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Proportional RepresentationCritics of the British Electoral System 1820-1945$

Jenifer Hart

Print publication date: 1992

Print ISBN-13: 9780198201366

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198201366.001.0001

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(p.287) Appendix A The Hare Scheme and Working-Class Representation

(p.287) Appendix A The Hare Scheme and Working-Class Representation

Proportional Representation
Oxford University Press

Would Hare’s scheme have helped working men to obtain greater representation in parliament than they actually did during the years 1868 to 1900?

The Reform Act of 1867 made the working classes for the first time a considerable voting power in many borough constituencies, and after further legislation in 1884 in county constituencies as well; but their representation in parliament either by working-class MPs, or by MPs backed by working men’s organizations, was well below their voting strength.

Thus at the general election of 1868 none of the seven candidates supported by the Reform League was successful, though they received all together a quite substantial number of votes (15,000). If the Hare scheme had been in operation, and if the voters supporting these candidates had used the chance given them of indicating their preferences on their ballot papers, they would have been able to secure some representation in parliament, probably at least three MPs.

In 1874 considerable attention was focused, as it has been since, on the fact that two working-class men were returned to parliament at the general election of that year. But if the Hare scheme had operated then, the 27,000 votes given to the thirteen candidates standing in what can be called ‘the labour interest’ would probably have secured not just two but perhaps five representatives in parliament.

The position improved in 1885 in the sense that the number of MPs representing the labour interest had increased, but both then and later it was greatly under-represented in relation to the number of votes its candidates received. This was particularly true of the general elections of 1895 and 1900 at which unsuccessful labour candidates received a large number of votes which were, on Hare principles, wasted—102,000 in 1895 and 114,000 in 1900. In 1895 the wasted votes included 44,325 for the twenty-eight Independent Labour Party candidates. If the Hare scheme had operated, and if ILP supporters had used their preferences to vote solidly for these candidates, they should have been able to return some MPs—perhaps as many as four or five—instead of none.

(p.288) The term labour interest’ is used here to include Lib.-Labs., Liberals put up by trade unions and other working men’s organizations, candidates sponsored by the ILP, the SDF, and other fringe parties of the Left.

There are admittedly difficulties involved in making these calculations. The number of votes received by unsuccessful candidates is known, but any estimate of the extra successes if the Hare scheme had operated is bound to be tentative, because it rests on certain assumptions about the behaviour of the electorate. However there can be little doubt that during the years 1868 to 1900 working men’s interests would have been better represented in parliament if the Hare scheme had been in operation.

This was the view of several contemporaries. Thus in 1868 Mill thought that the only complete remedy to the absence of working men in parliament was ‘the adoption of Personal Representation, by which the electors would be enabled to group themselves as they pleased, and any electors who chose to combine could be represented, in exact proportion to their numbers, by men of their own personal choice’ (L 1352, 7 Dec. 1868). A pamphlet of 1869 thought that even a simplified version of the Hare scheme (constituencies of seven members with the single transferable vote) would enable working men to return about forty representatives of their own class; George Odger would have needed only 3,000 votes in 1868 and could have entered parliament (Representation of Minorities, with a Scheme of Redistribution showing the probable results of equal justice to all, by a Merchant, 1869). Mrs Fawcett too pointed out that Odger always lost, and that he would get into parliament if he was an all-England candidate (Macmillan’s Magazine, Sept. 1870). Odger, who was the most prominent of working-class Radicals, made several unsuccessful attempts to enter parliament between 1868 and 1874. He only actually fought one general election (1874) and one by-election (1870), but he failed to be selected by the local Liberal constituency party or withdrew at that stage three times. Mill thought very well of him and wanted to see him in parliament.

At the time of the franchise extension of 1884, it was said by one advocate of the single transferable vote that such a change in the electoral system would make it much easier for working men to return labour representatives to parliament (Proportional Representation. An Address to Working Men, by S. Neil, n.d. but c.1885).