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Blog Archive

Boundary Changes – The value of your vote

Submitted by editor on Mon, 26/09/2011 – 21:30

Under the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011, the Government intends to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600 and to make constituencies more equal in size in terms of numbers of constituents. It is claimed that, by making constituencies more equal in size, the value of your vote will no longer depend on where you live. Many believe it to be simply an exercise in gerrymandering.

Not unexpectedly, the proposals for new constituency boundaries are proving to be very controversial. No wonder! Even when you simply merge two constituencies, say a safe Labour one with a safe Conservative one, one of the parties will lose an MP. If you merge two safe seats of the same party, one of the MPs will lose. Who wins or loses will depend on where the boundaries are drawn. When constituencies are broken up and put back together in a different combination, there are many unforeseen, and possibly unintended, consequences.

One hope of the Conservatives is that, by equalizing constituencies, they will overcome what has become a continuous bias against them in elections – the previous see-saw and Buggins’s turn principles no longer apply because the Conservatives need more votes to win an outright majority than Labour does. Some academics say this is nonsense and the reasons for the bias are different registration and turnout rates and socio-economic patterns in the constituencies. Nevertheless, both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats said in their manifestos they wanted to reduce the number of MPs.

In fact, the seemingly beneficial change is a radical innovation with undesirable effects. For the first time in the history of the UK parliament or the English parliament before it, MPs will be expected to represent people instead of natural communities. To equalize constituencies, local authority boundaries will be ignored. This means that parliamentary constituencies will no longer be natural communitites. Many aren’t now when a city is divided into a number of constituencies, but even fewer will be under the new arrangements.

A potential future problem is that, to keep constituencies equal in size of electorate, constituency boundary changes may have to be more frequent than they have been as populations move and change. Each time they are changed, political parties and MPS will wrangle to try to protect their own interests. Moreover, more frequent boundary changes will diminish the so-called vital link between an MP and his or her constituents, so prized – really over-prized – by supporters of first past the post.

Of course, STV would considerably reduce all these problems:

• With STV, it is easy to alter the number of MPs nationally or regionally by varying the number per constituency instead of changing boundaries.
• STV enables MPs to represent people and natural communities. A whole town or county can form one multi-member constituency. If its population grows or declines the number of its MPs can be increased or reduced without any changing the boundary, splitting the community or separating constituents from their only MP.
• STV really would make votes of equal value instead of depending on where you live.

When asked why STV would not be a more sensible way of reducing the number of MPs and making votes more equal, Lord North, a key proponent of the changes, said very strongly that he was not in favour of PR of any kind and therefore would not be assessing STV as a way of achieving the changes.

Nevertheless, the Government’s proposals may be a good thing in the long run. Many people will be dissatisfied with the proposals. They will not know how STV could help. This gives electoral reformers an opportunity to explain some of STV’s less well-known advantages.

Factions in Lebanon

Submitted by editor on Sun, 25/09/2011 – 09:20

Christian leaders in Lebanon have expressed concern that PR would encourage religious factionalism in the multi-faith country. They would probably be right about most forms of PR, based on lists, but they may not have heard of STV. Far from encouraging factionalism, STV can discourage it as the system encourages each party to broaden its base and look outwards with its policies to attract 2nd and 3rd preferences from supporters of other parties.

ERS Officers

Submitted by editor on Sat, 17/09/2011 – 20:36

The ERS Council met today and elected the following Officers until the 2012 AGM:

Chair: John Ault

Vice-chair (Management): Jonathan Bartley

Deputy-chair (Campaigns): Amy Dodd

Deputy-chair (Group Relations): Keith Sharp

Hon. Treasurer: Chris Carrigan


Submitted by editor on Sat, 03/11/2012 – 17:49.

Jonathan Bartley resigned from the ERS Council on 15 September 2012. Council decided to leave the post of Vice-Chair vacant until the AGM on 17 November.

The West Lothian question

Submitted by editor on Thu, 08/09/2011 – 14:20

The question is why Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs can vote on purely English legislation when English MPs cannot vote on matters devolved to Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

The Government announced today that it is setting up an independent commission to consider the issue, which was first raised 34 years ago by Tam Dalyell, Labour MP for West Lothian.

Various solutions have been mooted before:

1. Prevent Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland MPs from voting on purely English matters.
2. Set up a separate, devolved English parliament for purely English matters.
3. Set up devolved English regional assemblies.

STV Action has no view as a body on any of these options. They all look fairer at first sight than the present system, but they all share one problem. Just as there were fears that devolved Scottish and Welsh bodies would make those nations one-party states for Labour under FPTP voting, so options 1 and 2 could well create a one-party English state for the Conservatives. Similarly, Option 3 could create a series of one-party states for different parties in different parts of England.

It is essential that any solution includes a PR voting system.

Scottish Conservatives

Submitted by editor on Thu, 08/09/2011 – 13:41

The Scottish Conservative Party suffered a wipeout in 1997 when it lost all eleven of its seats at Westminster and recovered only to one seat in 2001 and it still has only one seat, even though the general swing towards the Conservatives in 2010 made them a party of UK government.

Now Murdo Fraser, candidate to lead the Scottish Conservative Party, has said that, if he wins the leadership, he will dissolve the party and start a new centre right party with a new name.

However, although they have fared quite badly for votes in all elections since 1997, Scottish Conservatives have fared disproportionately badly in terms of seats and a change to a fairer voting system would help them in Scotland, just as it would help some other parties in other parts of the UK.

For example, in 2010, the Scottish Conservatives, Scottish Liberal Democrats and SNP won similar proportions of the votes; i.e. 16.7%, 18.9% and 19.9% respectively. Nevertheless, they won one, eleven and six seats respectively. This is not just unfair for the Conservative Party; more importantly, it is unfair for voters. It is also inefficient if voters do not get what they voted for.

One of the many problems with the present FPTP voting system is that it seems to divide the country politically, as though nearly every voter in South East England was Conservative and hardly any voters in Scotland were. In fact, although this is true of MPs, it is untrue of voters.

Comparing FPTP & STV

Submitted by editor on Mon, 26/09/2011 – 21:22.

Eric Syddique has kindly sent us detailed figures for Scotland in the 2010 General Election.

The actual result, by First Past the Post, is shown below with the estimated STV result in brackets:

Labour: 41 (27)
SNP: 6 (12)
Lib Dem 11 (10)
Conservative: 1 (10)

First Past The Post cheated the Conservative Party of 9 out of 10 seats!

These figures show that PR is not a support system for the Liberal Democrats. First Past the Post is unfair on every party somewhere and is especially unfair on the Conservative Party in Scotland. More important, it is unfair on voters. Moreover, it is inefficient because voters don’t get what they vote for.

If the Conservative Party acted in the voters’ and the nation’s interest by supporting STV, it would also be in the party’s own interest at least in Scotland.

Health warning:

We don’t know how the Scots would have actually voted by STV. Knowing that their votes would have really counted, unlike by FPTP, some may have voted differently. Also we don’t know what voters’ 2nd and 3rd preferences would have been. Finally, the exact result might vary slightly depending on how the constituencies were drawn.

Nevertheless, Eric’s figures give us quite a good idea of what the result would have been with STV – much fairer and more accurate than FPTP.

ERS Annual Meeting 3 September 2011

Submitted by Anthony Tuffin on Tue, 06/09/2011 – 20:02

There are two advisory ballots on each resolution.

One is a postal ballot. The advantage of that is that, because most members are unable to attend the meeting in person, it represents a wider spectrum of the members than a show of hands at the meeting can. Its disadvantage is that members vote without hearing the argument.

The other is a show of hands. The advantage of that is that members can hear arguments from both sides before they vote. Its disadvantage is that it represents only a small proportion of members.

The votes are not aggregated and it is Council’s duty to consider the results of both ballots before deciding whether, or how, to implement a resolution.

Three of the resolutions (Nos. 1, 2 & 6 and all passed) called in different ways for STV to be used in local government elections in England and Wales so that is a very strong message to Council.

Two (Nos. 3 & 4) called for direct democracy. Their decisive rejection confirms the ERS’s traditional support for representative democracy.

There were nine resolutions in total this year:

1. “Support Local Campaigns for introducing STV for Local Government Elections”

The resolution implies that the campaign would be for the introduction of a local option to enable local communities to choose STV for their elections, especially in parts of London where majority voted “Yes” in the AV referendum.

Unfortunately, the proposer and seconder were not at the meeting, but I moved it from the floor and someone else seconded it.

Members PASSED it overwhelmingly in both ballots. The postal votes were 574 for and 24 against. Voting at the meeting was so overwhelming for the resolution, that there was no count.

2. “STV for local elections”

This resolution built on resolutions passed in 2008 and 2010 and called on Council to campaign for STV in all local elections.

Members PASSED it overwhelmingly in both ballots. The postal votes were 581 for and 25 against. Voting at the meeting was so overwhelming for the resolution (with only one against), that there was no count.

3. “Establishing an Internet Based System for Direct Democracy”

So far as I remember, the proposer and seconder were not present, but someone else moved the resolution so that there could be a vote.

Members REJECTED it decisively in both ballots. The postal votes were 185 for and 366 against. Voting at the meeting was so overwhelming against the resolution, that there was no count.

4. “Direct Democracy”

This resolution was similar to the preceding one except that the wording implied a series of direct referendums instead of Internet voting.

Members also REJECTED this one in both ballots. The postal votes were 245 for and 306 against. Voting at the meeting was so overwhelming against the resolution (with only seven in favour), that there was no count.

5. “Comparison of Methods of Counting STV elections”

This resolution deplored the fact that Council had not implemented resolutions of 2009 and 2010 on this subject but the proposer, David Hill, recognized the priorities of the “Vote for a Change” campaign followed by the AV referendum and spoke more in sorrow than anger to a sympathetic audience.

It was PASSED in both ballots, overwhelmingly in the case of the postal ballot. The postal votes were 434 for and 52 against. Voting at the meeting was 33 for and 23 against.

6. “Plan for Success”

I must declare an interest in this, because it was mine. It had too many points to summarize in a couple of lines, but it had two main themes. One was for the ERS to save money for a fighting fund and the other was explain the disadvantages of FPTP and the advantages of preferential voting in various ways, including a high profile campaign to allow local communities to choose STV for local elections.

This was PASSED in both ballots, overwhelmingly in the case of the postal ballot. The postal votes were 415 for and 99 against. Voting at the meeting was 30 for and 23 against.

7. “Annual March for Greater Democracy”

Members PASSED it in both ballots. The postal votes were 203 for and 160 against. Voting at the meeting was so overwhelming for the resolution, that there was no count.

8. “Mission Statement on Website”

This was to reword the Mission Statement slightly to bring it closer in line with the ERS’s main object, but the split result may give Council some difficulty.

Postal voters PASSED it decisively by 342 to 151 while those at the meeting narrowly REJECTED it by 34 to 30.

9. “Supplementary Vote”

This called for a campaign for single vacancy elections, such as for Mayors and Police Chiefs, to be by the Alternative Vote (AV) and not the Supplementary Vote (SV).

Members PASSED this overwhelmingly in both ballots. . The postal votes were 397 for and 77 against. Voting at the meeting was nem con in favour.

ERS AGM 3 September 2011

Submitted by Anthony Tuffin on Tue, 06/09/2011 – 09:28

In addition to the usual formal business of minutes and accounts, there were four special resolutions and one ordinary resolution, all proposed by members, on the agenda.

As the four special resolutions were all to change the ERS’s constitution, they had to achieve 75% of the votes to be passed. This is the minimum requirement of company law. The ERS Council recommended members to reject all four of these resolutions and they all failed to achieve the 75% they needed to be passed. In detail, the results (including proxies) were:

1 To remove STV from the objects For 237, Against 356. Failed
2 To elect the President by popular vote For 310, Against 264 Failed (< 75%)
3 To allow Council to omit resolutions from AGM agenda For 292, Against 268 Failed (< 75%)
4 To elect Council annually and restrict periods of office For 241, Against 313 Failed

There was also an ordinary resolution asking Council to amend standing orders to allow emergency resolutions at AGMs. Council, wrongly in my personal view, made no recommendation on this and members passed it by 407 to 108 votes.

However, it is very difficult to see how Council could implement it. Not only would it disenfranchise from AGMs those members unable to attend in person, but it would also conflict with company law.

ERS AGM & Annual Meeting 3 September 2011

Submitted by Anthony Tuffin on Tue, 06/09/2011 – 09:25

The ERS is a limited company and its AGM is a formal meeting held in accordance with company law.

Immediately after the AGM, the ERS holds an informal “annual meeting” mainly to discuss policy.

Both meetings went well in a good atmosphere. Debates were spirited but not bad spirited and most of the discussion was about the issues, not the personalities. The President, Bishop Colin Buchanan, handled the debates firmly but fairly and with good humour; he made a major contribution towards the good atmosphere.

I am posting brief accounts of each meeting separately.

City switches to STV

Submitted by editor on Mon, 05/09/2011 – 20:55


On 31 August, the Palmerston North City Council in New Zealand voted to switch to STV for the 2013 and 2016 local elections, by 10 votes to 5.

This major step for reform in Palmerston North may seem only a minor step on a world-wide scale, but it is interesting and encouraging to see how the local option can work.

Many UK electoral reformers believe that it is the way forward for reforming local elections in England and Wales and, indeed the ERS passed two resolutions on 3 September supporting local options.

Another New Zealand referendum

Submitted by editor on Mon, 05/09/2011 – 11:10

New Zealand is to have a general election and a non-binding referendum on its voting system on Saturday 26 November.

Following a referendum in 1993, the country changed from FPTP in 1996 to the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system, which is better known in the UK as the Additional Member System (AMS).

The coming referendum will not be on whether to change from MMP to another defined system such as STV, but on whether to keep MMP or hold another referendum later between keeping MMP and switching to another system, yet to be chosen.

If voters say “Yes” in the November referendum, anything could happen later. The subsequent referendum could endorse MMP, or result in a change to STV, a change back to FPTP or a change to some other system.

Thus voting in November could be quite a gamble. Some STV and FPTP supporters could find themselves supporting each other in November to ditch MMP but then going their different ways to promote their rival alternatives to MMP.

Other STV and FPTP supporters could find themselves in uneasy alliance in November to keep MMP rather than risk a switch to a system that they strongly oppose.

STV supporters in the UK often disagree about whether a switch from FPTP to a proportional system, other than STV, would help or hinder their aim of securing STV. Would it be the end of the line or would it open the floodgates to more and better reform? Perhaps what happens in New Zealand will give us a clue.

It will be exacting times and UK reformers will follow events in New Zealand with great interest.

Please visit for more information.

How the NZ referendum will work

Submitted by editor on Wed, 07/09/2011 – 19:22.

The process will be similar to that used when the nation changed from FPTP to MMP in the 1990s. This November’s ballot paper will be in two parts.

Part A will ask voters whether they want to keep MMP or change the system

Part B will ask which system they want instead of MMP. There will be a choice of FPP, PV, STV, and SM (sorry more initials). The winning option in Part B this November will be the other system that would go forward to the binding referendum against MMP in 2014.

If New Zealanders vote this November to keep MMP, there will be a review of MMP by the Electoral Commission, and submissions will be called for.

Binding in practice

Submitted by editor on Tue, 06/09/2011 – 20:55.

A friendly New Zealand reformer has advised me that, although the referendum is not legally binding, the outcome will, in practice, be binding on the next government. If New Zealanders vote this November to change to another system in Part A, and STV wins Part B, and if a re-elected National-led government then says, “Sorry people, we don’t like STV, we can’t take the risk that you’ll vote for it over MMP at the 2014 general election, so we’ll stick with MMP thanks”, there would be outrage.

If New Zealanders vote to keep MMP in November, there will be a review of MMP by the Electoral Commission next year, and some or all of their recommended changes will be in place in time for the 2014 election.


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