Friday, July 02, 2010

One man, two votes

We're supposedly set to learn the date of the referendum on voting reform - a date which every one seems to think is going to be May 5th next year. If anything is likely to put a strain on the coalition love-in then this might be it.

The Tories favour retaining the traditional first past the post system - a one man, one vote form of voting which is simple, transparent and reasonably quick. The Lib Dems favour a proportional system - preferably using a one man, multiple vote system which is complicated, wide open to abuse and fraud and takes ages to deliver a result.

Some people argue that listing your preferred candidates is still one man, one vote - but it isn't. It's a single ballot paper, but each person casts multiple votes on each ballot paper - so there is no way it can be considered as a one man, one vote system.

I've mentioned before that a PR system of voting will completely change the way we do politics in this country and will remove the historic link between constituent and MP. The thing people forget - more than ever following the last election and the "leaders debates" - is that we do not vote for a party or a "leader"; we vote for an individual to represent us at parliament.

Of course, many people just vote for the individual who represents the party they support most - and that is fine - but it still should not detract from the simple fact that by electing a person to represent us at parliament the first past the post system gives us a direct link to governance that a proportional system will not have.

No doubt I'll come back to this in the coming months, but I know I am fighting a losing battle. The media have decided they want voting reform and voting reform we will get. That's probably the most dis-spiriting thing about politics today - that we get what the media (and the broadcast media in particular) decide we will get and not a lot else.

This is why policy decisions are made by leaking possibilities to the media to see what their reaction will be - and why the budget, which used to be so secret that only the Chancellor and a few advisers knew what would be in it right up until he rose to his feet in the Commons, is now common knowledge for days and often weeks in advance.


Anonymous said...

dettymy dislike of AV is mainly that the voter is "forced" to vote for a party or parties against their will.
I will put choice 1, 2 3 and 4 against the party of "my" choice thereby spoiling my ballot paper. I will not contemplate giving to, nor having my vote "stolen", by
New Labour, Conservatives or Lib Dem.
For me it's PR or FPTP

Edinburgh said...

Sadly this rant is a load of rubbish.

The Lib Dems do want STV-PR, but with STV-PR no-one has more than one vote and it is not "wide open to abuse and fraud and takes ages to deliver a result." There is no evidence I know of to support such claims.

With the Alternative Vote also you can express your contingency choices, but again, no-one has more than one vote. Only one of your choices counts at any stage in the election.

You may find it a paradox, but with multi-member constituencies AND election by STV-PR, the elected members are brought closer to the voters than they are with FPTP and they are made much more accountable to those local constituents. You don't have to believe me, but just ask any politician elected by STV-PR in Ireland or Northern Ireland.

Anonymous said...

Edinburgh - You just don't get it, I have no wish to vote for the Tories, Labour nor Lib Dem. AV compels me to choose in preferential order, I have no preference AT ALL for the above mentioned toe rags.

DerekP said...

Edinburgh - "...they are made much more accountable to those local constituents. You don't have to believe me, but just ask any politician elected by STV-PR in Ireland or Northern Ireland."
[my emphasis]

Yes, very funny - what else were those politicians going to say other than that they are more accountable and closer to the voters?

Ranting Stan is right that this needs greater public exploration and discussion.

One of the issues driving public thinking on reform is that if 'your party' didn't win there is the sense of a wasted vote.

I'd rather see each and every vote turned into £10 of public money for the party receiving the vote, with this the only method of party funding. At least that way each party should be keen to gather (even a few) votes in every constituency, which isn't the case at the moment.

Combine this with a clampdown on election spending, and hard police action against electoral fraud and I think the current system would be immensely improved; better, in my view, than simply introducing a new system with new problems while keeping the old problems.

Edinburgh said...

Anon - I "get it" very well.

If you don't want to vote for "the Tories, Labour nor Lib Dem", no-one is going to compel you do such a thing. Neither the Alternative Vote nor STV-PR would compel you to vote for parties you don't want. Quite literally, the choice is yours.

Edinburgh said...

I have never thought of myself as a humorist - a view that would be confirmed by those who know me.

The politicians I particularly had in mind were those in Northern Ireland who had personal experience of FPTP as well as of STV-PR. In terms of party politics, not all politicians in Northern Ireland are opposed to FPTP. And you must remember that NI still uses FPTP to elect its MPs to Westminster, although it uses STV-PR for all its other public elections (NI Assembly, District Councils, European Parliament).

So there are quite a lot of politicians in Northern Ireland who are in a position to make a direct comparison between the effects of the two voting systems on local representation.

It is their assessment that the elected members are held more accountable to their local constituents under STV-PR, or at the very least, not less than they would be with FPTP despite the multi-member constituencies or wards used for STV-PR.

English Pensioner said...

The only change that I would like to see in the electoral system is for all the constituencies to have approximately the same number of voters (including Scotland & Wales). Say within 5% as required in Australia.
And for those who want PR, and dislike coalition government, can anyone name a major country which has PR and does NOT have a coalition government.

DerekP said...

EP - "...constituencies to have approximately the same number of voters..."

Good point in terms of consituency representation and I'm generally in favour of it, though giving metropolitan areas a disproportionate number of MPs compared to the countryside, possibly leading to metropolitan views being damagingly forced on the countryside by ideologues (foxhunting ban?).

How is this dealt with in Australia, do you know?

Blue Eyes said...

My understanding is that under AV the constituency link is kept because each voter is selecting their MP. Nobody is "forced" to vote for more than their first preference either.

So if I, say, want to vote for the UKIP candidate there is no rule to say that I have to choose a second or third choice but it does enable me to do so if I want.

Edinburgh said...

DerekP asked:
How is this dealt with in Australia, do you know?

You'll find details of the Australian approach to redistributions here:

If you look at some of the related pages on that website, you'll also find that the Australian Electoral Commission is very much involved in the political consequences of any changes. See, for example:

It would be very hard to imagine any of our Boundary Commissions in the UK publishing political information like that! Thank goodness!!

You also raised an interesting point about "rural versus urban" representation. It has to be remembered that there is more to "equality of representation" than simply "equal numbers". Even within the UK, issues of remoteness, sparseness and distribution of population, and ease of communication (roads!) do have a bearing on "equality of representation" for different parts of the UK. These have traditionally been taken into account, at least to some limited degree. I am aware, however, that some argue for "equal numbers everywhere" and say that all these other issues should be ignored.

Of course, equalising the electorates (even exactly) would not solve the problem many Conservatives are now making a fuss about. That change alone would correct the anti-Conservative bias by only a few seats. The distortion due to differential turnout would remain, and its effect is much larger than that due to the disparity of electorates.