SHOULD ELECTORAL REFORM BE BACK ON THE AGENDA?

JOSH McGURK

More than half of those who voted in the general election supported losers. Is our voting system broken and is now the time to change it for a system which better reflects voting intentions?

After staying up all night watching BBC, ITV and Channel 4’s coverage of the general election, there are two questions sticking in my mind and surprisingly, they are not to do with the SNP dominance in Scotland or the Tory majority at Westminster. My interest is in peoples’ reaction.

Can democracy ever please people?

We expect some disappointment and some dismay after any election, after all some parties have to lose. But this time the number of seats won versus votes cast has called into question the fairness of our voting system.

The Conservatives hold a majority of 12 with 331 seats while the SNP gained 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland.

However, under Proportional Representation (PR) the Conservatives would have got 36.9% of the vote which is 244 seats and the SNP would have got 4.7% which is 31 seats.

The PR system would have meant UKIP got 83 seats, the Lib Dems 52 seats and the Greens 25.

Instead, the Lib Dems got 8 while UKIP and the Greens got 1 each so it is easy to understand the frustration caused by the actual results.

Under first past the post, here are the number of votes which were required to elect an MP from each of the mainstream parties in ascending order:

SNP 26,000

Conservatives 34,000

Labour 40,000

Lib Dem 291,000

Green 1.1 million

UKIP 3.8 million

We should not forget one important point, a rather key one that many commentators keep missing, which is that we have already held a referendum to consider the Alternative Voting system (AV) in 2011 after pressure from the Lib-Dems.

The result was a resounding NO.

To be exact, 67.9 % or 13,013,123 million voted No.

And only 41% of the electorate actually voted indicating that the other 69% didn’t care.

I too am frustrated with the fact that the party of my choice did not win in my constituency. My vote might have been put to better use under Proportional Representation as might yours have.

AV is not Proportional Representation but under this system voters rank candidates in order of their preference. Instead of a cross they place 1, 2, 3 etc against the names; 1 being their most popular choice.

A candidate is elected if they gain more than half of the preference votes. If not, the candidate with the least preferences is eliminated and the votes are redistributed according to the next preference.

This continues until one candidate has more than half the votes and is elected.

AV means that MPs would have the support of the majority of voters while there would be no need for tactical voting

There are downsides, particularly the fact that AV would penalise extremist parties who are unlikely to gain many second preference votes.

There is no denying that we did have a chance to change the system, therefore, claiming this election result is unfair, is in itself an unfair criticism.

A further unfair aspect of this election is that the Conservatives are not to blame for people, particularly in England, fearing the SNP.

After watching hour upon hour of news reports and expert analysis, I believe that it is not the political parties but the commentators, so-called experts and television comedians who have instilled this fear.

I watched them jump to conclusion after conclusion — based on opinion polls, exit polls and pure speculation — that Scotland wants independence and full fiscal autonomy.

With the SNP landslide in Scotland, it’s hard to dispute that they are a popular choice. With 50% of Scotland’s vote they are clearly the majority.

But the other 50% voted for an array of parties which shows that the SNP is clearly not the voice of the whole of Scotland.

Many people voted SNP not because they want independence — which Nicola Sturgeon insists is not (yet) on the agenda again — but because the nationalists offer other policies that they agree with.

With the SNP holding so many seats, there is obviously a struggle ahead for David Cameron to keep the United Kingdom together.

However, there is one thing important to bear in mind (David if you’re reading). independence is not important to the whole of Scotland’s electorate as demonstrated by the referendum result last September.

jrmcgurk@hotmail.co.uk

 

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  Comments: 1

  1. Robert McDowell


    Parliament is a governing body of MP “legislators” or at least a large jury system for approving, disapproving or amending legislation, conceived by government mainly if detailed by civil servants and lawyers. The MPs in theory, often in practice, represent all of their constituencies, the needs of voters of all parties and not just MPs’ own supporters, and not just political parties.

    One argument is that the system works if MPs can vote more freely i.e. less as commanded by their party leadership? There has been a very long concern about party whipping. But, how many legislative policy issues come before Parliament that are party-political rather than practical or pragmatic and able to garner broad support. How many votes are whipped and how many not?

    Voters themselves are torn between voting for parties, for individuals, for policies, for representation, for MPs to be typical of the voting population or people who are the “best for the job”. There is also stress between constituency candidates chosen by local parties versus those chosen by party HQ. AV or PR should not dilute constituency representation; worst kind being ‘party list’ systems and minimum % of total vote before any seat is won.

    In the 2015 election voters appear to have voted overwhelmingly for party not individual representatives, not helped when all candidates must promote a party manifesto without personalizing that or localizing it also for constituency issues, and not helped when local news media is weak and general news media only focuses on national party manifestos.

    In the UK first past the post has the consequences that MPs should feel obliged to represent all and not just their party, but this seems a weak idea currently, and it means that to win seats party support has to be geographically concentrated in constituencies and not just as in UKIP’s. Lib Dem’s, and Green’s cases too thinly spread throughout the country. Another system could set aside a proportion of seats, as a way of giving partial voice recognising parties’ share of the overall vote when they do not otherwise win in constituencies, but this could not be wholly proportionate and might be accommodated in a reformed upper chamber.

    In Scotland, with no upper chamber, weak committee system, unitary authorities (in place of town and village councils), limited oversight by the national parliament, there is a concentration of one-party power looming that is unprecedented.

    We value multi-party democracy. A fair AV or PR system may result in the same or very similar coalitions retaining power long term. Multi-party democracy needs a politics that can accept changes in party in government and enough parties, at least two, better three or four, that can be classed as ‘natural parties of government’, however much a rhetorical phrase that is. The discipline that parties must exert internally and externally to make themselves electable to run the national government is probably helped by the first past the post system while AV and PR encourages parties with limited agendas and or single protest issues.

    But all that said, there is always the next election and the one after that. When the economy is improving, however slowly, it is normally unexpected for voters to vote in a new government unless that party has been in power for too long in the opinion of swing-voters. In the hundred and ten years to 2020, Conservatives will have been in power for 48 years plus 10 in coalition, Labour 32 years plus 3 in a pact, Liberals for 10 years plus 8 in coalition or pact.

    But, not until now have one third of votes gone to parties without power at UK level, more than double the percentage of the last election, and 3-4 times that at any previous time. This is an anomaly likely to change such that the next election may deliver a parliamentary composition closer to the general vote. AV and PR, or like the arrangement in N.Ireland where major parties each get one or more ministries, making an all-party coalition, the aim appears to give all voters more say for their parties in actual government. The argument against this is the one that says better a majority for one responsible party of government and one majority party representing HM Opposition than the cloudiness of all parties scrummaging on both sides of the Dispatch Box.

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