Opinion: Could PEVEL help to secure the triumph of good over EVEL?

england-flagEvery time a Tory mentions English Votes for English Laws they have a certain daemonic glint in their eyes. The power junkies think they are about to get the keys to the pharmacy. They say nature abhors a vacuum, but the Tories can hardly conceal their delight at the vacuum created by the meteoric rise up the political agenda of the West Lothian Question (which they and their friends in the media have helped to propagate). In 2010 they gained 56% of English MPs with 40% of the English vote. Implementing overdue boundary revisions and reducing MP numbers would tilt the balance further in their favour. Requiring a good deal less than 40%, they could gain a majority of English MPs for the foreseeable future if historic voting patterns persist.

The prospect of gaining absolute political power on the basis of a weak electoral mandate has been so beguiling that both larger parties have accepted the tedious necessity of languishing in opposition from time to time, enduring cold turkey while plotting their next fix.

The EVEL devolution quick fix is the big one. For the Tories it raises the credible hope of no English cold turkey as far as the eye can see. Too bad if we end up with a messy UK government with incoherent fragments of devolution scattered around its component parts. Too good to be true if you happen to be the SNP rubbing your hands together on the side-lines.

We have in our pre-manifesto the basis for new Great Reform Act that could potentially rehabilitate a discredited political system. Delivering it will require imagination, time and consensus building, including unprecedented public engagement involving the use of social media and any other tool at our disposal.

How to address some of the real political anomalies arising in the meantime is a genuine issue.

Enter PEVEL, Proportional English Votes on English Laws.

PEVEL would mean that the votes of the English MPs would be weighted to reflect that party’s proportion of the national vote, thus preserving the constituency link, and the individual accountability, of the member concerned.  It could be easily implemented by voting using an ID barcode which identified each MP’s party and weighted the vote accordingly.

We can and should take great pride in how we have broken down so many monopolies of political power, and kept others on their toes by providing credible and intelligent opposition. Despite our efforts most of the people of this country still live in constituencies and local authorities that are de facto one-party fiefdoms. Some have had no truly meaningful election for over 100 years. Rotten Boroughs were eliminated in 1832 but re-surfaced in the 20th Century. Our political ancestors did not devote their lives to the fight for universal suffrage so that the majority of their descendants had votes with no real influence over who governs them. They did not envisage England becoming effectively a one-party state. We owe it to them to honour our heritage by driving a PEVEL stake through the heart of EVEL, not as a permanent solution, but to create the time and space in which to deliver real devolution.

* Andrew Haldane is a former councillor and parliamentary candidate and current Chair of the Macclesfield local party and Vice Chair (Policy) of the NW Regional Party. In his earlier career, he worked in Marketing as a practitioner and later as an academic with an interest in Consumer Behavior applied to the shaping of Attitudes and Belief.

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36 Comments

  • David Faggiani 8th Dec '14 - 5:25pm

    Well, it’s a suggestion alright…. I’m not really sure I understand how this would work! Could you give us an example scenario?

  • Toby Fenwick 8th Dec '14 - 5:37pm

    Andrew,

    Thanks for this, interesting. But WLQ is hardly a Tory invention- it is simply the logical outcome of devolution. What we should be oushing hard for is an English Parliament elected in the same basis as Scotland, and enjoying the same powers.

  • This article is on to something. Scottish and Welsh parliaments use more representative electoral systems. If England wants parity it should be parity in all respects.

  • As a rhetorical device it might have some power (though probably not coming from the Lib Dems); as a serious proposal it is one of the most horrible notions I have encountered. You cannot sneak proportionality in through the back door like that. And it is bad for the same reasons that EVFEL is bad: it plays havoc with the notion of the House of Commons as an assembly of equals. If one were to go this route, then a better solution would be electing an extra number of top-up Members who would (a) make the numbers of members proportional and (b) vote only on English measures. This would at least have the merit of providing some Members who would have English matters as their sole province. But having gone that far, why not have a system of English and regional assemblies instead?

  • “The other is that it gives the voters a chance to throw out bad or tired governments in the hope that some other lot will do better.”

    Though interestingly there hasn’t been an election when a majority government of one party – at the time of the election – was replaced with a majority for another since 1970 (Labour in 79 and the Tories in 97 had lost their majorities)

  • A Social Liberal 8th Dec '14 - 11:31pm

    We don’t need EVEL or even PEVEL – what this country needs is parliaments devolved down to regional level. Not city regions or the great parliament of the North/South/East/West but regions based on those which have already been in existance for decades if not centuries.

    So, for the area I live in it would be a Yorkshire parliament. Not a Leeds parliament or a North Eastern one but a YORKSHIRE parliament. This would encompass those areas whose people consider themselves Yorkshiremen and women, From the east coast to over the Lancashire border in Barnoldswick, from Middlesborough to Sheffield.

  • Alex Macfie 9th Dec '14 - 9:22am

    Weighted votes? Not again! The big flaw with any such system is that in the fact that there is a lot more to an MP’s role than voting in plenary sessions. It also potentially gives a lot of voting power to a small group of MPs, and it implicitly assumes that MPs vote en bloc by party (perhaps they often do, but this isn’t something the system should be institutionalising).

  • Andrew Haldane 9th Dec '14 - 9:45am

    A Social Liberal is absolutely right about what we should be aiming to achieve. My point is that our proposed Commission for working out the detail via consensus and consultataion will take time and we will encounter problems with other parties. The Tories want EVEL as a permanent power grabbing centralising solution. They exagerate theEnglish problem arising from Scottish devolution to make the case for a quick fix that could start at the first vote of a new Parliament. If we are to create the space in which to do a proper job of devolution we need an alternative and fairer quick fix to EVEL which would be a stop-gap. They have managed to fend off Lords reform for overa hundred years. To we really want them to hang on to EVEL to fend off genuine fair votes devolution?

  • So, for the area I live in it would be a Yorkshire parliament. Not a Leeds parliament or a North Eastern one but a YORKSHIRE parliament. This would encompass those areas whose people consider themselves Yorkshiremen and women, From the east coast to over the Lancashire border in Barnoldswick, from Middlesborough to Sheffield

    And what about for those areas where there is no such regional identity? No one considers themselves an ‘East Anglian’.

    Or those areas where there are multiple identities? Try telling someone from Truro that they are part of the same ‘historic region’ as Plymouth.

    No, the idea of a ‘regional identity’ as basis for a devolved parliament works in precisely one area of England, Yorkshire. Everywhere else either there is no strong regional identification (eg, East Anglia) or the area in which there is a strong regional identification is too small to make sense as an autonomous region (ie Cornwall).

  • Neil Sandison 9th Dec '14 - 10:16am

    If we are to devolve powers to the regions then we must come at it from the right end of the telescope .Big government in Birmingam or Manchester will be no better than big government in Westminser .it requires a proportional representation from its constituent parts .The only way that can be fairly acheived is PR in local goverment .An acheivable goal which would attract cross party support.With the average poll in local gtovernment elections at around 35% we have to make every vote count in order that the level of accountability to any regional teir is genuinly representative of the population of that region so that it not only represents the metropolitan areas but also the shires.

  • Andrew Haldane 9th Dec '14 - 11:29am

    Dav and Neil Sandison both illustrate very clearly how getting the right devolution solution will take time. Their’s and other comments also show what a great opportunity we have to engage directly with the voters as well as with various representative stakeholder groups. to shape a new domocracy that people would respect.. While Birmingham and Manchester need seriousregeneration Munich and Frankfurt have thrived within a devolved regional system like that which a Liberal Government would have introduced a century ago but for unelected Tory peers(who also blocked universal suffrage).Will we let today’s reactionary forces use EVEL to kill the dream again? If not do we need PEVEL to block the first wave of attack and fully deveop a transformative vision?

  • Tom Snowdon 9th Dec '14 - 12:18pm

    We also need to make sure that we don’t extend more layers of government in England. As a first step in creating devolved regional government, why can’t we propose that county councils in a particular area merge. Which other county councils they merge with could be decided at a local level, as long as a minimum threshold size was reached so that economies of scale could be achieved (e.g. Yorkshire). The merged larger council body could then take on more powers and change to a PR election system as they transition from county councils to one regional assembly. That way we would avoid the cost and complexity of extra local government layers, but gain devolved power at a local level.

  • Malcolm Todd 9th Dec '14 - 12:21pm

    Andrew Haldane
    “a devolved regional system like that which a Liberal Government would have introduced a century ago but for unelected Tory peer”
    Is that right? I’ve never heard that the 1906 Liberal government planned regional devolution, or any devolution except for Irish Home Rule. Have you got a source for that?

    On the general issue I think it’s curious that you see the problems of realpolitik to the extent that the Tories might stonewall for their own reasons on moving on once they have EVEL; but you don’t see that political reality is that your pseudo-proportional representation for English votes has less chance of success than a three-legged dachshund at the dog races.

  • I suspect the fear of “more layers of government” is really a fear of more representation and more political participation. “More layers” means that people living in an area have more say over what laws are enacted to affect that area.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Dec '14 - 1:00pm

    A Social Liberal

    So, for the area I live in it would be a Yorkshire parliament. Not a Leeds parliament or a North Eastern one but a YORKSHIRE parliament

    How is this to deal with the reality that power has largely shifted from elected government to Global Big Business? You might devolve what is left of UK government power to Yorkshire, but that won’t devolve any of the power now held by the City of London fat cats who are our REAL government in many aspects, or the sovereign wealth funds who are busily re-nationalising things, albeit no longer our nation being in control of them.

  • Andrew Haldane 9th Dec '14 - 1:57pm

    Tom Snowden’ s / Dave 1 ‘s comments also highlight why enacting real devolution requires time. 6 of the English regions have populations similar to or greater than Scotland >English taxpayers contribute to the costs of assemblies for the other UK nations and London yet it seems assemblies cannot be afforded for us. Tom is right though that looking at how to rationalise other tiers of govenment in England will be part of the process of making our case.

  • Andrew Haldane 9th Dec '14 - 2:12pm

    Re 1906 Liberal Govt on devolution and liking for the German model . My source is a speech by Sir John Simon solicitor General delivered in Macclesfield March 1913 the text of which was recorded in the Constuency Liberal Magazine. He also cited Colonial devolution toi regions in Canada & Australia

  • Andrew Haldane 9th Dec '14 - 2:57pm

    Re Malcolm Todd: Clearly the Tories would hate the idea of PEVEL. However, Labour have the same problem we do which is that they have no solution that could work from day one of a new parliament. Can you imagine how the Scottish referendum would have gone if we’d said “vote yes and we’ll give you first past the post for Holyrood”. The tories can say its unjust that Scots, Welsh and Ulster MPs should vote on English laws. We can riposte by saying England deserves beter than a 3rd Tory power grab. If EVEL were proposed without a Tory overall majority a PEVEL amendment might stand a fair chance

  • Andrew Haldane 9th Dec '14 - 3:04pm

    Re Malcolm Huntbach; Yorkshire may not be alone in preferring alternatives to current English Regions At the NW regional conference it was suggested that Cumbria might relate better to the North East. opportunities to engage with, and seek consensus with these issues through a genuine open consultative process might even contribute to generating political energy comparable to tht in Scotland -who knows

  • David Allen 9th Dec '14 - 5:34pm

    Let’s get this straight. EVEL is transparently a Tory gerrymander designed to tie up the next Labour government in an endless succession of messy conflicts. The Tories will clearly be quite happy to see Britain thrown into chaos just as long as voters learn the lesson that it is not safe to vote Labour (even if that is not actually Labour’s fault!) So what will we do about that?

    Answer, we invent a clever scheme, which nobody will understand, which allows us to support a modified version of EVEL. So we’re sort of going to vote in favour of the gerrymander, except that we’re going to mander it a bit more as well. We’re going to give different English MPs different voting strengths, which will mean complicated decimal points (as sort of permanent Duckworth-Lewis formula, whether or not it’s raining!) You can just see the Tories affecting to be interested, then telling the Lib Dems that sadly they’ll just have to have nonmodified EVEL.

    Under PEVEL, the really smart thing for an English MP to do, once elected, is to defect to the SNP! Then that MP will command a huge voting strength in EVEL, that of all the SNP’s voters. Could be lucrative… Then again, if government were to be Labour with SNP support, then some Labour stooge would have to be told off to defect to the SNP in order to boost the Government in EVEL….

    No. No. No!

  • Andrew Haldane 10th Dec '14 - 8:50am

    There would be a simple answer to false defections. The MPs voting right would be that on which they were elected. The Maths is not difficult to follow though no doubt the Tories and the Mail would try to kake it sound so. We have to draw a red line which says that the governance of England., by far the most populous nation of the should not be decided, by a system which says 40%, a bit more, or even quite a bit less is a majority. That is not good enough for the rest of the UK so why is it good enough for England. If the Tories say tough luck England we have the most MPs PEVEL, as temporay solution while proper devolution is implemented is the answer. It is not a good answer it is just the lesser EVEL while the details of a good answer ar

  • Andrew Haldane 10th Dec '14 - 8:52am

    Last line of previous post should read ” while the details of a good answer are consulted upon,refined ,and implemented

  • None of this is going to happen unless there is joint working with Labour and other non-Tory parties.

    The Tories have shown over the last 4years and 8 months that they will do anything to prevent Liberal Democrat constitutional change.

    The blind spot of our leadership to the fact that there is a lot in common between Labour and Libefal Democrat draft manifestos will be the death of our party. Constantly cuddling up to the Conservative enemy because Clegg, Laws and Alexander feel more at home with their Tory classmates is tactically foolish even if you want a coalition with the Tories. It weakens your bargaining power in any negotiations. Have they learned nothing from 2010?

  • Malcolm Todd 10th Dec '14 - 10:04am

    “the governance of England … should not be decided, by a system which says 40%, a bit more, or even quite a bit less is a majority. That is not good enough for the rest of the UK so why is it good enough for England.”

    Haven’t you heard? That is good enough for the whole of the UK! You may doubt it; but at election after election a great majority of the public vote for parties that are committed to the existing electoral system, and when we had a referendum on moderating it a tiny bit that was overwhelmingly rejected. We may not like it, but it’s perfectly normal.

  • Alex Macfie 10th Dec '14 - 1:29pm

    @Andrew Haldane:
    And what happens if the defection is the other way round? That is to say, a vote-heavy MP defects to a party whose MPs have lower voting weights? Here is Roy Jenkins on the system:

    “[Under the] weighted vote member system …members would be elected exactly as now, but where their party was under-represented nationally this would be corrected by giving them an additional voting strength in the division lobbies of the House of Commons. ..Whether they would carry these numbers round their necks or on their backs, rather like prize bulls at an agricultural show, is not clear, but what is clear is that there would be great problems if one of these vote-heavy beasts were to find himself in a lobby different from his party leader and whips, or worse still, if he were permanently to lumber off across the floor. There would inevitably be the most excited attempts to re-corral him. And the ability sometimes to take independent action must surely be preserved, even encouraged, if MPs are not to become party automata.

    “Therefore, while we respect the ingenuity and conviction with which this weighted vote solution has been put forward, we think that it would arouse more mockery than enthusiasm and be incompatible with the practical working of a parliament.”

    I wonder if Stephen Johnson, who promotes this system under the banner of “Direct Party & Representative Voting” still lurks here. Because this is the same system, and the objections that I and others raised at the time equally apply here.
    As I mentioned, there is a lot more to an MP’s job than voting in the Chamber. It is not easy to see how the weighted votes could be made to work in select committees, which is where most of the real Parliamentary work is done. MPs also initiate legislation and put forward amendments. Do we give vote-heavy MPs more ‘slots’ of Parliamentary time than vote-light MPs? If we are to weight the power of MPs in all areas of their work, then we have to consider things like this, and it would quickly become unworkable, even farcical.
    Weighted voting power makes sense for an electoral college, where members do nothing except vote on proposals that are handed down to them, and probably according to how they are pledged to vote. There is a lot more to Parliament than that.

  • David Allen 10th Dec '14 - 1:32pm

    “There would be a simple answer to false defections. The MPs voting right would be that on which they were elected. The Maths is not difficult to follow though no doubt the Tories and the Mail would try to make it sound so.”

    OK, you could do that. So, let’s adjudicate what happens when 200 Tories vote in favour of a Tory government Bill, 50 rebel and vote against it, 20 defect to UKIP for what seem to be genuine reasons and want to vote against the Bill, 10 more say they support the Bill but will vote against it simply in order to make PEVEL fall over…

    The Tories and the Mail will have no difficulty demonstrating that the maths is an unholy mess!

  • Andrew Haldane 10th Dec '14 - 5:20pm

    The UKIP defectors should resign & call a by election, The weighted vote would be cast in whatever lobby they went into, Re the Roy Jenkins remark cited by Alex Mcfie electronic means of casting a vote weren’t around then. John Tilley is right in the sense that the Tories would do anything to kill off anything that prevents them gaining the EVEl unfair advantage. Malcolm Todd is of course right regarding the UK & first past the post. Universal suffrage was gained step by step maybe fair votes will go the same way. PEVELwould be a temporary step on that road while proper devolution was implemented

  • Alex Macfie 10th Dec '14 - 7:10pm

    @Andrew Haldane: the impracticality of weighted votes is nothing to do with the ability to perform the counting electronically, and I very much doubt that Jenkins was thinking of that. And actually, from a technical point of view, I suspect it would have been perfectly feasible using late 90s technology (the quote is from the report from the Jenkins Commission on the electoral system, set up by the Blair government) to set up a system to count fractional votes electronically on the necessary scale. As stated, the reason it is impractical is that MPs do a lot more than vote in plenary divisions, and it would undermine the concept of Parliament as an “assembly of equals”. For instance, it would give undue weight to local or pet issues championed by vote-heavy MPs.

  • Alex Macfie 10th Dec '14 - 7:25pm

    Requiring MPs who defect to resign and call a by-election would give too much power to party whips. We have a system where MPs are elected as individuals, and fulfill their mandate as individuals. If their office depends on their party label, then the whips could just threaten any rebellious MP with having the party whip withdrawn, and thereby likely losing their seat (in most circumstances, obviously not those of the most recent defections). This is why I oppose such a rule. It sounds democratic, but it actually is less democratic than the way things are.

  • Alex Macfie 10th Dec '14 - 7:50pm

    And actually, if MPs are there primarily as party representatives (as implied both by the weighted vote system and by requiring MPs who defect to resign), rather than as individuals as our current system has it, it doesn’t make make sense to have by-elections at all: an MP who vacates the post ought to be replaced by someone nominated by their original party. Why, if MPs are elected as party representatives, should the voters in the constituency of an MP who, for whatever reason, can no longer serve as a representative of the party under which they were elected, be given a special opportunity to vote for someone of a different party?

  • Andrew Haldane 10th Dec '14 - 9:08pm

    I do follow quite how weighted voting might imply MPs are party representatives.It preserves the constituency link. I would have thought that most voters who elect an MP with a particular party label do so because they support that party and would expect the MP to remain a member of that party. I must reiterate that PEVEL is not suggested as a long term solution but as a counter to EVEL being imposed as a pathetic devolution settlement for England that is biased in favour of the Tories so that a proper devolution solution can be implemented. A year or two of weighted voting is surely preferable to a travesty of devolution for England permanently weighted in favour of the Tories

  • Alex Macfie 24th Dec '14 - 5:29pm

    Weighted votes distort the constituency link by giving constituencies with vote-heavier MPs greater clout. They imply MPs are party representatives via the idea that an MP forms a share of a party block vote. Voters may well elect an MP because they expect the MP to a lot of things that they have promised to do, but ultimately parliament is not an electoral college, and individual MPs should be expected to fulfill their mandate as they see fit. The danger of a stop-gap system is that it becomes the permanent one. And weighted voting plays such havoc with the principles of parliament that I don’t think it should be considered even as a temporary solution.
    I shall leave with Matthew Huntbach’s comment from an earlier thread

    Any system of weighted voting power for MPs falls on the grounds that it assumes all an MP ever does is vote. It would work for an electoral college, but not for a chamber which has an existence for many other purposes and whose members perform many other roles.

    P S Your comment must have gone into the moderation queue, as I only just saw it, despite the date/time.

  • Alex Macfie 24th Dec '14 - 5:29pm

    Weighted votes distort the constituency link by giving constituencies with vote-heavier MPs greater clout. They imply MPs are party representatives via the idea that an MP forms a share of a party block vote. Voters may well elect an MP because they expect the MP to a lot of things that they have promised to do, but ultimately parliament is not an electoral college, and individual MPs should be expected to fulfill their mandate as they see fit. The danger of a stop-gap system is that it becomes the permanent one. And weighted voting plays such havoc with the principles of parliament that I don’t think it should be considered even as a temporary solution.
    I shall leave with Matthew Huntbach’s comment from an earlier thread

    Any system of weighted voting power for MPs falls on the grounds that it assumes all an MP ever does is vote. It would work for an electoral college, but not for a chamber which has an existence for many other purposes and whose members perform many other roles.

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