Why should Lib Dems vote twice?

As David Cameron said, after 13 years in government and just a couple of months before a General Election, the Prime Minister has been miraculously converted to changing the voting system. All those doubts and disagreements with such changes which he used to harbour and deploy under Mr Blair have been overcome.

The AV system is inherently unfair. If you vote for one of the two most popular parties you only get to vote once. If you vote for a party that cannot win you effectively vote twice, as your second preference then helps decide which of the front runners has won. Why is this fair?

If I go to a horse or car race, I expect the car or horse that comes first to be the winner. I do not expect the judges to say that as the first and second were close they will ask the losers who they would like to win. Nor do we say that as it was close the first and second place have to run it again without the others to see if one is faster without the others getting in the way.

Don’t meddle with a tried and tested system which we can all understand. Conservatives didn’t complain about the voting system for all those years when it made our fairly poor voting performance even worse in terms of seats. That’s just being a bad loser.


  1. Brian Tomkinson
    February 9, 2010

    Did you notice that this was discussed on 'Today' this morning with the balanced panel of Benn, Huhne and Naughtie?!

  2. Thatcher-right
    February 9, 2010

    The system also reduces the cost of voting for extremist parties such as the BNP and the Greens, thereby making it easier for them to be elected to parliament.
    (This message is possibly duplicated due to a computer problem – sorry)

    1. ManicBeancounter
      February 9, 2010

      The other dubious aspect is that it gives extra weight for those who despise a lead candidate, whilst no extra weight to those who think a leading candidate far superior to any other.

      This is just in line with the cynical and negative politics that is damaging our political system. It is rather another bit of negative campaigning, thought up by the spin doctors. Why? Iain Dale (and others) have blogged that it is estimated Labour and the Lib-Dems would have been the gainers in 2005 from AV. But, like with taking over the banks, the spin doctors have not thought this one through. Since the last election, Labour have become the more despised party. They will continue to be so for years to come when people see the cost of reducing the debt. It could be that they are the net losers.

  3. A.Sedgwick
    February 9, 2010

    I agree with you that AV is flawed. There is a strong likelihood that many voters will just number down the page after their first vote.The French Presidential system is better where the the top two run off in a fresh vote later. It is not any solution to our massively flawed electoral system, which I won't elaborate on again apart from saying an answer is to replace the Lords with a USA style Senate, elected by PR, with powers to rein in a rogue government e.g. MP impeachment, enforce manifesto commitments and veto stupid legislation with a super majority.

    1. Mark
      February 9, 2010

      I've yet to hear a convincing method for electing the Lords. They all seem to assume that the job is to be like the Commons, and represent the country geographically, while having a PC distribution of women, ethnic minorities and LGBT. The role seems to be to have the debates that ought to happen in the Commons. Its role should be quite different: a revising chamber, a guardian of the constitution, a chamber where expertise in the art of legislation, and the subjects legislated upon are the key criteria for membership. In practice, we were much better served by the old hereditaries and life peers because they had those qualities. Of course, there have also been periods when this has been abused by gerrymandering and peerages for sale.

      1. TCD
        February 9, 2010

        I agree with Mark. Another elected chamber simply duplicates the Commons, which is too big
        as it is. The hereditary systems worked reasonably well, I think. I suggest some selection of
        'experts' from different fields like the law society, clergy, royal society, etc. could perform
        the revising/supervising role.

        1. alan jutson
          February 9, 2010


          Agree with your comments.

      2. A.Sedgwick
        February 9, 2010

        In response to yourself and Alan Wheatley – thank you firstly for your comments.

        There are nearly 800 peers, increasingly the most unsuitable people (in my view) are appointed. Do we need anything like this number – no. The PR used in the European elections resulted in probably the true party split in the country, but I accept the difficulties of such a split in the Commons. My suggestion is that a Senate would do what the Lords does with paid Senators 45 weeks a year, 5 days a week. Additionally with the superb check of the USA Senate a super majority could do as I suggested previously.

        1. Alan Wheatley
          February 11, 2010

          800 peers, of itself, it not a reason not to have them. That some are unsuitable should not so much count against those that are suitable as to have a better system for ensuring that those who are of merit are those who weld the power.

          I would like to keep peers in an upper house. I see ways of improving the rules as to those who are entitled to sit during any one parliament, but this is not really the place to lay out such a lengthy analysis.

    2. Alan Wheatley
      February 9, 2010

      One advantage of the peerage, especially the hereditary peering, is that those entitled are more likely to act independently than those dependent on submitting to the whip to maintain their position.

      Is there not widespread belief that election does not result in an ideal membership of the Commons, particularly a lack of independence? So why repeat the limitations of that system for the upper house?

  4. alan jutson
    February 9, 2010

    Self preservation is a wonderful thing, it keeps us alive in some very trying circumstances.

    But in other circumstances it is selfish.

    Our system needs some change as its not working at the moment, and has not been for some time.

    The change needed needs to be thought about long and hard, and needs to be fair to most. The current proposal seems just a tad loaded in Labours favour, what a surprise.

  5. Chris Goften
    February 9, 2010

    I agree, keep the existing system but with one addition to the voting choices – "None of the Above", That would allow people to register their disapproval of the candidates in a much more useful way than just not bothering to vote.

    1. Alan
      February 10, 2010

      An election isn't to decide which candidate is most popular. It is to select a person for a job that has to be filled. You can't have no one representing you in the Parliament.

      … Well, you could, but it would be pointless.

  6. Alan
    February 9, 2010

    Yes Alternative Vote is unfair, but it does not lead to corruption. First Past the Post is unfair and does lead to corruption. Systems that invite corruption should be abolished.

    I can tell you now who will win the coming election in my constituency. The result of the election is a foregone conclusion, unless death or gross misbehaviour intervene. I did not select my MP; he was selected by a group of people that I also do not know. If there is a clash between what that group wants and what the people who vote in the parliamentary election in this constituency want then the MP will have a hard choice. He may chose correctly or he may not, but my point is that no one should be put in that position. It leads to a small unelected group having disproportionate power.

    Too much of the UK political system is corrupt. We need to change it. Please do not support practices that make corruption easy. Abolish First Past the Post.

    1. APL
      February 9, 2010

      Alan: " I did not select my MP .. "

      Douglas Carswell has a solution to that problem. Constituency open primaries.

      We don't need to change the voting system just add open primaries and Carswell's other proposition, the ability to 'recall' your MP the two together would I think, address many concerns about the current system without actually changing the first past the post system.

      FPTP has the benefit of being a simple and transparent system.

      By the way, Douglas runs a good blog here:

      1. Adrian Peirson
        February 10, 2010

        Doug Carswell also talking about the fractional reserve Ponzi scheme and a return to sound money.
        See I told you I wasn't mad Mr Redwood.

        I have another Question, sound monetarists Like Ron Paul often state that Backing money with Gold keeps Govt in check because they cannot then print more money than they have Gold.
        Well of course they could provided thet kept it secret.

        My question then is, can ABSOLUTE Transparency and a better educated public in financial matters replace physical Gold in holding Govt in check.

        1. Stuart Fairney
          February 10, 2010

          I think Dr Paul would laugh at the suggestion he is a monetarist, by his own words a follower of the Austrian economic school

      2. Alan
        February 10, 2010

        I agree with you that open primaries would be a good idea, and would remove my argument against First Past the Post.

        I don't agree with being able to recall MPs, but that is getting a bit off the main topic.

    2. ManicBeancounter
      February 9, 2010


      It would be interesting to know how you derive your conclusion that FPTP is corrupt, but AV is not.
      I would contend that AV will not sort out any problems of corruption, such as those that exist, as they tend to exist in the safest seats. A more serious problem is one of MPs in safe seats not being answerable to the electorate leading to poor-performing sitting MPs not having any risks. It will only have an impact where no candidate wins more than 50% of the votes. In fact most candidates who get more than 45% are safe.
      The real impact of AV is where there is already considerable competition. It may also broaden slightly the number of marginals.

      1. Alan
        February 10, 2010

        My argument is that it is corrupt to have an MP selected for a safe seat by a relatively small group of people. The constituency I live in would cease to be a safe seat under the Alternative Vote system. I imagine that is true of many others. So I expect Alternative Vote to be less corrupt.

        1. Mark
          February 10, 2010

          Actually, I believe the reverse is in general the case. There are many constituencies where a Lib/Lab combination would be likely to return a Labour candidate for the foreseeable future where currently they could be even a three way marginal, and very few constituencies that are like yours and become marginals. The "small group of people" – the executive of a local party for example – is a problem that is much better addressed by true open primaries, as held by Tories in Totnes and Gosport, where the entire electorate had the chance to choose between half a dozen different candidates.

  7. backofanenvelope
    February 9, 2010

    I believe that in British Columbia an assembly of randomly selected voters considered the various options. Their choice was put to a binding referendum.

    Bit too much to expect our politicians to agree to us having a say!

  8. Neil Craig
    February 9, 2010

    Why? Well I suppose if you insist their first vote doesn't count.

    Only a proportional system is compatible with democracy & AV isn't that but it may be a marginal improvement. However any system which artificially increases the barriers to entry to any business is considered by economists to be destrucive & for a ruling coalition, which agrees on so much to erect such barriers to entry of new ideas is destructive of all of society.

    1. Mark
      February 10, 2010

      Please read Ken Arrow's impossibility theorem to understand that NO voting system is "fair" as soon as you have more than two choices to vote for. That applies to PR.

      1. Neil Craig
        February 11, 2010

        Just because human institutions cannot meet a theoretical mathematical standard of perfection in voting (or law enforcement or economic/scientific progress or indeed anything else) is not an argument against improving a system which obviously is not giving everybody (or even more than 25%) what they vote for (& I am certain most of that 25% don't so much like the party they vote for as dislike the other main contender).

  9. Bob
    February 9, 2010

    I think the Tories will need to learn how to harvest postal votes, a practice which has served Labour well in recent elections.

  10. Mick Anderson
    February 9, 2010

    The AV system is unfair, and you are right about a competition being completable from running it once.

    However, FPTP in it's current form could be improved on even if no other alternatives are considered. At least it is simple.

    Most of the electoral systems seem to average out their errors when all Parties are roughly the same size and the demographic evenly distributed. The further you go from this, the more wild the inaccuracy.

    If Mr Camerons proposed change to the number of MPs evens out the discrepancy in sizes of constituencies (ie. size by number of voters, as opposed to geographical size) there will be one less anomaly. As this is already effectively in the pipe-line, it should be easy to achieve.

    However, the Holy Grail should be a single electoral system that is competent enough for all types of election, from PCC up to SW1, even the EU. Not with all these various vested interests, though….

  11. oldrightie
    February 9, 2010

    Researchers have shown this change would keep Brown in power for ever. A Commons win on this, a fiddled referendum immediately, bingo, job done. Jimmy's record suggests this is his preferred method!

  12. John C
    February 9, 2010

    Take a theoretical case with 3 parties fighting it out in a constituency with the following results:

    Con: 33.4%
    Lab: 33.3%
    LibDem: 33.3%

    Conservatives win the seat for 4-5 years. Does this reflect the views of the voters?

    I'm not too sure about AV. I used to be in favour but now feel that it tends to elect people who are least objectionable to everyone (e.g. Harriet Harman).

    First past the post allows a government to have a big majority with far less than 50% of the vote (2005). But it seems to be useful for voting out unpopular governents (1997 and hopefully 2010).

    We at least need a discussion of possible systems with alternatives systems proposed.

    The vote this afternoon should be lost as Brown is just doing this for party advantage.

    1. TimC
      February 9, 2010

      'Least objectionableto everyone (eg Harriet Harman).
      This must be the only occasion these words have ever been written!

      1. Stuart Fairney
        February 9, 2010

        You beat me to it, I have never ever described the aforesaid criminal* as least objectionable to everyone.

        (* yes Mr Moderator I said criminal http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article6… she pleaded guilty to a criminal offence and is thus a criminal)

  13. James Matthews
    February 9, 2010

    AV is likely to be even less fair than FPTP, but that does not make the present system defensible. The issue should not be what is fair or unfair to the two parties who wish to hang on to their duopoly, or the LibDems who wish to make it a triopoly, but what is fair the the electorate (including the overwhelming majority who either don't vote, or vote to keep out what they see as the most objectionable party).

    If the Conservatives were brave enough they would trump Brown by accepting PR, but of course that is too much to hope for.

    1. James Matthews
      February 9, 2010

      And, if you will forgive a plug, you can vote for English Votes on English Laws here http://www.power2010.org.uk/votes (don't leave the field of constitutional reform as the uncontested domain of the left).

  14. Michael Lewis
    February 9, 2010

    I'm just amazed. Gordon Brown knows no shame. He's tried to buy votes and now he wants to reform the voting system. This is Robert Mugabe politics. The man is simply disgusting.

    1. Sally C.
      February 9, 2010

      Couldn't agree with you and JR more. It's depressing how predictable Gordon Brown is. This man will do just about anything to stay in power. That alone should be a reason to get rid of him.

      1. alan jutson
        February 10, 2010

        Sally C.


        1. john
          April 27, 2010

          Alan J.


          All leaders will do anything to get/stay in power. Cameron will be the same and it is naive to think otherwise. Use your brain and vote on policies not individuals.

        2. alan jutson
          April 27, 2010


          Thanks but I will be using my brain.

          Brown with his systematic redistribution of wealth, profligate spending and waste, with communist type policies, is slowly destroying this Country.

          No I do not expect Cameron with his policies to be the great god of change, and Clegg with his unrealistic policies seems the worst of both worlds.

          Agree that all leaders want power, that is why they stand for election, but some know when the game is up, others are just bloody minded and refuse to let go, and I put Brown in that catagory.

          I would have thought my many previous posts and comments on policies would suggest I will vote on that issue, and not on personality, but I was agreeing with a simple statement made by Sally about Brown which I thought was true.

          I beleive the man is absolutely desperate to hold onto power, and not only is it undignified, it brings our whole political system into question when an unopposed and unelected leader, can operate in this way.

  15. Lindsay McDougall
    February 9, 2010

    What Gordon Brown probably has in mind is to form a Lib-Lab alliance by the back door. He perceives that the polls show the total Lib-Lab support consistently being 50% plus. In his mind, he sees that Labour and Liberal are both centre-left parties, so that Labour voters with give the Liberal candidate their second preference and vice versa.

    If I were him I would not be so sure. Why people vote as they do is often opaque and sometimes downright illogical, especially where the Lib Dems are concerned. Quite a lot of investigators reckon that many of the Liberal supporters in February and October 1974 were supporters of Enoch Powell. Any party having less in common with Enoch's opinions than the Liberals of that time is difficult to imagine.

    Lib Dem policy moves a lot. All we can say for certain is the Nick Clegg is less of an interventionist than Charles Kennedy was. But that may be just in response to the prevailing mood. I would not want to forecast the second preferences of Lib Dem voters. The Raving Monster Loony Party has as good a chance as any.

  16. […] continue to rate John Redwood, despite his use of a totally misleading analogy in dismissing AV.  IF AV is so daft, why do Conservatives use it for selecting their candidates, […]

  17. James Morrison
    February 9, 2010

    I confess to not totally understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each of the proposed voting systems, but would welcome some sort of programme/discussion about each. But as is the way of things these days, I already know that we'll only hear priase for whichever one it is that keeps the socialists in power.

    This time around it make absolutely no difference to me if we had the "AV" system in place as I don't have anyone as my first choice vote, let alone a second choice!

    I would very much like to see a "None of the above" option on the ballot paper, at least that way I could feel slightly less unrepresented and (politically) impotent!

  18. Mark
    February 9, 2010

    Anyone trying to deal with voting systems should know of Arrow's impossibility theorem, which states that there is no voting system that is unequivocally fair as soon as you have to choose between more than two alternatives.

    A solution to that conundrum is to ensure that the two main parties have a broad appeal and cover a broad church, so that splinter parties merge with them: it is the politics of the 1960s and early 70s before the SDP split from Labour. It is also what JR was arguing for in pleading for grown up politics with less dependence on an unique party line the other day.

    If that won't work, choices must be made on other grounds. Most would agree that that systems that give undue influence to minorities are to be avoided. Many would agree that strong government is preferable to the consequences of bickering voices unable to make progress – at least so long as that does not become entrenched dictatorship. That is why FPTP makes good sense.

    There are of course other methods of seeking to entrench dictatorship, such as gerrymandering and electoral fraud, that need to be stamped on.

    There is also the issue of incumbency and lack of democratic choice that can be addressed by more open systems of candidate selection, such as proper open primaries, and powers to recall MPs who fail to perform.

    1. Mark
      February 9, 2010

      A further point about parties that permit a broad church:

      If parties have dogmatic, monoclonal manifestos that admit of no nuances of opinion, or even divergent opinion on some points, then consequence is a plethora of parties, many of whom are single issue dominated. That leads to fragmented electoral systems and dictatorship by tiny minorities. Where dissenting opinions on particular issues are covered by a broad church, they stand a good chance of being represented even under FPTP, and with some political skill, they may find ways of having their opinions taken account of without upsetting the majority.

      1. APL
        February 11, 2010


  19. Steve Cox
    February 9, 2010

    John, that was extremely succinctly put, thank you, why Conservatives should oppose AV.

    Nonetheless, I feel that your closing remarks about the Conservatives not meddling with the system are ill-advised. As currently set-up, the Boundaries Commission is hopeless. It is at least a decade behind the times in its work and its tardiness almost always ends up favouring the Socialists. The one big change a new Conservative government should make (and indeed, must make, if you wish to retain power given how unpopular you will rapidly become with the inevitable spending cuts and so on) is to completely revamp the system to that it is up to speed. This is not a major change such as the Clown is proposing with his AV nonsense, it's simply improving administration. But as the BC's inefficiency currently costs your party dozens of votes, it is a must-do, ASAP George has made his post-election budget statement.

  20. Stronghold Barricade
    February 9, 2010

    The AV system seems to introduce even greater divisions than the current FPTP system

    The biggest problem that I have with FPTP is that it takes no account of those who wish to protest

    I have heard it said that politicians take no account of spoilt ballot papers, and the current "thinking" is that those who do not vote are simply expressing an "I don't care who wins"

    There needs to be a system in place which measures a protest vote, and thus forces those electioneering to take it into account. I believe it is all the more important at this time when parliament has been disgraced by those MP's who have been shown to have abused the expenses system

    It is all well and good for the MP's to show contrition, but once the votes are counted from FPTP I'm sure our elected leaders will be saying that this is a vote of confidence in the system, when it is highly likely to be anything but

    The fall out from the MP's expenses may hit encumbants more than "new", but all the political classes need to take account of the anger and give it a voice at the ballot box to ensure that people do come out to vote, but also vote positively for a change. It is fairly obvious that the current inhabiants of No10 do not fully comprehend the situation arising from their mismanagement of the whole debacle

  21. Mike Stallard
    February 9, 2010

    And now for the real scandal, which Our Gordon has NO intention of clearing up: the postal votes scandal. This is known to be corrupt and wide open to fraud.
    Why, too, are the number of people in seats so very different? Could it possibly be because it favours the Labour party?
    As for voting by telephone or on the internet: who does he think we are?
    If we cannot even be bothered to turn out and put a little cross on a piece of paper to protect our freedoms, then we deserve another ten or even fifteen years of our very own dictatorship.

    1. alan jutson
      February 13, 2010



      If people cannot be bothered to make a little effort to vote once evey 4-5 years then do not complain about the result.

      There are exceptions of course where the disabled, those in nursing homes and hospital, in some cases cannot make it.

      From personal experience my Mothers nursing home go to some effort to get all of their residents to vote.

      Our Armed forces should also get the postal vote (as they do at present).

  22. Tim Bennett
    February 9, 2010

    Splendid metaphor comparing this AV system to a sporting race in which the losers are asked which of the first two finishers should be acclaimed the winner. Many people quickly glaze over at discussions of the pros and cons of different voting systems. The Conservatives need a clear and simple message to identify why this proposed "fairer" system is actually decidedly unfair. I hope they use – and keep on using – your metaphor as it is a simple and clear one that will resonate with ordinary people.

    I trust and hope that the average voter will also see Mr Brown's sudden conversion to proportional representation as the utterly hypocritical piece of political opportunism that it undoubtedly is.

    Furthermore, why is nobody shouting that you cannot believe Labour Prime Ministers who promise voters a referendum on matters of major constitutional significance ? Or is that an area on which Mr Cameron does not feel on solid ground ?

  23. Martyn
    February 9, 2010

    If GB manages to get the system switched at the last minute to AV, then I will not vote. And that would be the first time since getting the vote some 50 years ago that I will abstain.
    I am firm in my mind as to whom I am going to vote for and have no interest at all in ticking out a list in descending order of other candidates, none of whom in any way appear what I want to see in my local MP.
    I wonder, by the way, how many realise that each time they vote that they leave an identity trail which is later sold on to interested parties? This is done as you collect your voting form, where the clerk pencils in your allocated voting number on the back of the form. If you erase that number then in some circumstances your vote becomes a 'spoiled' vote. Secret ballot? Not at all……

  24. waramess
    February 9, 2010

    If it is true that the intention is for people to vote for party and not for their parliamentary representative then I for one will vote against it.

    To allow the voting system to degenerate to this level is a blow to democracy and confuses further the role of our members of parliament.

    Lets hope this one is consigned to the litter bin

  25. John
    February 9, 2010

    There is method in Brown's conversion to AV. Labour's research has uncovered that with AV, people are twice as likely to vote LibDem as thier second preference in conservative constituencies as in Labour ones.

    Labour's embedded core constituencies would not be that badly impacted but AV would have the effect of splitting the Conservative vote, leaving Labour in charge of a hung parliament and offering the sniff of power to Cleggy. Brown of course would retain power.

    Frankly the almost deliberate gerrymandering of the constituency boundaries in the last 10 years (so that Labour could still have a majority even if the Tories polled 5%-6% more votes nationally) is a disgrace of the order of the expenses one.

    The apparent fact that Brown is so utterly desperate to manipulate the voting system so brazenly in this way to ensure his survival is something which I would be interested to see him challenged on in the House.

    But somehow I think this will be another important issue for the country which Cameron fails to raise as it would interrupt his bland soundbites at PMQ. Perhaps another Tory could show some cojones and bring it up.

  26. Tedgo
    February 9, 2010

    With AV a party could put up two or more candidates to capture 1st and 2nd votes.

  27. Keith O'Leary
    February 9, 2010

    Staff get to work reasonable hours, and taxpayers don't have to pay them a premium for unsociable hours. Yes, I like the drama…. but I'd rather have the cost savings.


    The justice secretary has thrown his weight behind a cross-party campaign to save the traditional election night.

    He told MPs he was concerned about the "growing trend by returning officers" to begin counts the following day "for their own convenience"………………….

    higher staff costs are among reasons thought to be behind those considering delays to counts

    1. Alan Wheatley
      February 9, 2010

      It seems to me that to count a AV system is considerably more complicated and time consuming that to count FPTP.

      Our PM does not seemed to have given us the benefit of his wisdom on the practicality implementing the AV count.

      Of course, we could all be forward looking and go for an electronic system of voting. Then, no matter which system, we could know the vote for the whole country as soon as the polls close. That would be followed by "election night with the stars", which would have the benefit of participants talking about the known result rather than endless speculation as to what each subtle shift might mean.

      And we could all be safely tucked up in bed by midnight!

    2. backofanenvelope
      February 10, 2010

      Instead of a nice little earner for local government employees, let us just call for volunteers. I don't mind sitting in my local pub all day or staying up counting ballot papers.

  28. adam
    February 9, 2010

    watching the debate in parliament.
    its a horror show.
    nothing scares me more than the level of fraud and criminality in our parliament. not violent crime or terrorism but the level of fraud and deception.
    Cant believe the nerve of MPs to now claim they speak for the people who want politics cleaned up. Im sure it plays well with their idiot voters, but i see right through it.
    asking myself while eating dinner, how MPs live with themselves.

  29. OurSally
    February 10, 2010

    We have a very complicated voting system in Germany. At the recent national election we all had two votes, a first and a second. It seems most of us voted as I did, first CDU and second FDP, and so we got the government we have. German politics is organised by consensus; this is entirely different from the British system. It suits the Germans.

    At local politics level we may need 12 winners, so we have 12 crosses to put on a list of 100 candidates, conveniently sorted by party. As I said, complicated, but workable all the same.

    This system is seen to be fairer than the British system. But it takes some getting used to.

    Maybe the Brits don't need more but less. Less MPs, certainly. And the ones you have should be less dependent. Less whipping and more conscience; technically it would be possible for an MP to ask his constituency for guidance on tricky high-impact questions.

    It would be a very British phenomenon if there were many high-quality independent candidates at the next election. It would be a good example to set for the rest of us.

  30. Denis Cooper
    February 10, 2010

    The best and simplest reform would be FPTP-SPTP, making use of the fact that Parliament is bi-cameral and both taking the edge off the gross disproportionality of FPTP and creating a much needed centre of effective Parliamentary opposition in a fully elected Second Chamber.

    That would kill two persistently troublesome birds with one stone: the Commons would continue to be made up of the candidates who got the greatest number of votes in their constituencies, usually ensuring that one party got a working majority and could form a strong government, while the candidates who came second would form the Second Chamber, usually ensuring that the strong government would be faced with a strong opposition in that chamber.

    In fact it's simple arithmetic that the more dominant a single governing party was in the Commons, the weaker it would be in the Second Chamber, and in my view that would be a very good thing.

    The central problem with FPTP is that the winner takes all, even if he takes it by just one vote out of tens of thousands, and nobody else gets anything.

    For example, in 2005 16,374 people in Crawley voted for the constituency to be represented in Parliament by the Tory candidate, but they were denied that wish because 16,411 people voted for the Labour candidate.

    Under FPTP-SPTP the Tory candidate would have taken a seat in the Second Chamber, and although he would have had less power (as defined by the Parliament Acts) that would have meant that 78% of those who bothered to cast their votes would have seen their preferred candidate elevated to Parliament.

    However it's clear that the Tory party leadership are not interested in any reform which would mean that they could no longer expect to take their Buggin's turn to form an elected dictatorship.

  31. Simon
    February 11, 2010

    There is something fundamentally incorrect in the title to this article. It is not the case that LibDems get to vote twice, in a way that voters for the other two parties do not. (Incidentally, this comment would only be thought vaguely plausible anyway in constituencies where the LibDems come third, which is far from always the case, but I will leave that point aside). The AV system is akin to a second round voting system in which there is a run-off between the top two parties (e.g. as in France). Nobody suggests that that involves some people having only one vote, whilst others have two. The AV system is the same as this, except that the second round commences straight after the first one is over. It is thus more correct to suggest that everyone has two votes rather than some have more than others. (I have simplified this by using an example of a three-way race – where there are more candidates than three, it just becomes more complex, but the basic principles are no different.)

    A further advantage of the AV system is that people do not have to tailor their votes to fit in with their guess as to the likely result, as when they vote not for the candidate that they want to win, but for the one most likely to defeat the one they most want to lose.

    I find it strange to suggest that something is unfair because it does not resemble a horse race. Do we want to convey the thought that the two are on a par as far as their seriousness is concerned. One, after all, is supposed to reflect a choice by the British people on who should govern them for the next 5 years, which seems rather more important than – and importantly different to – the winner of the 4:15 at Wincanton. Ideas of fairness need to reflect the decision being taken. It is impractical to run a horse race twice after elimination of the slowest horse. It is far from impractical in the case of a general election and it is also fairer.

    I do agree however that Gordon Brown has only introduced this because he thinks that he and the Labour party are likely to be its beneficiaries in the near future. Otherwise, why has he just decided this is the right thing to do? But unfortunately this is the mindset of all but a very small minority of our politicians.

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