Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Electoral Reform - The UK Way

by Gary J Fri Aug 27th, 2010 at 08:41:41 AM EST

The coalition government has published the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, to give effect to the relevant parts of the coalition agreement. The text of the bill is on the Parliamentary website, but it is difficult to follow as it mostly makes detailed amendments to earlier legislation.

Continued below the fold.


Part 1 of the bill provides for a referendum to be held on 5th May 2011. The question is "do you want the United Kingdom to adopt the "alternative vote" system instead of the current "first past the post" system for electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons.

If there are more yes votes than no, in the referendum, a draft Order in Council is to be laid before Parliament to introduce the alternative vote system.

Briefly the system proposed is for voters to mark a 1 on the ballot paper for the first preference votes and 2, 3 etc for the second and susubsequent preferences ~(if the voter chooses to give additional preferences. This is an optional preference system, rather than the Australian House of Representative system which requires a preference for each candidate for the ballot to be valid.

The counting system is simple (although opponents will no doubt continue to allege that it is so complex as to be incomprehsible to the average British elector).

The first preferences are first counted. If one candidate wins more first preference votes than all the other candidates combined then they are elected and the count ends.

If there is no winner on first preferences, then the lowest ranked candidate is eliminated. Those of the eliminated candidatews supporters who have indicated a next preference then have the ballots re-allocated. If there is then a candidate with more votes than all the other combined, he or she is elected. If not the process continues until some continuing candidate holds more votes than all the other continuing candidates combined.

Part 2 of the bill deals with more equal constituencies. The number of members of Parliament are to be reduced from 650 to 600. For the first time seats are to be allocated between the four different parts of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) according to a fixed formula.

Every constituency, apart from special cases, is to have a registered electorate (NOT population) varying between 95% and 105% of the UK wide average. The two smallest existing seats (Orkney & Shetland and Na h-Eileanar an Iar) are preserved and exempted from the calculation of average seat size used for the remaining 598 seats. There is also a possible exception for large constituencies as the maximum area is fixed at 13,000 square kilometres and a seat of more than 12,000 square kilometres may have a smaller than 95% average electorate.

The allocation of seats between the 4 parts of the UK is done by essentialy a largest average formula. There are slightly better mathematical formulas than the one chosen (like the method the United States uses to allocate House seats) but it is a considerable improvement on previous arbitrary seat totals.

The first round of seat allocations and boundary changes are due to be completed before 1st October 2013 and then at five year intervals thereafter. Combined with five year fixed Parliaments there should be a reallocation before each future general election.

Display:
Personally I don't believe we will get AV. Both Labour and Conservative parties are quite hostile to the idea, as it undermines their unDemocratic stranglehold on electoral power. I don't see any possibility of the electorate getting an honest examination of the pros and cons of the system courtesy of the media, who will simply re-hash whichever smear story the parties choose to run with.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Aug 27th, 2010 at 09:47:48 AM EST
The referendum is high risk. The electorate may see even the minimal change on offer as too much risk. If so, no doubt those who benefit from first past the post will let things go back to sleep for another 50 or 60 years.

On the other hand, if AV is approved I expect it will soon be totally uncontroversial. That seems to be the way with constitutional change in the UK. The innovation is hotly resisited, but when it eventually passes it makes little difference.

by Gary J on Fri Aug 27th, 2010 at 12:37:14 PM EST
The innovation is hotly resisted, but when it eventually passes it makes little difference.

Exactly

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat Aug 28th, 2010 at 08:57:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why couldn't the libdems push through a true proportional system instead of this half-measure? They were the kingmakers, right?

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Sat Aug 28th, 2010 at 02:16:12 PM EST
They are only kingmakers to the extent that they do not create a sufficiently large backbench revolt amongst their partners to bring down the government.

For a large number of tories, bringing down the government and going back to the polls would likely seem preferable to proportional representation.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Aug 28th, 2010 at 02:34:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So? What says that the Libdems would have lost from such an outcome?

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Sat Aug 28th, 2010 at 02:47:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If the LebDems had been seen right after the last election as being responsible for sending the country straight back to the polls, I reckon they'd have been hammered.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Aug 28th, 2010 at 04:43:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not to mention that they have no money left to campaign.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi
by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Sat Aug 28th, 2010 at 06:05:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... had I had a clue that it was the case.

Thanks.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Aug 28th, 2010 at 09:00:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One could just as well argue that it would be the Tories/Labour that would send the country back to the polls, by refusing to accept a referendum on a reasonable election system.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Aug 30th, 2010 at 05:53:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But being the smallest party there would be much less newspaper exposure for their point of view. both other parties would have pushed the idea that they pushed for their narrow political interest where the most important thing was the current financial situation. Not a good electoral position for a third party to be in.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Aug 30th, 2010 at 07:49:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... voting is better than mandatory full preference voting, its still more time consuming than second preference voting. They can be tabulated in an array and the instant run-off done from the array rather than by re-sorting the ballot papers.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Aug 28th, 2010 at 02:37:10 PM EST
... the whole lot are each better than first past the post.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Aug 28th, 2010 at 02:38:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We have tried the Supplemental Vote (limiting voters to two preferences) for directly elected Mayors, in parts of England.

The problem is that it is not a trivial task for the voter to guess which two candidates will finish first or second in the first preferences. Practical experience suggests it is not always the generally expected two. If so then most second preferences may not be effective, rather defeating the object of preference voting.

Giving the voter free choice about how many preferences to express is a better way, in a UK style multi-significant party environment.

by Gary J on Sun Aug 29th, 2010 at 04:32:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In the US setting, there is greater diversity at the municipal level than at the Federal level.

I wonder, though, whether the uncertainty is intrinsic or whether it is transitional ... whether the experience is due to the fact that the way people vote change when they have greater freedom to express their preferences, so that as people gain experience with it, things settle down to a new set of expectations.

It is, in any event, superior to FPTP.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Aug 29th, 2010 at 04:43:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
AV counts, in a UK Parliamentary context with 70,000 paper ballots at most, would not take much longer. I would prefer to maximise voter choice, rather than restrict it to make the counting easier.
by Gary J on Sun Aug 29th, 2010 at 05:09:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course, with full preference voting in Australia, people's understanding of the process is second hand, via reporting on television of which booths have come in and whether they have a prior two party preferred vote from those booths.

The UK has the system of declaring the results of individual seats, which will leave it even murkier what happened and why.

With optional second preference, its possible to arrange for people to see it directly on the night. The formal reading of the result would be the first preference vote and then the result after all preferences have been distributed, but the full preference array can be readily released and displayed.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Aug 29th, 2010 at 04:16:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The detailed counting regulations prescribe what information is to be announced and made publicly available, at each stage of the count. It will be possible for the voter to work out what happened to his or her vote (so long as they remember what preferences were given.

I would prefer it if we counted by polling district. However British tradition is to combine the ballot papers    over the whole constituency, before counting commences. It is possible to get an estimate of the vote distribution in a polling district, during the verification when the number of ballot papers in the box is compared to the number which the officials had issued.

by Gary J on Sun Aug 29th, 2010 at 06:21:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... for a voter to "work out" what happened to their vote to be saying that same thing I said, that with full preference voting, what happened with the preferences will not be readily apparent.

It will be more obscure. A diligent and committed voter will be able to work out what happened if they wish, or if someone in their constituency makes the inquiry and makes their findings public ... but certainly is not a clear as a layout by first preference votes and the distribution of their second preferences, which is information that can be used by television news reporting to provide automatic animations of accumulation of two-party-preferred vote shares.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Aug 30th, 2010 at 12:03:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Gary J:
I would prefer it if we counted by polling district.

That is the way it is done in Sweden, and presented on the excellent site of Valmyndigheten. Here is for example the 96 polling places in Linköping in the 2009 EP-election:

Linköping - Röster - Val 2009

Val till Europaparlamentet - Röster Linköping

Samtliga 96 valdistrikt räknade

Scroll down and see them in percent. Klick "Visa antal" to see the number.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Aug 30th, 2010 at 04:59:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, this is the way things are reported about in Australia ... "those are from five booths, we have past preference distributions from three of those booths" ... though I have no idea how much of that is official announcement and how much is coming from scrutineers.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Aug 30th, 2010 at 02:39:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Australian Electoral Commission website has all sorts of official information, including details from the votes cast in each booth.

The Australian counting process takes more than a week longer than I suspect an AV count would in the UK. That is down to various differences in the detailed voting arrangements. For example postal votes have to be received by the returning officer by the close of polling on the election day, to be valid in the UK. The Australians seem to allow a much longer time for the postal votes to arrive, which delays the final result accordingly.

The Australians also work out the 2 party preferred result, which tries to identify the final two candidates and give figures for the support they are likely to have once all the preferences have been distributed. I presume this evolved as a method of giving a good indication of the result at an early stage. It is only when the election is very close that the eventual winner is likely to change, after the detailed count takes place.

The proposed UK system will include no comparable 2 party preferred stage. I suspect almost all UK counts would be finished on the Friday, after the election has taken place on a Thursday, just as they are under first past the post. However counts, which have gone to the distribution of preferences, will no doubt take longer than in the past.

The UK politicians did want to preserve the tradition of election counts being carried out in the early hours on Friday morning, mostly by election officials who had been manning polling stations for 12 hours or so on the previous day. After all things go so much more smoothly if everybody involved has not slept for 24 hours or so, by the end of the count. When it looked like most returning officers intended to start the count at about 9.00 am on Friday, just before the 2010 election, Parliament legislated to require the count to start as soon as possible after the close of poll. I am not sure if that requirement will still be imposed, under an AV system (but nothing was changed on that issue in the current bill).

by Gary J on Tue Aug 31st, 2010 at 07:15:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with Helen, given the hammering AV will take from the newspapers, it's hard to see how it will pass.

Given that - do you Gary have views on the practical effect of the change to constituencies..? I haven't had time to examine the effects on FPTP.

(Obviously, if I'm wrong and AV goes through, the changes to constituencies are much less predictable in effect.)

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Sat Aug 28th, 2010 at 02:59:04 PM EST
It is impossible to make precise estimates, until the new boundaries have been drawn up.

The expectation is that equalising electorate sizes will benefit the Conservatives by reducing the systematic bias to Labour in the system. It is also thought it may make it a bit harder for Lib Dems and others to win seats, but that may be more Tory wishful thinking than what would really happen, as I have not seen any academic research on the point.

The aspects of bias which will be corrected, in the new  system, result from Welsh seats and urban seats generally having tended to have smaller electorates. Before 2005 this also applied to Scottish constituencies. All the areas involved are more Labour inclined than the average British seat.

The other source of bias, that Labour voters are more efficiently distributed to maximise seat victories, is inherant in the single member constituency system. That bias can only be corrected by proportional representation.

by Gary J on Sun Aug 29th, 2010 at 04:53:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Bill had its second reading debate today. It was approved on second reading by 328 votes to 269, government majority 59.

The committee stage is to be timetabled for 5 days. It will be taken in committee of the whole house, as is customary for bills of constitutional significance. There will then be 2 days for the report stage (when the decisions of the committee of the whole house are reported to the house in plenary session). There will then be a third reading debate and all being well, the House of Lords will then repeat the whole process.

by Gary J on Mon Sep 6th, 2010 at 05:42:31 PM EST
There were reports that those who most wished to disrupt the passage of this bill  thought the best chance of destroying it fell with the committee stage.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Sep 6th, 2010 at 06:23:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
From the part of the second reading debate I saw, on the Parliament channel,the opposition threw up a lot of dubious (and sometimes contradictory arguments) in what seemed an exercise in cynically claiming to be motivated by principle rather than the defence of unjustified privilege and self interest.

For example Peter Hain complained that the maximum geographical size rule would lead to three smaller than average electorate seats in the Scottish Highlands. In another part of the speech Hain complained that depriving Wales of its existing over-representation would lead to two large area seats being created in mid Wales.

I expect the bill to get through without too much difficulty. Coalition backbenchers may be unhappy with some details, but not to the point of endangering the bill. The opposition on is own will not be able to delay, as the bill is timetabled.

The Liberal Democrats want the referendum, the Conservatives want constituency reform. They both have strong political reasons to ensure the bill is enacted. Labour does not have the numbers, in either House, to cause serious delay or force major changes.

by Gary J on Tue Sep 7th, 2010 at 04:30:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I wouldnt say that those arguments are particularly contradictory, they are both problems

For example Peter Hain complained that the maximum geographical size rule would lead to three smaller than average electorate seats in the Scottish Highlands.

This for one would cause over-representation of Scottish Nationalists at Westminster

In another part of the speech Hain complained that depriving Wales of its existing over-representation would lead to two large area seats being created in mid Wales.

Whereas in this I can speak of from practical experience, these constituencies would be intensely rural. and with the poor transport links that are only going to get worse with the current round of cuts face to face contact with the MP becomes very difficult. Depending on the final boundaries, it may be that there no direct bus links to parts of the constituency, especially on the weekends when MPs surgeries are held.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Sep 7th, 2010 at 06:32:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would say the contradiction is that Hain was criticising both large geographical and smaller electorate seats in Scotland as well as large geographical and standard electorate seats in Wales. A consistent approach would require a choice of supporting one or the other.

My suspicion is that the Scottish Boundary Commission will actually be able to construct an electoral map which produces seats which fall within both the standard geographical and electorate criteria. It will probably mean seats with most of the population outside the Highlands and most of the area consisting of sparsely populated Highland territory. However it is in the interests of opponents of the bill to exaggerate the problem.

I accept that there are geographical problems in areas like the Highlands and Snowdonia. However are we really saying the difficulties are so bad that those areas should be special cases? After all the MPs in northern Canada manage to represent areas which are both much larger and far more difficult to get around, than are Scotland and Wales.

If I had been designing the legislation I would have asked "what are we representing?" The primary answer is obviously registered electors, not square miles of countryside. I would not have made the Scottish islands or very large (by UK standards) constituencies into special cases. I would have said the only criteria is that each seat, within a part of the UK, should have pretty much the same registered electorate.

My approach would mean that a few seats would be difficult for the candidates, but we could perhaps get around that by allowing a higher spending limit than in other areas.

by Gary J on Tue Sep 7th, 2010 at 08:23:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
oh no, its not just Snowdonia, the vast majority of Wales population is concentrated along the southern and northern coasts, so the whole centre of the country is facing this problem. It may well be that Canadian MP's can effectively represent their constituents, but should we really be acting to give the rural poor less access to  their representation?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Sep 7th, 2010 at 08:43:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am starting from the point of view that one person, one vote, one value is a core principle of democratic government. That implies roughly equal numbers of voters in each constituency.

The major purpose of electing an MP is not to provide advice surgeries for constituents. It is to represent the constituents in Parliament. It is, at least in theory, the job of the MP to exercise his or her own judgement on issues which come before Parliament, not merely to ascertain the opinions of voters and then defer to them. The voters can decide what they think of the representatives choices, at the next election.

If we take the view that some very rural constituencies need to be smaller, to make it easier to provide effective advice surgeries, we are giving the votes of the electors in those areas a higher value than those in the rest of the country. There would also be calls for inner city seats to be smaller than average, because the MPs for those areas have a higher than average caseload.

It is unfortunate that the coalition has already sold out on democratic principle, to a certain extent, by allowing two island groups and 12,000-13,000 square mile large seats to be exceptions. We should not expand the special cases any further, because the more we do that the further we depart from one person, one vote, one value.

by Gary J on Tue Sep 7th, 2010 at 11:01:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In what way as well do you mean "Higher spending limit"?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Sep 7th, 2010 at 08:44:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
At the moment the permitted spending limit for parliamentary candidates is a bit larger for county constituencies than for borough seats. I presume the rationale for that is because the cost of travelling around larger areas is greater.

My suggestion was that large seats, with challenging geography, might have a still larger expenses allowance. Thus a candidate might hire a helicopter, to campaign in different parts of the seat without wasting too much time travelling.

by Gary J on Tue Sep 7th, 2010 at 10:37:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
well thats fine for campaign time, but campaigning is a very small part of an MP's job. How about the regular weekly trips back to the constituency that they almost all make (The expenses scandal has made it harder for honest politicians  to support their constituents in this way)

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Sep 7th, 2010 at 12:38:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Gary Gibbon on Politics - Official's worries over fixed term parliaments bill

Dr Malcolm Jack is the Clerk of House of Commons ... when he speaks the earth here quakes and people pay attention.

He's about to do just that in front of the Constitutional Affairs Committee where he is going to say that the Coalition's Fixed Term Parliaments Bill leaves dissolutions dangerously open to judicial review.

Putting the dissolution process in statute is the risk, he's expected to explain to the Committee. It used to be something that just happened.



Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Sep 7th, 2010 at 06:36:17 AM EST
The fixed term Parliaments bill is another piece of legislation pending before the House of Commons. I have not looked at that bill in detail. Clearly it needs careful drafting, so the views of the Clerk would be important.
by Gary J on Tue Sep 7th, 2010 at 08:29:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]


Display:
Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]

Top Diaries