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Proportional Representation by John H. Humphreys

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in the course of public business are related to, or depend on, some
great leading general principles in government, a man must be peculiarly
unfortunate in the choice of his political company, if he does not agree
with them at least nine times in ten. If he does not concur in these
general principles upon which the party is founded, and which
necessarily draw on a concurrence in their application, he ought from
the beginning to have chosen some other, more conformable to his
opinions."[8] Burke does not limit the number of parties to two, and if
his authority is to be invoked in support of the maintenance of the
two-party system, it can only be invoked in support of the maintenance
of two parties which are based on such leading general principles as
will cover the whole field of politics, and the organization of which is
such as to leave to members of the party a considerable measure of
freedom in respect of individual questions. "We may be confident," says
Lord Courtney of Penwith, "that the two main divisions will survive, the
one pressing forward and the other cautiously holding back,"[9] and in
so far as it corresponds to the two main tendencies in human thought the
two-party system will doubtless survive any change in voting method. But
with the spread of political intelligence it cannot possibly survive the
rigidity of modern discipline--a rigidity which Burke would have been
the first to repudiate--nor can it survive the modern tendency towards
the formation of parties for the purpose of carrying specific reforms.

_Narrow basis fatal to a large party._

The complete transformation of the Conservative Party into a Tariff
Reform Party would considerably narrow its basis, and any narrowing of
the basis of one party must help to break down the two-party system. For
although Tariff Reform is a matter of great national interest, having
very far-reaching effects, it obviously does not cover the whole field
of politics. There is no fundamental and necessary relation between
Tariff Reform and Home Rule, the constitutional position of the House of
Lords, or the special problem of the place of religion in national
education. Nor does it necessarily or even naturally attract those
cautious intellects which are the typical supporters of Conservatism.
The strenuous efforts which have been made in recent years to exclude
from the Unionist Party all who are unwilling to accept the policy of
Tariff Reform have, it is true, been crowned with considerable success,
but there is a limit to the process of unification. Should the advocates
of this fiscal change, for example, have desired to make terms with the
Nationalist party for the purpose of carrying their policy, any attempt
to impose those terms upon all members of the party would have resulted
in a further and probably a more serious split. In such circumstances
parties necessarily give place to groups, and the fissiparous tendency
is most apparent where party discipline is most rigid. The solidarity of
the German Social Democratic Party will only be maintained by according
liberty of action in local matters to the South German Socialists.[10]
The formation of the French Unified Socialist Party was a work of
considerable difficulty, and its maintenance will only be possible if
its constituent parts can tolerate differences of opinion. The two
sections of the English Labour Party have been able to work together by
concentrating their efforts on reforms which are advocated by both,
whilst the troubles which have arisen within the smaller group, the
Independent Labour Party, have sprung from attempts to insist upon a
narrow interpretation of the term Independent. The narrower the basis on
which the parties are formed and the more rigid the discipline employed,
the more difficult will become the maintenance of the two-party system.
If, then, it is considered essential to the successful working of
parliamentary government that there should be but two parties, these
parties must be based on broad leading principles and must be so
organized as to allow for differences of opinion on minor matters. With
the increase in the number of questions of first-class importance it
will, however, be difficult to maintain even the semblance of the
two-party system, and in the absence of those more elastic political
conditions which a system of proportional representation provides,
absolutely impossible.

_Proportional representation and party discipline._

The argument in the preceding paragraphs can be illustrated from the
effect of proportional systems on party organization in those countries
in which they are at present in force. In Belgium the prophecy was
repeatedly made that the new law would result in the splitting of
parties into petty factions, rendering parliamentary government
impossible. Its real effect has been, if anything, of the contrary
character. There are still but three Belgian parties--Catholic, Liberal,
and Socialist. Their principles have tended to become more clearly
defined, but within each party there has arisen a considerable freedom
of opinion in respect to all political questions which do not spring
directly from the principles on which the parties are based. This was
clearly shown in the discussion on the proposals for the annexation of
the Congo. At the conference of Liberals held before the General
Election of 1908 it was decided that the annexation of the Congo should
be treated as a _question libre_. M. Vandervelde, at the same time,
expressed opinions on this subject which were contrary to those held by
the majority of Socialists, whilst several Catholics, who disapproved of
the terms on which the Congo was offered to the nation, did not hesitate
to say so. None of these expressions of opinion involved ostracism from
the party, and, although party discipline is strict, there is but little
doubt that this freedom of movement in respect to non-party questions
will continue to grow. The annexation of the Congo was voted in due
course, but the original draft of the Treaty received important
modifications which were due largely to the action and criticism of the
more independent Conservatives.

The question of free trade or protection does not, at the present time,
occupy a prominent place in Belgian politics, but should it do so, there
is no reason to assume that opinions either for or against free trade
would involve, as here, ostracism from any party. Such conditions admit
of a much more genuine discussion of public and of economic questions.
In England, with the system of single-member constituencies, Unionist
Free Traders have had the alternative placed before them of submitting
to the opinions of the majority of the party or of retiring from all
active participation in public life. In Belgium, on the other hand,
proportional representation has induced parties, while adhering to their
fundamental principles, to make their lists of candidates as inclusive
as possible. The list presented by the Catholics at Ghent in 1908
contained not only a free trader and a protectionist, but
representatives of different classes of interests within the
constituency, of agriculture, of landed proprietors, of workmen and of
masters of industry. Stress was laid upon the comprehensive character of
their list in the election address issued by the Catholics, and each
party endeavoured to make its list representative of the forces within
the party. Special efforts indeed are taken to accomplish this end; in
the preparation of the Liberal list members of the organization took
part in the preliminary selection of candidates, the final choice being
determined by a formal election. In reporting that the Belgian system of
proportional representation "is not favourable to small independent
parties, or, what is of greater interest to many observers in this
country, to small sections or wings of large parties," the Royal
Commission on Electoral Systems misinterpreted the working of the
Belgian system. It is true that the Christian Democrats form the only
small party in Belgium which has obtained direct representation, but the
Belgian system has certainly given representation to the wings of large
parties. Count Goblet d'Alviella, who was examined by the Commission,
has kindly furnished some observations upon the Commission's statement.
"Whenever there is room," he writes, "that is, where the seats are
numerous enough, the leaders take the greatest care to choose
representatives of the principal shades of opinion within their party
lines. At Brussels in 1910 the Catholics placed on their list not only
M. Colfs, who upset their order of precedence in the previous election,
but also M. Theodor, who, for the last three times,
headed--unsuccessfully--a separate list of the so-called Independent
Party. The Liberal list at Brussels has been formed by the joint action
of Moderates (Ligue libérale) and Radicals (Association libérale), each
of these two organizations trying to give satisfaction to their own
subdivisions (Flemish and Walloon, rural and urban, &c.). At Antwerp the
Liberal list has been formed by five Liberal organizations, each one
choosing its own representative." The M. Colfs referred to in Count
Goblet d'Alviella's letter strongly opposed the military proposals of
the Belgian Government, but he was, nevertheless, placed by the party
organization on the official list. Thus, in Belgium wings of parties
undoubtedly obtain their legitimate influence, and this renders the
formation of independent small parties superfluous. The number of broad
general principles on which political parties can be based is strictly
limited, and this explains why neither the Belgian nor any other system
of proportional representation will produce innumerable parties.

_"Free Questions" in Japan._

The electoral system in Japan, giving as it does great freedom for the
expression of political opinion, has resulted, as in Belgium, in the
separation of political questions into two types--party and free.
According to Mr. Kametaro Hayashida, the Secretary of the Japanese House
of Representatives, the measures before parliament are duly considered
at party meetings; after deliberation a decision is taken as to whether
the measure under discussion should be treated as a party question, or
whether freedom of action should be permitted to the individual members
of the party, and a communication, embodying the result of the party
meeting, is then sent to every member. Here then we get additional
evidence of the amelioration of party spirit, which follows the adoption
of a more elastic system of representation. Political debate must become
in such cases not only more real but infinitely more valuable. The
number of questions left to the discretion of the individual member is
by no means inconsiderable, as will be seen from the following figures
showing the attitude taken by the various parties towards public
questions in 1908:--


Party . . . . . Constitutionalist Progressive Conservative Radical

Party questions . 105 75 66 --
Free questions. . 2 32 41 107


Party . . . . . Constitutionalist Progressive Conservative Radical

Party questions . 63 167 68 --
Free questions. . 119 15 114 182

"It should be noted," says Mr. Hayashida, "that the Radicals had no
party questions, but made all questions free. On the other hand, the
Constitutionalists, who supported the Government, made party questions
of practically all laws submitted. On the average, apart from the
Radicals, the three other parties treated 23 per cent. of the laws, and
37 per cent. of the petitions in the twenty-sixth session of the
Imperial Japanese Diet as free questions."

_The formation of groups._

Such evidence as we possess does not then warrant the assumption that a
proportional system leads to an increase in the number of political
parties. It makes them more elastic. On the other hand, it has been
demonstrated beyond any doubt that a system of single-member
constituencies has completely failed to maintain the two-party system.
In England the Labour Party forms within the House of Commons a distinct
camp by itself, the Nationalist Party still more jealously guards its
independence, and at the election of January, 1910, a smaller group of
Independent Nationalists was formed. The rise of the Labour Party in
Australia was not prevented by a system of single-member constituencies.
In Germany and France single-member constituencies have not arrested the
development of groups with national, religious, or sectional programmes.
When, therefore, it is contended that proportional representation will
lead to the formation of groups, the obvious answer is that it is the
present system which is producing groups; and should the representation
obtained by these groups, as in France and Germany and in Australia,
give no clear indication of public opinion, then the instability which
has been a characteristic of French and for a time of Australian
parliamentary conditions may become characteristic of the House
of Commons.

Nor do those advocates of proportional representation, who desire to
maintain the two-party system by artificial means, offer any machinery
adequate for the purpose. In an article written before the first
elections for the Commonwealth parliament, Mr. Deakin wrote as

"By the very circumstances of the case the tariff issue cannot but
dominate the first election, and determine the fate of the first
ministry of the Commonwealth. There will be no time for second thoughts
or for suspension of judgment. The first choice of the people will be
final on this head. The first parliament must be either protectionist or
anti-protectionist, and its first great work an Australian tariff. That
is the clear-cut issue. The risk is that a proportion of the
representatives may be returned upon other grounds, as the electors as a
whole may not realise all that is at stake or make the necessary
sacrifices or opinion and preferences to express themselves emphatically
on this point."

In commenting upon this declaration the supporters of so-called
two-party proportional representation[11] said:

"The only way to avoid the risk indicated is to take this one definite
issue as the basis of proportional representation. Each State should be
divided on it, and should elect its proportional number of Free-trade
and Protectionist representatives." But how are all the electors to be
constrained into accepting the dictates of party leaders as to the lines
upon which elections shall be fought? The Labour Party in Australia
apparently considered the special principles for which they stood of
more importance than either Free Trade or Protection. The English Labour
Party would doubtless adopt the same point of view, whilst the
Nationalists regard the Tariff question as of little importance as
compared with Home Rule. "The rude and crude division," said Mr.
Asquith, "which used to correspond more or less accurately with the
facts of a representative assembly of two parties, had perhaps become
everywhere more or less a thing of the past."[12] There are no means
available for restoring the earlier conditions, and certainly the
existing electoral system of single-member constituencies affords no
guarantee that in the future any one party will obtain a permanent
majority strong enough to get its own way. The maintenance in form of
the two-party system during the parliament of 1906-10 was merely due to
the accident of the phenomenal election of 1906, when the Liberal Party
was returned in such numbers as to exceed the combined forces of all
other groups. At the General Election of January, 1910, five parties
entered the field, and as a result of this election no party obtained
an absolute majority. In the important parliamentary debates which arose
immediately after the election each of these groups took part, as such,
for the purpose of emphasizing their independence, and when, consequent
upon the death of King Edward, a conference on the constitutional
question was arranged between the leaders of the Conservative and
Liberal parties, Mr. Ramsay Macdonald, in commenting upon the
conference, made this statement: "He regretted that there was going to
be any conference at all, but if there was going to be one he, as a
member of the Labour Party, denied the right of the two front benches to
settle it. They no longer represented the House of Commons or the
opinion of the country. There were other benches."[13] Obviously, if
other benches are to be taken into consideration in the solution of
constitutional questions, it is a matter of importance to know the true
strength that lies behind those occupying them. The difference--an
extremely important difference--that a proportional system would produce
in the composition of the House of Commons is that the representation
obtained by these groups would give a much more accurate clue to public
opinion and, as in the long-run the strength of an executive depends
upon its capacity to interpret the will of the people, the position of
the executive would be rendered much more stable. This is the
justification of Mr. Asquith's statement: "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."

But does parliamentary government, as the Royal Commission on Electoral
Systems suggests, really depend for its working upon the maintenance of
a system of election which admittedly distorts the real wishes of the
people? This argument had been anticipated and effectively dealt with by
M. Ostrogorski in his _Democracy and Political Parties_. "There arises,"
says he, "the old question of the Duke of Wellington, frightened by the
prospect of the abolition of the rotten boroughs: How will the King's
government be carried out? How will parliamentary government work? In
reality the catastrophe will not be more than that which so alarmed the
hero of Waterloo; now, as then, it will be nothing more nor less than
the destruction of something rotten."[14] The King's government has been
improved by the abolition of the rotten boroughs, and will be still
further improved if opinion within the House of Commons is brought into
more direct relation with opinion outside. The view taken by the
Commission was not shared by one of its members, Lord Lochee, who in a
note appended to the Report says: "I am not concerned to dispute that
the introduction of proportional representation might involve important
changes in parliamentary government. That, in my view, is not a question
for the Commission. I shall, therefore, only say that I do not believe
that the cause of good government is bound up with the maintenance of a
distorted representation, or that British statesmanship would be unable
to cope with the problems which a better system might bring in
its train."

_The formation of an executive_.

Changes will doubtless take place in the method of carrying on the
King's government, but they will take place very gradually, and will be
evolved out of present conditions. It would be essential, as now, that
the government should possess the confidence of the House of Commons and
of the country, and, in order to obtain this confidence it would not be
sufficient to secure a majority by means of bargainings between groups
which involved important sacrifices of principle. Even with such rigid
party discipline as now obtains it would be difficult and perhaps
impossible to effect an alliance between Unionist Tariff Reformers and
Nationalists for the purpose of carrying out a double policy of Tariff
Reform and Home Rule. It is certain that under a system of proportional
representation such an arrangement would be useless as a basis for a
stable executive, for with the lessened rigidity in discipline party
leaders would have no means of enforcing the terms of such bargains upon
their followers. The composition of the House itself would give a clear
indication of the main policies which would meet with the approval of
the House and also of the Government which would command its confidence.
It is perhaps unwise to attempt to map out in any detail the probable
course of events, but there are some who are unwilling to take this step
forward in the perfecting of democratic institutions without some clear
conception of the way in which a good government might be formed under
the new conditions. Professor Nanson of Melbourne has endeavoured to
satisfy this anxiety by attempting to forecast the probable effect which
a system of proportional representation would have upon the formation of
governments in Australia, showing how such a system would enable a
really stable executive to be formed.

"To bring the matter vividly before us," says he, "consider the two
vital issues now before the Australian public. These are Protection and
the Labour platform. Every elector and every candidate at once falls
into one of four groups. For every one is either Protectionist or
anti-Protectionist, and every one is either Labour or non-Labour. Every
person is therefore either Protectionist and Labour, or Protectionist
and non-Labour, or anti-Protectionist and Labour, or anti-Protectionist
and non-Labour. Using the letters P, A, L, N to denote Protectionist,
Anti-protectionist, Labour, Non-labour, we have four groups which we may
denote by PL, PN, AL, AN.

"It is clear that if we can find out the number of voters in each group
we can at once declare the verdict of the country for or against
Protection, and for or against the Labour platform. Suppose, for the
sake of argument, that the percentage of voters are: Non-labour
Protectionist, 32; Non-labour Anti-protectionist, 28; Labour
Protectionist, 24; Labour Anti-protectionist, 16; as shown in the
following table:--

N .... 32 28 60
L .... 24 16 40
_ _ __
50 44 100

"Then it is clear that there is a majority of 60 per cent, to 40 per
cent, against the Labour platform, and a majority of 56 per cent, to 44
per cent, in favour of protection. Under such circumstances the
distribution of members in a House of 75 would be as follows:--

N .... 24 21 45
L .... 18 12 30
_ _ _
42 33 75

"In such a House there would be a majority of 45 to 30 against the
Labour platform, and a majority of 42 to 33 in favour of Protection. In
such a House the only possible Ministry would be a Non-labour
Protectionist. There would be a straight out Ministerial party of 24.
There would be a right Ministerial Labour Protectionist wing of 18 bound
to support the Ministry in its Protectionist policy. There would be a
left Ministerial Anti-protectionist Non-labour wing of 21 bound to
support the Ministry in its Non-labour policy. The straight out
Opposition would be 12. Such a House might well be left to elect a
Ministry. Every minister would, with a proper method of election, if
necessary, be a Non-labour Protectionist. For there would be an absolute
majority of the House against every Labour man and against every
Anti-protectionist. Every Minister would be heart and soul with the
Ministerial policy. There could then be no possibility of dirt eating or
of voting against one's convictions, as is alleged to be the case at
present."[15] The divisions between English political parties may not
be so clearly cut nor the composition of the Executive so homogeneous as
outlined in this forecast of Professor Nanson, but a proportional system
would certainly yield a true indication of the mind of the nation on at
least three, and probably more, of the important matters under
discussion in England--Tariff Reform, Home Rule, and the constitutional
position of the House of Lords. A clear expression of national opinion
on these issues would determine the policy which an executive resting
for authority upon the House of Commons would have to pursue, but, in
addition, the improved electoral methods would yield unmistakable
indications of the attitude of the nation towards those Labour and
Social questions which will more and more claim the attention of
Parliament. In brief, so far from proportional representation creating
conditions unfavourable to the formation of a strong executive, it will
furnish the only means by which in the future stable executives can be
formed. It will place within the hands of governments a new and more
delicate instrument with which to gauge public opinion, and it is on the
accurate interpretation of public opinion that the continued existence
of a government depends.

_A check on partisan legislation._

But those who, with Professor Jenks, regard the representative principle
as being merely a means of getting things done, will perhaps want some
indication of the possibility, not only of forming an Executive under a
proportional regime but of carrying legislation. There are obviously two
aspects to this question. The power of initiating and of controlling
legislation is now so largely in the hands of the executive authority
that means are required not only of getting things done but of ensuring
that the privileged position possessed by the executive authority is not
abused. The present system enables a ministry in command of an
overwhelming but false majority to impose upon the nation legislation
with which the nation is not in accord. It is more than doubtful whether
the Education and Licensing measures carried by Mr. Balfour's
administration (1902-5) would have been acceptable to a House of Commons
which was truly representative, and as Mr. Balfour's government
dominated the House of Lords as completely as it controlled the House of
Commons, the only check which existed upon the action of the Ministry
was the fear of defeat when the time came for the inevitable appeal to
the country. Such a check has proved to be inadequate to prevent the
passage of partisan legislation, and the failure of the House of Commons
to protect the nation against legislation of an arbitrary nature has
given rise to the demand for checks of another character.

_Unlike the referendum, proportional representation will
strengthen the House of Commons._

Thus, it is now urged that the nation should, by means of the
referendum, be afforded the opportunity of exercising that control over
the executive which the House of Commons has lost. "Formerly," says
Professor Dicey, "when the King was the real and effective sovereign of
the country, and was responsible for its government, it was right that
he should have a veto. The nation is now the sovereign, and what I
propose is to place a veto in the hands of the nation.[16] Now, although
proportional representation is not inconsistent with the referendum, yet
these two reforms endeavour to cure the defects of representative
institutions in different ways. The referendum, by transferring
responsibility and authority from the House of Commons to the nation,
will tend to diminish the importance of the representative chamber.
Proportional representation, on the other hand, aims at strengthening
the House by making it more fully representative, and in consequence
more competent to discharge its true functions. Moreover, there are some
practical objections to the referendum. There must always be
considerable difficulty in framing the form in which a legislative
proposal should be submitted to the country. To be permitted to say
'yes' or 'no' to a complicated measure is not sufficient. It would have
been extremely difficult for most of the electors to have stated,
without any qualification, whether they approved of Mr. Asquith's
Licensing Bill of 1908. This measure was far too comprehensive to submit
as a whole, and an unfavourable verdict would have given no clear
indication as to the nation's wishes, and would have been open to
serious misinterpretation. The new licensing duties and the new land
taxes contained in the Finance Bill of 1909 had nothing in common, and
it would have been necessary to have submitted a Bill of this nature in
sections. Further, every time a measure which had passed the House of
Commons was rejected by the nation, the prestige of the House would be
impaired, and the conclusion is unavoidable that, were the referendum
adopted, the House could only retain an authoritative position by
introducing a system of proportional representation so as to bring it as
closely as possible into agreement with the nation. It is, moreover,
generally agreed that Finance Bills should not be the subject of a
referendum, but in a modern state these are of as much importance as
other legislation. The work of legislation demands special
qualifications. When we select a doctor or a lawyer, or any other agent,
we wish him to do his special work. The elector desires to have an
effective choice in the selection of his representative in parliament,
but having chosen a legislator with whom he is in sympathy entrusts the
details of legislation to him. Proportional representation would give
the elector this effective choice, and by restoring to members of
Parliament a greater measure of freedom would enable the House of
Commons to resume its proper function of controlling legislation. The
need for the referendum would disappear.

_Proportional Representation facilitates legislation desired
by the nation._

It may be said, however, that there is here no indication of the means
of getting things done, only of a check upon partisan action. But
proportional representation, in rendering more difficult the passing of
legislation conceived in a partisan spirit, will save the time and
energy of Parliament for legislation which is more in accordance with
the nation's will. The history of the numerous Education and Licensing
Bills which have been presented to Parliament during the two decades
1890-1910 furnish an excellent example of the way in which a rigid party
system results in the waste of parliamentary time. No wonder that the
legislative machine has broken down. Efforts are now being made to
increase the working capacity of the House of Commons, but if these are
to be permanently successful, there must be such an abatement of
partisan feeling as a system of proportional representation encourages.
The changes which have been introduced in recent years into the
procedure of the House of Commons are of a far-reaching character.
According to the rules adopted in 1907, all Bills, other than money
Bills and Bills for confirming Provisional Orders, are referred, after
the passing of the second reading, to Standing Committees of the House,
unless a resolution to the contrary is moved immediately and carried.
There is a growing opinion in favour of these committees, the value of
which is largely due to the greater sincerity in discussion which takes
place in them. When Mr. Asquith moved the resolution allocating the time
to be allowed for discussion on the Housing and Town Planning Bill, Lord
Robert Cecil expressed the opinion that the system of guillotining
debate was destructive of the legislative efficiency and the dignity of
the House of Commons.[17] "Personally he thought some remedy might
possibly be found in an extension of the Grand Committee system. He
began with a violent prejudice against them. He had now sat on several
of them, and he had come to the belief that, on the whole, they were by
far the best instrument they now possessed, inferior though it was to a
full and free discussion in the whole House for the consideration of
legislation. The most important characteristic of them was that only
those decided who heard the arguments. They did not have the disgusting
farce that went on in that Chamber of members trooping in from outside
who had not the slightest knowledge of the subject which had been
discussed, who had not taken the slightest interest in it, and who
merely asked the Whips at the door, 'Which side are we to-day?' and
voted 'Aye' or 'No' as they were told. The Prime Minister recognized
that the independence and dignity of the House were invaluable assets to
the country, and had shown on many occasions a genuine desire to
preserve the dignity of members of Parliament, and the self-respect of
the House." Mr. Asquith, in reply to this statement, also expressed his
opinion that by a larger and more elastic use of the system of
Committees it would be possible to avoid some of the evils arising from
the growing congestion of parliamentary business. "The Housing and Town
Planning Bill was," said he, "a very good illustration of the useful
purpose served by the Grand Committee. It was there for twenty-three
days; it was discussed under almost ideal conditions; the closure was
never moved from beginning to end; the Government Whips never sought to
exert their authority in any one of the divisions which took place; and
the discussion was conducted by men who were obliged to listen to the
arguments of those who were opposed to them. As regards Bills of this
character, it was perfectly certain that they got a much more accurate
discussion, and decisions were arrived at far less under the stress of
party prepossession than when a Bill was discussed in Committee of the
whole House."

Thus it seems that a lessening of party discipline and a greater freedom
and sincerity in discussion result in an acceleration of the rate of
legislation, and as a proportional system favours these conditions it
would materially assist the process of getting things done.

_Proportional Representation in Standing Committees._

But this important change in the procedure of the House of Commons--the
discussion of the details of legislation in Grand Committees instead of
committees of the whole House--furnishes from another point of view
cogent reasons for the adoption of a system of proportional
representation. In the composition of these committees strict care is
taken to allot representation to the various parties within the House in
proportion to their strength. Otherwise these committees would not
possess the confidence of the House. But if the composition of
committees on a proportionate basis is a condition of their success,
would not their work be even more successful if in the first instance
the strength of parties within the House corresponded to the number of
their supporters in the country? The House of Commons would enjoy the
confidence of the nation, and its standing committees would acquire
greater authority because they, in turn, would be fully representative.

One of the most important of these committees is the Scottish Grand
Committee, to which all Scottish Bills are referred. All Scottish
members are appointed to this committee, but in order that its
composition should conform to the rule--that committees should reflect
the strength of parties within the House--it has been found necessary to
add thereto a number of English Conservatives who often, if not usually,
have not the special qualifications necessary for dealing with the
details of Scottish questions. If the purpose for which the Scottish
Grand Committees have been constituted is to be fulfilled, it will be
necessary that the different political forces within each part of the
Kingdom should be represented in the House proportionately and that the
membership of the committees should be confined to Scottish members. It
is quite possible, under the present electoral system, that there might
be an overwhelming Conservative majority in England and a large Liberal
majority in Scotland. In such conditions the Scottish Grand Committee
would fail to work. It would be necessary to add so large a number of
English Conservatives that the Committee would lose its distinctively
Scottish character. There is often very little difference between
Scottish representatives on Scottish questions. A good instance of this
was shown in the discussion on the report stage of the House Letting
Bill (1909). The measure was opposed by the English Conservative
members of the Committee, whilst the Scottish Conservatives voted for
it. If the Scottish Conservatives were fully represented in the House of
Commons they would obtain adequate representation on the Committee; a
large addition of English Conservatives would not be necessary, and an
agreement between the members of the Committee would often be much more
quickly reached. Not only so, but a system of proportional
representation would greatly strengthen the personnel of the Committee.
Both the Scottish Law Officers of Mr. Balfour's Administration were
defeated in the General Election of 1906, and in consequence the
Scottish Conservatives, in their deliberations in Committee, were
deprived of the expert advice which these officers could have afforded.
Obviously, Scottish legislation can be dealt with best in a Scottish
Grand Committee, but the successful working of this Committee requires
the true representation thereon of the different sections of political
opinion in Scotland, and, in addition, the presentation of those
opinions by their most capable exponents.

Similarly, all members representing constituencies in Wales and Monmouth
are to be appointed to the Committee dealing with Bills relating
exclusively to that part of the country. Such Bills are not so numerous
as Bills relating to Scotland, but nevertheless it is most desirable
that in the discussion of a Welsh Bill minorities in Wales should be
represented not by members sitting for English constituencies, but by
representatives chosen by themselves who would be fully conversant with
Welsh conditions. In the absence of such representation there will
always remain the feeling that the minority has been unfairly treated,
and it is this sense of unfairness that so often calls forth opposition
of a partizan character, and such opposition is fatal to progress in

Perhaps the South African National Convention affords the most striking
example of the capacity of a fully representative body to achieve
results of a satisfactory character and with little delay. Had this
Convention been packed either in the Boer or the British interest the
great task of South African Union would never have been accomplished.
The scrupulous care with which the rights of the minorities were
respected is the secret of the wonderful rapidity with which the
enormous difficulties involved in the task were overcome. Not only were
minorities awarded full representation on this Convention, but every
facility was afforded them in the choice of their delegates. The sense
of justice and the spirit of reasonableness go always hand in hand, and
the spirit of reasonableness alone makes possible the smooth and
efficient working of the legislative machine.

_Taking off the Whips._

Proportional representation will therefore not only facilitate the
formation of a stable executive in the new political conditions, but it
will be of very great value in creating the atmosphere in which
legislation can most easily be passed. Even with the present system of
false representation progress might often be more rapid if debate was
less partisan in character. The executive might easily refrain from
driving so hard the members of the party on which it rests for support.
All political questions are not of the same importance, and a step in
the direction of freer and less partizan conditions would be taken if
opportunities were more often given to members to vote in accordance
with their own judgment. The experiment of taking off the official Whips
more frequently might yield valuable results. Sir Courtenay Ilbert says,
however, that "open questions are not popular; they compel a member to
think for himself, which is always troublesome."[18] But the advantage
which would arise from the increase of the spirit of reasonableness
would far outweigh such disadvantages as might befall the less
politically minded members of the House. Far less importance too need be
attached to snap divisions, and, as Sir William Anson has suggested, it
should be generally understood that the results of such divisions need
not entail the resignation of a government.

_New political conditions._

Must then the practical politician still reject proportional
representation? Sir Charles Dilke, in evidence before the Royal
Commission on Electoral Systems,[19] attached great importance to the
views of political leaders upon the party system, and doubtless
practical politicians are guided by their views. The recent utterances,
however, of two great party leaders show that the new political
conditions and their consequences are fully recognized and appreciated
by them. Mr. Balfour, in a speech before the Scottish Conservative
Club,[20] emphasized the importance of having every shade of opinion
represented in the House of Commons: "There is a section," he said, "an
important section of Socialist opinion in the country, and it is quite
right that they should find voice in the House of Commons if their
numbers in the country render that desirable. We cannot, we do not, lose
by having Socialist members in the House of Commons, if there are many
Socialists in the country. We do not lose, we gain by it." Does this
utterance of a great Conservative leader indicate any belief that the
two-party system is the final and unchangeable expression of national
feeling. Mr. Asquith has said that "the rude and crude divisions which
used to correspond more or less accurately with the fact of a
representative assembly of two parties only, the Whig and the Tory, the
Right and the Left, or by whatever other names they may have been
called, with strictly drawn lines of demarcation with no debatable or
intermediate territory, that perhaps has become everywhere, more or
less, a thing of the past." Such opinions so freely expressed must
prepare the way for the more serious consideration of proportional
representation by the practical politicians. It will in no sense involve
the abandonment of party organization, but it will render those
organizations, to use Mr. Asquith's words once more, "elastic, flexible,
always adapting itself to shifting conditions." Party organization of
such a character is undoubtedly a fundamental condition of the smooth
working of the parliamentary machine, but another condition equally
fundamental is that the strength of parties within the House should bear
a direct and true relation to the strength of parties in the country.
Both these requirements are supplied by a system of proportional

[Footnote 1: "Doubts of Proportional Representation," _The Albany
Review,_ November 1907.]

[Footnote 2: 12 September 1908.]

[Footnote 3: T. R. and H. P. C. Ashworth, _Proportional Representation
applied to Party Government_, 1901, p. 195.]

[Footnote 4: _Report of Royal Commission on Electoral Systems_ (Cd.
5163) par. 133.]

[Footnote 5: Ibid., par. 126.]

[Footnote 6: Ibid., par. 134.]

[Footnote 7: Ibid., par. 88.]

[Footnote 8: Burke, _Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents_.]

[Footnote 9: "The Regeneration of Parliaments," _Contemporary Review_,
June 1905.]

[Footnote 10: The Baden Socialists voted for the estimates in the Baden
Diet, and shortly after at the German Socialist Congress, Magdeburg, 21
September 1910, a motion was carried excluding from the party _ipso
facto_ any member who in future voted for the estimates. The South
German Socialists left the Congress House.--_Times_, 23 September 1910.]

[Footnote 11: T.R. and H.P.C. Ashworth, _Proportional Representation
Applied to Party Government: A New Electoral System_, 1901, p. 210.]

[Footnote 12: Address to members of the Russian Duma, House of Commons,
22 June 1909.]

[Footnote 13: _The Times_, 13 June 1910.]

[Footnote 14: M. Ostrogorski, _Democracy and the Organization of
Political Parties_. (Translation by F. Clarke, M.A.), vol. ii. p. 713.]

[Footnote 15: The Australian _Review of Reviews_, January 1906.]

[Footnote 16: _The Times_, 16 March 1909.]

[Footnote 17: _The Times_, 16 June 1909.]

[Footnote 18: Preface to _Parliamentary Procedure of the House of
Commons_, by Josef Redlich, p. xvii.]

[Footnote 19: _Minutes of Evidence of the Royal Commission on Electoral
Systems_ (Cd. 5152), Q. 1492.]

[Footnote 20: Glasgow, 22 October 1910.]



"The party agents and political men opposed to the very last the
introduction of a system of proportional representation."--COUNT GOBLET

_The question of practicality._

Although the fear lest proportional representation should weaken the
party system is now the most serious obstacle in the way of its
acceptance by the practical politician, yet there are others who warmly
approve of the principle, who regard proportional representation as the
ideal, but still entertain some doubts as to its practicability, and
therefore shrink from a whole-hearted advocacy of the reform. Nor are
these doubts entirely removed by the conclusion arrived at by the Royal
Commission on Electoral Systems--that the three systems of proportional
representation examined by the Commission are quite feasible. The
sceptics need to be convinced that the intelligence of the ordinary
English elector and the capacity of the English returning officer are
equal to the requirements of the new system; its practicability has in
fact to be demonstrated afresh. It is granted that the more complete
adaptation of the machinery of elections to the true representation of
the electors must involve some departure from the simplicity of present
methods, and in order to gauge the value of the objection that the
change proposed is so great as to render its introduction impracticable,
it will be well to consider once more the character of the tasks which
the new system will throw upon the elector and the returning officer.

_The elector's task._ In criticizing the mechanism of the
single transferable vote a Member of Parliament, at a public meeting in
his constituency, declared that the act of voting ought to be made so
simple as to be intelligible to a child of the second standard in a
public elementary school. The reply might very well be made that such
children are capable of indicating a choice amongst those things in
which they are interested. But this assertion raises the question
whether the method of voting for the purpose of selecting the members of
an assembly, to which the affairs of an empire, a nation or a city, are
to be entrusted, can only be regarded as practicable if it is adapted to
the capacity of the least intelligent of the electors. Must a nation
continue to suffer all the evils which arise from an imperfect electoral
system because some of its citizens may be so unintelligent as to be
unable to make use of an improved method? A secretary of the Liberal
Unionist Association has declared that in some constituencies hundreds
of electors are so ignorant as not to know the name of the Prime
Minister, and has even advanced this fact in order to show that it is
unnecessary to trouble about the true representation of the electors.
Even were this statement not exaggerated it would but furnish an
additional argument in favour of proportional representation. The votes
of such ignorant electors, not being given for political reasons, are
far too easily bought by that indirect corruption which takes the form
of subscriptions, charitable donations, gifts of coals and of blankets;
and yet, with the present system, these votes may decide the result of
an election and completely nullify the votes of intelligent citizens.

With the single transferable vote all that an elector is asked to do is
to number candidates in the order of his preference. He need do no more
than place the figure 1 against the name of his first choice. It is
desirable that, he should proceed further, but abundant assistance, if
he needs it, will be forthcoming from the party organizations and the
press. But is there any considerable section of the English electorate
that cannot perform this new duty? When being examined before the Select
Committee of the House of Lords on the Municipal Representation Bill,
Mr. J. J. Stephenson, a member of the Executive Committee of the Labour
Party, was asked, "Do you think that the system of voting proposed in
the Bill would offer any difficulties to working men?" His reply was
emphatic. "No. I have had some experience of working men, and I have
never found them any slower in intelligence than any other part of the
community--there are few working men who could not tell in order of
merit the men they wanted to vote for. That is my personal experience
gained after some years of work." Apart from this expression of opinion,
we have this convincing testimony to the capacity of working men
electors that they have been among the first to put improved electoral
methods into practice. The Northumberland miners and Canadian Trades
Unions are familiar with the use of the single transferable vote in the
election of their officers; the Labour Party in Victoria has made use of
preferential voting in the selection of its parliamentary candidates.
Moreover, the daily work of artizans enables them readily and quickly to
grasp the fundamental idea of proportional representation--the
representation of parties in _proportion_ to their strength--and the
discussions on this question in Labour organizations have been at least
as keen as, if not keener than, those in other political associations.

The doubts entertained as to the capacity of the electorate are not
shared by those who have been officially responsible for the conduct of
elections. Mr. S. R. Ginn, Clerk of the Peace for Cambridgeshire, in
giving evidence before the Royal Commission on Electoral Systems,
declared that "after one or two elections proportional representation
ought to work as easily as the ballot. When the county electors got the
extended franchise we had some difficulty with the ballot, but now it is
simple, and proportional representation would be much the same."
Speaking of the elaborate precautions taken in the organization of
elections he expressed the opinion that the voters were more to be
trusted than our machinery trusts them. It is difficult in the face of
such evidence to understand on what grounds the English electors should
be regarded as so greatly inferior to the electors of other countries
that they cannot be trusted to make proper use of an improved electoral
method. The charge of incapacity can only apply to the least intelligent
section of the electorate, and it is astonishing that those who are so
anxious to preserve the electoral privileges of the unintelligent voters
should be supremely indifferent to the representation of the abler
sections of the electorate. At present at every election the votes of
thousands of intelligent citizens count for nothing. The electors who
voted for Conservative candidates in Wales at the General Election in
1906 might have saved themselves the trouble. Their voting papers,
although not spoiled in the technical sense, had no value. Proportional
representation would have given a value to all these votes, and even if
its introduction should result in an increase in the number of spoiled
papers, this would be as nothing compared with the number of votes to
which, for the first time, a value would be given. The Australian
advocates of proportional representation aptly describe the reform as
"effective voting." The elector knows that his vote will count, and thus
every inducement is offered to him to take part in the choice of a
representative. The vote becomes a more valuable possession to the
elector under proportional representation than under the
single-member system.

_The returning officer's task._

With regard to the duties of returning officers, which in England fall
upon the sheriffs of counties and the mayors of boroughs, it should be
remembered that in the performance of these duties they are invariably
assisted by an expert staff, and in judging of the difficulties which
would attend the introduction of a new system, the fact that this expert
staff would be available for the purpose of carrying out the details of
an election must be taken into consideration. There would probably be
no more difficulty in the introduction of a system of proportional
representation than was experienced in introducing the greater change
associated with the Ballot Act. On that occasion instructions as to
their new duties were issued to returning officers, and similar
instructions would no doubt be issued as to the practical organization
of elections under a system of proportional representation. In Belgium a
department of the Ministry of the Interior is set apart for the
administration of electoral affairs. Complete instructions are issued
from this department to the returning officers throughout the country,
and the supervision which the department exercises over the conduct of
elections doubtless contributes to the facility with which returning
officers have carried out their duties under the proportional system.

The fears expressed lest returning officers should not be equal to the
duties which would fall upon them under the system of the single
transferable vote are not shared by the returning officers themselves.
Mr. H. R. Poole, Under Sheriff for Somerset, who has had thirty years'
experience in the conduct of elections, stated, in evidence before the
Royal Commission on Electoral Systems, that were Somersetshire treated
as a single constituency under the system of the single transferable
vote he would be able to make the necessary arrangements for the
counting of the votes with a staff of the same class of men as had
assisted him hitherto. Speaking on behalf of the Under Sheriffs'
Association, he added that "they saw no difficulty in carrying out any
new electoral law which might be passed, and that they would always be
glad to give their assistance and work as loyally as they could in
support of anything which might be done." The officials of urban
constituencies are not less competent. Perhaps the largest urban
constituency which would be formed under a system of proportional
representation would be that of Glasgow, and Mr. Alexander Walker, the
Assessor of that city, who for twenty-four years was intimately
associated with the organization of elections, has, after a careful
examination of the details of the single transferable vote, stated that
there are no practical difficulties in the way of applying the system to
a constituency of the size of Glasgow.

The doubts as to the capacity of returning officers spring from an
inadequate acquaintance with the difficulties which they already
overcome in the conduct of elections. The duties which would devolve
upon these officers under the single transferable vote system are not
greater than have been undertaken and are undertaken in Great Britain
to-day in connexion with the use of the cumulative vote. The Scottish
School Boards are still elected under the latter system, and the
following particulars of the elections in Glasgow on 2 April 1909,
illustrate the admirable manner in which returning officers in this
country, as elsewhere, carry out the tasks assigned to them. The whole
city was polled as one constituency; fifteen members were to be elected,
and each elector had fifteen votes, which he could distribute or
cumulate as he pleased upon any of the twenty-one candidates nominated.
There were on the roll 157,194 electors, of whom 40,778 took part in the
election. The returning officer, in this case the Treasurer of the
Glasgow School Board, had therefore to deal with over 600,000 votes, but
he had to make provision for counting a much larger number of votes. Yet
he had no difficulty in accomplishing successfully and expeditiously
this gigantic task. He enlisted the services of over 250 clerks, and the
whole process of extracting the details of the ballot papers was
completed in the course of about five hours. Had the single transferable
vote been employed the number of votes to be dealt with would have been
40,778 only, and although the papers would have had to be counted more
than once, the task would not have been so large as that entailed by the
cumulative vote, nor would it have been necessary to have engaged so
large a staff. It is sometimes forgotten that returning officers take a
pride in the perfecting of their arrangements for counting the votes. In
introducing new methods into the counting of votes in the Glasgow
Municipal elections, Mr. Walker prepared and issued very complete
instructions to his staff, and took pains to see that the staff were
fully prepared for its work, and there is not the least doubt that the
town clerks and under-sheriffs would meet any changes in electoral
methods with the determination to carry out their part of the work as
successfully as possible. The first elections in Tasmania and the
Transvaal with the single transferable vote proceeded with perfect
smoothness, and this was due to the excellent preparations made by the
returning officers.

_Time required for counting votes._

One of the minor objections urged against proportional representation is
that a considerable time must elapse between the close of the poll and
the declaration of the result. It will not be possible to announce the
figures on the day of the election. It is doubtless desirable that the
result of an election should be ascertained without unnecessary delay,
but it is far better to wait a day in order to obtain a true result than
to adhere to an electoral system which gives a false result, and on
which a government may have to be based for a period of five years. With
most proportional systems only one day's delay occurs. The Under Sheriff
of Somerset has estimated that it might take him two days before he
could complete the return for that county, as it would probably take
half the first day to verify the contents of the ballot boxes. On this
point the verdict of the Royal Commission on Electoral Systems is as
follows: "On the whole it is probably safe to say that in a constituency
where 60,000 or 70,000 votes are cast, such as would have to be
contemplated in this country, the results should be declared with
efficient arrangements in the course of the second day after the poll.
Where the constituency was compact, _e.g.,_ in the case of a large town
like Birmingham or Manchester, the count of first votes could be
finished on the night of the election, and the remaining operations of
elimination and transfer completed in a long day's work on the following
day; but a longer time would have to be allowed in the case of extensive
rural districts."[1] It has also been alleged that there may be a
greater number of petitions for the recounting of votes under the
transferable vote system. But neither Tasmanian nor South African
experience gives any ground for this statement, and as the Tasmanian
Agent-General has pointed out, there is as much difference between the
counting of votes under the improved system and under the existing rough
and ready method as there is between book-keeping by single and
book-keeping by double entry; the sorting of the votes is carefully
checked at each operation, and all errors in the counting of votes must
be rectified before any new stage in the process can be entered upon.

_ Fads and sectional interests._

The objection that a proportional system is too complex for English
electors and returning officers thus completely breaks down. But it
remains to consider whether the other objections which have been raised
against proportional representation are of sufficient weight as to
render its introduction undesirable. It is repeatedly asserted that
proportional representation will encourage the undue representation of
faddists and of sectional interests. For example, Professor Edward Jenks
alleges that, "If we had such a vast constituency as Manchester, or
Liverpool, under the proportional system we should certainly have a
member for teetotalism, a member for vegetarianism and the like, and
each of these, in all probability, would be instructed rigidly to oppose
everything inconsistent with the special ideal of its constituents."[2]
Now under a system of proportional representation a candidate in any
constituency, were it Liverpool, Manchester or Glasgow, would have to
secure about 10,000 votes before he could be sure of being returned, and
it is incredible that in any of these constituencies so large a number
of voters would support candidatures such as those described by
Professor Jenks, or that political feeling is so weak that Liberal,
Conservative, and Labour candidates would be set aside in favour of
candidates standing for a single interest only. The character of the
objection shows that the true working of a system of proportional
representation is completely misunderstood, for a proportional system
reduces fads and sectional interests to their proper proportions; it is
the existing system of single-member constituencies which confers
excessive power upon insignificant sections of the whole. Were there
10,000 electors in Manchester who, as suggested, would regard
vegetarianism as of greater importance than any other political
question, and were these electors scattered throughout the city, then
there would be an average of more than 1500 such electors in each of the
existing divisions. A body of 1500 voters in a division of Manchester
prepared to place their particular fad above all other political
questions have now the power of determining the result of the election
in that division; the 10,000 electors similarly minded would have the
power of extracting a pledge in support of their proposals, and probably
an effective pledge from the successful candidate in each division.
Under a system of proportional representation they might possibly secure
a few seats, but under the present system they can affect the election
in every constituency. It is well known that a large number of members
of Parliament pledge themselves at election time to the support of
movements with which they are not fully in accord. Probably their seat
depended upon the answer which they gave to the leaders of some small
body of electors holding the balance in the constituency.

Mr. Henry Vivian, M.P., thus refers to the pressure which small groups
of voters bring to bear upon parliamentary candidates: "One serious evil
which he hoped might be abolished by a change of system was the ragging
of constituencies by a comparatively small number of busybodies
interested in some particular fad. A large number of members of
Parliament really had to bend to some two or three hundred electors,
although there might be 20,000 in the whole constituency. He had the
misfortune to be elected by only a gross. It was strictly true that in
many cases a candidate was compelled to consent to support something
that he felt strongly against, merely because a certain percentage of
the electors insisted upon it. He was not suggesting that proportional
representation would entirely get rid of this evil, but he was satisfied
that proportional representation rested on a larger basis--that they
would have larger constituencies and a number of men from whom the
elector might make selection; and therefore there would be a possibility
of their lessening, if not altogether getting rid of, this most
intolerable evil. He was not at all sure that he would not at times
rather be out of political life than in it; it became so threatening
that he absolutely refused to reply to the letters at all, or to be
dictated to, in the way that these people attempted to do. He would
venture to say that with a system of proportional representation they
would be able to get rid of some at least, if not of most, of the
objectionable features of the present system."[3] The same feature of
our electoral system has been condemned in the strongest terms by Mr.
Balfour. "Everybody," said he, "who has watched the actual course of a
contested election in a constituency where parties were fairly evenly
balanced, knows perfectly well the monstrous power which is given to a
very small minority to exact a pledge from the candidate, not that he
should support this or that great policy, but that he should help their
small and particular interest. I know nothing which is more corrupting,
both to the electors or to the elected, than that process; and although
I have fully seen the difficulties which attach to what is commonly
known as minority representation, it surely is an extraordinary
criticism upon our existing system that, while a small handful of
interested people can turn an election one way or the other on their own
personal issue, huge minorities, like the minority of the Unionists in
Scotland, are utterly and grossly unrepresented. We give every privilege
to the little knot of people in the individual constituencies; we ignore
the great mass who under our existing system find no representation at
all comparable either to their numerical strength or to their public
spirit, or to any other quality which makes them useful, able and
independent citizens."[4]

The organizations of different branches of the Civil Service have, in
furtherance of their interests, sought to bring pressure to bear upon
members of Parliament, and in consequence of this action it has been
suggested that civil servants should be disfranchised. In other words,
it is proposed to meet an evil encouraged by defective electoral methods
by inflicting a gross injustice upon a large body of citizens, the
majority of whom, like other citizens, consider political problems
purely from the point of view of national advantage. The true remedy for
the unfair pressure of small sections must be sought in such a change in
the method of election as will allow the country to appraise them at
their true value. Direct representation, by means of which sectional
interests can, if necessary, be defended or advanced within the House of
Commons, is far less injurious to the State than a system which allows
such interests to bring unfair pressure to bear upon a considerable
number of members of Parliament, or to enforce their demands upon the
nation by linking themselves to a national party. There is, however, but
little danger of any large number of members being returned in support
of single interests only. The results under systems of proportional
representation show that the members elected are returned upon political
grounds, and when any question has attained such importance as to
command the support of 10,000 votes in any constituency, doubtless that
question has become ripe for discussion in Parliament, and can no longer
fairly be described as a fad.

It is, however, said that the direct representation of sectional
interests will enable these to exercise in Parliament the same pressure
that they at present exercise in the constituencies. This statement also
is based upon a misconception of the changed conditions which would
result from a system of proportional representation. A small body of
electors can at present exercise pressure in the constituency, because
the result of the election is in their hands. A small group of members
could only exercise the same influence in the House of Commons if the
large parties were willing to bid for their support and were, at the
same time, able to enforce upon their followers the observance of any
agreement entered into. The great difference in the new conditions of
party discipline will here come into play. Members of a party who have
been able to win elections in spite of the opposition of sectional
interests, would be able to withstand pressure in Parliament. They would
know that they could appeal with confidence to their supporters in the
constituency to endorse their action, and, indeed, they would much more
likely lose their seat if they acted contrary to the wishes of those who
had returned them. Any sacrifice of principle by a party for the sake of
conciliating a small faction would cause a loss of support greater than
the gain. When proportional representation is established such grouping
as may take place within the House of Commons will be based upon
political affinities.

_The representation of localities._

Another objection which is often brought against proportional
representation is that it will destroy the intimate relation which
exists at present between a constituency and its representative in
Parliament. Here the arguments used are not only as a rule
self-destructive, but they are obviously in conflict with the suggestion
that proportional representation would give undue weight to sectional
interests. "Parliament," said Burke, "is a deliberate assembly of one
nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where not local purpose,
not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting
from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed, but
when you have chosen him he is not a member of Bristol, but he is a
member of Parliament. If the local constituent should have interest, or
should form a hasty opinion, evidently opposite to the real good of the
rest of the community, the member for that place ought to be as far as
any other from any endeavour to give it effect."[5] Were the primary
duty of a member for any constituency to consider the special needs of
that constituency, local considerations would outweigh national

Yet Burke's declaration is not intended to relieve the representative of
a constituency from the duty of attending to its administrative
necessities. "Only members of Parliament," said Mr. Gulland, M.P.,
"appreciate how largely their time is taken up with local matters. They
have to approach the different Government Departments upon an endless
variety of topics." But Mr. Gulland proceeds: "These matters as a rule
have no reference to existing Parliamentary divisions, and in a city it
would be very much better if a man were member for the whole city rather
than for a division. And in the case of a county, including burghs, it
would be better that the general interests of the county should be
attended to by members representing the county as a whole than by a
member who is only the representative of the burgh."[6] It is also
possible that the interests of some division of the city or county might
be opposed to the interests of the city as a whole, and this is an
additional reason against the subdivision of such constituencies for the
purpose of parliamentary representation. An admirable illustration
occurs in a speech made in the Canadian House of Commons by Mr. F. D.
Monk, K.C. "In a very large constituency," said he, "say of the size of
the entire island of Montreal, it would be impossible to resort to the
promise of a great many small public works, which by the admission of
everybody are not at present advantageous, when we have such large
problems to solve in connexion, for instance, with the problem of
transportation. Nobody in a constituency such as I have just indicated
could advocate the construction of a small wharf or a small public
building, but would be obliged to consider the relation of such a large
territory as the island and city of Montreal to the all-important
question of transportation. He would be obliged to lay before the
electors, not promises of small and very often useless, though
comparatively costly improvements, but the necessity of carrying out
such a plan of transportation as was laid before the country and the
Government some years ago by a commission composed of very experienced
men, who after considerable labour had in my opinion solved that very
vital question in every part of the country."[7] If local representation
is necessary it would therefore appear to be most desirable that the
representatives should be able to speak in the name of the whole of the
town or of the county, as the case may be, and that is the kind of local
representation which a system of proportional representation provides.
The members for the larger area can and do take a wider view than the
member for the smaller electorate.

But what kind of local representation does a system of single-member
constituencies provide? A large number of constituencies are represented
by members who have no connexion with the locality other than that of
being its spokesman in Parliament. Mr. Winston Churchill, defeated in a
division of Manchester, is elected member for Dundee, a Scottish
constituency. In what sense is the local representation of Dundee
preserved? What were the special qualifications possessed by Mr.
Churchill for giving utterance to the needs of a Scottish constituency?
Doubtless Mr. Churchill made every effort to become acquainted with the
local conditions of Dundee, and the necessity of doing so must have made
considerable demands upon his time and energy. Yet it is more than
doubtful whether Mr. Churchill can ever be an ideal representative from
the standpoint of locality of a constituency to whose local life he is a
stranger. Mr. Churchill's experience is in no sense singular. Mr.
Gladstone found it necessary to leave Greenwich for Midlothian; Lord
Morley to leave Newcastle for Forfarshire; Sir William Harcourt to leave
Derby for Monmouthshire; Mr. Balfour to leave Manchester for the City of
London, and, however honoured the new constituencies might be by the
distinction of their members, it cannot be said that the intimate
relation between the representative and the constituency was maintained.
Under proportional representation the representation of localities
becomes much more real. Excellent examples can be seen in the working of
the system in Belgium. Before the introduction of the new methods
leaders of political parties in Belgium were compelled, as in England,
to leave the towns with which they were identified and to seek election
for constituencies, in which, comparatively speaking, they were unknown.
Here the cause was not the subdivision of constituencies but the absence
of any provision for the representation of minorities. M. Anseele, the
leader of the Socialists in Ghent, and intimately acquainted with the
life of that city, had to seek entrance into the Chamber of Deputies as
one of the Socialist representatives of Liège. Similarly, M.
Vandervelde, whose activities had always been identified with Brussels,
had to proceed to Charleroi in order to secure election. But on the
introduction of the proportional system, M. Vandervelde returned to
Brussels and was immediately elected as one of the Socialist members of
the constituency, of whose special requirements he could, if need be,
speak with effect in Parliament. M. Anseele returned to Ghent and was
elected as one of the members for the city with which the whole of his
life had been associated. He was relieved from the double burden of
continuing his work in Ghent and of acting as the representative of a
constituency in another part of the country. It is abundantly clear, if
it is desired to maintain the local character of representation, that a
proportional system secures such representation in its most
efficient form.

So flimsy and contradictory are some of the arguments brought against
proportional representation that it is not surprising that certain
critics, impressed by such facts as are recorded in the previous
paragraph, have alleged that the system will so favour the
representation of localities that no one but a local candidate will ever
have any chance of success. The conclusion is drawn that proportional
representation will militate against the return of eminent politicians,
and is, for this reason, undesirable. But the facts cited as to Belgium
bear no such interpretation. It is true that under all electoral systems
the local candidate has, other things being equal, an advantage, and
rightly so, over candidates who are not directly connected with the
constituency, but it is also true that under all systems local
candidates give way, if necessary, to distinguished statesmen. In
Belgium the Socialists of Liège and Charleroi willingly accepted as
their representatives M. Anseele and M. Vandervelde when these failed to
secure representation in their own towns. So welcome are eminent
politicians that there can be no ground for supposing that they will
suffer from a proportional system. Indeed, large constituencies
returning several members give to these a much surer foothold in
Parliament than they can possibly secure with single-member areas. The
distinguished candidate can appeal almost with certainty of success for
the "quota" of votes which is sufficient to secure his election. The
only change that will be made by the proportional system is that he will
be able to retain his seat in the constituency with which he is really
identified; he will no longer be compelled to wander from place to place
with every swing of the pendulum.

_The member and his constituents._

There is perhaps one other aspect of the representation of localities
which deserves attention. The fictions are still maintained that a
member of Parliament represents and is intimately associated with all
his constituents. As regards the latter, it is obvious that only in a
very small constituency can a member become personally acquainted with
the electors. This might have been feasible in the days of the
restricted franchise prior to 1867, but in modern constituencies which,
on an average, contain some 11,000 voters it is impossible. Further, in
respect of representation, since votes, save those of ignorant and
corrupt electors, are given more and more on political grounds, an
elector can derive but little consolation from the fact that he is
"represented" in Parliament by the candidate whom he did his best to
defeat, nor does such an elector, should he take a considerable interest
in political work, care to approach the member in any cause; he prefers
to seek help of a member of his own party who is the representative of
another constituency. If a member of Parliament is elected to defend
Free Trade he cannot possibly represent the political convictions of
constituents who believe that Free Trade is disastrous to the country.
But under a proportional system Free Traders and Tariff Reformers would
each have their own representatives, and whilst all the members would be
able to speak for the constituency when its local interests were
concerned, the various parties within the constituency would find
expression given to their views when the question of Free Trade or of
Tariff Reform was under discussion. So far as modern conditions permit,
the relations between the member and his constituents would be of an
intimate character, and at least there would be that bond of sympathy
which springs from identity of purpose and of political faith.

_Objections of party agents._

Count Goblet d'Alviella has stated that the most strenuous and
persistent opposition to the introduction of proportional representation
in Belgium came from party agents and from the political men, that is,
from the extreme partizans. It is perhaps only natural to expect that
party agents should object to a system which would introduce a
considerable change in the method of party organization and in the
conduct of elections, but a good many of their fears are based upon
misapprehensions. It is true that political organizations might not
control nominations as much as they do now, but the work of organizers
would perhaps be even in greater demand than now. Thus, in Belgium,
before the introduction of proportional representation, many
constituencies were uncontested, some not for twenty years, and the
political organizations of the minority in these constituencies fell
into decay, in many places being completely abandoned. Similarly in
England, it is often extremely difficult to maintain political
organizations in those constituencies in which the position of the
minority is hopeless. The new electoral methods have been followed in
Belgium with a great increase of political activity; no constituency is
now uncontested, and each of the parties maintains an active
organization in every district.

The objections generally advanced by party agents are the increased
inconvenience and cost which would result from the enlargement of the
constituencies. It is alleged that it would be impossible for candidates
in country areas to make themselves known to the electors. But to what
extent does this objection hold good? Prior to 1885 many of the
constituencies were much larger than they are to-day. The county of
Northumberland, which is now divided into six divisions, was then
divided into two. With the more rapid means of communications and of
transit now available a candidate can cover a county constituency with
much more ease than was possible a generation ago. The decrease in the
size of constituencies since 1885 has not given any greater leisure to
the candidates during the period of his candidature. Every moment of his
time is filled up and, indeed, there is often an unnecessary expenditure
of time and energy upon public meetings, the number of which, owing to
an insane competition, has been multiplied to an absurd degree.
Candidates are now expected to address meetings at the breakfast hour,
meetings at the luncheon hour, and meetings in the evening; if
constituencies were enlarged the time of the candidate would doubtless
be carefully mapped out to meet the new conditions. Moreover, the
constituencies required by a system of proportional representation in
the United Kingdom would still be small compared with the constituencies
in the Colonies, and even though large electoral areas may have some
disadvantages the benefits to be gained from a true system of
representation completely outweigh them.

_Alleged difficulties in the organization of elections._

Some valuable lessons were learned during the course of the Johannesburg
municipal elections in 1909, as to the organization of contests under
the system of the single transferable vote. There was no previous
experience to guide either the candidate or their agents. The methods
pursued differed according to the rigidity of the discipline existing
within the party. A committee representative of commercial and other
interests, presided over by the Hon. W. A. Martin, M.L.C., selected the
names of ten candidates--there were ten vacancies--and this committee
asked the citizens of Johannesburg to vote for the candidates whose
names figured upon this ticket--the "ticket of the ten good men," as it
was called. The committee did not attempt to instruct the electors as to
the order in which preferences should be expressed for these candidates.
The electors were asked to place them in such order as they pleased.[8]
The candidature of the ticket, as such, was in some respects also
loosely organized. The various candidates gave separate and special
attention to the districts with which they were most closely identified,
but they also appeared in twos and threes on the same platform at public
meetings. In every district the names of all ten candidates appeared
upon the posters, but special prominence was given to the name of some
one candidate--the candidate associated with the district. The final
appeal to the public, in the form of a specimen ballot paper, had all
the ten names printed in bold type. In this way the committee was
enabled to appeal to the town to support the ticket as a whole, whilst
the individual members of the ticket were free to solicit first
preferences in the districts and circles in which they were best known.
Such an arrangement shows how easily the difficulties of candidature
under the new system can be overcome. If the arrangements outlined above
were adopted by party organizers the difficulties of an electoral
campaign would be no greater than with a system of single-member
constituencies. Each candidate on the ticket would canvass a portion of
the constituency--which would be no larger than a single-member
area--whilst at convenient centres the members of the ticket would
appear upon a common platform. The campaign of the Labour Party was more
rigidly organized. The leaders nominated a ticket of three candidates,
but instead of leaving their supporters free, instructed them to vote
for the candidates on the ticket in a definite order, although this
order was varied in different wards. In the official instructions the
elector is asked to vote by placing the figure 1 opposite the name of
the candidate he likes best, and some risk is run by an organization
which advises its supporters to express their first preference for some
candidate who is not the party's true first choice. It is sufficient for
organizers to advise their supporters to record preferences for all the
candidates of the party, leaving the elector free to decide the order in
which those preferences should be given.

_Alleged increase of cost._

These elections threw some light on another difficulty urged against
proportional representation by party agents, namely, the increased
expenditure involved. Considerable sums of money were certainly spent in
the prosecution of the candidature of the "ten good men," but these
elections proved conclusively that excessive expenditure had much less
influence in determining the result than in our parliamentary and
municipal elections. The total expenses of the three Labour candidates
in Johannesburg were returned at £18, 5s., and even if there is added
thereto the expenditure incurred by the Labour Representation Committee,
amounting to £34, 3s. 6d., the total sum cannot be said to be excessive.
Two of these three candidates were successful. The expenditure of the
successful Labour candidate in Pretoria was practically nil. Further,
the Mayor of Johannesburg, who, relying upon his record of past work,
personally took no action beyond the issue of a manifesto to the
electors, was returned at the head of the poll.

Mr. Ramsay Macdonald also objects to proportional representation because
of the cost involved in contesting large areas.[9] Johannesburg, for the
purpose of its municipal election, was polled as one constituency, and
the evidence furnished by this election is, therefore, of considerable
value. Further, this evidence is confirmed by the experience of
Socialist parties in Belgium, in Finland and elsewhere, which apparently
find no difficulty in fighting large constituencies. The electoral
conditions in these countries doubtless differ from those in England,
but an analysis of the expenses incurred by Labour candidates at home
show that single-member constituencies and small expenditure do not go
together. The cost of these candidatures, even apart from returning
officers' expenses, usually exceeds £500, and sometimes £1000. Such sums
could be spent to much greater advantage in large areas in bringing all
the adherents of a party to the poll.

It has already been shown that the practice of "nursing" a constituency
is one of the indirect results of the single-member system. Indeed, no
system gives so great an advantage to the candidate with a long purse;
he can more easily influence those non-political electors whose votes
may decide the issue. A consideration of the working of the new system
will show that the cost of elections will in all probability be greatly
diminished. At present in a city returning seven members a party must
find seven candidates each with his separate organization and separate
expenses; with proportional representation there will be but one
organization for all candidates of the same party, and as no party can
hope to monopolize the representation, it is unlikely that any will run
as many as seven candidates. A well-organized party will get its due
share of representation without subscribing to clubs and flower shows.
The illegitimate power of money will be weakened, and the total amount
spent considerably reduced.

_The accuracy of representation._

A final criticism made against proportional systems of voting is that
they do not secure the exact representation of all the electors in a
country. Thus the Royal Commission on Electoral Systems, whilst
admitting that the new method would generally produce more accurate
results, mathematically at least, than the existing method, qualified
their statement by saying that their success "in producing in Parliament
the 'scale map of the country,' which they held up as the ideal, can be
only partial"; and in another paragraph the Report contains this
remarkable statement: "On the assumption, however, that proportional
representation is desirable, can any system yet invented be guaranteed
or reasonably expected to ensure it? In our opinion, only in a limited
and generally unascertainable degree." No responsible advocate of
proportional representation has contended that proportional systems,
save when the country is treated as one constituency, will result in a
mathematically accurate representation of opinion. But the close
approximation to accuracy obtained in the practical application of
proportional systems is so pronounced that the statement of the
Commission is wholly misleading. The following figures of the Belgian
election of 1910 will show to what extent accuracy is obtained by a
proportional system, even when, as in this case, the mechanism slightly
favours the larger party:


Seats Seats in
Parties Votes. Actually Proportion
Obtained. to Votes.
Catholics . . . . . 676,939 49 47.0
Liberals and Socialists . 561,052 36 37.5
Christian Democrats . . 16,170 ---- 1.0
Independents . . . . 20,428 ---- 1.5

In Finland, where another system of proportional representation is in
operation, the result of the election of 1909 was as follows:--


Seats Seats in
Parties Votes. Actually Proportion
Obtained. to Votes.
Social Democrat . . . . 337,685 84 80
Old Finn . . . . . . 199,920 48 47
Young Finn . . . . . 122,770 28 29
Swedish . . . . . . 104,191 25 25
Agrarian . . . . . . 56,943 14 13
Christian Labourers . . 23,259 1 6

The single transferable vote has yielded results which are remarkably
accurate. It has been used in Tasmania, with adult suffrage, in the
Transvaal, with the municipal franchise, and in the election of the
Senate for United South Africa, by members of Parliament. Each of the
five constituencies in Tasmania returned six members, and the total
result was as follows:--


Seats Seats in
Parties Votes. Actually Proportion
Obtained. to Votes.
Labour . . . . . . 19,067 12 11.7
Non-Labour . . . . . 29,893 18 18.3

These figures speak for themselves. In the municipal elections in the
Transvaal each of the parties obtained its fair share of representation.
In Johannesburg the elections were fought by a commercial ticket of ten
candidates, a Labour ticket of three candidates, and ten Independent
candidates; the number of valid votes was 11,788, and the quota--that
is, the proportion of votes which would ensure the election of a
representative--amounted to 1072. The ticket of "ten good men" polled in
all some 6185 votes, or 247 votes short of six quotas, and the ticket
succeeded in returning six members. This result was strictly fair, for
the deficiency in votes was made up by those supporters of independent
candidates who, having failed to return their first choice, had
indicated members of this ticket as their next choice. The three Labour
candidates polled in all 2126 votes, or 18 votes short of two full
quotas, and the Labour Party was successful in securing two
representatives. The remaining two seats fell to two Independent
candidates, each of whom had a considerable personal following. In the
third test, the election of South African Senators, each of the parties
obtained representation in proportion to their force in the Parliaments
of the respective colonies. The details of the voting have not been
published,[10] but the returning officers have all borne testimony to
the satisfactory working of the system and absolute fairness of
the results.

In the light of these facts, what meaning can be attached to the
statement that proportional systems only secure proportional
representation in a limited and generally unascertainable degree? The
results of proportional systems are seen in a still more favourable
light if contrasted with the working of non-proportional methods. Thus
the Liberals of Surrey, Sussex, and Kent were without representation in
the Parliament of 1910. The Unionists of Wales were in the same plight
in the previous one. In the election of the Australian Senate (1910) the
Labour Party obtained eighteen seats, all other parties none. In the
same year, the Municipal Reformers elected all the aldermen of the
London County Council, the Progressives none. In the election of
Representative Peers of Scotland no Liberal peer is ever chosen.

_Summary of objections._

The various objections which have been raised from time to time against
proportional representation have been almost wholly disproved. Before it
was put into operation it was said to be impracticable; wherever the new
methods have been introduced the proceedings have in every case passed
off without a hitch. Proportional representation, it was said, would
result in unstable governments; now complaint is made that it has been
difficult in Belgium under the new system to effect a change of
government, the majority of the electors apparently being content with
things as they are. It was alleged that faddists would obtain undue
representation; it is now complained, under some misapprehension, that
independent political thought will fail to secure an adequate hearing.
Objections of a minor character are also raised; that proportional
representation will increase the difficulties of electioneering; that it
will increase the cost of elections--a conclusion not in accordance with
the experience of countries in which it has been applied; or that it
will destroy the sporting element in politics, as if the pursuit of
politics by itself was lacking in interest. Yet all the time the demand
for electoral reform is increasing, and whilst the figures in the
foregoing paragraphs show to what extent proportional systems secure
accuracy in representation, it can also be shown that proportional
representation will facilitate the solution of those other electoral
reforms which are also demanded upon the ground that they will add to
the representative character of the House of Commons.

[Footnote 1: _Report of the Royal Commission on Electoral Systems_ (Cd.
5163), par. 81.]

[Footnote 2: _The Albany Review_, October 1907.]

[Footnote 3: Annual Meeting of the Proportional Representation Society,
June 1910.--_Representation_, vol. iii. p. 79.]

[Footnote 4: Scottish Conservative Club, Glasgow, 5 October 1910.]

[Footnote 5: Speech to the Electors of Bristol, 3 November 1774.]

[Footnote 6: Minutes of Evidence: _Royal Commission on Electoral
Systems_ (Cd. 5352), p. 118.]

[Footnote 7: 15 March 1909.]

[Footnote 8: The following is taken from a letter sent to the press by
the Chairman of the Committee: "I am aware that many people are opposed
to the principle of a ticket on the ground that it savours of
'dictation,' &c. &c. We are exceedingly anxious that every voter should
be in a position to exercise his privilege of choice to the fullest
extent.... It is not reasonable to expect him, without advice, to
express an order of preference in the case of men he does not know. This
is exactly one of the strongest justifications for a representative
committee to come forward as we do, to say: 'We have carefully inquired
as to the character, capacity, and ability of all the candidates, and
having taken everything into consideration we recommend you to vote for
the ten whose names are on our ticket, _placing them in such order of
preference as you please_.'"]

[Footnote 9: Labour Party Conference, Leicester, February 1911.]

[Footnote 10: Owing to the small numbers taking part in the election,
the publication of the details might possibly have furnished a clue to
the votes of individual members of Parliament. For this reason the
returning officers and the scrutineers were pledged to secrecy. The
fairness of the results were fully recognized by the press, as the
following extracts show:

"The result has demonstrated the absolute fairness of the single
transferable vote."--_Bloemfontein Friend_.

"The system proved in practice as simple and accurate as it was
scrupulously fair in character."--_Bloemfontein Post_.]



"De la manière de régler le suffrage dépend la ruine ou le salut des

_Electoral problems awaiting solution._

The Liberal, Conservative, and Labour parties are all agreed that a
large measure of electoral reform is long overdue, but hitherto the
various parties have contended only for such reforms as would strengthen
their own parliamentary position. Liberal and Labour politicians,
looking at the inequality in the voting power of electors, have demanded
a reform of the franchise; they urge that every man should have one vote
and no more. The Conservative party, looking at the inequalities in the
size of constituencies, have demanded a redistribution of seats on the
ground that all votes should be of equal value. Liberals, again, feeling
the difficulties which have attended the emergence of third-party
candidatures in the constituencies, ask for a reform in the method of
voting so as to ensure that the member elected for any constituency
shall represent a majority of the citizens. Apart from the question of
the enfranchisement of women, which involves considerations of a
different order, these are the three electoral problems with which
public opinion has been chiefly concerned.

The efforts of parties to give effect to the reforms in which they have
been more particularly interested have so far ended in failure. In 1905
Mr. Balfour introduced a Bill for the redistribution of seats,
unaccompanied by any reform of the franchise. The measure was met with
the cry of "gerrymander!" and its disappearance with the fall of the
Government was regretted by few. In 1907 the Liberal Government
attempted to deal with the franchise problem, apart from any scheme of
redistribution. It endeavoured in Mr. Harcourt's Plural Voting Bill, a
highly complex measure, to give effect to the principle of "one man, one
vote." This Bill was strongly opposed on the ground that the reform was
partial in character. If, said the opponents of the measure, it is
unfair that one elector should have twelve votes whilst another elector
has but one, it is equally unfair that the vote of an elector in one
constituency should be twelve times as valuable as the vote of an
elector in another constituency. The justice of the argument must be
admitted, and explains why the rejection of the Plural Voting Bill by
the House of Lords aroused comparatively little public feeling. Yet the
rejection of this Bill has focussed attention upon the deficiencies of
our franchise laws, and the eyes of all politicians are turning towards
that more comprehensive measure of electoral reform which cannot be
indefinitely postponed. Such a measure has been categorically promised
by Mr. Asquith on more than one occasion. So far back as 1908, soon
after his accession to the Premiership,[1] he made the following public
declaration: "I regard it as a duty, and indeed as a binding obligation
on the part of the Government, that before this Parliament comes to an
end they should submit a really effective scheme for the reform of our
electoral system."

_The simplification of the franchise._

What are the lines on which a really effective scheme can be framed? The
fate of the partial measures already referred to is at least an
indication of the difficulties which will attend any attempt to carry an
incomplete scheme. It may be assumed that an effective scheme must deal
with the three problems named: franchise (including registration),
redistribution, and three-cornered contests. Each of these factors must
be dealt with as simply as a due recognition of the problem to be
solved will allow. The complexity of Mr. Harcourt's Plural Voting Bill
was due to the fact that we possess no less than twenty[2] different
franchises. But the remedy is easy. "If," said the late Sir Charles
Dilke, "they wanted to cheapen the cost, to remove the disgrace from
this country of having registration more full of fraud and error than
anywhere else, they could only do so by some simple franchise. All
registration reform was condemned to failure until they made up their
minds on a simple and easy basis for the franchise, sufficiently wide to
enable them to absorb all existing franchises." Such a simple franchise
is to be found in manhood suffrage, which would admit of the easy
transfer of electors' names from the register of one electoral division
to another. The chief objection to this solution, which arises from the
fear that the most numerous class in the country may monopolise
representation, may be met by linking the adoption of a simple franchise
with a system of election which shall give due representation to


Redistribution must be treated with like boldness, but before
considering the principle on which this reform must be based, it would
be well to give some indication of its urgency. Here are the figures of
four of the largest and four of the smallest English constituencies as
given in the Parliamentary Return of 1911:--
Constituency. Electors. Constituency. Electors. Romford (Essex) 55,951
Durham. 2,698 Walthamstow (Essex) 42,029
Bury St. Edmunds 2,878 Wandsworth 39,821
Whitehaven 2,989 Harrow (Middlesex) 38,865
St. George's, Tower Hamlets 3,252

_Should be automatic._

It will be observed that an elector in Durham has twenty times the
political power of an elector in the Romford Division of Essex. Nor are
these discrepancies confined to England. There are great divergencies
between the electorates of individual constituencies in Scotland and
Ireland, and any measure of redistribution which attempted to deal
effectively with these would necessarily have to be of a far-reaching
character. Even were it possible to effect a readjustment by the
creation of parliamentary areas containing an equal number of electors,
so rapid are the changes in the electorate that the scheme would be out
of date almost before it came into force. Mr. Ellis T. Powell has
published a valuable table entitled "the process of electoral
evolution,"[3] in which he has arranged the constituencies in the order
of their size as measured by the number of electors who were on the
registers in 1886, and again in 1906. The table shows how remarkable has
been the change in their relative importance. The rapidity of the change
is still further indicated by a comparison based upon the 1908 register.
Any one who has the curiosity to count the number of constituencies
which retained the same position on the list both in 1906 and 1908 will
find this to be the case in nineteen constituencies only out of a total
of 481. So great, indeed, has been the change since 1901, the date of
the last census, that no satisfactory scheme of redistribution could be
framed upon the population figures of that year. It would seem that the
only satisfactory principle upon which the problem can be solved is that
of an automatic redistribution of seats on the completion of every
census, but the difficulties associated with such a solution, if the
present system of single-member constituencies is retained, are so
overwhelming as to render it almost inadmissible. True, the South
African Constitution provides for the automatic redistribution of seats
after every quinquennial census,[4] and the Canadian Constitution
contains a similar provision, but the inconveniences attaching to a
rearrangement of boundaries are not so great in new countries as those
which obtain in an established country. Moreover, as time goes on, the
inconveniences associated with rapid changes in boundaries will be felt
more and more both in Canada and in South Africa. For local
authorities[5] rightly complain of the difficulties which arise from the
creation of different areas for different purposes and the consequent
overlapping of boundaries, and these difficulties would increase were
fresh parliamentary divisions created every ten years. The problem which
would be involved in the creation of new parliamentary divisions for
London is such as to render a satisfactory scheme almost impossible.
Apart, however, from these considerations, the difficulties of another
kind attendant upon the creation of new constituencies are so great that
it is quite easy to understand the unwillingness of the leaders of both
political parties to embark upon schemes of redistribution. The
influence of boundaries upon the political fortunes of parties is so
well known that any rearrangement, whether in the metropolis or in the
large towns, would probably be looked upon with very grave suspicion,
and the more so that in several towns party organizations have already
endeavoured to obtain the maximum of party advantage under existing

_Secures neither one vote, one value nor true representation._ Further,
it has been proved beyond question that a redistribution of seats will,
if single-member constituencies are retained, fail to accomplish the end
which its advocates have in view, namely, one vote one value. For
redistribution can only secure equality in the size of electoral
districts, and this is not the same as equality in the value of votes.
With equal electoral districts it would still be possible in two
adjoining constituencies for one member to be returned by a large
majority and the other by a small majority. In Wales it might still
happen that a Conservative vote would be valueless for the purpose of
obtaining representation. Equality in vote value is only secured when
the votes of electors of all parties are equally effective. This can
only happen when the representation of parties is brought into agreement
with their voting strength.

The Royal Commission on Electoral Systems entered very carefully into
the probable effect of redistribution upon the representation of parties
within the House of Commons, and came to the conclusion that, so far "as
facts can be adduced to test it, the theory that the varying size of
constituencies accounts for the exaggeration of majorities falls to the
ground." This conclusion--and the Commission could hardly have come to
any other--is in agreement with the opinions expressed both by Mr. S.
Rosenbaum, of the Royal Statistical Society,[6] and by Mr. J. Rooke
Corbett, of the Manchester Statistical Society.[7] The following summary
of the results of Mr. Corbett's analyses of the eight General Elections
1885-1910 shows conclusively that redistribution would fail to remedy
the inequalities in representation arising from a system of
single-member constituencies:


Majority Majority
Year of of seats under system Majority under
Election Party. actually of equal a proportional
gained. electorates. system.
1885 Liberal 158 178 86 Liberal
1886 Conservative 104 102 8 Liberal
1892 Liberal 44 46 34 Liberal
1895 Conservative 150 172 12 Conservative
1900 Conservative 134 150 16 Conservative
1906 Liberal 356 362 104 Liberal
1910(Jan.) Liberal 124 136 66 Liberal
1910(Dec.) Liberal 126 122 38 Liberal

"It is sometimes said," states Mr. Corbett, "that if the single-member
constituencies were made equal in size these inequalities of
representation would disappear. It is difficult to understand how any
one with even the most elementary knowledge of the facts can support
such a proposition. An examination of the foregoing summary will show
that no readjustment of the electoral constituencies would do much to
remedy the enormous inequalities which occur at present. In fact strict
equalization of the constituencies would be as likely to make matters
worse as to make them better. Thus, in the year 1885 the Liberal
majority of 158, which under a proportional system would have been 86,
by a system of equal electorates would have been transformed into a
majority of 178; in the following year a Conservative majority of 104,
which, with a proportional system, would have been a Liberal majority of
8, would under a system of equal electorates have been transformed into
a Conservative majority of 102." Mr. Rosenbaum states: "I am firmly
persuaded that it is not possible for redistribution alone to effect
those particular reforms which the advocates of proportional
representation urge.... Proportional representation would secure in the
House of Commons a representation of each party in strict arithmetical
proportion to the number of its supporters in the country.
Redistribution can remove anomalies due to over-representation in one
part and under-representation in another part of the country. So far as
the over-representation in one area is accompanied by an excessive
proportion of members of one party, and the under-representation in
another area is accompanied by a deficiency of members of the opposite
party, redistribution might have some counterbalancing results. There
is, however, no real security that redistribution by itself might not
aggravate rather than mitigate this particular trouble."

_The problem simplified by proportional representation._

It will have been observed that the difficulties of redistribution arise
from the system of single-member constituencies, and it is this which
also renders all schemes useless for the purpose of securing equality in
the value of votes. An effective and simple solution of all difficulties
is available. Abandon the system of single-member constituencies with
their ever-changing boundaries, and treat the natural divisions of the
country (its counties, large towns, &c.) as permanent constituencies
with representation varying with the rise or fall of their population.
This is the scheme of redistribution required by a system of
proportional representation, and its adoption would simplify the most
difficult of all the problems of electoral reform. It would make
possible that automatic redistribution of seats, which must be an
essential feature of any satisfactory scheme of redistribution, without
involving these alterations of boundaries which, in addition to their
other disadvantages and even dangers, interfere so seriously with
administrative efficiency. With such a system the areas for local or
parliamentary purposes might easily be brought into agreement. Already
"we have strong county patriotism fostered by tradition, by
ecclesiastical and judicial affairs, county council government, county
territorial organization, and even county cricket and football; to have,
therefore, county electoral areas would be at once popular and
intelligible to all; besides, it would be a reversion to an old
tradition ";[8] and if the large towns were made parliamentary
constituencies this also would be a reversion to the conditions which
existed before 1885. It would be infinitely easier to add
representatives to or take them away from such electoral areas than it
would be to redivide the boroughs and counties for the purpose of
creating new constituencies.

Commenting on the work of the Delimitation Commission, to which was
entrusted the duty of creating the new constituencies for the South
African Assembly and Provincial Councils, the Secretary, in a letter to
the author, says: "The task set the Commission proved exceedingly
difficult. While it was, so to speak, imperative to give due
consideration to all the principles enjoined by the Act, the great
object naturally was the framing of constituencies both for the Union
Assembly and for the Provincial Councils which would be able to send
representatives who, in turn, would reflect the will of the various
sections of the people. The conditions enjoined by the Act made it very
difficult to produce schemes which could on all hands be considered
entirely satisfactory.... Good as the result is, there is no question
that had the first recommendation of the South African Convention in
favour of proportional representation been adopted, the work of the
Commission would not only have been much simplified, but the chances of
framing constituencies with representatives forming a true mirror of the
various sections of the people would have been increased by more than
fifty per cent.... If there had been any doubt in my mind my work on
this Commission has removed that doubt, and proved to me that the only
remedy for our various electoral ills is a system of proportional
representation." This considered testimony, from one who has been
immersed in the practical details of redistribution, is of great value,
but it can occasion no surprise, for proportional representation admits
of automatic redistribution of seats, provides for the permanence of
boundaries, renders gerrymandering impossible, and, above all, secures
equality in the value of votes.

_The case of Ireland._ There is one special difficulty,[9] however,
which must be faced in the consideration of any scheme of redistribution
for the United Kingdom--the number of representatives to be allotted to
Ireland. The permanent over-representation of any one part of a kingdom
united for common purposes cannot easily be defended, but the South
African Constitution furnishes an example of a larger representation
being accorded temporarily to the smaller states for the purpose of
facilitating the union of all; whilst in South Africa, Australia, and
the United States the separate states or provinces have equal
representation, irrespective of size, in the Senate. If the continued
over-representation of Ireland would in any way facilitate the process
of the unification of the United Kingdom, that in itself would be a very
powerful and sufficient reason for maintaining the number of Irish
members at its present level. A system of proportional representation
might simplify the solution of this particular difficulty, for the
over-representation of Ireland would not have the same disturbing effect
upon the composition of the House of Commons if the different divisions
of political opinions within Ireland obtained their fair share of
representation. For proportional representation would produce a very
important modification of the electoral conditions within Ireland.
According to Mr. J. Rooke Corbett, the Irish Unionists who, at the
General Election of 1906, obtained 18 representatives, were entitled to
34. But that is not the only change that would take place. There would
result a softening of those racial divisions which are now the chief
characteristic of Irish representation. Moderate opinion would be
encouraged to take a more active part in elections and to seek
representation. Nor can it be said that the political conditions of
Ireland are such as to render proportional representation within Ireland
either impracticable or nugatory in its effect. Mr. Archibald E. Dobbs,
High Sheriff of county Antrim, has framed a scheme with special
reference to Irish conditions[10], and Lord MacDonnell, who was
intimately associated with the details of the Irish Council Bill of
1907, has said: "He made the subject the matter of as close a study as
he could at the time, and everything he read more fully satisfied him of
the great desirability of the system. He felt that it was more needed in
Ireland than in any other part of the British Empire, because, although
for the purpose of general politics the division into Nationalists and
Unionists could be defended, for the purpose he had in view--the
internal administration of Ireland--it was essential that all views, not
only the Nationalists and the Unionists, but the great political school
of thought under the name of the old Whigs should also be represented.
The results of his labours perhaps it would not be discreet for him to
disclose, but he was quite satisfied of the practicability in Ireland of
a scheme of proportional representation[11]."

_Three-cornered contests._

But even if the Electoral Reform Bill provided for a simplification of
the franchise and a redistribution of seats, yet such a measure could
not be described as a complete and effective scheme of reform. The Bill
must provide a solution for the further problem arising from
three-cornered contests, which have greatly increased in number in
recent elections. On what principle is this difficulty to be solved?
Formerly there was a strong demand for the second ballot, but its
defects have been so constantly exposed that the remedy more generally
advocated is the one recommended by the Royal Commission on Electoral
Systems, viz., the adoption of the alternative vote (the transferable
vote in single-member constituencies). This proposal, however, ignores
the real difficulty, which is found in the fact that three parties, and
not two, are now seeking representation. Three-cornered contests have,
so far, affected adversely the fortunes of the Liberal Party; and the
alternative vote, whilst tending, at least temporarily, to redress the
situation, does so without providing any adequate guarantee for the
fair representation of other parties. Were this remedy adopted it may be
assumed that Liberal candidates would be nominated in those
constituencies which are now represented by members of the Labour Party,
and at least there would be a cessation of the process of withdrawing
Liberal candidates from other constituencies ear-marked by the Labour
Party. Were all these constituencies contested by the three parties it
might easily happen that the smallest party would obtain no
representation whatever. Conservative electors might record their second
choice for the Liberal candidate, and in this way secure in each case
the defeat of the Labour candidates. On the other hand, an alliance
between Labour and Conservatives might procure the defeat of the Liberal
candidates. The representation of any one party would depend upon the
action taken by members of other parties.

As the probable effects of the alternative vote becomes more fully
understood its inadequacy as a remedy will be more clearly realized, and
this proposal, instead of facilitating, may hinder the passage of a
comprehensive measure of reform. On the contrary, the wider reform of
proportional representation, providing as it would for the just and fair
representation of three parties (and this is the problem for which a
solution has to be found), has far greater claims to the consideration
of practical politicians. It simplifies the problem of redistribution;
it is the way by which equality in the value of votes can be secured; it
provides for the fair representation of three parties, and, in
guaranteeing the adequate representation of minorities, facilitates the
adoption of a simple franchise. Proportional representation is, as it
were, the master key which unlocks the difficulties associated with a
comprehensive measure of electoral reform. Based on a broad simple
principle, the justice of which is apparent to all, it provides the
means by which each of the separate parts of such a measure can be most
easily and effectively dealt with. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive
on what other principle any permanent solution of the electoral problem
can be based, or by what other means the difficulties inherent in a
comprehensive measure of reform can be successfully overcome.

_Partial adoption of proportional representation not desirable_

Some who recognize the great merits of proportional representation have
suggested its application to urban constituencies by way of experiment.
Thus, Mr. Winston Churchill has expressed the opinion that "the
proportional representation of great cities was a point upon which
electoral reformers ought to concentrate their minds."[12] A partial
application of the reform might be of value as further evidence of its
practicability, but there is no need for this further evidence. The full
benefits of the system cannot be expected from such experiments, and
although a partial measure is apparently working satisfactorily in
Würtemberg, the history of the movement shows that such schemes usually
arouse fierce opposition. An attempt to introduce a partial scheme in
Belgium provoked a storm of indignation and had to be withdrawn, and the
amendment to the original draft of the South African Constitution,
carried in the Cape Parliament, limiting the proposed application of
proportional representation to the towns, resulted in its complete
abandonment for the elections for the House of Assembly. All partial
applications of proportional representation are apt to work unfairly. In
Belgium, the Catholics were stronger in the rural districts than in the
towns and the proportional representation of the towns alone would have
strengthened the political position of the Catholics. Similarly the
limitation of proportional representation to the towns in South Africa
would have strengthened the political position of the Dutch in those
constituencies without giving a corresponding advantage to the
minorities in the country areas. Were a partial application attempted in
Great Britain it would be necessary to overcome the initial difficulty

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