Monday, 12 July 2010

Will The Coalition 'Abolish' Caroline Lucas?

I think the boundary changes being proposed by the government could make Caroline Lucas's re-election problematic. There is going to be massive changes to the boundaries to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to between 585 and 600. An extra 6,000 electors are going to be added on average to each constituency and 50-65 constituencies are going to 'disappear' altogether! This is the Tory price for the AV referendum.

Maybe Brighton Pavilion will be one that 'disappears' and be replaced by a 'Brighton' constituency that incorporates Kemptown (without the coastal bits of Peacehaven etc). Or more likely in my opinion, seeing as it is the Tories and Lib Dems overseeing the changes, Brighton will be split into Brighton East and Brighton West both incorporating bits of Pavilion and Kemptown and more inland areas. Or maybe Pavilion will expand inland towards Lewes and Arundel creating a more rural constituency that will add thousands to the Tory vote.

It will be more vital than ever for the Labour/Green vote not to split (assuming the AV referendum is lost - the Tory 'no' campaign intend to outspend the 'yes' campaign by 5 to 1), but the Greens will have to get used to their vote being gerrymandered into different constituencies and having to campaign in more rural Tory areas to make headway.

The new boundaries are being rushed through for 2015 despite new boundaries being introduced just before the May 2010 election. Apparently political parties will have their right to appeal to boundary changes taken away from them under the new rules, and constituency boundaries will cross ward districts and county boundaries making it impossible for communities to keep track on which candidate or party is accountable in their area. All this to 'equalise' constituencies when already most constituencies are within 5,000 electors (England seat average: Tory 72,920, Labour 70,173, Lib 72,638). The new aim is to reduce this gap to no more than 2,500 electors in every seat (except in Lib/SNP seats in Western Isles and Shetland etc) - the cost to democracy will be huge.

To make matters worse, these new boundaries will be drawn on the old electoral register (over 5 years out of date by 2015) that we know does not contain 3.5 million eligible electors. Unlike at present no account will be taken of the fact that urban constituencies (mostly Labour) have 25% of eligible electors unregistered.

To make matters EVEN worse, the government also plan to introduce 'individual voter registration' which in Northern Ireland reduced the register by some 5% - this could mean another two million lost voters mainly in urban areas. This makes a mockery of the government's claims to 'equalise' constituencies - they are almost certainly going to be more unequal after this massive gerrymander is over. And the smaller parties like the Greens and potential voters even more disenfranchised and alienated.

Friday, 2 July 2010

The Case For Electoral Change

Did you know that only about 5%-10% of seats change hands between boundary reviews? The biggest 'change' elections (1945, 1966, 1983, 1997, 2010) happen after a major boundary review (even then only around 20% of seats tend to change hands). It took nearly 70% of voters to vote against the Conservatives in 1997 to finally remove them from power after 18 long years, and over 70% of voters to remove Labour after 13 years in power.

It has become clear to me that whoever draws the boundaries has more power than the actual voters under our present system. This is why first-past-the-post is only semi-democratic.

Proportional systems remove the importance of boundary reviews because the proportionality and fairness of the result are assured. PR also ensures more representation for lower socio-economic groups, minorities, women and higher turnout.

Finally the more proportionally elected countries enjoy more equality, prosperity, better public services, less corruption and higher political engagement measured on any index you care to mention. Go and check it out. I think for these reasons, the case for change to a more proportional system is undeniable.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Voting System Summaries

I have recently written three posts on the vagaries and superlatives of first-past-the-post, the single-transferable-vote and list-PR. The purpose of which was not to give a comprehensive guide to these voting systems - wikipedia and the Electoral Reform Society carry out that task. No, what I wanted to do was to highlight what I think are the most important points that sometimes seem to get sidelined in the debate.

There are of course many other electoral systems in use and the theoretical possibilities are in fact infinite. It is a relatively new science that involves fairly basic mathematics so the layman has not so far been excluded.

I chose the three systems to outline that I did because I think they cover most of the realistic possibilities. I didn't have a specific post for the Alternative Vote - which is afterall the system we hopefully will soon get a referendum on, because basically it is the Single-Transferable-Vote but with just one member per constituency instead of 3,4,5 or 6 members.

In alphabetical order below I have put a summary of the three systems plus the Alternative Vote for those of you that want one line answers to how they work, the pros and cons etc.

Alternative Vote - No need to change boundaries, just allow people to put 1,2,3, instead of an X on the ballot. This preference system is used in Australia and does give fractionally more proportional results, although still expect one party rule on 35% of the vote and the 'wrong' winners to occur. Does nothing to help smaller parties get elected or represent minorities, women and the lower socio-class, although this preferential voting system does mean that you can show who really is your first preference without damaging your second, third preference etc. Suffers from most of the faults of first-past-the-post. Hopefully you will get a choice between this system and first-past-the-post in the next 18 months.

First-Past-The-Post - Used in UK and her ex-colonies. One member per constituency (an area drawn on the map to elect MP) or two or three members per ward (a smaller area for councillors) elected by putting an X or Xs on ballot depending on number of candidates to be elected.

This sounds great on first hearing. The candidate(s) with 'most' votes get elected and no one else gets a look in ('most' can be just 29% of vote or 18% of the electorate). This elected member is tied to one geographical area and 'represents' everyone within it.

This geographical link is paramount and overides EVERY other consideration including whether those elected truly are representative of their voters. A seemingly important flaw in my book, especially as it is impossible to draw boundaries fairly. If I was going to sum up the biggest con of this system it is this. Those who draw the boundaries have more power than those who actually vote. This is shown by the fact that the biggest 'change' elections (1945, 1966, 1983, 1997, 2010) come after significant boundary changes which generally occur every 12 years. All other discussion of this system is generally going to concentrate on the importance of boundaries. Generally the larger the boundary, the harder it is for smaller parties to be elected and the more unrepresentative and unaccountable the member elected. Roughly 75-85% of seats are safe - which means they do not change hands between boundary changes or even then maybe not ever!

List PR - Used by all the most democratic countries in the world on whatever index you like - equality, political engagement, least corrupt, prosperous, quality of public services. Purely proportional systems eliminates the importance of boundary drawing to the result. 'Nuff said!

Single-Transferable-Vote- Another British export to Ireland and Malta. Put 1,2,3 on ballot instead of X. Liked by ERS and Lib Dems. Favours third party and is less unfair to smaller parties. Complicated to count but not real problem which is that boundaries still influence result but much less so than first-past-the-post. Basically each constituency elects between 3-6 members and have to get over a quota of 25% of all preferences for 3 member constituencies and 17% for 6 member constituencies. Obviously the more members per constituency, the lower the quota and the more proportional and fairer the result. Not as proportional a system as List PR and still discriminates against smaller parties, women, minorities and lower socio-classes, but not as much as first-past-the-post does.