“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: http://www.macs.hw.ac.uk/~denis/stv4uk.

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.

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.


MPs ignore the obvious

A report by MPs on 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, votes make no difference in about 70% of constituencies. Politicians and parties know this. It is why they concentrate their resources in the other 30%.

Thirty-nine people and organizations gave written evidence on the specific question, “To what extent could electoral reform ... improve public engagement and voter turnout?” All of them recommended changing the voting system, twenty-one of those specifically recommended Single Transferable Vote (STV) and only one recommended another system. You should visit http://www.stvaction.org.uk/node/506 if you would like to know who the twenty-one are.

But the MPs dismissed their views.

This is revealed in an interim report issued today by the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee of MPs.

They have made a ragbag of other recommendations, including making voting compulsory, reducing the minimum voting age, making registration easier, introducing online voting and reforming party structures.

We shall probably comment in more detail later but, even if some of these proposals work, they all avoid the central problem that First Past The Post votes don’t work for most people and, in about 70% of constituencies, there is no incentive for politicians and parties to work for support or persuade people to vote.

The Good Ship Democracy is going down but MPs are just rearranging the deckchairs again.

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.

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