If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Thursday 17 February 2011

Voting Reform

We are having a referendum in May on changes to the voting system. As I understand it (and I could be wrong; it's happened before) we will be voting on whether to adopt the Alternative Vote system in place of the current First Past The Post. And I am in a quandary. Which way to go?

I have long thought the AV system to be a good idea, ever since I first heard of it when I was a student. But there are so many forms of AV (Wikipedia lists several, and does the maths, and it's tricky) that I am not sure what I would be voting for. A simple system where you put the candidates in your preferred order seems a good idea. I have lived in too many constituencies where my vote was effectively wasted, either because my preferred candidate was a shoo-in, or didn't stand a chance. Either way, whatever I put on the ballot paper was irrelevant. If it were possible to vote for the candidate you really want, but be able to express a preference for the next-best if your candidate were unsuccessful, I think that would be a good idea. For example, given the Coalition's recent performance, I would be quite likely to vote for UKIP at the next opportunity - except that this is a marginal Tory seat, and a vote for UKIP might well let Labour in, and that is the last thing I want to happen. So I will probably vote Tory, as the only effective way of keeping the bandits of socialism out. But if I had the opportunity to express a second preference, then I might vote UKIP and put the Conservative second. A lot of people might do the same, and UKIP might stand a chance of getting elected.

That's fine, as long as the link between constituency and representative is maintained. One constituency; one MP. The problem is that AV might start us down the road to having a party list system, where the results are 'balanced' to represent the overall votes in the constituency by adding people from a party list - people who have never been voted on, and people who might only be there because of their party loyalties. Think Jim Devine*. That is the first step on the road to remote and unresponsive government, a bit like the EU.

Which is, I assume, the whole point, given the affiliations of many of those campaigning for AV.

Of course, the No side point to the FPTP system and say that it has served us well for many years. No it hasn't. It has given us governments that most people didn't vote for, who are in power for five years and can do what they like. They might be red and they might be blue, but the result is the same. No-one feels that they have any influence on the government of the day. And then we wonder why turnout is so low. We get five years of one direction, and then five years of another direction, to and fro, see-saw, and then they suggest that this is the best of all possible systems which should be imposed on the rest of the world, by force if necessary.

I'm against the Yes compaign, because I believe it will be a stepping-stone to a system that will be unrepresentative and remote, and will bind us further into an EU that most people want out of. But I can't pretend that the present system works well.

Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.

*Yes, I know he was elected, but so would a retarded chimpanzee in that constituency if it had the right colour of rosette. That's not election, that's acclamation.


  1. I was in favour of Mixed Member Proportional Representation (sounds more like a diagnosis for the painful outcome of not wearing a jockstrap) but then I plumped for keeping first past the post but with two candidates for each party. Both sets of votes would be added up to find the most popular party but the MP would be the more popular candidate of the pair.
    Failing that, nude all-in jelly wrestling would at least be fun to watch.

  2. You haven't seen our previous Labour MP, then. Nude all-in jelly wrestling would have cleared the country, and people would still be asking 'is it safe to come back yet?'

  3. As I understand it, the only flavour of PR on offer is the STV version, which recently shot to fame by putting MillibandE in the driving seat of Labour, despite being pretty much nobody's preferred choice. It also has the disadvantage of tending to reduce the chances of any smaller parties in any given election and - according to many of the pundits - is as likely to perpetuate the Labour-Conservative duopoly as it is to engender any real change.

    To a certain extent, I prefer the semi-honesty of FPTP. Whatever faults it may have, it is clearly returning the individual with the largest actual endorsement within a constituency, rather than fudging in lots of partial approvals. If those returns are consistently from a minority of voters, that to me suggests the political parties need to come up with a more acceptable agenda, not simply average out the voting system.

    Sadly, I suspect the link between constituency and representative is already rather tarnished. Safe seat parachutes, for example (MillibandD's hilariously embarrassing visit to his ostensible constituency in South Shields was a standout of the last election) - and, more to the point, the whole party whip approach. There was an interesting article this week by Sarah Wollaston, new Conservative MP and a GP by trade. Apparently, for her to serve on a parliamentary committee (on health review), she had to agree in advance to always vote in support of the government agenda. That being true for all cabinet members, select committee members and anyone else subject to the whip, it sort of makes little difference whether you have a "constituency" representative or not. Their freedom to provide that representation over the party line is largely non-existent.

    Not sure what the answer is, but it isn't STV. Nor do I have any great faith it would be a stepping-stone to further PR concessions. On that basis, I think I'll be a "no change" vote.

  4. Thanks for that - more food for thort.

    As far as the party machines go, I suspect you are right, and that they are the biggest barrier to true representative democracy. I can remember the skool chaplain (a genuine Rev) telling us Sixth Formers that the party system was corrupt (and corrupting) and that true democracy could only exist if parties were disbanded and everyone voted according to whoever represented them best. I mentioned this to my parents (both dyed-in-the-wool Labour) and they said that was typical Tory talk. Without organising, the working man's voice would never be heard and only those with money and time would be able to stand. I still think that there is some truth in that, but to me the party system has long outlived its usefulness.


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