The Liberal Democrats are pushing for Proportional Representation (PR) again.
One of the reasons given in support of this catastrophic move is that PR makes your vote “count” and that people might be staying away from elections because they think their vote does not count.
The irony is that the actual effect of PR is systematically to ensure that your vote, and the voting process as a whole, counts as little as possible. How so? Well, PR involves counting the votes for each party and then picking candidates from a party list in proportion to the votes that each party received. This means there isn't any such thing as a local MP who can be held responsible for his behaviour in Parliament. Furthermore, PR gives grossly disproportionate power to the third-largest party, for they are typically the kingmakers who, by choosing which of the two largest parties to ally with, get to choose the real outcome of a typical election under PR. The fourth-largest and even smaller parties often get lucky too. Thus the outcome is highly insensitive to votes, and highly sensitive to the whims of (literally) third-rate politicians. This, in turn, makes it easier for fringe parties – like Britain's third-largest party, the Liberal Democrats – to get a larger share of the votes, thus making it even more difficult to exclude them from the government. Karl Popper's overarching principle of politics is that the issue of who rules is less important than the issue of how bad rulers and bad policies can be eliminated. Well, PR makes it as hard as possible to choose good rulers in the first place, and well nigh impossible to vote, or campaign, or argue, to keep any party out of government.
This should hardly be surprising, for the notion that you can create good policy by taking the average of everyone's opinions is ridiculous. Should we allow decent people seeking asylum from persecution into the country? Well, the neo-fascist right wants to exclude all asylum seekers, so would it be right to exclude 5% of them? Should we have marched 62% of the way to Baghdad?
As for voter turnout, the difficulty in the last election in Britain was that there was no realistic prospect of removing Labour. Hence the drop from 71.5% turnout in 1997 to 59% in 2001. This can only be fixed by having a worthwhile opposition party – something that our present electoral system is giving the politicians powerful incentives to create – not by sabotaging the electoral system to make sure that no worthwhile party is ever in power again.