Voting Systems

Lord Soley

I have been involved in a number of discussions recently about the voting system. Most of us know what we don’t like about first-past-the-post but are far more divided in our views when it comes to the alternatives. PR does not necessarily increase  participation and many such systems break the link between the MP and the constituency which is deeply rooted in British culture.

I would now support the alternative vote as a way of ensuring every MP has a majority of the votes cast in a constituency – it’s a simple reform and the least contentious. If someone wants full PR they might see this as a step on that road. I just see it as a reform whose time has come.

What do you think?

32 comments for “Voting Systems

  1. 22/01/2010 at 2:50 pm

    Choosing the wrong system could actually reduce turnout for elections as people might see even less point in voting. The last thing we need is a closed list as used in the European elections, which just increases the ability of parties to impose their cronies on constituents, as well as making it almost a certainty that the candidate at the top of the list will be elected. Your proposal seems a reasonable compromise, but I don’t really think it will increase participation as the majority of those who don’t currently vote are unlikely to care about or even understand the difference between FPTP and AV.

  2. Carl.H
    22/01/2010 at 3:16 pm

    I refer my noble Lord to the question I asked of Lord Norton on the 19th January.

    “In your Noble opinion, should the electorate at a general election vote for their local candidate to represent them or the party they deem best to run the Country ?”

  3. Croft
    22/01/2010 at 3:44 pm

    What happy political timing that you’ve come to this conclusion 😉

    Where to start. AV is not proportional and indeed can easily be far less proportional than FPTP. I’m sure Lord Norton can confirm to you that under AV Labour would have won a far greater majority in ’97 than they did under FPTP. So as a stepping stone to PR it’s troubled!

    If the point is to help the very small parties then the evidence is that it doesn’t make any real difference just very slightly re-ordering the largest parties.

    The majority you talk of is/can be an illusory majority presumed upon a persons 2nd, 3rd.. 6th choice vote having the same weight as and derived mandate as their first. I’d argue that this is not the case. It leads to the difficult position of the majority of 2nd/3rd votes defeating a candidate who could enjoy most first choice votes. Moreover it’s fairly easy to show scenarios where a candidate with an absolute majority of 1st and 3rd place votes loses to someone with a majority of 1st and 4/5th place votes. The latter winning because their votes are counted first (4/5th coming from eliminated low polling first round candidates)

    • 22/01/2010 at 6:55 pm

      AV is the system which kept John Howard in power in Australia for one term longer than a truly proportional ballot would have allowed.

  4. Gareth Howell
    22/01/2010 at 3:46 pm
  5. Twm O'r Nant
    22/01/2010 at 3:51 pm

    I wonder whether Lord Soley is thinking of “Alternative vote plus”, as a refinement of it,
    created by the Jenkins commission, but untried anywhere in the world… yet?

  6. Andrew
    22/01/2010 at 4:45 pm

    The Alternative Vote is a terrible system. Why? Because the party that’s the first choice of the most people often isn’t the one that gets elected. Instead it’s the 2nd and 3rd choices that matter, i.e. the most inoffensive, woolly, well-meaning party that gets elected simply because everyone puts them as a 2nd/3rd choice.

  7. Rob
    22/01/2010 at 5:26 pm

    I would support letting the people of the UK vote in a referendum on whether or not FPP should be replaced with a new voting system.

    I support the referendum approach taken in New Zealand. In 1992, in a non-binding referendum, NZ voters were asked two questions. The first question asked voters if they wished to retain FPP or change electoral systems. The result was in 84.5% favour of replacing FPP, and 15.3% against.

    The second question asked voters which new system should replace FPP. Voters could choose between the following: Mixed Member Proportional (MMP), also known as the Additional Member System; Single Transferable Vote (STV); Supplementary Member system (SM); Alternative Vote.

    An overwhelming majority (70.3%) of those in NZ favouring a new electoral system voted for MMP. This may have been because MMP was a PR system that also retained the link between a local MP and the constituency.

    The second, binding, referendum was held at the same time as the 1993 NZ election. The question asked voters if they wished to retain FPP or change to MMP. A majority (53.4%) of voters favoured MMP.

    The people of the UK are not asking Peers and MPs to support a change of the electoral system.

    We are asking that the Parliament allow us the opportunity to vote in a referendum for whether or not FPP should be replaced by a new, more proportional voting system.

  8. Francisco
    22/01/2010 at 6:59 pm

    At the moment I’m leaning towards a Single Transferrable Vote system as it means that votes aren’t wasted.

    • Francisco
      22/01/2010 at 7:00 pm

      I think part of the problem is that the current system encourages voter apathy in safe seats.

      • 30/01/2010 at 11:23 am

        There is an argument the current system could be made more representative by tweaking the constituencies more proactively. So if you have two large constituencies, one safe party A and one safe party B, you swap a few wards around until they both become marginal.

        Of course how one engineers such a thing without being seen as gaming the system is another problem. But making every constituency marginal could increase voter participation as your vote is much more likely to make a difference.

  9. Clive Soley
    22/01/2010 at 7:01 pm

    New Zealand is often in the forefront of change – they are really the first modern democracy with full voting rights. Women and Maori’s were given the vote somewhere around 1886 – not bad!

    Carl. My view is that people should think hard about voting for the party or the individual. MP’s are often proud of their personal support although it rarely swings the outcome. If you are unsure which party to vote for check out the individual candidates.

    Some of your comments confirm that we find it difficult to agree on an alternative an I am not sure that a referendum will solve that. You also need to know a lot about the systems to get people voting – easier said then done.

    AV can certainly throw up unexpected consequences but so can all the systems including FPTP.

    I think this issue might be going up the political agenda.

    • Carl.H
      22/01/2010 at 8:28 pm

      My Lord, your answer appears to try to swerve the question by stating a little of both but without that conviction.

      Perhaps elections should be two fold, one for the party to Govern and one for your representative to Parliament. They may not be the same. Rarely do I feel we get the MP`s who truely represent the local constituency. We do get MP`s foisted on constituencies because the party knows they are safe seats. One of the things I would like to see is that the candidate has lived within the area for a given period. I am more interested in the candidate representing the views of his constituents than holding a party line which appears undemocratic to me.

      Regards the system of voting I feel unqualified to comment not knowing enough about other systems …yet. Talk of representing all the people who voted another way but lost seem`s not quite enough when we barely see a 30% turn out, it still would not be representative in the HoC. However it may do in the Lords as over half of those seem to stay away too.

      I would like to see a much more independent Parliament without the need to cajole, whip our representatives into voting a party line. This may indeed as some think create stalemates and make legislation longer and harder but it would be more representative of a democracy and the fact we have, I feel, far too many laws already maybe a good thing.

      The information through parliament website says to vote for the candidate to represent the constituency this may not concur with the party you would like in office and certainly candidates once in parliament do not seem to represent their constituents.

      I fully realise there is no utopian system but would like to see democracy implemented by way of free voting at all times without the need of whips and possible bullying. I guess the only way one would ever see such is if all MP`s were independents.

      • Gareth Howell
        22/01/2010 at 10:23 pm

        “I think this issue might be going up the political agenda.”

        With 60+ LDs and a dwindling labor vote it certainly does, might.

        There was some research to weigh up which way lost Labor seats would go, and it was not to LD but to Cons.

        Still I must not talk near a former Lab chief whip like that!!

      • 24/01/2010 at 3:58 pm

        Congrats for having the 10,000th comment!

    • Wolfgang
      23/01/2010 at 4:47 pm

      Some of your comments confirm that we find it difficult to agree on an alternative an I am not sure that a referendum will solve that. You also need to know a lot about the systems to get people voting – easier said then done.


      That’s why referenda by proxy (RBP) solves most of the problems.

      1. You get a decision from the politically active.

      Compare that to now. We (the majority) get no say. It’s down to MPs, a lot of whom face no competition for their seat. The committee has selected the candidate and unless in a marginal, they are elected. ie. The decision is effectively out of the hands of the electorate.

      RBP means you can reject an MP based on whom they are, but still endorse the policy they propose. ie. You don’t have to make the choice between what’s good for you, and having to decide to elect a corrupt MP.

      It’s cheap. Don’t forget we have 120 million a year to run it. (We don’t need the lords)

      It would energise politics. Imagine if you get to vote on an issue. Take a controversial one. Fox hunting or the smoking ban. Would the act be passed in either case? I suspect it would be close, and they would get through. Would tax rises get passed? I doubt it bar the NI rise for the NHS.

      Unpopular government? Switch proxy. In the current situation the Labour party wouldn’t get any laws passed. None.

  10. 22/01/2010 at 10:32 pm

    Good points on AV, your Lordship. It rather seems to be a version of first-past-the-post plus: the constituency link is maintained–and thus personal MP accountability–while ensuring that he or she enjoys more than a plurality of the vote.

    It does ‘woolly’ the vote as one correspondent suggested, but then it becomes a choice (in this instance) between electing a candidate who has the most first choice votes or the majority of votes in the constituency.

  11. 22/01/2010 at 11:52 pm

    My local council has announced that we won’t know the election result on election night, citing increased complexity of the count to justify leaving it till the next morning. Do they know something we don’t?

    • Croft
      23/01/2010 at 11:36 am

      Yes, how much it costs to hold a count in ‘office hours’ and how much paying overtime. Other than in a few far flung islands where there is an excuse next day does not seem to me to meet the requirement to hold the count ‘as soon as practicable after the close of the poll’.

      The explanation is over verification of postal votes talking time. Frankly the long term solution to that is simple. Scrap the postal votes for all but the old/sick/infirm or with exceptional circumstances. Pvs are expensive to process and open to fraud at every stage and are not worth the trouble.

  12. Clive Soley
    23/01/2010 at 3:09 pm

    Carl. I’m afraid democracy can’t work without party’s. Why? well partly because if you put a group of people together and tell them to decide what policies/actions to take they will talk amongst themselves and form alliances – it’s as old as human society. Party’s simply formalise the groupings that take place naturally.

    They are also necessary if you want government to be effective. You do have to take complex decisions in modern society and party’s enable that to happen but you are right – there is no such thing as a perfect system!

    I would be wary of arguing that the MP must represent the constituency. This argument has deep historical roots. The MP cannot represent all the constituents because they all have different views – again the need for party’s becomes apparent. In the not too distant past MP’s didn’t hold surgeries because the role was seen as being much wider than representing the constituency. If you go too far down the constituency role you get pork barrel politics.

    One of the reasons MP’s have a difficult job is because they have so many competing interests to consider. Ultimately you do have to make broad choices.
    Personally I would not vote for someone simply because they would represent the constituency – I want someone who will take a wider national view as well even if it means upsetting constituents – I did that on several occasion! If a majority of your constituents want to re introduce capital punishment do you vote for it? I wouldn’t.

    One of the failings of our constituency based system is that we MP’s undermine the role of councillors. When I asked people why they came to me to solve a council problem rather than see their councillor they very often replied ‘I thought I would come to the top’ yet the truth is that a good councillor will have more influence on the council than an MP – as indeed they should. MP’s should not be ‘big councillors’

    Jonathan. Take a look at the Electoral Commission web site – they are taking increasing control of the way elections are run.

    • Croft
      23/01/2010 at 4:01 pm

      “I would be wary of arguing that the MP must represent the constituency”

      That assumes there is a genuine balance between the competing interests for MPs between the national and the local. In reality, as the voting record unambiguously shows, MPs ‘wider national view’ (mostly) magically coincides with their party whip because ultimately they know that it’s the party that gave them their seat and the success/failure and/or their loyalty to the party that will keep them in their present seat or find them a new one should the events/voters intervene. Even were some MPs to adopt crude pork barrel politics as you suggest they would represent such a tiny fraction as to have a pretty minimal impact in any normal parliament. The ‘wider national view’ is I suggest somewhat of an political conceit designed to dress up politics as principle.

      I totally agree on the MP/councillor issue – indeed the same is arguably true with Scottish/Welsh/NI MPs and their MSP/AM etc. Of course the whips have been behind a lot of efforts in parliament to encourage MPs to spend more time away from Westminster in the constituency doing work much more properly suited to a councillor/Social worker/ Citizens advice bureau/lawyer as it lessens their time scrutinising government. Then of course I’d have thought PLP chairs would have been well placed to addressed the problem you mention as it occurred!


    • Carl.H
      23/01/2010 at 5:19 pm

      I have a problem with this. I am an individual and although I may have an allegiance toward a group or a friend if they are wrong, unethical or doing something illegal I would not agree with them.

      Alliances on a given subject or Bill maybe fine but it doesn`t follow that an individual who represents a given amount of the population has to follow a party blindly. I`m sure if your party put forward Capital Punishment you`d rebel or resign ? A step too far perhaps, so where is that line drawn ?

      Regards representing the constituents, a great job of spin again by yourself stating they all have different views. It really depends what you are looking at doesn`t it, Europe or not, Hanging or not ? Barely rocket science finding out the majority view in your constituency in these matters. So the answer from you yet again is a political one, one I treat with disdain as do most of the public.

      I can be in a group of people and on some subjects my alliance would be one way on others the other. There is no need for me to permanantly tie myself to one or the other unless there is skulduggery afoot, where I would agree to go that way in return for…..And this is where politics is not seen as honest.

      The roles of the whip and what actually occurs leads me to believe that it maybe to some degree in infringement of a persons human rights. To get me to agree to vote against my ethic would be impossible and if I were representing a group of people I`d be damn sure I did so in their voice, in their interest. The honour comes in knowing I would rather die than be cajolled, forced or blackmailed against my will one way or another. It is this lack of honour, of British backbone that gets poliiticians a bad name.

      As an MP you are there to represent the best interest of your constituents, the Government to represent the best interst of the people of the UK. I fully realise that politicians being as they are often feel the constituents don`t know what is best for them, and at times I don`t disagree with that. To me though that is not democracy.

      “Democracy is a political government either carried out directly by the people (direct democracy) or by means of elected representatives of the people (Representative democracy).”

      We are a Representative Democracy in Britain yet who do MP`s represent ? Lord Soley obviously feels it is the Party ! The people seem to think it is the MP and their own interests.

      Regards MP`s and Councils, have you tried dealing with Councils who seem to employ all the jobsworths. I recently had problems that included a local Government Office, they did nothing until surprisingly James Duddridge MP became involved. Not only was the problem looked at properly but the end result involved a significant investigation and some people that are no longer employed in professional (education) office. The Council had all the information that I gave to my MP yet when I as a citizen asked them to look they did nothing.

      I`ll leave you with the words from “” by the electoral commission.

      At a general election you have one vote to choose a candidate to represent your “constituency” in the House of Commons.

      • gar hywel
        26/01/2010 at 8:39 pm

        If you have ever seen a pack of hounds whipped in, then you would know how much more effective animals can be working together rather than at odds.

        One of the arts of politics is the art of compromise, and when you accept the whip of any group,you are agreeing to chase the same scent.

        If you all choose a different scent, every day, then the crops get beaten down, and you get no lunch.

        answer? whip!

      • Twm o'r Nant
        26/01/2010 at 8:47 pm

        group or a friend if they are wrong, unethical or doing something illegal I would not agree with them.

        In my days with the hounds, oneanimal used to come up to me, stare me in the eyes, and pee on my trouser leg.

        The other hounds probably did not agree with it, no would it make the whole pack reponsible for this despicable act!

        Quiz question
        Should you choose your own lamp post?
        Answer NO Stick with the pack!

    • 25/01/2010 at 10:31 am

      Lord Soley

      The plural of party is “parties”. “Party’s” is a possessive.

      It’s an easy slip to make but, really, I would have thought the Lords would be the last place to find such an error. Really now!

    • 30/01/2010 at 11:30 am

      I’m reminded of the founding fathers view of parties in the newly formed United States. They thought they wouldn’t help democracy and would ultimately be a corrupting influence. Of course it didn’t take long for them to split into Team A and Team B.

  13. Wolfgang
    23/01/2010 at 6:02 pm

    1. Does it solve the problem of laws being introduced that were not mentioned in a manifesto? Nope

    2. Does it solve the problem reneging of manifesto problems? Nope

    3. Does it prevent MPs being whipped? Nope. (Unless they are visiting establishments at Sheapard’s market.

    4. Does it allow for corrupt MPs to be removed? nope.

    5. Does it deal with candidates in a safe seat being selected by a handful of people? Nope.

    ie. It’s an irrelevance.

  14. 24/01/2010 at 3:25 pm

    With a nod to Rob (above), do supporters of PR not see the irony of demanding a referundum on voting systems?

    To be truly representative I propose an entirely new counting system: in batches of 100 votes cast, 50% are put in a pile marked FPTP, and, say, 10% to the AV pile, 10% to the AV+, 10% to STV, 10% to SV, and 10% to AMS. If awkward fractions arise then put all the PR votes from the PR batch into a lucky dip, pick one and tear it up, count again; repeat as necessary. This is a twofer since it negates the problem of whether to attempt to get a result on the night.

  15. Gareth Howell
    25/01/2010 at 9:53 pm

    “visiting establishments at Sheapard’s market.”

    For the sake of brevity amongst all these hyfalutin replies on a hyfalutin subject, I have to say I have not heard about Shepherd’s market in the context of Parliament for a long time!


    It is too far to walk at lunch time, in any event.

  16. gar hywel
    26/01/2010 at 8:30 pm

    I have always found Noble Clive;s gramatical mistaks charmingly London suburban.

    Say no more!

  17. Clive Soley
    28/01/2010 at 12:53 pm

    Gar hywel – thanks for the defence of my creative use of English. I once wrote a whole history essay on the French revolution talking about the “pheasants in revolt”!
    I also failed to win a scholarship to the LSE in my 20’s when I got stuck on the exam question that wanted a ‘precis’ of a 50 word paragraph. I didn’t know what ‘precis’ meant so I wrote a 500 word criticism of the paragraph! But I STILL got there in the end – well not LSE – Strathclyde actually a great university that rescued people like me!

    I think I need to write a post on whipping. I love the hunting stories and of course that is the origin of the political use of the word.

    Croft. I did raise on several occasions the idea of reducing the size of Parliament – alas my supporters could be counted on the fingers of one hand. That’s not an excuse for the Chair of the PLP – simply an explanation!

  18. Carl.H
    30/01/2010 at 11:54 am

    “If you have ever seen a pack of hounds whipped in”

    Being controlled by the whippers in and the MFH who are not alway`s correct in their view.

    So the apparent view is that MP`s or Lords are seen as Hounds, controlled by the MFH and the whippers in. The analogy amuses me somewhat and perhaps that is where the old derogatory term “cur” comes from.

    Perhaps that is what politics is then, a pack of uncivilised animals that are not very bright, obeying their instinct, directed by a Master for the amusement of the landed gentry in chasing and terrifying a smaller animal who is a related species.

    Your analogy I believe, certainly not mine.

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