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ERS AGM 2011 Special Resolutions

Submitted by editor on Sun, 14/08/2011 – 14:36

Statement on the Special Resolutions from the Electoral Reform Society’s Council

The Governing Council of the Society has a duty to ensure good governance of the Society. This includes reviewing any Special Resolutions and, if necessary, communicating our views to members, either individually or collectively.

Having considered the proposed Special Resolutions proposed for this AGM, the Council has collectively issued the following statements and recommendations to members.

Summary

The Society’s Council is unanimously recommending that members vote AGAINST all four of the Special Resolutions.

Brief arguments are presented below.

Special Resolution 1: Revision of the Memorandum of Association and the Membership Byelaws (Objects of the Society)

The effect of this resolution is to delete the Society’s principal object, which is to secure the adoption of the Single Transferable Vote. This would represent a reversal of what the Society has always stood for, replacing it with a commitment to “proportional representation”. Disadvantages of this include:

• The term “proportional representation” covers a wide range of systems, such as closed party list systems, which many people within the Society, and among the general public, find objectionable.
• Party proportionality is not the sole criterion by which to judge electoral systems; many would argue that accountability and voter choice are just as important, if not more so.

There is a legitimate argument that can be made that the Society’s objects could be expressed differently. The Society has already announced a wide-ranging consultation over the coming year, which will include room for such a debate, and may result in proposals coming forward next year. However, the particular change proposed to the Objects in this resolution is not appropriate.

The commitment to STV, as our ultimate goal, has never inhibited us from campaigning for other systems when STV has not been attainable; e.g. AMS for Scotland and Wales and AV in the recent referendum.

The Society’s Council therefore unanimously recommends that members vote AGAINST Special Resolution 1.

Special Resolutions 2, 3 and 4: Revision of the Articles of Association (The President; Notice of General Meetings; Election and Retirement of Members of Council)

These three resolutions are taken together as they all concern aspects of the governance of the Society.

The issues that underpin these resolutions are all worthy of consideration, and we believe some of the points raised have merit. However, bringing them forward in the absence of a wider consideration of the Articles risks causing a number of unintended consequences if any or all of these resolutions are passed.

To illustrate this problem, here are some examples of the consequences arising from each resolution:

Special Resolution 2:
• The current method of election of the Society’s President, whereby the Council proposes one candidate for the members to vote on, was introduced a few years ago to depoliticise the role of the President and help ensure that he or she would be a figurehead who could help to unite the Society. This resolution risks politicising the President at a time when the Society is having a fundamental review of its campaign priorities and may be in need of a uniting figure.

Special Resolution 3:
• This resolution would give Council the power to decide which resolutions could be put to an AGM; although members at the AGM could reinstate censored resolutions, any members unable to be present (which comprise the majority of members) would be denied a say, rendering the process highly undemocratic.

Special Resolution 4:
• Forcing the most experienced members of Council to retire (rather than giving members the choice of whether to re-elect them) would lead to a loss of critical skills and expertise. The resolution refers to other clauses on co-option to fill such gaps; however, the power to co-opt is not currently available in the absence of a vacancy, as a consequence of a previous Special Resolution.
• The effect of term limits is to increase the power of the Chief Executive and Staff, at the expense of the democratically elected Council. There is already a reasonable turnover of Council members at each election; it may be considered an issue that many of the new Council members are actually returning from a previous period on Council, but this resolution does not address this. The best way to get fresh faces onto Council is for new people to stand – this is already happening, with over 50 candidates standing this year.
• Elections were changed to two-yearly to reduce the disruption to the effective governance of the Society. Reverting to annual elections would negate this benefit.

The Society’s Council therefore unanimously recommends that members vote AGAINST Special Resolutions 2, 3 and 4.

Special resolutions defeated

Submitted by editor on Mon, 05/09/2011 – 08:55.

These were all defeated at the ERS’s AGM on 3 September 2011.

ERS Council elections – so-called “Reform” slate

Submitted by Anthony Tuffin on Sat, 13/08/2011 – 22:12

We – i.e. all of us and not just the ERS’s present Council – lost the AV referendum.

With the benefit of hindsight, although a few of us asked for more control, the ERS’s main mistake was to hand large sums of money to the Yes campaign and let them get on with the campaign without sufficient oversight and accountability. Those running the campaign claimed it was a people’s campaign, but they ran it top down. They refused to release valuable data to local organizers and ignored pleas for help and suggestions to improve the campaign. Moreover, they produced poor quality pamphlets – some so bad that local campaigners sometimes refused to use them and they failed to make the best use of the free postal service that was available.

Although, in mitigation to all concerned, events were continually changing and radical measures to improve the campaign would have been difficult, I believe that, once it was clear that the campaign was failing, the ERS Council should have insisted
that the strategy should change and, failing that, should have insisted on staff changes.

It is more than ironic that some of the very people (Yes staff) who lost the referendum campaign now blame the ERS’s present Council for their own failure and seek through the ERS Council election, to take over the ERS. So they would transfer their unsuccessful campaigning skills from the Yes campaign to the ERS.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

Let’s work togther

Submitted by Anthony Tuffin on Mon, 05/09/2011 – 09:22.

I don’t think Niklas (below) and I are far apart in our views.

I’m glad he agrees with me that ERS members should have voted for individual candidates rather than groups and I agree with him – and have said so elsewhere – that the Society needs both experience and new ideas

Now that I’m re-elected to the ERS Council, I look forward to working with colleagues, new and old, to further the ERS’s objects.

ERS Council elections – factions

Submitted by Anthony Tuffin on Sat, 13/08/2011 – 21:14

 

Rent by divisions, mainly between those who felt the Society should concentrate more on STV and those who took what they saw as a more pragmatic approach, the Society stepped back in 2004 from the abyss of an irrevocable split. The different factions disbanded and individuals started working together in the interest of the Society. They elected officers, not because of their membership of one of the factions but for the best individuals for the jobs.

That had been so successful that it is now difficult to tell who was on which side.

It will do immense harm to the Society and the cause of electoral reform if a slate of candidates, with no knowledge of the ERS’s history, splits the Society again.

I advise all ERS members to be very suspicious of organized factions and vote for the best individuals.

Lord Kitchener 1919 – 2011

Submitted by editor on Thu, 07/07/2011 – 12:58

We very much regret to announce the death on Friday 16 December of Henry, Lord Kitchener at the age of 92. He was the third Earl Kitchener and the title has died with him.

There will be a cremation for family only and there will be a memorial service in the Spring.

He was one of those rare creatures, a Conservative who strongly supported electoral reform. A mathematician, he believed that STV was the fairest voting system yet invented and would be good for the country. He had been a stout supporter of STV for very many years. Despite his age, he attended AGMs of the Electoral Reform Society until very recently.

He was a loyal and enthusiastic member of the Electoral Reform Society and a Registered Supporter of Make Votes Count In West Sussex.

Electoral reformers will miss him greatly.

Memorial service

Submitted by editor on Sat, 07/07/2012 – 12:58.

A memorial service was held on 7 June 2012 for the late Lord Kitchener and a tribute to him can be seen at http://www.westminster-abbey.org/worship/special-services/past-special-s…

‘First past post’ wrong system for Scotland

Submitted by Edinburgh on Fri, 24/06/2011 – 14:27

‘First past post’ wrong system for Scotland
Platform opinion piece published in The Scotsman, 24 June 2011
http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/opinion/James-Gilmour-39First-past-post3…

+++++++++++++++++++++++

‘First past post’ wrong system for Scotland
by James Gilmour

BRIAN Monteith has twice recently suggested that the Scottish Parliament would be better elected by the single transferable vote (STV-PR) instead of the present additional member system.

Changing to STV-PR would give better proportionality of the votes, would elect all MSPs on the same basis and would allow the voters, not the parties, to determine which candidates were elected. Such a change would almost certainly have widespread su
ADVERTISEMENTpport.

However, Mr Monteith spoils his advocacy in his more recent article by saying his personal preference would be for all 129 MSPs to be elected by first-past-the-post (FPTP). He said “so that Scotland had strong government” – which would be certainly be true.

He went on to say “but with an adequate check” – which is most certainly not true. The results from the constituency elections give us some idea of what such a Scottish Parliament might have looked like.

In 1999 the Labour Party won 72 per cent of the constituency seats for 39 per cent of the votes. In a 129-seat FPTP parliament that would have given the Labour Party 93 MSPs. Strong government it might have been, but without any adequate check.

And there would have been no Conservative MSPs at all. Some might have thought that would have been a good thing, but in terms of democratic representation of the voters it would have been a travesty. Any party that has the support of 15 per cent of the voters should be represented in the Parliament.

In the most recent Scottish Parliament elections, it was the SNP that won 72 per cent of the constituency seats (53) though they had only 45 per cent of the votes. So in a 129 FPTP parliament the SNP would now have 93 MSPs instead of the 69 they actual have. There would be no “adequate check” in that.

Brian Monteith should stick to his first suggestion of STV-PR for the Scottish Parliament and leave FPTP for the dinosaurs at Westminster. It was after all, a PR voting system that saved the Conservative Party in Scotland.

• Dr James Gilmour is a voting reform campaigner.

++++++++++++++++++++++++

Brian Monteith was a prominent Conservative MSP.
His two articles, mentioned above, are available on-line at:
http://news.scotsman.com/politics/Brian-Monteith-Holyrood-must-dare.6783…
and
http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/holyroodelections/Brian-Monteith-Time-fo…

Party up so Leader down!

Submitted by editor on Sun, 08/05/2011 – 14:34

 

The Conservatives gained support in the Welsh Assembly elections so their leader, Nick Bourne lost his seat.

Yes, it was precisely because the party did so well under his leadership that he lost his seat. Welsh Assembly elections are held under the AMS top-up system so, if a party does well in the constituency election, it may qualify for fewer top-up regional seats and that was Mr Bourne’s problem.

With STV, members would lose their seats only if they lost support personally. The voters, not the vagaries of the system, would decide.

Canadian demands for reform

Submitted by editor on Sun, 08/05/2011 – 14:18

 

Largely overshadowed in the UK by our own referendum and elections, Canada went to the polls on 2 May and voted by first past the post X-voting. The Conservative Party won 167 of the 308 seats (54%) with only 40% of the votes, thus sparking renewed demands for electoral reform.

See http://www.examiner.com/political-buzz-in-calgary/election-results-have-… for more.

Referendum results

Submitted by editor on Sun, 08/05/2011 – 14:00

The final result was:

NO:13,013,123 (32.1%)

YES:6,152,607 (67.9%)

For regional and area breakdowns, see http://ukreferendumresults.aboutmyvote.co.uk/en/default.aspx

Other targets for reform

Submitted by editor on Sat, 07/05/2011 – 16:19

Although we lost the battle to elect MPs by AV, there are other targets for reform.

SCOTLAND

The SNP’s overall majority in the Scottish Parliament and the concern of many politicians, especially Conservative, about the West Lothian question present opportunities for us. If Scottish independence or an English Parliament looks at all likely, Labour politicians will trip over each other in their haste to call for PR. The Conservatives have an inbuilt majority in England and Labour would have no chance to govern under first past the post X-voting without Scottish Labour votes.

WALES

If Labour wants Liberal Democrat or Plaid support in the Welsh Assembly where Labour is the largest party, there is a possibility that STV for Welsh local elections will be part of the price for support. We shall have to wait and see. Being only one seat short of an overall majority, Labour may form a minority administration and try to survive on a vote by vote basis.

On a less positive note, a Labour Party source has told me that there are some in the Welsh Labour Party who see the referendum result as support for first past the post X-voting and an excuse to change from AMS PR to first past the post for elections to the Welsh Assembly. The motive is clear; to set up a Labour one-party State in Wales.

We must watch for this and oppose it. As Conservatives would not want permanent Labour control in Wales, it is very likely that they, including some who opposed reform for the UK, would defend PR in Wales.

HOUSE OF LORDS REFORM

The coalition agreement includes a commitment to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation and I cannot believe that the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party will renege on that.

POLICE CHIEFS

Also as part of the coalition agreement, there is a Bill currently before parliament, for police chiefs to be elected. The Government has already conceded that first past the post X-voting would be an inappropriate way of electing them. The Bill provides for them to be elected by Supplementary Vote (SV), but there is a prospect to amend this to AV. This is discussed in more detail in a separate blog.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN ENGLAND

I have little doubt that, when the results of this week’s English local elections are analysed, there will be ample evidence for the need to reform.

Some Councils will be shown still to be one party “states”, where the same party always has a large majority (usually out of proportion to the way voters vote) while others often change hands completely because X-voting converts a small swing by voters into a big swing of Councillors. Sometimes also, Party A receives the most votes while Party B gets the most Councillors! None of these situations is healthy for local democracy.

The arguments for so-called “strong government” and against coalitions hold less sway when it comes to local government. Many Councils have been run for several years by coalition administrations and they come in many forms. Some have been Lab/Con or Con/Lab.

Although most MPs oppose changing the way they are elected themselves (after all, turkeys don’t vote for Christmas), they have shown that they are more relaxed when it comes to electing others; i.e., the European and Scottish Parliaments, the Welsh and London Assemblies, all Northern Ireland elections except to the Commons, mayors and police chiefs.

If the system is changed in Wales (see above), England will be the only part of the UK still using first past the post X-voting for local elections. Reform in Wales would increase pressure for reform in England.

Ideally, we would like all local elections to be by STV in multi-member wards but, conscious of the opposition to radical reform and that some local authority wards are currently single-member, it has been the Electoral Reform Society’s policy since 2008 to support “a change from X voting to Preference Voting in all major elections as a significant step towards the object of the Society”. The effect of this would be to introduce STV in multi-member wards where multi-member wards exist and AV where single-member wards exist.

This seems a sensibly pragmatic and gradualist way of advancing.

AV for police chiefs?

Submitted by editor on Sat, 07/05/2011 – 15:36

As part of the coalition agreement, there is a Bill, currently before parliament, for police chiefs to be elected. The Government has already conceded that first past the post X-voting would be an inappropriate way of electing them. The Bill provides for them to be elected by Supplementary Vote (SV).

This is the much criticized method that the late Labour Government introduced for mayoral elections. Unlike first past the post, SV attempts to ensure that the winner represents over half the voters. Each voter has two votes. All the first votes are counted. If a candidate has more than half of them, that candidate is elected. If not, all except the leading two candidates are excluded. Then those of the 2nd votes of the excluded candidates that are for one or other of the leading two candidates are allocated to them and the one with more votes is the winner.

SV is much more complicated than AV for voters. If they want to use their votes effectively, they first have to guess who will be the leading two candidates in the first round of counting. Based on what they guess, many will then vote tactically, perhaps against the candidate they really want. Moreover, if their guess is wrong, they will have wasted their vote. They may even have voted unnecessarily against the candidate they really supported

Of course, voters do not have to do this with AV. They simply rank as many or as few of the candidates as they wish in order of choice. If they do that, they cannot vote against the candidate they really support and, if they express enough choices, their vote will go to one of the candidates in the final round of counting.

Another problem with SV is that it automatically excludes the candidate placed third in the first round of counting, no matter how close he is to the second candidate or how popular he is with supporters of the excluded candidates. For example,the result of the first round may be A 28%, B 27%, C 26% D 11%, and E 8%. In that situation, a majority may prefer C to both A and B and AV would reveal that but SV would not.

I expect that there will be an amendment in the House of Lords to elect police chiefs by AV instead of SV. Any peer, who genuinely wants police chiefs to be elected (if they are to be elected at all) by the fairest and most efficient method known for electing a single person, will support the amendment. Labour peers, who want to embarrass the coalition parties, should also support it. Liberal Democrat peers would then have to choose between supporting the much better system of AV over SV and supporting their Conservative coalition partners.

If the Bill returns to the Commons, amended for elections to be by AV, we would hope that the Government would accept it. Not to do so would place additional strain on the coalition because Liberal Democrat MPs would surely want to support AV.

 

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