A coalition is in place. Some would like you to believe that it will split at any moment, some would like you to believe that it is safe as houses (pre recession)
One of the key things that we will have forced on us in the near future is electoral reform, with a referendum supposedly being held next year, in May.
These will coincide with local elections in some parts of England, so seem like a natural day to do it. This will boost turnout both for the council elections (just look at the effect the general election had on council election turnout)
This will be the biggest referendum (in terms of those eligible to vote) since the United Kingdom European Communities Membership referendum, 1975, and some would argue more important, some would argue less important.
What are the implications? And what is the voting system?
The system proposed is something called the Alternate Vote (AV) system, and will already be familiar to those who are from London, as their mayor is already elected by the method of AV. The system basically “ensures that all MPs will be elected with more than half of the vote.” Which is in a way true, although that vote which takes them over could be from someone who more or less sees them as the best of a bad bunch (not very different to First Past the Post you might say!!!)
I have already discussed the pros and cons of FPTP to death in a previous post if you happen to be interested.
Nick Clegg, will naturally, as a Lib Dem be rallying for this voting reform as it is suspected to benefit the Lib Dems massively, it basically means that you rank your candidates by order of preference… But not as much as other systems.. I will give an example below, with candidates A To D, and to make it easier for you (me!) we will imagine that there are 10,000 voters.
First preference votes.
Candidate A. 4,000 votes (40%)
Candidate B. 3,500 votes (35%)
Candidate C. 1,500 Votes (15%)
Candidate D. 1,000 Votes (10%)
Now the way AV works, means that the leading candidate has to have over 50% (5,000) votes, which as we can see here has not happened. So, what happens next is, poor candidate D, is taken out of the running, and all the people who voted for him, would have (although not obliged to, we will pretend they did for the purposes of this example) their second preferences taken into account. So now…
Candidate A 4,100 (41%) +100
Candidate B 4,000 (40%) +500
Candidate C 1,900 (19%) +400
We are getting closer to a conclusion now. Candidate C is to be taken out of the running as he didn’t make the cut, with his second preference votes now going to the two remaining candidates, and (here’s where it gets a bit tricky) all of Candidate D’s 3rd preference votes (if their 2nd preference was for Candidate C) being taken into account.
Candidate A 4,900 (49%)
Candidate B 5,100 (51%)
As we can see, Candidate B has shot from behind to be the new winner. This is an extreme case where everyone else has had to be knocked out, but it can happen. A likely scenario for example could be an area where the people who voted for candidate C are strong Labour supporters, but would do anything to keep the Tories out, and as a result they put a Lib Dem (Candidate B) down as their second preference.
This could realistically end tactical voting, which (amazing to think of this now) some parts of Labour (which included a certain leadership candidate named Ed Balls if memory serves) recommended that their voters to do in areas where Labour support was low, and it was close between Tories and Lib Dems…. I bet they regret that somewhat now…
David Cameron has come out and said that although he will be against electoral reform he “will not give up his day job.” I suppose it would be a bit damaging for the coalition if he actively rallied against a proposition which will leave us (marginally) more likely to have coalitions in the future…
The tabloids and ashamedly some broadsheets are trying to further the idea that this will lead to “the Tory party being in the blue for generations, with there being coalition after coalition” but that simply is not true. This system is a million miles away from Proportional Representation (PR) (which would lead to coalition after coalition). The Lib Dems have settled for AV, but had they gone for AV+, although a simple character’s difference in the name, the difference would be astonishing.
AV+ is a system which is much closer to PR for a simple reason, there is a “top up” system.
Under AV,+ you would elect your MP under the exact same method as I described above for AV, however, afterwards there would be a rebalancing, which would look at the proportion of votes… Lets say in the first round there are 500 MPs allocated under the AV system…
Party Proportion of votes (%) Proportion of seats (%) Seats
A 35 60 300
B 30 25 125
C 25 15 75
D 10 0 0
As you can see, there is a real issue here… Party A did not get that many more votes than Party B, but did get a lot more seats, the next 500 seats would look to rebalance that, and would lead to a result that would basically, end up with 35% of the vote representing 35% of the seats, where Party A would get 50 extra seats whilst party D would get 100.. (I drew a nice table but it was too big…)
As you can see, this reflects much greater what the people voted for, and is a substantial step towards PR but with a constituency link… The Scottish elections are run in this way and the European elections are a bit like this (but the first stage is a closed party list system)
So, will Cameron lose sleep at night over electoral reform in the form of AV? Maybe a little, but nowhere near as much as the political editors trying to make out that this is going to change the world as we know it. A report by the Jenkins Commission in 1998 recommended that AV+ be used, but the government, of course had absolutely no intention of implementing it, because they knew the problems it would cause them….