Reports of the death of electoral reform have been greatly exaggerated

MPs recommend research into electoral reform.

A Select Committee, investigating Voter Engagement (why many people do not vote) reported today. Most of its more publicized recommendations, like making registering and voting easier, will make little or no difference because most votes make no difference under First Past The Post – and many people realize that although they do not all know why.

However, with less publicity, the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee of MPs, has also recommended that, early in the next Parliament, the Government commission research on alternatives to the First Past The Post voting system for general elections

In its interim report last November, the Committee had summarily dismissed electoral reform despite receiving considerable evidence in favour of reform generally and the Single Transferable Vote (STV) in particular.

Not only that but, when the Committee invited comments on its interim report, it did not specifically invite comments on electoral reform.

Despite that, of those who responded to the interim report, 36 witnesses recommended electoral reform and half of those (18) proposed STV. Most of the rest did not suggest a particular system. Several of the 36 complained that, in its interim report, the Committee had ignored the evidence it had requested.

It must have been because of those 36 witnesses that, instead of dismissing electoral reform again, the Committee used its final report to recommend research into alternative voting systems.

It is a great pity that the Electoral Reform Society made only a passing reference to electoral reform in its evidence last year and did not give any evidence at all in response to the interim report.

The electoral reform movement owes a considerable debt to all those who did give evidence in support of reform.

Of course, the post-election Government may be reluctant to accept the recommendation. It is essential that the Liberal Democrats and other minor parties make electoral reform a red-line issue in any coalition negotiations.

Also commissioning research is a well-practised way of kicking any issue into the long grass. We must all – including the ERS this time – keep electoral reform in the public eye and insist on action.

Paragraph 6 of the report’s Conclusions and Recommendations states:

“A large number of respondents to our consultation felt that the First Past the Post electoral system disenfranchised them, and meant that for them it was not worth voting. It is hard to dispute that in safe seats, where the incumbent has a large majority and the party of the elected representative is unlikely to change at a general election, there is a reduced incentive to participate at elections. This can only have a negative impact on voter engagement. We note that a wide range of electoral systems are already in use for various elections that take place across the UK, and the supremacy of one particular electoral system should therefore not be presumed.”

You may see the full report at and we especially recommend paragraphs 14 – 16, 111 – 113 and 118.

The Committee’s recommendation for research is less than we hoped for but more than we feared. It is the first step back, after the disastrous AV referendum in 2011, to putting electoral reform firmly back on the political agenda. Reports of the death of electoral reform have been greatly exaggerated.

But let’s not underestimate the strength of the vested interests that oppose us, especially in reforming the way we elect MPs. The more attainable reform of local government elections in England and Wales should remain our top priority for the time being.

A lesson from Rotherham

According to the BBC, Government commissioners are poised to take over Rotherham council after a report exposed a "culture of denial" over the town's child exploitation scandal.

The council had been dominated by one party for some time with weak opposition and little accountability for the majority council group.

As it happens, Labour is the majority group there but it is not for us to blame one party or another for the scandal. However, we strongly suspect that First Past The Post voting, which gave one party an exaggerated majority and weakened the opposition, must take some of the blame.

MPs report tomorrow

A Committee of MPs will issue its Final Report tomorrow on voter engagement and why many people do not vote. In its Interim Report last November, the Committee dismissed considerable evidence in support of electoral reform in general and the Single Transferable Vote (STV) in particular.

Since then, it has received even more evidence in support of electoral reform and STV.

Will the Committee this time acknowledge the weight of opinion in favour of reform and recommend reform or at least a more detailed consideration of it or will the Committee keep its head in the sand, from where it cannot possibly see the elephant in the room of electoral reform? Why should people vote when they know it makes no difference?

Look out for its report tomorrow!

The electoral reform movement owes a great deal to the 36 witnesses who, in response to the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee’s Interim Report on Voter Engagement, gave written evidence that electoral reform was at least part of the solution. This as especially remarkable because the Committee had studiously avoided asking specifically for views on electoral reform when it invited comments on its Interim Report.

Eighteen of the 36 referred in particular to STV.

The Electoral Reform Society’s first and main object is “To secure the adoption of ... STV ...” but, sadly, it gave no evidence.

As Kevin Cleary wrote in his evidence, “I can see no point in voting. I know who my MP will be after the next election barring an Act of God or some unexpected scandal.”

Our roll of honour contains the following 18, who suggested STV:

Oliver Maddison
Christopher Heyes
STV Action
Thomas G F Gray
A.C James
Michael Meadowcroft
Peter Davidson
Anthony Tuffin
Dr David Hill
Make Votes Count in West Sussex
Tim Ivorson
Jim Halcrow
Dr James Gilmour
Keith Underhill
Nigel Siederer
Brian Wichmann
John Cross
Colin Buchanan

All the written evidence in response to the Interim Report is available at

Government Review nails accusation against STV

Today is the seventh anniversary of the Ministry of Justice's Review of Voting Systems.

As the review stated in paragraph 21 of the Executive Summary:

"All the newly introduced voting systems have achieved a greater degree of [party] proportionality than FPTP, although only STV in Northern Ireland has achieved what academic observers consider to be close to genuine [party] proportionality."

This nails the accusation by some that STV is less party proportionate than other PR systems. In any case, STV offers many other advantages that other PR systems do not. Not least of those is that only STV can provide proportionality of any other significant points of view that matter to voters.

STV also increases voter power, maximizes voter choice and ensures that all MPs are elected the same way so there are no disputes about whether some are elected more legitimately than others.

Please see for other quotations from the Review.

“How do we get rid of you?”

To celebrate today’s 750th anniversary of the first English parliament summoned by Simon de Montfort, let’s repeat five questions the late Tony Benn liked to ask of those in power:

• What power have you got?
• Where did you get it from?
• In whose interest do you use it?
• To whom are you accountable?
• How do we get rid of you?

Unfortunately, the party political system and First Past The Post (winner takes all) voting, which creates safe seats for most MPs, mean that most of then get power from their party so they use it in the interests of the party, are accountable to the party and, realistically, can be got rid of only by the party.

Voting by the Single Transferable Vote (STV) would change that.

With STV, all MPs would get power from the voters so they would use power in the interests of the voters, they would be accountable to the voters and the voters could get rid if them.

STV v other PR systems

Most PR systems weaken the link between MPs and their constituents. Actually, it is not very strong with FPTP and STV would strengthen it.

Most PR systems would strengthen party power and reduce voter power compared with FPTP. STV would reduce party power and strengthen voter power.

Most PR systems encourage factions within parties to split off and form their own parties, which can lead to a large number of small parties and instability, as especially in Israel. STV helps factions within parties (e.g. pro or anti EU or pro or anti a local bypass) to express their views within the party without leaving it.

With most PR systems and, indeed with FPTP, post-election coalitions are formed by politicians behind closed doors. With STV, voters can tell the politicians which coalition they would prefer and punish them at the following election if the politicians ignore them. For example, Conservative voters could show with their later preferences whether they preferred coalition with UKIP or the Lib Dems. Lib Dems could indicate whether they preferred coalition with Labour or Conservative.

Although all PR systems provide fairer representation of parties than FPTP does, only STV also provides fairer representation of people.

STV Constituencies (Save money, avoid controversy, more stability, longer MP/constituents relationships)

One of the perceived obstacles to electoral reform is the work and time to redraw constituency boundaries.

For AMS or AV+, redrawing the boundaries would indeed be a major task. It would also be a controversial one as, although less significant to the overall result than in First Past The Post elections, they could have some effect and every party would do its best to influence the boundaries to its own advantage.

By contrast redrawing for STV would be very simple.

The simplest way, to introduce STV quickly, would be just to amalgamate groups of about five single-member constituencies together to form multi-member constituencies, each of which would elect about five MPs by STV. During the subsequent Parliament, boundaries could be redrawn to link more with natural communities.

Better still with a little more work, the new multi-member constituencies could be based on local authority districts to provide not only a high level of proportionality, but also links with natural communities. Here is such a plan that someone prepared earlier:

Of course, one of STV’s many advantages is that, once drawn, constituency boundaries would rarely need changing. This would not only save work and public money but would also avoid controversy and potential gerrymandering. Moreover, it would introduce greater stability and encourage longer relationships between MPs and constituents.

If a multi--member constituency covered a town and its surrounding countryside and there was a population movement between the town and countryside but no change in the overall population, the constituency could remain unchanged.

A population change, which might be quite significant to a single-member constituency, would be less significant to a multi-member one.

When there is significant change to the population of a multi-member constituency, it may be more appropriate to change the number of MPs than to change the boundaries. This would avoid the knock-on effect on other constituencies that changing boundaries has.

Goals for 2015

STV for local government in England and Wales must remain our first priority in 2015. (Scotland and Northern Ireland already have it.)

This is because the result of the 2011 AV referendum set back reform for electing MPs and reform for local government is more immediately attainable.

Even so, the case for reforming parliamentary elections remains strong and is becoming stronger.

The following all add to the case:
• Increased devolution for Scotland.
• The prospect of another balanced parliament in May.
• The prospect of UKIP voters being under-represented in May. If that happens and especially if UKIP gets more votes but fewer MPs than the Lib Dems, the Daily Mail and Daily Express may experience an epiphany and see the advantages of reform. Then we may acquire some unusual allies.
• The possibility that, in May, voters will move right as many switch from Conservative to UKIP but the Commons will move left as these switches split the right-of-centre vote and give more seats to Labour.
• Concern about low election turnouts, particularly the Select Committee’s current enquiry into voter engagement.
• The 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, which is likely to stimulate debate about democracy.

Many people, who have never even heard of STV, know instinctively there is something wrong but they do not know quite what the problem is or how to solve it. For example, they may be concerned that some MPs may claim more expenses than they should, but they don’t know that STV would let them vote against an individual MP without voting against the party.

So, let’s keep local government reform as our top priority but let’s also keep parliamentary reform in the public eye and take every opportunity to explain how STV could help solve so many problems.

Please see for an article and discussion about STV in local government.

Most voted against UKIP but UKIP won!

Congratulations to Mark Reckless and UKIP on their bye-election victory in Rochester and Strood this week.

But he won with only 42.1% of the vote – about the same percentage as Mrs Thatcher and Mr Blair repeatedly scored nationally for their “landslide” General Election victories.

So, for every four people who voted for him, nearly six voted against him. Yet he won. Yet they call it “democracy”!

If the election had been by Alternative Vote (AV), he might still have won but, at least, he could have been seen to represent the majority of the constituency instead of the largest minority.

On the other hand, the Conservative candidate might have won and then she could have been seen to represent the majority of the constituency.

With First Past The Post voting, we can seldom tell which candidate the majority of voters prefer, especially now with so many candidates to choose from and the way people vote tactically.

We would have known with AV. The result would have depended on whether the UKIP or Conservative candidate was the next choice of those who voted for the others (mainly the Labour voters).

Conservatives use a form of AV to elect their own leader. Those, who understand how it works, must be kicking themselves now for opposing it in the 2011 referendum. With AV, they might have won the election.

Of course, although AV is fine for electing a single person like a Mayor or Police Commissioner, the Single Transferable Vote (STV) is considerably better for electing a legislature, council or committee.

STV has all the advantages of AV plus more. STV provides a greater freedom of choice for voters to vote positively FOR candidates (not to keep one or another out), and proportionality of both parties and any other groupings that matter to voters; on Europe or the economy for example.

MPs ignore evidence - "just rearranging the deckchairs"

STV Action issued the following Media Release today:

“MPs ignore evidence

A Committee of MPs investigating voter engagement has ignored the obvious fact that people see no point in voting when their votes make no difference. Under First Past The Post voting, votes make no difference in about 70% of constituencies. Politicians and parties know this. It is why they concentrate their resources on campaigning in the other 30%.

Nevertheless, ignoring the weight of written evidence that it received, the Select Committee dismissed electoral reform with the single statement, “Westminster
has a settled view on First Past the Post.”

This is revealed in an interim report issued last week (on November 14) by the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee of MPs.

So what if Westminster does have a settled view? Of course most MPs don’t want to risk changing the system by which they are elected but committees of clubs, institutes, trades unions etc don’t decide how they themselves are elected. The general membership decides.

And if Westminster does indeed have a settled view, why did the Committee pose the question to the public, “To what extent could electoral reform ... improve public engagement and voter turnout?” in the first place? It defies all reasonable logic that the Committee posed the question but ignored the responses.

All – yes ALL – 39 witnesses, who gave written evidence on this question, recommended electoral reform. Twenty-one of the 39 recommended Single Transferable Vote (STV), one suggested another system and the remaining
17 did not advocate any particular system.

The Committee made several recommendations. They may or may not help to increase voter engagement but they do not tackle the fundamental problem that people know that most votes make no difference.

The Good Ship Democracy is going down but MPs are just rearranging the deckchairs again. There is still a short opportunity, though, to tell the Committee it has missed the point. The Committee has invited comments on its recommendations by Friday January 9, 2015.


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