Front Page Titles (by Subject) 86.: Proportional Representation and Redistribution 29 FEBRUARY, 1868 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868
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86.: Proportional Representation and Redistribution 29 FEBRUARY, 1868 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868, ed. John M. Robson and Bruce L. Kinzer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988).
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Proportional Representation and Redistribution
Morning Star, 2 March, 1868, p. 2. Headed: “The Redistribution of Seats. / Conference at the Reform League Rooms.” Reported also in the Daily News (in the third person); The Times and the Pall Mall Gazette summarize Mill’s remarks in one sentence. The conference, attended by about fifty people, with Beales in the Chair, was held on Saturday afternoon in the League’s rooms, Adelphi Terrace. The meeting was occasioned by a suggestion by Hare (in a letter to the Daily News) that the League engage in a discussion of his system (see Nos. 4, 60, and 71). Hare opened the discussion, which included several substantial speeches, as well as shorter comments and “conversational” exchanges. Mill was the last to comment.
i only wish, sir, that when I may have the good fortune to address another assembly1 on this subject I may have the further good fortune of hearing as intelligent a discussion on it as it has been my pleasure to listen to this afternoon. Although, judging from the past, I have not any great expectations on the subject, I cannot but think that if the question is discussed in that other assembly on as good grounds, and with as much knowledge of the subject as has been showed to-day, we shall be very near carrying Mr. Hare’s plan. (Cheers.) I should not have risen probably on this occasion but for the objections which have just been made by my friend Mr. Boyd Kinnear.2 Those objections are of a quality which render it imperative they should be met. The difficulties which Mr. Kinnear feels are difficulties that require to be faced, and they have been faced by Mr. Hare. With regard to Mr. Kinnear’s first objection, there has been much discussion as to the best mode of procedure in rejecting surplus votes given for a popular candidate, and several suggestions have been made with the view of securing fairness, and preventing a possibility of partiality being exercised. If there can be no better plan suggested, why not draw lots? That would secure fairness, and ensure a beneficial working of the plan. aMr. Hare himself has given an extremely long and careful attention to this part of the subject; so have many others who support the plan. Several different modes have been suggested, any one of which will probably suffice to prevent the difficulty being fatal to the plan. However, if nothing better can be found, fairness will at least be attained by a resort to the lot, and perhaps some mode may be invented which will meet the difficulty in a manner that will provide for a better representation of the general sense of the electors.a I apprehend that the communication between a member and his constituents, to which Mr. Kinnear attaches some importance, would take place under Mr. Hare’s plan in a somewhat different but still as effectual a manner as now. The majority of the members—the celebrities being the exceptions—would be returned from particular localities, and so far as regards them the difficulty would not existb, because if a member goes down to a place where he knows he has been voted for by a great number of persons, and holds a public meeting, he has the opportunity of discussion with a large portion of his constituents, can answer questions, and give publicity to his sentiments. But if a great number of persons scattered over the country vote for some candidate, it may be safely concluded that every one of them feels a special interest in that candidate, because they have selected him from the whole country, and not because of his fitness for representing or connexions with any particular neighbourhood. I, however, fear one of the difficulties will be the active correspondence that will go on between the candidate and the electors. (Laughter.) Although not, perhaps, in such a public way as we are accustomed to, mutual explanations will yet take place in a very close and perfect mannerb . Or a voter could write to one of the newspapers and request the member to reply through the same channel, by which means all the new member’s voters would be put into possession of his opinions upon particular points. The spirit of modern civilization is substituting more and more communication by writing for that which was the only mode of communication in former days—I mean word of mouth—and by this means a member’s responsibility to his constituents will be to the full as great as Mr. Boyd Kinnear so justly considers it desirable it should. (Hear, hear.) With regard to what Mr. Kinnear said in reference to Mr. Cobden’s plan,3 I don’t think Mr. Hare’s scheme requires more intelligence in the voter than we may reasonably presume will be possessed by the large body who are now called to be electors of this country. Nobody of ordinary intelligence would feel any difficulty after the first election or two. All that would have to be explained to him would be that his vote would only be recorded for one person, and that if the first person on his list did not require the vote it would be taken by the second, and so on. cIt is therefore desirable the voter should put down a few more names in order that somebody else may have the probability of being elected. When the voter has once seized this idea, which is not at all an obscure one, there will be no difficulty again.c
Mr. Kinnear: I did not mean intelligence so far as the mere sending in of the voting paper is concerned, but the intelligence that would be required to enable a man to make out a considerable list of persons.
Mr. Mill: No doubt in this, as in all systems of election now and always, whether the systems work well or ill, there must be some organisation; and wherever there is concert there is a certain amount of power given to wire-pullers, and I don’t think the power will be greater under this plan than under any other. There is no doubt that persons agreeing in any common set of opinions would send out lists of candidates holding those opinions; but it does not follow that the voter would blindly and implicitly follow those opinions. He would probably put down first on his list the names of the people he preferred, and follow them with the names selected from the list sent out by those with whom, as a party, he agreed most closely. Inasmuch as everybody agrees with a great many other people in most things, voters would vote for the candidate who in a general sense agrees with them, and by this means I apprehend that the influence of the wire-pullers would be less noxious than it would in any other way. The benefit of having leaders would be that they would try to find out good candidates, and it would be their interest to put on their list not merely the names of men who are the strongest party men, but those of men who would recommend themselves by their general character and knowledge of other things, because by this means they would secure some votes from people not members of their party. I look upon this as one of the ways in which Mr. Hare’s system would work most excellently. Some say that by this plan all the “isms,” all the crotchets of obstinate people, would be represented; and others say that the electors would implicitly follow the leaders of parties. I think these two objections might well pair off together. The suppositions on which the two rest are entirely opposite; but nevertheless they both deserve consideration, for the reason that, working against each other, they would produce a better House than we should otherwise get. Take, for instance, the teetotallers, who are a type of the sectarian sort of persons—they would be supposed to elect none but teetotallers; but the contrary would be the case, because, so anxious would they be to make their own opinions prevail, and knowing they are not in a majority themselves, they would have the strongest possible interest in putting on their list not only people who are teetotallers, but people who are so distinguished in other respects that they would on these other grounds be voted for by electors who are not teetotallers. Look how this would operate. The two great parties would, because they are in an enormous majority in the country, get—as indeed they would be entitled to—a large proportion of the votes, but they would have, in order to lay themselves out for votes, to put on their lists a number of people who, apart from party, would represent what I may describe as the various “isms.” (Hear, hear.) dNow, we know very well that only three or four candidates put up for the representation. Thed candidates are frequently such men as no reasonable man would care to vote for, but, being compelled to vote there, or leave it alone, a great number of the electors vote simply for the Liberal or the Conservative, without reference to anything else, the candidates being the greatest noodles, who, having offended nobody, are what is known as respectable men, and, in the majority of cases, possess plenty of money. (Hear, hear, and laughter.) eUnder Mr. Hare’s plan things will be different, because people’s interests will be different, and their object will be to put upon their lists not only the best party men, but those who best represent ability and virtue all over the country. Liberals and Conservatives will then be represented by their best men, instead of, as frequently now, by their silliest, or by men of mediocre order. (Cheers.) The suggestion of Mr. Morrison ,4 to introduce Mr. Hare’s plan on a small scale, such as in counties, or in a large district in the metropolis, will very likely be adopted some day, because things are never carried except by successive steps in this country; and a thing so new as this people will naturally wish to see tried on a small scale first. At the same time it is necessary to bear in mind that a trial like that will be by no means a fair trial of the scheme. Even if London were chosen, the whole merits of the plan would not be brought out as it is conceived by Mr. Hare, because the quota of votes of a candidate would be confined to London, instead of being spread all over the country. Nevertheless, it would be a trial to some extent of the practicability of the machinery, and as it will be a difficult thing to beget confidence in it without some such trial, it is very likely some day it will be attempted, and it will be an exceedingly good thing if it is.e (Cheers.)
[The conference was then adjourned until the next Saturday at 3 p.m.]
[1 ]I.e., the House of Commons.
[2 ]John Boyd Kinnear (1828–1920), a radical barrister and author, had spoken at length earlier in the meeting.
[a-a]DN [in past tense MS There have, as I said, been many suggestions made, any one of which would probably prevent the difficulty which Mr. Kinnear feels from being fatal to the plan.]]
[b-b]DN [in third person, past tense MS ;while with reference to the others the communication could be by epistolarly correspondence]]
[3 ]Richard Cobden outlined his plan to divide large boroughs into electoral wards, with one member to a ward, so as to represent the different classes more accurately, in a speech at Rochdale on 18 August, 1859 (The Times, 19 Aug., p. 7).
[c-c]+DN [in past tense]
[d-d]DN [in past tense MS Under the present system, the]]
[e-e]DN [in past tense MS All this would be reversed by Mr. Hare’s plan, which would give the elector an opportunity of voting for the best men in the whole of the country. I think Mr. Morrison’s suggestion, or something of the kind, will probably be adopted, because things are never carried except by degrees, and with a proposal so novel as this of Mr. Hare, the Government and the people would be naturally desirous to see it tried on a small scale before making it universal.]]
[4 ]Walter Morrison (1836–1921), M.P. for Plymouth, had made the suggestion in a speech preceding Mill’s.