Category Archives: Voting Reform

Voting Reform Revisited.

I haven’t said much about Voting Reform since we lost the referendum back in 2011. The results of our recent general election tell me at least that it is time to revisit it.
We need to get from this:

To something like this:

(This ballot paper is from New Zealand)


Re-ordering the United Kingdom

Following the Scottish Independence Referendum it is generally agreed that how we govern the United Kingdom needs to be overhauled and dragged into the 21st century.

David Cameron thinks that it can all be stitched up neatly by a Cabinet committee.  However it only takes about two seconds of thought to understand that his proposal for “English votes on English Laws” (EVEL) is nothing but a piece of low politics, designed to make it difficult if not impossible for the Labour party to form an effective government.

As Vernon Bogador (Professor of Government at King’s College London) says:

But the British constitution is not the private property of the Conservative party or, for that matter, the Labour party or the Liberal Democrats. A constitutional settlement, if it is to be lasting, needs the support of all parties, and endorsement by the people as a whole after measured debate. It is hardly suited to the hurly-burly of the hustings.

His article on the subject essentially demolishes Cameron’s plans.

Ed Milliband and the Labour party propose a constitutional convention, which if it isn’t used as an excuse to do nothing, is the way forward. With a bit of luck we might even come up with a proper constitution; i.e. a written one, at the end of it

UKIP, I think, wants to re-build Hadrian’s wall. I can’t find any official Liberal Democrat policy, the only thing I can find is this on the Liberal Democrat Voice blog (not an official outlet) which says “Err… not sure…let’s hold our horses”

Here are my ideas on what we need to do about re-ordering the way we govern ourselves. The first draft of my submission to the constitutional convention if you like.

Federal System

In my opinion we need to move to a federal system of government. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already have their own devolved assemblies. Some have proposed that England should have its own assembly as well. England’s population is around fifty million. It is too large and too London-centric to have an effective devolved government covering the whole of the country. In my opinion power needs to be handed down to smaller areas to provide an effective local devolution  I would suggest looking at how the German Länder system works, or, if we want to stick to the Anglo-Saxon world the American, Canadian or Australian systems would be suitable starting points.

9RegionsColourSome have proposed that power be devolved to the cities, Each of the major cities should have its own assembly, possibly modelled on the London assembly complete with elected mayor. The problem with this is that it leaves those parts of the country that aren’t major cities with a bit of a democratic deficit. Others, have proposed devolving greater powers to the counties and unitary authorities. I feel that they are too small to wield  power effectively.

My proposal is this:
The nine regions of England, the North East, North West, Yorkshire and Humberside, East Midlands, West Midlands, East Anglia, London, The South East and the South West, have very roughly similar populations. They should each be given their own regional assembly with powers at least equal to those of the Welsh assembly. They would be funded initially according to the Barnet formula. The members would be elected by proportional representation. I would think that each regional assembly would have between 50 and 80 members.

The Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Assemblies would obviously continue as they are.

The North East rejected a regional assembly in 2004 and some people argue that this shows that there is no desire for regional devolution in England. However what was on offer in 2004 was not devolution but a regional talking shop. As the Newcastle Journal says in an editorial:

The North East rejected the creation of a new regional assembly in a referendum in 2004.

What was on offer then was NOT devolved powers, but a talking shop with no authority.

Devolution is not about creating a new class of politician. It’s about bringing powers and control over funding to the region – so that we can set our own priorities for training, education, health services and more, and carry out vital infrastructure projects without going cap in hand to Whitehall.

There needs to be a debate about who would exercise these powers, but there is already a tier of local government involving councils working together in a combined authority.

Our MPs must also play a role – and their voices must be heard at Westminster, too.

But let’s be loud and clear about one thing, so that the message reaches those in the Westminster bubble. The North East did not reject devolved powers in the assembly vote. The powers were never there.

I think that there is an appetite for genuine devolution in the regions of England.

Reduced size House of Commons

With Regional Assemblies in place doing most of the spade work of governing I would question whether we still need a House of Commons of six-hundred plus members. I think that it could be reduced to around two-hundred and fifty, elected by some form of proportional representation.

Its remit would be to consider the aspects of policy that would remain at national (federal) level. Aspects such as foreign policy, defence and overall fiscal policy. It would also be responsible for aspects of policy devolved to regional level, that need national co-ordination, for example transport.

Abolish the House of Lords

The House of Lords obviously has to go. It needs to be replaced by an elected assembly which I propose should be known as The Senate. The Senate would be elected from the regions, with each region supplying the same number of Senators. I would suggest six per region giving a total of 72. Again they would be elected by proportional representation, probably on a region wide basis. The Senate would be mainly a revising chamber. It would have the power to amend legislation and send it back to the Other House 1 for further consideration, but would not have the power to block legislation. It could also propose legislation, but such legislation would have to be passed by the Other House

Proportional Representation

All members of all the various assemblies would be elected by a system of proportional representation . My preferred system  is the Single Transferable Vote but we can argue about the details later.

Reduce the Voting Age to 16

When the SNP decided to lower the voting age to sixteen for the referendum I was sceptical. My thinking was that they hoped to tap into naïve patriotism and that most 16 to 18 year olds would vote yes. This did not prove to be the case. As the campaign went on it became obvious that they were listening to and participating in the discussion on both sides before making their own minds up.

I now think that the franchise should be extended to sixteen year olds in all elections.

The way forward:

If you agree with what I have said here, Unlock Democracy have an E-petition calling for a UK Constitutional Convention.  2014_Sept_Constitution_Convention_Petition_FB_Square I would ask you to think about signing.

1.I haven’t, as yet,thought of a name for what is currently known as The House of Commons

It looks as if we’ve lost.

I voted yes

I’m disappointed, but not surprised. The polls were indicating that this would be the result for quite some time now.

From the Guardian

7.40pm: It’s official. The no camp have won.

I’m not at the count, so I don’t know whether the anti-AV campaigners threw their hands in the air and shouted: “Yes.” I’d love to think they did.

• The no camp have now officially won the AV referendum campaign. They have passed the 50% threshold. They’ve now got more than 9.8m votes.

7.33pm: According to the BBC, the no camp need to get more than 9.8m votes to clinch victory. They’re almost there. Here are the latest figures, with results in from 342 out of the 440 areas.

Yes: 4,216,527 – 31.7%

No: 9,098,846 – 68.3%

I’m not quite sure where we go from here, if we can’t persuade the electorate to back what was a small first step on the way to electoral reform, I’m don’t know how we convince them to back proportional representation. Not that we are likely to get the opportunity for quite a while.

It also means that the original raison d’être for this blog has gone, although that would have been the case even if we had won. I am going to keep the blog going though, essentially because I enjoy writing it. Anyway the Giro d’Italia starts tomorrow, I’m still riding my bike, painting, cooking and eating, so there is plenty to blog about, and there will always be  other political subjects to get hot under the collar about.

I’m Voting Yes to AV

Why I am voting yes on the 5th of May

  1. The Alternative Vote is not perfect but it is more democratic than the system we currently use.
  2. It ensures that our elected representative has the approval (except under fairly unlikely circumstances) of at least 50% of the people who could be bothered to vote.
  3. If we don’t vote for this small improvement in out electoral system, any hope of the major change that is required will be lost for a generation.
  4. Voting for AV will seriously upset the Tories and John Reid – got to be a good thing.
  5. I don’t like kittens 😉

This is much important for our democracy than some people think. Resist the urge, those of you who support Labour to stick one to Nick Clegg, he’ll get his just desserts soon enough.

Just vote tomorrow, and vote ‘Yes’ .

Best Argument yet for AV

You know AV makes sense.

The arguments just needed to be put in a way that even a man can understand.

Let's AV a beer

Vote yes next Thursday – unfortunately we can’t promise free beer. 😦

AV is the Only Game in Town.

Jonathan Freedland in today’s Guardian tells us why we need to vote yes to the Alternative Vote on May the 5th. Most people in favour of a proportional system of electing our government will fully acknowledge that it is in Nick Clegg’s words a ‘Baby step on the way to Electoral Reform’. But it is a crucial step, it is the first step on the way to meaningful reform and if we do not take it, there will be no more steps for a long time.

We can argue the merits of Single Transferable Vote over the Additional Member System ’till we are blue, red, yellow or green in the face. We can agree that either would be infinitely superior to AV, but what we can’t do is refuse to vote for AV because it doesn’t give us everything we want.

Jonathan Freedland concludes with this lesson from Australia:

Of course AV is miles from perfect, even if it does allow voters to express more fully their true preferences; most reformers would prefer PR. But it’s naive to think that defeat next week would keep progressives’ powder dry, allowing for a future push for full-blooded electoral reform. That’s rarely how politics works. It’s success, not failure, that breeds success.

That lesson was taught in 1999, when Australia held a referendum on whether to remove the Queen as head of state. The alternative on offer was another “miserable little compromise” – with MPs, not the people, electing a new head of state – and some republicans preferred to let it fail and wait for something better. They’re still waiting – and Elizabeth II is still Queen of Australia.

Let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good

The No to AV campaing claims AV will cause spoilt Ballot Papers

The Evening Standard published a story on 7th April claiming that adopting the Alternative Vote (AV) will lead to more ballot papers being spoiled

Adopting the Alternative Vote (AV) for Westminster elections is likely to lead to more spoilt ballot papers and lower turnout, campaigners against reform claimed today.

No to AV published research highlighting the “damaging” effects of the relative complexity of AV compared with the existing first-past-the-post system.

It suggested that elections in which AV was used had higher rates of accidentally spoilt papers and fewer people taking part.

Completing the AV ballot paper is I must admit slightly more complex than completing a First Past The Post ballot paper. It does require that you can count up to, probably about twelve at a maximum  and recognise the numbers and write the appropriate numbers. Now most five-year old kids can manage to count and write the numbers up to ten, so hopefully by the time they get to voting age they will have added to their repertoire.

The fact that we have been electing the Mayor of London using AV for the past three Mayoral elections without too much drama does not appear to have occurred to the writer, but never mind don’t let the facts get in the way of a story.

The custom of putting an ‘X’ in the box alongside the name of our favoured  candidate is presumably two-fold, to ensure that the illiterate were not disenfranchised*, and  to reduce the possibility of the voter being identified**.  However working on the theory that complete illiteracy is less common than in the 1880’s I hope that the vast majority of the electorate can count up to twenty, even if the ‘No to AV campaign’ have to take their shoes and socks of to do it.

It should also be pointed out that there is no need to use your Alternative Vote, if you only want to acknowledge the Tory candidate put your 1 in his or her box and leave the others blank. In fact if only one candidate was being ranked , I’m fairly sure that the returning officer would accept an ‘X’ in that box as being a valid vote.

* How they knew who they were voting for I don’t know.

** If the powers that be want to know how you voted, believe me they can find out – those numbers on your ballot paper aren’t just to help them count how many have been used.

A new poster for the No to AV Campaign

I think this sums up most of the arguments of the No to AV mob.

Vote no or the kitten gets it

The Alternative Vote system is not perfect, but it does ensure that the winning candidate has the approval to a greater or lesser extent of at least 50% of the electorate. The current system allows a candidate to be elected with the approval of as little as 30% of their constituents.

Voting Reform – Party Lists

Party lists in theory should give almost perfect proportionality in the result of any election. The theory behind the system goes something like this:

  • Almost everyone votes for the party they support rather than the individual candidate
  • Instead of having individual constituencies why not just have a regional (or national) poll in which you cast your vote for your party of choice.
  • Add all the votes up and allocate the number of seats to each party based on the percentage of the vote obtained.
  • The parties then allocate the seats to MPs based on a list they have drawn up, normally with the party leader as the first person selected.

This is about as pure a form of proportional representation as you could wish for. If Labour get 30% of the vote they get 30% of the MPs. If the Green Party get 8% of the vote they get 8% of the MPs and so on. However there is one big snag with Party Lists – we don’t get to choose the people who represent us, the parties choose the people who represent us. The system can be made fairly transparent, but it still boils down to voting for a party and getting the representatives they choose in the order that they want them selected (presumably starting with the party leader).

The system is used in a modified form for the Scottish Assembly where it is known as the Additional Member System. There the majority of the members are elected by a First Past The Post system in individual constituencies. The electorate then has a second vote on a regional basis. The total number of seats in the Parliament are allocated to parties proportionally to the number of votes received in the second vote of the ballot using the d’Hondt method. For example, to determine who is awarded the first list seat, the number of list votes cast for each party is divided by one plus the number of seats the party won in the region (at this point just constituency seats). The party with the highest quotient is awarded the seat, which is then added to its constituency seats in allocating the second seat. This is repeated iteratively until all available list seats are allocated.

This is not as you may have gathered a method of electing our representatives that I like. The two main reasons for my dislike of the system are:

  • It breaks the link between the representative and the represented. We would no longer cast our vote either directly or indirectly for a person. Our vote goes to the party.
  • The MP’s loyalty needs to be toward his or her party, because it is the party that now decides whether they as individuals will be elected, not the voters. This is because the higher you are on your party’s list the greater you chances of being elected.

There is an argument for using this system as a top up to either FPP or AV (sometimes known as AV+) but I feel that this produces a two tier parliament, with some MPs directly elected and a rump beholden to their party bosses for their seats.

Voting Reform – First Past The Post

First Past The Post (FPP) is the system of electing our MPs, and, in England at least, most of our other elected officials. How it works is simple to understand. You are presented with a list of candidates and you put your “X” against the one you dislike the least. After the polls close the votes are counted and the person with the most votes wins. Dead simple, your dog could understand it, so why don’t I like it?

The first reason that I don’t like FPP is that it wastes my vote and thousands of other people’s votes. Where I live, in the area of South London that has Surrey as its postal address, if I vote the way I would naturally, for the Labour Party, my vote is wasted, it has no effect on the result of the election because it is completely outweighed by the Lib Dems and the Tories.

My guess is that roughly 25% of the population, in this area, would normally support the Labour party, about 35% would normally vote Tory and a slightly lesser percentage vote Lib Dem, with the remainder voting UKIP, Green and etc. So one in four of the local constituencies should have a Labour MP, err no…. Either Tory or Lib Dem. Strangely enough the current system probably means that the Lib Dems are over represented in this area due to a lot of Labour and Green supporters voting for them to try to keep the Tories out.

The second reason that I am against FPP is that it creates safe seats, where as the saying goes you could put a pig up as candidate and providing it was wearing the right colour rosette it would be elected. I know much has been written in the past day or two about the demise of the Liberal Democrats in the Barnsley by-election, but it does not disguise the fact that only Labour could win there, and that the winning candidate Dan Jarvis now has a job for life if he wants it. Unless of course he finds himself with  same accounting problems that his predecessor encountered. And again how many votes were wasted in this election? I would argue that every vote cast for a candidate other than the winner was wasted and about half the votes that were cast for him. The turn out for the by-election was 36.5% – roughly two-thirds of eligible voters stayed at home. Why? a wet and cold Thursday in early March probably did not help, but largely they stayed at home because the outcome was certain and they felt that it wasn’t worth the effort of going to the polling station.

If we want – and almost every politician of every hue say they want it – increased voter participation then we need an electoral system that makes every vote count for some thing.

The third reason that I am against FPP is that it encourages, even demands, tactical voting. In a two-way marginal seat, the supporters of the minority parties are almost obliged to vote against the candidate they like least, rather than voting for the candidate they like best. This depresses the vote of the minority parties and reduces their voice in the public square. For example at the last general election the green candidate for my constituency was a friend, and while my political leanings tip slightly more toward red than green, under any sensible voting system I would have voted for him, knowing that he would be unlikely to be elected in a single constituency vote, but knowing also that my vote is not wasted as my second and third preference votes, will still count if he is eliminated. This would give not only a fairer system of voting but also a clearer picture of the actual level of support for political parties. What happened in reality, I voted Liberal Democrat in the hope of keeping the Tories out. Which it did in this constituency, but for all the practical good it did the country, I would have been better voting Green.

The fourth reason I am against FPP is that it allows single party majority governments to be formed with considerably less than 50% of the votes cast, let alone the votes of 50% of the electorate at large. Even at its peak in 1997 Labour won 63% of the seats with only 43% of the votes cast. Admittedly the current coalition government took about 59% of the popular vote between the two parties, but this is genuinely the exception that proves the rule.

My conclusion about First Past The Post, it is better than no vote at all, but it is time that we ditched it in favour of a more democratic system that allows all voices to be heard and not just the biggest and loudest ones.