Well, yes Polly

The AV referendum result comes as a thundering blow. In an era when voters are in rebellion against the old two-party duopoly, a third refusing to vote for either of the old tribes, the chance to shape an electoral system that might reflect that mood by recording people\’s true first choices has been cast away.

Although, I have to admit, a voting system that counts peoples\’ third and fourth choices doesn\’t strike me as one that counts their first all that much.

13 thoughts on “Well, yes Polly”

  1. Polly warbles: “In an era when voters are in rebellion against the old two-party duopoly, a third refusing to vote for either of the old tribes…”

    Plus something like a quarter of the population refusing to vote for any tribe. AV will not magically produce candidates people want to vote *for*. They are chasing a greater proportion of a subset of the population not the entire lot.

  2. Anything which assists in crushing the morale of La Toynbee is perfectly OK with me.

  3. Of course a simple yes / no referendum means no tactical voting, just everyone who voted clearly stating their preference. Strangely enough, Polly doesn’t like the outcome, and tries to explain it away with all sorts of reasons.

  4. Have I got this right? Voters turning down something in a referendum is a blow to democracy?

  5. Why was the choice between AV and FPTP?
    Not many countries use AV (or FPTP) because they are not that great systems. Why not something like AMS in Germany (which was our idea but of course our politicans only wanted Germany to have good government – not us as that would have made life harder for them).

  6. The best PR system I read of was to elect MPs in the normal first-past-the-post way, but then weight the MPs’ votes in the Commons to reflect the party’s national share of the vote.

    Parties that failed to win a seat, but got enough votes nationally to deserve one (i.e. 1/650th of the vote) would be represented by their leader as a single non-territorial MP wielding all their votes.

    That way you get proportionality whilst still retaining the accountability of each MP and the ability of local voters to kick out a particular MP without them sneaking back in under the list system.

    Under that system, based on the last election results, in the current House of Commons:
    – Conservative and Labour MPs would have about three quarters of a vote each;
    – Lib Dems would have about two and a half votes each;
    – Caroline Lucas would have about six votes (there’s always a disadvantage);
    – Nigel Farage would be a non-territorial MP with about 20 votes;
    – Nick Griffin would be a non-territorial MP with about 12 votes;
    – the English Democrats would have just made it, with their leader (whoever that is) a non-territorial MP with about one and a half votes;
    – none of the smaller parties would have reached the 1/650th threshold to have enough for 1 MP, so wouldn’t be represented.

    It would still have given roughly the same result – no single party with a majority, but a LibDem Tory coalition would have 389 votes in the Commons (rather than the 363 they’ve got now)

    Would have been complicated to do in the past, but a simple electronic voting system in the Commons would soon weight each MP’s vote to see which side had won a division.

    But of course that would give a House of Commons that reflects the will of the people without strengthening the power of the whips, so we’ll never have it.

  7. Richard, I think I must reject your suggestion for PR on the grounds that it would make some MPs more powerful than others. You may even create a theoretical possibility of concentrating a commons voting majority in a tiny number of MPs.

    I think it looks especially unfair when we consider constituencies. Why should Brighton’s MP have several times more power than most of the rest? You could argue that the Greens deserve the extra power, but I think it’s harder to argue that Brighton does.

    I think you’d also then have a perverse incentive for people to try to elect an MP from an under-represented party so that their constituency has maximum power in parliament.

    If you want a system that delivers something close to PR but without lists, then I’d still go for STV. You lose single member constituencies. But I’d trade that for the ability to choose between candidates within a political party. Of course STV bears more than a passing resemblance to AV, which might make it a particularly hard sell.

  8. Laurence, I agree it’s not perfect; no system is. But I think the problems are less than you suggest, for several reasons:

    1) MPs are never going to be equal. Ministers, or senior Party officials, or even personal friends or relatives of Ministers, are always going to have more influence. Particularly in our system where Ministers are drawn from Parliament.

    2) Any system will occasionally give too much influence to a small group, particularly when forming a coalition.

    Even under FPTP, think of the influence the Ulster Unionists had when John Major’s majority was collapsing.

    So disproportionate influence isn’t unique to that system.

    3) I agree that the Caroline Lucas situation (a party winning a single constituency and also having a biggish national vote, so that she has a large multiple vote in the Commons) would be awkward, particularly if she started demanding ‘pork-barrel’ spending for her constituency.

    But it would also be pretty rare. More common would be the Farage / Griffin situation of broad national support but not concentrated enough to have a territorial MP. In that situation the vote in the Commons is legitimate, in reflecting the national support, and since it is wielded by a non-territorial MP there would not be any specific constituency to be unfairly represented.

    One could I suppose tweak the system to set a maximum number of votes for a constituency MP (the party’s other votes, if necessary, being wielded by a non-territorial MP who wouldn’t have a constituency to unfairly advantage). But that would only be relevant in these very rare situations where a party had broad national support but only 1 or 2 MPs.

    I wouldn’t see a problem, for example, with LibDem MPs having 2 or 3 votes each (even though I don’t think much to the LibDems) – it still seems the best way to reflect the national vote whilst still retaining the ability for the electorate to vote out a shit.

    4) STV supports medium-sized parties, but unless you have huge (20-member?) constituencies (which then effectively become regional party lists) it still sets too high a threshold for small or new parties.

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