28 March 2008

Ian Dale And Electoral Reform.

Here is my contribution to the 'worried' Tory debate going on over at Ian Dale's site.

"I'm a Labour supporter, but I couldn't care less which parties are running the country, as long as the government more closely represents the majority's wishes (the more people that are represented, the more likely minorities will be respected, because everyone of us is in a minority in some aspect or other).

The Tories certainly didn't represent the majority's wishes in the 80s and 90s and Labour hasn't managed it either over the last ten years.

The reason for this is simple. They were not elected by the majority - but by a small minority - 42% of actual voters and 33% of eligible voters in the Tories case. And this last Labour administration, got 55% of the seats with just 35% of the vote and barely 22% of eligible voters (and this is before we get on to the geographic acrobatics inherent to FPTP).

Contrary to what archroy said, FPTP does not make it easier to 'kick them out'. As long as a party can keep it's 22% or so happy and split the opposition vote, they can stay in power forever - whatever the majority think about it.

It took opposition to the...
Tories to reach nearly 70% of voters and 85% of the electorate before they were finally 'kicked out' last time.

While not perfect, PR would improve this situation considerably. It would at least mean a government that is voted for by a majority of the voters. But more than this, it would mean more diverse views, more women and more people from lower socio-economic backgrounds(including ethnic minorities) in parliament.

Democracy would be healthier and Iraq Wars and Poll Taxes would be much less likely to occur. Here is an example of what I mean;

PARTY A, to cut taxes by 10%; invade Iran; ban abortion.
PARTY B, to increase taxes by 5%; against invasion; abortion cut to 22 weeks.
PARTY C, to increase taxes by 10%; against invasion; abortion left at 24 weeks.

PARTY A, 40% of the vote
PARTY B, 25% of the vote
PARTY C, 35% of the vote

Under FPTP, Party A wins the election, cuts taxes by 10%, invades Iran and bans abortion, despite 60% of the electorate voting against all these policies. How can this be justified?

Under PR, parties B and C forms coalition, negotiates tax increase of between 5% and 10%, compromises at 23 weeks on abortion, and doesn't invade Iran. This is much much closer to what the majority wanted.

Try the model yourself changing the policies and percentages - PR always comes out best.

To those who rubbish the efficiency of PR government, I refer them to German, Scandanavian and even Italian, levels of post-war economic growth, lower inequality and better public services.

Overall PR government beats us hands down on all these factors and also delivers higher political engagement and environemntal protection. Germany and Scandanavia have also had less post-war elections and leaders, compare that to the instability that FPTP has brought to Canada.

Long term decisions are just easier to make when the parties have to work together and when the best of all parties come together, it is little surprise that better decisions are made.

Coalitions under FPTP usually are weak and indecisive, because firstly, the parties are not used to working together and secondly, FPTP produces coalitions that do not reflect what the voters voted for.

Which brings me on to which system of PR is best. First of all it needs to be said that AV is not PR and the government are actually only proposing SV (a second preference option added to FPTP), which is not even as good as AV. Saying that, at least it has prompted a debate about electoral reform on Tory websites.

Whatever the government's motives, this is a welcome debate and I think that any move that gives more choice to voters should be welcomed even if it doesn't give proportionality. We shouldn't make 'the best' the enemy of improvement.

Personally I like open-list PR best, but the system used in Baden-Wurtemberg in Germany would be an ideal transition for Westminster. You vote exactly the same as FPTP, putting an X against your candidate in your constituency. All those winning constituency candidates are elected, but then your vote is counted again towards the party you voted for and their best placed candidates (not already elected), are also elected to make the result completely proportional. This way the electorate decide everyone who is elected. This was the system proposed for Westmister by the Hansard society in 1976. I think this system combines the proportionality of PR and the 'constituency link' of FPTP in a simple and fair way.

We still have a problem electing disadvantaged groups under this system, but at least it is easy to understand (vote in and count) and avoids party lists.

I am a bit of a PR anorak, as the above post probably demonstrates. I am always interested in electoral system ideas. I looked at the PR squared idea mentioned and wasn't impressed - it was more like FPTP squared - there was no proportionality! Anyway, hope I have made some of you die-hard Tories think".


  1. Neil, what happens when the majority of people want to curb immigration levels, want tax cuts or want benefit cuts!?!

  2. Neil, top stuff, keep it coming.

  3. Snafu: The majority have never wanted those things. That was not the point I was making anyway.

    Representative democracy is there to make informed decisions on the people's behalf. Surely it is better have these MPs put there by at least 51% of voters instead of the current 35%?

  4. Neil, how do you know!?!

    By your own reasoning, only 22% of the voting public wanted Labour back in power - more people voted Conservative than Labour in England in 2005!

  5. Snafu: "how do you know!?!"

    Because 60% of voters consistently vote for Labour, Lib Dems and Scottish/ Welsh Nationalists, who all advocate higher taxes and are pro-EU.

    Even the Tories are coy about their tax cut plans and their 'are you thinking' campaign lost them votes in 2005 - which is why Cameron has gine quiet about immigration.

  6. Neil, Scottish and Welsh nationalists want higher taxes on England so that they can go on spending like there's no tomorrow...

    Labour and Lib Dems voters want other people to pay more taxes rather than themselves so that argument doesn't really stand up to scrutiny. Labour recognised this in 2005 when they promised no increases in income tax rates. The Liberal Democrats now seem to have gone even further down this route by offering income tax cuts at the next election.

  7. Neil, what happens when the majority of people want to curb immigration levels, want tax cuts or want benefit cuts!?!

    But people also want good public services, they want a generous 'safety net' for themselves when they get ill or unemployed and they want a plumber at a reasonable price! Government will never be a referendum on every single policy issue, if only because people are quite inconsistent on what they want. If you ask people 'do you want zero tolerance policing' then they say 'yes please'. If you ask 'do you want more speed cameras' they do 'no, why should I be fined for a momentary lapse'. People want a strictly imposed 20 mph limit past their house but a complete free for all past everyone else's house. Nope. Let's retain representative democracy but make the proportions more reflective of the number of votes cast.

  8. Snafu: Unless you are in the top 10% of earners in the UK and earn more than £35k a year (the average is £23k), then you WILL pay more under the Tories.

    The great myth is that Thatcher reduced taxes for us ordinary mortals. On its own, the doubling of VAT by the Tories from 8% to 17.5% made us all much worse off, then there is the invention of the poll tax/council tax and rises in other taxes.

    The GDP tax take remained around 40% under Thatcher and still remains around 40%. But Thatcher and co, spent taxes on funding mass unemployment and arms rather than frontline services - we had crumbling schools and hospitals, doubling of crime and 18 month waits for healthcare.

    The final straw for the 25% of the electorate that kept them in power was their second recession and 15% interest rates. Going back to those level of service cuts hardly bolds well for Tory claims of efficiency. I just don't believe them when they claim they will cut taxes and improve services - the reverse was true last time.

    Labour, Lib Dems, Greens, SNP, etc have consistently won 60% of the votes with clear tax increasing manifesto promises.

  9. Neil, VAT is a benefit of membership of the European Union!

    According to your analysis of voting intentions, 60% of all voters (including you!) should welcome tax increases. Once again, you ignore my point that people welcome tax increases for other people but not themselves!

    Has the SNP raised any taxes in Scotland? Has Plaid Cymru raised any taxes in Wales!?! Prescription charges are now lower in Scotland and Wales than England, tuition fees have been cut etc, etc...

  10. In fact, the Scottish Parliament has the power to charge higher or lower income tax (by up to 3p IIRC) - but hasn't used it - why do you think that is Neil?

  11. Snafu: VAT would still be 8% if the Tories had not raised it to 17.5%. These Tory tax rises have nothing to do with the EU.

    Urko, Snafu: The reason for SNP and PC caution on tax is partially because they want to restructure taxation in a more finessed way than a blunt increase in council tax or income tax would allow. Under these restrictions it is not surprising they have felt unable to make changes. They need more devolution.

  12. "Because 60% of voters consistently vote for Labour, Lib Dems and Scottish/ Welsh Nationalists, who all advocate higher taxes and are pro-EU."

    What's wrong with a blunt increase in income tax or council tax if the majority of people vote for tax increases as you claim!?!

  13. Snafu: As far as I understand the Scottish parliament does not have power to alter allowances of income tax - without this, it is difficult to target the tax rises so those who can afford it pay by far the most.

  14. So once again Neil, you argue against yourself!

    You claim that 60% of the electorate oppose tax cuts as they voted for parties supporting tax rises and then claim that these parties haven't raised taxes as they need to be directed at a small minority of tax payers so they don't affect the voters who voted for tax rises!!

    The Scottish parliament has the power to raise or lower income tax by 3p. Why should they when they can rely on English taxpayers to fund Scottish excesses!?!

  15. Neil, can you point me to any more detailed analysis in English of the Baden Wurttenburg system? It's only a footnote in Lakeman and in Bogdanor/Butler (both out of date, I know) and I can't find any mention on the Hansard Soc website of their 1976 report.

  16. I had looked there but I need more detail. Actually Wikipedia seems to be rather confused. As I understand it, the London Assembly election is elected by what they are calling Parallel voting (i.e. the FPTP component and the list component are two completely separate elections), not any version of the German system .. Anyway, thanks.

  17. Oops! As you were. I've now found the govt's recent Review of Voting systems which makes it clear that the proportional element in the London Assembly elections, as with the Scottish and Welsh parliaments, is a top-up after all. So the London Elects website is completely misleading.
    Still no further on with Baden wurrtenburg though!