The confusion of elections


This Tuesday from 10am to 8pm there will be the welcome opportunity to elect a member of the House of the Lords.  Naturally it is completely bizarre that only candidates who would have been eligible to be hereditary peers may stand, but that was the nature of the compromise needed to remove hereditaries from the Lords. For those following the referendum campaign it is amusing to note that we will be using the Alternative Vote system.

One of the issues of concern is whether protocol is again broken in the evolving Lords.  The vacancy arose because of the sad death of David Strabolgi, a former Labour hereditary peer.  Normally such vacancies are just voted on within the grouping where the vacancy arose – so for example the replacement of a Tory hereditary would be elected by eligible Tory ex-hereditary peers.  But in this case David had been a deputy speaker when made a life peer and therefore was there as the choice of the whole House.  Consequently all peers choose the replacement regardless of party.  However the unwritten convention is that a Peer of the same party (or crossbench) would be chosen.

Apologies if this isn’t easy to follow, but I do hope that the convention holds and one of the Labour candidates is elected.

Incidentally, almost as confusing is the challenge that voters in Leicester South will face in the polling booth on May 5th.  Following his selection as Labour candidate for mayor of Leicester, Sir Peter Soulsby MP has announced he is resigning his seat in the Commons.  This means a Parliamentary by-election is likely that day, alongside the council elections, the mayoral election and the referendum.

This means four ballot papers.  One will be a first past the post election to replace their MP.  The second will be to decide the mayor, will include the person some may think is still their MP, and will use a variant on the AV system limiting them to preferences 1 and 2 only.  Then there will be a ballot paper asking them to again vote two or three times but using crosses not numbers because this is a first past the post election for multi-member wards on the council. Finally there will be the ballot paper asking them to vote yes or no for an alternative vote system for future Parliamentary elections.

What a nightmare!  One which, incidentally I warned against during the debates on the Parliamentary Voting Systems Bill.

37 comments for “The confusion of elections

  1. Matt
    20/03/2011 at 4:29 pm

    I don’t find any of the above in the least bit confusing, or nightmarish. Interestingly and nicely varied, yes.

    On a point of fact, it is misleading to say that Strabolgi was ‘made a life peer’.

    So far as I am aware, there have only been two ‘whole house’ hereditary by-elections so far, with conservstives replacing conservatives. I am not sure that this amounts to a convention (?).

    As it happens, either of the two labour-hereditaries standing would be good choices, but, then again, Earl Stockton (con) stands out as the most ‘natural’ parliamentarian …

  2. 20/03/2011 at 5:13 pm

    Thanks for pointing about the Leicester mayoral election. I used to live in Leicester South at the time of the last by-election, but clearly haven’t been keeping up with developments. Anyone who hasn’t lived through a by-election should realise it’s quite different from a general election. Every day piles of literature were pushed through the door. I’m sure the residents of Leicester South will have received plenty of information about all the different things they are voting for.

    Perhaps, though, this shows why we shouldn’t switch the general election voting system away from the one that everyone is familiar with and understands, and also why we shouldn’t introduce yet more elections to choose members of the House of Lords.

    I don’t really see that restricting the candidates for the Lords election to hereditary peers (I believe they are hereditary peers, rather than people who “would have been eligible to be hereditary peers”) is any different from restricting the pool of people chosen as life peers to mainly former MPs and party political hacks. The situation would be even worse if the Lords were fully elected, as we’d even lose the crossbenchers who come from a wide range of areas of expertise.

  3. maude elwes
    20/03/2011 at 5:55 pm

    Quite clearly the confusion is deliberate. They feel the mess it causes will slip their man through without the voter realising what is happening.

    The politics of Zimbabwe.

    And you wonder why the turn out is low?

    And how can putting up only hereditary peers be a means of getting rid of them? Or, have I lost the plot here?

  4. Gareth Howell
    20/03/2011 at 8:13 pm

    Earl Stockton (con) stands out as the most ‘natural’ parliamentarian

    Is that the grandson of my old friend late Maurice Macmillan, or the son of?…

    • 20/03/2011 at 9:06 pm

      The present Earl of Stockton is the grandson of the former PM, Harold Macmillan, whose first name was Maurice. Presumably it was his son, also called Maurice, that you knew.

      • Gareth Howell
        21/03/2011 at 5:58 pm

        I don’t suppose I am allowed to lobby for the election of a hereditary peer by their Lordships, but good luck to the Earl of Stockton.

        His grandfather was one of the few men to live through the first world war, as was my own father, the latter being two years too young and many years not keen either.

        I only ever knew six men who had lived through that time and two went down the mines as conscientious objectors for the whole of the war. Two others were signallers, and were not posted when the war had ended, being only just trained.

        ‘Arold Macmillan went to it, and knew when he returned what his very avuncular calling in life would be.

  5. MilesJSD
    21/03/2011 at 12:47 am

    If horse-racing-like First-Past-The-Post, and a very short list of preferences in an AV Vote, is confusing and tiring you

    try continually filling-in the various boxes and evidence-sections on a government-form and appending doctor’s letters etcetera etcetera e.g. to justify your need for a £200 per week human-living income.

  6. Rich
    21/03/2011 at 4:41 am

    As an American, I have to say that sounds quite simple. The voters will get separate ballots for each election! And there are only four different elections! I have found this Labour argument, throughout the passage of the PVSC bill, to be the most perplexing. Are they really saying voters are too stupid to handle this? If there is to be any difficulty in Leicester, it will be from the new mayoral ballot, but the problem would have been identical no matter whether the mayoral election was held alone or with 20 others. The suggestion that throwing too many ballot papers in front of a voter will scatter his pretty little head is insulting; it is a good thing for Lord Knight that he no longer has a constituency to worry about.

    @Maude: Oh, yes, exactly like Zimbabwe. Sure. Also, you have lost the plot; there used to be hundreds of hereditary peers in the House of Lords—keeping 92 was the price of passing the bill to get rid of the rest.

    • Carl.H
      21/03/2011 at 10:58 am

      Rich the fact you are here shows that you are above intelligence of those at the bottom of the ladder. The fact you are American in this instance is neither here nor there as I believe that there are some in the USA comparable with our bottom rung.

      I often deal with,help, people unable to fill in quite simple forms and please believe that understanding one electoral process is too much for some of these. This is not an insult to these people but to us and the system, we failed them for whatever reason.

      Whilst you maybe comfortably in the middle I think you should look around and see there are a lot of people below you.

      America like Britain has a growing problem with adult literacy, I can fetch some stats if you wish. Voter turnout varies in general elections in this Country between 60-70% and decreasing. Some of this maybe due to apathy, some of this due to our politic but ultimately some is due to lack of education. Ultimately it is the poorer less educated that is not represented.

      For four ballots we have to remember that there will be 80 year olds and 18 year olds that will struggle with this task. You and I may understand it but we also have to take into account at the last election people were shut out of the election as there was not enough time. With four ballots how much longer will it take you to sort and correctly complete the process of voting? And how long someone not of your IQ level ?

    • maude elwes
      21/03/2011 at 1:50 pm


      We do seem to attract the American voter who is adamant we have a low IQ.

      In order to refresh your memory, here is a little reminder of the American voting system.

      Sophisticated Zimbabwe in the good old USof A.

      But, of course, that has to be April fools day, no?

      I believe it’s you and the American public who don’t get the plot. And you certainly don’t have a sense of humour do you?

    • Dave H
      21/03/2011 at 6:31 pm

      I’ve seen some American ballot papers, they’re impressive.

      The reason we have individual ballots (which are usually on different coloured paper) is because we still hand count all of ours, not trusting machines to get it right (Florida, anyone?)

      That way the ballots can easily be separated in those places that put them all in the same box, and counted in isolation.

      This is one area where I’m a Luddite – there is nothing to beat turning up in person and marking a cross on a bit of paper, which is counted in the presence of a large audience. Certainly not an electronic machine that has not had its software laid open for inspection by anyone who cares to look.

      If AV moves us towards such a system then that is a bad step to take.

  7. Matt
    21/03/2011 at 7:00 pm

    The UK is also the home of 5-day, four-inning cricket matches, use of both imperial and metric forms of measurement, and ‘each way treble’ bets on horses. If people can become acquainted with any of these ‘mechanisms’, then slightly different formats for a few elections should be a piece of cake.

  8. Rich
    21/03/2011 at 9:20 pm

    @Carl: Of course there will be some people on the margins who have trouble with four ballots, but Lord Knight was suggesting the problem would be the norm, not the exception. Your point about people turned away at the last election has nothing to do with anything here. Whether or not election officials adequately prepare is a quite different problem from the one his lordship brought up and responded to.

    @Maude: Huh? At what point did I say you lot have a low IQ? I was standing up for the average Leicester (and by extension, British) voter. It is you and Lord Knight who are insulting them, not me.

    Frankly, you should be ashamed of yourself for drawing comparisons between the UK and US election systems and Zimbabwe. There are incidents of voter fraud in every electoral system in the world, but in Zimbabwe, the government simply cheated, disregarding the actual result, to advance its own ends.

    • maude elwes
      22/03/2011 at 2:26 pm


      My point exactly. Governments cheat. This method you so want to plug makes it easier for them to do just that.

      • Rich
        23/03/2011 at 12:29 am

        What the devil are you talking about? How can having four ballots make it easier for the government to cheat? If you seriously believe that the Government are set to throw out the ballot papers of people who disagree with it, you are mad. The only effect having multiple elections on the same day has is to increase turnout. Increased turnout tends to increase the number of younger, poorer, and less educated voters, but how increasing their numbers is cheating is beyond me.

        • maude elwes
          23/03/2011 at 3:19 pm


          As an American, do you go to British polls? If not, why do you think you would know more than those who do?

          I do though, and the last time I did, we, in my part of the world, had an AV system run through, it told us we were to choose the person we wanted as our first selection and then the second and so on. The people behind me were confused. They said they didn’t want to choose anyone other their front runner. The poll assistant told them it didn’t matter, they could do anything they wanted, so they left without going into the booth.

          Great turn out.

          I put my cross by the man of my choice and as there was ‘not a one’ who could follow him, I left the others empty.

          As I live in a dreaded safe seat, the same old rubbish was re-elected. And would have been regardless of my selection.

          • Rich
            24/03/2011 at 4:22 am

            @Maude: Obviously, I have not ever voted in a British election. Have you ever been given a ballot paper with 20 different elections on it, from President of the United States to local highway commissioner, and referendums asking questions ranging from calling a state constitutional convention to whether the local two year college should issue tax bonds?

            As I said, I have not voted in a British election, but I have been faced with more, and more varied, elections than the four Lord Knight complains of.

            Ultimately, it comes down to this: of the four, three are utterly familiar (indeed, one is a yes/no binary choice, which couldn’t be simpler), and whatever difficulties a person has with adjusting to the new mayoral ballot would have existed no matter how many elections were held the same day. Even those difficulties are overblown since marking your cross next to Sir Peter’s name will be a valid vote and yield the same result as putting a “1” next to his name and not marking a second preference.

            In the final analysis, your insistence that voters won’t be able to cope with a simple yes/no question on the same day they are voting on other questions and that somehow holding the referendum on the same day is cheating have no evidence or rational argument for support.

    • Carl.H
      22/03/2011 at 3:41 pm

      “In England, the 2003 “Skills for Life” survey found that 5.2 million adults (or 16%
      of the 16-65 population) had literacy levels at or below ‘Entry Level 3’, the
      standard expected of an 11 year old child. The figure for Wales was higher at
      25%. No comparable figures are given for Scotland; however a 2001 report
      by the Scottish Executive indicated that 23% of the adult population may have
      low literacy and numeracy skills.”

      • Matt
        22/03/2011 at 6:01 pm

        @ Carl H.

        It’s really a matter of what people can be bothered to take an interest in. I have several relatives with no O-Levels, but they can work out how to ‘end on a double’ in three darts, at twice the speed that I can.

        • Carl.H
          25/03/2011 at 9:08 am


          We also have,apparently, a lot of MPs who cannot understand a comparatively simple expenses system. It seems the concept of producing a receipt to get expenses is beyond them.

          These MPs must obviously represent the (upto) 25% of society at below entry level 3 literacy.

          I agree it’s a matter of interest but elections happen seldom in the scheme of things. They’re a bit like Olympics, only interesting when it’s here.

          It would be interesting to take a study of the Leicester election to find out if people do/did understand fully the system. I also think the polls should be open later to allow for the extra time that MAYBE needed to cover 4 ballots.

          • Carl.H
            25/03/2011 at 7:25 pm

            MEP’s are obviously not that literate either !

            Mr Dover, who represented the North West of England in Brussels until 2009 and is a former MP for Chorley in Lancashire, originally faced a demand to repay £538,000


    22/03/2011 at 4:46 am

    Lord Knight, my position may not be popular, but I think the Hereditary peers needed to remain. So I have to wonder, why do you think it should be understood as Bizarre that only those in this By Election should be hereiditaries and speak of this as a Sad part pf a compromise to get rid of them? I think its more sad that we did get rid of the Hereditaries. In that system, his place would have been already filled.

  10. Carl.H
    22/03/2011 at 9:38 am

    Talking of confusion I’ve just finished the Census form online and I guarantee upto 20% of the population won’t bother.

    With a wife and three children it was monotonous and took nearly 20 minutes. It will be difficult for poorer/uneducated people to completely understand and I have to admit some parts such as my daughters employers address I made up.

    To get all the information that is required in the census form ACCURATELY it would be necessary to go door to door and even then people have not the time for this bureaucratic red tape.

    The results will be less that accurate by a long way.

    • Carl.H
      06/04/2011 at 10:24 am

      Did I say 20% wouldn’t bother with the census ?

      I underestimated:

      And if we think once the enforcers have been around that the information will be accurate, think again.

  11. maude elwes
    22/03/2011 at 2:39 pm

    @Rich: PS. I am not ashamed of anything I write here and neither should the poster of the thread be.

    You should hang your head in shame for trying to influence the people of other countries on their rights to decide without outside interference from the USA.

    Are you selling these new ballot papers to the UK government and wanting to convince they are the best option? A lot of money to be had at that. Is your company the same company (a security and arms company?) who sold us the census papers? From what I hear it makes millions for the USA.

    Nice little earner for the American coffers. With the bonus of having all the personal information on the entire population of the British Isles.

    Our government needs their heads tested.

    • Rich
      23/03/2011 at 12:53 am

      @Maude: You don’t think you should be ashamed for comparing UK and American elections to a system where Robert Mugabe’s henchmen intimidated voters to keep them from voting and threw out the ballots that went against him? Well, you are entitled to your opinion.

      It is frankly bizarre for you to suggest that I should be ashamed for expressing an opinion. I have no idea what you mean when you say I am trying to “influence the people of other countries on their rights to decide without outside interference from the USA.” I have never once in my life suggested to any non-American that they should submit to interference from the United States, and I have no idea where you got that. I said that the ballots Lord Knight complains are so befuddlingly complex are actually quite simple and well within the capacity of the average person to understand.

      Your questions about my selling ballot papers make absolutely no sense whatever. I have never sold a ballot paper to anyone. I’ve been an exterminator, a janitor, a supermarket clerk, a librarian, and a lawyer, but never the part of a “security and arms” company selling census papers or ballot papers, or storing the personal data of Britons.

      In the end, it seems you are so blinded by some anti-American prejudice that you can’t be bothered to develop something approaching a rational argument, opting instead to lash out at an American for being American. I love the UK, its system of government, and its way of running elections. I think my own country’s governmental system is an accident of history that was probably beneficial for the first 40 or so years of the Republic, but that now is grossly ineffectual when compared to the Westminster system.

      It is unfortunate that you failed to learn that before attacking and assuming I met the stereotype of an American who thinks the American way is always best set in your mind. You might have been prepared to engage in a constructive discussion. Then again, given that you are convinced the Coalition is about to engage in Mugabe’s tactics and that you were willing to assume a random American commenter on a blog is part of some conspiracy to bilk the British people through the sale of ballot papers, perhaps you never were.

      • Carl.H
        23/03/2011 at 10:05 am


        You’re quite obviously after our oil 😉


        • Rich
          24/03/2011 at 4:11 am

          Shhh! Not where the Scots can hear!

      • maude elwes
        23/03/2011 at 3:49 pm

        @Rich: Put me down as jaded. Or, simply cynical.

        You see I find it odd that with all the troubles you have in the USA, especially with fraudulent voting, etc., you find your way here to tell us how you feel ‘we’ should run our voting system. And what you think would be best for ‘us.’ And how easy you find it. Pushy with it as well. Are you as lively on the US blogs regarding your feelings about their fixing elections, if not, you should be.

        So, as a person with an inquiring mind, I always think of the ‘what’s in it for him line’ as most people who are quite bright, and who don’t consider the party they are directing as needy, which you tell us you don’t think we are in need of American advice, because of our lack of IQ, I must therefore see you as ‘on the take.’

        Oil isn’t the only commodity the Marion Chigwell’s of this world want to oversee.

        As far as I’m concerned, there are far too many foreign advisers, lobbyist and funders connected to our Parliament for its good health.

        Touchy though aren’t you? Now why is that?

        • Rich
          24/03/2011 at 7:09 pm

          @Maude: That is mad. First of all, there would be nothing wrong with someone arguing for an election system they like for any country whatsoever. You don’t need to be “on the take” or think the other country’s people are too stupid to think on their own before expressing an opinion. Second, and perhaps most importantly, I HAVE NEVER EXPRESSED AN OPINION ON THE AV REFERENDUM HERE OR ANYWHERE ELSE. Go back. NotHing I have said can be taken for an endorsement of any particular voting system. What I have said, and you have willfully misunderstood, is that it is insulting to the average person to suggest that having to vote in four different elections at the same time will be hellishly difficult. That’s it. I’ve never advocated for AV, FPTP, STV, or anything else, and I won’t because I couldn’t possibly. I’m not sold on any of them, so I certainly wouldn’t try to persuade anyone else of their merits.

          Somehow, though, you decided that I must have a preference, which says a lot about you. You are jaded, and you make unwarranted, factless assumptions about other people and their motives. It is bizarre to suggest that if someone expresses an opinion on anything at all, they must have some sort of vested interest. Politics and elections are topics people can have an interest in without anything beyond an academic or philosophical interest.

          It is fascinating to me that while most non-Americans, especially Europeans, chastise us as having no interest in anything that happens outside our border, when I answer “four different ballot papers on one day will be chaos,” with “only four elections?” and “all on separate sheets of paper?”, I get treated like I must somehow have a financial stake in the British elections.

          That just makes no sense. How would posting in the comments of Lords of the Blog lead to cash anyway? I enjoy this blog, but it is not exactly the most watched one in the UK.

          Anyway, there is plenty of time to worry about America’s problems and still follow the politics of the UK and Canada, and to a lesser extent, Australia and New Zealand. It is not as though I can walk out of the house and start fixing the financial crisis or get people to stop being idiots about the health care system, so why not read about things that interest me?

          As for voter fraud, you have an overactive imagination. There is very little voter fraud (as close to none as to make no difference) in the US (or UK, for that matter), so I’d have to be quite paranoid to sit around thinking about it at all. Perhaps I shouldn’t put it quite that way since you in fact do seem to sit around obsessing about voter fraud, but I believe it, so I’ll leave it.

          • maude elwes
            30/03/2011 at 5:53 pm


            If you can follow all those blogs my guess is you have no employment.

            I could take each part of your post to pieces, but, I don’t have the inclination.

            However, if you feel the possibility of US voter fraud so small it is insignificant, then you must be content with the concept. And the outcome. Which should make any democratic person uncomfortable, especially when paid for by members of the congress.

  12. ZAROVE
    22/03/2011 at 8:08 pm

    Maude, I think Rich is simply offering a personal vision of how an election can be made more efficient or Fair from his perspective. No need for conspiracy Theories.

  13. MilesJSD
    22/03/2011 at 9:21 pm

    Before people-response-able, & government-responsible, Democracy can be achieved (and I think ‘sovereign democracy’ means ”in that order”) we need to constitute for a much greater flow to and throughout The People, of:

    Firstly, Know-How, Fact and Information;

    Secondly, friendly neighbourhood focused-conversations, upon that knowledge;

    Thirdly, constructive & non-competitive Discussion by the People’s successive demographic and democratic strata;
    (i.e. NOT win-lose Debating) ;

    and only thereafter

    Fourthly, Competitive Debatings (which are essentially the final win-lose conclusion to all the Information-gathering, and Constructive Discussion stages;
    Debate by definition can only result in the ‘winner’ standing tall – the ‘loser’ lost-it-all ]:

    a ‘fight’ which in British democracy should constitutionally, legislatively, and by enforceable-administration, only be permitted after the aforesaid Knowledge-distribution, Focused-topics Conversations, & Focused non-competitive Discussions, have been exhaustively or at least majorly concluded, published, and delivered-upwards by The People to the Parliaments
    (or to the Judiciary; or to Our Last Protector HM The Queen)…

    In fact, I don’t see why the British People can not be trusted to be sufficiently life-intelligent and democratically-literate to answer a more responsible and truthfully-accurate and binding “election”, namely of Plans & Policies, pre-cursorily to the trad elections of what still turns out to be self-interested, professionally-protected, plumply-pecunious politicians posing as leaderful-people.

  14. Matt
    24/03/2011 at 7:15 pm

    Congratulations to Viscount Hanworth.

    Given all the perjorative terms that are routinuely trotted out by many life peers about the presence of the other types of peers (‘absurd’, ‘farcical’, ‘bizarre’ etc) I thought it might be interesting to do a quick survey of the five most-recent of each:


    1. Lord Blencathra: Former MP; Former Whip; Consultant.

    2. Lord Glasman: Lecturer in political theory, London

    3. Lady Brinton: Former local councillor; Failed to become an MP; Entrepreneur

    4. Lord Stephen: Member of Scottish parliament; Former local councillor; Briefly an MP; Solicitor/ Corporate Finance.

    5. Lord Storey: Local councillor; Primary-school headteacher; Involved in running of cinemas.


    1. Viscount Hanworth: Professor of econometrics and computational studies, Leicester.

    2. Bishop Nigel Stock: Former priest in papua new guinea; various placements in UK.

    3. Viscount Younger of Leckie: Chairman of buckingham conservtives; Rental income.

    4. Earl of Clancarty: Self-employed visual artist; also involved in freelance writing and translation.

    5. Lord Aberdare: At IBM for most of career; various bodies to promote the arts.

    • MilesJSD
      29/03/2011 at 2:21 pm

      thank you for the condensed research.

      I wonder, was there any reliably substantial evidence of there being any experts, or an expert, in

      (Ecology-factored-in Ecoometrics, I suppose)

      either in the House of Lords
      or anywhere in Britain ?

      Or anywhere in the World, come to that ?

      I am not an academic:
      I just wondered in preparation for my possible future re-incarnation, next time as a participatory-democratic-citizen and environmental-lifesupports-supporter…


  15. Rich
    31/03/2011 at 11:06 pm

    @Maude: It no longer surprises me that you misstate what I’ve said and make unsupported (and unsupportable) claims. I suppose I should have been surprised at your ad hominem, but after your bizarre attacks based on laughable conspiracy theories, I’m not.

    You say you could take “each part” of my post “to pieces”. While I don’t believe that in the slightest, the fact that you don’t have any inclination is all too believable. You have shown repeatedly in this discussion that you have no desire to engage in a serious discussion and address the points that people actually make, as opposed to the nonsense you decide to pretend they’ve made. There is no point in attempting to have an adult conversation with someone like you because you are either unwilling or unable to act like an adult.

  16. Rich
    31/03/2011 at 11:37 pm

    Also, Maude, I should point out that your ad hominem came from no where. You said I must be unemployed if I read “all those blogs”. I never said I read any blogs. You just made that up on your own (as you tend to do). In fact, I read news articles from various countries, read up on various aspects of politics government in said countries, occasionally read parliamentary debates in those countries, and listen to podcasts about them when I run or shop or drive. None of that involves very much effort and only takes up my leisure tie. Even on this blog, my participation has been extremely limited. I was initially drawn out by Lord Knight’s belief that having to vote in four elections at once would overwhelm the voters of Leicester. I was further drawn by your increasingly provocative and bizarre comments. I shouldn’t have let myself, but I was. However, as you may have inferred from my previous comment, I’m fairly certain I’m done with you because at this point you seem to have proved you are not a serious person and not worthy of attention.

Comments are closed.