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Electoral Reform In The United Kingdom

As I am sure you are all aware, unless you have been living under a rock, the United Kingdom went to polls on Thursday in what was one of the most hotly contested general elections of recent times. The bubble of Clegmania burst and Brown rallied at the last with the Conservatives failing to take 30 targeted labour marginals that would have given them a clear parliamentary majority. Just in case you are wondering why David Cameron and the Conservative Party after winning the most seats and having the largest share of the vote are not in power. I will give you a brief explanation to form a government you need 326 of the 650 seats otherwise we have a hung parliament. Hung parliaments are not good for anyone, politicians or the public. The coalitions that are sometimes formed are weak and full of backstabbing with more regard for the future standing of the party than the will of the people.

Although it was we the electorate who gave this country a hung parliament with more people voting against Cameron than for Brown, it is the system of First Past The Post (FPTP) that made this a likely outcome in this election. The unfairness of this system is sniggered at throughout most of the civilised world. In the 2005 general election Tony Blair and the Labour Party received 9,562,122 votes or 35.3% of the popular vote; this gave them 356 seats and a clear if not huge majority. In this 2010 general election David Cameron and the Conservative Party received 10,706,647 votes and 36.1% of the popular vote, this however only gave them control of 306 seats, which is why we have this hung parliament. The reason for this is to do with the size of the constituencies and the dispersal of voters. Labour supporters tend to be congregated in large urban areas with a small size and Conservative supporters in large rural constituencies. So what is the answer? The answer is Proportional Representation (PR)

Mr Oldfield and I have two proposed plans with different kinds of electoral procedures. One is for the House of Commons and one is for the House of Lords. We believe that the two styles will help to make the election of MP’s and Lords more representative of the wishes of the electorate, which is how it is supposed to be.

Mr Oldfield and I are not suggesting PR for the House of Commons but a fairer system than FPTP, where all the views of the electorate are taken into consideration not just those of the winning majority. For the House of Commons we are proposing the Alternative Vote (AV) system and for the House of Lords the Single Transferable Vote (STV).

The Alternative vote is not a form of PR, however it will improve the antiquated FPTP system. AV is a system of voting that was used by the majority of countries before they adopted PR and worked well for them.  The AV system allows the voters to rank the candidates in order of preference. A winner is decided in one of two ways, if a candidate gets 50% and 1 vote of the total number of ballots they win the seat. However if no candidate gets 50% and 1 vote the number of lower preferences is used to decide the winner. While this is not necessarily a more proportional system of voting it does have several advantages over FPTP. The advantages of the system are that it ensures that the votes of all of the voters are included in the election of an official, if there is no single candidate who can achieve a 50% and 1 vote majority. This forces the candidates to appeal to a wider number of voters in marginal constituencies and should ensure that the winning candidate represents the views of the largest number of people, not just the minimum needed. The final benefit is that it will ensure the retention of a local MP who represents his constituency. With STV or another form of PR it is easy to loose local representation.

The Downside to Using AV is that while it does take into account a larger number of people’s views, it might not help to correct the balance between the number of seats and the proportion of the votes a party gets in a general election.

It is in the House of Lords that Mr Oldfield and I are proposing the most radical reform, we would like to see a completely elected upper house and a bicameral system of government. This however is the topic of another post that will be coming soon. Now I am just going to talk about our reasons for wanting the STV for the House of Lords.

We are proposing that the House of Lords be completely elected by the PR system of STV. The system of the Single Transferable Vote is a system that allows for all votes to be taken into account and is fair in the distribution of seats. The system works in a similar way to AV whereby you rank the candidates on order of preference.  This system starts off by awarding the vote to the elector’s number one candidate. There is a threshold for the number of votes needed to be elected, after candidates have been elected, the remaining surplus votes are transferred to the voters second choice. This continues until all the seats in the district have been filled.

The system is used in the Republic of Ireland for their elections and has been shown to provide a very high proportionality of the number of seats awarded for the number of votes cast. This system is wildly different from any voting system used in the UK so far, it would require a whole new set of election boundaries with multiple candidates elected from each district. There would be huge changes to the UK parliamentary system from the way laws are created to the separation of Church and State. Of course Bishops would not be barred from standing for elections.

So in conclusion Mr Oldfield and I are proposing massive electoral reform that we hope will, while changing the face of British politics to make it more representative, ensure our system once again is the example of democracy the world can admire and aspire to.

Categories: Electoral Reform
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