Archive for the ‘Electoral Systems’ Category

Electoral reform, a deal breaker or maker?

July 8, 2010

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.

Final run:

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….


Hung Parliament, Where will it get us, or not get us?

January 13, 2010

A hung Parliament, is looking like a real possibility for the first time in a long long time.

This is where no party has an overall majority.

Why should you care? Because it means that a lot of the snap decisions that have been made recently would not have been able to be put through so easily.

The rather average Nick Clegg of the Lib Dems has claimed that he will side with whichever party has the most seats, in order to form a majority government if the need for a coalition arises. I am however sure that this will require some political sacrifice on the part of the ruling party, and if that does not work, a 3 way split is a real possibility.

There is already minority governments in the UK, for example. Scotland has a minority government. Scotland has 129 Members of Scottish Parliament (MSPs). 73 of these are constituency members and the remaining 56 members are top up members as discussed in my previous post.

The SNP however have formed a minority Government, led by Alex Salmond. Has this led to massive problems in legislation making? Not really, they don’t do much anyway…. With exceptionally limited powers.

My point is, there is no other place where we can see exactly what a minority/coalition government would mean for the UK.

Italy has a coaltion government, but that is, for want of a better term, pretty corrupt country with a different political ethic to that of the UK.

It is however undoubted that it would lead to large amounts of horse trading, such as what is seen in the EU (something I will undoubtedly touch on in a later post). Basically, currently, a party gets in and implements it’s manifesto, under a minority government this could not be guaranteed. But here comes the saving grace of the British constitution, Conventions.

There is a convention in the UK which states that the ruling party should not have their manifesto blocked in any way.

So yes, we know manifesto pledges will be stuck to, but what about emergencies?

This is surely when a government needs to act fastest.

This is a much hazier area, where we don’t really know what would happen, but if a party is dragging their heels, who knows.

One thing is for sure though. Under a hung Parliament, everything which is controversial in the slightest (Terrorism Act for example) would be discussed at back breaking length until there is a parliament wide compromise.

In some cases though there is an issue where there could be a minority party which has a ridiculous amount of say in politics.

If for example, the party needs just 1 more MP to have a majority, they might end up making substantial concessions to get that 1 extra MP on side (a green party member for example). That sounds slightly undemocratic doesn’t it?

At the same time though it removes the current element of rubber stamping that our Parliament seems to become when there is a huge majority.

It could easily be claimed that Tony Blair (1997-2005) and Thatcher 1979-1987) could more or less rule by themselves, as in these terms they had huge majorities and could easily survive a fairly large rebellion in Parliament with their huge majorities.

The problem came for them when they had to adjust in their final terms to not having such a large majority, and having to begin to give in to cabinet etc.

It is worthy of note that in1974 there was a hung Parliament in the February election which was quickly followed by another election in October which led to a Labour majority government.

So, there are clear arguments for both.

I would argue personally, but I would love to hear your opinion, that Hung parliament is right if it is democratically elected, but a hung parliament in a non PR system would be terrible. So, for example, if Labour end up getting 25% of the votes yet 30% of the seats, and Cons end up getting 35% of the votes and 30% of the seats (we already know the Tories need a roughly +7% swing) then that, I would argue would be the worst possible reason for there to be a hung Parliament….

It is however worth noting that we might see no real difference if there is a coalition or a minority government. With the consensual politics being the politics of the day, there is a chance things will go on as normal, which will surely be a serious indictment on the state of British Politics.

First Past The Post… A dying electoral system, or the best one for us.

January 13, 2010

First Past the Post is a disgustingly undemocratic electoral system that ensures that only one person need bother to vote.

First Past the Post ensures (in the majority of cases) a government is put in place that can effectively implement it’s manifesto pledges.

I would argue with you all day that both of these are completely true statements.

Here is my “informative” part, to the best of my abilities.

Currently, in the UK, we use an electoral system caled First Past The Post (FPTP).

Basically a constituency is made up of many people, there are 646 MPs, and each one represents roughly the same amount of people.

In the FPTP system, People vote for who they want to be their local MP, and the person with the most votes wins.

So, literally, if one person gets 10,000 votes and the second place person gets 9,999 votes, then the person with 10,000 votes becomes the MP and the person in second gets nothing, either for himself or for his party.

This means, and did mean in England in 2005, that the ruling party can actually have less votes than the party that came second. In England in 2005, Labour ended up with more MPs than the Conservatives, despite actually getting less votes (although across the UK, they did get more votes).

The main problems with this is that it means that if you are a party that has wide narrow support (Lib Dems) then you do nowhere near as well as parties which have deep support (Labour/Cons).

For example, in the 2005 General Election, the Lib Dems ended up with 22.1% of the vote but got only 9.6% of the seats, with Labour getting 35.3% of the vote and 55.2% of the seats. Something which is, it can easily be claimed undemocratic.

It does also (rightly or wrongly) give rise to independents.

For example, “Health Concern” Gained 0.1% of the votes yet still gained a seat in the House of Commons.

In the mean time UKIP, Britain’s 4th largest party ended up with 2.2% of the votes but did not even get one seat.

There are undoubtedly positives to this system, even if there are some undemocratic disadvantages, the two in fact are one in the same.

Best example of this would be the BNP. They get enough votes that if all BNP members moved into about 8 constituencies they would probably win all the seats. We see this as a (strangely) undemocratic positive to our political system, and rightly so. However, despite the fact that I despise the party, if people vote for it, shouldn’t they get it?

So, what is the alternative?

Something like proportional representation?

Basically, there is an argument for, get the amount of votes, and then allocate the seats accordingly. So,i f a party gets 10% of the votes, they get 10% of the seats and so on.

As democratic as it gets I would argue, but rises the problems of a hung Parliament (Which I will discuss in my next post).

Pure PR however would lead to a system where no-one has a constituency MP, a local representative who can redress your grievances in Parliament.

There are however “Hybrid Schemes” which are basically “PR with a constituency link.”

Do you want an example? Try every single election which takes place in all of the devolved assemblies in the UK eg Scotland, NI, Wales and London.

London can be my example.

basically, London in London Assembly elections is split into 14 FPTP seats. This ensures that everyone in London has an assembly member.

Then, to make things proportionate, there is a “top-up” system which seeks to rebalance things. 11 seats are allocated in this way. As a result we can say in London that we have a constituency member and a proportionately representative Assembly.

In effect it means that if your Constituency member you voted for gets 9,999 votes and the other person gets 10,000, then your vote was not a wasted vote because it can still be counted when it comes to the top up list.

This does however mean that if the Assembly was to be a form of Parliament instead of a scrutiny panel which barely scrutinises (no doubt a topic for a later post)  that there would be a “hung parliament) with the Conservatives only controlling 11 of the 25 positions.

On top of this, the BNP do have an assembly member due to the Top up lists, albeit one who is more or less seen as a clown with in the chamber and is ignored and ridiculed whenever he dares utter a word from his corner in his sickly cream suit.

But still, if the people vote for it, isn’t it what they and we ultimately deserve? And with the possibility (again) of there being a coalition government with the Lib Dems being a part of it it is looking more and more likely that electoral reform might have to be seriously considered in the near future….