LibLink: Nick Clegg – My vision for a new political map and voting system

Acting Prime Minister… are we allowed to call him that? No, okay then: Holding the Fort Prime Minister Nick Clegg has an article in today’s London Evening Standard setting out how he thinks the way in which people vote can be improved by the next general election, in 2015.

He looks at three issues. First, Nick notes the current unfairness that unequal constituency sizes mean that the votes of 87,000 voters in the East Ham constituency are worth less than the 66,000 voters living 10 miles away in Islington North: “So, if you live in Islington, your voice counts for more.” He gives short shrift to Labour’s hysterical attacks of gerrymandering:

The new map will be drawn up by the independent Boundary Commissions, and local residents will have ample opportunity to make themselves heard. Not through traditional inquiries, which were costly, time-consuming, and regularly hijacked by local political parties. Instead we’ll triple the time people have to send in their views.

Government will play no part in deciding the new boundaries. This is not some elaborate attempt at gerrymandering — a point entirely lost on suspicious Labour critics. Disorientated by the new world of opposition, and balkanised by their own leadership race, Labour’s paranoia now prompts them to cry “stitch up!” when faced with even the most commonsense political reforms.

Secondly, on the important issue of voters missing from the electoral register – which, Nick asides, “little has been done about in the past decade” – he adopts an wholly pragmatic approach:

While there’s no magic-wand solution, there are things we can do. Like exploring allowing registration officers to compare their records with other existing databases so they can actively seek out people not on the list. We’re also committed to accelerating the shift to individual — rather than household — registration started by Labour, which will help tackle electoral fraud.

Finally, Nick turns to electoral reform, and the proposal to replace first-past-the-post with the alternative vote. Interestingly, he doesn’t make great claims for AV (having once labelled it a “miserable little reform”), but he does make clear his own support and his relaxed view of the Coalition including two parties on opposite sides of the argument:

I will be backing the change to AV. In my view the problem with First Past the Post has always been that it gives many MPs jobs for life with just a minority of support, breeding the culture of arrogance brought sharply into view during the expenses scandal. AV offers much greater choice. Instead of just putting one “x” on the ballot, you can rank candidates in order of preference. And as a general rule, MPs will need the support of more than half of people locally to get to Westminster.

Not everyone in the coalition shares my view. But, despite our differences, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats agree that it should be up to the people to decide. Labour first promised a
referendum on the voting system as far back as 1997 and backed a referendum on AV at this year’s election.

His optimistic conclusion:

Together these changes will breathe new legitimacy into the way we conduct elections.

You can read Nick’s Evening Standard article in full here.

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34 Comments

  • toryboysnevergrowup 17th Aug '10 - 7:58pm

    I note all of Clegg’s comments were in respect of registered voters when it comes to equalising the size of constituencies – and of course he doesn’t think that he should also be addressing the problem of unregistered voters as well if he wants a truly fair solution.

  • Has anyone else submitted a comment to that article? I submitted one congratulating Clegg’s reforms as ‘Nick’ at 20:01 (the registration e-mail even confirms the time) and the ES seems to have re-written it completely. I’m pretty angry about it.

  • tbngu – I don’t understand. The comments from NC include a suggestion of “doing something about the unregistered”. Personally, as mentioned elsewhere, I think a lot more has been done to publicise and give time for registration at key times before elections etc. in the last 10 years. NC needs to be careful he gives credit where it is due. Certainly a h**l of a lot more in the last few years than the Tories ever did about it!

  • Stuart Mitchell 17th Aug '10 - 8:55pm

    “And as a general rule, MPs will need the support of more than half of people locally to get to Westminster.”

    This is simply not true, as I have pointed out here before. MPs will only need the support (if you can call a fifth preference “support”) of more than half the voters *whose votes are included in the final round of counting*. If significant numbers of people express only one preference for a major party candidate (very likely, according to recent polls) then candidates could win with far less than 50% of the vote. And that’s before we even take into account the effect of turnouts.

    If this sort of bogus argument is the best the pro-AV lobby can muster, then the No campaign is going to be like shooting fish in a barrel.

  • Stuart – yes, it is possible that somebody doesn’t have 50% of the vote, but I think that, once political campaigns take into account AV, more people will presumably use their preferences. People will simply know a lot more about the system if it is used in the next election.

    But the crucial advantage (in my opinion anyway) is that whatever people *do*, candidates have to campaign as if everybody used their preferences and they really needed to appeal for second preference votes. MPs who at the moment get away with catering quite narrowly to the 30-40% dyed-in-the-wool supporters will have to offer something to the other people, too. I am thinking Tories in safe seats suddenly having to find out how ‘the other half’ lives when they simply didn’t need to do so before – or very leftie Labour MPs who don’t have to bother about looking beyond their narrow ideology. Such MPs can now keep their narrow focus, because as little as 35-40% can secure a seat – there are far fewer which have a signed-up enthusiastic base for one party which exceeds 50%.

    As far as I am concerned, that change will be a good thing and I think it will improve how things work within a constituency.

    I think it’s incorrect to say that fifth preferences (or whatever) don’t count as proper support. In essence, AV simulates several rounds of voting – just that you don’t have to go back to the ballot box as, for example, the French have to do if no presidential candidate gets an absolute majority.

    The ballot paper simply asks you all in one go what a second/third/fourth round election would ask separately, on a new ballot paper. I think that’s a democratic improvement. Why should somebody not have a say if their candidate has been eliminated as a no-hoper? In second round elections (many countries have those!) they don’t exclude those voters who didn’t vote for the top two candidates. In fact, it is those voters who can tip the balance.

    No-one would scoff at the extra votes a winning candidate gets in a second-round election – in the end they can claim that over 50% supported them, and that is so important to many countries that they pay for expensive second round elections.

    AV does the same thing, but more cheaply and comfortably. I think that this is a good thing.

    Of course, AV+ would be a lot better (in my opinion anyway), but plain AV is a significant improvement over FPTP.

  • It is a very sad day indeed when the Leader of the Liberal Democrats defends the removal of the right of appeal against Boundary Commission proposals.

    Either:

    (1) Nick Clegg genuinely believes that David Cameron is an honest and trustworthy man.

    Or:

    (2) Nick Clegg has been promised a free run by Cameron at the next General Election followed by rapid assimilation into the Conservative Party.

    Whichever of the above accords most closely to the truth, it is, as I say, a very sad day.

  • Sorry, sould be “accords most closely WITH the truth”.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 17th Aug '10 - 9:45pm

    It’s worth noting Anthony Wells’s comment on the most recent YouGov poll:
    … the fortnightly tracker on the alternative vote referendum is worth noting – 37% would vote yes, 38% would vote no. This question has bounced about a bit from poll to poll, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we got a plurality for yes again in a fortnight’s time, but nevertheless, it’s the first poll to show the NO camp in the lead and suggests there is a downwards trend underneath the noise.
    http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/2778

  • Surely someone wise – Shirley Williams, Ming, David Steel should have a quiet word with Nick about hisnaivety and over enthusiasm for attacking Labour. We need Labour or rather Labour inclined voters to back AV. Almost everything Nick says works against that. Time for him to curb his instincts and show some political skills.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 17th Aug '10 - 10:33pm

    Tim 13

    My point is that to be fair voter registration surely has to be improved before equalising the size of constituencies – it will hardly be fair to redraw the boundaries beforehand. If not the only fair solution would to equalise constituencies based on registered voters and an estimate of the likely number of unregistered voters. I suspect in this day and age the techniques to arrive at such reasonable estimates are not beyond the wit of man. Such a move may well be in Labour’s interests but it would be the “fair” thing to do nevertheless – given that some sources estimate that there may be a s many as 4m unregistered voters despite the efforts of the last 10 years. You are being a little unfair on the Tories – from memory they did quite a lot to encourage the registration of overseas voters – I cannot imagine why that was!

  • toryboysnevergrowup 17th Aug '10 - 10:38pm

    “good to see Nick starting to deal with Labour with some gusto. A back-hand slap here, a knee to the ribs there, and a shin stamp to boot – good stuff! Maybe they will get the message that we are not going to give the war-party a way back to power in this decade” @JohnM.

    What you fail to understand is that in a democracy is that it is the electorate who decide which party is elected in the future not the current government.

  • JohnM – Are saying your saying that your Cameron and your Tory friends and accomplices are not a War-Party (“my country right or wrong”, “Land of Hope and Glory” and all that stuff)?

  • Anthony Aloysius St 17th Aug '10 - 11:19pm

    “Maybe they will get the message that we are not going to give the war-party a way back to power in this decade.”

    But of course there were two war parties in 2003. Remember where those taunts about “Charlie Chamberlain” came from? The Tory back-benches, ironically enough.

    Having said that, I think you are right about the unlikelihood of Labour regaining power in this decade, considering it will be over in less than 5 months. But the next decade may be a different matter.

  • Nick, you had it all and us too….

  • @JohnM said; “Maybe to Labourites, the fact that they’re not white and in a far away land means that it doesn’t matter all that much? What if t was your father, husband, brother, or son – imagine! You let that come to pass!”

    On a serious note, I ask you this: do you think the Tories would have done differently if say, Iain Duncan Smith had been PM and Bush had asked for his assistance in invading Iraq? Personally, I think they would have. made exactly the same decision. But if Charles Kennedy or even Nick “Progressive Cuts” Clegg had been PM, I think we would have said no. Truth is, LDs were the only main party to challenge the war.

  • Suddenly some people are worried about people who aren’t on the electoral register – when actually if they knew anything about it they would realise it takes some effort to avoid being on the electoral register.

    Amongst the many reason put forward for not being on the register are: never vote anyway so what’s the point ?
    voted and it made no difference so whats the point ? Don’t want people/companies to wom I owe money to know where I live. Don’t want ex partners etc to know where I live. (even though there is anonymous registration) Can’t be arsed to fill in any forms. Don’t like to have anything to do with Councils/Governmenmt unless it’s getting a hand out.

    Still – obviously :-) the big issue is people who have decided for themselves not to be on the register – as opposed to say the 1/3 of people on the register who don’t vote at General Elections or the 2/3 of people who don’t vote in local elections. Or the 90% of people who DO vote yeara after year only to find their vote didn’t even come close to influencing the result.

    Personnaly, I think it would be better if Clegg was honest and said he see AV as a step towards STV and stops trying to hype it as something it isn’t., e.g. fair, removes safe seats etc.

  • Patrick Smith 18th Aug '10 - 7:46am

    I support AV as being needed instead of FPTP as it provides voters with a fairer method of casting `Fair Votes’ but does depend like STV would in a new democratic spirit to vote for first,second,third,fourth choices etc from all candidates listed,to work at best.

    There is no reason that our electorate cannot or would choose not to do this in any General Election as AV Plus is used in the GLA Election and all EU Members have a form of PR..

    I am concerned that Labour neglected to register the 4 million missing voters, over their term of 13 years and this has caused a disparity in those registered to vote.

    Some persons are registered with local GP`s for example and some residents may be on one public d/b but not yet registered to vote in Local and General Elections. The choice for any registered voter to choose not to vote, in any Election, would still be a democractic right.

    The Census 2011 will eventually inform Local Authorities as to their Borough boundary population,how to predict and plan for school and health services and how many adults should by law be registered to vote in Elections.To be useful n the count of people should be helping Local Councils and Government provide local services.To achieve this the Census must be accurately carried out.

    How does the `Fair Votes’ campaign square with the missing 4 million voters and new Census data available post 2011?.

    The real spur for `Fair Votes’ is that AV will provide a fairer way of electing MP`s as at present massive single party majority FPT Governments, notably Tony Blair in 2005, were elected with a minority of popular votes cast e.g. 36%.

  • so why exclude certain scottish islands (Charles Kennedy seat)
    some islands are more equal than others

  • Mike – Charles Kennedy’s seat is not a Scottish island and it is not excluded. Why not find out what you’re criticising before hammering away at your keyboard?

  • Like Mouse said, it takes will NOT to be on the register. I got my form on saturday, I’ve always got one and always been a private tenant.
    You CHOSE not to be registered (there are EU citizen that think they’re not entitled to vote but since we can’t vote at general elections anyway, it’s irrelevant to the boundaries).

  • “We’re also committed to accelerating the shift to individual — rather than household — registration started by Labour, which will help tackle electoral fraud.”

    Yes, fair enough – Except that this will probably cause a massive increase in non-registration! Instead of Dad and Mum listing the kids, their forms will get delivered individually and pushed under the bed with the rest of the clutter. Instead of the landlord filling in the names of his tenants, a set of forms will fall on the floor of the student household amongst the deluge of pizza-house flyers to be sporadically cleared up and binned.

    So, expect a massive drop in inner-city registrations. Now, is that really the best time to be changing the whole system to one which totally ignores the problem of unregistered voters in allocating where constituencies will be located?

  • I’m not sure it is wise to argue against Labour as the “War Party” when far more Tory MPs than Labour ones voted in favour of the war.

    The last time he was directly asked the question (in a “Metro” newspaper interview a couple of years ago), David Cameron said that he still supported the decision to go to war with Iraq.

  • CowleyJon – no, you have misunderstood. Charles Kennedy’s seat is not excluded.

    It has (arguably) been used as a benchmark for the maximum geographic size a seat should be (13,000 square kilometres) but by virtue of changes to neighbouring seats which are currently smaller, it will inevitably change significantly too. If they choose to, I think the Boundary Commission could probably avoid hitting the maximum size at all before they get within the population target – although not with great ease.

  • Stuart Mitchell 18th Aug '10 - 8:09pm

    Maria: I’m afraid I’m not convinced that preferential voting is in any way more fair than single-candidate voting. It all comes down to the way voters think; does the typical voter think that several parties are basically OK, and can be easily ranked in order of merit, or does he/she basically like one party and not think much of the others?

    You might say that AV caters for both attitudes (since voters can choose as many parties as they like), but I am very uncomfortable with the idea that supporters of multiple parties (such as, er, the two coalition parties) will effectively be able to cast two votes while a single-party supporter will only have one. Multiple-preference votes will have properties that other votes will not have; and that seems instinctively unfair to me.

    Patrick: “The real spur for `Fair Votes’ is that AV will provide a fairer way of electing MP`s as at present massive single party majority FPT Governments”

    Except the experts reckon that AV has the potential to be *less* proportional than FPTP.

    This costly and pointless referendum is offering us very little choice at all, since AV is nothing more than FPTP with preferential voting.

    Clegg’s comment at the end of his article is telling; he’s already putting a positive spin on the likely No vote :-

    “An entirely different voting system, or, at least, the same system, but finally tested against public opinion.”

  • Cowley Jon:

    “I think we know for sure that if Nick had been our leader in 2003 we would have backed the invasion of Iraq.”

    Do we? Do you have any evidence to support this assertion? The only Lib Dem MP I heard make pro-war noises was Mark Oaten, and he is no longer with us. As far as I can tell, Clegg has always been a supporter of the international rule of law and an opponent of imperialism.

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Aug '10 - 12:08pm


    Nick notes the current unfairness that unequal constituency sizes mean that the votes of 87,000 voters in the East Ham constituency are worth less than the 66,000 voters living 10 miles away in Islington North

    This is a TINY source of distortion compared to the distortion caused by winner-takes-all singe-member constituencies, with AV being just a minor variation of FPTP in this respect. I would expect someone who is Leader of the Liberal Democrats to acknowledge that – isn’t promotion of party policy part of his job description?

    Sure, we’re the junior partner in a coalition, so we can’t get everything we want. We can’t get much we want. So why can’t we have a Leader who is honest about that and admits he has managed to wring some minor compromises out of the Tories rather than one who gives the impression that Tory policies with a little LibDem influence (mostly where it doesn’t conflict with what the Tories are really for – defending wealth you have from being rich rather than working for it) are everything we always wanted all along?

  • Stuart Mitchell 19th Aug '10 - 10:24pm

    Dane Clouston: “Yes, preferential voting is what voters need in order to be able to express their true preferences.”

    If I thought that were broadly true, I’d find AV more appetising.

    A few weeks ago I mentioned a couple of YouGov polls I had seen which asked voters for their second preferences – one taken immediately before the election, the other a couple of weeks later. The swings in the figures were absolutely huge. Before the election, over 60% of Labour voters would have happily chosen Lib Dems as their second preference, but after the election this had dropped to about 30%. That is literally millions of votes which – under AV – would have been cast in haste and regretted soon after.

    If second preferences are as volatile and flimsy as this evidence suggests, I see this as a huge problem for AV. Once we get down to fourth or fifth preferences, I would suggest that most of these votes would be so insincere as to be worthless – yet they could end up trumping the sincerely cast first preferences of other voters. At least with the current system, everybody has the same number of votes, and the vast majority of people vote for a candidate who they will still support six or twelve months down the line.

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