We need a truly proportional voting system

by Reg Barritt

The outcome of the 2015 general election has placed the first past the post system of election of MPs to Westminster and local councils under greater scrutiny than ever.

Use of First Past the Post for both local and general elections now stands stripped of its main justification: delivering strong government, representative of the wishes of the electorate.

A great deal has been made of the claimed overwhelming victory of the Conservative party and the so called devastating loss suffered by the Labour party (a false interpretation by our media that even the parties themselves have been far too quick to buy into).

In fact, the swing in seats was influenced by relatively small shifts in votes in relatively few constituencies, only further skewed by the distortions of an unrepresentative election result in Scotland.

The time has come for change.

At this point in a discussion, the result of the AV referendum is often raised by opponents of electoral reform.

But AV is not a PR system and was never going to be what the people would want instead of First Past the Post.

As the facts of pluralist politics become harder to ignore the debate rightly turns to how to respond.

The answer lies with the Single Transferable Vote.

Under STV, the current 650 or so single member seats would be combined into about 140 generally five member constituencies (with some variations) using a preferential (e.g. 1,2, 3) vote rather than the single  x.

The same number of MPs would be returned as now but 85% plus of the electorate will have had their preferential vote based on their first or a subsequent (redistributed) choice.

The system would give a more balanced representation at Westminster for the competing parties, similar to the popular vote gained.

Electors would not have to vote tactically or negatively for a candidate they do not like to get rid of them.

And when it comes to STV, electors will not necessarily vote in the same way as First Past the Post so smaller and more extreme parties are not certain to gain from this reform. It all depends on what and who else is on offer.

It has been said the use of STV is too complicated for our electorate. Yet STV is used in many major elections all over the world such as in New Zealand and Ireland. If it is not too complicated for the people of these countries to use it is certainly not too complicated for us.

We should make the next general election the last ever lottery election and move to a modern representative system that ensures everyone’s vote counts and that this is properly translated into equitable national representation.

Reg Barritt is a campaigner for electoral reform

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27 Responses to “We need a truly proportional voting system”

  1. Madasafish says:

    Yet STV is used in many major elections all over the world such as in New Zealand and Ireland.

    And FPTP is used by:
    Antigua and Barbuda
    Cook Islands
    Isle Of Man
    Saint Kitts and Nevis
    Saint Lucia
    Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
    Sierra Leone
    Solomon Islands
    Trinidad and Tobago
    United Kingdom
    United States
    British Virgin Islands

    Say no more.

  2. Blairite says:

    No thanks.

  3. Mike says:

    FPTP does work. We have seen that – people wanted a majority government (concern over an SNP-Miliband deal issue was real) and they got what they wanted. This Government won by over 6% of the vote, more than Labour did in 2005.
    I don`t recall the Conservatives complaining in 1997 when with 30% of the vote they only received 25% of the seats – Labour is still over represented even at catastrophic losses (1983, 2010 and 2015).

  4. Matthew says:

    The main justification for FPP has always been a combination of strong government AND strong community representation.

    New Zealand – where parliament is elected by the ‘Mixed-Member Proportional’ system has 45% of its MPs elected courtesy of a political list. They are on the payroll but have no constituency – something that the British public wouldn’t be that keen on.

    Likewise try asking people whether they want to be part of a ‘South West London’ seat, rather than Battersea, Streatham, Vauxhall, Tooting, etc. The electorate wants strong community political representation now more than ever – MPs who work their housing estates, residents groups and so on.

  5. TrT says:

    So which victorious MPs would you kick out and which losers would you put in their place?
    Jenkins out Balls in?

  6. John P Reid says:

    Madasafish, America has two parties we have at least 6,

    Ironic UKIP were against reform in the referendum, when they could have 74 ?MPs now, I understand the hypocrisy, that labour on 36% in 2005 didn’t say a thing, or labour on 38% in 1974, and we want it now the Tories gave a majority on 37% but in those cases we’d go have had Lab/lib govt’s or Tory/Ukip now

    The way I understand STV was we could have 2 classes of MP, a constituency one constituencies reduced to 400 and top up ones ,who dont have case work ,but can devote more time to select committees, about 200
    Then when votes are cast like the London mayoral election to make the vote share fair, the top up polls would be made of green ,UKIP and libdems

  7. STV is not a proportional system. It is said that it usually produces a ‘close to’ proportional result. However this is not necessarily the case. It depends on district size, the number of competing parties, and how the votes are distributed across the UK. In the last election it would have not produced a very proportional result for example with the SNP still being over-represented, and the Greens being under-represented.

    If we change our voting system (which we should) we should choose a Proportional, not a preferential, system.

    The argument about complex voting and counting is not as simple as you suggest. With a 5 member district and six competing parties, you expect the voter to make a reasoned choice from all the names on what would be a very big ballot paper. You ask too much.
    The counting of an STV election is complex, and the result is opaque. Few people will really understand the process

    To be truly democratic a voting system has to be simple and transparent. STV is neither, nor proportional.

    Other PR systems you may like to consider include AMS used in Scotland and Wales, or if you dislike the party list MP aspect of this system, consider DPR Voting – with simple voting, counting and a proportional system based on single member constituencies

  8. Tafia says:

    The British public do not want a straight PR system. They want something constituency-based, with an identifiable Member that is there to look after their areas interests.

    That means either AV or STV or similar. AV was roundly and soundly rejected.

    There are other ideas, one of the best I have heard is to have far larger constituencies say only 300 – with each seat returning two MPs. Then each party may stand no more than one and only one candidate, all independents to stand purely as that (not Independent Labour etc). Each voter gets two votes and must use both, marking a simple X against their two chosen candidates, whoever comes first and second take the two seats.

    Second round run-offs is another good suggestion. Unless a candidate gets 50% of the votes cast then the top two candidates have a run-off a week later.

    Other ideas about ease of voting include somehow connecting the voters electoral ID to their bank account so that they can vote at any cash point machine anywhere in the UK if they are away from home and even changing from a polling day to a polling weekend, polling stations open midday on the friday and remain open right the way through the weekend to midday on a monday.

  9. swatantra says:

    I like PR, but I don’t like Lists.
    Also, we should end up with a Run Off between X and Y, Z and the rest having been eliminated in previous rounds.

  10. Rallan says:

    “Ironic UKIP were against reform in the referendum”

    Actually UKIP supported Yes to AV.

  11. Andy says:

    Yes to PR. We should have a greater range of voices in Parliament.

  12. Ian McKenzie says:

    The main reason for FPTP is not because it produces strong government but because a proportional system would destroy our executive in parliament system and our one-to-one representative democracy. The constituency link (each elector has one and only parliamentary representative) is the bedrock of the accountability that makes our system fair.

    Just because you do not have an MP of the party you favour does not mean you are not represented in parliament.

  13. John P Reid says:

    Rallan ok Carswell wasn’t in Ukip, in 2011′ but he was gloating about it,failure at the referendum on a Ukip website the other day,

    Tafia. I think we discussed your idea few years Back in labour home,it’s not too far from STV on the London assembly,trouble is ,it’s proportionate if the constituencies would always return MPs in traditional areas,IE Tory always in Surrey, labour always in Liverpool,but say the old west coast where libdems ,use yo have a break through, there’ll soon be a situation where they won’t even come second there, and it would also see so much tactical voting,that people would be voting for the party they like the second least,

  14. DavidH says:

    I agree with the principle. With at least six sizable parties in the country, FPTP no longer works effectively. It’s a good system where there are only two, as in the US, or where there are more but where generally only two are dominant locally. As soon as you start having sizable losing shares, legitimacy begins to go and minority views go unrepresented.

    That said, I agree with Stephen Johnson on the drawbacks of STV. It requires the voter to have a more informed view of the many candidates they’ll be offered than is in reality likely. Under STV, you have to pick a candidate or rank candidates, yet all many voters want to do is support a party.

    A simple tweak would be to use an ‘Open list plus’ system: give voters the list of parties and candidates standing in their constituency (I’d agree that 5-6 members per constituency would work best), and allow them to pick either a party or a candidate. Then elect MPs proportional to the combined total vote for each party/its candidates, with candidates ranked in order of their individual vote.

    That would, like STV, be a very difficult system to ‘game’, so minimising negative campaigning and tactical voting, would keep some sense of local connection but wouldn’t force voters to vote in a way that many don’t want to.

  15. TrT says:

    A far better solution would be to retain a single vote system, but enlarge the constituency.
    Let’s take Greater Manchester

    It has around 25 MPs

    The greens should be able to field a single MP across for all 25 seats if they so choose.
    It maintains a constituency link, just not a state created fictional constituency.

  16. Colin McLeod says:

    Labour lost….get over it

  17. Rallan says:

    “Rallan ok Carswell wasn’t in Ukip, in 2011′ but he was gloating about it,failure at the referendum on a Ukip website the other day”

    I never mentioned Carswell.

    During the AV referendum UKIP was in favour of AV and Nigel Farage offered to support the Yes campaign many times. He was repeatedly refused because the AV campaign was exclusively run by Guardian readers for Guardian readers (which is why “Yes” failed so badly).

  18. Steve Barker says:

    “Mike says:
    May 26, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    FPTP does work. We have seen that – people wanted a majority government (concern over an SNP-Miliband deal issue was real)”

    Only 24% of the electorate supported the Tories + SNP/Plaid/Green/Labour working together would have been the ideal outcome.

  19. Mike says:

    David – there are not six sizable parties in the UK.
    SNP is only in Scotland, Greens was only 3-4% and could easily go back to the 1-2% range, Lib Dems are back at their long term (before the SDP days) range of 8-10%. Plaid Cyrmu is only the fourth party in Wales so hardly a major party. That leaves the Conservatives, Labour and perhaps UKIP.

    In countries like Germany there are really only two main blocks – the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats. The greens are half a party and the FDP and Left are small.

  20. Madasafish says:

    Steve Barker says:
    May 27, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    Only 24% of the electorate supported the Tories + SNP/Plaid/Green/Labour working together would have been the ideal outcome”

    Sorry but do you really want to repeat that silly statistic. If you do, here’s another one.

    Did Not Vote scored 33.9% of the electorate. Labour only scored 20% of the electorate. -less than 2/3rds of the Did Not Vote.

    Your use of facts applies to Labour as much as the Conservatives – or more so – which shows how ill advised it is to repeat it.

  21. Steve Barker says:

    Madasafish: If 40% for strike action!

  22. John P Ried says:

    steve barker, the comparison with 40% of strike action, isn’t realistic, a strike ballot has two possibilities to a question, do you want to strike, Yes or No

    a general election constituency ,there’s always more than 2 candidates,

  23. posthorn says:

    The point that seems to have been missed in this discussion is that in many constituencies the candidate deemed to have been elected did not have a majority because more people voted against than for them. On that basis of course some MPs should have been eliminated because they were rejected by a majority of voters. The answer is to have a follow up election in which candidates having less than say 25% of the votes would drop out even though this would probably turn into a two party contest at least it is logical & fair.
    Another way to make sure minority parties views are represented would be to form, in each constituency, a kind of shadow cabinet with representatives from each party. Their roles would be to monitor the performance of the MP & Parliament & to make representations on behalf of the voters. Too many MPs are remote from the voters & too close to their party sponsors/owners/lobbyists & do not understand ( & perhaps do not wish to understand) their concerns hence the poor showing of Labour on 7 May.

  24. Neil Harding says:

    One vote for one candidate to elect all a county’s MPs. Totally proportional and still allows ultra local MPs as candidates target areas within a county. See my website for details- http://www.neilharding.blogspot.com

  25. Carol says:

    PR has the advantage that most people understand it and many consider it fair, or fairer. I think the House of Commons should represent the political views of the country. If it does not represent the political views of the country then it is not democratic, which, of course, it isn’t. Whatever you think of UKIP it is ludicrous that the political views of 4 million go unrepresented. I don’t think the constituency connection matters as it used to. Most people live in constituencies where they did not vote for the incumbent. Many have had the cynicism inducing experience of an imposed and unwanted candidate.

  26. Martin says:

    I recently saw a programme on BBC Parliament of the 1955 election. Most constituencies only had two candidates then. Now, in England, five parties compete in most seats, six in Scotland and Wales. This is how things are now and for the forseeable future. FPTP can’t cope with this. I tried to get a question on PR for voting in elections to the House of Commons put to Labour’s leadership contenders at one of their hustings. It wasn’t selected. Has anyone been successful in asking these people this question? They are all talking about ‘change’ or being the candidate for ‘change’, but something as important as democracy itself seems to pass them by. And so soon after an election with such bizarre results. Oh dear!

  27. Mike says:

    Very few of the flip supporters have pointed out the fact that 49% of all mps elected in the general election have have been elected by a minority. How is this possible? Even if they clearly received the largest amount of votes less than 50% means that most people voted against them. 63% of the vote in the last election went to losing candidates. In a democracy the absolute maximum of losing votes should be 49.9%,should it not? If ftp is so good then why didn’t David Cameron concede defeat in the 2005 Conservative leadership campaign? Obviously electoral run off is ok for the chosen few but not us uneducated pleas sorry I mean voters.

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