Our broken politics needs a major shake-up, from PR voting to citizens’ assemblies

<span>‘PR alone will not fix the problem, nor will any of the other potential reforms. Together, they could be transformative.’</span><span>Photograph: House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA</span>
‘PR alone will not fix the problem, nor will any of the other potential reforms. Together, they could be transformative.’Photograph: House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA

Rafael Behr is right in so many ways about current political priorities (‘Get the Tories out’ will carry the election, but it won’t fix the faultlines of a broken politics, 21 February), but seems to misunderstand the role and purpose of citizens’ assemblies.

In this country, decisions are not “delegated” to citizens’ assemblies. They are part of decision-making processes but have never, to my knowledge, ever actually taken decisions. The Irish discussions on abortion and same-sex marriage had citizens’ assemblies which discussed the issues that then went to referendums. The assemblies themselves did not take the decision. This is one of the aspects of citizens’ assemblies that has been criticised in some quarters – their lack of bindingness. Citizens’ assemblies have informed policy processes; elected politicians can then make final decisions with a greater understanding of citizens’ views and values on the issue.

Equally, citizens’ assemblies are not an alternative to proportional representation (PR). PR, reform of the House of Lords and better and greater use of citizens’ assemblies (among other things) can each play a part in transforming our politics in different ways. For example, a citizens’ assembly could consider different models of PR that could then be debated and put to a referendum and parliamentary processes. PR alone will not fix the problem, nor will any of the other potential reforms. Together, they could be transformative.
Diane Ordish

• While correctly pointing out the malignant consequences of the first past the post system, Rafael Behr asserts that “there are sensible objections to PR based on preserving intimacy between MPs and their constituents”. This is tosh: the single transferable vote system combines proportionality with voters directly electing MPs within enlarged constituencies. Parties don’t like the idea because it enables people to vote across party lines if they so choose, ie it gives real power to the people. It’s disappointing that a progressive writer like Behr appears to not to have considered a type of PR that retains one of the few merits of FPTP.
John Ward

• Rafael Behr says that “any party that wins power through first past the post loses any incentive to reform the system”. This is demonstrably untrue. Since 1945, the existing electoral system has given power to the Tories twice as often as to Labour. When the Conservatives regain power, they tend to undo the good things Labour has done (eg the cancellation of the Sure Start programme).

A move to PR would be in Labour’s best interests: it would relegate the Tories to a rump, and Labour would probably be the largest party in a series of coalitions. The 2022 Labour conference voted for a move to PR, but Keir Starmer dismissed it. It seems that Labour leaders would rather lose power than share it.
Christopher Foren

• I found much with which to agree in Rafael Behr’s article, but his “sensible objection” to PR “based on preserving intimacy between MPs and their constituents” left me open-mouthed. MPs are mostly voted for by fewer than half of their electorate, leaving the majority of constituents a long way from any representation, let alone intimacy. With PR, almost every constituent would enjoy representation at least, intimate or not. I long for that opportunity.
Tom Serpell
East Hoathly, East Sussex

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