- Local action for electoral reform
- Time for statesmanship
- Safe seats
- Benefit the nation and the voters
- STV v FPTP
- First Past The Post is destroying the Union
- Make a difference!
- Equality or Democracy – STV can deliver both
- STV Action’s evidence on Voter Engagement
- FPTP knackered - STV: A big improvement and absolutely fair
Kent County Council elections 2013
An analysis by Michael Steed and Eric Syddique
Kent Conservatives will exercise untrammelled power in County Hall with the approval of little more than a third of the voters – they won nearly 54% of the seats for 36% of the votes.
The overall results in Kent were:
Party -- %Votes -- %Seats
Cons -- 36.1 -- 53.6
UKIP -- 27.0 -- 20.2
Lab -- 19.9 -- 15.5
LibDem -- 9.8 -- 8.3
Green -- 3.8 -- 1.2
Others -- 3.3 -- 1.2
The smaller opposition parties, notably the Liberal Democrats, did not do so badly out of the voting system. The big losers were Labour and UKIP, whose supporters are seriously under- represented in County Hall.
Any system of proportional representation would have produced a council with no one party in charge – as the voters clearly wanted. To provide a picture of what county hall could have looked like, we have applied the rules most used in Britain for bodies elected by proportional representation (the regional list system).
We use Kent’s twelve districts to keep a constituency basis, rather than use a pure, Kent-wide, proportional system. Seats are allocated to the parties in each district by the formula used to elect British MEPs, which favours larger parties.
On the votes cast last Thursday, that would have produced a County Council of 35 Conservative, 26 UKIP, 17 Labour and 6 Liberal Democrat members. Two of the three larger groups would have to work together to form a majority, whether in coalition or on an ad-hoc basis.
The difference between that more balanced Council and the 84 people who will be deciding Kent’s affairs is much greater than the party numbers indicate. In a fair-votes Council, each of the two main party groups would have at least one member from each Kentish district.
In contrast, no group has that now. Thanet, with eight county councillors, will now have no one in the ruling majority group. With PR, the Conservatives, who took exactly a quarter of the votes cast in Thanet, would have two of the eight seats.
Labour now has members from only six districts; with a fair-votes Council, the Labour voters in the county town, Maidstone, and in South-west Kent, all now without a voice, would be represented, with a Labour member from everywhere but Tunbridge Wells.
The biggest difference would be in the composition of the UKIP group. All but one of their seventeen councillors was elected for one of the seats in the coastal belt from Sheppey round to Romney Marsh. In this stretch of coastal Kent, covering Swale, Canterbury, Thanet, Dover and Shepway, there were 44,206 UKIP voters, now represented by 16 UKIP councillors.
Yet there are nearly as many UKIP voters in the rest of Kent – 42,247 to be precise, now represented by just one seat in Tunbridge Wells. The absurdity is well shown by the imbalance between two adjoining districts, inland Ashford and coastal Shepway.
In Ashford UKIP came a good second with 29% of the vote, more than Labour (15%) and Liberal Democrat (10%) combined. Yet each of the latter two parties won a seat, while UKIP was not awarded a single one. In Shepway, UKIP appeared to be far more popular, sweeping the board in Folkestone town, and taking four of the district’s six seats. But when the votes for Shepway are added up, we find that the Conservatives, with 8,368 votes, actually topped the poll ahead of UKIP with 8,265. The UKIP share in Shepway (32.3%) was actually little higher than in Ashford.
With PR, there would have been two UKIP councillors from each district instead of four from one and none from the other; the Conservatives would have won two fewer in Ashford and two more in Shepway.
This example illustrates how the advantages of a fairer voting system are not just about a fairer reflection of political strength. Any constituency-based PR system, such as the single transferable vote used in Northern Ireland or in Scottish local elections, or the regional list system, whose rules we have followed, also produces a much more geographically representative council.
Doncaster voters elected a Mayor by SV on Thursday. SV is supposed to stand for Supplementary Vote, but it may as well stand for silly voting.
The curious thing is that SV was invented to cope with the deficiencies of First Past The Post so at least its supporters recognize that First Past The Post is deficient. The sad and scandalous fact is that it fails to do that.
There was a turnout of 61,385 in Doncaster and the winner won by 639 votes in the second round of counting. But 11,296 votes were wasted; i.e. the first preferences were for candidates excluded from the second round and the second preferences were not counted for one reason or another. About 2,000 of those votes were wasted because the voters did not express a valid second preference, but 9,320 people did not cast their 2nd preference votes for one of the two leading candidates. In other words, 9,320 people were disenfranchised by the SV system. If those citizens had not been disenfranchised (i.e. if they had been allowed to express all their true preferences), the result might have been different but we shall never know.
AV Alternative Vote) would have avoided that. Voters could have expressed third and fourth preferences etc in the knowledge that one of their preferences could count in the final stage of counting and the winner would have had to have over half the votes at that stage.
Although it is certain that one of the two leading candidates would have won if AV had been used, we cannot know which one. We do not know whether the winner under SV really represents a majority of voters or not.
The basic problem with SV is that it works only for those voters who can guess who the two leading candidates will be and who are prepared, if necessary, to abandon their principles to cast their second preference for one of the two.
AV is the fairest and most efficient way to fill a single vacancy such as a Mayor or Police and Crime Commissioner.
An Isle of Wight STV reformer has reported that, in the Shanklin South division, the sitting member was the Conservative leader of the Isle of Wight Council, which had a Conservative majority.
Initially, various candidates were nominated to oppose his re-election last Thursday. Somehow the opposition candidates realised that the only way to defeat the sitting member was by having only one candidate in opposition. All but one withdrew their nominations.
Result: Sitting Conservative Councillor - 619; Opposition Independent Candidate – 629 so the Leader was defeated. If other candidates had stood, the opposition vote might have been split and he might have won even though, clearly, more than half the voters did not want him
How much better a real AV election would have been. Then voters could have voted for their genuine first choices instead of being denied the opportunity to vote Labour, Liberal Democrat, UKIP or whatever. Also the result might have been different. One of the candidates, who withdrew this time, might have had enough support from voters to stay in the election to the last round of counting and then win.
Of course, STV in a multi-member division would have been better still. Not only could voters have voted for their genuine first choices but also the result would have been proportional. Conservative supporters would have had a choice of candidates. They could, if they wished, have rejected their local Leader but still have elected one or more of their party.
Here are some facts from one county – Dorset – where there were Council elections by First Past The Post on Thursday.
It took an average of 1,633 votes to elect each Conservative Councillor, 1,774 to elect each Liberal Democrat, 2,754 for each Labour and a massive 25,196 to elect the only UKIP Councillor! They call it democracy.
Look at it another way:
The Conservatives won 60% of the seats for only 39% of the votes. The Liberal Democrats got 27% of the seats for 18% of the votes. By chance, Labour’s result was about right with 11% of the seats for 12% of the votes, but UKIP ended with only 2% of the seats (actually one seat) for 23% of the votes! They call it democracy.
Although Labour’s seats were approximately proportionate to their votes, one of their candidates was lucky enough to be elected by only 22% of the voters. In other words, nearly four out of five people voted against the lucky Councillor who “represents” them! They call it democracy.
It is interesting that the Liberal Democrats did disproportionately well out of the First Past The Post system in Dorset. They got 6,051 fewer votes than UKIP but twelve Councillors to UKIP’s one! STV reform is not, as some of our opponents say, a conspiracy to give more power to the Liberal Democrats. In Dorset, it would reduce their power.
The purpose of our campaign for STV is to make elections fair for voters of all views and to improve voter choice.
Lady Thatcher and Mr Blair each led their respective parties to three consecutive General Election victories but, each time, about six out of ten people voted against them.
Thatcher “won” the 1979, 1983 and 1987 elections with only 43.9%, 42.4% and 42.2% of the votes, while Blair “won” the 1997, 2001 and 2005 elections with 43.2%, 40.7% and a mere 35.2%.
Is this democratic? Do British politicians have any right to lecture the rest of the world about democracy?
(In the absence of statistics on the ERS website, I copied these from Wikipedia.)
Jersey voted in a referendum on 24 April to reform the composition of the States Assembly. Voters were given three options and used AV to make their choice. As none of the options received half the votes in the first round of counting, there was a second round. Please see http://www.gov.je/Government/HowGovernmentWorks/ElectoralCommission/Page...
for more details.
The Jersey Electoral Commission recommended another referendum later on whether to change the voting system to STV.
England-only laws “need majority from English MPs”. This very brief summary of the McKay Commission’s recommendations today sounds more democratic than it actually is. The Government appointed the Commission, headed by Sir William McKay, to propose a solution to the so-called West Lothian Question – that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs can vote on purely English matters although devolution prevents English MPs from voting on many Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish matters.
The Commission’s terms of reference were:
“To consider how the House of Commons might deal with legislation which affects only part of the United Kingdom, following the devolution of certain legislative powers to the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the National Assembly for Wales.”
The report states, “Electoral reform, including proportional representation [PR] and reduction in the number of MPs returned for seats outside England, is not realistic and fails to tackle the underlying issue” but it is not clear to us why PR is not realistic. We regard it as essential.
Although the report points out that it is only twice that the UK governing party (Labour both times) has lacked a majority in England, the fact is that it can happen so there needs to be protection against it and PR by STV (Single Transferable Vote) would be the best protection. In any case the real issue is whether a majority of English MPs represent the majority of English voters, whatever party controls the UK Government.
To push through a major constitutional change without all-party support would be asking for trouble. An incoming Government could change it after the next General Election and the party that first introduced it might be tempted to change it back again. That would not be a recipe for stability.
It is hard to conceive that the Labour Party will accept the proposals as they stand, but will it realise the importance of PR and insist on it as part of a new constitutional settlement?
A very high degree of voter choice. A high degree of proportionality not only of parties but also of other groupings that matter to voters. Voters can vote sincerely, knowing that, if their favourite candidate is unsuccessful, they can still contribute to the election of a candidate of whom they approve.
Voting does not have to be on party lines; preferences can be made on whatever criteria the voter considers most important. STV encourages parties to put up a wide range of candidates to gain more support and this is likely to result in a more diverse Parliament; e.g. by gender, ethnicity, background etc.
There would be one marginal seat in nearly every constituency, encouraging parties to campaign vigorously everywhere. (The parties virtually ignore most constituencies under FPTP.) MPs elected under STV would have a personal mandate and might be bolder in defying the party whip; they would also be more accountable to the voters. STV would reduce electoral “deserts” where parties gain significant numbers of votes but no seats.
You may visit http://www.stvaction.org.uk/node/457 for a brief explanation of how STV works. You may also find FAQ, at the top of this page, useful.
Please e-mail "Subscribe STV News" to Editor@stvAction.org.uk if you would like to receive irregular e-mailings about STV.
Congratulations to Mike Thornton (now MP) and the Liberal Democrats for holding the seat on 28 February. It has long been difficult for a Government party to hold or gain bye-election seats and the Liberal Democrats had the additional disadvantages of Chris Huhne’s lawbreaking, the allegations against Chris Rennard and Labour’s accusation for nearly three years that they have been propping up an unpopular Conservative Government.
The Liberal Democrats lost a large share of the vote compared with their performance in 2010, so they are not out of the wood, but their victory does mean that the other parties have been rather premature in writing the them off.
If they still have a sizeable representation in the next House of Commons and no other party has an overall majority, they may be a coalition partner again and be able to influence Government policy; e.g. on bringing local government elections in England and Wales up to the standard of Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Although Labour had very little chance of winning, it failed to gain votes from either of the Government parties, which is precisely what the main Opposition party has to do to win a general election. It slipped from 3rd to 4th place.
UKIP did exceptionally well and might even have won the seat if its high profile leader, Nigel Farage, had had the courage to stand, but they garnered the protest vote. At the next General Election, they may gain votes compared with 2010, but it is still extremely unlikely that they will win any seats. They may just take enough votes off the Conservatives to help Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
In comparative terms, it was the Conservative Party that did the worst of the three – or perhaps four – major parties by falling from 2nd to 3rd place behind UKIP. Although gaining a bye-election seat would normally be hard for a Government party, they should not have fallen to 3rd place behind what is still a fringe party in national terms. They do not look like obvious winners of the next General Election.
Although no-one can know what the political situation will be in two years’ time and it is hazardous to extrapolate from a single bye-election to a General Election, it rather looks as though the Conservatives will lose it and Labour will win it by default and without much enthusiasm by voters.
Indeed, it is quite possible that the voters will move to the right (e.g. from Conservative to UKIP) and the Government will move to the left from a Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition to either a Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition or an outright Labour Government. Such is the way of the UK’s rather curious and inefficient 19th century First Past The Post voting system.
Despite the Liberal Democrats’ undoubted achievement, let us not forget that no candidate including the winner achieved even one third of the votes, so the new MP’s mandate is severely limited.
Not knowing how people would have voted with a different voting system, we cannot be sure what the result would have been in Eastleigh if voting had been by Alternative Vote (AV). It would have depended on how the 2nd choices of Conservative voters split between the Liberal Democrats and UKIP. However, whichever of them had won would have had a mandate from over half the voters in the final round of counting.
In a General Election in which UKIP is unlikely to be close to winning any seats, AV in single-member constituencies would protect the Conservative Party from votes being wasted on another right-of-centre party that cannot win any seats. What a pity for Conservatives that they succeeded in their opposition to AV in the 2011 referendum!
Of course, for real reform, we need the Single Transferable Vote (STV) in multi-member constituencies to maximize voter choice, provide fair representation of voters’ views and be fair to all parties.
Is, as supporters of First Past The Post (FPTP) claim, the chaotic political situation in Italy evidence that all PR is bad? No, it is merely evidence that Italy’s particular kind of PR is bad and, perhaps, that they have other problems arising from their political culture.
Electoral reformers in the UK are as critical of the Italian list voting system as we are of the UK’s First Past The Post system in single-member constituencies.
For both countries, the Single Transferable Vote (STV) in multi-member constituencies would be an improvement. It would introduce PR to the UK’s House of Commons. It would probably reduce the number of parties in Italy and make the country more stable. In both countries, it would improve voters’ freedom of choice and make MPs more accountable to their constituents. It would also enable voters to indicate, through their later choices, which kind of coalition they would like.
Readers may like to visit http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/blog/the-italian-impasse
to read more about this.