More on voting reform

I think this statistic is very telling (from ten days ago, so the exact number has probably changed… but the point stands):

The Lib Dems climbed to a high of 33% in the voting intention polls this week, and it seems that this figure could be higher if Clegg’s party were perceived by the majority to have a significant chance of winning the General Election come May 6th. Just under half the country (49%) would vote for the Liberal Democrats if they were seen to have a reasonable chance of winning.

Ironically, if those 49% actually voted Lib Dem, they would win by a landslide. So we have a situation where if people actually voted for the party they wanted, the election would have a completely different result; but because they are guessing other people’s votes and trying to play the system, they end up cheating themselves.

It’s particularly stark at the moment because for the first time in decades we have three parties roughly even in the polls. But it’s always true at British elections that millions of people say they won’t be voting for their real first choice party because the electoral system would make their vote worthless.

It has been a fact of life in British politics for so long that we don’t even think it’s odd. And if it was simply an inevitable consequence of all democratic systems, well, fair enough. But since various ingenious people have come up with systems that allow people to vote for their real preference without their vote being wasted… doesn’t that seem like quite a good idea?

6 Comments

  1. 1 May 2010 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    I agree that it’s not working. But voting reform is easier said than done. There are so many variations, some of them hideously complex. The main advantage of our current system is that it gives us a local constituency MP, who represents everyone in the constituency, irrespective of whether we voted for them, and to whom we can take our problems with a reasonable expectation that they will be dealt with. (The other advantage is that it’s easy to understand.) When election to the European seats here was reformed, we ended up with massive multi-member constituencies. I used to know who “my” MEP was, but now there are – I dunno – three, four? of them and not one of them will feel any sense of personal responsibility to deal with my questions. I guess people will be more inclined to raise issues with MEPs who represent the party they voted for, but that partisanship is not necessarily a good thing for either elector or MEP. So I’d be in favour of a system which kept constituency MPs (perhaps to be elected by STV rather than FTP), with a number of regional (aggregated constituencies) top-up MPs based on regional votes cast. The very worst kind of system would be a party list system, which takes power from the locality and places it in the hands of apparatchiks…

  2. Harry
    1 May 2010 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    I agree that party lists are a bad idea.

    My immediate reaction to the idea of top-up MPs is to dislike it because it creates two kinds of MPs; I kind of feel that all MPs should be elected in the same way, if possible.

    I also prefer the idea of only needing to cast one vote, to make the voting process as straightforward as possible.

    So I am sympathetic to the Lib Dem suggestion of multi-member constituencies with STV within the constituencies. Because we would be electing about 600 MPs as opposed to the 72 MEPs, the constituencies could be comparatively local compared to European elections; i.e. Kent would be divided into three constituencies, London into eleven.

    But I do take your point about not having one person who is ‘your’ MP, and I guess which system to pick would depend on your priorities.

    In fact, since the current polling suggests that the Tories will probably get enough MPs to try to get by with a minority government, I don’t think we’re going to get reform. But maybe if the result is unfair enough — if the Lib Dems get more votes than Labour and half the number of seats, perhaps — the issue will get a bit more traction with the public.

  3. 1 May 2010 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    Top-ups wouldn’t necessarily need an additional vote, just an aggregation of votes already cast. But I take your point about two types of MP.

    I’m in favour of a bicameral system. The House of Lords, for all its democratic deficits, has been a great revising chamber. Maybe we should turn the whole system on its head, and have the current one-member constituency (barely democratic) system as an upper chamber, and the Lib-Dem multi-member constituency for the House of Commons.

    The big problem with a wholly elected second chamber has always been that it would mirror the House of Commons, leach legitimacy from it, and be just as politically indebted. This suggestion wouldn’t cure the indebtedness but could make the HL more like the US Senate, the loftiness granted by a partial decoupling from a straight translation from the popular vote.

    Greater minds than mine are already on the case.

  4. Harry
    1 May 2010 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    Top-ups wouldn’t necessarily need an additional vote, just an aggregation of votes already cast.

    Oh yeah, actually that does make sense. I vaguely thought that it would either have to be a separate vote or a party list system but I can see you could pick them from losing candidates — rather like fastest losers in the heats for Olympic swimming events.

    Maybe we should turn the whole system on its head, and have the current one-member constituency (barely democratic) system as an upper chamber, and the Lib-Dem multi-member constituency for the House of Commons.

    Yup; although it would almost make more sense the other way round, with FPTP for the Commons, to get the supposed benefits of strong government, and PR in the second chamber to produce a more moderate revising chamber. Except of course that leaves the original problem untouched.

    The Lord is a whole kettle of worms on its own, of course. If you don’t want it to be too much like a mirror of the Commons, how about something like the current life peerage system, but with peers appointed for ten year terms, and chosen by all the parties in proportion to their share of the vote. Or something.

    Incidentally, Parliament’s record on reforming the House of Lords since 1997 doesn’t inspire much confidence in their ability to introduce voting reform in a quick and painless way. Ho hum. Interesting times.

  5. 2 May 2010 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    “Incidentally, Parliament’s record on reforming the House of Lords since 1997 doesn’t inspire much confidence in their ability to introduce voting reform in a quick and painless way.”

    Since 1911, more like!

    But you’re right. Interesting times indeed.

  6. 21 May 2010 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    What else can be said? Interesting times in which we live.

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