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The Disease of Parliaments


The Disease of Parliaments

Sec. 1

There is a growing discord between governments and governed in the

There has always been discord between governments and governed since
States began; government has always been to some extent imposed, and
obedience to some extent reluctant. We have come to regard it as a
matter of course that under all absolutions and narrow oligarchies the
community, so soon as it became educated and as its social elaboration
developed a free class with private initiatives, so soon, indeed, as it
attained to any power of thought and expression at all, would express
discontent. But we English and Americans and Western Europeans generally
had supposed that, so far as our own communities were concerned, this
discontent was already anticipated and met by representative
institutions. We had supposed that, with various safeguards and
elaborations, our communities did, as a matter of fact, govern
themselves. Our panacea for all discontents was the franchise. Social
and national dissatisfaction could be given at the same time a voice and
a remedy in the ballot box. Our liberal intelligences could and do still
understand Russians wanting votes, Indians wanting votes, women wanting
votes. The history of nineteenth-century Liberalism in the world might
almost be summed up in the phrase "progressive enfranchisement." But
these are the desires of a closing phase in political history. The new
discords go deeper than that. The new situation which confronts our
Liberal intelligence is the discontent of the enfranchised, the contempt
and hostility of the voters for their elected delegates and governments.

This discontent, this resentment, this contempt even, and hostility to
duly elected representatives is no mere accident of this democratic
country or that; it is an almost world-wide movement. It is an almost
universal disappointment with so-called popular government, and in many
communities--in Great Britain particularly--it is manifesting itself by
an unprecedented lawlessness in political matters, and in a strange and
ominous contempt for the law. One sees it, for example, in the refusal
of large sections of the medical profession to carry out insurance
legislation, in the repudiation of Irish Home Rule by Ulster, and in the
steady drift of great masses of industrial workers towards the
conception of a universal strike. The case of the discontented workers
in Great Britain and France is particularly remarkable. These people
form effective voting majorities in many constituencies; they send
alleged Socialist and Labour representatives into the legislative
assembly; and, in addition, they have their trade unions with staffs of
elected officials, elected ostensibly to state their case and promote
their interests. Yet nothing is now more evident than that these
officials, working-men representatives and the like, do not speak for
their supporters, and are less and less able to control them. The
Syndicalist movement, sabotage in France, and Larkinism in Great
Britain, are, from the point of view of social stability, the most
sinister demonstrations of the gathering anger of the labouring classes
with representative institutions. These movements are not revolutionary
movements, not movements for reconstruction such as were the democratic
Socialist movements that closed the nineteenth century. They are angry
and vindictive movements. They have behind them the most dangerous and
terrible of purely human forces, the wrath, the blind destructive wrath,
of a cheated crowd.

Now, so far as the insurrection of labour goes, American conditions
differ from European, and the process of disillusionment will probably
follow a different course. American labour is very largely immigrant
labour still separated by barriers of language and tradition from the
established thought of the nation. It will be long before labour in
America speaks with the massed effectiveness of labour in France and
England, where master and man are racially identical, and where there is
no variety of "Dagoes" to break up the revolt. But in other directions
the American disbelief in and impatience with "elected persons" is and
has been far profounder than it is in Europe. The abstinence of men of
property and position from overt politics, and the contempt that
banishes political discussion from polite society, are among the first
surprises of the visiting European to America, and now that, under an
organised pressure of conscience, college-trained men and men of wealth
are abandoning this strike of the educated and returning to political
life, it is, one notes, with a prevailing disposition to correct
democracy by personality, and to place affairs in the hands of
autocratic mayors and presidents rather than to carry out democratic
methods to the logical end. At times America seems hot for a Caesar. If
no Caesar is established, then it will be the good fortune of the
Republic rather than its democratic virtue which will have saved it.

And directly one comes to look into the quality and composition of the
elected governing body of any modern democratic State, one begins to see
the reason and nature of its widening estrangement from the community it
represents. In no sense are these bodies really representative of the
thought and purpose of the nation; the conception of its science, the
fresh initiatives of its philosophy and literature, the forces that make
the future through invention and experiment, exploration and trial and
industrial development have no voice, or only an accidental and feeble
voice, there. The typical elected person is a smart rather than
substantial lawyer, full of cheap catchwords and elaborate tricks of
procedure and electioneering, professing to serve the interests of the
locality which is his constituency, but actually bound hand and foot to
the specialised political association, his party, which imposed him upon
that constituency. Arrived at the legislature, his next ambition is
office, and to secure and retain office he engages in elaborate
manoeuvres against the opposite party, upon issues which his limited and
specialised intelligence indicates as electorally effective. But being
limited and specialised, he is apt to drift completely out of touch with
the interests and feelings of large masses of people in the community.
In Great Britain, the United States and France alike there is a constant
tendency on the part of the legislative body to drift into unreality,
and to bore the country with the disputes that are designed to thrill
it. In Great Britain, for example, at the present time the two political
parties are both profoundly unpopular with the general intelligence,
which is sincerely anxious, if only it could find a way, to get rid of
both of them. Irish Home Rule--an issue as dead as mutton, is opposed to
Tariff Reform, which has never been alive. Much as the majority of
people detest the preposterously clumsy attempts to amputate Ireland
from the rule of the British Parliament which have been going on since
the breakdown of Mr. Gladstone's political intelligence, their dread of
foolish and scoundrelly fiscal adventurers is sufficiently strong to
retain the Liberals in office. The recent exposures of the profound
financial rottenness of the Liberal party have deepened the public
resolve to permit no such enlarged possibilities of corruption as Tariff
Reform would afford their at least equally dubitable opponents. And
meanwhile, beneath those ridiculous alternatives, those sham issues, the
real and very urgent affairs of the nation, the vast gathering
discontent of the workers throughout the Empire, the racial conflicts in
India and South Africa which will, if they are not arrested, end in our
severance from India, the insane waste of national resources, the
control of disease, the frightful need of some cessation of armament,
drift neglected....

Now do these things indicate the ultimate failure and downfall of
representative government? Was this idea which inspired so much of the
finest and most generous thought of the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries a wrong idea, and must we go back to Caesarism or oligarchy or
plutocracy or a theocracy, to Rome or Venice or Carthage, to the strong
man or the ruler by divine right, for the political organisation of the

My answer to that question would be an emphatic No. My answer would be
that the idea of representative government is the only possible idea for
the government of a civilised community. But I would add that so far
representative government has not had even the beginnings of a fair
trial. So far we have not had representative government, but only a
devastating caricature.

It is quite plain now that those who first organised the parliamentary
institutions which now are the ruling institutions of the greater part
of mankind fell a prey to certain now very obvious errors. They did not
realise that there are hundreds of different ways in which voting may be
done, and that every way will give a different result. They thought, and
it is still thought by a great number of mentally indolent people, that
if a country is divided up into approximately equivalent areas, each
returning one or two representatives, if every citizen is given one
vote, and if there is no legal limit to the presentation of candidates,
that presently a cluster of the wisest, most trusted and best citizens
will come together in the legislative assembly.

In reality the business is far more complicated than this. In reality a
country will elect all sorts of different people according to the
electoral method employed. It is a fact that anyone who chooses to
experiment with a willing school or club may verify. Suppose, for
example, that you take your country, give every voter one single vote,
put up six and twenty candidates for a dozen vacancies, and give them no
adequate time for organisation. The voters, you will find, will return
certain favourites, A and B and C and D let us call them, by enormous
majorities, and behind these at a considerable distance will come E, F,
G, H, I, J, K, and L. Now give your candidates time to develop
organisation. A lot of people who swelled A's huge vote will dislike J
and K and L so much, and prefer M and N so much, that if they are
assured that by proper organisation A's return can be made certain
without their voting for him, they will vote for M and N. But they will
do so only on that understanding. Similarly certain B-ites will want O
and P if they can be got without sacrificing B. So that adequate party
organisation in the community may return not the dozen a naive vote
would give, but A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, M, N, O, P. Now suppose that,
instead of this arrangement, your community is divided into twelve
constituencies and no candidate may contest more than one of them. And
suppose each constituency has strong local preferences. A, B and C are
widely popular; in every constituency they have supporters but in no
constituency does any one of the three command a majority. They are
great men, not local men. Q, who is an unknown man in most of the
country, has, on the contrary, a strong sect of followers in the
constituency for which A stands, and beats him by one vote; another
local celebrity, E, disposes of B in the same way; C is attacked not
only by S but T, whose peculiar views upon vaccination, let us say,
appeal to just enough of C's supporters to let in S. Similar accidents
happen in the other constituencies, and the country that would have
unreservedly returned A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K and L on the first
system, return instead O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z. Numerous
voters who would have voted for A if they had a chance vote instead for
R, S, T, etc., numbers who would have voted for B, vote for Q, V, W, X,
etc. But now suppose that A and B are opposed to one another, and that
there is a strong A party and a strong B party highly organised in the
country. B is really the second favourite over the country as a whole,
but A is the first favourite. D, F, H, J, L, N, P, R, U, W, Y constitute
the A candidates and in his name they conquer. B, C, E, G, I, K, M, O,
Q, S, V are all thrown out in spite of the wide popularity of B and C. B
and C, we have supposed, are the second and third favourites, and yet
they go out in favour of Y, of whom nobody has heard before, some mere
hangers-on of A's. Such a situation actually occurs in both Ulster and
Home-Rule Ireland.

But now let us suppose another arrangement, and that is that the whole
country is one constituency, and every voter has, if he chooses to
exercise them, twelve votes, which, however, he must give, if he gives
them all, to twelve separate people. Then quite certainly A, B, C, D
will come in, but the tail will be different. M, N, O, P may come up
next to them, and even Z, that eminent non-party man, may get in. But
now organisation may produce new effects. The ordinary man, when he has
twelve votes to give, likes to give them all, so that there will be a
good deal of wild voting at the tails of the voting papers. Now if a
small resolute band decide to plump for T or to vote only for A and T or
B and T, T will probably jump up out of the rejected. This is the system
which gives the specialist, the anti-vaccinator or what not, the maximum
advantage. V, W, X and Y, being rather hopeless anyhow, will probably
detach themselves from party and make some special appeal, say to the
teetotal vote or the Mormon vote or the single tax vote, and so squeeze
past O, P, Q, R, who have taken a more generalised line.

I trust the reader will bear with me through these alphabetical
fluctuations. Many people, I know from colloquial experiences, do at
about this stage fly into a passion. But if you will exercise
self-control, then I think you will see my point that, according to the
method of voting, almost any sort of result may be got out of an
election except the production of a genuinely representative assembly.

And that is the a priori case for supposing, what our experience of
contemporary life abundantly verifies, that the so-called representative
assemblies of the world are not really representative at all. I will go
farther and say that were it not for the entire inefficiency of our
method of voting, not one-tenth of the present American and French
Senators, the French Deputies, the American Congressmen, and the English
Members of Parliament would hold their positions to-day. They would
never have been heard of. They are not really the elected
representatives of the people; they are the products of a ridiculous
method of election; they are the illegitimate children of the party
system and the ballot-box, who have ousted the legitimate heirs from
their sovereignty. They are no more the expression of the general will
than the Tsar or some President by _pronunciamento_. They are an
accidental oligarchy of adventurers. Representative government has never
yet existed in the world; there was an attempt to bring it into
existence in the eighteenth century, and it succumbed to an infantile
disorder at the very moment of its birth. What we have in the place of
the leaders and representatives are politicians and "elected persons."

The world is passing rapidly from localised to generalised interests,
but the method of election into which our fathers fell is the method of
electing one or two representatives from strictly localised
constituencies. Its immediate corruption was inevitable. If discussing
and calculating the future had been, as it ought to be, a common,
systematic occupation, the muddles of to-day might have been foretold a
hundred years ago. From such a rough method of election the party system
followed as a matter of course. In theory, of course, there may be any
number of candidates for a constituency and a voter votes for the one he
likes best; in practice there are only two or three candidates, and the
voter votes for the one most likely to beat the candidate he likes
least. It cannot be too strongly insisted that in contemporary elections
we vote against; we do not vote for. If A, B and C are candidates, and
you hate C and all his works and prefer A, but doubt if he will get as
many votes as B, who is indifferent to you, the chances are you will
vote for B. If C and B have the support of organised parties, you are
still less likely to risk "wasting" your vote upon A. If your real
confidence is in G, who is not a candidate for your constituency, and if
B pledges himself to support G, while A retains the right of separate
action, you may vote for B even if you distrust him personally.
Additional candidates would turn any election of this type into a wild
scramble. The system lies, in fact, wholly open to the control of
political organisations, calls out, indeed, for the control of political
organisations, and has in every country produced what is so evidently
demanded. The political organisations to-day rule us unchallenged. Save
as they speak for us, the people are dumb.

Elections of the prevalent pattern, which were intended and are still
supposed by simple-minded people to give every voter participation in
government, do as a matter of fact effect nothing of the sort. They give
him an exasperating fragment of choice between the agents of two party
organisations, over neither of which he has any intelligible control.
For twenty-five years I have been a voter, and in all that time I have
only twice had an opportunity of voting for a man of distinction in whom
I had the slightest confidence. Commonly my choice of a "representative"
has been between a couple of barristers entirely unknown to me or the
world at large. Rather more than half the men presented for my selection
have not been English at all, but of alien descent. This, then, is the
sum of the political liberty of the ordinary American or Englishman,
that is the political emancipation which Englishwomen have shown
themselves so pathetically eager to share. He may reject one of two
undesirables, and the other becomes his "representative." Now this is
not popular government at all; it is government by the profession of
politicians, whose control becomes more and more irresponsible in just
the measure that they are able to avoid real factions within their own
body. Whatever the two party organisations have a mind to do together,
whatever issue they chance to reserve from "party politics," is as much
beyond the control of the free and independent voter as if he were a
slave subject in ancient Peru.

Our governments in the more civilised parts of the world to-day are only
in theory and sentiment democratic. In reality they are democracies so
eviscerated by the disease of bad electoral methods that they are mere
cloaks for the parasitic oligarchies that have grown up within their
form and substance. The old spirit of freedom and the collective purpose
which overthrew and subdued priestcrafts and kingcrafts, has done so, it
seems, only to make way for these obscure political conspiracies.
Instead of liberal institutions, mankind has invented a new sort of
usurpation. And it is not unnatural that many of us should be in a phase
of political despair.

These oligarchies of the party organisations have now been evolving for
two centuries, and their inherent evils and dangers become more and more
manifest. The first of these is the exclusion from government of the
more active and intelligent sections of the community. It is not treated
as remarkable, it is treated as a matter of course, that neither in
Congress nor in the House of Commons is there any adequate
representation of the real thought of the time, of its science,
invention and enterprise, of its art and feeling, of its religion and
purpose. When one speaks of Congressmen or Members of Parliament one
thinks, to be plain about it, of intellectual riff-raff. When one hears
of a pre-eminent man in the English-speaking community, even though that
pre-eminence may be in political or social science, one is struck by a
sense of incongruity if he happens to be also in the Legislature. When
Lord Haldane disengages the Gifford lectures or Lord Morley writes a
"Life of Gladstone" or ex-President Roosevelt is delivered of a magazine
article, there is the same sort of excessive admiration as when a Royal
Princess does a water-colour sketch or a dog walks on its hind legs.

Now this intellectual inferiority of the legislator is not only directly
bad for the community by producing dull and stupid legislation, but it
has a discouraging and dwarfing effect upon our intellectual life.
Nothing so stimulates art, thought and science as realisation; nothing
so cripples it as unreality. But to set oneself to know thoroughly and
to think clearly about any human question is to unfit oneself for the
forensic claptrap which is contemporary politics, is to put oneself out
of the effective current of the nation's life. The intelligence of any
community which does not make a collective use of that intelligence,
starves and becomes hectic, tends inevitably to preciousness and
futility on the one hand, and to insurgency, mischief and anarchism on
the other.

From the point of view of social stability this estrangement of the
national government and the national intelligence is far less serious
than the estrangement between the governing body and the real feeling of
the mass of the people. To many observers this latter estrangement seems
to be drifting very rapidly towards a social explosion in the British
Isles. The organised masses of labour find themselves baffled both by
their parliamentary representatives and by their trade union officials.
They are losing faith in their votes and falling back in anger upon
insurrectionary ideals, upon the idea of a general strike, and upon the
expedients of sabotage. They are doing this without any constructive
proposals at all, for it is ridiculous to consider Syndicalism as a
constructive proposal. They mean mischief because they are hopeless and
bitterly disappointed. It is the same thing in France, and before many
years are over it will be the same thing in America. That way lies
chaos. In the next few years there may be social revolt and bloodshed in
most of the great cities of Western Europe. That is the trend of current
probability. Yet the politicians go on in an almost complete disregard
of this gathering storm. Their jerrymandered electoral methods are like
wool in their ears, and the rejection of Tweedledum for Tweedledee is
taken as a "mandate" for Tweedledee's distinctive brand of political

Is this an incurable state of things? Is this method of managing our
affairs the only possible electoral method, and is there no remedy for
its monstrous clumsiness and inefficiency but to "show a sense of
humour," or, in other words, to grin and bear it? Or is it conceivable
that there may be a better way to government than any we have yet tried,
a method of government that would draw every class into conscious and
willing co-operation with the State, and enable every activity of the
community to play its proper part in the national life? That was the
dream of those who gave the world representative government in the past.
Was it an impossible dream?

Sec. 2

Is this disease of Parliaments an incurable disease, and have we,
therefore, to get along as well as we can with it, just as a tainted and
incurable invalid diets and is careful and gets along through life? Or
is it possible that some entirely more representative and effective
collective control of our common affairs can be devised?

The answer to that must determine our attitude to a great number of
fundamental questions. If no better governing body is possible than the
stupid, dilatory and forensic assemblies that rule in France, Britain
and America to-day, then the civilised human community has reached its
climax. That more comprehensive collective handling of the common
interests to which science and intelligent Socialism point, that
collective handling which is already urgently needed if the present
uncontrolled waste of natural resources and the ultimate bankruptcy of
mankind is to be avoided, is quite beyond the capacity of such
assemblies; already there is too much in their clumsy and untrustworthy
hands, and the only course open to us is an attempt at enlightened
Individualism, an attempt to limit and restrict State activities in
every possible way, and to make little private temporary islands of
light and refinement amidst the general disorder and decay. All
collectivist schemes, all rational Socialism, if only Socialists would
realise it, all hope for humanity, indeed, are dependent ultimately upon
the hypothetical possibility of a better system of government than any
at present in existence.

Let us see first, then, if we can lay down any conditions which such a
better governing body would satisfy. Afterwards it will be open to us to
believe or disbelieve in its attainment. Imagination is the essence of
creation. If we can imagine a better government we are half-way to
making it.

Now, whatever other conditions such a body will satisfy, we may be sure
that it will not be made up of members elected by single-member
constituencies. A single-member constituency must necessarily contain a
minority, and may even contain a majority of dissatisfied persons whose
representation is, as it were, blotted out by the successful candidate.
Three single-member constituencies which might all return members of the
same colour, if they were lumped together to return three members would
probably return two of one colour and one of another. There would still,
however, be a suppressed minority averse to both these colours, or
desiring different shades of those colours from those afforded them in
the constituency. Other things being equal, it may be laid down that the
larger the constituency and the more numerous its representatives, the
greater the chance of all varieties of thought and opinion being

But that is only a preliminary statement; it still leaves untouched all
the considerations advanced in the former part of this discussion to
show how easily the complications and difficulties of voting lead to a
falsification of the popular will and understanding. But here we enter a
region where a really scientific investigation has been made, and where
established results are available. A method of election was worked out
by Hare in the middle of the last century that really does seem to avoid
or mitigate nearly every falsifying or debilitating possibility in
elections; it was enthusiastically supported by J.S. Mill; it is now
advocated by a special society--the Proportional Representation
Society--to which belong men of the most diverse type of distinction,
united only by the common desire to see representative government a
reality and not a disastrous sham. It is a method which does render
impossible nearly every way of forcing candidates upon constituencies,
and nearly every trick for rigging results that now distorts and
cripples the political life of the modern world. It exacts only one
condition, a difficult but not an impossible condition, and that is the
honest scrutiny and counting of the votes.

The peculiar invention of the system is what is called the single
transferable vote--that is to say, a vote which may be given in the
first instance to one candidate, but which, in the event of his already
having a sufficient quota of votes to return him, may be transferred to
another. The voter marks clearly in the list of the candidates the order
of his preference by placing 1, 2, 3, and so forth against the names. In
the subsequent counting the voting papers are first classified according
to the first votes. Let us suppose that popular person A is found to
have received first votes enormously in excess of what is needed to
return him. The second votes are then counted on his papers, and after
the number of votes necessary to return him has been deducted, the
surplus votes are divided in due proportion among the second choice
names, and count for them. That is the essential idea of the whole
thing. At a stroke all that anxiety about wasting votes and splitting
votes, _which is the secret of all party political manipulation_
vanishes. You may vote for A well knowing that if he is safe your vote
will be good for C. You can make sure of A, and at the same time vote
for C. You are in no need of a "ticket" to guide you, and you need have
no fear that in supporting an independent candidate you will destroy the
prospects of some tolerably sympathetic party man without any
compensating advantage. The independent candidate does, in fact, become
possible for the first time. The Hobson's choice of the party machine is

Let me be a little more precise about the particulars of this method,
the only sound method, of voting in order to ensure an adequate
representation of the community. Let us resort again to the constituency
I imagined in my last paper, a constituency in which candidates
represented by all the letters of the alphabet struggle for twelve
places. And let us suppose that A, B, C and D are the leading
favourites. Suppose that there are twelve thousand voters in the
constituency, and that three thousand votes are cast for A--I am keeping
the figures as simple as possible--then A has two thousand more than is
needed to return him. _All_ the second votes on his papers are counted,
and it is found that 600, or a fifth of them, go to C; 500, or a sixth,
go to E; 300, or a tenth, to G; 300 to J; 200, or a fifteenth, each to K
and L, and a hundred each, or a thirtieth, to M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, W
and Z. Then the surplus of 2,000 is divided in these proportions--that
is a fifth of 2,000 goes to C, a sixth to E, and the rest to G, J, etc.,
in proportion. C, who already has 900 votes, gets another 400, and is
now returned and has, moreover, 300 to spare; and the same division of
the next votes upon C's paper occurs as has already been made with A's.
But previously to this there has been a distribution of B's surplus
votes, B having got 1,200 of first votes. And so on. After the
distribution of the surplus votes of the elect at the top of the list,
there is a distribution of the second votes upon the papers of those who
have voted for the hopeless candidates at the bottom of the list. At
last a point is reached when twelve candidates have a quota.

In this way the "wasting" of a vote, or the rejection of a candidate for
any reason except that hardly anybody wants him, become practically
impossible. This method of the single transferable vote with very large
constituencies and many members does, in fact, give an entirely valid
electoral result; each vote tells for all it is worth, and the freedom
of the voter is only limited by the number of candidates who put up or
are put up for election. This method, and this method alone, gives
representative government; all others of the hundred and one possible
methods admit of trickery, confusion and falsification. Proportional
Representation is not a faddist proposal, not a perplexing ingenious
complication of a simple business; it is the carefully worked out right
way to do something that hitherto we have been doing in the wrong way.
It is no more an eccentricity than is proper baking in the place of
baking amidst dirt and with unlimited adulteration, or the running of
trains to their destinations instead of running them without notice into
casually selected sidings and branch lines. It is not the substitution
of something for something else of the same nature; it is the
substitution of right for wrong. It is the plain common sense of the
greatest difficulty in contemporary affairs.

I know that a number of people do not, will not, admit this of
Proportional Representation. Perhaps it is because of that hideous
mouthful of words for a thing that would be far more properly named Sane
Voting. This, which is the only correct way, these antagonists regard as
a peculiar way. It has unfamiliar features, and that condemns it in
their eyes. It takes at least ten minutes to understand, and that is too
much for their plain, straightforward souls. "Complicated"--that word of
fear! They are like the man who approved of an electric tram, but said
that he thought it would go better without all that jiggery-pokery of
wires up above. They are like the Western judge in the murder trial who
said that if only they got a man hanged for this abominable crime, he
wouldn't make a pedantic fuss about the question of _which_ man. They
are like the plain, straightforward promoter who became impatient with
maps and planned a railway across Switzerland by drawing a straight line
with a ruler across Jungfrau and Matterhorn and glacier and gorge. Or
else they are like Mr. J. Ramsay Macdonald, M.P., who knows too well
what would happen to him.

Now let us consider what would be the necessary consequences of the
establishment of Proportional Representation in such a community as
Great Britain--that is to say, the redistribution of the country into
great constituencies such as London or Ulster or Wessex or South Wales,
each returning a score or more of members, and the establishment of
voting by the single transferable vote. The first, immediate, most
desirable result would be the disappearance of the undistinguished party
candidate; he would vanish altogether. He would be no more seen.
Proportional Representation would not give him the ghost of a chance.
The very young man of good family, the subsidised barrister, the
respectable nobody, the rich supporter of the party would be ousted by
known men. No candidate who had not already distinguished himself, and
who did not stand for something in the public eye, would have a chance
of election. There alone we have a sufficient reason for anticipating a
very thorough change in the quality and character of the average

And next, no party organisation, no intimation from headquarters, no
dirty tricks behind the scenes, no conspiracy of spite and scandal would
have much chance of keeping out any man of real force and distinction
who had impressed the public imagination. To be famous in science, to
have led thought, to have explored or administered or dissented
courageously from the schemes of official wire-pullers would no longer
be a bar to a man's attainment of Parliament. It would be a help. Not
only the level of parliamentary intelligence, but the level of personal
independence would be raised far above its present position. And
Parliament would become a gathering of prominent men instead of a means
to prominence.

The two-party system which holds all the English-speaking countries
to-day in its grip would certainly be broken up by Proportional
Representation. Sane Voting in the end would kill the Liberal and Tory
and Democratic and Republican party-machines. That secret rottenness of
our public life, that hidden conclave which sells honours, fouls
finance, muddles public affairs, fools the passionate desires of the
people, and ruins honest men by obscure campaigns would become
impossible. The advantage of party support would be a doubtful
advantage, and in Parliament itself the party men would find themselves
outclassed and possibly even outnumbered by the independent. It would be
only a matter of a few years between the adoption of Sane Voting and the
disappearance of the Cabinet from British public life. It would become
possible for Parliament to get rid of a minister without getting rid of
a ministry, and to express its disapproval of--let us say--some foolish
project for rearranging the local government of Ireland without opening
the door upon a vista of fantastical fiscal adventures. The
party-supported Cabinet, which is now the real government of the
so-called democratic countries, would cease to be so, and government
would revert more and more to the legislative assembly. And not only
would the latter body resume government, but it would also necessarily
take into itself all those large and growing exponents of
extra-parliamentary discontent that now darken the social future. The
case of the armed "Unionist" rebel in Ulster, the case of the workman
who engages in sabotage, the case for sympathetic strikes and the
general strike, all these cases are identical in this, that they declare
Parliament a fraud, that justice lies outside it and hopelessly outside
it, and that to seek redress through Parliament is a waste of time and
energy. Sane Voting would deprive all these destructive movements of the
excuse and necessity for violence.

There is, I know, a disposition in some quarters to minimise the
importance of Proportional Representation, as though it were a mere
readjustment of voting methods. It is nothing of the sort; it is a
prospective revolution. It will revolutionise government far more than a
mere change from kingdom to republic or vice versa could possibly do; it
will give a new and unprecedented sort of government to the world. The
real leaders of the country will govern the country. For Great Britain,
for example, instead of the secret, dubious and dubitable Cabinet, which
is the real British government of to-day, poised on an unwieldy and
crowded House of Commons, we should have open government by the
representatives of, let us say, twenty great provinces, Ulster, Wales,
London, for example, each returning from twelve to thirty members. It
would be a steadier, stabler, more confident, and more trusted
government than the world has ever seen before. Ministers, indeed, and
even ministries might come and go, but that would not matter, as it does
now, because there would be endless alternatives through which the
assembly could express itself instead of the choice between two parties.

The arguments against Proportional Representation that have been
advanced hitherto are trivial in comparison with its enormous
advantages. Implicit in them all is the supposition that public opinion
is at bottom a foolish thing, and that electoral methods are to pacify
rather than express a people. It is possibly true that notorious
windbags, conspicuously advertised adventurers, and the heroes of
temporary sensations may run a considerable chance upon the lists. My
own estimate of the popular wisdom is against the idea that any vividly
prominent figure must needs get in; I think the public is capable of
appreciating, let us say, the charm and interest of Mr. Sandow or Mr.
Jack Johnson or Mr. Harry Lauder or Mr. Evan Roberts without wanting to
send these gentlemen into Parliament. And I think that the increased
power that the Press would have through its facilities in making
reputations may also be exaggerated. Reputations are mysterious things
and not so easily forced, and even if it were possible for a section of
the Press to limelight a dozen or so figures up to the legislature, they
would still have, I think, to be interesting, sympathetic and
individualised figures; and at the end they would be only half a dozen
among four hundred men of a repute more naturally achieved. A third
objection is that this reform would give us group politics and unstable
government. It might very possibly give us unstable ministries, but
unstable ministries may mean stable government, and such stable
ministries as that which governs England at the present time may, by
clinging obstinately to office, mean the wildest fluctuations of policy.
Mr. Ramsay Macdonald has drawn a picture of the too-representative
Parliament of Proportional Representation, split up into groups each
pledged to specific measures and making the most extraordinary treaties
and sacrifices of the public interest in order to secure the passing of
these definite bills. But Mr. Ramsay Macdonald is exclusively a
parliamentary man; he knows contemporary parliamentary "shop" as a clerk
knows his "guv'nor," and he thinks in the terms of his habitual life; he
sees representatives only as politicians financed from party
headquarters; it is natural that he should fail to see that the quality
and condition of the sanely elected Member of Parliament will be quite
different from these scheming climbers into positions of trust with whom
he deals to-day. It is the party system based on insane voting that
makes governments indivisible wholes and gives the group and the cave
their terrors and their effectiveness. Mr. Ramsay Macdonald is as
typical a product of existing electoral methods as one could well have,
and his peculiarly keen sense of the power of intrigue in legislation is
as good evidence as one could wish for of the need for drastic change.

Of course, Sane Voting is not a short cut to the millennium, it is no
way of changing human nature, and in the new type of assembly, as in the
old, spite, vanity, indolence, self-interest, and downright dishonesty
will play their part. But to object to a reform on that account is not a
particularly effective objection. These things will play their part, but
it will be a much smaller part in the new than in the old. It is like
objecting to some projected and long-needed railway because it does not
propose to carry its passengers by immediate express to heaven.