Changing the voting system will not save the government

The PM’s sudden interest in a different way of voting looks like the action of a man who is worried that Labour cannot carry on winning under the tried and tested system of first past the post.

Proportional systems have many drawbacks. They lead to more extreme parties with more chance of them securing elected representation. They break the link between some or all Members of Parliament and a constituency. They are more likely to produce weak governments, without majorities. They can give parties more power and people less power over who the elected representatives are. List MPs need to be obedient to party, and are less likely to stand up for the interests of those they represent.They can transfer the decision about who governs from electors, to parties negotiating with each other after an inconclusive election.

The alternative vote system which some favour is not a proportional system. It is a system which allows in any given constituency the backers of the least popular parties the effective right to vote twice, whilst supporters of the more popular parties only vote once. What’s fair about that? Why should the backers of the joke or single subject parties have the right to decide who ends up winning, when that may be someone different from the person who got most first votes?

What we need from the government is action to control the deficit, to get some value out of public spending, to scrap ID cards and regional government, to get powers and money back from Brussels and to cut the bossiness and waste that abounds in Labour’s governing machine. There is a rumour they might at last scrap ID cards – bring on the day. If they do want to get into constitutional reform, they should start with a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty as they promised, so we can all tell them what we think about the huge transfers of power they are making to the EU.

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56 Comments

  1. James
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    I am scared. By what right does a PM, unelected by his own party, with no mandate from the British people, who has had the damning verdict of the voters in two elections, have to take a hatchet to our constitution just because he fears losing the next election. (OK, so I answered my own question at the end there.) Oh, and it’s fine to have a rederendum on something nobody wants but oh, there can’t possibly be one on something as importantl as Lisbon.
    How did we go from MPs milking their exes, to PR, without passing ‘GO’ (on that subject, are we forgeting the government wasting hundreds of billions running up debt whilst we worry about a few quid for a duck island)
    Why is an MP elected under PR more likely to be honest than under FPTP.( Europe should dispell that myth)
    How would party lists and less power to local associations make MPs more accountable.
    If PR makes ‘ every vote count’ then why would I as a Conservative voter only have the right to elect an opposition .(we all know PR would lead to a permanent left of centre coalition) .
    I feel outraged and impotent. This scorched earth policy of the PM must be resisted by every Conservative and conservative in the land.

  2. Mick Anderson
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    One thing we don’t want is more party-controlled politicians running the country (into the ground….).

    I agree that the House of Lords is an anachronism, and that it should not be filled with friends of the Prime Minister and “accidents of birth”. But I don’t want another bunch of Whip-controlled “Super-MPs” rubber stamping policy.

    What we need is proper scrutiny by ordinary people, and not just once every four or five years.

    I suggest a form of Jury service for the upper house. People who are old enough to have useful experience (perhaps a minimum age of 40 or 50) could place themselves on a list of candidates. They would be filtered according to their experience and declared interests, but not their political allegiance. If you take two or three hundred people without considering party loyalty you should end up with a reasonable range, and I really don’t want the Whips to have a look-in. You might exclude those with a recent history of party membership, as convicted criminals might be excluded from Court jury service.

    These volunteers would receive a good salary, a free National travel permit, no expenses or allowances, and a staff of Civil Servants to advise and support them. Any evidence of corruption would be severely punished! They would be on a fixed term of perhaps two years, and their financial affairs (and those of their family) would have to be open to scrutiny.

    All legislation would have to be passed by these independents before being put on the statute book. There would be a fixed number of these people, so if the lower house tried to pass so much that they could not assess it properly, fewer laws would be passed. There would be no Parliament Act to by pass this approval system.

    As for the lower house, I’m in favour of a system that allows us to vote individuals in or out of power. Traditional PR hands even more power to the Whips – a very bad thing. I understand the idea of Primary Elections that some suggest, but can’t help feeling that the British wouldn’t be involved enough. It would also only really work with fixed-term Parliaments, although that is not a bad thing.

    Sadly I can’t see any of the politicians voting for proper scrutiny, though. Their preferred solution is bound to involve more party control rather than less.

  3. Stuart Fairney
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Quite so, any serious constitutional change needs to be done

    (a) early in a parliament so it doesn’t look like you are shifting the goal posts ina self-interested way
    (b) on the back of a clear, detailed and explicit manifesto committment of the same and
    (c) subject to public approval in a referendum

    I just wonder if the Lib-Dem attitude to PR may have changed after their disaster in the Euro elections, they moan about how unfair the current system is, but UKIP, Green, BNP and other minor parties etc have a much worse disadvantage that do the Lib Dems

    Also, it is ESSENTIAL that all MP’s be personally on the ballot so their voters have at least the opportunity of kicking them out, party lists just don’t allow that.

  4. Mike Stallard
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    Now I am really frightened.
    When Tony Blair tinkered with the House of Lords, he made a colossal mass of corruption out of a functioning system. And, of course, all this was done from the very highest moral principles. At least he spared us a referendum.
    Mr Brown has a very bad track record on democracy. He has centralised all power to No 12 Downing Street. He has shouted and become angry even with Ruth Lee. He has total control of his cabinet through some kind of fear. He must not be allowed to ruin the House of Commons.
    As you so rightly say, PR and Alan Johnson’s half baked system are not democratic. As soon as people do not understand the system, they stop voting.
    A referendum is the cherished method of the dictator because the question is in their control. 93% of voters consider that President Brown should continue in power for life……
    For God’s sake, someone stop him!

    • APL
      Posted June 10, 2009 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      JR: “The PM’s sudden interest in a different way of voting ..”

      Brown at the tail end of his dismal administration has no authority to implement any significant constitutional change.

      Cameron, should say that anything of a constitutional nature enacted by this parliament will be subject to immediate revision by an incomming Tory government.

      Mike Stallars: “When Tony Blair tinkered with the House of Lords, he made a colossal mass of corruption out of a functioning system.”

      Entirely agree.

      Add to that the things Gordon Brown has tampered with.
      Pensions – A disaster.
      The tax system – not least tax Credits, which have been diabolically administered and are feindishly complex and end up victimising those the system was supposed to benefit.

      I can’t think of anyone less fit to devise constitutional ammendments.

  5. Mark M
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    “Why should the backers of the joke or single subject parties have the right to decide who ends up winning”

    Because that way, the big parties are forced to confront the issues the single issue parties bring up.

    Why are the BNP in Brussels? Because none of the major parties is prepared to put its foot down on immigration. If you thought you might lose Westminster seats to smaller parties perhaps you’d talk about these issues.

    That said, PR sucks. I can only choose a party, not a candidate.

    • Mike Stallard
      Posted June 10, 2009 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      The “People” have very different ideas to the government liberals.
      Immigration, yes. But the public at large also have interesting ideas on capital punishment, gay and paedo persecution, racism, religion, the benefits which the State should provide, smoking and drinking. The Red Tops know this. Would you really like to be governed by them though?

  6. Ian Turner
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Quite right Mr Redwood but is it not time that “Dave” actualy came out and said something along these lines. This morning the NHS Confederation which represents NHS MANAGERS!!! was complaining about a potential slow down in the increases in funding for the NHS. Andrew Lansley was interviewed shortly afterwards and seemed to be promising that a Conservative Government would continue to raise the NHS budget. Surely the first task of a Conservative administration should be to cut the number of NHS managers and put the savings into frontline staff.

  7. eeyore
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Proportional representation is the last refuge of a Scotsman.

  8. Waramess
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Extreme parties manage to win seats when the turnout is low.

    Perhaps the BNP would have failed to capture any seats if the turnout had been respectable.

    It could be the turnout will continue to be low so long as the electorate feel they are not empowered and their vote is for nothing.

    This is something to be dwelt upon and not dismissed out of hand.

    First past the post has a distinct benefit for the two main parties and maybe, just maybe, given the popular perception that their policies are not dissimilar, this is the cause of the electorate not feeling empowered.

    If we keep the present system and fail to establish the real cause of the low turnout we risk the fringe parties gaining ever greater influence

  9. Pat
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Sorry but in my view people “support” the party that best approximates to their own views (have you ever agreed totally and whole heartedly with every line of your party’s manifesto- surely there’s sometimes been something you’d have done differently?). Voting often comes down to supporting the party most likely to stop the least liked party (I believe its called tactical voting) rather than supporting the most liked party. With STV a voter can effectively do both. Apart from these benefits to the voter, there would be better information available on what policies the public do agree with- the recent vote for UKIP must make parties realise that Euroskepticism is a commonly held view, and incline them to take it into account when formulating their own policies. It is the only means available whereby the voter can indicate which policies they like from the mixture offered by any one party (yes I realise that UKIP were elected on a party list- but I’ve a feeling they’d have a good result on STV too. They did well at Euro elections because voting for them wouldn’t let Brown in). Bear in mind that UKIP’s policies are all concevative (small c) and all or any could happily be included in Tory policy.
    Hate PR though- I want to vote for a person I believe in, not the muppet with the right coloured rossette.

    • Eddyh
      Posted June 12, 2009 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      The way to vote for “a person you can believe in” is to include “none of the above” in every ballot with the proviso that the election must be rerun if, under any form of representation this was the leading vote. This would exclude the party hacks put up by the central machine.

  10. Javelin
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    A lot of people have jokingly commented that Brown will rig the next election. He must have been reading their comments.

    Brown has never faced an election. He is so clever why should be have to lower himself.

    I think we will need a referendum to do this, and a year isn’t long enough. But Brown being Brown will try and lose even more trust and even more votes trying.

  11. Robert K, Oxford
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    The purest form of democracy is a true free market economy. At present, we get one chance every four or five years to vote on how 50% of our money is spent. The other 50%, in contrast, is in effect a rolling plebiscite that, in a free market system, tailors goods and services to the needs of the voter. It is hardly surprising in the unaccountable oligarchy that runs our affairs at the moment that public services match so poorly the demands of the electorate. You can fiddle with first-past-the-post, PR and elected House of Lords as much as you want, but until the state reduces radically the amount of money it excises from the wealth creating part of the economy you will never have a moral democracy.
    To sum up, again: cut taxes and cut public spending.

  12. backofanenvelope
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    A few years ago British Columbia held a Citizens Assembly on voting systems. A couple of hundred normal (not politicians) people reviewed the options and chose what they thought was the best one for their provincial government.

    We could have one on voting systems; another on the House of Lords and so on.

  13. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    This is merely distraction politics to avert public attention from the real issues which confront this country. If Brown is so keen on constitutional reform why is he putting so many unelected peers appointed by him into government positions rather than MPs elected by the voters? This leads to a lack of accountability in the Commons and a diminution of the electorate’s, already limited, control of the executive. Brown is like a third rate magician using sleight of hand. The Conservatives must ensure that they don’t allow his conjuring tricks to deflect them away from the real issues facing this country including full public disclosure of the enquiries into individual MPs’ expenses.

    • jean baker
      Posted June 11, 2009 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      Including, of course, the (reported) vast costs of Blair’s entourage since relinquishing his premiership. Also full and open disclosure of how the Fees Office operates and (allegedly) authorized claims ‘leaked’ to the media and all others besides.

  14. DennisA
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    PR gave Wales a coalition assembly with the third party in the polls, Plaid Cymru, aquiring ministerial roles that they were never elected to perform. We now get ever more attempts to legislate the Welsh language into every area of business, when outside of Wales it is of no use to anyone, (except perhaps, in Patagonia)

  15. THE ESSEX BOYS
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    How very typical of New Labour’s approach that Brown should be kicking dust in our eyes with self-serving ‘reform’ and ‘modernisation’ instead of getting to grips with the real issue of controlling and reducing government expenditure.

    We also agree that ID cards are likely to bite that dust but this morning’s warnings on future NHS deficits are indicative of what we can expect from every department if the relevant public servants shine a light and allow the truth to be seen now.
    It’s inevitable that hard choices must be made when the implications of slowing the rate of spending are quantified after the years of ‘splurge’. It’s fair that all these choices are publicised before Brown is able to escape from his major responsibility in this.

    We think the Toriesinitial response that THEY intend to maintain NHS expenditure is both ironic but sensible tactics. Plenty of cutting to be done elsewhere leaving NHS waste until later!

  16. pipesmoker
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    In addition I would like to see a return to the practice of publishing numbers of spoiled ballot papers then discontents on EU membership would have a single place to make their views known at European Election time especially and in General Elections.

    It might just make David Cameron firm up his promise to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty whenever the General Election is held and whatever the vote In Eire says?

    • James Morrison
      Posted June 11, 2009 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      I’ve often wondered how one would go about campaigning to get a “none of the above” option on a ballot paper.

      It is frustrating enough that opinion polls never seem to ask that question, classifying anyone who isn’t specific as an “undecided” or a “will not vote”.

      I would like to see how many people would choose not to vote for any of the parties.

      My guess is that the “none of the above” would win a landslide…..

      • pipesmoker
        Posted June 11, 2009 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        James

        I absolutely agree.

        If you watched Bill Hague’s speech yesterday there may just be a chink of light without resorting to it?

  17. Alan
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Proportional systems do indeed have many drawbacks, but they are fair.

    First past the post has many drawbacks, and it is unfair.

    Your only decision of importance is whether you support a fair or an unfair system. The actual detail of which system you want can be left. But don’t start by supporting a system that is patently wrong.

    • Paul
      Posted June 12, 2009 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      Hardly “fair” as a simple PR system, the ‘fairest’ system, would result in (i) a significant number of BNP MPs permanently and (ii) a minority party, or group thereof, continually holding the balance of power.

      This is why the LibDems have historically been so keen. They don’t give a flying stuff about “democracy” ; they just want power.

  18. Acorn
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Careful guys what you say, you never know who’s listening. Just because we are paranoid (yesterdays posts) doesn’t mean they are not after us. (See following, start with “6 Conclusion”). What a RIPA.

    http://www.law.ed.ac.uk/ahrc/script-ed/vol3-4/rauhofer.asp#6

    Anyway while the government allows us to have access to web-sites like this one, we can contribute to Gordy’s new representation of the people debate. No, I am not going to mention separating the Executive from the Legislature today; or, the vagaries of the d’Hondt voting system see:-

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A2757873

    But I suggest we look at the way we represent the people at local level and use that as a basis for how we represent people at the national / federal level. Our administrative geography is not coterminous at any level. Every aspect of the public sector has different boundaries to those that are naturally recognised by the citizens.

    No one Council has jurisdiction over who does what, why and with who’s money. Yes I know that most citizens don’t give a bugger what the local administrative geography is, unlike the French. They had a near riot when their government said it wanted to take the department number off their number plates. (It’s still there on the new style plates). See:-

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_vehicle_registration_plates

    Even the government has trouble trying to allocate parliamentary constituencies to citizen recognisable geography, (see notes on link below). So let’s sort this bit out first, get some level of community cohesion at local level, then worry about how many MPs we need.

    http://www.parliament.uk/mpslordsandoffices/mps_and_lords/clomps.cfm

  19. Fool
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Brown only wants to talk. He is not seriously considering any reform unless it is some way that will benefit his party. The promise to debate does not equate to promise to reform. He is grasping at straws, such as his populist appointment of Sir Alan.

    Neither PR nor AV can guarantee that people really get the candidate of their choice. (Not that the FPTP can guarantee it, but at least it does give it to the one with the most number of votes.) However, AV may be considered if people can give their chosen candidate all four priorities. But this just becomes a very complicated mess and can cause problems with people who don’t understand the system and can be manipulated in their voting. FPTP is much more straightforward, and even if there may be fiddling, it would be less prevalent.

  20. Neil Craig
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Not much point in me rehashing the arguments for PR again. I think it is necessary to be a genuine democracy & that it would lower the barriers to entry of ideas in British politics, I don’t have enthusiasm for “strong” government for reasons obvious today & party control of the list system can be fixed. You are right that AV is not very proportional, which is presumably why it is the one Gordon is talking about, but it is moreso than the current mess.

    The punch line is that Brown is not promising anything more than to talk about it which is less than the manifesto promise in 1997 & 2001 & will not be believed form him. Anything short of a referendum before or on election day will not be believed. If the Conservatives say they will ignore a referendum result they will, deservedly, lose.

    The argument that government should just get on with fixing the economy is false. We both know what is necessary to fix the economy & the 2 are not incompatible – indeed if one of the problems is that government always wants to be seen to be doing something doing this might keep them away from economic stupidities.

  21. Sunder Katwala
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    The Alternative Vote system is very similar to our current system, except that the MP elected needs to get 50% of the constituency vote.

    I wonder why the Conservative Party a similar system to elect its own leader (in that candidates are eliminated and their supporters get to vote against) so as to find out which two candidates have most support overall from MPs, not just who have more support the first-time around if they do not have a majority.

    Are you proposing a change in that system to first-past-the-post?

    I think all parties do this in selecting candidates, because they are looking for the candidate with most overall support. What is the argument against also giving that opportunity to the voters?

    • adam
      Posted June 11, 2009 at 12:10 am | Permalink

      Why do you Fabians and the Labour Partly continue to lie about the extent of EU influence in these reforms?
      Is the loony Scot going to try and force through major constitutional change on the back of the MPs expenses issue, because it sure sounds like it.

    • Mike Stallard
      Posted June 11, 2009 at 6:08 am | Permalink

      Our constituency selected its (Conservative) candidate on the lines you suggest. I believe that the people in the room (anyone who cared to turn up) made the right decision.
      However the argument for FPTP seems to me to be this:
      1. It is historical and that means it has always worked sensibly in the past, so if a thing ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
      2. We English like a good race. Yes, all races end with winners and losers. But that is the fun. At the end we lose like good sports.
      3. Mr Brown is a tricky customer who may well want to fix the next election so he is re-elected. This is, therefore, the very worst time to change the system.

    • adam
      Posted June 11, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      Sunder didnt you once say crime was largely an invention of the right wing press?

  22. Blank Xavier
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    I would find it disturbing, if it wasn’t comical.

    Labour make themselves catastrophically unpopular.

    Response? modify the electoral system.

    If they were competent, there would be the risk of revolution. As it is, we all believe the Conservatives are going to get in sooner or later, so it’s less hassle just to wait.

  23. steve
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    It is disingenuous to say that the alternative vote allows people to vote twice and is thus unfair. It does allow the second preferences of those voting for unpopular candidates to be redirected towards their second choices. But everyone has the chance to name a second choice, so there is no unfairness. And those whose second preferences are not needed, nevertheless gain the benefit of their having their second preferences available were they so needed. Under first past the post, there is a real unfairness, in that voters who favour unpopular candidates have no input into the real contest. The result is a system where people attempt to guess who will be less popular and divert their votes elsewhere. Thus there is no true reflection of personal preferences. Parties which are close to each other thus unfairly lose out to the benefit of those that are more distinctive. Alternative vote is thus a partial remedy to the unfairness of first past the post.

    • Paul
      Posted June 12, 2009 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      Perhaps it could be further amended.

      The problem with an AV vote type system is a second or third choice is rated the same as a first choice when it clearly isn’t the case.

      So, I would naturally vote Conservative, but an alternative (say LibDem) I would be less keen on, but more keen on that a vote for the socialist.

      So maybe a 2nd preference vote should only count as 0.5 of a vote, a 3rd preference 0.33 of a vote, a 4th preference 0.25 of a vote.

      If you are after “fairness” it should also be possible to vote negatively, so a vote could be.

      1st Preference : Conservative (100% of a vote)
      2nd Preference : LibDem (50% of a vote)
      3rd Preference : Labour, (-33% of a vote)

      because my ‘preference’ is that yes Tory, okay LibDem, then I really don’t care about the rest, but I don’t want the Labour candidate. So as long as the Lab candidate stays in, my vote acts to reduce his vote, not to increase the vote of the another candidate I don’t want.

      The problem with this is it is far too complicated for your average voter to grasp 🙂

      …. and a lot of people would vote Labour -100% of a vote 😉

  24. Freeborn John
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    All these systems have disadvantages, but the FPTP system has the disadvantage (which you nicely illustrated in your ‘Europe is a numbers game’ post) of forcing the electorate to choose between a duopoly that has conspired to deny them policy options they desire on the EU and other issues.

    I personally think the best mix would be to retain FPTP for elections to the Commons which could therefore continue to be a contest between competing coherent programs of government. And to introduce Lords reform that turns it into a regional Senate where each region votes using PR. This would introduce a greater diversity into the 2nd chamber which would help it to be a power independent of government able to hold government to account. I agree with you that PR would have problems were it used in the Commons, but those problems disappear if it is used in the 2nd chamber because it does not form the government.

  25. Pete Chown
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    One thing I particularly dislike about the current system is its bias against national parties. The nationalist parties would have virtually no support if their vote was averaged out across the UK. At the same time, they can get MPs because their support is concentrated in a few constituencies.

    Meanwhile, the LibDems have substantial support across the UK, but in most areas it isn’t high enough for them to win a seat.

    I think this is more unfair than the lack of proportionality. I agree that a system which is too proportional doesn’t work very well. Just for pragmatic reasons, we should avoid creating a system like Israel’s, where parties almost never get a workable majority. On the other hand, I do think it’s wrong for the voting system to be biased in favour of local parties. A vote should be a vote, regardless of where in the country it is cast.

  26. Adam Collyer
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Quite so, John. You might also have added that PR tends to give the balance of power, and hence power much greater than its support warrants, to the smallest major party.

    You can easily foresee a situation where the Tories with 40% of the vote are the largest party, where Labour are on 30%, but the Lib Dems on 20% have the actual say on which party forms a government. (Hence why they favour PR of course.) And of course they would plump for Labour. (Hence why Brown is now considering PR.) So the Lib Dems on 20% would be in government, and the Tories on 40% would be in opposition. I suppose that’s why they call it a “fair voting system”.

  27. Paul
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    One very simple way to make politics more accountable to the people.

    Seperate votes for executive and legislature.

    Elect a PM and cabinet directly

    Elect constituency representative in a seperate election

  28. Dr Bernard Juby
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Totally agree with both these posts.
    Brown should give us his manisfesto pledge of a vote on Lisbon and the major parties should address the issues worrying voters, including immigration, public overspending (with the rise in useless Quangos that that entails), etc., etc. That’s why the BNP have done so well. Wake up Cameron and harden up your policies sooner rather than later! For a start don’t let Brussells grab the City business.

  29. adam
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Its what the EU want, thats enough.
    I suppose its just coincidence politicians are discussing a written constitution at the very same time we are passing the EU constitution.
    I wonder if Britain’s written constitution will have anything British in it at all.
    At the select committee on the ‘British Bill of Rights,’ Ken Clarke frankly admitted that it was just a rebranding of the EU Human Rights to appeal to the British people as the EU rights had a reputation as a charter for criminals.

  30. Publius
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Let us start, Mr Brown, with a vote on the Lisbon Treaty.

    Then let us, not Brussels, get to decide our own laws.

  31. SJB
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Damid Cameron’s tutor has endorsed the following pamphlet: http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/downloads/PRMyths.pdf

  32. Thomas Widmann
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Although I agree there are problems with many versions of PR, especially when the parties decide themselves who will get in, I do believe there are other versions of PR that are fairer than the current system.
    Take for instance the Danish system (disclaimer: I’m Danish, but I’m living in Scotland):
    Constituencies have multiple MPs, typically about 10. People vote for a candidate, not a party, but each party put a list of candidates on the ballot paper, not just one (again, typically 10 candidates per party).
    First the votes are counted per party, and this determines the number of MPs (using the same method as for the European Elections in the UK).
    But then, instead of having party lists deciding who gets in, the candidate with the most votes within a given party gets the first seat, and so on. Although it’s normally the case that the highest-placed candidate gets the most votes, it frequently happens that another candidate gets more votes and thus gets the seat.
    Given that the constituencies have multiple MPs, people have a choice of which MP they want to contact about local problems.
    The main drawback of this system is the size of ballot papers (typically between 2 and 4 ft long), but it’s definitely a system that people like in Denmark — there are never any proposals to change it.
    Couldn’t something like this work in the UK, too?

  33. FatBigot
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    In their 1997 manifesto Labour said they were committed to a referendum on the voting system and that they would set up a commission to investigate proportional alternatives to FPTP.

    The Jenkins Committee then reported and their 2001 manifesto said they would consider the effect of the voting systems for the Scotland, Wales and London assemblies: “to assess whether changes might be made to the electoral system for the House of Commons”.

    Four years later, their manifesto for the last general election merely repeated that they would review how the non-FPTP systems operated.

    Electoral reform was only their plan in 1997, no doubt to woo some voters who might otherwise be seduced by the LibDems. Having got into power the issue was moved firmly to the back burner where it has remained for 12 years. Only now, when they feel power slipping from their grasp, is it resurrected with a view to something being rushed through in the last months of a stale Parliament. That is no way to deal with a major constitutional change.

    To try to tack it onto the expenses/allowances scandal is utterly disingenuous and merely seeks to divert attention from the wrongdoing of individual MPs by blaming the system under which they were elected. It is both logically and morally absurd.

  34. figurewizard
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    I never dreamt that I would see the day that I would find myself nodding in agreement at the wisdom of the general secretary of a leading trade union. Watching Tony Woodly of Unite on last night’s Newsnight that is exactly what happened.

    As others spoke of the virtues of changing our electoral options; analysing at length the respective merits of the various potential alternatives and describing how people are focused on the need for ‘reform’, Mr. Woodly began to slowly shake his head. He then made the point that people are not concerned with any of it, going on to say that what really matters to them is jobs, mortgages, their concerns for the future and dodgy MPs.

    Down to earth and jargon free he made more sense in two minutes last night than I have heard from Brown and his cabinet put together over the last six weeks.

    Mr. Woodley’s union is the Labour party’s biggest paymaster.

  35. Graham Doll
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Brown’s megalomania threatens to turn this country into a banana republic. He knows he can’t win in a square fight so he’s changing the rules. He has no respect for the democratic process and is using the carrot of electoral reform to stem the revolt of those Labour MPs in seats under threat. As usual with this pig-headed Prime Minister, naked self-ambition is all.

  36. William H
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    I have voted in Northern Ireland (North Down) all my adult life, so I am very familiar with PR, particularly the Single Transferable Vote. I used to promote it, and it is a preferable system in the unusual situation of Northern Ireland.

    I am not in favour of PR for Westminster. However, it should be opposed in accurate terms. In the last Assembly election, I voted Conservative first, even though I knew he wouldn’t be elected. When the Tory was eliminated, my vote was unused, so my second preference (Ulster Unionist) came into force. I still had only one vote.

    The system used in Scotland and Wales allows some people’s votes to count twice. I may vote Conservative in a safe seat. My candidate gets elected, so that should be the end of it. But no, I have a second vote for the region. If I vote Conservative again, it won’t count for much (as the Tory won the seat), but if I voted for another party (whose policies may not differ very much), it would have full force.

    The Euro election shows that PR can make a government less pallitible to those who didn’t vote for it rather than one-party government. If the pattern were repeated at Westminster, a likely outcome under PR would be a Conservative/UKIP coalition (incidentally with a majority from 40% of the vote – 50% is NOT required in practice). This would lead policy further away from Labour and the LibDems, who form the bulk of the rest of the voters.

    With PR, we may get better trees, but the resulting wood is far from perfect.

  37. Demetrius
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Could it be that someone close to No. 10 has actually looked at some history. The Liberals went from being all powerful in 1906 to being relegated to a minor parliamentary group by the late 1920’s. The first past the post system meant that although polling a fair percentage of the vote, it slipped below the critical level to give them a proportionate number of seats in the Commons. Labour are coming close to that figure, if they are not already there. The difference this time is that neither the Liberal Democrats, nor any other single group have the depth or the resources that the Labour Party had in the 1920’s. Quite what will happen is the great unknown. To borrow from the saying of the 1860’s, when a major franchise reform was passed, anything will be a “leap in the dark”.

  38. Matt
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    Proportional systems do have drawbacks but so does our current system.

    The link between constituency and local member is not automatically lost with STV.

    The argument relating to list candidates and party power is irrelevant as parties already have complete control – currently there are hundreds of seats where the incumbent party could put an idiot forward and they would be elected. Very few people seem to vote for the individual and few MPs are immune to the whip.

    I don’t want a referendum on anything – we elected a parliament to do this job why should I now do it for it?

  39. Brian E
    Posted June 10, 2009 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    It would be more to the point if the voting system and parliament were changed so as to ensure that the inhabitants of England had fair representation – either the Scots and Welsh MPs must be stopped from voting on English matters, or we must have an English parliament with similar powers to the Scottish parliament.

    And as for proportional representation – if it is of the type we have for the Euro elections, I would very much be tempted to stand as a pro capital and corporeal punishment candidate – I suspect I could attract as many votes as the BNP.

  40. Phil Magrin
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    I currently reside in Australia where they have the AV voting system for the House of Representatives, equivalent of the House of Commons.

    This system causes many of the problems seen in PR. Parties do back room deals to exchange preferences in various seats. These are then put down on ‘How to vote cards’ given out at polling stations.

    Also you can get situations like in the 2004 election when Pauline Hanson won vast majority of the first preference votes in the seat she was contesting. She had a majority of over 10% more than her nearest rival and was just shy of winning it outright. Every other candidate put her as their last preference leading to her losing to a candidate who came third in the first preference votes.

  41. pipesmoker
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    “There is a rumour they might at last scrap ID cards – bring on the day.”

    That maybe so as they are making noises about backing out of the privatisation of the Post Office we both know that in the long term that it will only be a temporary respite.

    EU officials are waiting, whilst plotting, for the Lisbon Treaty to come into effect to give them the powers they need for Europe’s justice ministers to hold talks on domestic security policy, The Stockholm programme” and enable them to create European identity card registers and Westminster will be powerless to stop them.

    It’s all sadly so predictable!

  42. Neil Craig
    Posted June 11, 2009 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Demetrius the early 20thC elimination of the Liberals is an indication of 1 way in which FPTP not PR encourages “extremes”. Where the outsider is concentrated geographicaly they can still win seats. Thus Labour can afford to go down to 20% & still get far more seats than the LudDims because their vote is concentrated. This is an inherent bias in the system against groups who have widespread support & thus I submit damaging to the whole body politic. It gives the illusion that the country is divided “from Wash to Severn” with Tories to the south & Labour to the north when there are actually not many % points between them. It gives the illusion, not least to the Scots themselves, that all Scots are socialist when on issues they average only about 3% more to the left & it gives separatists a base which looks stronger than that of other protest groups.

  43. Adrian Peirson
    Posted June 13, 2009 at 4:31 am | Permalink

    Whatever Brown says he is doing it for, he is commited to the EU Project, it is all doublespeak.
    Besides which, all this talk of what voting system we should use is rather Mute, in 30 yrs.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-3X5hIFXYU

  44. John Wrake
    Posted June 15, 2009 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    When will intelligent bloggers stop being distracted from the reality of modern English politics. Talk about voting systems are a waste of time and energy. All three major(?) political parties at Westminster have now made it clear that they want the European Union to govern this country.

    A Conservative Party without a commitment to take us out of the Union is no better than the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties which are in favour of establishing EU control over this country.

    All three parties continue to act contrary to the English Constitution and until the electorate wake up to the fact of this massive act of treason, fiddling with voting procedures or referenda on this or that will do nothing to restore the freedom of individual lawful citizens which is being stolen from us.

    I was born free, the birthright of every Englishman, the gift of my ancestors under God and not the gift of any government. Members of my family and countless others from freedom-loving peoples across the world died to preserve that freedom between 1939 and 1945.

    That freedom will not be taken from me without a fight and I know that I am not alone.

    When will politicians of any or all parties begin to understand what their folly has roused.

  45. John Wrake
    Posted June 15, 2009 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    I see that my previous comment is “awaiting moderation”. Does that mean that it is being censored?

    I am not aware that my comment included anything other that a statement of verifiable fact about party policy, the history of this country and the attitude of many to current events, openly expressed.

    Should I have erred, I hope that someone will publicly explain.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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