Reports of the death of electoral reform have been greatly exaggerated

MPs recommend research into electoral reform.

A Select Committee, investigating Voter Engagement (why many people do not vote) reported today. Most of its more publicized recommendations, like making registering and voting easier, will make little or no difference because most votes make no difference under First Past The Post – and many people realize that although they do not all know why.

However, with less publicity, the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee of MPs, has also recommended that, early in the next Parliament, the Government commission research on alternatives to the First Past The Post voting system for general elections

In its interim report last November, the Committee had summarily dismissed electoral reform despite receiving considerable evidence in favour of reform generally and the Single Transferable Vote (STV) in particular.

Not only that but, when the Committee invited comments on its interim report, it did not specifically invite comments on electoral reform.

Despite that, of those who responded to the interim report, 36 witnesses recommended electoral reform and half of those (18) proposed STV. Most of the rest did not suggest a particular system. Several of the 36 complained that, in its interim report, the Committee had ignored the evidence it had requested.

It must have been because of those 36 witnesses that, instead of dismissing electoral reform again, the Committee used its final report to recommend research into alternative voting systems.

It is a great pity that the Electoral Reform Society made only a passing reference to electoral reform in its evidence last year and did not give any evidence at all in response to the interim report.

The electoral reform movement owes a considerable debt to all those who did give evidence in support of reform.

Of course, the post-election Government may be reluctant to accept the recommendation. It is essential that the Liberal Democrats and other minor parties make electoral reform a red-line issue in any coalition negotiations.

Also commissioning research is a well-practised way of kicking any issue into the long grass. We must all – including the ERS this time – keep electoral reform in the public eye and insist on action.

Paragraph 6 of the report’s Conclusions and Recommendations states:

“A large number of respondents to our consultation felt that the First Past the Post electoral system disenfranchised them, and meant that for them it was not worth voting. It is hard to dispute that in safe seats, where the incumbent has a large majority and the party of the elected representative is unlikely to change at a general election, there is a reduced incentive to participate at elections. This can only have a negative impact on voter engagement. We note that a wide range of electoral systems are already in use for various elections that take place across the UK, and the supremacy of one particular electoral system should therefore not be presumed.”

You may see the full report at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmpolcon/938/938.pdf and we especially recommend paragraphs 14 – 16, 111 – 113 and 118.

The Committee’s recommendation for research is less than we hoped for but more than we feared. It is the first step back, after the disastrous AV referendum in 2011, to putting electoral reform firmly back on the political agenda. Reports of the death of electoral reform have been greatly exaggerated.

But let’s not underestimate the strength of the vested interests that oppose us, especially in reforming the way we elect MPs. The more attainable reform of local government elections in England and Wales should remain our top priority for the time being.

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One Response to Reports of the death of electoral reform have been greatly exaggerated

  1. Referendum not disastrous

    A reader has criticized me very politely for describing the AV referendum in 2011 as disastrous and, on reflection, I think he is right.

    He wrote:

    “For the first time ever, voters were asked what they thought of the electoral system – very good!

    Six million voted against FPTP – the first ever show of public disapproval of the system – good, a sound base to campaign from.

    Some of those who voted against AV did so for good reason, it was not PR – so there is scope for further campaigning for STV.

    It was disastrous only in so far as David Cameron reneged on his promise to Nick Clegg not to get involved, and the No campaign used such despicable lies and misrepresentation to carry their case.”

    He then asked whether I could use a more appropriate adjective to describe the referendum but admitted he could not readily think of one. Can you please?

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