Sunday, 23 May 2010

Proportional Representation and Minorities

This post is somewhat in response to a recent post over on Left Foot Forward by Dr Omar Khan, who is the senior policy researcher for the Runnymede Trust.

Dr Khan raises the question of how proportional is PR for black and ethnic minority people?

First I feel it necessary to point out that Dr Khan is either being slightly sloppy in his approach to this topic, or is intentionally trying to mislead by mentioning the AV (Alternative Vote) system, on which the coalation goverment has agreed to hold a referendum in the following context: 
According to Nick Clegg in his first speech as deputy prime minister this week, more proportional systems provide better representation for underrepresented groups, but the evidence (internationally and in the UK) on this point is more complicated, especially for the ‘AV’ (alternative vote) system on which the Coalition Government has agreed to hold a referendum.

[Emphasis is Dr Khan's.]

I'd like to give Dr Khan the benefit of the doubt here - he does admit in the very last paragraph of the article, even if only briefly and in parenthesis, that AV is not in fact a proportional voting system at all.

Whilst this may be slightly misleading, it is not however the main objection I have with Dr Khan's article.  The main objection I have is the entire premise on which the article is built - that we should have a voting system which inevitably leads to us having more BME (Black and Minority Ethnic - Dr Khan's term) MPs.

Whilst I have no objection to there being more BME MPs I think there is an unhelpful obsession with race underlying this premise.  His argument seems to be that if 10% of the general population comprises BME people then roughly 10% of our parliament should consist of BME MPs.  I don't know about Dr Khan, but I don't choose which candidate to vote for based on race.  I prefer to choose who to vote for based on candidates policies, track record and my opinion of whether or not they could do a good job.

I'm going to go out on a limb here - hopefully a pretty sturdy one though - and suggest that not all BME people vote for BME candidates (where there is a BME candidate standing in their constituency).  I would have thought that at least some of them have better reasons for voting for their preferred candidate.

I remember having internet discussions on a similar topic based around this post from UKPR.  The gist of my argument is simple: It is wrong to vote for or against a candidate based on your own pre-concieved prejudices of race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc.

You should vote for the best candidate for the job, wherever they're from and whatever colour their skin happens to be.

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