First past the post or something else?

The Institute of Public Policy Research says that unless the current arrangement is scrapped there is greater risk of the “wrong” winner being declared when the country goes to the polls.

It points to the fact that Labour needs only a three-point lead to secure a Commons majority at a general election while the Tories need an 11 point gap to seize power.

Now, yes, of course, this can be used to argue that we need a change in the voting system.

However, it can also be used to argue that the voting system is just fine, it\’s the drawing of the constituency boundaries which needs reforming.

But of course, when his is argued then we get the various Labour Party harpies screaming about how unfair this would be.

In general (and it is only in general, not specifically true in all cases), Labour seats are in declining city centres and declining industrial areas. Tory seats are in growing suburbs and rural areas. \”Declining\” and \”growing\” here are defined as losing or gaining population.

We only have a census once every decade and we seem to change the constituency boundaries (please correct me if I\’m wrong) a decade or so after we get the results of that census. So there\’s a near 20 year delay, at the extreme, in constituency boundaries and size reflecting these geographical changes in the dispostion of the population.

As a result, Labour seats tend (again, tend, this is not absolute) to have smaller electorates than Tory ones. For English seats the differences are from 56,000 voters to 80,000 odd (the Isle of Wight is a special case at the very top end).  Someone else can go through those seats to see how this bias works but certainly the majority of the smaller seats are Labour, the larger Tory.

Well, so what?

Well, if we\’re going to keep any form of voting that relies upon a constituency, if we\’re going to change the system but not go to regional or national party lists and so on, then whatever the voting system we need to get this constituency thing right.

And, the thing is, if we do get this constituency thing right, then we may well not need to change the voting system……

9 thoughts on “First past the post or something else?”

  1. FPTP is a shambles. Take Liverpool Walton where Steve Rotherham had 72% of the vote – largest winning margin. However that was only 39% of the electorate.

    No MP has a democratic mandate. Its all for show.

  2. Patrick – that lack of absolute mandate wouldn’t change with a different voting system.

    And the lack of absolute mandate isn’t a lack of a democratic mandate. The Apathy Party candidates clearly couldn’t be bothered to fill in their application forms.

  3. Some people are apathetic, that is true. Some people may believe that the ‘big problems’ have been largely solved.

    But it is not true that all non-voters aren’t interested in politics. Lots are interested but they believe their vote doesn’t matter. And in many cases – such as safe seat constituencies, for example, they are right; in 2010, “The Electoral Reform Society contests that, under the current first-past-the-post voting system, over half of the 650 Westminster seats available at the election are considered “safe”. That is, a specific party is likely to be elected, regardless of policies, in 382 constituencies.”

    In essence, a large proportion of people don’t feel represented.

  4. FWIW, Census returns only have a tangential affect on constituency size, the Boundary Commission is supposed, under current legislation, to take into account the electoral register and then adapt for local ‘natural communities’ only where necessary.

    Theoretically, seats should, currently, be about the right size. Except the process takes so long that the boundaries that came in for 2010 were mostly drawn up using 2003/04 electoral rolls.

    I’d use terms such as ‘gerrymandering’ and similar to describe the benefits the current boundaries give to Labour as the rules were clearly only honoured in the breach in a number of seats (although the variance allowed is too high).

    The new proposals might get things right, full review after every GE so seats should be right based on an electoral roll no more’n 4 years out of date, etc.

    But it’s going to create havoc, dislocation, break constituency links regularly, etc.

    Much better to use existing natural boundaries (like County or PRimary Local Authority) and give each of them a bunch of MPS elected by preferential voting, no party lists, real choice, easy to administer, etc etc etc.

    Even the Irish and Australians can get it right.

  5. Oh, Patrick, there’s clear evidence that the safer the seat the lower the turnout.

    Plus, turnout above approx 85% under the current method of drawing up electoral registers is unlikely in the extreme (I’ve done stuff on this, amongst other things, people die).

  6. Why does every member of parliament have to have exactly one vote? The votes could be weighted according to their overall national support, using a simple spreadsheet. Such a solution would allow each local area to have an MP. But it would also make every vote count, including the votes of dissidents in safe constituencies.

  7. “The Apathy Party candidates clearly couldn’t be bothered to fill in their application forms.”

    Why is it presumed that encouraging people to vote is a good thing? Surely it’s better that those who aren’t sufficiently interested in the issues don’t participate.

    In one Heinlein’s novels, the right to vote in his fictional society was gained by devoting a period of life to serving the community, the service determined not by the choice of the individual but where their abilities could be best used. It produced a small but highly reponsible & motivated electorate & as only voters were eligble to be canditates for office I would imagine its politicians would be a marked improvement on the dross we have today.

  8. We’d still need to change the voting system as it is biased in favour of 2 party politics that no longer work. With huge numbers of SNP, Welsh Nationalists and SF there is an ever smaller chance of one of the big parties actually forming a Government on their own. If we are to have coalitions it will be better to have greater choice. Politics is either big tent parties or not…we have become or not and should have a voting system to reflect that.

  9. A previous Premier of Queensland (Joh Bjelke Petersen) was the master of the gerrymander, but it was eventually fixed by having an independent electoral commission review the electoral boundaries and adjust them on a regular basis. What’s the problem with doing that?

    Australia also has compulsory voting, which scares a lot of people but actually results in a more politically engaged electorate.

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