Tag Archives: proportional representation

Don’t stand a candidate

I have wondered many times in the last few years whether Lib Dems really want PR. And the reason for this scepticism is that we keep propping up First Past The Post (FPTP) in the way we campaign and act politically – with disastrous results for our political success, our influence within government and for liberalism across the UK.

The arguments for a change in the electoral system are well known – for every million votes cast for a party at the 2015 general election , the Greens won one seat, UKIP won a quarter of a seat, the Lib Dems won 3, Labour 25, Conservatives 29 and the SNP 39. The figures might change a little from election to election, but the unfairness won’t.

For a generation, Lib Dems have worked to win within FPTP by targeting individual wards or constituencies, and this has been a successful strategy compared to other smaller parties. But it has never achieved democratic parity with Labour or the Conservatives. For example, at our high point of national vote in the general election of 2010, it took 120,000 votes to elect a Lib Dem MP and 35,000 to elect a Conservative. Our leaders accepted the reality of FPTP and we took our place in government based not on our national vote but on our number of MPs. We have all seen the consequences, and they are not pleasant for our party, however optimistic we all like to be.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 33 Comments

The Independent View: Benefit the nation and the voters

If the Liberal Democrats get about half UKIP’s votes (8% against 14%) but about 10 times as many MPs 20 – 30 against 2 – 3), will the Liberal Democrats stand by their principals and demand electoral reform?  In particular, will they insist on the Single Transferable Vote (STV), which they have always recognized as the best voting system for voters?

The Liberal Democrats have had five years now to learn the hard way what some of us warned in 2010, based on our observations of continental Europe where coalitions are normal; the senior partner takes the credit for popular decisions and blames the junior partner for unpopular ones.

If the Liberal Democrats had got STV for this election as a condition of entering into coalition in 2010, they could now be looking at winning about 52 seats for about 8% of the vote.  Admittedly, UKIP might be expecting about 91 seats but, if that is what voters want, so be it.

The real point of electoral reform is not to benefit this or that party but to benefit the nation and the voters.

With electoral reform for this election, the SNP could expect about half the Scottish seats (30) for about half the Scottish votes instead of all the seats (59) for half the votes and not be in pole position now to hold the UK to ransom.  Please see David Green’s excellent exposition on for more on this.

Posted in Op-eds and The Independent View | Also tagged and | 21 Comments

Opinion: Getting things out of proportion

Finding things to complain about in The Guardian is hardly difficult, but here are two little blemishes that bleed deep:

First we have a quote from editor Alan Rusbridger in 2013, touching on the AV referendum:

They came up with such a weak version of proportional representation that they could not get anyone excited or enthused.

And second, a report from earlier this year on a Guardian staff ballot:

Staff of the Guardian and Observer have voted in favour of Katharine Viner… using the single transferable vote system… he successful candidate is guaranteed a place on the shortlist of three that will go forward to the next round of interviews conducted by the Scott Trust.

Claiming that AV is a form of PR, or that you used STV for what turns out to be a single-winner election, is incongruous at best, and probably just plain wrong. And, of course, the article doesn’t mention that Labour was the party that “came up with” AV as a 2010 election commitment.

If you want to get technical, it is true that AV is essentially STV-1 (STV electing a single member).  But the two names are used distinctly with good reason. STV-1 is a degenerate case, with less complexity and none of the proportionality of its multi-winner siblings. Important connotations of “the single transferable vote system” do not apply to AV, and vice versa. Even if this kind of equivalence was intended, the bold passages still needed qualification in order to make sense to the Guardian’s general readership. It seems far more likely the editorial process just got it wrong.

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Eastleigh shows why the Tories and Labour should now support PR in local elections

imageIf only, if only… Instead of holding out for a referendum on the Alternative Vote the Lib Dem negotiators had secured proportional representation for all local council elections instead.

Hindsight’s easy, I know. At the time of negotiating the Coalition Agreement, electoral reform at Westminster was the party’s deal-breaker. The Lib Dem vote had gone up by a million, our number of MPs down by five. The public were in favour, or so the polls said. It’s possible the party wouldn’t even have approved entering the Coalition if the Westminster voting system had been left untouched.

And yet, and yet… Proportional representation at a local council level would’ve been a far more transformational way of shifting the power dynamics in this country, of introducing genuine electoral competition into contests up and down the country. Eastleigh shows us how.

Posted in Local government and Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 27 Comments

Opinion: Never Mention “STV” Again

The Liberal Democrat Conference opens today in Birmingham with perhaps the most depressing talking shop ever put on a Lib Dem Agenda. It’s the consultative session for the “May 2011 Election Review”: a big drop in the popular vote; a major setback on local councils; a disaster in Scotland; a total and utter thrashing in the AV referendum. And it’s the last that looks the most hopeless.

Is electoral reform finished for good, or at least for a generation? Instead of endlessly debating what went wrong, there’s one major change we can make right now to improve things next time: …

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“Take AV seriously: it has advantages over PR”

One of the common criticisms of the alternative vote is that it doesn’t produce parliaments that proportionally represent the wishes of the people, which is largely true. Such a criticism rests, of course, on the premise that proportionality is the most important facet of an electoral system. However it’s also worth pointing out that there are things that the alternative vote delivers which proportional systems do not, which is the subject of a recent post by John Ashton.

Here’s a sample of what John has to say:

You don’t get far in a discussion of the merits of AV before somebody

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Opinion: the Australian election and AV

Fans of the alternative vote system would do well to look at the result of the Australian election. Australia and Fiji are the only two countries in the world to use AV. The two main parties got about 80% of the vote. A record* 2 million+ people voted for minor parties, that’s around 17% – a 50% increase of the number of people not voting for the big two.

And the result? Well the two main parties got 145 seats and the minor parties 5.

Now at this point defenders of AV will be saying “yes we know AV isn’t that good …

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 50 Comments

Recent Comments

  • User AvatarNick Baird 27th Oct - 7:28pm
  • User AvatarThe Professor 27th Oct - 7:14pm
    @Ian I take your point re the words are general guidance. I think the Information Commissioner will be on stronger grounds regarding the Data Controller...
  • User AvatarMalcolm Todd 27th Oct - 7:13pm
    Paul J Carroll 27th Oct '16 - 6:01pm "There is no point in having a vote on the deal negotiated between the government and the...
  • User AvatarEthics gradient 27th Oct - 7:10pm
    @ Katharine Pindar Hi, I voted to leave. My feeling is your view is more optimistic and hopeful, rather on where things are. I do...
  • User AvatarSteve Trevethan 27th Oct - 6:41pm
    The Swiss have frequent referenda and everyone knows the rules. They are a regular and transparent part of Swiss democracy. The party political use of...
  • User AvatarKatharine Pindar 27th Oct - 6:39pm
    Phil, I agree the Tories tend to be ruthless, dishonest and unscrupulous. Another journalist, Nick Cohen in the Observer, wrote in disgust at how the...