//Views, Reviews and Previews

Views, Reviews and Previews

Art

 

WHAT IS LUXURY?

Victoria and Albert Museum

25 April–27 September

Admission free

 

The Crafts Council used to have a small shop in the V&A which was the ideal place to see current trends in British craft and design. The Museum’s current Luxury exhibition is a nod to that much-missed shop. It is sponsored by the Crafts Council and contains a few excellent old artefacts and rather more modern craft works and installations.

There is no need for an excuse for this show, but the exhibition has been tagged as an exploration of luxury. And it isn’t. There is no depth to the exploration of what luxury is and the role it plays in society. It is possible the curators are being ironic and signalling that the luxurious mind is a shallow and incurious mind. But this is not the humorous or witty show it could have been. Or even instructive. Readers of ND won’t need to be reminded of St Thomas Aquinas’ teaching on luxury (e.g. Summa Theologiæ 2a 2ae 169, always a good place to start). The show is not as subtle as Thomas. It assumes that luxury is good and lazily defines it with a list of words drawn from the oiliest of high-end advertisers: ‘Precision, Exclusivity, Expertise, Exclusive, Non-essential, Pleasure, Innovation, Investment, Passion.’ A Delacroix-style meditation on the theme of ‘The Death of Sardanapalus’ it isn’t.

Nor is it the Japanese Wabi-Sabi and Mono No Aware, the (often very expensive) philosophies of elegant simplicity and the beauty of impermanence. And that is a wasted opportunity. The show’s literature says luxury is about experience and the joy of small moments of beauty in daily life. That ought to fit exactly with the culture of the tea ceremony. Indeed, a short walk down the hall will take the visitor to a selection of beautifully made oriental cups which suggest both a deep relation with nature – the clay has directed the potter’s hands – and the fact of imperfection. On the open market they would cost. By contrast, the exhibition – and the shop – do have some well-made teacups but they are clinical and without resonance when compared to the cups in the Japanese Gallery.

Ultimately it is ‘shop’ where this show takes a wrong turning. Its aesthetic is that of Oscar Wilde in the days when he pioneered the journalism of soft fabrics and what to buy for those on a decent but limited budget. The literary highpoint of that Wildean culture is Huysmans’ À rebours, one of the inspirations for Dorian Gray. Huysmans created his aesthete’s dream out of encyclopedias and shop catalogues. One of his conceits was a jewel-encrusted tortoise. The show has a less a self-confidently crass but cheaper parallel with a wooden monkey covered in Swarovski crystals. A more famous descendant of Huysmans’ tortoise is the jewel-studded tortoise which Rex Mottram gives Julia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited. Evelyn Waugh used that luxury gift to show Mottram and the non-Catholic world are less than fully human. The V&A’s show doesn’t reach Waugh’s level of sophistication or reference.

So far, so serious, but part of the charm of luxury is that a show devoted to expensive goodies can’t be without some fun. Yes, half the exhibition space is done out in the best Victoria Beckham black and the rest in modish grey, but there are some stunning exhibits. First and foremost is a Venetian chasuble (1670–95) covered in lace, literally. Do not believe any clergyman who claims to have something similar. It is extraordinary and hugely impractical. Another item of clothing runs it close. This is the Mess Jacket of the Royal Lancers and it is as good an answer to the intellectual metrosexual elite as you are likely to find.

Unfortunately most of the other items are just too earnest either to be show-offy or to be beautiful. Worse, the second room of the show is devoted to expensive pieces of modern concept craft which are not remotely interesting. But there is one contemporary item which is both crafty and luxurious – a finely spun cloth of gold made in memory of the Golden Fleece. What the show needs is more of that kind of thing or some of the items from the Hermès in-house museum, recently on show at the Saatchi Gallery. Those included an electric hedgetrimmer whose handle was covered in alligator skin and a crash helmet covered with fur on the outside. That is luxury of the kind bored people spend their money on. The other kind is found in V&A’s Chinese Gallery. It is a wine cup holder in Ru ware, the world’s finest ceramics made solely for the Emperor of China in a thirty-year period in the twelfth century. Unfortunately this show just doesn’t give us enough of those extremes of excess and beauty. But see it for the chasuble.  

Owen Higgs

 

Books

 

THE BRIGHT FIELD  

Meditations and Reflections for Ordinary Time

Martyn Percy and others

Canterbury Press Norwich, 224pp, pbk

978 1848256125, £18.99

 

R.S. Thomas’ poem, The Bright Field, provides both the title and the inspiration for this book. The poem’s theme is that of not hurrying on into the future or of hankering after the past. We are, rather, to savour the present and in that experience the eternity that awaits us. Martyn Percy and his companions want us to view the Church’s period of Ordinary Time in this light and offer us rich material to stimulate our hearts and minds as we live through this ‘non’ season.

There are five sections to the book. Part One provides meditations for the weeks of the Trinity Season written by Martyn Percy and Jenny Gaffin. These meditations are gripping, thought-provoking and succinct. Percy often draws creatively on his visits to the Holy Land. Gaffin ably harnesses diverse life experiences as the gateway to her insights, while the immediacy with which she seems often to encounter the natural features of the world about her has a deep resonance with the poet after whose work the book is named.

Part Two offers us readings and reflections for the weeks of the Trinity Season. Geoff Miller provides appropriate biblical texts together with a short reading and appropriate prayer for each of the weeks. Readings are assembled from such great Anglican stalwarts as Leslie Hunter and John V. Taylor as well as from ecumenical sources like the Jerusalem Community’s rule. There is even a spellbinding passage drawn from Philip Pullman. Miller’s own poetry occasionally enriches the material that is offered.

Those who enjoy and are fed by collections of sermons will particularly appreciate the treasures provided in Part Three and Part Four. The former provides Sermons for Ordinary Time while the latter offers material for what are called High Days and Holy Days. Almost all the material in Part Three is from Martyn Percy and Rowan Williams with the occasional contribution from Sam Wells. The standard is high. Many readers of New Directions will welcome the inclusion of Williams’ sermon preached at the National Pilgrimage to Walsingham in 2004. His sermon on the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is also well worth our attention but when is any sermon by Williams not? Percy’s sermon on the wedding at Cana offers, at least for this reader, a large range of new insights into the story and could almost be the starting point for a series of sermons on the one incident.

Part Four is provided by a wider selection of preachers. While not being pedantic it is puzzling to understand why a sermon for Pentecost is included in a book devoted to deepening our devotion in Ordinary Time. This section also includes some engaging sonnets by Malcolm Guite. The sermons for Remembrance Day, one by Williams, the other by Percy, are refreshingly and bravely challenging as they call us to enter more deeply into the issues raised on this important day.

In Part Five the book progresses into different territory. Two orders of Compline composed by the late Jim Cotter are printed for the reader’s use. These provide a useful mode of prayer with which those who have used material from the book towards the end of a long day might find helpful.

This book is provided as a companion volume to an earlier one, Darkness Yielding, which provided resources for Advent to Epiphany and from Lent to Pentecost. That said, the work stands well on its own and provides a rich anthology to which the reader will probably want to return time and time again. Published to help Christians travel through Ordinary Time, The Bright Field can still wisely be purchased for the remainder of Ordinary Time this year and for the years ahead. Indeed, one of the frustrations encountered in reviewing such a work is that one must read quickly material that truly warrants, as its subtitle implies, meditative and reflective engagement. This is a book that deserves to be revisited time and time again.

+Martyn Jarrett

 

AN ALTAR IN THE WILDERNESS  

Kaleeg Hainsworth  

Rocky Mountain Books, 168pp, hbk

978 1771600378, £10.56

 

This little book speaks of priesthood, altar and sacrifice not in a narrow religious sense but in a universal human and cosmic sense drawing on Christian wisdom writings. The author is an Orthodox priest who has worked in Canada for whom ‘the world is charged with the glory of God’ (Hopkins). To Kaleeg Hainsworth life is adventure and exploration with an uncovering of God’s beauty in creation and a response to his call to rise above self-interest into his ‘love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’ (1 Cor. 13.7).

The book weaves insights on the environment and Christianity into a spiritual ecology centring on sacrificial imagery. The author has experienced God speaking directly to his heart and indirectly through the beauty of creation. He contrasts two kinds of ‘temple’, those humans build of stone and wood and those God builds of mountains and forests. His easy meditative style is hard to summarize but makes repeated reference to the beauty in God and in creation and the need to remedy its deficit in the Church, even her buildings.

Wilderness is another concept profitably used, ‘the one we go into and the one we bring with us’ as exemplified by third-century St Anthony’s inner battle accomplished away from civilization. The altar central to this book is the heart and the basic reality of Christian life summarized again by a monk: ‘We fall down, we get up. We fall down, and we get up again. We do this every day’. If this book has power it is in its ideas and strategies unveiling the big motivational picture that aids the ‘getting up part’.

The thinking of Orthodox writer Alexander Schmemann is implicit, linking Eucharistic worship to creation as sacrament with the Christian call to actualise the potential of salvation and joy in creation through thanksgiving. Yet the writer is much wider schooled than his Orthodoxy as in his connection of seventh-century Maximus on universals and particulars with William Blake’s seeing ‘a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower’.

The book is inspirational and well-written, and has a sort of connecting up about it which fits the bill as the attempt it is at a spiritual ecology.

John Twisleton

 

CHASING FRANCIS  

A Pilgrim’s Tale

Ian Morgan Cron

Zondervan, 256pp, pbk

978 0310336693, £9.99

 

The church is realising there is an awareness of God sleeping in the basement of the post-modern imagination and they have to awaken it. The arts can do this. All beauty is subversive; it flies under the radar of people’s critical filters and points them to God… when the front door of the intellect is shut, the back door of the imagination is open’. This is one of many insights I copied down after reading this fascinating novel about an evangelical pastor who loses his faith and finds it again through engaging with Francis of Assisi. It is a highly readable book and contains a few other ‘books’ on theology, pastoralia, liturgy, etc. with great quotations from classic Christian writers.

This fictional church leader admits: ‘All my life, I’ve been afraid to meet God anywhere else but in my head… I could keep God manageable and under control. But what kind of God can be controlled or managed? No God at all’. In the story he finds a new faith through a group of Franciscan friars who point him to five key headers: transcendence, community, beauty, dignity and meaning. He opts to go on in faith as ‘someone trying to figure out how to follow the Lord Jesus in the joy and wreckage of life’. Returning to his church the pastor attempts a new start for everyone that is more contextual than textual.

Francis of Assisi was a story teller who spoke the language of ordinary people. Ian Morgan Cron writes how Francis saw book knowledge as being like material possessions in that too much can be occasion for pride and obstruct the love of Christ. The Saint commended an experience of God accessible to all, making with his followers powerful impact upon the low spiritual tenor of the thirteenth-century church. Cron sees today’s church as similarly needful, quoting Karl Rahner: ‘The Christian of tomorrow will be a mystic, one who has experienced something, or he will be nothing’.

Chasing Francis has mystical wisdom from American author Wendell Berry: ‘We are holy creatures living among other holy creatures in a world that is holy. Some people know this, and some do not. Nobody, of course, knows it all the time’.  I also liked this quote on transcendence from Anne Frank: ‘The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature, and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature’.

These quotations give the taste of a book Rowan Williams says he has read twice ‘and found it equally compelling both times’. The book might be controversial among ‘word-based’ Evangelicals, picking up as it does on a Christian hero who said ‘it is no use walking everywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching’. ‘Whilst you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart. Nobody should ever be roused to wrath or insult on your account. Everyone should rather be moved to peace, goodwill and mercy because of your restraint. For we have been called to the purpose of healing the wounded, binding up those who are bruised, and reclaiming the erring’, wrote St Francis. Yet, as Cron points out, in a counter to those of less Evangelical tendency: ‘Francis read the Bible the way a child would – completely trusting. So when Jesus said not to worry about your life… he said ‘OK I won’t’’!

In this novel we see a Protestant pastor discovering the awe of the Eucharist as ‘a journey that proceeds from the kingdom of this world into a brief encounter with the kingdom of God, and then back out again to bear witness to it’ to quote Schmemann. The communal side of Christianity is endorsed, ‘the idea of the church being an ‘as if’ people who live together like the kingdom were ‘already here in its fullness’. This counters the subject’s previous individualistic thinking and preaching of salvation. If this was a lesson I needed less than he, so much of Chasing Francis had spiritual and theological meat for me that I am still digesting it with gratitude.

John Twisleton

 

A HIGH ANGLICAN IDENTITY  

Selected Writings of the Revd Dr Anthony Christian: A Non-Conforming Anglican Priest

Edited by Linda Christian

Privately published, 90pp, pbk

No ISBN, £5

Available from the editor, Dr Linda Christian  lindachristian35@yahoo.com

 

Anthony Christian appears to have been an unusually good parish priest to my way of thinking; though I do not quite understand what is meant by the description of him as ‘non-conforming’, even after being given two separate explanations. I can only suppose that it signifies a parson who has an independent mind; obeys the requirement to say the Offices every day, even, if need be, in the absence of a congregation; takes his sermons very seriously, preaching the faith, telling the history of the Church; and ensuring that his words are intelligible and theologically sound.

All this reminds me of a letter that I read a fair number of years ago in the journal of the Prayer Book Society. It was by a retired priest, who pointed out that in all his time as a vicar he had never encountered any difficulty in using the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. I dare say that would qualify him as non-conforming in these degenerate times!

At any rate, Anthony Christian’s writings, as given here, include an excellent ‘in-depth’ examination of the Book of Common Prayer and its history. He presents a rather surprising view of Cranmer as a modern Christian, vacillating indeed, but always searching after the truth, and striving to attain and serve it even at the cost of his life.

There is scant affection here for government by synod, which is accused of something like trade unionism. Fr Christian does not mention the collegiality of the bishops, and I am reminded of the advice given to bishops by Dom Gregory Dix, who explained to them that ultimately a bishop must maintain the faith and be responsible for the care of Christian souls, and that he must lead them in the right way rather than the way dictated by Parliament or other bishops. For myself I cannot see the Synod but as a little but overweening parliament.

There is a great deal in this book about the government of the Church of England, presented in extracts from the author’s doctoral thesis. He shows himself to have been a lover of music and of literature, especially poetry but also of the great prose works. He is said to have been a searching thinker and to have been right three times out of five – a high score, we are told! I follow him in all that he wrote and said except those two out of five. I would not rate the idea of ‘investment’ very highly; and in his reaction to the ordination of women I believe he went astray, holding back from the dispute, saying that nobody has a right to be a priest. But this is as much as to concede the main argument for the ordination of women, which is a triumphal ‘why shouldn’t we?’

But these two issues notwithstanding, this book suggests to me a good, orthodox, faithful priest. I hope that the Church of St Nicholas at Pevensey, which Fr Christian served faithfully for twenty-five years, continues as he left it.

Dewi Hopkins

 

THE TWELVE DEGREES OF SILENCE  

Marie-Aimee de Jesus OCD, edited by Lucinda M. Vardey

BRF, 80pp, pbk

978 0857464071, £5.99

 

One day during Marie-Aimee de Jesus’ novitiate in the Carmel of the Avenue de Saxe in Paris, she was noticed by a sister, standing and listening in her cell during midday silence. When asked later what she had been doing, she replied, ‘listening to the silence’.

Silence is what this book is all about. Marie-Aimee de Jesus was a nineteenth-century Carmelite and mystic, whose writings, among them The Twelve Degrees of Silence, were brought to prominence in the twentieth century by Edith Stein, St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. In this short but ‘wonderfully deep’ (Stein) series of meditations, Marie-Aimee walks a path similar to that trodden by St John of the Cross, St Thérèse of Lisieux, and others. But she does so with a brevity and a conciseness which makes her meditations all the more powerful.

This small but stimulating book begins with a brief outline of Marie-Aimee’s life and a summary of her spirituality. The rest of the book is taken up with ‘praying the Twelve Degrees of Silence’. The book is brief, but working through its contents could take a lifetime. The editor suggests a more measured, but still demanding timetable of one ‘degree’ per month. She recommends keeping a journal to record the journey, and concludes that the ‘degrees of silence provide a seedbed for God to create within you and bring forth the grace to embrace a constant intimate encounter with the eternal love of the Creator through our Lord Jesus Christ’.

Thereafter, the book consists of the twelve degrees themselves. These are short – some no more than a couple of short paragraphs. The editor then supplements each of them with a ‘guided reflection’ – a list of bullet points designed to tease out the deep meanings of each ‘degree’ and enable the reader to enact them in his daily life.

I found the first four degrees full of rich and powerful insights. At the most basic level, even committed Christians might benefit from constantly being reminded of the need for and benefits of time spent in silence with God – ‘Be still and know that I am God’. Even more powerful is the reminder that nothing makes one desire God more than knowing him already: ‘The closer you come to God, the more you want to get near him. The more you unite with him, the more you desire to be united with him. The more you take part in God, if I can express myself in such a manner, the more you are unquenched’. This passage is one taken from Marie-Aimee’s other writings, quotations from which are frequently appended to the guided reflections.

Elsewhere, the language is often startling: on embracing the second degree, the soul ‘will taste the first taste of divine union and savour the jealousy of her God’. Mystics very often challenge us with the forthrightness of their language, and Marie-Aimee is no exception.

Indeed, as I read on, I became acutely aware that, like much mystical theology, some of the insights and demands here are strong meat indeed. In fact, I would go so far as to say that some of the insights into faith and demands upon the soul are proper only to the vocation of a minority of Christians. Whilst others may learn from them, it would not be right – and may even be dangerous – for many Christians to attempt to put them into practice. This is no great surprise – mystics are special precisely because they are so rare. Their insights need to be handled carefully, and very often in conjunction with an experienced spiritual director or guide.

Three brief examples will suffice to illustrate this point. Marie-Aimee tells us, in the eighth degree, ‘Silence of the Mind’, to ‘try to prevent yourself from working thoughts out intellectually, because by doing so, you weaken your aim and dry up the love in you’. In another of her works, quoted here, she says, ‘I am not attached: what I mean to say is that I have no unregulated affections – to my country, nor the cell I occupy, or the habit I wear, nor to whomever or whatever. I feel ready to go anywhere God bids me – in life or death’. And the editor, in the ‘guided reflection’ to which this quotation is attached, asks us, ‘Can you try not to care about being cared for by others, but only by God?’

Properly situated in the totality of a life dedicated to God and lived out in mystical theology, such sentiments are entirely fine. But they are not the vocation of all, and for some may prove actively dangerous. Mystics have always been a challenge to the Church, and this little book shows exactly why. BRF are to be congratulated for bringing Marie-Aimee and her twelve degrees to a new audience. But reader discretion is advised.

Luke Briers

 

Book of the month

 

Ian McCormack considers a monastic memoir

 

TOWARDS A NEW DAY

A Monk’s Story

Ralph Martin SSM, edited by Vincent Strudwick

DLT, 320pp, pbk

978 0232531633, £16.99

 

For the best part of seven decades, the Society of the Sacred Mission was defined by its theological college and its extraordinary buildings at Kelham. The theological college was at one time the largest in the Church of England, and was unique in the extent to which its students were immersed in the life of the Society, effectively becoming novices for the duration of their studies. Fr Kelly, the founder of SSM, described Kelham Hall as ‘Gilbert Scott insanity … one endless waste of paint, gilding, granite columns, vaulted ceilings and the vilest gothic’. Neither the institution nor its buildings were to everybody’s taste, and yet they did a mighty work in and for the Church. For many years, SSM simply was Kelham.

Towards a New Day is, above all else, the story from one participant’s perspective of what happened after the theological college was summarily closed by Church of England bishops in 1972 (a postal strike meant that SSM found out that the college was to be closed about ten days before the final decision was to be made by General Synod) and SSM realized that keeping and maintaining Kelham was no longer viable.

Fr Ralph Martin was made Provincial of the Society in England at the same Chapter meeting that formally accepted the closure of the College. The book begins years earlier, in 1957, with a description of this Canadian priest’s journey to Kelham and the Society he was about to join. There are echoes here of Richard Holloway’s description of Kelham in his memoir Leaving Alexandria. Fr Ralph writes less elegiacally than the former Scottish Primus, but he summons up the same evocative image of a religious community that was both secure in, and defined by, a different age. When society and the Church moved on, there was no longer any place for Kelham. Fr Ralph’s challenge was to ensure that there continued to be a place and a role for the Society of the Sacred Mission.

Towards a New Day is not a history of SSM but the memoir of its author, so it makes no attempt to offer an exhaustive history of SSM post-Kelham. But Fr Ralph’s experience has been so wide and varied that there is much of interest related here.

After the closure of Kelham, Fr Ralph was among those brothers who moved to Willen, in the new city of Milton Keynes. It was during these years that SSM embarked upon a major new  venture in its history by admitting women and families as associate members. Fr Ralph freely admits that not everything went to plan during the Willen years, but the Society was effectively treading on virgin territory, as it sought new ways of being a religious community which were nonetheless authentic to the vision of the founder and the vows made by its members.

Fr Ralph’s term as Provincial came to an end in 1981. In the years and decades that followed, he spent time in Japan, Ghana, Middlesbrough, Kuwait, Rome, Lesotho and Australia. In many of these cases he was embarking on a new scheme or initiative, and in others a work that was new at least to SSM. I found the chapters on Ghana and Lesotho particularly interesting, but each one has a rich and varied tale to tell.

Towards a New Day is never less than a riveting read. It would have benefited from more ruthless editing. This is in part because there are enough typos to be annoying. More importantly, the nature of the book (part of it is memoir, part extracts from the author’s journal) means that the chronology is at times unclear, and that certain events and themes get mentioned and then dropped, leaving the reader wishing for more information. The parts of the book that are journal extracts also result in some sweeping statements which would undoubtedly have benefited from clarification or justification. An example is the author’s inability to understand the opposition to the ordination of women: ‘I’ve only ever heard one rational argument against women’s ordination and that is ‘It’s never been done before’…’ It goes without saying that that is not the only rational argument; and if somebody of Fr Ralph’s undoubted experience and wisdom has not heard what they are, then it would be good to know why. This is particularly true as he goes on to lament the tailing off of ecumenical relationships during the Pontificate of John Paul II – ‘with a change of Pope in Rome and priests in the parish the barriers had gone up again’. That this might have been connected in some small way with the ordination of women seems not to have crossed the author’s mind! A more cohesive approach to the second half of the book might have at least smoothed the edges of these rather jagged corners.

Towards a New Day is not, then, a book that will be entirely congenial to Catholics in the Church of England. But it is full of fascinating stories, spiritual insights, and historical interest. Furthermore, its author seeks to answer a question as pertinent for all Christians today as it ever has been: how do we make the faith once delivered to the Apostles attractive in and to an increasingly disinterested world? We may not always agree with Fr Ralph’s answers to that question, but that doesn’t make his story any less interesting or worthwhile.  

 

A fairer voting system?

 

  1. Alan Smith discusses the issues that need to be considered in order to devise a fairer election system

 

One consequence of the recent General Election is a renewed campaign for Proportional Representation (PR). This rests on the generally implicit proposition that the proportion of seats that each party holds within the House of Commons ought to be the same as the party gained in votes throughout the country. I do not believe that this is a self-evident truth.

Let us consider a counter-example in which the House of Commons, reflecting precisely the popular vote, comprises the following: Party A has 45% of the seats; Party B has 45% of the seats; and Party C has 10% of the seats. Party C has thus the choice of forming a coalition with either Party A or else with Party B. This gives the party representing 10% of the electorate a disproportionate power in deciding the make-up of the government.

 

Various options

In this article I should like to discuss a number of possible requirements for a voting system. The various options cover: the First Past The Post system (FPTP) in which electors vote for no more candidates than there are seats available (currently one in elections for the House of Commons); the Alternative Vote system (AV) for single-member constituencies in which electors place one or more candidates in order of preference; the Open List PR system for multi-member constituencies in which electors place one or more candidates in order of preference; and the Closed List PR system in which electors vote for a party, not one or more candidates, and the successful candidates are selected from the party lists in proportion to the number of votes the party received, the sequence of the candidates in each party list having been chosen by the party.

 

Propositions

In this article I offer the following propositions as a basis for discussion to devise a fair election system.

Any PR system would probably increase the number of parties represented in the House of Commons.

The current FPTP system tends to favour larger parties and thus encourages them to stick together rather than split into factions that fight elections separately.

All electors should have an equal say in choosing representatives and therefore the number of electors per representative should as far as is possible be the same: where all constituencies are single-member the number of constituents should be the same in each.

This is an essential element of fairness even though only close approximations can, in practice, be achieved.

 

Choice of candidates

Electors should have a choice of candidates from whom to select, not merely a choice of parties.

The Closed List PR system used in Great Britain for elections to the European Parliament produces a significantly lower turn-out for those elections than the Open List PR system used in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and would be unacceptable for elections to the House of Commons.

Each elector should have a small number of MPs as his representatives with whom to raise problems.

If an elector has a problem that he would wish to raise with his MP or MPs, there would be a temptation to write to all his representatives, thereby multiplying the workload and making it difficult to develop a relationship.

If a system of single-member constituencies were used, the choice of voting would be either FPTP or else AV.

FPTP would select the most popular candidate; AV would select the least unpopular candidate. It is a moot point which would be preferable but it is probable that AV would tend to eliminate the maverick backbencher who plays a vital role in our system of representative democracy.

 

Number of seats

If a system of Open List PR were used then there is a limit to the number of seats in each constituency, higher than which would make the process impracticable.

The total number of candidates would be of the order of the number of seats multiplied by the number of parties. Each elector would place one or more candidates in order of preference; in practice, most electors would probably select at least as many candidates as there are seats. I should imagine that anything more than six seats in a constituency would pose problems.

Elections to Epping Town Council offer some insight, even though FPTP is used. Every four years there is an election in each of two six-member wards. In each ward, if three parties put up a slate of six candidates there will be eighteen candidates on the ballot paper which can look more like a pools coupon than a ballot paper.

Under any PR system, the government formed after an election would be more likely to be a coalition than under the present FPTP system.

This is a natural consequence of PR. The government’s programme could only be the highest common factor of the manifestos of the parties that formed the coalition. It would then be difficult to persuade any particular party in the coalition to take responsibility for its policies, unless, by some chance, they proved to be popular, in which case each party would claim the sole responsibility.

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