible. The subsequent chapters will be devoted to both
these aspects of the problem, for in the elucidation of the system most
suited to British conditions, the experience of those countries which,
faced with the necessity for change, have already introduced new methods
into their electoral systems, will be found to be of the highest value.

[Footnote 1: _The Law of the Constitution_, p. 81.]

[Footnote 2: Our constitution is an ever-changing one, and had the
country endorsed the action of the Lords in withholding its assent to
the Finance Bill of 1909, a great blow would have been dealt to the
authority of the House of Commons. The Fabian Society, in its Manifesto
to members, issued on the eve of the election of January 1910, put this
aspect of the case very forcibly: "It may justly be claimed by the
Socialists that they have steadily refused to be misled by idle talk
about what is and what is not constitutional, and have recognized that
the only real constitution is the sum of the powers that are effectively
exercised in the country. If the House of Lords boldly refuses supply
and compels a dissolution, and the country, at the election, supports
the Lords, that support will make the action of the Lords constitutional
in spite of all paper denunciations by the defeated party" (_Fabian
News_, January 1910).

The verdict of the country, as interpreted by the present mode of
election, condemned the action of the Lords by a substantial majority.
Yet the figures in Chap. II. p. 19, show by how small a turnover of
votes that judgment might have been reversed.]

[Footnote 3: 14 April 1910.]

[Footnote 4: Cd. 5163, par. 126.]

[Footnote 5: Manchester Reform Club, 2 February 1909.]

[Footnote 6: _The Law and Custom of the Constitution,_ p. 372.]

[Footnote 7: Ibid., p. 124.]

[Footnote 8: _Representative Government_, Chap. VII.]

[Footnote 9: _The Times_, Literary Supplement, 18 May 1906.]

[Footnote 10: 10 November 1908.]

[Footnote 11: Thomas Hare, _The Election of Representatives_, p. 18]



"I therefore agree that it is impossible to defend the rough and ready
method which has been hitherto adopted as a proper or satisfactory
explanation of the representative principle. It is not merely, as more
than one speaker has pointed out, that under our existing system a
minority in the country may return a majority of the House of Commons,
but what more frequently happens, and what I am disposed to agree is
equally injurious in its results, is that you have almost always a great
disproportion in the relative size of the majority and minority in the
House of Commons as compared with their relative size in the


"English writers," says Mr. Archibald E. Dobbs, in the _Irish Year
Book_, 1909, "often write as if election by a bare majority was the only
natural or possible mode of election, as if it was like day and night,
seedtime and harvest; something fixed and in the nature of things, and
not to be questioned or examined or improved." The unquestioning habit
of our minds goes even farther than Mr. Dobbs suggests. For, although
prior to the Redistribution Act of 1885, every great town in the United
Kingdom, with the exception of London, was a parliamentary unit, yet the
system of single-member constituencies made general by that Act is now
regarded by many as another essential and permanent feature of the
English parliamentary system. But if, as this chapter proposes to show,
existing electoral methods may result, and have resulted, in a complete
travesty of representation, if these methods fail in every respect to
fulfil the requirements of a satisfactory electoral system, then neither
single-member constituencies nor the majority method of election can be
permitted to stand permanently in the way of effective improvement.

_The exaggeration of majorities._

Since the Redistribution Act of 1885, when the system of single-member
constituencies was made general, there have been eight General
Elections, and these are amply sufficient to illustrate the working of
this system. A complete analysis of these elections, prepared by Mr. J.
Rooke Corbett, M.A., of the Manchester Statistical Society, appears in
Appendix V.[2] It will be sufficient for present purposes if attention
is directed to some of the more obvious of their lessons. The General
Elections of 1895, 1900, and 1906, resulted in the return to the House
of Commons of a number of representatives of the victorious party far in
excess of that to which their polling strength entitled them, and this
result, repeated three times in succession, has given rise to a
widespread belief that this system necessarily and always yields to the
victors an exaggerated majority. There is, however, no clear conception
of the extent to which these exaggerated majorities diverge from the
truth, and an examination of the figures is therefore desirable. Here
are the totals for the General Elections of 1900 and 1906:[3]--


Parties. Votes Seats Seats in
Obtained. Obtained. proportion
to Votes.

Unionists 2,548,736 402 343
Home Rulers 2,391,319 268 327

Majorities 157,417 134 16

Parties. Votes Seats Seats in
Obtained. Obtained. proportion
to Votes.
Ministerialists 3,395,811 513 387
Unionists 2,494,794 157 283

Majorities 901,017 356 104

It will be seen that in the General Election of 1900 the Unionists
obtained a majority of 134, but that if parties had been represented in
proportion to their polling strength this majority would have been 16,
whilst the majority of 356 obtained at the General Election of 1906 by
the Ministerialists (in which term, for the purposes of comparison, all
members of the Liberal, Labour and Nationalist parties are included)
would, under similar conditions, have been a majority of 104 only. The
very important change in public opinion disclosed by the polls at the
second of these elections was not nearly sufficient to justify the
enormous displacement that took place in the relative party strengths
within the House of Commons. The extent of the possible displacement in
representation may be more fully realised from a consideration of the
figures for Great Britain, for the representation of Ireland, where
parliamentary conditions have become stereotyped, is but little affected
at any election. An increase in the Liberal vote from 2,073,116 to
3,093,978--an increase of 50 per cent.--resulted in a change in the
number of representatives from 186 to 428, an increase of 130 per cent.,
whilst a decrease in the Conservative vote from 2,402,740 to
2,350,086--a decline of little more than 2 per cent.--resulted in a
reduction in representation from 381 to 139 members, a decline of 63 per
cent. The displacement was even more pronounced in London, where the
number of Liberal members rose from 8 to 40, and the number of
Conservative members fell from 52 to 20. The violence of these changes
was attributed to a similar change on the part of the electors, but it
was much more largely due to an electoral method that exaggerates any
changes in public opinion beyond all reason.

If, however, the results--not of two but of the eight General Elections,
1885-1910--are considered it will be seen that the current belief, that
the single-member system invariably yields a large majority, rests on a
very precarious foundation. The General Election of 1892, for example,
gave to the Liberals (inclusive of the Nationalists) a majority of 44
only. In England (which, excluding Wales and Monmouth, returns 461
members) the Conservatives in 1895 and 1900 had majorities of 233 and
213; in 1906 the Liberals had a majority of 207; but in the elections of
January and December 1910, the Conservatives had on each occasion a
majority of 17 only. If Wales and Monmouth are included, it will be
found that in the 1910 elections the Liberal majorities were 13 and 11
respectively. Single-member constituencies do not therefore guarantee
large majorities. It can with greater truth be said that they guarantee
wrong majorities, for, as the following table shows, there is no
constant relation between the size of the majority in votes and the size
of the majority in seats:--

General Election. Majority in Seats. Majority in Votes.

1885 Liberal 158 Liberal 564,391
1886 Conservative 104 Liberal 54,817
1892 Liberal 44 Liberal 190,974
1895 Conservative 150 Conservative 117,473
1900 Conservative 134 Conservative 157,417
1906 Liberal 356 Liberal 901,017
1910 (Jan.) Liberal 124 Liberal 495,683
1910 (Dec.) Liberal 126 Liberal 355,945

The majority of 44 seats which the Liberals obtained in 1892 represented
a majority of 190,974 votes, whereas a much smaller Conservative
majority at the polls, viz., 117,473, yielded in 1895 a majority in
seats of 150. The overwhelming victory of 1895 represented the very
slender majority of 117,473 votes in a total of 4,841,769, whilst at the
next election, 1900, when the Conservatives increased their majority at
the polls, their majority in the House of Commons was reduced. The
Liberal majority in votes in the election of December 1910 was smaller
than in that of the preceding January, but not the majority in seats. In
1886, the Conservatives obtained the large majority of 104 without
having any majority in votes, and, if England is taken alone, it will be
found that in January 1910 the Liberals had a majority of 29,877 in
votes, and that in December the Conservatives had a majority of 31,744,
whereas on each occasion the Conservatives obtained a majority of
17 seats.

_The disfranchisement of minorities._

Politicians, to whom the one great saving merit of the single-member
system is that it yields an exaggerated majority to the victors, would,
if pressed, find it very difficult to defend the results referred to in
the preceding paragraphs, and would be even more at a loss if asked to
state to what extent they considered that national opinion should be
falsified. The most ardent defenders of the system would hardly deny the
right of the minority to some representation, and it is worthy of note
that one of the reasons advanced by Mr. Gladstone in support of his
decision to adopt it was that such a system tended to secure
representation for minorities.[4] Yet, as prophesied in the debates of
1885, the minorities in the South and West of Ireland have since that
date been permanently disfranchised; in the eight Parliaments,
1885-1911, they have been entirely without representation. This
continued injustice is in itself sufficient to show how baseless was Mr.
Gladstone's assumption that the system of single member constituencies
would secure representation for minorities. This example, however, does
not stand alone. In the General Election of 1906 the Unionists of Wales
contested 17 constituencies, and although at the polls they numbered
52,637, they failed to secure a member; their 91,620 Liberal opponents
secured the whole of the representation allotted to those
constituencies. In addition the Liberals obtained the thirteen seats
which the Unionists did not challenge. The minority throughout Wales,
numbering 36 per cent, of the electors, had no spokesman in the House of
Commons. This result shows how completely a system of single-member
constituencies fails to protect minorities, and an analysis of the votes
cast in Scotland in 1910, both in January and December, reveals the fact
that the Unionist minority only escaped by the narrowest of margins the
fate which befel the Welsh Unionists in 1906. The figures speak for

SCOTLAND (Boroughs and Counties, January 1910)

Parties. Votes. Seats Seats in
Obtained. proportion
to Votes.
Liberal 352,334 59 38
Labour and Socialist 35,997 2 4
Unionist 255,589 9 28

Totals 643,920 70 70

Every Scottish Unionist member of Parliament represented on an average
28,400 voters, whilst a Liberal member represented less than 6000
voters. The figures repay still further examination. One of the Unionist
seats--the Camlachie division of Glasgow--was only captured as the result
of a split in the Ministerialist ranks. The other eight seats were won
by majorities ranging from 41 to 874, amounting in the aggregate to
3156. If therefore in these constituencies some 1600 Unionist voters had
changed sides, the Unionist party, though numbering more than a quarter
of a million, or 40 per cent. of the electorate, might have failed to
secure any representation at all. With the single-member system more
than a quarter of a million of Scottish Unionists only obtained
representation as it were by accident. In the same election the Liberals
in the counties of Surrey, Sussex, and Kent, numbering 134,677, found
themselves without a representative.[5]

_The underrepresentation of majorities._

The failure of existing electoral methods to provide representation for
minorities not only unduly emphasizes racial and other differences
between different parts of the same country, as in Ireland, but often
leads to a complete falsification of public opinion. The results in
Birmingham and Manchester in the election of 1906 may serve as a text.
As a result of that election these two towns were represented in
Parliament as being absolutely opposed to one another--a heightened
contrast which was a pure caricature of the difference disclosed by the
polls. Manchester (including Salford) returned nine Ministerialists;
they were elected by the votes of 51,721 citizens, whilst the votes of
their 33,907 political opponents counted for nothing. Manchester was
solid for Liberalism. Birmingham (with Aston Manor) was represented by
eight Unionist members elected by 51,658 citizens, but here again the
polls disclosed a dissentient minority of 22,938. The total number of
votes in Manchester was 85,628, and in Birmingham 74,596. Manchester
(with Salford) has one more member than Birmingham (with Aston Manor),
because of the larger population and electorate of the former area. The
Ministerialists of Manchester and Salford were equal in number to the
Unionists in Birmingham, and it is interesting to observe that the
former obtained additional representation because their opponents were
more numerous than were the opponents of the Unionists in Birmingham.

The combined results of these two districts disclose the crowning
weakness of a system of single-member constituencies. Taken together the
Unionists numbered 85,565, the Ministerialists 74,659, and if the net
Unionist majority of 10,906 had been spread over the whole of the two
areas it would have yielded in each constituency the very respectable
majority of 640. If their voting power had been evenly diffused the
Unionists might have won the whole of the seventeen seats, whereas they
were, as a result of the election, in a minority of one. This possible
inversion of the true opinion of the electorate may perhaps be more
clearly understood from another example taken from the same
election,--the results of the polls in the county divisions of


Electoral Conservative Liberal Conservative Liberal
Division Votes. Votes. Majority. Majority.
Tamworth 7,561 4,842 2,719 --
Nuneaton 5,849 7,677 -- 1,828
Rugby 4,907 5,181 -- 274
Stratford-on-Avon 4,173 4,321 -- 148
22,490 22,021 469

The Conservatives, who were in a majority of 469, obtained one-fourth of
the representation allotted to the county. Similar examples can be given
from nearly every election. Thus the figures for the five divisions of
Sheffield in the election of December 1910 were as follows:--


Electoral Ministerial Unionist Ministerial Unionist
Division Votes. Votes. Majority. Majority.
Attercliffe 6,532 5,354 1,178 --
Brightside 5,766 3,902 1,864 --
Central 3,271 3,455 -- 184
Eccleshall 5,849 6,039 -- 190
Hallam 5,593 5,788 -- 195
27,011 24,538 2,473

It will be seen that the Ministerial majority in each of the
Attercliffe and Brightside divisions was larger than the aggregate of
the Unionist majorities in the other three divisions; yet the Unionists
obtained three seats out of five.

In the same election the result of the contested seats in London
(including Croydon and West Ham) was as follows:--

Parties. Votes Obtained. Seats Obtained.
Unionist . . . . . . 268,127 29
Ministerialist . . . . 243,722 31

The Unionists were in a majority of 24,405, but only obtained a minority
of the seats. Had their majority been uniformly distributed throughout
London there would have been an average majority for the Unionists of
400 in every constituency, and in that case the press would have said
that London was solidly Unionist.

It may be contended that the foregoing are isolated cases, but
innumerable examples can be culled from electoral statistics showing how
a system of single-member constituencies may fail to secure for
majorities the influence and power which are rightly theirs. In the
General Election of 1895 the contested elections yielded the following

GENERAL ELECTION, 1895 (Contested Constituencies)

Parties. Votes. Seats.
Unionists . . . . . . 1,785,372 282
Home Rulers . . . . 1,823,809 202

These figures show that in a contest extending over no less than 484
constituencies the Unionists, who were in a minority of 38,437,
obtained a majority of 80 seats. In this election, if an allowance is
made for uncontested constituencies, it will be found that the Unionists
were in a majority, but in the General Election of 1886 the figures for
the whole of the United Kingdom (including an allowance for uncontested
seats made on the same basis[6]) were as follows:--

GENERAL ELECTION, 1886 (All Constituencies)

Parties. Votes Obtained. Seats Obtained.
Home Rulers . . . . 2,103,954 283
Unionists . . . . . . 2,049,137 387

This election was regarded as a crushing defeat for Mr. Gladstone. He
found himself in the House of Commons in a minority of 104, but his
supporters in the country were in a majority. The results of the General
Election of 1874--although the system of single-member constituencies
had not then been made general--are equally instructive. The figures are
as follows:--


Parties. Votes Seats Seats in
Obtained. Obtained. proportion
to Votes.
Conservative . . . . . . 1,222,000 356 300
Liberal and Home Rulers . 1,436,000 296 352

From this it appears that in 1874, while the Liberals in the United
Kingdom, in the aggregate, had a majority of 214,000 votes, the
Conservatives had a majority of 60 in the members elected, whereas with
a rational system of representation the Liberals should have had a
majority of 52.[7]

Such anomalous results are not confined to this country; they are but
examples of that inversion of national opinion which marks at all stages
the history of elections based on the majority system. Speaking of the
United States, Professor Commons says that "as a result of the district
system the national House of Representatives is scarcely a
representative body. In the fifty-first Congress, which enacted the
McKinley Tariff Law, the majority of the representatives were elected by
a minority of the voters." In the fifty-third Congress, elected in 1892,
the Democrats, with 47.2 per cent, of the vote, obtained 59.8 per cent,
of the representatives.

The stupendous Republican victory of 1894 was equally unjustified; the
Republican majority of 134 should have been a minority of 7, as against
all other parties.[8] Similarly in New South Wales the supporters of Mr.
Reid's government, who secured a majority of the seats at the election
of 1898, were in a minority of 15,000. The figures of the New York
Aldermanic election of 1906 show an equally striking contrast between
the actual results of the election and the probable results under a
proportional system:--

_A "game of dice."_

Parties. Seats Seats in
Obtained. proportion
to Votes.
Republican 41 18
Democrat 26 27
Municipal Ownership
Candidates 6 25
Socialist -- 2

It is unnecessary to proceed with the recital of the anomalous results
of existing electoral methods. It has been abundantly shown that a
General Election often issues in a gross exaggeration of prevailing
opinion; that such exaggeration may at one time involve a complete
suppression of the minority, whilst at another time a majority may fail
to obtain its fair share of representation. M. Poincaré may well liken
an election to a game of dice (he speaks of _les coups de dé du système
majoritaire_,) for no one who has followed the course of elections could
have failed to have observed how largely the final results have depended
upon chance. This, indeed, was the most striking characteristic of the
General Elections of 1910. In the January election there were 144
constituencies in which the successful member was returned by a majority
of less than 500. Of these constituencies 69 seats were held by the
Ministerialists and 75 by the Unionists. The majorities were in some
cases as low as 8, 10, and 14. The aggregate of the majorities in the
Ministerialist constituencies amounted to 16,931, and had some 8500
Liberals in these constituencies changed sides, the Ministerialist
majority of 124 might have been annihilated. On the other hand, the
Unionists held 75 seats by an aggregate majority of 17,389, and had
fortune favoured the Ministeralists in these constituencies their
majority would have been no less than 274. Such is the stability of the
foundation on which the House of Commons rests; such the method to which
we trust when it is necessary to consult the nation on grave
national issues.

_The importance of boundaries_.

All these anomalies can be traced to the same cause--that with a
single-member system the whole of the representation of a constituency
must necessarily be to the majority of the electors, whether that
majority be large or small. It directly follows that the results of
elections often depend not so much upon the actual strength of political
parties, as upon the manner in which that strength is distributed over
the country. If that strength is evenly distributed, then the minority
may be crushed in every constituency; if unevenly distributed any result
is possible. In the latter case the result may be considerably
influenced by the manner in which the constituencies are arranged. A
slight change in the line of the boundaries of a constituency might
easily make a difference of 50 votes, whilst "to carry the dividing line
from North to South, instead of from East to West, would, in many
localities, completely alter the character of the representation." [9] An
example will make this statement clear. Take a town with 13,000 Liberal
and 12,000 Conservative electors and divide it into five districts of
5000 electors each. If there is a section of the town in which the
Liberals largely preponderate--and it often happens that the strength of
one or other of the parties is concentrated in a particular area--the
net result of the election in five districts will depend upon the way in
which the boundary lines are drawn. The possible results of two
different distributions may be shown in an extreme form thus:--

Constituency Libs. Cons.
1st. 4,000 1,000 Lib. victory.
2nd. 2,400 2,600 Cons. "
3rd. 2,300 2,700 " "
4th. 2,200 2,800 " "
5th. 2,100 2,900 " "
------ ------
13,000 12,000

Constituency Libs. Cons.
1st. 2,600 2,400 Lib. victory.
2st. 2,600 2,400 Lib. "
3st. 2,600 2,400 Lib. "
4th. 2,600 2,400 Lib. "
5th. 2,600 2,400 Lib. "
------ ------
13,000 12,000

_The gerrymander_.

With one set of boundaries the area in which the Liberals largely
preponderate might be enclosed in one constituency. The Liberals might
obtain a majority of 3000 in this constituency but lose the other four
seats. If, however, the boundary lines were so arranged that each
constituency included a portion of this excessively Liberal area, the
Liberals might obtain the whole of the five seats. In both cases the
result of the election would fail to give a true presentation of the
real opinions of the town. The influence of boundaries in determining
the results of an election has been clearly realized in the United
States for more than a century. Professor Commons states that whenever
the periodical rearrangement of constituencies takes place the
boundaries are "gerrymandered." "Every apportionment Act," says he,
"that has been passed in this or any other country has involved
inequality; and it would be absurd to ask a political party to pass such
an Act, and give the advantage of the inequality to the opposite party.
Consequently, every apportionment Act involves more or less of the
gerrymander. The gerrymander is simply such a thoughtful construction of
districts as will economize the votes of the party in power by giving it
small majorities in a large number of districts, and coop up the
opposing party with overwhelming majorities in a small number of
districts.... Many of the worst gerrymanders have been so well designed
that they come close within all constitutional requirements." [10]
Although the National Congress has stated that the district for
congressional elections must be a compact and contiguous territory, the
law is everywhere disregarded.

The word "gerrymander" has found its way into English journalism. It was
used by Liberals in their criticism of Mr. Balfour's abortive
redistribution scheme of 1905, and has been equally used by Unionists in
1909 in their criticism of Mr. Harcourt's London Elections Bill. On
neither occasion was the word used in its original meaning, and,
although its history is to be found in most works on electoral methods,
the story may, perhaps, be repeated with advantage:--

"The term Gerrymander dates from the year 1811, when Elbridge Gerry was
Governor of Massachusetts, and the Democratic, or, as it was then
termed, the Republican party, obtained a temporary ascendency in the
State. In order to secure themselves in the possession of the
Government, the party in power passed the famous law of 11 February
1812, providing for a new division of the State into senatorial
districts, so contrived that in as many districts as possible the
Federalists should be outnumbered by their opponents. To effect this all
natural and customary lines were disregarded, and some parts of the
State, particularly the counties of Worcester and Essex, presented
similar examples of political geography. It is said that Gilbert Stuart,
seeing in the office of the _Columbian Centinel_ an outline of the Essex
outer district, nearly encircling the rest of the country, added with
his pencil a beak to Salisbury, and claws to Salem and Marblehead,
exclaiming, 'There, that will do for a salamander!' 'Salamander!' said
Mr. Russell, the editor: 'I call it a Gerrymander!' The mot obtained
vogue, and a rude cut of the figure published in the _Centinel_ and in
the _Salem Gazette_, with the natural history of the monster duly set
forth, served to fix the word in the political vocabulary of the
country. So efficient was the law that at the elections of 1812, 50,164
Democratic voters elected twenty-nine senators against eleven elected by
51,766 Federalists; and Essex county, which, when voting as a single
district had sent five Federalists to the Senate, was now represented in
that body by three Democrats and two Federalists." [11]

Mr. Balfour's scheme did not involve a political rearrangement of
boundaries, and the word "gerrymandering" was thus incorrectly employed
in relation to it, but so long as we retain a system of single-member
constituencies a Redistribution Bill will always invite suspicion
because of the possibilities of influencing the arrangement of
constituencies which such a measure affords. Instructions are usually
given to boundary commissioners to attach due consideration "to
community or diversity of interests, means of communication, physical
features, existing electoral boundaries, sparsity or density of
population;" [12] but although such instructions are at once reasonable
and just, they would not prevent, and indeed might be used to
facilitate, a gerrymander in the American sense of the term were such a
proceeding determined upon. It is quite conceivable that a mining
district in which one party had a very large majority might be
surrounded by an area in which the political conditions were more
balanced, but in which the opposite party had a small majority. If that
mining area was, in accordance with the wording of these instructions,
treated as one constituency because of its community of interests and
the surrounding area divided into three or more districts, the minority
would in all probability obtain a majority of seats.

_ The modern gerrymander_

The new constituencies required by the South Africa Act of 1909 have
been arranged with the utmost care,[13] but had the delegates to the
South African National Convention adhered to their original proposal to
abandon single-member constituencies, they would have secured for South
Africa, among other invaluable benefits, complete security from the
gerrymander, any possibility of which begets suspicion and reacts in a
disastrous way upon political warfare. The gerrymander is nothing more
or less than a fraudulent practice. But the United States is not the
only country in which such practices take place. Their counter-part in
Canada was described by Sir John Macdonald as "hiving the grits," and
even in England, without any change of boundaries, practices have arisen
within the last few years which have had their birth in the same motives
that produced the American gerrymander. In boroughs which are divided
into more than one constituency there is a considerable number of voters
who have qualifications in more than one division. A man may vote in any
division in which he has a qualification, but in not more than one. He
may make his choice. In Edinburgh for many years, on both sides of
politics, there has been a constant transfer of voters from one register
to another in the hopes of strengthening the party's position in one or
other division. It was even alleged that the precise moment of a vacancy
in West Edinburgh (May 1909) was determined by the desire to ascertain
the strength of the Unionist party in that division, to discover how
many Unionist votes should be transferred for the purpose of improving
Unionist prospects or of defeating the designs of their opponents. This
allegation may be wholly unfounded, but the single-member system
encourages such a proceeding, and the statement at least indicates how
the voting power of a division may be manipulated. The mere possibility
of such an action arouses the suspicion that it has taken place. Similar
practices have, it is stated, been pursued in Bristol. Votes have been
transferred from one division, where one of the parties was in a
hopeless minority, for the purpose of strengthening its position in
other divisions. An examination of the figures of the election in
Birmingham in 1906 shows that in one division, Birmingham East, the
Unionists narrowly escaped defeat. They won by a majority of 585 only.
In the other divisions the Unionists won by very large majorities. Must
not the possibility of transferring surplus votes in strong
constituencies to strengthen the position in weak constituencies prove
an irresistible temptation to the agents responsible for the success of
the party? They are entitled to make use of all the advantages at their
disposal. In this way a new and more subtle form of the "gerrymander"
has arisen in England, and if we are to redeem English political warfare
from proceedings which approximate very closely to sharp practices, we
must so amend our electoral system as to give due weight to the votes
not only of the majority but of the minority as well.

_The Block Vote_

The analysis of the results of majority systems would not be complete
without some reference to the use of the "block" vote in the London
County Council, the London Borough Council, and other elections. In the
London County Council elections each constituency returns two members,
and each elector can give one vote to each of two candidates. The
Metropolitan boroughs are divided into wards returning from three to
nine members, each elector giving one vote apiece to candidates up to
the number to be returned. [14] Both in the London County and London
Borough elections the majority, as in a single-member constituency, can
obtain the whole of the representation. All the defects which arise from
parliamentary elections again appear, and often in a more accentuated
form. The figures of the two London County elections, 1904, 1907,
disclose a catastrophic change in representation similar to that which
characterized the General Election of 1906:--


Seats in
Parties. Votes. Seats proportion
Obtained. to Votes.

Progressive and Labour 357,557 83 64
Moderate 287,079 34 52
Independent 12,940 1 2

Progressive majority over
Moderates 70,478 49 12

Seats in
Parties. Votes. Seats proportion
Obtained. to Votes.

Moderate 526,700 79 67
Progressive and Labour 395,749 38 50
Independent 6,189 1 1

Moderate majority over
Progressive and Labour 70,478 49 12

_The London County Council elections_.

A swing of the pendulum which, measured in votes, would have transferred
a majority of twelve into a minority of seventeen, had the effect of
changing a majority of 49 into a minority of 41. This alternate
exaggeration of the prevailing tendencies in municipal politics gives
rise to a false impression of the real opinions of the elector. The
citizens of London are not so unstable as the composition of their
Council, but it is the more violent displacement which forms the basis
of comment in the press and of municipal action. These elections, too,
like the Parliamentary elections, showed with what ease the minority
throughout large areas may be deprived of representation. Six adjoining
suburban boroughs--Brixton, Norwood, Dulwich, Lewisham, Greenwich,
Woolwich--were, before the election of 1907, represented by twelve
Progressives. At that election they returned twelve Moderates; indeed on
that occasion the outer western and southern boroughs, in one continuous
line from Hampstead to Fulham, from Wandsworth to Woolwich, returned
Moderates and Moderates only.

_The election of aldermen of the L.C.C._

The London County Council elections of 1910 gave the Municipal Reform
party a majority of two councillors over the Progressive and Labour
parties. The transfer of a single vote in Central Finsbury would have
been sufficient to have produced an exact balance. It was the duty of
the new Council to elect the aldermen, the block vote being used. The
majority of two was sufficient to enable the Municipal Reformers to
carry the election of every one of the ten candidates nominated by them,
thus depriving the minority of any voice in the election of aldermen.
The object for which aldermen were instituted was entirely set at
naught, and this the method of election alone made possible. The
privilege of selecting aldermen was used by the party in power, not for
the purpose of strengthening the Council by the addition of
representative men, but for the purpose of strengthening the party
position.[15] The privilege has been abused in a similar way by the
English provincial boroughs. In these boroughs, prior to the Election of
Aldermen Act, 1910, aldermen as well as councillors took part in the
election of aldermen. In some cases a party having once obtained a
predominant position has, by making full use of its power to elect
aldermen in sympathy with itself, succeeded in perpetuating its
predominance, although defeated at the polls. The minority of the
councillors, with the assistance of the non-retiring aldermen, has not
only elected further aldermen from members of the same party, but has
controlled the policy of the Council. The Act referred to merely
prevents aldermen in municipal councils from voting in the election of
other aldermen, but does not go to the root of the evil. An alteration
in the method of election is required.

[Sidenote 1: _The election of Representative Peers of Scotland_.]

A further example of the use of the block vote may be taken from the
election of Scottish Representative Peers. At the commencement of each
Parliament the Scottish Peers meet in Holyrood Palace for the purpose of
electing sixteen of their number to represent the peerage of Scotland in
the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The Unionist Peers are in a
majority, and the block vote enables them to choose sixteen Unionist
Peers. At the election of January 1910 Lord Torphichen, a Unionist Peer,
who had voted against his party on the Finance Bill of the previous
year, failed to secure re-election. Lord Torphichen was elected in the
following December, but the incident shows how complete is the power
conferred upon the majority by this method of election; not only
political opponents but dissenting members of the same party can be
excluded from representation.

_The Australian Senate_.

The block vote is used also in the election of members of the Australian
Senate. Each State elects six senators, half of whom retire every three
years. Each State is polled as a separate constituency, and each elector
has three votes. At the election of 1910 the Labour Party polled the
highest number of votes in each of the States, and thus succeeded in
returning eighteen senators, all other parties obtaining none. The
figures here given for the elections in Victoria and New South Wales
show that in Victoria the successful candidates were not even supported
by a majority of electors, and that in both States the excess of the
successful over their leading opponents was so small that a slight turn
over would have completely altered the result of the elections:--



Successful. Unsuccessful.

Findley (Lab.)....217,673 Best (Fusionist) ....... 213,976
Barker (Lab.).....216,199 Trenwith (Fusionist).... 211,058
Blakey (Lab.).....215,117 M'Cay (Fusionist) ...... 195,477
Goldstein (Independent) 53,583
Ronald (Independent) ... 18,380

648,889 692,474

_New South Wales._

Successful. Unsuccessful.

A.M'Dougall(Lab.) ..., 249,212 J.P. Gray (Fusionist)... 220,569
A. Gardiner (Lab.) ... 247,047 E. Pulsford (Fusionist). 214,889
A. Rae (Lab.)..........239,307 J. C. Neild (Fusionist). 212,150
J. Norton (Independ.)... 50,893
R. Mackenzie (Independ.) 13,608
J.O. Maroney (Independ.) 9,660
T. Hoare (Independ.).... 8,432

735,566 730,201

_London Borough Councils_

The London Borough Council elections yield results equally
unsatisfactory. The Report of the Select Committee of the House of Lords
which, in 1907, examined the Municipal Representation Bill introduced by
Lord Courtney of Penwith, sums up these results in the following

"If the different wards are similar in character, the majority, even if
little more than one-half, may secure all the seats. For instance, in
one borough the Progressives, with 19,430 votes, obtained all the 30
seats, and the Municipal Reformers, though they polled 11,416 votes, did
not obtain even one; while, on the contrary, in four other boroughs the
Progressives did not secure any representation. "On the other hand, the
system does not in all cases secure power to the majority. If the wards
are dissimilar and the majority too much condensed in certain districts,
the minority may secure a majority of seats, as in the case of one
borough where 46,000 votes secured 30 seats, while 54,000 votes only
obtained 24.

"The system leads to violent fluctuations. If the two great parties are
nearly evenly divided, it is obvious that a comparatively small change
may create a revolution in the representation. In Lewisham, at the 1903
election, the Progressives had 34 seats and the Moderates only 6; in
1905, on the other hand, the Municipal Reformers obtained all the 42
seats, and the Progressives failed to secure even one."[16]

One example will suffice to illustrate the findings of this Committee.
Here are the results of two wards in the Borough of Battersea:--


Ward Votes Obtained.
Municipal Reform Progressive
Candidates. Candidates.

Shaftesbury 786 905 }
(six seats) 777 902 }
769 899 }all
753 895 }successful.
753 891 }
741 852 }
----- -----
Totals 4,579 5,344

St. John's 747 } 217
(three seats) 691 }all 197
686 }successful. 191
----- -----
Totals 2,124 605

Totals for both wards 6,703 5,949

These tables disclose some curious anomalies. Each elector in the
Shaftesbury ward has six votes--the ward being entitled to six
Councillors--whereas each elector in the St. John's ward, which is only
entitled to three Councillors, has but three votes. The additional
representation is allotted to the Shaftesbury ward because of its larger
electorate, but the only electors to reap any advantage from this fact
are the Progressives. The presence in the ward of a large number of
citizens who are Municipal Reformers has merely had the effect of
increasing the amount of representation obtained by their opponents.
Further, the number of Municipal Reformers in the Shaftesbury ward
exceeded the number of Municipal Reformers in the St. John's ward; in
the former they obtained no representation, in the latter they obtained
three seats. The two wards taken together showed a net majority in votes
of 754 for the Municipal Reformers who, however, only secured three
seats out of nine. Taking the Borough as a whole the Municipal Reformers
obtained 24 representatives with 53,910 votes, whereas the Progressives
obtained 30 representatives with 46,274 votes.

_Provincial Municipal Councils_.

Nor are the results of the Provincial Borough elections more
satisfactory. These boroughs are usually divided into wards returning
three or six members each. One-third of the councillors retire each
year, and each ward is called upon to elect one or two councillors, as
the case may be. The figures for the Municipal elections held in
November 1908, at Manchester, Bradford, and Leeds disclose a similar
discrepancy between the votes polled and the seats obtained. [_See
table below_.]


Parties Votes Seats Seats in
Polled. Obtained. proportion
to Votes.

Conservative 25,724 14 10
Independent 11,107 3 4
Liberal 14,474 7 6
Labour and Socialist 15,963 2 6

Conservative 12,809 10 6
Liberal 12,106 6 5
Socialist-Labour 11,388 0 5
Independent 1,709 1 1

Conservative 18,145 8 5
Liberal 19,507 3 5
Socialist-Labour 9,615 1 2
Independent 3,046 1 1


The examples given in this chapter may be briefly summarised. The same
defects are disclosed in Parliamentary, County Council and Municipal
(both metropolitan and provincial) elections. These defects may be
classified under three heads: (1) often a gross exaggeration of the
strength of the victorious party; (2) sometimes a complete
disfranchisement of the minority; and (3) at other times a failure of a
majority of citizens to obtain their due share of representation. In
addition, running through all the results, there is an element of
instability due to the fact that a slight change in public opinion may
produce an altogether disproportionate effect, the violence of the swing
of the pendulum arising more from the electoral method than from the
fickleness of the electorate. These defects all spring from the same
root cause--that the representation of any constituency is awarded to
the majority of the electors in that constituency irrespective of the
size of the majority; that the votes of the minority count for nothing.
The result of a General Election is thus often dependent not upon the
relative strengths of political forces, but upon the chance way in which
those forces are distributed, and in a considerable measure may be
influenced by the way in which the boundaries of constituencies are
drawn. Such a system invites and encourages gerrymandering, both in its
original and modern forms, but this detestable practice can be made of
no avail and the results of elections rendered trustworthy if we so
reform present methods as to give due weight to the strength of each
political party irrespective of the way in which that strength may be

[Footnote 1: Reply to Deputation, House of Commons, 10 November 1908.]

[Footnote 2: Mr. Corbett's analyses were accepted by the Royal
Commission on Electoral Systems as "representing the truth as nearly as
circumstances will permit."--Report, p. 31.]

[Footnote 3: There is a marked difference between the electoral
conditions of Great Britain and Ireland, but as the Government of the
day depends for support upon a majority of the representatives of all
parts of the kingdom, the figures here given are those for the
United Kingdom.]

[Footnote 4: Mr. Gladstone, in introducing the Redistribution of Seats
Bill, 1 December 1884, said: "The recommendations of this system
(one-member districts) I think are these--that it is very economical, it
is very simple, and it goes a very long way towards that which many
gentlemen have much at heart, viz., what is roughly termed
representation of minorities."--Hansard, 3rd series, vol. 294, p. 379.]

[Footnote 5: Other examples are given in Appendix V. The representation
of minorities varies very considerably in amount, and, as shown in the
Appendix, depends not upon their size but upon the way in which they are
distributed over the electoral area.]

[Footnote 6: The basis of calculation, as explained by Mr. Rooke
Corbett, is as follows: "It seems to me reasonable to suppose that those
changes of public opinion which affected the contested constituencies
affected the uncontested constituencies also, and therefore, in
estimating the number of voters in an uncontested constituency, I have
assumed that the strength of each party varied from one election to
another in the same ratio as in the contested constituencies in the same
county."--P. R. Pamphlet, No. 14. _Recent Electoral Statistics_, p. 5.]

[Footnote 7: These figures are taken from an article by Robert B.
Hayward in _The Nineteenth Century_, February 1884, p. 295.]

[Footnote 8: _Proportional Representation_, by Professor Commons, p. 52
_et seq_. For further examples in the United States the reader should
consult Chapter III. of Professor Commons' book.]

[Footnote 9: _Preferential Voting_, by the Right Hon. J. Parker Smith.
p. 8.]

[Footnote 10: _Proportional Representation_, p. 50.]

[Footnote 11: _The Machinery of Politics_, W. R. Warn, 1872.]

[Footnote 12: Such instructions are contained in Clause 40 of the South
African Act, signed by the South African National Convention at
Bloemfontein, 11 May 1909.]

[Footnote 13: See Report of Delimitation Commission.]

[Footnote 14: This electoral method is known by various names. In
Australia it is called the block vote, in the United States the general
ticket, on the Continent the _scrutin de liste_.]

[Footnote 15: The action was defended on the ground that the Municipal
Reform party had obtained a majority of 39,653 votes at the polls.]

[Footnote 16: _Report on Municipal Representation Bill (H.L.)_, 1907
(132), p. vi.]



"Nous attachons un intêrét vital, presque aussi grand, à la forme dans
laquello on consulte la nation qu'au principe lui-mème du suffrage

_False impressions of public opinion._

The first and immediate consequence arising from present electoral
methods is the growth of false impressions of the true tendencies of
public opinion, impressions that are still further distorted by the
exaggerations of the press. The winning of a seat is always a "brilliant
victory," and a "crushing defeat" for the other side. The German General
Election of 1907 affords an excellent illustration of these false
impressions. The Social Democrats lost nearly 50 per cent. of their
previous representation, and an outburst of delight arose in certain
journals over their "crushing defeat." But the Socialists' poll showed
an increase of a quarter of a million, and although their total poll had
not increased in quite the same proportion as that of other parties, the
figures showed that the Social Democrats were still by far the largest
party in Germany. The number of seats won were no true index to the
movements in political forces. Not only the press, however, but some of
the most careful writers on modern tendencies in politics are also
misled by these false impressions. The General Election of 1895, in
which there was a majority of 117,473 for the Unionists in a total of
4,841,769 votes, is a case in point. This election has often been chosen
as marking the commencement of a period of strong reaction in political
thought. Writers have been misled by the overwhelming majority in seats
obtained by the Unionists at that election. They have entirely ignored
the figures of the polls, and these, the only safe guide to the opinions
of the electors, show that the reaction was far less strong than is
usually supposed.

_False impressions become the basis of legislative action._

False impressions of public opinion, however, lead to an indirect effect
of much greater importance. The false impression becomes the basis of
action, and an apparent triumph for reaction makes a "reactionary"
policy much more easy of achievement. Similarly an apparent triumph for
a "progressive" policy facilitates its adoption. For the House of
Commons is still the most powerful factor in determining our political
destinies, and hence these false results have a very material effect in
the shaping of history. If the opinion of the people had been truly
represented in the Parliaments elected in 1895 and 1900, is it not
almost a certainty that the legislation of those two Parliaments would
have been considerably modified? Or, to go further back to the election
of 1886, the result of which was universally interpreted as a crushing
defeat of Mr. Gladstone's proposals in favour of Home Rule, would not a
true result on that occasion have influenced subsequent developments?
Over-representation, which results in the temporary triumph of a party
and of partisan measures, involves the nation in a serious loss, for the
time and energy of a Parliament may be largely consumed in revising and
correcting, if not in reversing the partisan legislation of its
predecessor. Thus, a considerable portion of the time of the Parliament
of 1906-1909 was spent in attempting to reverse the policies embodied in
the Education and Licensing Acts of the preceding Parliament.

_Loss of prestige by the House of Commons._

Apart, however, from speculation as to the effect of false electoral
methods on the development of public affairs, the serious divergences
between representation and polling strength, to which attention has been
directed in the previous chapter, must tend to the weakening of the
authority and prestige of the House of Commons. Should a Government,
misled by the composition of the "representative" House, make use of
its majority in that House for the passage of measures not really
desired by the country, and should the House of Lords, reformed or not,
guess rightly that the decisions of the Commons were contrary to the
popular will, then inevitably the position of the House of Lords would
be strengthened as compared with that of the Commons. "A House of
Commons which does not represent," said a leading Liberal journal, "may
stand for less in the country than the House of Lords, or the Crown, and
its influence will infallibly decline in proportion. One has only to
take up an old volume of Bagehot to confirm one's suspicions that the
imperfections of electoral machinery, combined with the changes in the
character of the electorate, are already threatening to undermine the
real sources of the nation's power."[1] Sir Frederick Pollock has
declared that our defective electoral system may "yield a House of
Commons so unrepresentative in character as to cease to command the
respect and obedience of citizens."[2]

_Unstable representation._

False impressions of public opinion, unstable legislation based upon
such false impressions, the weakening of the foundations on which the
authority of the House of Commons rests, these are results which in
themselves constitute a sufficiently serious condemnation of present
methods. But those upheavals in representation, those violent swings of
the pendulum which have often been so pronounced a feature of elections,
give an instability to the composition of our supreme legislative
chamber that must still further undermine its authority. Many, indeed,
imagining that this dangerous instability is the reflection of an
equally unstable electorate, begin to question whether a popular
franchise is in any circumstances a satisfactory basis for government.
The violence of the change in representation is attributed to the
character of the electors instead of to the evil effects of a defective
electoral method. On the other hand, the large majorities which
accompany such changes are regarded by other politicians as blessings in
disguise--as being essential to the formation of a strong Government.
But a Government based on a false majority will, in the long-run, find
that this exaggeration of its support in the country is a source of
weakness rather than of strength. Like the image in Nebuchadnezzar's
dream, the feet of such a Government are part of clay. For the extreme
swing of the pendulum which brought the Government into power is usually
followed by an equally violent swing in the opposite direction. When the
high-water mark of success is attained at a General Election it becomes
practically impossible for the party in power to gain additional seats
at bye-elections, whilst an unbroken series of losses makes it difficult
to prevent a feeling arising that the ministry has lost the confidence
of the electors, although the actual change in public opinion may have
been of the slightest. The prestige of the Government is gone, and
prestige is as necessary to a Government as a majority. In brief, a
large majority strengthens a Government only in so far as that majority
corresponds to public opinion.

_Weakened personnel_.

Moreover, the extreme changes which take place at a General Election
often result in a considerable weakening of the personnel of the House
of Commons. In such a débâcle as that which took place in 1906, there
was no process of selection by which the Unionists might have retained

Book of the day: