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Blog Archive

Power2010 Pledge – Party Representation or People Representation?

Submitted by editor on Wed, 24/02/2010 – 19:39


STV Action welcomes the news from Power2010 that proportional representation (PR) was by far the most popular of all the reforms proposed to fix our broken democracy (with over 10,000 votes), and will form one of the five pledges it wants MPs to support.

However, PR in itself is not “the best medicine for a sick democracy”. There are many types of PR and most would not increase voters’ power over politicians; in fact, most would increase the power of political parties. They provide simply Party Representation. In particular, most would not empower voters to hold dishonest or lazy politicians (and we accept that most are neither) to account.

STV in multi-member constituencies is the exception and the only system that allows voters the chance to vote against an MP they wish to reject, without voting against their party. It gives voters a real choice of candidates within and across parties and that puts them in charge. It lets voters choose not just a party but also an MP of that party who is most likely to represent the voters’ views on other matters, e.g. gender, education or Europe. It empowers them – not the parties – to decide whether an MP has been good enough to be re-elected or bad enough to be dismissed. It results in a Parliament far more representative of all voters’ views, not just their party allegiances; STV-PR is People Representation.

Without that reform, it is possible that Parliament would not necessarily consider the other pledges, let alone agree them, so it must be mandatory in Power’s pledge.

Electoral reform is topical at the moment with the Government’s proposed referendum on changing the voting system to the Alternative Vote (AV). AV uses preference voting, which is the key element of STV, but only in existing single member constituencies. That is a very small, but welcome, step. X voting is inefficient by wasting votes and distorts results by encouraging tactical voting. However, because AV does not provide multi-member constituencies, it does not give voters the wider choice of candidates that full STV does and it is, therefore, not a PR system. Nevertheless, at least it is a step in the right direction.

What mandate do you have if you are elected on a party list?

Submitted by John on Tue, 08/12/2009 – 21:47


It was announced today that Mohammed Asghar is leaving Plaid Cymru and joining the Conservatives. Oscar (as he is known) took the fourth list seat for Plaid from the Conservatives.

Of course elected representatives can change their party whatever the voting system but where does this leave the people who used their party list vote to support Plaid now that the person they helped elect has defected.

STV would give a personal mandate to those who elected and would ensure the individual accountability of representatives.

The Conservatives recieved

Submitted by Anonymous on Fri, 05/02/2010 – 13:06.

The Conservatives recieved one less seat in the region than they would if all AMs had been elected under d’hondt. So Mr. Asghar is giving the region the number of Tory AMs it wanted at the expense of PC.

STV News 09/07 now published

Submitted by webmaster on Mon, 30/11/2009 – 23:22


STV News 09/07

Tony Benn explains advantages of STV to his grandchildren

Submitted by John on Sat, 21/11/2009 – 11:09


Tony Benn’s Letters to My Grandchildren (Hutchinson, £18.99) is as the title suggests a series of letters to Benn’s grandchildren Nahal, Michael, James, William, Jonathan, Caroline, Emily, Daniel, Hannah and Sarah. ‘Letter 17 explains the advantages of the single transferable vote system’.

Source: Guardian

The Open Rights Group choose STV

Submitted by John on Thu, 12/11/2009 – 19:47


The Open Rights Group will use STV to elect their directors.

The rules

Not the answer!

Submitted by editor on Tue, 20/10/2009 – 16:21


All-women short lists would be A solution, but not THE solution, to the shortage of women in Parliament.

Although Parliament would look more representative of the nation, it could be less representative in fact because constituency parties would have a restricted choice of candidates. Moreover, voters would have no more choice than they do now. Voters have no real choice in most seats because they are safe. At present, one person (usually a man) is foisted on them however they vote. Under David Cameron’s proposal today, they would still have one person foisted on them but it might be a woman.

STV would let voters chose everywhere from which parties and which sex they wanted their MPs to come.

unresponsive house

Submitted by John on Tue, 20/10/2009 – 22:22.

The reasons for the gender inequality in the House of Commons are at least partly historical rooted in a time when fewer women worked and sexism was more widespread than it is today. Part of the reason the House of Commons has not caught up with society is because the first past the post voting system is very unresponsive to changes in society. Safe seats are one reason the system is unresponsive but wasted votes don’t help either.

First past the post may not have created all of the problems we now see with the House of Commons but it certainly makes them all more difficult to fix.

What is all the fuss about expenses? Are MPs really being treated fairly?

Submitted by editor on Fri, 16/10/2009 – 10:13

On the one hand, MPs should not get away with claiming excessive expenses from us, the taxpayers, even if the claims are within the rules. Don’t forget MPs set their own rules. On the other hand, it is unfair if Sir Thomas Legg has simply moved the goalposts retrospectively and catches out those MPs whose claims had been agreed under past rules just because he personally thinks their claims are excessive.

It also seems unfair on MPs if their Parties unilaterally deselect them without first giving their voters a chance to decide whether their claims were excessive or, even if they were, whether the excessive claims were outweighed by the MPs’ good performance locally. If they were in most respects good MPs, Party deselection may also be unfair on their constituents because that would

deny voters the opportunity of re-electing them. But what is most unfair is for voters in safe seats to have disgraced MPs foisted upon them merely because their Parties want to stay loyal and keep them.

If MPs have not committed fraud and have kept within the rules, it is only fair that they should be judged, not by their Party or Sir Thomas, but by their voters.

The problem is that this is not feasible under the present voting system. Voters cannot vote against sitting MPs without also voting against their Parties and loyal Party supporters will be reluctant to do that. In safe seats, the leading Party’s candidates will nearly always win even if they have behaved badly. In marginal seats, the sitting MPs will probably lose if there is a swing against their Parties, even if they have performed and behaved well. That is not fair on either the MPs or the voters concerned!

There can be similar problems with most voting systems, but STV uniquely empowers voters to differentiate between good and bad MPs of the same Party. It would let voters sack the bad MPs without having to vote against their own Parties. It would also protect good MPs from being treated unfairly by their Parties without reference to voters.

Let us give STV a try; it will be fair to voters and those MPs who perform well.

Worth considering!

Submitted by editor on Mon, 12/10/2009 – 22:28


What a squeak after the loud roar of the Labour Party’s manifesto in 1997 to hold a referendum on electoral reform! The media releases about Gordon Brown’s manifesto pledge in his speech on 29 September for a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) if Labour wins the next General Election say it all (see Vote For A Change below). Definitely not PR – for Parties or, as we prefer, for People – but perhaps a step in the right direction. After all, there are two basic principles in STV, the first being preferential voting on which AV is based, and the second, multi-member seats without which there cannot be PR of any kind.

Nevertheless real progress of a kind there has been, albeit not promising much at the moment. This is the first time in recent memory that a Prime Minister has declared that First Past The Post has deficiencies and that the voting system might have to be changed.

Some cynics, though, have even suggested that the split into two at the fringe meeting was exactly what Brown intended – to kill off within Labour’s post-reform ranks any chance of the kind of real change the country needs: a split between the pragmatists (who think a referendum on AV might begin a process that would lead to PR), and the true believers (who reckon it would kill the chances of meaningful reform for a generation).

We fervently believe that STV is the best voting system for all public elections – and in many other elections too. Even so, if it is not possible to persuade Parliament to move from single member constituencies to multi-member ones, then AV is a better system that FPTP as it can more easily be converted to STV later than any of the other systems being proposed.

As Which? would say, “not our Best Buy, but worth considering”!

If you would like to know more about AV, I recommend you to visit for the Electoral

Reform Society’s explanation.

If Brown is really serious about reform (unlike Blair in 1997), he will introduce legislation before the general election for a referendum and challenge the Opposition to repeal it if they win the election.

Vote For A Change Media release:

“Gordon Brown today said that we faced the biggest choices of a generation. With his manifesto pledge of a referendum on the Alternative Vote he’s offered one of the smallest.

After all we’ve seen of the Westminster Gravy train what our politics required was a giant leap. But what Brown said today isn’t even a small step. This is just another empty promise to take that step. Labour promised a referendum in 1997, they didn’t deliver. There is little reason to view this as anything more than another worthless manifesto commitment from a party that may be heading for defeat anyway. Sunshine, lollypops and rainbows may as well be in that manifesto. It amounts to the same thing. A lack of action, and a lack of nerve from a Prime Minister unwilling to embrace real reform.

We are pleased to have won this commitment from the Prime Minister. But if you are committed to the principle of a referendum on the system then you should be principled enough to deliver it when it’s with in your power to do so.

People do well to judge politicians on their actions not their words. Today Brown’s speech demonstrated he’s not serious about reform. He has time between now and the Queen’s Speech to build up from amounts to a promise to do nothing.”

Let the voters really decide!

Submitted by editor on Wed, 30/09/2009 – 22:17


In response to The Sun newspaper’s declared support for the Conservatives, the Prime Minister said the views of voters, rather than newspapers, counted at the ballot box. The BBC reported that he said, “the British people will decide the election.” Would were that true, Gordon!

Under our crazy, undemocratic and inefficient voting system, the present Government was supported by only 35% of voters at the last general election while 65% voted against it. The last Conservative Government was elected by only 42% while 58% voted against it.

Let the voters really decide!

Why not reform?

Submitted by editor on Mon, 28/09/2009 – 17:13


“if the Tories got 36%, the Lib Dems 27%, and Labour 17%, the Tories would have a handsome majority, but Labour would STILL have more seats than the Libs – 132 over 120. This is why Labour will never give the Libs electoral reform. …”

But it is also why the nation needs electoral reform and why all TRUE democrats must demand it regardless of party.

Pointless Primaries

Submitted by Edinburgh on Sun, 30/08/2009 – 23:06


The Conservatives’ “experiment” with a primary election in Totnes attracted a lot of media coverage. But the media don’t seem to realise it was a very clever smokescreen.

Here’s what I wrote in response to one major article. My piece was published on the Opinion page in The Scotsman on 26 August 2009.

Pointless Primaries – a cunning diversion

James Gilmour

It was just a diversionary gimmick, but it was a very effective one. For days the media were full of the wonders of primary elections.

The Conservative’s experiment in Totnes certainly caught the headlines. The commentators extolled this new solution to the ills of our political system. Surprisingly, even David Maddox jumped on the bandwagon (Opinion, 11 August).

The primary experiment may well have selected a better candidate for the Conservatives than their normal selection process. But the real success of the Tories’ Totnes tinkering was to divert attention from the real electoral problem.

So long as we elect Westminster MPs by the discredited First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) voting system, little will change. And of course, David Cameron and his Conservatives, along with the leaders of the Labour Party, want to keep it that way.

Primary elections to select “better” candidates will be irrelevant unless we address the real electoral problems.

FPTP discards the votes of half of those who bother to vote. That was 14 million of those who voted in the 2005 general election. They have no say and no representation.

FPTP distorts the expressed wishes of the voters. In 2005 only 35% voted for the Labour Party, but that was distorted into a 66 seat majority over all other parties. The distortion was no better in previous elections and it doesn’t always favour the Labour Party. David Cameron is hopeful the distortion will go his way next time.

FPTP allows a handful of voters in a few swing marginal constituencies to determine the government. In 2005 the outcome of the election was decided by only one percent of the 27 million who voted. So it’s no surprise that the main parties focus their policies on that little bit of “middle England”.

FPTP makes most seats, safe seats. Even if the Conservatives oust the Labour government at the next election only one-quarter of the seats will likely change party. So 480 MPs of all parties would be in safe seats even if the Conservatives were to win with the 72 seat majority currently projected.

And of course, with FPTP, no party gives its supporters any choice of candidate. So if your local MP is one of the “bad apples”, represents your preferred party and is not de-selected, the only way you can get rid of him or her is to vote against your party.

FPTP also creates electoral deserts across vast swathes of the UK for all the main parties. Where they have no MPs they are out of touch and have no understanding of what local voters want.

In the face of these problems – the real problems – a primary election is a pointless diversion.

In his opinion piece, David Maddox also suggested that primary elections should be used to open up the selection of candidates for the party lists in Scottish Parliament elections.

But that would only be tinkering with the real problems of the voting system we use to elect our MSPs. The real need is to elect all the MSPs on the same basis and to make them all directly accountable to their local constituents.

That’s not going to be achieved by introducing primary elections to select party list candidates. The whole list system should be swept away and the voters given real choice through electing all the MSPs in local constituencies by STV-PR.
That would also get rid of the problems with the FPTP elections in the present constituencies.

David Maddox rightly drew attention to the costs that would be incurred if primary elections were introduced. The Tories’ experiment in Totnes cost them £40,000.

In the USA, the home of the primary election, one of the key reasons for changing from FTPT to STV for local government elections is to avoid the cost of primaries!


Dr James Gilmour is a member of the Electoral Reform Society and the Fairshare Voting Reform Campaign Committee, but he has written this article in a personal capacity.


For those who have subscription access (not me), the original articles are in The Scotsman at:

David Maddox: Primary lesson could be just what politics ordered….

James Gilmour: Tories’ primary ploy can’t disguise need for election overhaul




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