Sunday, March 19, 2006

Reasons for electoral reform

In the last two days, I've read two rather good articles on electoral reform. I have a few issues with them, and dispute a few points, but overall, they're very good. Both on the same blog.

Normally, this would be great, right? I just link and get on to writing something substantial. OK, I'll link. Here and here. There, I've done it. I've linked to Neil Harding without taking the piss.

OK, the problems with his analysis.
  1. He doesn't define what sort of system he favours
  2. Some electoral systems are better than others; one of the big problems with the reformist movement is that they use 'PR' as a catch all, and as there are some awful examples of countries using some form of Proportional Representation (one thinks of Italy pre-reforms and Israel to date as examples of bad list system PR) that the opposed brigade can use as a stick to beat. You need to define what you are in favour of, not define what you are against. I personally favour STV (the Single Transferable Vote).
  3. It's very 'class' based and partizan
  4. Neil is, avowedly, a Labour member. In addition, he's vehemently anti-Tory, in a way that can, at times, cloud his judgement. However, the class element of his analysis are partially valid, however they are dependent (as all class based analyses are) on a two-way model of understanding voters, when we've already established that the 4-way model is now more important. I suspect he's right though to highlight that a more inclusive electoral system also leads to a more inclusive society; I also agree with him about the misplaced fear of BNP support; they're winning elections under FPTP, that is a real worry, however I doubt they'd ever win 50+% of the vote needed to control under a decent system.
To summarise, Neil's argument is:
  1. FPTP leads to parties elected with minority support that the majority specifically voted against (Poll tax and ID cards spring to mind)
  2. FPTP encourages protests votes, such as for the BNP, whereas under STV all votes count
  3. FPTP encourages parties to fight just over the centre grouns, leading to disillusioned core voters, STV allows parties to be distinctive and allows for (indeed encourages) internal party debate
  4. FPTP encourages gerrymandering and where the boundary is is incredibly important
  5. FPTP is only more stable when you have two parties; Canada has had as many coalition governments as it has had one-party rule in the last few years, and having just had one election, they're already expecting to have another; remember 1974?
  6. FPTP advocates say you know what you're voting for; it gives a clear choice, yet manifesto commitments can be dropped easily; his example is the promise of a referendum on electoral reform.
  7. STV gives more choice to local people, FPTP and List systems are slaved to party heirarchies equally
  8. Reform would lead to a more representative parliament through electoral choice; noneed for all-women or all-EM shortlists
Overall, some very strong arguments.

Help me everyone, I agree with Neil!

Neil; are you a member of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform? If not, join, I've read some of their publications, they're good. If you are, can you ask them to do something about the godawful website?


Devil's Kitchen said...


You are doomed.

I have also realised that - apart from Rottie, who doesn't really count since he's only on there to do the Idema stuff - all of the other writers at The Kitchen are horrible Lefties. How's that for inclusivity, eh? At this rate I'll be inviting Neil to write...


Neil Harding said...


Sorry about the delay in responding. Only just got round to reading your post. Thanks for agreeing and for the links.

First your criticisms;

I have previously specified which PR system I like best (open list PR - Hansard 1976 system). But STV is also good.

You say my analysis is too class based, but look at who dominates political parties - upper and middle classes, look where turnout is lowest - the poor. PR reduces this domination of the rich over the poor.

You mention 8 points brought out in my posts but I would like to elaborate on some of them.

Specifically, the stop-go policies encouraged by FPTP give changes in government that are less able to cope with difficult long-term decisions where consensus is needed between parties.

PR countries have all had higher post-war growth and higher taxes and have better public services as a result. Under PR, the electorate have a more nuanced choice of policy and don't have to make the impossible choice between; voting for who is best placed to beat a local incumbent or voting for the candidate/party they like.

As most voters don't know the local results, this makes their decision even more unlikely to be useful in changing the government.

That is why it is MORE difficult to change governments that you don't like under FPTP (because the 'winning' party only need a minority of votes (not even the plurality depending on how the boundaries are drawn) and the bookies won't let you bet (even 4 years in advance) on the outcome of 85% of seats because the results are so certain. So 250,000 voters in the few marginal seats decide the government, how is this democracy?

The BNP do better under FPTP, they have 23 councillors. Imagine being an ethnic minority with a BNP councillor supposed to represent you.

Expose BNP policies and people reject them, no BNP councillor has ever been re-elected, but it is the poor electoral system suppressing debate (and an anti-Labour press that use the anti-immigrant, pro-BNP line to splinter off white Labour voters -useful in helping the Tories win seats under FPTP but useless in helping the Tories under PR) that allows the far right to do well here. In Germany the far right get 1.6% and have no representation, ditto Scandanavia.

Neil Harding said...

LCER, I am a member, I agree their website is poor.