Tag Archives: Electoral Reform

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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Why I support the Yes to AV campaign

There is little doubt that the current system is unpopular, unfair and outdated.  I need to spend little time illustrating this point. Voter turnout is at an all time low.  MP’s can be elected with as little as 3 out of 10 votes.  For too long people have felt separated from the democracy that is meant to represent them.

The Alternative vote system addresses these problems.  Under AV MP’s would need to get more than 50% of the vote.  They would have to work harder, reach out to more communities and try to address more of their constituents concerns.  The AV system will keep what is best about our current system, for example the important link between MP’s and their constituency, but strengthen it by giving voters more of a say. 

The No to AV campaign has made a series of wild claims to try and scare people off from change.  I believe the strength of the Yes to AV campaign rests in its ability to tackle these false accusations. Here I will run through a few of these myths:

  • “AV is too complicated” – The AV system could not be any simpler.  Instead of putting a single X next to a name you put numbers 1,2,3 etc next different names in order of preference. Complicated?
  • “AV will lead to more hung parliaments” – Since AV was introduced to Australia in 1918, Australia has had two hung parliaments.  The UK, in the same time period, under its current system has had hung parliaments in December 1923, May 1929, February 1974 and May 2010. In Canada under First Past the Post they have had a permanent hung parliaments for the last three elections.
  • “AV will help extremist parties” – AV ensures that MP’s have to aim to get a majority of votes, not a minority of votes.  Under the current system you can be elected with a small number of votes. This could be why the BNP are campaigning for a “No” vote.

I am under no illusion that the No to AV campaign will be running a well funded high profile campaign, it is up to us though, ordinary people to be prepared to go out and make these arguments in our communities.  Already tens of thousands have pledged to support this campaign. Join us

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Electoral reform – this is our one chance

This is our one chance to be counted! For years we have had to put up with an unfair, unrepresentative voting system.  It is a system that disproportionately benefits those who hold power.  There has never been such incentive for the political classes to reform this.  Now is maybe the one time in your entire lifetime that we have a chance to change this voting system.  WE MUST SIEZE IT!!!

Let me reiterate that most MP’s do not want proportional representation.  We will only get this because we want it, not because they will give it to us.  Not only must we urge Nick Clegg to send the Tories packing with their laughable offer of a referendum on AV (FPTP with a few extra bits), but we must demand that any government (what ever its composition) give us nothing less than a direct say on proportional representation. Nothing less will do. 

There have already been rallies across the country, in Glasgow, Manchester, Bristol and London.  NGO’s and pressure groups have come together under the banner of “Take Back Parliament“.  This group is calling for a complete change to our voting system, stating that the current parliament one does not represent us. We must take the initiative. In 1997, New Labour promised us PR.  We stood back, feeling rather pleased with ourselves as we watched the London Assembly, the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament the European elections all transform to various forms of PR.  And then we waited…and waited…and then silence.  The self-serving MP’s managed to bring about electoral reform to almost every institution apart from their own.  Well, I say not this time.  We must not let them get away with this injustice again.

In the past millions have taken to the streets to try to influence governmental decisions from trying to stop the illegal invasion of Iraq through to preventing the Fox Hunting Bill.  This can revolutionise the way we do politics in this country.  This is our time, for all people, from all political backgrounds, to demand that we have a say and that our votes count! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to demand change, to be counted! Do not waste it.

Protests are happening at the following locations.  More information can be found at the Take back Parliament web-site.

15 May – York
15 May – Edinburgh
15 May – Leicester
16 May – Glasgow
22 May – Southampton
22 May – Paisley, Renfrewshire
22 May – Bradley Stoke, Bristol
19 June – Cardiff

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