Tag Archives: jenkins commission

Opinion: To STV, and beyond …

Like many Lib Dems, the prospect of bringing in a fairer voting system makes me all a-flutter. We know that first-past-the-post is unrepresentative, and the recent impetus towards reform (if I may put it so tacitly) has opened the door to the overhaul of our electoral system.

However, it appears as though the door has been partially blocked by the baby gate of Alternative Vote Plus, the brainchild of the Jenkins Commission. Akin to a less proportional version of the Additional Member System used in Scotland, Wales and in London Assembly elections, AV+ would make our voting system slightly more representative – but not to the point where it would frighten Labour and Conservative MPs raised on a diet* of safe seats.

Since this appears to be the best offer on the table, our Take Back Power campaign has endorsed it, with the disclaimer that we’d really rather have STV.

However, what we’re not doing at present – and I would claim we need to do – is directly challenging the findings of the Jenkins Commission that led to them rejecting STV as a possibility in the first place.

The Commission considered STV as it works in Ireland, with large multi-member constituencies aimed at ensuring that there is at least one Teachta Dála for every 25,512 people. Given the comparative population of Britain and Ireland , the Commission claims that the expansion in parliamentary numbers required to facilitate this would be unacceptable to the public, and instead considers STV in the context of constituencies containing on average 350,000 people. This is one MP per 87,500 people, assuming a similar number of parliamentarians to at present. The Commission claims the length of the ballot paper needed to serve such large constituencies to provide ‘a degree of choice which might be deemed oppressive rather than liberating’ – which anyone who voted in the recent European elections will, of course, know to be true, and in no way an unproven assertion by a parliamentary commission. I myself found my 3-foot ballot paper so oppressive that I voluntarily surrendered my freedom of speech for the entirety of polling day.

Aside from a few more niggles around complexity and suitability (look out for the part where the Commission comes close to asserting that the views of politicians are more important than the public when it comes to voting reform), the meat of the Commission’s objections to STV came in the form of the political realities into which it will be placed.

The Commission argued that STV constituencies on the Irish model would work well in big cities, but in the countryside would cover huge geographic areas to incorporate the approximately 350,000 people necessary. If 3-member constituencies were reduced in size in the countryside, this would give the Conservatives a massive inbuilt advantage, owing to their rural base. A hybrid STV/AV system, with STV constituencies in the cities and AV in the countryside would disadvantage Labour – the Tories would get seats in the cities, while Labour would be unable to similarly capitalise in the countryside.

This is a serious objection – some of the Highland constituencies are already enormous, and this would lead to a single constituency covering much of Scotland . Attempts to hybridise the system on the lines that Jenkins proposes would reduce the very proportionality that STV is meant to achieve.

So how can we counter this?

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