Tag Archives: proportional representation

Voting reform is vital for a more diverse Parliament

When Sal Brinton and I did the Hungry for Democracy fast last week, we did it to raise awareness of why we need a different voting system for Westminster so that we can get the Parliament we ask for.

Also in our minds was the fact that proportional voting systems give much more potential for a more diverse Parliament. An article on the Electoral Reform Society’s blog this week shows how our First Past the Post system is a barrier to gender equality. Basically, the safest seats are mostly held by men.

When each constituency has just one seat, only one MP can be elected to represent that area. This in itself quells diversity and competition.

Secondly, the majority of seats rarely change hands between different parties. So once an MP is elected to represent a ‘safe seat’ there is little chance of them losing a subsequent election.

Combined with the fact that incumbent MPs are very rarely deselected, it means ‘safe seat’ MPs have unrivalled job security. And, as the new research shows, the longer an MP has held their seat, the more likely they are to be men.

This represents a constant drag on women’s representation – unless there are real structural changes.

proportional voting system with multi-member seats would end seat blocking by adding much-needed competition: constituencies would be represented by multiple MPs, meaning no one could secure a monopoly on local representation

Sal talks about how, at current rates of progress, her baby granddaughters, two this Summer, will be in their ninth decade before gender equality is achieved.

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The #Hungry4Democracy fast begins

As I wrote yesterday, I’m joining Sal Brinton, Stephen Kinnock, Natalie Bennett, Polly Toynbee and a few hundred others in fasting for 24 hours. It’s organised by the Make Votes Matter campaign and it’s to highlight that our democracy is broken and how badly we need Proportional Representation at Westminster.

Just before 8pm, I finished my meal of Macaroni Cheese and oven chips (going for the carb loading there) and that’s it until 8pm tomorrow. Unlike the brave women of the early 20th century  who went on hunger strike and endured unspeakably cruel force feeding, I doubt I’ll get to the end of the day without some significant whinging. It is very not like me to go without food for any reason. I expect I’ll whinge a lot less if some of you contribute to the fundraiser that’s going alongside it. The funds will be split between Make Votes Matter, the Fawcett Society and the food bank charity, The Trussell Trust.

So why am I doing it? Well, I’m lucky. My vote has elected someone to Westminster. Once. in 30 years and 8 elections. That’s just not good enough. In most of the country, the result of any election to the Westminster Parliament is a foregone conclusion. It first struck me as a teenager back in 1983 when there was less than 2.5% between Labour and the Liberal/SDP Alliance, yet Labour got 209 seats and we got 23.

We might all have a vote, but we really don’t get the Parliament we ask for. Channel 4 did an analysis after last year’s election of what the House of Commons might have looked under first past the post, the alternative vote and two PR systems. It’s a game changer. I don’t think it actually reflects how people would vote in those circumstances though, because there would be less need for polarisation. People would be able to freely vote for the party of their heart, or at least the one that comes closest.

Unlike a woman born 100 years before me, there was never any doubt that I would be able to vote. I’d like all my votes to count, though. As a Scot I am lucky enough to cast my local election vote by Single Transferable Vote and my Scottish Parliament vote has a top-up Additional Member System list.

Sadly, I’m being short-changed on my Westminster vote. It doesn’t work as well and it’s time for that to change. There haven’t been many governments that actually command the majority of the voters. In fact, Thatcher’s mammoth 1983 win gave her huge amounts of power that she didn’t deserve. She had a whacking great majority in parliament on less than half of the popular vote. 

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Cut the Electoral Corruption!

“Follow the money” has always been a good tip for an investigative journalist or politician.

 In recent weeks and months there have been plenty such trails to follow.  In reverse order:

  • “Arron Banks faces EU referendum finance investigation” (BBC 1/11/2017);
  • “Trump, Assange, Bannon, Farage … bound together in an unholy alliance” (Observer 30/10/2017);
  • “Who paid for the leave vote?” (Guardian 28/6/2017);
  • “Labour MP calls for probe into Tory use of voter data” (Guardian 27/5/2017);
  • “Watchdog can’t stop foreign interference in election” (BBC 17/5/2017);
  • “No Conservative election charges from 14 police force inquiries” (Guardian 10/5/2017);
  • “The

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We already have a solution to the Brexit conundrum

As a party we seem to be in a bit of a puzzled place at the moment with regards to Brexit now there’s a chance our MPs will have a vote on Article 50. Should we reject any attempts to invoke Article 50 and risk being labeled as anti-democratic – potentially putting many of our current MPs seats at risk? Should we put some red lines down in the hope of getting a decent “soft-Brexit” deal and drive away many thousands of new members? It really is a Catch 22 situation.

Or is it? Is there not an alternative that will allow us to vote against invoking Article 50 whilst allowing the Brexiters a real and fair chance of getting what they want? I believe there is. And we have been campaigning on it solidly for three decades!

Let’s be honest, referendums are the very worst form of democracy. They merely take a snapshot of a moment in time based on public feeling at a certain point and allow populism to run rough shot over evidence based, considered policy. More often than not they don’t give an answer to the actual question asked or provide solutions, they merely create more issues. This is exactly what happened in June.

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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.

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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 …

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Opinion: Why Lib Dems should have no reservations about campaigning for AV

Lib Dems are necessarily an introspective bunch, given to minute analysis of the implications of our own policies in order to ensure they’re entirely fair & liberal. As a consequence, the compromises involved in the coalition agreement (and the practices thereof) have come as something of a brutal shock to many party members – most significantly over the VAT increase. I still find that unbelievable – why on earth would you raise a transaction tax when demand is weak? However, that’s not the issue at hand, which is the Alternative Vote.

The Alternative Vote works by enabling the voter to rank …

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Opinion: Proportional voting

I propose a method of voting in the House of Commons which has the effect of proportional representation without any of the complexity.

There are two possible sacred principles in British democracy:

1) A Member of Parliament has one vote;
2) A party’s voting strength in the house should match its share of the countrywide vote.

Each principle has its adherents. Principle (1) seems to be assumed by everyone but never mentioned.

These principles are in fact contradictory, leading to much complexity, so I propose to abandon principle (1) above, leaving us with principle (2).

The mechanism is simple: take the number of votes cast at …

Posted in Op-eds | 38 Comments

Opinion: Go for STV!

I liked it when a woman asked Gordon Brown in a radio phone-in whether he would support the Tories or Lib Dems if no party had an overall majority and Labour came third. However, to be realistic, the chances are with our ridiculous voting system that Labour will come at least second in seats even if it is third in votes. So, if no party has an overall majority, the Lib Dems are more likely than any other to hold the balance. How would they use it? Could they achieve PR by STV with it? …

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How can we sell the Single Transferable Vote to the public?

The last 24 hours’ focus on voting systems – surely every Lib Dem’s dream come true? – have highlighted just how hard it will be to gain acceptance for the party’s preferred proportional voting system, the single transferable vote.

It’s no surprise that almost all MPs from the two establishment parties, Labour and the Tories, are desperate to hold onto the electoral system that secures their cosy hold on power: just five Labour/Tory MPs voted to include STV in any referendum on voting reform.

But it will also be the case that a significant portion of the country will …

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The 14 non-Lib Dem MPs who backed the Single Transferable Vote

The House of Commons yesterday voted by 365 votes to 187 to hold a UK-wide referendum on changing the voting system next year from first-past-the-post to the alternative vote. The Lib Dems reluctantly voted for the alternative vote, as the most modest of improvements on the current, broken system.

But the party, in the person of Cambridge MP David Howarth, also moved an amendment to leave out ‘an alternative-vote’ and insert ‘a single transferable vote’ – in other words, to ask Parliament to approve an electoral system which would at last reflect the votes cast for parties across the country, …

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LibLink: Chris Huhne – The alternative vote is not the solution

Over at The Guardian’s Comment Is Free site, Lib Dem shadow home secretary Chris Huhne argues Labour has got it wrong in proposing a referendum on the Alternative Vote: only the Single Transferable Vote will remedy the unfairness of the present system. Here’s an excerpt:

is very similar to first-past-the-post in two key respects. Because it is based on single constituencies – a virtue for its proponents, who say they prize the constituency link – the parties continue to select one candidate each, and the voters only have one choice for each party.

That means that in the majority of parliamentary

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Vince: financial markets have nothing to fear from hung parliament

Here’s how the Financial Times reports it:

A hung parliament might frighten the markets, but according to Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, the concerns are “completely and totally irrational”.

The Lib Dems point out that many of the world’s leading economies, including Germany and Italy, hold elections that almost always produce results where the leading party has to do deals with smaller parties. They add that some countries with single party governments, such as Greece, have some of the worst records in dealing with fiscal crises, while multiparty coalitions, such as the one in Sweden in the 1990s, conducted fierce

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Daily View: Electoral Reform Reader

It’s not very often electoral reform tops the news headlines – which is probably no bad thing.

As yesterday was one of those rare occasions, let’s see what was being said – Lib Dem bloggers had some differences of opinion:

The Futility Monster took the subtle, understated approach with the headline “Stick Your AV Up Your Arse

The problem is that this is purely a gimmick, done purely to ask questions of the Lib Dems. Brown has no history of interest in electoral reform,

LibCync, on the other hand, was more positive:

I can’t believe anyone can seriously suggest that we shouldn’t support

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Huhne: AV “small step in right direction” BUT not proportional

What is it about Labour? Why are they waiting til the dying days of their last government for X years to propose anything new and radical? Yesterday, LDV posted the news that Labour has, eventually, U-turned on non-doms, and agreed to Lib Dem proposals that they will no longer be able to sit in Parliament.

And then later last night came the news that Labour will put to the Parliamentary vote next week proposals for a referendum to be staged as a step towards replacing the ‘first past the post’ system.

Chris Huhne, the Lib Dems’ shadow home secretary, …

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Déjà vu all over again: what the 1974 Liberal Party manifesto said

This election will make or break Britain. It is already certain that the government that takes office after the election will face the greatest peace-time crisis we have known since the dark days of 1931… Before any government can begin to get to grips with the economic situation, it must regain the confidence and respect of the electorate.

A big tip of LDV’s hat to Rudolf Fara, co-director of Voting Power and Procedures (VPP) at the LSE (via Politics.co.uk) for pointing out the similarity.

Mr Fara, who was speaking ahead of a lecture last night by Vince Cable setting out his …

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The Independent View: Three myths about PR – and one uncomfortable truth

Jason O’Mahony was a former activist and candidate for the now defunct Irish Progressive Democrats. He now blogs on politics at www.jasonomahony.ie .

Let’s be honest. In the darkest chambers of British psephologist hell, beneath the pit of Parliament Channel subscribers, and even deeper than the cavern of sweaty handed ‘I’ve just found a 1970 Enoch Powell election poster. In crisp condition!’ enthusiasts, there is a special place reserved for Proportional Representation aficionados. Even amongst political anoraks and people who feel passionately about Peter Snow they are the underclass.

Of course, as an Irish political activist, who has lived his entire …

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Opinion: Power2010 gives a unique form of democracy a chance to blossom

Statutory instruments. A Bill of Rights. Freedom of Information. Proportional Representation.

Such ideas are not ones you hear bandied about by your average man or women on the street. Yet they were among those chosen by members of the public to try and mend the lack of trust in Britain’s political system.

For those of you who’ve not yet heard of Power2010 it’s a campaign which launched in the wake of the expenses scandal, with public trust in politics at an all time low. It’s a campaign for political and democratic reform, but with …

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First-Past-The-Post: the ‘safe seats’ system that breeds lazy, corrupt MPs

Calls for the First-Past-The-Post voting system to be abolished in the UK were given a real kick-start last year after it became clear – thanks to the work of Lib Dem blogger Mark Thompson – that it was MPs with large majorities who were more likely to be implicated in cheating the expenses system.

It’s obvious if you think about it: if you were given life tenure in a safe seat where the Labour/Tory majorities are weighed not counted, how concerned would you be with the irksome business of being transparent and accountable? To put it bluntly – as …

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Lord Roberts writes … Our Electoral System – not fit for purpose

The need to reform the Electoral System was underlined by a number of us on the Liberal Democrat benches in the House of Lords.The possibility of it being included in the Queen’s Speech was always minimal but we dared to hope..

We are still living in an age with a system that goes back 200 years. We are trying to run a modern democracy on a dinosaur of a system. In 1832, the Great Reform Act just doubled the electorate from half a million to 1 million. In 1867, the electorate was increased to 2.5 million. In 1884, agricultural workers were added and the electoral total went up to 5 million.

In 1918, the great leap forward came when women aged over 30 were given the vote and the total electorate became 21 million. This was further increased to 28 million in 1928 when women and men aged 21 and over could vote. In 1960, 18 year-olds were added and today the total electorate is in the region of 45 million.

We are using a system devised for half a million people for an electorate that is now 45 million. The system goes back to the time when there were only two parties, Whigs and Tories, later Liberals and Conservatives. There were straight fights in every constituency apart from those with unopposed returns.

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David Owen: Lib Dems should “campaign for a role in a government of national unity”

To be a fair, a former Labour minister, ex-SDP leader and Tory voter is probably the natural person to advocate a national unity government – and that’s exactly what David Owen has done today in an article in The Times:

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, and his deputy, Vince Cable, need to position themselves as ready to shoulder the burden of responsibility for hard economic choices, and help to provide, with one of the big parties, the principled, practical government that the country so sorely needs. That means talking to voters about participating in a government of national unity.

The

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Opinion: Forget open primaries, and go for STV instead

During the debate on MPs’ expenses at the Lib Dem conference recently, one of the speakers, Michael Meadowcroft, suggested that instead of having open primaries as a way of restoring trust in the political process, why not use the Single Transferable Vote (STV) instead?

STV has been the preferred voting system of the Liberal party and Liberal Democrats for many decades, and was championed by the greatest liberal of all, John Stuart Mill, in the nineteenth century. This week Gordon Brown announced that Labour, if re-elected, would propose a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) system, in which instead of marking your ballot paper with an X, you write down your preferences by rank, 1, 2, 3, etc …

The problem with AV is that you are still only electing one person per constituency.

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12 years to re-state a watered-down pledge. So much for progress. #lab09

The Labour Party manifesto 1997:

We are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. An independent commission on voting systems will be appointed early to recommend a proportional alternative to the first-past-the-post system.

Gordon Brown’s speech to the Labour Party conference 2009:

There is now a stronger case than ever that MPs should be elected with the support of more than half their voters – as they would be under the Alternative Voting system. And so I can announce today that in Labour’s next manifesto there will be a commitment for a referendum to be held early

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Standing against the Speaker: never mind the politics, what about the voters?

There’s been plenty of interesting Lib Dem internet chatter asking whether – now Ukip’s soon-to-be-ex-leader Nigel Farage is breaching normal convention and standing against the incumbent Speaker, Tory MP John Bercow, in Buckingham – the Lib Dems should follow suit.

Opinion is divided. Some say we absolutely shouldn’t – here, for instance, is Stephen Glenn:

… while the ‘convention’ for not standing against a sitting speaker is not as set in stone as some people may have you believe, it is none the less a precedent symbolising the apolitical nature of the role. Indeed it seems to be one, that even if contested, the constituents seem to back up as not one speaker seeking election since 1969 has polled less than 50% of the vote.

And here’s the Wit and Wisdom blog:

Liberal Democrats wanting to be taken seriously should give the Speaker a clear run at the next election as is the convention.

Meanwhile Mark Littlewood at Liberal Vision is more open to the idea that the Lib Dems should stand a candidate to oppose Speaker Bercow and Mr Farage:

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[email protected]… James Graham: We need a harder line on voting reform

Over at The Guardian’s Comment Is Free’s ‘A New Politics’ strand Lib Dem blogger James Graham argues that if Gordon Brown is serious about electoral reform Lib Dems should support him – but we must be wary of any proposed referendum. Here’s an excerpt:

Moving to the alternative vote system might be an improvement but it is a baby step, hardly worth having a referendum over at all. Even the Jenkins-designed alternative vote plus is not without its problems. Developed 10 years ago in a failed attempt to appease Tony Blair, it is a classic example of triangulation politics. As such

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    We should debate Liberalism, not liberalism.
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