Proportional Representation by John H. HumphreysA Study in Methods of Election

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  • 1911
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_First Published in 1911_







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

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

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



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

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

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





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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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




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



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



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



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



Explanatory notes–The representation of minorities.



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











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




“The virtue, the spirit, the essence of the House of Commons, consists in its being the express image of the nation.”–BURKE.

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

_The spread of representative government_.

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

_The House of Commons and sovereign power._

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

_The demand for complete sovereignty._

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

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

_Complete sovereignty demands complete representation._

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

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

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

_Strengthening the foundations of the House of Commons._

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

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

_The rise of a new party._

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

_The new political conditions and electoral reform._

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Footnote 3: 14 April 1910.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Footnote 10: 10 November 1908.]

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



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


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

_The exaggeration of majorities._

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


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

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

Majorities 157,417 134 16

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

Majorities 901,017 356 104

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

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

General Election. Majority in Seats. Majority in Votes.

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

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

_The disfranchisement of minorities._

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

SCOTLAND (Boroughs and Counties, January 1910)

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

Totals 643,920 70 70

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

_The underrepresentation of majorities._

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

GENERAL ELECTION, 1895 (Contested Constituencies)

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

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

GENERAL ELECTION, 1886 (All Constituencies)

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

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


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

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

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

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

_A “game of dice.”_

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

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

_The importance of boundaries_.

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

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

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

_The gerrymander_.

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

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

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

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

_ The modern gerrymander_

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

_The Block Vote_

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


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

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

Progressive majority over
Moderates 70,478 49 12

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

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

Moderate majority over
Progressive and Labour 70,478 49 12

_The London County Council elections_.

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

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

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

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

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

_The Australian Senate_.

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



Successful. Unsuccessful.

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

648,889 692,474

_New South Wales._

Successful. Unsuccessful.

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

735,566 730,201

_London Borough Councils_

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

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

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

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


Ward Votes Obtained.
Municipal Reform Progressive Candidates. Candidates.

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

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

Totals for both wards 6,703 5,949

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

_Provincial Municipal Councils_.

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Footnote 13: See Report of Delimitation Commission.]

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

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

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



“Nous attachons un intêrét vital, presque aussi grand, à la forme dans laquello on consulte la nation qu’au principe lui-mème du suffrage universel.”–GAMBETTA

_False impressions of public opinion._

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

_False impressions become the basis of legislative action._

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

_Loss of prestige by the House of Commons._

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

_Unstable representation._

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

_Weakened personnel_.

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