Peter Lawrence argues ‘Every Vote Counts’

This is a guest post by Peter Lawrence. Peter has over 20 years of experience in local government and is a passionate advocate for electoral reform.

The UK’s First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system is a ‘winner takes all’ process. Any political party with a sizeable support base spread evenly across the country will find it impossible to make proportionate gains in Westminster.

As a result we see constant bickering about constituency boundaries while all the three main political parties focus on marginal constituencies and ‘parachute-in’ their preferred candidates come election time. History tells us that some constituencies would elect a seaside donkey if the beast was the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) for a locally dominant political party.

Despite all this, the UK rejected electoral reform in the 2011 Alternative Vote referendum by a margin of 2:1. There are many reasons for this rejection but I suspect the British people had no appetite for any electoral system where the least despised (as opposed to the most popular) candidate gets elected.

Also the many flavours of Proportional Representation (PR) on offer (see Plurality Voting System) are more likely to confuse rather than enthuse voters. Indeed, there is a widespread view that PR results in ineffective governance with minor parties holding the casting vote.

Scrapping constituencies altogether and instead having a national tally of votes with seats allocated to parties on their portion of that total at first seems the fairest approach. However, this favours large ‘lowest common denominator’ national parties, discourages new parties and robs the electorate of any ‘local voice’ e.g. voting against a hospital closure.

The Additional Member System (AMS) used in Scotland and Wales offers a hybrid solution by running FPTP locally and PR for new regional constituencies. However this both fails to address the shortcomings of FPTP and PR, and introduces the nebulous concept of regional constituencies.

So what’s my suggestion? Every Vote Counts (EVC).

EVC is a low-cost, minimal change solution that favours no political party. As now voters cast one vote for the candidate of their choice with no change to existing constituencies or their boundaries.

EVC addresses the shortcomings of FPTP by injecting an element of ‘localism’ into the process, while at the same time allocating the total vote such that every national party gets something like the number of MPs justified by its share of the vote.

Put simply EVC changes how the votes cast are accounted for.

Under EVC, PPCs must register as either:

1)    Local Candidate (LC) or

2)  National Candidate (NC)

… a free choice, whether or not the candidate belongs to any political party.

Political parties must register as a National Party (NP) in order to receive their portion of the national tally of votes.

Local Candidates have votes cast in their favour recognised only at constituency level. If they obtain the most votes they become MP for that constituency, and if not they are thereafter discounted.

National Candidates have votes cast in their favour recorded as part of their party’s national tally. If they obtain the most votes in a constituency their party can propose that the candidate becomes MP for that constituency. However the final outcome will be decided by the Allocation of Parliamentary Seats for National Parties process explained below.

Allocation of Parliamentary Seats for National Parties

Seats for National Parties will be allocated using the following incremental process: –

  1. Round 1 – National Parties will be allocated as many seats as their share of the national total justifies. In most cases constituencies will gain the National Candidate who won locally. However a low national tally could result in a National Party failing to be awarded all the seats that under FPTP they would have secured by having the greatest number of votes cast locally.
  2. Round 2 – Seats that remain vacant after Round 1 will be allocated to the parties whose share of the national tally justifies that allocation. Inevitably this will result in some seats being allocated to a party who did not poll the most votes locally in certain constituencies. In this way EVC compensates for demographic inconsistencies where the number of seats a party gains is disproportionate to their share of total votes cast.

The above is a thumbnail sketch. EVC is not a panacea and has a somewhat perverse element i.e. Round 2, where a particular constituency may be allocated an MP who did not gain the most votes locally but whose party gained a larger share of the national vote.

These are my thoughts and I would welcome yours. I hope though that this article will spark some life back into the electoral reform debate.

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