A route to STV

If the Liberal Democrats take part in any coalition discussions in 2015, they must insist on Single Transferable Vote (STV) for local government elections.

A recent New Statesman article - http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/05/2015-election-could-revive-... - reports that opinions polls predict that the Conservatives may win most votes but Labour may win most seats in next year’s general election.

The article suggests that this may revive interest in electoral reform, especially among Conservatives. This seems very likely. It certainly happened in 1974 when the Conservatives won most votes but Labour won most seats. Not surprisingly, Conservatives felt robbed even though it was their party’s fault for not introducing a more representative voting system when it could have done.

Of course, the irony is that, just when a fairer voting system coincides with Conservative interests, the party may be in opposition and unable to legislate for reform. At the same time, the Labour Party, which has been showing some half-hearted interest in reform while in opposition, may be in government and unwilling to change the system that brought it to power.

But there may be a way to implement a fairer system in 2015, foreshadowed by negotiations between the Liberal Democrats and Labour in Scotland which successfully brought in reform of the voting system used for Scottish local government for 2007 and since. The possible results of the next general election may portend a change in local government elections in England and Wales. (Northern Ireland, like Scotland, already uses the fairer voting system.)

In 2010, the Liberal Democrats had no realistic option other than to form a coalition with the Conservatives; the Conservative Party had won the most votes and the most seats while Labour did not have enough seats to form a stable coalition with the Liberal Democrats. At that time, the Liberal Democrats secured agreement to the referendum on AV for general elections but there was not enough public support to secure a change.

Suppose that, in 2015, again no party has an overall majority but both the Labour and Conservative Parties have enough seats for either of them to form a stable coalition with the Liberal Democrats. But suppose also that New Statesman is right and Labour has more seats but the Conservatives have more votes. What should the Liberal Democrats do then if the largest two parties both invite them to coalition talks?

Although many Liberal Democrats might prefer an agreement with Labour, wouldn’t they have a moral duty to voters to try first to reach an agreement (if they are invited) with the Conservative Party, the party for which most people had voted? Liberal Democrats believe in STV so shouldn’t they try to form a coalition with the party that would probably have had the most seats if the election had been by a more representative system? Wouldn’t that be the most democratic way to proceed?

Of course, there would have to be conditions with some give and take on both sides, as there was in 2010. The bottom line for Liberal Democrats would have to be STV for all subsequent local government elections.

That would be fair enough. After all, if the Conservative Party was only the second largest in the Commons, its only claim to open discussions to be the senior coalition partner would be that it had the most votes; i.e. it should have been the largest party in the Commons and would have been the largest party in a more representative election. Indeed, in that situation, it should support PR for general elections, but the reality is that it would not do so quite so soon after the 2011 referendum.

The big question is whether the Liberal Democrats would have the nerve to hold out for this crucial, long-term improvement to UK democracy even if they were offered other short-term concessions on other policies instead. Also, would the Liberal Democrats hold out, not just for any old PR that provided Party Representation but for PR-STV, which alone provides Personal Representation and maximizes voters’ choices?

STV Action is quite optimistic that, if the Conservative Party is persuaded to support PR at all for local government or any other elections, it will choose STV as the system. This is because Conservatives pride themselves on valuing individualism and encouraging freedom of choice, so STV should be their natural system of choice. David Cameron made this very clear when he explained what improvements to the voting system would mean to him – shifting power to decide who should be elected as MPs from the political parties to the voters, and specifically not party list systems.

If the Conservatives refused to offer a firm guarantee of STV for all subsequent local government elections, we hope the Liberal Democrats would make the same demand of the Labour Party, again if they were invited to talks.
Although Labour’s centralist tendencies may make it reluctant to support STV for the Commons, it may be willing to promise PR of some sort for local government in order to secure Liberal Democrat support and lead the next government, but that would not be good enough. Liberal Democrats must hold out for STV, which alone maximizes voters’ choices and provides proportional representation not only of parties but of any other divisions that matter to voters.

Anyway, as Scotland and Northern Ireland already have STV for local government elections, it would be perverse to introduce a different PR system for the rest of the country.

STV, if only for local government, must be absolutely non-negotiable. If there has to be compromise, it should be on other areas of policy. On whatever else Liberal Democrats feel obliged to compromise in any coalition negotiations in 2015, they should not compromise on STV.

“Every Labour vote will count everywhere”

How eagerly I read every word of every Euro-election leaflet to discover the parties’ policies for Europe!

Then I read in the Labour leaflet, “Every vote counts, everywhere in South East England”. And, just in case voters failed to get the message the first time, there was “Every Labour vote will count everywhere”.

So, does Labour now recognize the merits of electoral reform? Does it want Labour votes to count everywhere in general elections and local elections? Is Labour going to campaign for electoral reform now, like it used to do before it became one of the two largest parties? I almost became excited.

I think I’ll ask Mr Miliband, but I’m not holding my breath!

“PR produces coalition governments”

So runs a frequent argument against PR and it was deployed in the recent New Statesman debate on http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/05/2015-election-could-revive-... but it is spurious for two reasons:

• It assumes that coalition government is bad but it is bad only for a party that wants to govern, unchecked, on its own like a collective dictatorship. It works well in most of Europe and it works for voters by imposing a check on the largest party that might otherwise govern on its own even though it represents only a minority of voters.

• First Past The Post can also produce coalition governments. We have had one since the 2010 general election and opinion polls suggest that we shall probably have another from 2015. The difference is that, with PR and especially STV, the coalition is more likely to represent most voters.

STV encourages civility

Recent research funded by the American FairVote (courtesy of the Democracy Fund) suggests that preferential voting (i.e. STV or AV), known as ranked choice voting (RCV) in the USA, is gaining favour among voters and candidates alike, who see it as a means of reducing divisive politics and fostering more positive, inclusive, and informative campaigns.

Two surveys, conducted by The Eagleton Poll at Rutgers University in collaboration with FairVote and Professors Caroline Tolbert (University of Iowa) and Todd Donovan (Western Washington University), polled 2,400 likely voters and over 200 candidates in three cities with RCV and seven control cities in November. Early analysis of this new data reaffirms RCV’s positive impact on voting and democracy.

Balanced Parliaments are good

According to Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail (which is not usually a friend of electoral reform) on 1 May 2014, Sir Robert Rogers, Clerk of the Commons, wrote a letter to the Speaker announcing his departure. “The letter spoke of how Parliament is today better at scrutinising the Executive than it used to be. Indeed it is. That is partly because it is a hung [i.e. balanced] Parliament.......”

One of the objections often voiced against STV and other proportional voting systems is that they encourage so-called hung parliaments, which are portrayed as bad and undesirable.

In fact, balanced parliaments, as we prefer to call them, can occur with any voting system (except the North Korean and similar!) and the UK has one now with First Past The Post. However, with a proportional system and especially with STV, Parliament is representative of voters so there is a balanced parliament when voters are balanced.

Far from being bad and undesirable, balanced parliaments are good and desirable because, as Sir Robert has remarked, they enhance Parliament’s ability to scrutinize the Executive, which is meant to be one of its key functions.
So, far from being an argument against STV, the possibility of a balanced parliament is an argument for STV; it makes governments more accountable.

Joan Davies 9.1.1930 – 25.3.2014

We very much regret to announce the death of Joan Davies on 25 March 2014. She was a stalwart champion of STV, had been a member of the ERS Council and was at one time its Chair. She had also been Chair of DAGGER (Democrats Action Group for Gaining Electoral Reform). She is a great loss to the electoral reform movement.

She was a very keen supporter of women’s rights and had represented a leading NGO on human rights at UN and other international conferences. She had also been a magistrate.

We extend our sincere sympathies to her family.

The funeral will be at St Michael’s Church in Bishop’s Cleeve, Gloucestershire at 2pm on Monday 7 April.

Donations may be made to the Desert Flower Foundation – http://www.desertflowerfoundation.org/en, which was a cause dear to her.

The Miller’s Tale

Should Maria Miller resign as an MP or be deselected following the Parliamentary Commissioner’s ruling that she should repay £45,000 expenses, the subsequent decision of the House of Commons Committee on Standards that she need repay only £5,800 and then her apology, which her critics have said was inadequate?

That is not for STV Action to decide and we also do not think that her party or the Courts should decide. We believe that the voters in her constituency of Basingstoke should take the decision but, with First Past The Post (Winner takes all) voting, they will not have real power to decide.

Basingstoke is a very safe seat for the Conservative Party. At the last general election in 2010, Maria Miller was one of only about 30% of MPs who received votes from more than 50% of the voters. 50.52% of Basingstoke voters supported her and she had more than twice the number of votes received by her nearest rival, the Liberal Democrat candidate; if her party nominates her again, she will almost certainly win again even if the majority of Basingstoke voters no longer want her.

For example, if her vote goes down to 34% and the Liberal Democrat and Labour candidates each receive 33% of the votes, she will be re-elected even though twice as many will have voted against her as voted for her.

Preferential voting (“ranked choice voting” in the USA) by STV or AV would solve that. The seat would not be as safe as it is with First Past The Post (Winner takes all) voting and the voters could decide.

Also, some Conservative supporters may want to vote against Maria Miller without voting against their party, but they cannot do that with First Past The Post (Winner takes all) voting. They could do so with preferential voting by STV or AV.

On the other hand, Basingstoke voters may feel that criticism of Maria Miller is unjustified or that, despite it, she is such a good constituency MP that she should be re-elected. They should have the opportunity to re-elect her. De-selection would deny them that opportunity.

Preferential voting by STV or AV would also solve that. Maria Miller could be one of two or more Conservative candidates and voters could chose between her and the others without splitting the party vote. Alternatively, if the party did not nominate her, she could stand as an Independent without splitting the Conservative-minded vote.

Why don't more people vote?

The House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee has invited evidence on why so many people do not vote; i.e. why voter turnout is so low in most modern elections in the UK.

If you would like to give evidence to the Committee, please visit http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-sele... for more details but note that the deadline is 1 May.

Make them WANT to vote before making it easier

The Guardian – http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/mar/26/uk-e-voting-elections-el... - has reported that the Electoral Commission recommends the UK to consider allowing internet voting to increase voting turnout especially among younger electors.

As STV Action’s only object is to promote the Single Transferable Vote (STV) voting system, we are neutral on whether internet voting should be introduced, but we have two important reservations.

One is that no new method of voting should be introduced without vigorous safeguards against inaccurate results, whether by accident or deliberate manipulation. Votes must be counted accurately and must be seen to be counted accurately; the public must have confidence in the method. We must feel sure that an accidental software or programming fault or deliberate tampering has not distorted the election result. In view of abuse of postal voting in recent years, it would also be essential to ensure that no-one could vote instead of someone else or vote in multiple fictitious names.

The other is that making it easier to vote would not necessarily make more people want to vote. An important reason for not voting is the very justified perception that voting makes no difference. In about 70% of constituencies (the safe ones), the result is a foregone conclusion so people feel that there is no point in voting and who can blame them?

Changing the voting system from First Past The Post to STV would do more than anything else to make the vast majority of votes effective and give electors a reason to vote. That is more important and more urgent than introducing internet voting or other ways to make it easier to vote.

North Korea 100 – United Kingdom 70

North Korea’s recent general election passed with little comment in the UK, probably because the result was a foregone conclusion.

There was only one candidate in each constituency and the only options were “Yes” and “No”. Consequently, it was no great surprise not only that the ruling Communist Party was re-elected but also that every MP is likely to be loyal to the leadership.

How different we like to think our elections in the UK – and similar First Past The Post elections in the USA, Canada and India for example – are. After all, we have a choice of candidates and parties.

In practice, most UK constituencies – about 70% of them – are safe. In a safe constituency, the winning party is usually known years before the election takes place. If you doubt that, will you put money on any party other than the Conservatives winning Chichester in 2015? Also, in a safe constituency, the individual winner is known as soon as the holding party makes its nomination.

So there is little difference in kind between North Korean elections and UK elections. The difference is in degree.

Of course there are many other fundamental differences between the political systems of the two countries especially on freedom of expression and control can change hands in the UK but not in North Korea. However, the difference in constituency voting is only in degree.

Election results in North Korea are a foregone conclusion in 100% of the constituencies. Election results in the U K are a foregone conclusion in about 70% of the constituencies. The difference is in degree, not in kind.

The Single Transferable Vote (STV) would transform UK elections. No seat would be a foregone conclusion for any candidate.

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