Opinion: I wonder why Labour is warming to electoral reform?

So Labour will be holding a consultation process on the benefits of a secondary vote, compulsory voting and voting at the weekends then? Well, I think I can guess what this exercise will say:

“It’s a wonderful idea, I’m suprised we didn’t think of it before!”

To which I would answer: “Because First Past the Post gave you two landslide majorities!”

Assuming that they continue with the late Roy Jenkins’ recommendation of Alternative Vote, it soon becomes obvious why Labour are now warming to the idea. At the next election (working on the new boundaries) Labour will start off with 349 MPs, the Conservatives will have 210 MPs and we will have 62 MPs. Under a system of Alternative Vote, no candidate is elected unless they achieve 50% of the vote +1, so let’s see how many MPs achieve that in 2005

63 Conservatives; 134 Labour; 16 Liberal Democrats; 1 Plaid Cymru; 1 Scottish National Party
= 215 MPs out of 650 MPs
= 33% of all MPs

Or, to put it another way, Labour has 41% of the MPs needed for an overall majority.

And what about the other 435 MPs who do not have 50% of the vote +1? Well, that’s where the second vote comes in. Like in London, this asks “If your preferred candidate doesn’t manage to make it into the top two, which candidate would you like to support?” And when you put this suggestion through you get some very interesting answers indeed.

Take for instance, Wantage. Under the boundary changes, Wantage in 2005 voted:
Con 22,424 (43%); Lib Dem 14,385 (28%); Lab 12,467 (24%); Green 1,334 (3%); UKIP 796 (2%); Others 646 (1%),

But through the wonders of the alternative vote, Wantage undergoes a startling change:
Lib Dem 26,301 (52%); Con 25,112 (48%).

Yes, that’s right, Wantage goes Lib Dem for the first time in its electoral history. And the reason for this? Labour voters actively vote Liberal Democrat to defeat the Conservative on their second ballot, and when applied across the whole of the UK, the changes are even more stark

Labour 365 (+16 on FPTP); Conservatives 172 (-38 on FPTP); Liberal Democrats 89 (+27 on FPTP); Plaid Cymru 5 (+2 on FPTP); Scottish National Party 7 (+1 on FPTP).

I suppose it would have been ignorant of us to assume that Labour would think of a system that helped us without helping them

* Harry Hayfield is a Lib Dem activist and prospective local election candidate in Ceredigion. The numbers have been generated using the 2005 Media Guide to Parliament and UK-Elect.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Grammar Police 26th Mar '08 - 8:21am

    And London uses the Supplementary Vote, not AV.

  • I must admit the national prediction isn’t what I’d have expected in terms of the strong Labour showing.

    I wonder what assumption was used about Lib Dem second preferences in Labour/Tory marginals.

    Chris Phillips

  • Mark Wright 26th Mar '08 - 9:53am

    AV+ is an excellent system. I think it is more appropriate for Westminster than STV; although I think STV is more appropriate for local elections and Euro elections.

    AV is slightly better than FPTP, and should be accepted as a “stepping stone” to a better system if offered.

  • AV is an improvement to the FPTP, because it is a preferential voting system, but it actually still isn’t proportional representation, it’s just election by absolute majority with more choices. AV is like STV in single-member constituencies, and that’s probably why it has some appeal to Liberal Democrats, but STV isn’t the only voting system which provides proportional representation.

  • Richard Church 26th Mar '08 - 11:16am

    Our party needs to reaffirm its commitment to STV as the system which offers maximum power to the voter. It offers choice within as well as between parties, and empowers the voter to chose on a wider basis than just the party label. The fact that it is likely to produce a more proprtional result is another benefit.

    AV only removes the worst excesses of tactical voting and retains the power of party patronage, and it would have produced a LESS proprtional result that FPTP in 1983, 1987, 1997 and 2001.

  • If Labour are proposing AV, then it is a retrograde step. All the evidence shows AV to be less proportional overall than FPTP.
    Of course, the fact that it is less proportional to our benefit would probably see our principled stance for a more proportional system disappear should it come to the table. I suppose I should expect no better- so long as it isn’t our voters being disenfranchised it isn’t a matter of principle any more.

  • I guess we can’t make informed judgements until we see the proposals in detail. however – BUT the idea that importing Australia’s electoral system (or a variation of it) would improve turnout and boost enthuisasm for politics is as batty as a fruitcake! Firstly, frog-marched to the polls at weekends, Aussies hold politicians in as low esteem as in Britain. Secondly, my mum’s apple crumble is more proportional than AV! In several elections during the 50s and 60s the australian Labor party “won” elections in overall percentage terms, but ended up with fewer seats than the opposition. This happened again as recently as 1998. Thirdly the system is stacked against smaller parties, in favour of the big two. The australian house of “representatives” actually has the grand total of two (counting the conservative coalition as one bloc)parties represented there. Of course these are early days, and there is probably a desire on the part of some Lib Dems to embrace any sort of electoral reform as a “first step” towards PR. However, the flaws in any replacement for FPTP must be pointed out, indeed AV may prove to be a backward step for all those wanting to see a parliament genuinely representative of all shades of opinon in this country.

  • MatGB- AV is not a slightly more fair version of FPTP. Evidence from Australia and from extensive analysies by Open Democracy here show that is often produces substantially more disproportional results than FPTP.

    It is in no sense more fair, although it is unfair to different groups than FPTP. So in what sense is it better? You rightly rubbish the supplementary vote so it can’t just be allowing further expresed preferences, but the results aren’t better, so what does it have to offer?

  • One strategy would be to accept AV from Labour now, and extract multi-member constituencies from Conservaties later (who might under AV be desperate enough to accept PR). That would result STV.

  • Let’s get one thing clear, representation issues and participation levels are distinct, though interrelated, subjects – in this consultation Labour is confusing the two and trying to use the confusion as cover for it’s narrow and biased conlusions for what is in Labour party interests.

    I’m for an election day bank holiday to encourage raised participation levels – especially as an activist! I don’t like wasting the weekend fighting with out-of-town shoppers on the high street as it is, but a beautiful spring V-Day is something to look forward to!

    We need to celebrate our civic spirit and democracy, not relegate it to the same status as any other consumer choice.

  • Hywel Morgan 26th Mar '08 - 6:26pm

    “One strategy would be to accept AV from Labour now, and extract multi-member constituencies from Conservaties later (who might under AV be desperate enough to accept PR). That would result STV.”

    This strategy would seem to rely heavily on blind optimism though!

    If Labour want to talk about a referendum on reforming the voting system then lets discuss the referendum on Jenkins that never happened. Bear in mind that this idea is being pushed by Jack Straw who was one of the forces who blocked a referendum on Jenkins.

    Jack Straw promised Paddy that he would “pull back” on his criticism of Jenkins – later that day Paddy’s diary records “Jack Straw followed with a complete hatchet job” and later “parodying the report and playing to the Tory gallery”.

    Labour have broken their promises (both public and private) on vote reform once before. There’s no reason why we should accept a change of limited value on the basis of vague assurances that this is “a start”

  • Forget the fine points for now. This will probably come to as much as Labour’s past interest in electoral reform.

    However, it is evidence that Labour in power is feeling threatened. This is at a time when the Toreies are feeling less hopeless but still visibly shaky. So far, so good, I think.

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