A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Better late than never

Good to see the Government coming round to Alternative Vote (or Supplementary Vote as per the London Mayor election) for the Commons, PR for the Lords and compulsory voting if this is to be believed.

Any measure that increases voter choice and reduces the number of MPs elected on a minority vote should be welcomed.

However, the Government needs to go back to the Jenkins Report and get their heads round why the Jenkins Commission recommended AV+. The "+" means that as well as electing constituency MPs in single member seats by transferable voting (the Australian system) you would have a small top-up list in each region, to bring the representation of the parties in each region nearer to their percentage share of the vote e.g. if say Labour got 20% of the vote in Surrey but no constituency MPs, it might be entitled to a couple of top-up list MPs to compensate it.

Why is this important?

1) AV by itself whilst it increases voter choice can cause even more gross disproportionality in a landslide election than our current First-Past-The-Post system does. For instance in 1997 Labour and Lib Dem voters would most likely have transferred to each other so the Tories would have been left with only about 100 seats for 30% of the vote under AV alone. Amusing, but not democratic. The "+" bit corrects some of the disproportionality.

2) AV by itself does not remove the "electoral deserts" that are a major fault of FPTP - e.g. the absence of Labour MPs in the rural south even though Labour gets hundreds of thousands of votes there, and the mirror lack of Tory representation in urban areas. These "electoral deserts" skew people's perceptions of the parties, and make them less response to voters in all parts of the country than national parties should be in a healthy democracy, because areas are "written off". This is bad both for unrepresented minority voters in the areas concerned, and bad for the political parties. Ultimately it is bad for social cohesion - it would be possible for the Tories to win power under FPTP or AV with hardly any urban or Scottish MPs which would be deeply alienating for the areas wholly represented by the opposition.


Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

Luke I welcome and support any revival in the urgent need for electoral reform. I could not possibily be much more cynical and depressed about how in the UK there is a large and widening disconnection of the real world from politicians in the Westminster parliament.

The Scottish electoral reforms were not my own preference (the old Labour Establishment in Scotland just could not resist a continuing attempt to retain the old control freakery). Nevertheless. the benefits of even those 'managed' reforms have been significant.

Whilst interesting things have happened at the Scottish national level with a coalition Government etc., there have also been positve benefits discernible at the grass roots level.

One positive aspect is that the creaking areas of the Scottish Labour party, long dominated by self-serving single families or cliques, is now being put under increasing pressure to clean up. It's tough, but it is the only available road to recovery and to sustainable recovery.

I particularly respect the way in which your posting is as much about wider issues such as social cohesion and democratic health (rather than, as some in the party are doing, being over-focused of how to purely push for which ever reforms best benefit their own party regradless of any other considerations).

12:47 pm, March 25, 2008

Anonymous hughes views said...

The great thing about alternative voting systems is that there are so many alternatives to bicker about (ho ho). The French run off system has much to commend it but I guess it’s a lot more expensive to implement than AV or AV+ or STV or OBE...

1:14 pm, March 25, 2008

Anonymous Tesssa Jowells said...

Luke do you have any tips of removing horrible gypos spoiling the view from my Mansion in the country?

1:56 pm, March 25, 2008

Anonymous Rich said...

It should be proportional representation and I really want an end to the party political system. The idea that loyalty to the party should come before loyalty to the electorate is simply undemocratic.

The best thing this country could do would be to remove Brown and vote for a hung parliament. That way we might actually end up with policies devised by the whole political spectrum rather than just left or right.

4:40 pm, March 25, 2008

Anonymous Rich said...

It seems that Labour will try anything to stay in power. Personally I think it won't make a bit of difference for Labour. The feeling I get is that Brown and Blair are probably the most hated PMS this country has ever had. Force people to vote and they won't be voting Labour.

4:46 pm, March 25, 2008

Anonymous Ian G said...

"It should be proportional representation and I really want an end to the party political system. The idea that loyalty to the party should come before loyalty to the electorate is simply undemocratic."

Rich, do you really think that you will get good government if you elect 630 independents at every general election?

It would take them four years to agree who should be in the cabinet, never mind formulate some policies. Great for maintaining the status quo, very very bad if you want to bring about any sort of change.

Come to think about it, if you don't have the party system, what on earth do you want representation to be proportional to???

I'm afraid you're talking nonsense.

5:30 pm, March 25, 2008

Anonymous Rich said...

Well the SNP are a minority government and they are doing a hell of a lot more than the vile NuLabour government we have. And Labour have a 100 seat majority. The sooner we can kick Labour out the better in my opinion and most Brits feel the same way.

5:54 pm, March 25, 2008

Anonymous tim f said...

"vote for a hung parliament"

Please explain how you vote for a hung parliament. It's never been one of the options on my ballot paper.

I'm still sceptical about proportional representation. I'm worried it would lead to more coalition governments, encourage tactical voting and that any regional list system would increase the chances of a far-right candidate getting elected to parliament exponentially. I suspect there would be no way back if we go for proportional representation so I hope we avoid the quick fix (no evidence to suggest it improves turnout over the long term anyway) and think about other ways of increasing turnout.

6:06 pm, March 25, 2008

Blogger Southpaw Grammar said...

In Wales, where i am from we have had an additional member system of voting that i feel is a better (if not perfect) reflection of the voters intentions. Even with this system Labour essentially got 2 regional seats for 300,000 regional votes, which is just one of the problems.

Luke, i think you have summed it up perfectly, all of us committed to social justice should extend that committment to the ballot box. The problem is that the debate is consitently mired in a party political 'prism' in terms of there always being accusations of the government of the day implementing certain systems that benefit the government.

Just to answer a few points here raised in the comments so far...

Having a second vote (or the ability to list preferneces) allows you to express your intention my succintly in my view, so any coalition will be between parties given the 1st and 2nd choices. I think it is a healthy thing to consider sometimes taking of the party goggles and think about what the other parties are offering when you decide who to put as a 2nd, 3rd preference. Tactical voting is not some sneaky thing, you vote in the preference you want, you do not want tories in government, you put them last (or even not at all).

To me the long and painful road back to recovering our democracy begins with underpinning elections with the mantra 'every vote counts'. The flipside is that from a Labour perspective, core voters will now know that their vote will help the party far more than casting a vote in FTTP. My seat in torfaen is one of the safest in Britain, so my vote doesnt really count as such.

8:34 pm, March 25, 2008

Anonymous tim f said...

Obviously every voting system has its pitfalls, not least FPTP. We're never going to find a perfect system.

Tactical voting is a concern - preference voting encourages single issue and fringe candidacies. Imagine if the London model was extended across the country. You'd get lots of candidates, lots of people would vote for a fringe or single issue candidate first and their favoured mainstream candidate second - but then what if your favoured mainstream candidate doesn't make it through to the last two? Your vote is then wasted.

It might sound implausible but it's basically what happened in France when Le Pen took second place.

Any system that encourages people to second-guess what's going on is bad. FPTP does it to some degree (ie some people vote Lib Dem in some areas to keep the Tories out) but not nearly as bad as many forms of PR.

That's apart from the concerns about giving far-right parties more power and making coalitions more likely where what voters get is different from what anyone voted for because every single vote is a result of political machinations behind closed doors.

8:46 pm, March 25, 2008

Anonymous Sam said...

all this talk about changing the voting system is perhiperhal to the argument, its not the voting system that is broken, As many commentators on this thread have said all election systems are flawed. Its politics that's broken and I believe that until we the general public have real choices from maybe 6 or 7 parties accross the entire political spectrum of left, right and centrist that represent 21st Century Britain then people will keep on obstaining from the Election Process.

9:13 pm, March 25, 2008

Anonymous Rich said...

I can't see the problem with tactical voting. At the nest election I think it will be tactical voters like myself who will remove Labour.

Many like myself are so sick of this government and so appalled at how the Labour party has turned out they we will simply vote to make a point. And we won't be voting for them again. The jury is out and many have now already made up there minds about Labour and there is nothing now that will get these voters back.

It will take years to repair the damage this government has done to Britain. It's time for Labour MPs to start looking in the job papers.

10:18 pm, March 25, 2008

Anonymous a very public sociologist said...

Don't tar all Labour MPs with the same brush, Rich. There are some good ones out there. Hard to find I know, but they do exist.

Thanks Luke for posting on electoral reform for Westminster elections. Yours is the first blog to do so. I shall go away and ruminate on the topic and post a reply at some point.

11:45 pm, March 25, 2008

Anonymous Neil Harding said...

Luke: I am surprised that a supporter of Hazel Blears could be in favour of electoral reform, but good to see.

Also good to see a few on the right of the party understand the 'electoral deserts' stuff and that 35% government is undemocratic. Personally I think it is a no-brainer, but I know some 'party loyalists' (especially in safe seats) struggle with the concept.

I love this 'no system is perfect' argument. Sticking with FPTP is like sticking with 'apartheid' because no system would eradicate racism. Yes, but duh! there are BETTER systems, why don't we try those. They work well abroad - better economic growth, public services, turnout...blah de blah...I know no-one is listening at this point. Don't know why I bother. Keep up the campaigning but we have left it very late. Even if Brown does come out for electoral reform, will anybody believe he really likes it or is just scared of losing?

1:50 am, March 26, 2008

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

I totally agree with Luke on this.

11:28 am, March 26, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A spark of democracy - from this government. That didn't read right - until I read that it may damage the Tories.

How about complete PR? We're all democrats aren't we?

Complete proportional representation for all parties with no undemocratic minimums - so the 2% support for far left (a guess, but it would also certainly rise with elected representatives) would equal 15 MPs? (instead of zero) (and, er, 25? BNP MPs).

The only supposed 'democratic' argument I've ever heard against this is that it will break the local link.

But that's as nothing in the days of email and more - and any party could organise surgeries wherever it wanted e.g. Labour MP surgeries
in Surrey.

And it's not as though the local link means much - to my MP it's just a house to which he occasionally comes to check his fully paid-up mortgage statement.

4:34 am, March 27, 2008

Blogger Bill said...

Southpaw, of course, the constituency link *is* the problem, so long as you have single seat constituencies you have massive remainders which produce disproportionality. The additional member system has the problem that you get a two class type of MP, but, as in Canada where the NDP fought tooth and claw against STV, lists are beloved of machine politicians.

We can look to Malta for an example of a functioning two party system with STV, teh significant thing being, unlike Ireland, the parties stand more candidates than tehre are seats, and rely on party affiliation. this presumably means that factions within the parties can compete at election time without the byzantine routines we have here.

8:54 am, March 27, 2008

Blogger Tim Roll-Pickering said...

Leaving aside the hung parliaments vs parliament majority on plurality issues to one side for the moment, I have to query whether any additional member system (which is what AV+ is, just with a different way of electing the constituencies) is really a desirable voting system.

As others have mentioned it creates two classess of representative, confusing the electorate, especially if list members start presenting themselves to the public as local MPs.

It can also still carry distortions (such as overhangs). Here in the London Assembly seat of City & East I am not represented in the Assembly according to the PR lobby. Why? Because I voted Conservative last time and the party didn't win this seat (okay only one party can win) but because it did so well in most other seats it didn't qualify fo any list members. So there is no Conservative Assembly member "at large" to represent Conservatives in seats like this one. And the Conservatives are not a fringe party with no support. This situation is not unique - in several Welsh Assembly elections Labour have not won any list members in particular regions and the electoral geography of those regions is such that their constituency members are concentrated in one part. And of course votes for small parties that don't crack the threshold are still "wasted" with no chance to try again.

That's even before we come to the potential for parties to try the decoy list methodology. And it doesn't need parties to split themselves to work. In 1997 Labour and the Lib Dems could effectively have tried a joint appeal - vote Labour in constituencies and Lib Dem on the lists (or the other way around as regionally appropriate) and the result would have been a massive distortion of proportionality because Lab/Lib Dem voters would have effectively had two votes whilst Conservative voters would have had only one.

Now it's true that the existing voting system is not proportional. But no-one sets out to sell it as these features. AMS systems, by contrast, don't have the best track record at delivering "equal voting power" and are very susceptible to the distortions I described above. They can also see parties with very slender support elected.

If you want electoral reform, wouldn't Single Transferable Vote be a better bet? Labour would still likely win two MPs in Surrey but all voters would only have a single vote and the seats would have a reasonable number of members requiring elected members to seek broad support. I'm not persuaded of the merits of PR, but of all the systems STV seems the best one available.

9:46 pm, March 31, 2008

Anonymous peezedtee said...

"The French run-off system has much to commend it but I guess it's a lot more expensive to implement than AV" (hughes views)
-- There simply is no need for a French-style second ballot, if you use a preferential system such as AV or STV.

"I can't see the problem with tactical voting." (rich)
-- The problem with tactical voting is that you have to try and guess what other voters are doing. With any preferential system, such as AV or STV, that need is removed.

"It's not the voting system that is broken. As many commentators on this thread have said, all election systems are flawed." (sam)
-- Actually, it IS the voting system that is broken. First-past-the-post simply is not a democratic system. Most people's votes do not count, and it produces perverse and erratic results. One election system is NOT flawed: the single transferable vote in multi-member constituences (PR/STV).

"Come to think about it, if you don't have the party system, what on earth do you want representation to be proportional to???" (ian g)
-- Opinion overall, is the answer to that question. PR/STV will work with or without parties. It involves the election of candidates, with or without party affiliation. The result is roughly proportional in party terms to the extent that voters wish that to be their main criterion, but it also reflects opinion within and across parties, on any issues, irrespective of party, that significant number of voters think important. Thus, a voter who is broadly a Labour supporter, but who thinks getting out of Europe overrides any considerations of party, would give his or her early preferences to Eurosceptic Labour candidates, but might then give later preferences to Eurosceptics of other parties before favouring Labour Europhiles. Or, suppose you are a gay Tory, but one of the Tory candidates has made anti-gay remarks, while the Lib Dems, say, have fielded an out gay candidate. You might want to give your top preferences to all the Tories except the anti-gay one, followed by the gay Lib Dem, and put the anti-gay Tory in near the bottom or not at all. In this way the system comes with its own built-in primary election as well as its own built-in run-off. It allows the voters to decide what criteria they wish to use, without forcing them into treating party affiliation as the only criterion, as most list systems of PR (and FPTP) do.

"If you want electoral reform, wouldn't Single Transferable Vote be a better bet?" (tim roll-pickering)
- Yes!

"The Government needs to go back to the Jenkins Report and get their heads round why the Jenkins Commission recommended AV+." (Luke)
-- Unfortunately AV+ will not do. It has never been tried anywhere, is not particularly proportional even in party terms, and brings all sorts of problems of its own -- not least, the entire boundaries of all constituencies in the country would have to be redrawn. It was concocted hastily by David (now Lord) Lipsey and they did not have time to think it through. Jenkins considered PR/STV and agreed that it has unique advantages, but rejected it on spurious tactical grounds. Please read my blog entry, 14 reasons why only STV will do.

2:05 pm, April 05, 2008


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