Date of the AV referendum

David Cameron has been urged to rethink plans for holding a referendum on voting reform at the same time as the Scottish Parliamentary election.

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond said in a letter to the prime minister that holding the votes on the same day could “overshadow” devolved issues.

To be honest, if the voters allow the referendum to overshadow devolved issues, they probably don’t really care enough about those devolved issues. For those that do care, how on earth is an additional unrelated vote going to confuse them?

Tell the electorate what you stand for, outline your policies, if you can’t get your message across to them the failure is yours! A message for any political party.

Featured image Open Science – some rights reserved by gemmerich

FPTP, AV, and PR

Yesterday saw the announcement of details of the coalition government’s plan for a voting reform referendum.

As suspected true proportional representation (PR) isn’t on the table. Instead the choice is between the current first past the post (FPTP) system and the proposed alternative vote (AV) system.

What is FPTP?

This is relatively simple, and is the current system by which MPs are elected to Westminster. Each member of the electorate has a single vote with which they can express a single preference. The candidate with the most votes wins. This is nice and simple, conventional, and results in, as its detractors would say, in a situation where the winner generally receives less than 50% of the vote. With a 3+ party system, the ‘winner’ usually has more people voting against them than for them. A further disadvantage is that minority views from the electorate are not represented in parliament.

What is AV?

This is a slight variation on FPTP in which the electorate have the ability to express a ranking preference. After counting first preference votes if no candidate has an outright majority (50%+ of the votes) then the last placed candidate is eliminated and any votes they received are redistributed according to the second preference. This process repeats until a single candidate has 50%+ of the votes (or I guess until there is only one candidate left). This system prevents a result in which more people voted against the winner than for the winner, but does still leave minority views unrepresented.

What is PR?

Proportional representation systems vary, but the intended result is to elect a candidates from parties as appropriate to the proportional vote those parties receive during the voting process. There is generally a minimum threshold of votes required, after which if a party receives 10% of the vote, they can expect to win 10% of the seats up for grabs.

This system ensures that (after the certain threshold) the views of the electorate are reflected proportionally in (for example) the House of Commons.

How could PR work in the UK?

This is the big issue. A PR system isn’t really compatible with our current system by which we have one winner per constituency, and would need to go hand-in-hand with other changes. This does present a good opportunity for wholesale democratic changes, though obviously the more you wish to change, the harder it is to get agreement.

Without going into too much detail, one way to incorporate PR into our constituency system would be to still elect one MP per constituency (based on a FPTP/AV system) and tallying up all additional votes nationally to get a sense of the proportion of the country voting for certain parties, and then to use a list system to elect parties to the House of Lords based on the proportion of the vote.

This would maintain the link between MP and constituency, and democratise the House of Lords completely. For those who object to minority-view parties being elected (by very fact that they have the minority of the vote and shouldn’t get to have any power at all – glossing over whether this is a fair perspective or not), there is some consolation that the PR elected candidates only get to provide oversight from the Lords rather than more direct influence in the Commons.

This also mitigates the problems of how to deal with a perceived mandate to govern for a wholly elected Lords – as the election occurs simultaneously with that of the Commons, it is the commons that has the clearer ‘majority’ mandate to govern. Whereas the Lords would only have the ‘minority’ mandate to make sure the views of minorities are heard and considered by government.

Turn about?

With the Liberal Democrats consistently being a strong proponent of proportional representation* it is very disappointing to find them settling for this compromise, especially as it does not seem like a compromise. If the Conservative element of the coalition are reserving the right to campaign for a ‘no’ vote, then why are the Liberal Democrats compromising at all?

Artificial inflation of turn-out

Another disappointment is that there seems to be more uproar over the timing of the referendum as opposed to the exact question of the referendum itself. There seems some concern that presenting the referendum at the same time as other elections is both insulting to those other elections (how?), and also will artificially inflate the rate of response. It is disgusting for elected representatives to be heard suggesting that taking advantage of a voter’s presence in a voting booth to ask for additional voter opinions is artificial. I want to hear our representatives looking for ways to increase voter turn-out, not decrease it!

Yes or No to AV?

If it becomes clear that the only choice on offer in the referendum in FPTP or AV, then it is clear what is better. You can only choose from the options available, and AV is fractionally a better system that FPTP, and as such would have by support.

*To the point where Straw recalled that Clegg, during the general election campaign, told The Independent that the alternative vote system was a ‘miserable little compromise’, and ‘I am not going to settle’ for that.

Hung Parliaments, Unelected Leaders, and Proportional Representation

I voted in the 2010 General Election (if you’re reading this in the future and there were two General Elections in 2010 then I’m referring to the one in May) and have been watching the unfolding politics with interest and a lot of frustration.

It isn’t the unfolding process that irritates me, instead it is fear-mongering and idiocy spouted by some politicians and journalists which is endlessly recycled and rehashed. I understand that the media like a little sensationalism, and thus phrase their questions in a provoking way, but politicians should know better than to pander to this.

In this blog post I will explain my perspective on a variety of issues.

A Lib/Lab coalition would be a coalition of the losers

At this precise moment only 649 seats of 650 have been declared. But of the 649 elected MPs, the one thing we can say about them, is that each and every one of them is a winner. A coalition formed that included 258 winning Labour MPs and 57 winning Liberal Democrat MPs would be a coalition of winning individuals. The important thing to remember is that Parliament is formed of individuals. A Government is formed of individuals that are like-minded enough to generally support each other.

To argue that 306 individuals that broadly agree with each other enough to all call themselves ‘Conservative’ somehow trumps 315 individuals that (might) broadly agree with each other enough to form a ‘Lib/Lab Coalition’ is ludicrous.

It is a fallacy that each and every voter has voted for a single entity. But let’s ignore the way our voting system works for a moment, and just look at percentage share of the vote. The Conservatives got 36.1% share of the vote. That is not a mandate to govern. Labour got 29% of the vote. That is not a mandate to govern. The Liberal Democrats got 23% of the vote. That is not a mandate to govern.

Not a single party has a mandate to govern. But what we do have is three parties which, when considered together, represent the majority of the (voting) country. If we imagine that each of these voters were voting only for a party, then what we ‘deserve’ is a Parliament with more Conservative MPs than Labour ones, and more Labout MPs than Liberal Democrat ones, and debates, policies, and laws coming out of Parliament that reflect those percentages.

In practice, if the Liberal Democrats and Labour are closer on the political spectrum, what we should see, and what the country has ‘asked’ for, are laws coming from Parliament that reflect views closer on the Lib/Lab end of the spectrum, than on the Conservative end. If this is the natural product of a Lib/Lab coalition, then a Lib/Lab coalition is precisely what the voters voted for.

But likewise, if it turns out the Liberal Democrats feel they have more in common with the Conservatives, and Parliament is going to churn out views closer to the Lib/Con end of the spectrum than the Labour end, then what we (as voters) deserve, what we have asked for, is a Lib/Con coalition. but no matter what coalition ends up forming, it is a coalition of winners (ignoring any unelected Peers that are invited in to help *grr*).

The people don’t want an unelected Prime Minister

Voters only get a choice from those candidates standing in the voter’s constituency, and in many cases they have to vote tactically and end up not voting for the person they want, but voting to try and not get the person they don’t want. I do accept that many individuals will vote, either through ignorance or strong for/against feelings, based solely on who is leading the parties, but that is not the choice they have before them unless they are lucky enough to be a constituent where a party leader is standing.

This is actually one reason I didn’t like the ‘Presidential-style’ debates, as it puts too much focus on the party leaders. We don’t have a Presidential-style electoral system, so let’s not fool ourselves into thinking we do.

Perhaps all leaders should be forced to stand in the same constituency (perhaps a special one the size of the whole country), so only one can really win. Which may give us the delightful situation of the ‘Prime Minister’ coming from one party and a majority of elected MPs from a different party. Which of course means we won’t have a Prime Minister, but a President, and we might as well embrace the US electoral system.

The political/electoral system we have allows us to only choose our local MP. It is for parties to select their leader. If you have no confidence in the Labour party selecting their leader, you shouldn’t have voted for your Labour MP. If you didn’t vote for your Labour MP, and Labour win a landslide victory, then you didn’t vote for the Prime Minister in any way shape or form anyway. If Labour then choose to change their leader, and this results ina new Prime Minister, all you are seeing is your democratically elected representatives selecting who the Prime Minister is – and this selection is always up to them anyway. If we the people have no faith in those we elect to make this decision, then we have a bigger problem than an ‘unelected’ Prime Minister.

One last thing on this subject. Right now Gordon Brown is a winning MP. Of those given a direct chance to vote for or against him, he won more votes than anyone else he was up against.

Hung Parliaments don’t work and we don’t want one

Plenty of people signed petitions before and after this election specifically asking for a Hung Parliament, myself includes, because we want a different sort of politics. We want a politics based a little more on co-operation and agreement than a purely adversarial form of politics.

We want, for example, a Goverment that produces laws based on opinions that cross parties, that have gone through lengthy processes of analysis.

Hung Parliaments produce coalition Governments. This works in many other countries, and the only reason it seems unusual and we’re ‘worried’ about how negotiations are taking, is just because we aren’t used to the process.

If our system was used to post-election negotiations, perhaps we’d have a system where a ‘new Government’ wasn’t expected to take office until a month after the election, sort of like the US Presidential system where the new President doesn’t take office until months later.

It seems almost damning to our politicians to state that a coalition would fail to provide a strong government. Why aren’t we electing intelligent eloquent people who know how to debate and negotiate in the bests interests of our country? If we do, if we are, then asking these people to work together should be entirely within their capabilities.

Electoral Reform

I want electoral reform. But I also like a lot in our existing system. I want the formation of Parliament to be more reflective of the votes from the people. I want minority views to be reflected somehow. I also want to keep the link between one constituency and one MP.

This is what I’d like to see:

  • Redistribute constituency boundaries so that they are more equal in voting population size.
  • Remove all unelected members of the House of Lords.
  • Each constituency maps to a single MP (MPC).
  • Each constituency sits within a region.
  • Each region to have a number of additional MPs (MPL) proportionate to region population size.
  • Elections for a constituency should be for named individuals.
  • Elections for a region should be for parties.
  • Elections to be run on a proportional system that guarantees the the resulting constituency MP (MPC) has over 50% of the vote.
  • Votes from all constituencies within a region to be collated proportionally to determine how many additional MPs (MPL) parties get – subtracting successful MPCs from party totals to bias towards smaller parties.
  • All successful MPCs become MPs in the House of Commons.
  • All successful MPLs become members of the House of Lords (perhaps giving each a life peerage, or just a temporary peerage for the duration of their tinme in the House of Lords).

This would allow us to keep the existing relationship between a constituency and its MP. It would allow the Houses of Parliament to have some form of Proportional Representation of the people.

It would not drastically change the nature of the House of Commons by introducing many more smaller parties.

It would remove the undemocratic nature, and provide for an elected House of Lords.

As the Lords would represent more minority views, this mitigates the potential issue of two competing Houses beliving they had a mandate from the people and the Lords calling for more power. It also ensures that the Lords is both elected, and yet not from the same parties as the Commons, and thus ensuring proper oversight from the Lords of the Commons.

The only potential issue I see with this is that as regional ‘MPs’ for the Lords will be selected from party lists it pretty much discourages the selection of independants for the Lords.

What do I really want?

What I really want is to watch and listen to politicians and journalists that speak to one another and to us with respect for our intelligence and respect and real understanding of our political system.

I want to see an end to ‘news’ papers calling Gordon Brown a squatter in 10 Downing Street when he essentially has no responsible choice other than to remain there until a coalition or minority Government has formed.

I want patience and understanding. The country is not falling apart. It took almost 9 and a half months  for Belgium to get a coalition government to form, and the sky didn’t fall in during the wait.