Electoral law reform

The Law Commission for England and Wales has announced - http://www.lawontheweb.co.uk/news/2012/12/317-law-commission-announces-c... - “a consultation to consider the reform of the UK’s fragmented and outdated electoral law” although it will exclude the elephant in the room of voting systems. Even so, you may want to give evidence on one or more of the many other issues, which the Commission is considering.

The consultation is not to start until late 2014, but the Commission has issued a Scoping Report, which you can see by clicking on the link above and then on another link. Although the Report is 94 pages long, a skim through will probably enable you to indentify those parts that interest you.

Although the consultation is to exclude voting systems, it should do no harm if you gave evidence that the voting system should be changed. Even if the Commission will not make a recommendation to change the system, your evidence that there should be a change will have been recorded and perhaps all the evidence, including yours, will be published.

As the Commission notes in its Scoping Report, most of the basic law relating to elections is based on First Past The Post (FPTP) even though other systems are used for many elections now, so the basic law has had to be adapted on a somewhat ad hoc basis. The Commission hopes to clarify the law by replacing the ad hoc provisions with more codified ones appropriate to each system.

Focus on one System To Vote by

Howard Davies: "We should now concentrate on one system."

Peter Morley, an active ERS member, sent an excellent e-mail, repeated below, to the “Daily Politics” BBC TV programme today.

This is an excellent opportunity for STV Action, the Electoral Reform Society and their members and supporters and oither reformers to get behind STV as the one alternative to First Past The Post.

May I suggest that you write in to support him? The address is daily.politics@bbc.co.uk or, alternatively, you may contact the programme via Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/bbcdailyandsundaypolitics or Twitter - http://twitter.com/daily_politics.

“I am a keen watcher of Daily Politics and related programmes and have found Andrew Neil to be a most informative presenter (he always seems to have a clear and deep analysis to hand), and a focused interviewer - until today.

Today he was talking with Howard Davies and others about the elections across the UK today.

Both of them are intelligent and well read people yet when considering the different voting systems being used, they expected us to believe they hadn’t a clue and found some of them “incredibly complicated” and that explanations of the systems were “incomprehensible”!

This is just unbelievable - two people who can pronounce on world financial and political affairs cannot understand simple voting instructions for voters? It seems on this occasion, the research team providing Andrew Neil with back up information have let him down.

Howard Davies commented that as there have been so many experiments we should now concentrate on one system. I expect he intended that the one system chosen should be the one that does the best job!

The reason there are experiments is that our current voting system, First Past the Post (FPTP), is well and truly broken – it does not work except to give everyone a simple process when there are only two parties contesting elections! Those times are long-since gone as explained in “The Worst of Both Worlds: Why First Past the Post no longer works”, IPPR, Jan 2011.

I cannot remember who said it, but those voters who are confused, including, I suppose, both Andrew Neil and Howard Davies, were recommended to consult the Electoral Commission. Unfortunately, they will not find the EC of much help in that respect, although it will give explanations of how to vote. The Government published a review of electoral systems some years ago but it did not provide a fair conclusion based on a clear and reasonably thorough examination of the different systems in use. The research cited seemed clear but the conclusions just didn’t flow from the research.

Voters should instead consult the Electoral Reform Society which since 1884 has promoted the Single Transferable Vote. That was the result of the Society’s predecessor consideration all voting systems to decide which resulted in voters’ having the greatest personal choice, and in the most representative results.

The most recent research by the ERS attached, “Britain’s experience of electoral systems”, ERS 2007, not only explains the voting systems and their pros and cons, but also demonstrates yet again the merits of STV above all the other systems. Other authoritative groups come up with similar conclusions, for example “Choosing an electoral system, A report by the British Academy Policy Centre”, March 2010.

The first use of STV for Scottish Local Elections in 2007 liberated Scottish voters from the stranglehold of aging political parties and gave them far more personal choice than they had before. The results today will be analysed by the ERS, and compared with those from the other elections which have mostly used FPTP.

I was disappointed by Andrew Neil’s flippant and apparently “off-hand” remarks which suggested he did not have much an understanding and grip on this subject as he usually does on others which are far more complex and complicated. I expected more of him than that as he seems to want to improve our representative democracy yet derides and belittles attempts to find for the basis of that democracy a better way of getting voters’ representation right – he should be encouraging discussion not dismissing it as “incredibly complicated”. He should reserve such phrases to matters that truly require them such as the financial crisis.

I hope you will ask the ERS for more information when looking at the results next week.”

What’s wrong with First Past The Post!

First and foremost, there’s no choice with First Past The Post. For example:

• If you are a Labour supporter who would like more women in Parliament but the Labour candidate is a man, you have to grit your teeth and either vote for the Labour man or for a Liberal Democrat or Conservative woman if you can, but those parties’ candidates may also be men.

• If you are a Conservative Europhobe faced with a Conservative Europhile candidate, you have to vote for the Conservative who disagrees with you on the EU or for the UKIP candidate who agrees with you on that issue but perhaps not on other issues.

• If you are a Liberal Democrat who would prefer a coalition with Labour but your Liberal Democrat candidate prefers coalition with the Conservatives, you either vote for the Liberal Democrat who leans to the Conservatives or you desert your own party and vote Labour.

• If you believe that the MP of your party has been a bad constituency MP or has abused the expenses system, you cannot vote against him (usually a “him”) without also voting against your own party.

In addition, as the Electoral Reform Society has pointed out:

“The current system means:

• Many of our votes just don’t count. Millions of people have no chance of deciding who their MP will be. Our votes are wasted by the system.

• Only a few of us matter. Parties continue to focus all their time, money and effort on a handful of 'marginal seats', so just a few thousand voters can decide who runs Britain.

• MPs can speak for the many with support from the few. Most MPs can be elected to Parliament even though the vast majority of voters don’t want them.

• A divided Britain. Whole parts of the country are ‘electoral deserts’ where parties have no representation despite having real support. Just ask Labour supporters across the South or Conservatives in Scotland and Wales.”

STV for local government – A case for it

The Electoral Reform Society’s Council had a very useful debate about this on 31 March 2012. Although no decision was made, there was a clear consensus of support for campaigning for STV for local government elections in Wales and England. Of course, those lucky enough to live in Scotland or Northern Ireland already elect their local councillors by STV.

The case is overwhelming. Among other reasons, there are more blatant examples of bad governance and a lack of democratic accountability in local government than there are in the higher tiers, e.g.:

1. One party Councils where the same party has been in control for years, sometimes generations;
2. The wrong party being in control (i.e. without even the most votes let alone more than half the votes);
3. Many unelected councillors returned unopposed in safe seats.

Although those particular defects of First Past The Post could be mitigated by virtually any PR system, only STV would also increase voters’ choices, which is probably even more important in local government than in national government. Moreover, many areas still have a strong tradition of independent Councillors which STV, more than any other system, would protect.

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