From broken Parliament to muddled Parliament?

Now the polls say the electorate is split three ways the BBC and the fashionable commentators of the media are out and about saying it’s proof we need a new voting system. We should be nervous about such advice, given its provenance.

First past the post has several advantages.

The first is each area has an individual MP who feels very accountable to that group of voters. The reason most MPs work long and anti social hours and at week-ends, unlike most of the public sector, is they wish to respond to the demands of their constituents. They know their constituents can sack them if they do not do a good job. Any system of voting which breaks the link between constituency and individual member will undermine that accountability and the service that comes from it.

The related point is that each town or rural area has an MP voice in Parliament, with a duty to speak up for them, and to act as an adviser and arbitrator in local matters. Any proportional system that relies on a national list to select MPs would lose both these characteristics of the current system.

The third point is First Past the Post gives an MP more independence against the party whips and national party than a list system. When I decided to resign from a Conservative government as part of my campaigns to save the pound and to lower taxes I checked first with my local party bosses who were supportive. They were the people who had the power to back me or sack me. If I had needed the support of the national party to remain as an MP and to become a Conservative candidate again, resignation may well have ended my campaign as it could have ended my time as an MP. The national party need not take a rebel seriously if they can sack him.

The fourth point is that First past the post usually results in a majority party, which allows a government to be formed which has the power to stick to the manifesto it offered the people. PR systems usually prevent any one party having a majority. This means that all parties immediately the election result is known have to dump their promises to the electorate and get down to bargaining with each other, usually behind closed doors, to cobble together a government and a programme which might survive.This tends to exclude the electorate and makes people more cynical about politics and politicians, as people do not get what they voted for from any of them.

What some dislike about First past the post is MPs and candidates with strong views have to compromise with others to form an overall party position. Some see this as weak or dishonest. Others see this is the necessary compromises needed to run a civilised democracy, where voters disagree about what they want.The upside is it avoids extremists being elected to Parliament – the UK Parliamentary electorate does not elect BNP or Communist MPs. Sensible people recognise that all the main parties in our system are coalitions with argument within the parties about how far the common position should go in different directions.

At the moment people with very strong views have three choices in the UK. They can join a main party most likely to be sympathetic to their cause and fight for it from within. They can join a fringe party that mainly figths on a single issue to keep that issue alive in public debate, in the knowledge they are unlikely ever to get an MP elected. Or they can join or form a protest group and lobby institution, rasing money to keep the issue alive and to promote it. There is a role for all three.

Under PR the same is true, but the balance of advantage different. There is more point in joining or forming new parties, as they can get someone elected. There is less point influencing a main party, as each of the main parties is less likely to form a majority government able to do things. It may be easier to influence a main party by having MPs in a hung Parliament.

There are pluses and minuses to each system. I am far from happy that the First Past the Post system has stopped the Eurosceptic majority getting what it wants for the last 13 years. I did not enjoy losing the votes against Nice, Amsterdam and Lisbon each time, when I knew my party’s votes were the view of the majority of the Brtish people. There is absolutely no evidence that a PR system would deliver us strong government, or government that wanted to do what the public wants.

Promoted by Christine Hill on behalf of John Redwood, both of 30 Rose Street Wokingham RG40 1XU

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53 Comments

  1. Mike Stallard
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Very,very well said!
    You only have to look at the pathetic little gobbets that come from the EU parliament when Dan Hannan sends in a video of a carefully prepared speech to see that PR can produce a parliament where nobody turns up ever – although, of course, they are there promptly to collect their attendance fees!
    It is always very sad to see him standing there alone speaking to thin air.
    But then, I suppose the same is/was true of the Rotten Parliament that has just ended!
    A fish rots from the head……

    • Ian Pennell
      Posted April 21, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      FROM: Ian Pennell, Nenthall,
      ALSTON, Cumbria . CA9 3LQ

      21st April 2010

      Dear Sir John Redwood

      After last week’s performance by our Leader, Sir David Cameron, a Hung Parliament, or worse, a Lib-Lab Pact (as in the late 1970s) seems increasingly likely. Britain’s economy was in a mess for the duration of the last Hung Parliament and the last Lib-Lab Pact in Government, that is reason enough to ensure that we get into power with a clear mandate. Both Labour and the Lib Dems want to abolish First Past The Post, which would not actually make the system fairer. It would make the Electoral System even more biased in favour of Labour. It could mean the Conservatives continue to stay out of office for a very long time, and it is one other reason why David Cameron MUST win in the coming debates!

      Indeed, as a Member of the Conservative Party I am now very concerned about the fall in our Poll Lead following Nick Clegg’s strong performance in the first TV Debate. It is abundantly clear that how Sir David Cameron performs in these, particularly the last one which will be on the BBC (pulling in most viewers) and which willl be on the economy, will be decisive in the General Election outcome. No amount of advertising, speeches and last-minute good policies will help us win if Sir David Cameron allows the Socialists to wipe the floor with him; though its not too late to use the “Bumper Book of Government Waste”, identifying £100 billion of savings to public expenditure without hitting front-line services, to free up £100 billion to fund tax cuts for the many, for wealth-creation and to show how debts would be repaid; this would give the Conservatives stronger appeal to many people.

      The most important thing is for Sir David Cameron to really swot up on the economy and economic principles in the next few days, did he get the book from the TPA about how to cut spending yet win the Election that I sent him? He might want to read the section on their recommendations for £50 billion cuts to Government Waste, they will really help him show Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and the voters watching on television that our plans to cut waste to pay for tax cuts and to pay down Britain ‘s huge national debts are indeed credible and won’t hit frontline services. Also, Sir David Cameron must take along the Laffer Curve that I sent him, use that to rebuff Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg in their assertions that tax cuts actually mean cuts to Treasury revenues and thus cuts to vital services. Indeed, we must expect him to deploy those weapons to the full, to show how it is that Conservatives have the best ideas for getting Britain out of recession and paying down debts. We must expect him to explain that like anyone in debt, the country must start paying it back sooner rather than later because it will hurt a lot more if we delay and have to pay back the big wump with lots of interest added (that is likely to hurt our economy more in the long run- DAVID CAMERON MUST EXPLAIN THAT!), use that argument to tear into both Labour and Lib Dem assertions that starting to pay down debts now would damage Britain.

      Sir David Cameron will need clear answers for when Gordon Brown asserts the Conservatives will be cutting vital front-line funding for public services. He will need to show the voters in the studio and watching on TV why Gordon Brown’s claims are poppycock. David Cameron must tell the voters about all the quangos, the silly Every Child A Reader, September Guarantee programmes, to demonstrate the fact that yes, we could find £6 billion waste (and a whole lot more); money that should be used for the more urgent task of getting us out of debt. Again, we must expect him, as will plenty of other Conservatives frustrated at his performance last Thursday, to use these weapons to the full.

      You must get our Leader to give it some welly. He must ATTACK Gordon Brown over his record, ATTACK both Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg over wanting to join the euro and getting Britain subsumed even further into the rapidly-forming EUSSR, ATTACK the Liberal Democrats over plans to have 50000 plus violent criminals remain on our streets. In short, Sir, in the next two TV Debates we must strongly prevail upon Sir David Cameron to really GIVE IT SOME WELLY!!

      He must not let us down. If David Cameron performs badly and Gordon Brown wipes the floor with him many of us Conservatives will not forgive him if we lose the Election and Gordon Brown’s silly smile beams from No 10 Downing Street the day after 6th May. Please bear down on him, prevail upon our Leader that FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION!

      I will really be praying and trusting you will really do your utmost to get Sir David Cameron to trounce the two Socialists. THIS COUNTRY NEEDS A CONSERVATIVE GOVERNMENT because if the Socialists get back in (either the Red or the Yellow/Orange variety) this country will be toast!

      It is this serious, the very future of our country, whether we as a nation go bust or get completely subsumed into the European Union DEPENDS upon David Cameron’s good performance in the last two leadership debates…HE MUST NOT LET US (OR THIS COUNTRY) DOWN!

      All the Best Regards.

      Ian Pennell

  2. Ian B
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    The debate about how to elect MPs misses the point. The fundamental problem with our system- which the USA, notably, deliberately designed its political sytem to avoid- is having the Executive in Parliament. Yes, we know that there is a fiction that the Queen is the executive and the ministers are just advisors, but that stopped being true centuries ago.

    If you want constituencies to have their own MPs, great. But that should not decide who the Executive are. In order to vote for Cameron, I must vote for a particular local representative, the Conservative one, even if he might be a total idiot. And, because the Executive is automatically the leader with a majority of friends in Parliament- who are dependent on him for patronage- the Parliament cannot act as a check on that Leader, which was the entire original purpose of it being set up back in the ancient days when the monarch really was the lawmaker. There was, back then, a separation of powers. There is no longer any separation of powers. All we have now is an unchecked dictatorship.

    So what system we use to get the wrong result, it just doesn't matter. The whole system is fundamentally broken and always has been. It only used to work a bit in the past because of a vague idea of restraint and duty among the political class, which has now almost entirely disappeared.

    The governance of this country- well, EU province, but let's pretend- is a ramshackle mess. We deserve something better.

    • Acorn
      Posted April 21, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      Hooray!!!, I have got a seconder at last on this site. Get the executive out of the legislature. Some may remember that I occasionally mention this; see my previous posts.

      Sorry JR, your prose today does not convince me, our system is fundamentally buggered; passed its sell buy date; a Norwegian Blue (as per the Dead Parrot Sketch).

      New Zealand went through the same disillusionment with politicians and parliaments a few decades back. They changed to MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) after thinking about STV for a few decades. They have done the test runs and data analysis for us. They have Citizen Initiative Referendums as well.
      http://www.elections.org.nz/voting/mmp/history-mm

  3. Simon D
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    You mentioned a 'government that wanted to do what the public wants'.

    The problem is that we are governed by a left-liberal elite that despises the public, thinks it can't be trusted and wishes to do the opposite of what the public wants.

    Wait and see what happens when the hung Parliament, Mr. Clegg and Mr. Cable want to take us into the Euro. They will have to call a referendum about it and the public will defeat them.

    • James Morrison
      Posted April 21, 2010 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      …..or they will do as Labour did with Lisbon, and find some excuse or technicality to deny us a vote.

      • Paul from MK UK
        Posted April 21, 2010 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

        … and if any referndum were called for, would it really be beyond the bounds of possibility that a self-modifying treaty – such as the Lisbon Treaty- would have already given the government in Brussels the authority to tell the provincial government of Westminster that a referendum is simply not allowed?

  4. Norman
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    From a selfish point of view I like the FPTP system as it ensures a Conservative government with no majority of the vote. From a democratic point of view I'm not so sure. I live in a solid SNP majority seat and I do engage people and try and get them to vote Conservative but most shrug their shoulders and say 'What's the point' and so don't engage in politics. As for campaigning within the Party, it's hard enough to get people to vote once every 4-5 years, there is no appetite in most people to actively engage in politics as a part time job. So they're disenfranchised.

    Let's say the Conservatives win this election with 38% of the vote. Going on the record of Labour the last 13 years (and you can argue that things would be different under the Conservatives which is neither here nor there) then this ensures that a Conservative government can dictate policy when 62% of the population don't want them to be the government. This can't be right, surely? It's even worse when you consider the position of Labour and their advantageous position re vote/seat distribution.

    As for saying 'It keeps out extremist parties' that may be true but unfortunately (from your POV) politicans can't tell people who to vote for and what they should believe. It's my opinion that if enough people believe in something their views should be represented, however much you disagree with it.

    I quite like the Euro style vote, where you still have a FPTP with all the advantages a local, accountable MP gives, but people in a safe seat still have a reason to vote.

    • Mark
      Posted April 21, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      I look at it this way: if 38% of a 70% turnout voted conservative, then the 30% who don't vote are saying they have no objection, and therefore the overall vote is 38% of 70% + 30%, or 56.6% – a majority.

  5. Mick Anderson
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    A good article, but you have not mentioned the effective disenfranchising of the electorate in a safe seat. I understand that in Mr Blairs landslide of 1997, only one seat in seven changed hands. It means that effectively only 15% of those who voted had made a difference.

    More recently, at the last election, more people declined to vote than cast a vote for the party that claimed a victory.

    FPTP is probably more effective than AV or PR at selecting a strong government than the other systems being offered, but is that at the cost of having a large percentage of the electorate ignored? Just because a party can claim a large "majority" does not mean they carry the bulk of the voters with them.

    There are also other issues. I like the idea that the MP is responsible for a local area. Unfortunately the Tory MP for my constituancy appears to be more interested in his (shadow) ministerial career. When I challenged him about this, he said "The country needs someone to run it". Sorry, but that is not an answer to encourage me to support him. This is a safe seat, so no matter how badly we are served by an absent MP, we have no real recourse. Even the proposals for recall won't help that, unless he is caught breaking some seriously lax rules.

    So, what is the best electoral system? It's the one that gives me the result that I want, which is proper representation of my hopes and needs. Just now, that's not FPTP, or any of the others being offered.

    • Stuart Fairney
      Posted April 22, 2010 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      “The country needs someone to run it” In fact it probably doesn't. All we really need is for all the complex taxes and pettyfogging regulations to be swept away.

      • alan jutson
        Posted April 22, 2010 at 9:40 am | Permalink

        Stuart
        Agreed.
        Politicians biggest failure. They want to micro manage everything, when many of them know nothing about the institution they are trying to micro manage.

  6. Pauper
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Good to see you raise the vital constitutional point of MPs' independence from party pressure. I thought that had been completely forgotten over the past few years. I've always rather liked the idea of MPs being paid by their constituencies, not by HMG, and negotiating with their own voters before election on just what they'll do the job for. After all, an MP's essential role is to speak to government on behalf of the people, and to have him in the government's pocket from the start is simply absurd.

    I fear that PR will lead to state funding of parties. But so odd is the political arithmetic we're seeing these days (ie Labour may yet get most seats with least votes) that first-past-the-post may become simply indefensible.

  7. Robert George
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I live in Sydney New South Wales 50% of the time. NSW has a transferable preferance system. One numbers each candidate in order of preference. Candidate with the least 1's is eliminated first and their second preferences counted…and so on. The result is that Labor have won the lower house for 32 of the last 36 years but they rarely have a majority in the upper house. Therefore they always form the government but always have the upper house as an excuse not to deliver their promises.

    In addition the results are so inevitable poor quality candidates are attracted and the government is riddled with corruption.

    PR and Transferable preference are no panacea.

  8. lola
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    IMHO the First Past the Post system is analgous to positive and negative freedom. Just as negative freedom – 'I am a free man, all you can do is try to enslave me', compares to postive freedom – 'Follow me I'll make you free', – the point of the FPTP voting system is not that it ensures a 'fair' election, it is that it ensures that the electorate can hurl out of power someone or some party that they heartily dislike. All, but all, PR systems that I have seen result in the same faces being re-elected every time ending up in a government consisting of re-arranged deckchairs, with the majority of MP's marginally less useful than a deckchair.

    • Martyn
      Posted April 21, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

      Well put and I do so agree with your sentiments.
      I want to able to cast my vote for a named, known individual candidate in local and general elections. Regardless of the claimed benefits of PR and other voting systems, any system that transfers my vote to elect someone I might not even have heard of is patently undemocratic and my only way of protesting against that would be to not vote at all – it is my vote and it is not for someone else to decide how it should be used to suit a particular party or politician.
      When politicians start talking about changing the voting system it is clear to me that they are thinking only about their own power-base and not that of democracy or the good of the nation as a whole and least of all about voters interests. Just look at what Blair and Prescott did in breaking England down into regions; rejected by a referendum in the North, Labour simply ignored the voters and carried on broadening their power base with a large number of undemocratic quangos dependant on the party for survival.
      The electorate is not, as too many politicians obviously think stupid or uncaring, but why should anyone bother to vote when it is so clear that governments need only pay lip service to democracy and then ignore the wishes of the electorate?
      Would PR change that? I think not.

  9. Jonathan
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    I would say our system could be improved on by having Primaries; we could then have local candidates that we support rather than just having a Conservative, Labour or Liberal candidate because we support the party they represent. This would mean that the system of whips would need to be diluted, recall votes implemented and the Primaries set up so we can have candidates that reflect local views; if that is a right leaning Labour or left leaning Tory candidate so be it. If they end up after 5 years not supporting our views we can still choose someone in the local party who does reflect those views without having to support a party we detest.

  10. THE ESSEX GIRLS
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    What seems sad to us is that the contributions of our friends and colleagues, THE ESSEX BOYS, were ignored and drew no response from head-in-the-sand Tory HQ and 50 senior MPs directly contacted on several occasions.
    Damned rude as well as poor judgement given all that has happened since the boys last bothered to blog on March 11th, 12th & 14th.

    The Conservative campaign and the debates have been crying out for their man-in-the-street approach with relevant, memorable slogans and a tone to connect with real voters.
    ‘The Big Society’…what the hell is THAT all about?

    It’s possibly too late now to follow the advice given by our colleagues here and in letters to Tory leaders and MPs over many months.
    It’s the general tone, not the detailed policies, that connects with most voters.

    What SHOULD that tone embrace and just what should David Cameron and the Conservatives stand for?

    We maintain “COMMON SENSE & COMPETENCE”
    It’s something demonstrably lacking in impractical and incompetent Labour’s record on virtually any topic debated and they would find impossible to counter. What’s more so many of ‘The Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden’ Lib-Dem policies fly in the face of common sense after scrutiny so neither could they.
    Every issue could have been sheeted back to our proposed Tory stance and slogan (read Ben McIntyre on Page 17 of yesterday’s Times on the slogans that are NOT working) and it could have sealed the Cameron deal before Clegg emerged as a real threat.
    The ESSEX BOYS also advised HQ to pick up Boris’ Manchester headline slogan and pledge to “CUT THE NONSENSE”.

    We hope that on May 7th we Girls, and Boys, from down-to-earth Essex are not saying we told you so but we make no apologies for reproducing below THE ESSEX BOYS last blogs before they packed their bags and turned out the lights 6 weeks ago!

    ***********************************************

    THE ESSEX BOYS – March 11th, 2010 at 9:48 pm
    THE TORY PROPOSALS

    These are pap. The worst of New Labour speak and amateur psycho-babble. No professional communicator has had a hand in this meaningless nonsense which has no doubt been produced by a committee of earnest, inexperienced young people of the kind that Labour openly and regularly derides.
    Oh dear…just listen to the dross…
    * Back aspiration and opportunity
    * Backing those who do the right thing
    * Change society
    * Encouraging responsibility
    * Give people more power and control
    Do you get our drift?

    NOW…WHAT TO DO AND SAY.
    At this state of play in the polls it’s not enough to deride Brown or to rely on his losing just because it’s him. David Cameron is not flavour of the month himself. He must be clear, concise and he must attack. Also he’s simply not good enough to be a one-man band. He must incorporate on all advertising material a montage of him and solid and respected William Hague in the foreground and Clarke and, semi-reluctantly, Osborne behind him. They are a team. Brown is the one-man band.
    We have reviewed all the proposed messages and slogans we have posted here in the last 12 months and put them into a campaign.
    THE CORE MESSAGE IS:

    VOTE CONSERVATIVE and help us CUT THE NONSENSE.
    * Debt * Waste * Immigration * Red tape * Blunders & Lies
    THE CONSERVATIVES
    Common Sense & Competence

    There are 3 sub-messages to run in unison and rotation.
    1. CUTTING OUR CLOTH TO FIT OUR BUDGET
    2. WE WILL RUN YOUR GOVERNMENT. YOU RUN YOUR OWN LIFE.
    3. IT’S NOT JUST WHAT YOU SPEND. IT’S THE WAY THAT YOU SPEND IT. THAT’S WHAT GETS RESULTS!

    To supplement this we posted on 2nd March 6 far more relevant and hard-hitting Manifesto pledges which we will post again in the next day or 2. (Note from Essex Girls: these will be re-blogged to this site on 22nd April)
    We CARE. we have grandchildren we love. We don’t want to throw this election away. We must not have 5 more years of hard Labour and Gordon Brown.
    MR CAMERON. BE BOLD.

    *********************************************

    THE ESSEX BOYS on 12 Mar 2010 at 12:35 am

    Having now read all 75 comments – as at midnight – we see we’re far from alone in disparaging what is hopefully Tory High Command’s first draft!
    We can imagine the horror of our site author when confronted by this nonsense and thank him for bringing it to our attention.
    If friends of the party are this damning who needs Labour enemies?
    Please can we be told how our collective views are to be brought to the attention of HQ. Failing that I suggest that we all email camerond@parliament.uk and make a major fuss until he changes his tune.
    Does he really think that psycho-babble plus Samantha on the telly is the answer?

    **************************************************

    THE ESSEX BOYS on 14 Mar 2010 at 7:46 am

    JOHN REDWOOD: “Many will find that their concerns are covered in policy statements, available on the Conservative official website.”
    We doubt this will cut much ice with the 10% of voters we need most to influence.
    However, we’ve tried – and tried hard – in the past 2 years and we wish you all well. 5 more years of Labour is too much to bear!

    *************************************************
    Apologies for the length of this contribution but, as mums and grandmas, WE also care very much.
    Best wishes to the site Author JR who has and is fighting a good, if sometimes academic fight and to all contributors!

    THE ESSEX GIRLS – 21ST APRIL 2010

    • Stuart Fairney
      Posted April 22, 2010 at 8:08 am | Permalink

      Yes indeed

      * Back aspiration and opportunity
      * Backing those who do the right thing
      * Change society
      * Encouraging responsibility
      * Give people more power and control

      Empty, meaningless crap. If you want to see if a policy has any meaning, see if you could oppose it. For example "We will withdraw from Afghanistan inside two years" rightly or wrongly has meaning because you can argue for the opposite, but who could oppose the above wish list? Now if they were tories not statist social democrats….

      1. Reduce the overall tax take by 10% a year, each year
      2. Cut spending 10% in all government except immediate combat related military forces
      3. Reduce the deficit and the national debt each year, deficit to be eliminated in three years and never again borrow
      4. Referendum on Lisbon as per cast iron promise
      5. No further immigration pre the construction of infrastructure to cope with it (ie roads, houses etc)
      6. Crash building of power stations to avoid power cuts
      7. Privatise all government banks ASAP

      Hey presto 40%+ within a week.

    • alan jutson
      Posted April 22, 2010 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      Agreed
      Many recent headline proposals by the Conservatives are good to get you off to sleep.

      Anyone would think the old Labour saying "Crisis what Crisis" could be true now, such is the lack of focus on the real issues.

      We have all had our say on this one, but it seems the focus groups who seem to dream up these headlines do not get it. YET!!!!

    • Andrew Johnson
      Posted April 22, 2010 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      Essex Girls, you are the biz. I've been away in Australia and returned to find the election campaign has now become the real X factor – 90 minutes and all to play for and all other campaigning doesn't seem to matter.
      I can't believe how inept the Conservative campaign has been. The decline started when Mr. Cameron backed out of his cast iron promise to give the people a referendum on Lisbon and has gone downhill steadily since then.
      Bring on those clear and simple statements of what is needed and what Conservative policy is. (We do know that don't we?)
      Let's hope DC will break free from his minders, be himself, go for it and show some conviction, attitude and passion.
      Essex girls – keep those vote winning soundbites coming.
      Every Conservative actively involved in campaigning – for goodness sake use them!!!

    • a-tracy
      Posted April 22, 2010 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      It's not what you spend, it's the way that you spend it, that's what get results. Excellent, easy to remember all 3 of your sub-messages are in line with our thinking too. DC tried to get this over in the debate last week but it was too abstract for people I know.

      Great response.

  11. Richard
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    We are in this mess because we don't have a fair first-past-the -post system. Some (Conservative) constituencies have up to 100,000 electors and some (Labour) ones less than half that. My question is how on Earth the Conservatives have allowed this to happen – was this never discussed by the Conservative Cabinet in the 1990s? How much better it would have been to have put through legislation to ensure constituencies in general elections have always to have approx the same number of electors than tearing the Party apart over Europe!

    • Liz
      Posted April 21, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      This is absolutely spot on – another puzzle is why the Electoral Commission has tolerated this situation or is just another useless and complacent quango? This election could find them out.

  12. David Herr
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Just a thought from beyond the pond:

    Clegg/Brown coalition 2010 = John Redwood 2012

  13. backofanenvelope
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Our current system has got us into the current mess. We need to improve what we have to get us out of the mess and to avoid getting into another one.

    Didn't the Canadians in British Columbia have an assembly consisting of ordinary people selected by lot? They reviewed all the options and their conclusion was subjected to referendum.

  14. waramess
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Just goes to show how broken our system is and how it fails to properly represent us.

    Democracy has been ambushed by the whipping system which places party above country and distorts the wishes of the electorate.

    Just look at Lisbon as an example or, more interestingly at the Iraq war vote.

    The fact is we live in a system more presidential than the presidential system where the party will vote on the instructions of its leader or face the consequences of limited career potential for a very long time.

    I don't believe that changing the voting system will achieve very much but, abolishing the whipping system might.

    Why on earth should we bother with so many MP's if they all, to a man obey the strictures of a three line whip.

    Just manage with three or so party leaders and a bunch of civil servants to see through the EU regulations.

    • alan jutson
      Posted April 21, 2010 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

      waramess

      My thoughts entirely, as I posted yesterday.

    • A.Sedgwick
      Posted April 21, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

      Abolish political party whips, four year parliaments, no unelected PMs, replace Lords with PR elected Senate, halve number of Scotland's MPs(they are certainly not 24/7 constituency MPs) would encourage me to ignore the EU issue when voting.

  15. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Excellent. First past the post is best by a considerable distance.

    Historians will be fascinated as to the reasons why the Europhile tail wagged the Eurosceptic dog for so long. Partly, it has been because Eurosceptic opinion has included both left wingers and right wingers who would govern the country in very different ways. One of the reasons that we lost the 1975 referendum was that the sight of Enoch Powell and Barbara Castle sharing a platform was incongruous. In contrast the Europhile movement is considerably more uniform in its economic opinion, all spouting the same centrist or centre left rubbish. The fact that the Eurosceptic movement is now mainly Tory is a good thing (so why does Ken Clarke have so much influence?)

    We should also look within the Conservative Party. The people who select candidates are not themselves elected, they are selected by invitation. So who are the people most likely to volunteer and how are these kingmakers chosen? Is there something self perpetuating in the process?

  16. Boo
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    One thing to be said about FPTP is that you get a two party system where you can kick the failures out.
    Under PR we are likely to end up with a two party system, where the two parties (Lib-Lab) haggle over policy. Personally I prefer the ballot box over the backroom.

    That being said the current system could do with a tweek.

    The Primary trials, was an interesting experiment and could help in safe seats.

    Secondarily, using PR in the house of lords might work, providing they could delay and amend rather than block laws. Could provide a much need pause and debate when the FPTP throws up an exceptionally large majority.

  17. Neil Craig
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Your post desreves a reasoned answer & I hope this will do.

    On your 4 points:

    1) The top up system in use inScotland & Wales ensures there are local MSPs. The difference is that almost everybody has a representative for whom they actually voted as well. Inmost constituencies most people's "local represntative" is someone they voted against. Who can have confidence in that & indeed experience shows most people don't?

    2) An arbitor whith whose views most of us are in disagreement is no reliable arbitor.

    3) You are wrong about independence because the days when a local party could choose it's MP in the face of central disapproval are long gone. FPTP gives all the power to the holders of the party name – an MP who is refused the party nomination & stands on his own rarely wins & simplt splits the vote. PR allows voters to choose without that risk. This is not theoretical – in Scotland both Margo MacDonlad (SNP) & Denis Canavan (Lab) were denied party support, stood as independents, won & had real influence in the Scottish Parliament. I am quite sure that if it came to it, under PR you & a number of other Conservative MPs could do ther same & qually sure that under the present system you would lose & simply split the "right wing" vote.

    4) You are right that PR would mean a post election government would have to compromise between several parties. However, as you point out, all the parties are already a "compromise with others to form an overall party position. Some see this as weak or dishonest. Others see this is the necessary compromises needed to run a civilised democracy, where voters disagree about what they want". I agree with you that compromise is desirable, indeed that politics is art of compromising disagreements rather than fighting. However the difference is that under FPTP the compromises are all hammered out long before the election & then everybody shows the same bland face to the election giving them a choice only marginally better than Hobson's. Under PR the electors actually have some input into the compromise by being allowed to give more support to the faction holding one opinion (eg euroscepticism) than the other. As you acknowledge a multiparty PR system would be likely to adopt a Eurosceptic position. Indeed the more parties there were the less chance that they would be able to collude in such blatant fraud as promising a referendum on Lisbon & breaking it.

    A futher point is that while a winning party in Britain currently has the legal power to ride roughshod over popular opinion the fact that a non-coalition government has not since, I think, 1910 had the support of a majority of the people its power is, in practice not so absolute (thankfully).

    As regards your 3 choices under FPTP – joining a mainstream party & "working from within" cannot work when all policy is formed by the leader simply on his say so – for example the decision to reverse Tory policy on a referendum was clearly Cameron's alone & would never have been supported by the membership had they had a role. Working for a smaller partyb disenfranchises you equally.

    That leaves joining a special interest group & agitating in an extra-Parliamentary way. That has indeed been happening to an increasing extent & has shown some success. It is also highly destrucive of Parliamentary legitimacy & even more important deeply socially divisive & significantly destructive of the rule of law. It is also the inevitable result of having an electoral system which is so deeply corrupt that it is unable to represent ordinary people directly.

    Even if all of that were not true the fact that the the electorate's first choice is likely to place 3rd in seats & the 3rd choice to place 3rd in seats shows anybody who didn't believe it before that the entire systemmis both corrupt & unsustainable. The Conservatives should recognise this immediately & go for full PR rather than handing the issue to Brown on a plate.

  18. Matt
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Well said, but maybe the reason that we’re discussing this hypothesis is because the Conservative party are not engaging with the electorate.

    They’re pushing out a lot of vacuous nonsense such as.. “Speaking for the ignored……” and “Join us in government…..” “Big society…..”

    What does all of this mean? I would wager no one has any idea. These things mean nothing to voters.

    At least the Liberal Democrats do have some clear policies even if they are, in my view, barmy.

    It would seem to an observer that characters such as yourself, who hold and expound fairly strong views are kept out of the spotlight lest you re awaken the Europe debate.
    George Osborne has been all but invisible recently, but twice he has dug the Tories out of the doldrums with his inheritance tax and National Insurance stance.

    Mr Cameron comes across, to me, as too stage managed, too lacking in depth, too apologetic.

    An instance his views on the NHS – we will do the same only better, we will cut out waste…no one believes that baloney of waste anymore.

  19. HJ
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    "First Past The Post"?

    What is the post that candidates are trying to get past? A post is a fixed object and there is no requirement to exceed a fixed proportion of the votes – just to get more than any other individual candidate, however small a proportion of the total vote that may be.

    So our system is NOT "First Past The Post". The Alternative Vote (AV) system preserves the advantages of the current system compared to PR systems, but requires the winner to pass a "post" of 50% support, even if not all the 50% are first preference. AV at least prevents MPs being elected to whom the majority of the electorate are positively opposed.

  20. paul a
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    John,

    Perhaps you would care to explain how our current FPTP system works for me then.

    We have a candidate Tory who i disagree with on almost every issue locally. Do I vote form him? If I don't vote for him I may end up with a government that isn't to my liking.

    Sorry this is one of the few things I disagree with you on. Our system of "democracy" is appallling.

    The answer is simple in my view . We should have fixed 4 term governments which are directly elected based on one leader winning a majority of the votes. Then seperately and on a different timescale we should elect a constituency representative to represent local views and hold the executive to account.

    Democracy is really very simple if you truly believe in it.

  21. gac
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    This PR etc spin is a smokscreen Media'd up. Blair offered it in 1997 for Libdem 'support' when he thought he would not win enough seats then reneged on it when he got his clear majority.

    Meanwhile the Tories burn whilst Cameron offers change!

    Who was it said – nice guys come second?

  22. no one
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    you only have to look at the way immigration is the number 2 issue on the doorstep only to the economy and look at the libdems even more open doors policy than labour to see that the conservatives should be romping home, the fact that they are not shows big mistakes at the top of the conservative party

  23. BillyB
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    many years ago at university we used a system called Single Transferable Vote. Dead easy to understand,(but not to count) There was always a "candidate" called "Re-election" for when you didn't like any of the real candidates. Re-election won quite often!

    Still one MP per constituency, but no tactical voting required. Why not? Why aren't these options ever debated?

  24. Jonathan
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    John,

    You cant really blame FPTP for the failure of the majority eurosceptic opinion to materialize at Westminster – surely that is down to the main parties supporting (to a greater or lesser extent) the EU as both a reality and an idea.

  25. Rich
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    The Lib Dems seem to be doing well at the moment. But that's happened before.

    I hope to see the Conservatives defeated at the election. This would hopefully result in a split in the party with the EU-loving socialist big government types like Cameron merging with the Lib Dems and a real Conservative party emerging in the tradition of Thatcher and Tebbit.

  26. Mike Fowle
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Some interesting responses to a lucid analysis. I like the idea of FPTP, even if it means we have had a government with its own barmy agenda claiming to be democratically elected for the last dozen years. No doubt many would say the same about my views.

    The sort of horse trading and dealing behind closed doors that is so typical of Europe strikes me as intrinsically corrupt and unrepresentative of what people truly want.

    Certainly there is an argument to make the constituencies more balanced and representative (and say bye bye to Scotland?…)

  27. Kevin Peat
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    "The reason most MPs work long and anti social hours and at week-ends, unlike most of the public sector, is they wish to respond to the demands of their constituents."

    I have some sympathy. It is not a job that I would like to take on and, for what it's worth, I don't think that £60k is enough.

    Which demands do MPs listen to ? The loudest ? The ones that carry a threat of unrest if they are not listened to ? It does seem that Parliament is unresponsive to majority opinion on the most serious of issues. Voting seems totally pointless. FPTP is all very well but I think it's rendered Parliament unable (or unwilling) to satisfy the wishes of the majority who now feel disenfranchised.

    The country has become the wreck that majority opinion said it would over decades. We have become dangerously overloaded, overcrowded, over-leveraged, over-dependant, culturally fragmented and undemocratic. How can we be complacent about FPTP if this is where it has brought us ?

    It's not the best of a bad lot – it's been an *****ng disaster. It HAS failed. It IS broke. It needs fixing.

  28. The Great Ignored
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    "The upside is it [FPTP] avoids extremists being elected to Parliament"

    And herein lies the problem.

    Without the very real threat of extremism the Great Ignored can be ignored.

    I'm no extremist but what business is it of yours to stop me electing one if I want to. It seems that you have a paternalist attitude to democracy – that we are allowed to have it but only so long as you can supervise our choices. Why do you think you always know best ? Perhaps under another system you'd have all been more reactive to us.

  29. no one
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    we need something radical

    some ideas:

    1 you can only stand for a constinuency in which you were either born, have lived for a few years, work there, or have some other real life connection with the place

    2 candidates names on ballot paper do not have any party name next to them

    3 folk who have done nothing but work for the public sector or political parties are barred from standing to free up space for people who have a clue how the real world works

    4 non British nationals do not get the vote, there are now way too many folk here with residency who are nationals of other commonwealth countries distorting the votes, we after all cannot vote in their countries when Brits are resident there

    5 total number of elected representatives in the UK to be capped, so add all the councillors, scottish members, uk MP's, MEPs and so on all to be capped so that ever growing numbers are limited. the same way the USA stops the rank of general being watered down by strictly capping the number who can hold the rank constitutionally.

    6 any seat which has returned the same party for 3 or more consecutive elections has a random candidate selected

    er srap the whole nonsense and just become a dependancy of the USA and let them appoint a governor to rule us

    anything has to be better than the risk labour might get in again, thats not democracy, and frankly i wouldnt believe it if it happened, i would truely know we had become like zimbabwe

  30. Mark M
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    See, I still believe that the only way to improve on FPTP is to go to a single seat STV. This retains the constituency link (absolutely critical) but also brings benefits such as being able to incorporate primaries within the main vote without the risk of opposition spoiling it, allows people to express exactly their wishes (FPTP means that an unpopular party can sneak in if others 'split the vote').

    FPTP has many good aspects, but single seat constituency STV gives all those plus points and a load of extra ones.

  31. Tommy Atkins
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    I use to believe in FPTP – firm Government and all.

    However, as "Norman" states above, in about 500 constituencies there is little point in voting. The action is all in about 150 marginals, tops.

    As such, floating voters in marginal seats are the ONLY thing the big three parties are concerned with.

    The problem with this is that I find "floating voters" contemptible. They can't be too bright (otherwise they would have already made their mind up) and they are easily influenced by the media. Hence FPTP gives the media huge powers. The media has a soft-left agenda. It forces all three parties to crowd into what the media considers to be the centre ground (otherwise floating voters will be scared by the MSM about "extremism").

    PR replaces the power of the media with the power of ideas in The Commons. The "Big Tent" parties would probably fractonise under PR – The Conservatives into pro-Europe and anti-Europe, the Labour Party would split into at least 2 parties: one representing Islamic opinion in the UK and one left-of-centre politics. Possible another section joining the Lib-Dems who would probably also split.

    The point is all this would make politics far more interesting. 8-10% of MPs in the Commons could openly oppose immigration, without the need to pull their punches. Islamists would see their views aired in Parliament without the need to blow people up. Dog lovers could have their own party. The Ford Capri club could have an MP.

    Politics is about opinion, policies, ideas. Not about floating voters choosing the right bloody Show Pony on an "X-Factor" type TV debate.

  32. adam
    Posted April 22, 2010 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    "I want a majority, so obviously a hung parliament would be a bad thing for this country because I want a majority," Mr Brown said.
    http://www.politics.co.uk/news/general-election-2

    This from a man who supports PR

    • waramess
      Posted April 22, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink

      So now we know what Brown wants and we know what Ken Clarke wants, but who wants to know what we want.

      Well the answer seems to be Nick Clegg.

      Pity the Conservatives didn't think of that one.

  33. Mike Wilson
    Posted April 22, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    I imagine you'd sing from a different hymn sheet if you were a Liberal supporter. If 30% of the electorate vote Liberal this time and they still only get 100 seats then, clearly, we need a revolution.

    This idea of local representation is nonsensical. The people who run my local services are local councillors. The only local issues that might need my MP's voice in parliament would be, for example, the decision to run a motorway through the middle of the constituency.

    How often do you, Mr. Redwood, need to speak in Parliament on matters that, for example, affect the people of Wokingham in one way whereas that issue affects the people of Bracknell in a different way? Hardly ever, never? You vote on legislation that affects us all, where is the local representation in that? Sorry, it's nonsense and the only reason you espouse it is that it gives the Conservative party a chance to form a government now and then.

    Look what strong government has given us since, say, 1970 …

    3 day week, country held to ransom by Unions, winter of discontent, union bashing in the 80s, house price boom and bust (80s/90s), ERM debacle, two big recessions, loss of manufacturing, selling off of family silver, development of legislation mad, big brother obsessed, government, biggest debt in our history, progressive erosion of educational standards, mass immigration …

    Boy, if that's what strong government gives us, give me PR tomorrow. I'm praying for a hung parliament so I can, at last, say 'hang the Tories' and 'hang Labour'. Both congenitally useless.

    Reply: All the time I need to take matters up with government or the Council that are local not national.

    • Mike Wilson
      Posted April 23, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      Could you give us an example of what you have to take up with the government that affects us in the constituency you represent – that doesn't also affect other people in other constituences.

      I don't vote for my MP to have any say over my local council – my local council may be of one political persuasion, my MP of another. Why, other than representing your constituents as an advocate if they are in dispute with the council, would you involve yourself in the activities of the local council. I pay my council tax for them to empty my bins. If, for example, they fail to empty my bins, I don;t think you have any executive powers to compel them to – do you?

      There are already channels for complaint etc. Why are you involved?

      By all means let us have local representatives that canvass the proportionally representative legislature. But let us not have those local representatives forming an undemocratic legislature rendering appeals from local representatives not part of the ruling party as less likely of success.

      Perhaps the time has come for central government to get out of local government funding.

      Reply: Many electors do want the MP to sort out problems with the local Council. There is often overlap between the levels – e.g. planning problems in Wokingham are settled by the Council, but are subject to appeal to a Government Planning Inpsector. The plan itself has been a mixture of national and local, given the degree of this government's intervention in the planning process. I have often had to take up planning matters owing to the government's involvement, which are specific to Wokingham. I want to see a system with more devolved decision taking, but that will require a change of government.

  34. Martin
    Posted April 24, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    "The upside is it [FPTP] avoids extremists being elected to Parliament"

    And herein lies the problem.

    Without the very real threat of extremism the Great Ignored can be ignored.

    I'm no extremist but what business is it of yours to stop me electing one if I want to. It seems that you have a paternalist attitude to democracy – that we are allowed to have it but only so long as you can supervise our choices. Why do you think you always know best ? Perhaps under another system you'd have all been more reactive to us.

  35. Dave
    Posted April 25, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    … and if any referndum were called for, would it really be beyond the bounds of possibility that a self-modifying treaty – such as the Lisbon Treaty- would have already given the government in Brussels the authority to tell the provincial government of Westminster that a referendum is simply not allowed?

  36. Charles
    Posted April 27, 2010 at 4:23 am | Permalink

    Stuart
    Agreed.
    Politicians biggest failure. They want to micro manage everything, when many of them know nothing about the institution they are trying to micro manage.

  • 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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