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Blog Archive

Worthless votes for expats?

Submitted by editor on Tue, 26/06/2012 – 18:31

MPs are debating whether to let expatriate UK citizens continue to vole in UK elections after 15 years abroad.

There are good arguments for and against this, but it is hard to get worked up either way about it when so many votes of UK residents are of little value under the present voting system. Expats’ votes would also be of little value.

The greater priority is to give value to existing votes before giving worthless votes to more people. The voting system should be changed to STV.

Make Warsi accountable

Submitted by editor on Mon, 28/05/2012 – 16:56

It is not for STV Action to comment on whether or not Baroness Warsi, co-chair of the Conservative Party, has acted illegally or immorally with her expenses claims, but the current controversy highlights the apparent unaccountability of politicians for their expenses.

Lady Warsi was a leading opponent during last year’s referendum of making politicians more accountable to voters.

Ideally, politicians would be accountable to the electorate, especially if the issue was one of morality rather than legality. Voters can judge for themselves whether a politician has behaved well or badly. Voters should have power to apply that judgement at election time re-elect or remove politicians.

But voters have no such power regarding Lady Warsi or any other Peer because the House of Lords is unelected. Moreover, voters usually have only theoretical power to remove MPs because of the defects of the winner-takes-all voting system, commonly known as “first past the post”. Safe seats protect many MPs and voters cannot vote against an unsuitable candidate without voting against the party as well, but they may well want to support the party as a whole.

Voters would also have no such power under a list system of proportional representation.

Only elections by STV would give voters real power to “hire and fire” politicians.

Absurdity of Supplementary Vote

Submitted by editor on Mon, 14/05/2012 – 16:41

Prominent ERS member and academician, Dr David Hill, submitted the following letter to “The Times” on 6 May but, sadly, they did not publish it:

“The figures for the recent election for Mayor of London show, once again, the absurdity of the Supplementary Vote system that is used. There were 2,207,070 voters of whom only 2,047,084 were allowed to take part in the second round that actually chose the winner. In other words there were 159,986 people who took the trouble to turn out and vote who were disenfranchised by the system, while the winning margin was only 62,538. We can never know who would have won had those voters been allowed their say.

The system was introduced by the Labour Government but the present coalition, far from doing anything to put it right, have actually made things worse by adopting the same bad system for the election of police chiefs later this year.”

Regular readers of STV Action will know that the Alternative Vote (AV) would solve the problem.

The absurdity of the Supplementary Vote (SV) is that its supporters admit the failings of First Past The Post (FPTP), but the system fails to remedy them. To have a chance of making their votes effective under the SV system, voters have to guess who will be the top two candidates in the first round of counting.

Curiously, the Labour Government acknowledged the faults of FPTP when it introduced SV for mayoral elections and the present coalition Government did the same when it introduced the system for police chief elections, but most of the politicians who supported SV, which allegedly solves the problems of FPTP, last year opposed AV, which really would solve the problem for filling single vacancies.

The lesson of Egypt

Submitted by editor on Mon, 28/05/2012 – 17:17.

French and Egyptian presidential elections are run in two stages. If no candidate achieves half the votes in the first stage, there is a run-off election; voters vote a second time with all but the leading two candidates eliminated. This is very like the Supplementary Vote system except that voters go to the polls twice.

The current Egyptian presidential election illustrates a key fault with these similar systems. The two leading candidates had fewer than half the total votes between them in the first round. In other words, most Egyptian voters did not want either of them to become President and yet they will be the only choices in the second round; the next Egyptian President will be someone apparently wanted only by a small minority of voters.

The same problem could arise with the proposed election of Police Commissioners in the UK.

AV would solve the problem for electing a single representative. Voters would vote only once and would have a free choice of all the candidates. The final winner would be supported by more than half the votes in the final round.

In Egypt, the winner with AV might or might not be one of the two who have gone through to the second round, but he would have, and be seen to have, majority support.

Focus on one System To Vote by

Submitted by editor on Thu, 03/05/2012 – 15:09

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.”

North/South divide

Submitted by editor on Mon, 30/04/2012 – 10:27

Policy Exchange, a Conservative think tank issued a report on 27 April on the North/South political divide and this was discussed at the end of BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme this morning.

The elephant in the room that the interviewer and interviewees ignored was the exaggerating effect of the First Past the Post (Winner takes All) voting system.

According to Policy Exchange’s own statistics, the Conservatives would achieve 33% of the votes in the North of England and Labour would achieve 25% in the South outside London. Although both figures are poor for what are perceived as the two major parties in England, they are nowhere near as bad as the number of Conservative MPs in the North and Labour MPs in the South outside London; there are hardly any.

This, of course, is because of the voting system. In fact, 33% and 25% are quite respectable minorities, which should be properly represented and would be with a proportional system such as STV.

In fact, with STV, the votes themselves for each party in its desert areas would probably increase. Many potential Conservative voters in the North and Labour in the South do not believe it is worth voting for their party because they know their votes will be worthless under the present voting system. That would change in time with STV as voters came to realise that votes could be effective.

The present Winner takes All voting system encourages and exaggerates the North/South political divide. STV would reduce it.

Bastardized STV for House of Lords?

Submitted by editor on Tue, 10/04/2012 – 03:00

According to the Guardian, the Joint Committee on Lords Reform is recommending a bastardized version of STV for electing a reformed House of Lords.

Under this system borrowed from Australia, the ballot paper would be in two parts. Below the line, voters could vote by STV as we know it, with complete freedom of choice within and across parties, but voters could choose to vote above the line instead. Those voting above the line would vote for only one party in the order laid down by the party.

Although in theory voters could vote below the line, in practice UK parties, like their Australian counterparts, would undoubtedly encourage their supporters to vote above the line. It would suit each party to maximize its own vote and it would suit party bosses to get the candidates elected in their order rather than in the public’s order.

You may think that, so long as voters may vote below the line, there is no harm in offering them the lazy option of voting above the line; for those voting above the line, it would be their loss that they had failed to maximize the effect of their votes. Unfortunately that is wrong. Those who vote above the line reduce the effectiveness not only of their own votes but also the effectiveness of the votes below the line. A large proportion of votes above the line encouraged by the parties would outweigh the individual votes below the line and elect the party hacks wanted by the party bosses.

All this goes to show that we must not allow politicians to decide how they themselves will be elected. No club committee would decide how it should be elected. The club members themselves would decide. Why should politicians be exempt from this commonsense practice? A Citizens’ Convention would be one way of tackling the problem.

Please visit http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/blog/serving-up-a-dogs-breakfast to read more about this.

What’s wrong with First Past The Post!

Submitted by editor on Sat, 07/04/2012 – 20:12

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

Submitted by editor on Thu, 05/04/2012 – 22:43

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.

STV for Euro-elections?

Submitted by editor on Mon, 30/01/2012 – 22:44

The European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee has recommended that some MEPs should be elected from a pan-European list drawn from at least one third of the Member States. The recommendation comes from a proposal by British MEP, Andrew Duff (Liberal Democrat).

STV Action is neutral about whether there should be a pan-European list but, if there is to be one, we strongly recommend that the MEPs on it should be elected by STV.

The typical voter’s first choice would probably be for a candidate who is from both that voter’s party and country. The kind of list system the UK uses now to elect MEPs would prevent that. If the top of the pan-European Conservative list was a German, a British Conservative voter might have to choose between voting for the German Conservative and, say, a British Labour candidate. STV would let British Conservatives choose a British Conservative candidate first.

Now let’s say a British Labour voter has chosen a British Labour candidate as first choice and there are no other British Labour candidates. The freedom of choice that is available only with STV would let the voter choose between another Socialist candidate (say, French) or another British candidate (say, Green). With a party list system, this would not be possible.

Of course, some voters might want to vote other than on party or nationality. For example, a voter who wanted more women in the European Parliament might prefer to vote for women across national and party boundaries. Only STV would allow this.

New Year letter

Submitted by Anthony Tuffin on Tue, 03/01/2012 – 17:47

I wish all readers a very Happy New Year.

Although we lost the battle last year on AV, the war is by no means over.

There is widespread dissatisfaction with the political system in the UK.

Some people are unhappy about the present political system but take First Past The Post for granted and don’t realise that there are better voting systems. They just condemn politics generally. We have to educate them.

Some support various reforms, such as allowing voters to recall MPs in some circumstances, which might scratch the surface of the problems, but they don’t realise that changing the voting system could help much more. We have to educate them as well.

Yet others support proportional representation (PR) to achieve greater fairness between the political parties, but they don’t understand that most types of PR except STV would increase the power of political parties; they don’t realise that only STV would increase voters’ power and freedom of choice and would reduce the power of parties. We have to educate these potential allies who might otherwise be our opponents by campaigning for inferior forms of PR, which would be against the interests of voters.

Of course, many politicians understand only too well that STV would reduce party power and increase people power and that’s why they oppose it.

Only STV would provide real PR (People Representation).

Warmest wishes,

Anthony Tuffin.

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