Election statistics

If you have missed the records of UK election statistics that the Electoral Reform Society used to publish on its website, you may care to visit http://psephos.adam-carr.net where you can find a comprehensive record of election statistics from around the world.

Roads for votes!

David Cameron was accused yesterday of proposing relief roads for marginal constituencies to attract votes in next year’s General Election.

It’s rather like the old story that marginal constituencies, especially those served by the Central Wales Line, were spared the Beeching cuts of railway lines in the 1960s for political reasons.

Either relief roads are needed and are financially justifiable or they are not, regardless of whether the constituencies are marginal. Either a railway line is viable or it is not, regardless of whether it runs through marginal constituencies.

If the Prime Minister is deliberately selecting marginal constituencies to help, it is wrong of him. If he is not, it is wrong for his opponents unjustifiably to accuse him of a kind of bribery.

Such decisions should not be made for party political interest and should be seen not to be made for party political interest.

The underlying problem is the First Past The Post voting system, which creates safe and marginal seats. Politicians feel they have to concentrate on the marginals so they tend to ignore the safe ones.

The Single Transferable Vote (STV) would change this.

With STV, every constituency would be larger than it is now and a handful of switched votes would be less likely to make a dramatic difference to the election result than it can now in marginal constituencies.

In many STV constituencies, at least one of the seats would be marginal. If the Labour and Conservative parties both knew that the Conservatives could win seats in any part of Scotland and the North of England and Labour could win seats in any part of the South of England, they would be unable to ignore millions of people in those areas. Picking out a few areas for special attention would become less politically profitable.

With STV, politicians and political parties would have to work everywhere for support instead of taking many parts of the country for granted. They would not be able to win elections by building a few relief roads or saving a few railway lines in politically sensitive areas. They would have to listen to all voters everywhere.

Simple explanations for reformers

C G P Grey has made three simple, explanatory videos, which are all worth watching by electoral reformers and each one is followed by on-line debate. Although they are in an American context, the principles are universal so they should be of interest to reformers outside the USA:

The problems with FPTP: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7tWHJfhiyo

Gerrymandering explained: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mky11UJb9AY

STV explained: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8XOZJkozfI. Although this oversimplifies the calculation of the surplus, it is still worth watching.

Non-reformers should watch them even more than reformers should. The videos would be educational for them! But non-reformers probably won’t see them unless YOU advise them to watch.

And they call it democracy!

What Government will the UK have after the 2015 General Election?

If enough English voters move right and vote UKIP instead of Conservative, it is unlikely that there will be many, if any, UKIP MPs but the Conservatives may lose enough seats to give Labour a majority. So the voters would have moved right but Parliament and the Government would have moved left. And they call it democracy!

But there is now evidence that the SNP may almost wipe out Labour in Scotland, although most SNP candidates would win with minority votes. (The pro-UK vote would be split between Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative.) If Labour lost many of its 40 or so seats in Scotland to the SNP (i.e. if Scotland moved left), the centre-right Conservatives could be the largest party in the Commons with first claim to form a Government.

Of course, a coalition of Labour and SNP might be able to deny Government to the Conservatives but what an uneasy coalition that would be if the SNP had reached that position by unseating many Labour MPs! Also, would the SNP govern for the benefit of the UK as a whole, which should be the purpose of the UK Government of any political persuasion, or would it extract as much as it could from Labour to further Scottish independence?

Single Transferable Vote (STV) would reduce these problems.

With STV, English UKIP voters could give their next preferences to Conservative candidates to avoid splitting the right-of-centre vote and letting Labour win on a minority of votes.

With STV, Scottish supporters of the UK could give their next preferences to pro-UK candidates (i.e. Labour, Liberal Democrat or Conservative candidates) to avoid splitting the pro-UK vote.

Overall, the House of Commons would be more representative with STV of voters in every part of the UK and of the UK as a whole.

STV fairer for Tories in Scotland and strengthen Union

STV Action was and is still neutral on whether Scotland should become independent but one of the Yes Campaign’s arguments was that Scotland had overwhelmingly rejected the Conservative Party in the 2010 General Election and yet had got a Conservative led UK Government.

This seemed to resonate with some Scottish voters although it was not completely true. The Better Together campaign did not seem to refute this argument, but perhaps that is because its leaders did not want to draw attention to the way First Past The Post elections distort voters’ views.

In 2010, the Conservatives won only one seat in Scotland and that does look like an overwhelming rejection BUT they actually achieved 17% of the votes. Although that is quite small, it is a respectable amount of support and not much less than the SNP’s 20%.

With a proportional voting system such as STV, the Conservatives and SNP would have had about 10 and 12 MPs respectively from Scotland instead of one and six.

If Scotland returned about 10 Conservative MPs to Westminster and nearly as many as the SNP, it would be harder for Nationalists to argue that Scotland had overwhelmingly rejected the Conservatives. Not only that, but also 10 MPs would represent Scotland better than one can within the Conservative Party.

The Conservative Party would then have a clearer understanding of Scottish problems and there would be more Conservative MPs from whom to choose Ministers or Shadow Ministers.

Scotland votes No! But change inevitable for the whole UK

Scotland votes No and gets enhanced Devolution! As a result, the Government has promised to resolve the West Lothian Question.

With enhanced powers for the Scottish Parliament to decide on matters affecting just Scotland, Scottish MPs in Westminster should not vote on matters that do not affect Scotland. Conservatives especially believe this and they have a good case.

Labour MPs are reluctant to solve the Question because they rely on Scottish Labour MPs in the UK Parliament and fear a permanent Conservative majority on English affairs, which they argue would be undemocratic. They too have a good case.

The answer must be to elect ALL MPs by STV so the UK Parliament will be more representative.

Labour MPs would be less reliant on their Scottish colleagues and votes on English matters would be less likely to have a permanent Conservative majority; that would mean better democracy for all.

Select Committee told STV could improve voter engagement

The electoral reform movement owes a great deal to the 21 witnesses who gave written evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee that the Single Transferable Vote (STV) could help to improve voter engagement.

The Electoral Reform Society’s first and main object is “To secure the adoption of ... STV ...” but, sadly, the Society was not one of the witnesses who recommended STV. It made only a fleeting reference to electoral reform and did not mention STV at all.

One of the questions of the Select Committee’s enquiry into voter engagement was “To what extent could electoral reform ... improve public engagement and voter turnout?” All 39 witnesses who addressed this question recommended electoral reform. Twenty-one (54%) of them recommended STV, one suggested AMS and the remaining 17 did not advocate any particular system.

STV Action gave supplementary evidence to draw the Committee’s attention to the large amount of evidence in favour of STV.

The roll of honour contains the following 17, who made the introduction of STV their sole or main recommendation:

• Michael Meadowcroft
• Brian Wichmann
• A E L Davis
• Canon Michael Hodge
• Colin Buchanan
• Arthur James
• Keith Underhill
• STV Action
• Make Votes Count In West Sussex
• Anthony Tuffin
• Dr. David Hill
• Tim Ivorson
• Richard Lung
• Ian Sheppard
• Thomas Gray
• Malcolm Morrison
• David Smith

The following 3 advocated STV among other measures:

• John Strafford (paragraph 1.1.7)
• Keith Best (especially paragraph 5)
• David Green (his 9th proposal)

The prestigious British Academy mentioned PR favourably and suggested STV should be considered.

A common view was that, although STV alone might not improve voter engagement, nothing else was likely to help without it.

As Keith Underhill wrote, “Changing the voting system will not immediately mean that we will jump to European levels of turnout, there are other reasons for low turnout like the perception that politicians are all the same, but it would be a step forward and would give us all a say, not just the ones in marginal seats!”

Colin Buchanan commented, “Giving it [a fair voting system] priority also enables the quest to set aside as largely irrelevant the large number of red herrings dragged across the path. They are not only no substitute for addressing the justice issue, but by posing as real answers they greatly hinder attention to this prime question.”

Dr David Hill had an interesting and constructive perspective, “.. a start should be made on local government (possibly allowing STV as an option..). That would be a worthwhile change in its own right, as well as a suitable experiment to give evidence that could be taken into account in future enquiries into turn-out.”

A E L Davis agreed with David Hill on that and also recommended the Committee to consider the experience of STV in civil society.

We shall have to wait and see what the Committee makes of the evidence. It is difficult to see how any fair-minded body of people could ignore the weight and quality of the evidence in favour of STV but, at least, that evidence is now all in the public domain. Journalists and the public will be able to judge for themselves how fairly the Committee treats the evidence.

The written evidence is available at http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-sele....

More working class MPs?

Someone remarked on BBC Radio 4 this morning that there were very few working class MPs and there should be more so that Parliament would be more representative. The Labour Party, which used to select working class candidates from trades unions, now selects mainly from graduates and very few have ever been manual workers.

He did not say, although he could have said, that there should be more Liberal Democrat and Green MPs and some UKIP MPs so that Parliament would be more representative.

The easiest way to produce more working class MPs would be for parties to select more working class candidates for safe seats. Similarly, parties could produce more black, female and Muslim MPs by selecting black, female and Muslim candidates for safe seats.

But why should parties foist working class, black, female and Muslim MPs on constituencies any more than they now foist middle class, white, male and Christian MPs on constituencies?

Voters themselves should be able to choose their own MPs, which they cannot effectively do with the present First Past The Post (winner takes all) voting system. Nor would they be able to choose their own MPs under most proportional systems, but there is one exception.

The Single Transferable Vote (STV) system would encourage parties to nominate a broad range of candidates to widen the party’s appeal and maximize its votes. From that broad range, voters would be able to decide for themselves whether they wanted a working or middle class MP, a black or white MP etc.

STV alone would reduce party power and increase voters' power to choose the MPs that THEY want.

Lib Dems must demand STV at least for local government

If another coalition is needed in 2015, the bottom line for Liberal Democrats must be STV for all subsequent local government elections in England and Wales.

May’s elections changed the political landscape to a four-party one and, if the old two-party First Past The Post (Winner takes All) voting system looked wobbly in a three-party system, it now looks totally discredited in a four-party system.

If each of the largest two parties lacks an overall majority in 2015 but has enough MPs to form a stable coalition with the Liberal Democrats and they both invite the Liberal Democrats to coalition talks, Liberal Democrats have a moral duty to voters to talk first to whichever of the other parties has the more votes even if it has fewer MPs.

If the Conservative Party is persuaded to support PR at all for local government or any other elections, it is likely to want STV. If Liberal Democrats are in talks with Labour about a possible coalition, they should make the same demand. There should be no compromise on this.

This is a summary of an article, “How Lib Dems can achieve STV for local government” in Lib Dem Voice on 17 June 2014: http://www.libdemvoice.org/the-independent-view-how-lib-dems-can-achieve...

Lib Dems steal local elections!

Last Thursday’s local election results in England contain many examples of the unrepresentative nature of the First Past The Post (Winner takes all) voting system. Rather than confuse you with too many of them, we have selected just two. In both of them, the Liberal Democrats are grossly over-represented while the Conservatives are under-represented and other parties are not represented at all despite the number of votes they received.

For our first example, Liberal Democrats gained two seats in the London Borough of Sutton. They now have 45 Councillors (83%) to the Conservatives’ nine (17%), but the votes tell a very different story.

According to the Council’s website, the seats and percentage votes were:

Lib Dems, 45, 43%
Conservative, 9, 30%
Labour, 0, 15%
UKIP, 0, 8%
Green, 0, 3%
Others, 0, 1%

We show below how approximately how many seats each party would have won if the seats had been in proportion to the votes and, in brackets, the number of seats they actually won:

Lib Dems: 23 (45)
Conservative 16 (9)
Labour 8 (0)
UKIP 5 (0)
Green 2 (0)
Others 0 (0)

The exact result would depend on what kind of proportional representation was used and how people would have voted. They might have voted differently from the way they did with First Past The Post, but this illustrates how unrepresentative First Past The Post is.

It is clear that, although the Liberal Democrats were by far the most popular party, the voters collectively did not want them to have the overwhelming majority that they do have. Indeed, the voters did not give them a majority at all. The voting system gave it to them. Most people voted against the Liberal Democrats.

Our second example comes from Eastleigh, Hampshire where UKIP came second to the Liberal Democrats in a parliamentary bye-election fifteen months ago and came second again in votes on Thursday but only third in seats. Indeed they got no seats.

There, the Liberal Democrats took 13 seats (87%) for only 43% of the votes while the Conservatives took two seats (13%) for 21 % of the votes and UKIP (26%) and Labour (10%) won no seats at all.

To rephrase that, the Liberal Democrats won more than twice the number of seats than their votes merited and retained their overwhelming majority on the council although nearly six out of ten voters voted against them. The party with the second largest support was UKIP with more than one vote in four, but it got no seats. Labour also got no seats for one tenth of the votes. Compared with UKIP, the Conservatives were lucky; despite having fewer votes than UKIP, the Conservatives won two seats to UKIP’s none. However, overall and compared with the Liberal Democrats, the system treated the Conservatives badly. For about half the Liberal Democrats’ number of votes, they won less than one sixth the number of seats.

Although any Proportional Representation (PR) system would produce fairer results than these in terms of Party Representation, only Single Transferable Vote (STV) in multi-member constituencies would maximize voters’ choices, improve Councillors’ accountability to voters and provide Personal Representation in proportion to any factors (party or not), which voters regarded as important.

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