Tag Archives: proportional representation

Election 2015 – Keeping Things in Proportion

When you hear the heads of three political party leaders hit the floor on the same day, you know it’s been an eventful election. Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said before the results were announced that the most likely victim was to be the First Past The Post electoral system. Many of us are waiting for this fourth head to drop.

There are experts at the Electoral Reform Society who could explain the different alternative systems and their respective advantages and disadvantages, if politicians wanted to know but of course the winner is rarely keen to change a system under which they have just achieved victory. On this occasion, we may have to insist. This election was too chaotic to count as democracy. Poorly coordinated tactical voting based upon opinion poles that are now known to have been wrong, is a very risky way to make an important decision.

  • Majority

Out of the people who voted, the winner is the option that gets more than 50% of the votes. There can be a draw and with more than 2 options, there won’t necessarily be a winner.

  • First-Past-The-Post (FPTP)

The winner is the option that gets most votes. When there are more than 2 options and the spit is fairly equal, there can be arguments over ‘legitimacy’, as there were at this election.

UK elections are run under a combination of these 2 systems, FPTP to decide which party’s leader tries to form a government but if there is no majority then further horse trading and agreements with other parties to work together to achieve a majority.

Does FPTP ever work? It can, if there are only 2 choices (and no-one is hiding a third option that many people would have preferred, as happened in the Scottish Independence referendum) and there is no dispute over the borders of the appropriate constituency or who should be entitled to vote (another pair of hurdles the ‘Scottish question’ did not clear cleanly.)

Until last night, the Conservatives seemed likely to get the most votes but not to have a majority. We heard the SNP argue that an ‘alliance of the Left’ would have a greater share of the vote that would have more legitimacy. The unexpected Conservative majority saved us from that entertainment.

What do we want from our elections? There has been a lot of talk of “PR”,

  • Proportional Representation

A set of systems that would select MPs from a group of candidates, in proportion to the number of votes they receive. At first sight, this seems fair but what if there are candidates that have some support from a small section of the population but are extremely unpopular with another part of the community, possibly everyone else? Systems that allow ‘NOT preferences’ to be expressed exist.A

  • Transferable Votes system

is used in Australia. You put a “1” against your first choice, a “2” against your second etc. After voting, if your first choice has not won then it is transferred to your second choice. It is designed to maximise the satisfaction, or at least minimise the dissatisfaction, across the population.

Would an example help? Imagine there is an election in Israel. An election is held to choose 2 councillors from 4 candidates. You might get 1 PLO candidate, 1 from a Zionist group that wanted to build on Palestinian land and two moderates who want to respect the traditions of the two communities but to build shared first schools so that kids get to know each other before they learn to hate.

Under Proportional Representation, it is not inconceivable that the Palestinians would vote for the PLO candidate first and the Israelis would vote for the Zionist.

Under a Transferable Votes system, they might choose 2 moderates who are no-ones first choice. Is this compromise, social engineering or satisfaction optimisation? Is it better to make a few people very happy and a few people  very unhappy with each choice?

An exercise to the reader: UKIP seem likely to favour PR but they are very worried about immigration by Muslims and the possibility of Islamist extremism within those communities. Under PR, might there ever be enough fundamentalist Muslims spread around the UK to elect there own MP?

Remember when we had a FPTP referendum and chose not to move the only bad PR system we were offered, in case we got coalition governments? What about when most Scots probably wanted greater devolved power within the UK but were offered an In/Out referrendum?

Democracy is not simple. Decisions have consequences. We should not change voting systems in a rush. I think Natalie Bennett knows this, so we should listen to what she says.

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A Democracy Fix – “None of the above”

There appears to be general agreement across the UK that parliamentary democracy isn’t working properly. During my time as a voter, we’ve only had two parties with any chance of being elected. First they formed governments alternately at every election, spending most of their time reversing the previous parliament’s achievements. More recently we had such ineffective oppositions that governments have stayed in place until they were ejected on charges of croneyism and corruption. Despite the easy ride, they appeared to run out of ideas during their second term.

The proposal to move from the first-part-the-post voting system to a poor form of proportional representation was rejected by the electorate. Many said this was because they didn’t want a system that might lead to a coalition government. At the very next election we got a coalition government.

Politicians blame voter’s disinterest. Voters blame politicians who don’t represent what they think. Many feel strongly that they want ‘none of the above’ but the only way to signal that is to spoil their vote, which is indistinguishable from apathy. I have intelligent friends who argue that it doesn’t make sense to vote for the party you want – you should vote tactically, against the party you don’t want most. We have turned our democracy into a game, attempting to influence the outcome by betting on our prediction of the  behaviour of others, while they try to guess at ours. It is no wonder that election night looks like a bookie’s advertisement.

Worst of all, is that when a party is elected, they claim to have support for every one of the policies that was in their manifesto. There is no mechanism that a voter with a casual interest in politics can use to advertise lack of support for any policy or to put forward new ideas for consideration. Young people of voting age refuse to participate in such a corrupt system, so low voting numbers allow in extreme ideas.

  • The Right want to put a fence around our island and return to 1930.
  • The Left want to smash the systembut don’t offer any new ideas about what should replace it. @RustyRockets appears as a new messiah, leading the anarchists to an unknown destination.

Most voters don’t care because they can’t see any difference between the parties.
They believe politicians lie, misuse statistics and tell us what to think without telling us why. The media conspires to keep the general population politically ignorant.

For a while now, I’ve been looking for a solution. “If not me then who?”.
I think capitalism is a problem too but one thing at a time. Let’s shelve that for a while and concentrate on saving democracy.

Recently, I signed a single issue petition, organised by http://www.38Degrees,org.uk. It saved me bothering to write my own letter. Like most people, the time I am willing to give to participation in politics is strictly limited. I discovered I’d accidentally joined a Left-leaning campaign movement. I was mildly irritated by some of the assumptions made about what other campaigns I would be willing to support. I don’t self-identify as a political campaigner or activist, though I may be deluded.

Mostly, I am annoyed by the stupid and dishonest things I hear politicians say.
This morning, I had an idea:
Imagine if:

  • All political parties published their ideas together, perhaps grouped by ‘subject area’ for comparison, colour-coded by parties (Problem: it might be hard to do this fairly.)
    Parties could propose shared policies, if they wished. This would help the electorate to see where parties agreed and disagreed and who they wanted to trust with their vote.
  • In an election, you would vote for a party to make decisions for you, as now. This would choose the elected government.
  • Or, if you didn’t like your chosen party’s view in any policy areas, you could pick different parties for selected areas.
  • Or, you could vote differently down to individual policy level, if you wanted your opinion registered.
  • The anonymised results would be published.

In summary: An individual’s vote on any issue could be specified at individually policy level, or be handed over to a party, at either policy area level or at the top level.

  • In addition, any citizen could put forward new policies for consideration and vote support for ideas. It would then be up to each party to decide whether to support popular ideas or not.
    This is simply an extension of the petition idea that has been tried out by .gov.uk recently.

The advantages I see in this proposal are:

  • a simple, equivalent system for those who are happy with the current system
  • better communication of the similarities and differences between the parties
  • better feedback about which policies have democratic support
  • better evidence when policies do not have support
  • a new mechanism for disaffected voters to fine-tune what they want and don’t want, rather than claiming that no party supports them.
  • it is a small first step towards greater voter representatiion in democracy

I also propose addition of the long overdue  ‘None of the above’ option at election, policy area and individual policy level, to give a legitimate outlet for expressions of disgust at the ideas on offer.

Please give me feedback. I’d love to know how people feel about these ideas.