10 June 2011

10 Ways To Make First-Past-The-Post Better

Now that people have rejected AV, changing from first-past-the-post for electing our MPs seems further away than ever. The AV campaign may have been pathetic but the truth is people rejected AV in favour of first-past-the-post even in places where preferential voting takes place e.g. Scotland.

Labour party members are split down the middle on any reform and the parliamentary Labour party are even more hostile to PR than they were to AV (more than half opposed AV). Maybe it is time we reformers looked at making the most of the crap system we have got - first-past-the-post. Here are my suggestions for progressive Labour and Lib Dems to consider.

1. Smaller constituencies. This would make MPs more accountable and closer to their electorates. In 1945 most MPs had around 50,000 constituents, currently the average is 71,000, but this government wants to make that 76,000. This is a move in an undemocratic direction in my book. Smaller constituencies will give independents and smaller parties more of a chance to campaign as well, and generally delivers more proportional results. Moving to 50,000 constituents per MP will result in around 900 MPs in parliament which will strengthen backbenchers at the expense of the executive and also give more competition for government posts.

2. Fewer boundary reviews. People move around and this is a nightmare for systems that rely on boundaries, constituent sizes need to be as equal as possible but equally voters need to be able to vote our their MP - constantly moving them between constituencies makes MPs unaccountable. This government is proposing major reviews every 5 years, instead of the current 15 years. This will make a mockery of accountability and be confusing for voters. Smaller constituencies will make it easier to respect geographical and administrative boundaries, reduce the opportunities for bias and gerrymandering and reduce confusion for electorates as they will remain within local authority borders. Reviews should stay at 15 years, making constituencies smaller will lessen the need for changing boundaries anyway. One of the most costly aspects of our present system are boundary reviews.

3. 10% flexibility in size of constituency, instead of just 5% variation as proposed for the next general election by this government. This flexibility makes considering county and local boundaries and geographical consideratons much easier. For example the variation on an average of 50,000 would be from 45,000 to 55,000 constituents. This would allow, for example, a solution to the 'Isle of Wight problem' where we currently have a vastly oversized constituency, it could now be split in two. Also very rural areas would be accomodated by this change, thereby avoiding large geographical areas. The 5% proposal is for variation just 3,000 either side of 76,000. It will be impossible to stick to county, geographical and local authority boundaries with such a restriction.

4. Make the 'constituency link' really count. Stipulate that any candidate must have been born or schooled in the constituency they represent (or in a neighbouring constituency adjacent to it), or have lived there (or a neighbouring constituency) for at least 2 years PRIOR to applying to be a candidate. This will prevent candidates 'constituency shopping' for safe seats. At the moment many MPs represent constituencies they had never set foot in before they applied to be a candidate there. This would mean less MPs from the south east of England elected in northern seats. Also hopefully a less 'Londonocentric' campaign.

5. Replace deposits with large constituency petitions. A candidate would have to garner 2500 signatures or 5% of the electorate to stand. This is a better and more democratic way of limiting the number of candidates than using a 5% vote threshold and lost deposits (where a vote is less than 5% of total). What is now in effect is basically a big tax on small parties and independents, especially as our electoral system puts such a big tactical squeeze on any party without a chance of winning. This would have the benefit of making all the parties have to contact large numbers of voters in every seat. It shouldn't be money that determines whether someone can stand, but their support in the constituency (even if for tactical reasons they ultimately choose to vote for someone else at the actual election).

6. Parties must have at least 1000 party members (2% of electorate) in the constituency to be able to field a candidate. Parties would have to widen their appeal (especially as they also need 2500 constituents to sign their petition (see point 5 above)) and larger memberships would introduce more inter-party competition for candidature especially in safe seats where one party has a monopoly on the local MP. There would be panic amongst parties at first, as large numbers of constituency parties would not have enough members to be able to field a candidate. I would imagine that membership would become free in such places. If no party could meet this membership rule then the top two candidates nearest to achieving 2500 signatures and 1000 members in the constituency are allowed to stand. If only one party or candidate can meet the criteria, their candidate is automatically elected without the need for an election. Ultimately it is unlikely that more than 5 candidates could make the ballot with all these restrictions, and even the major parties might not be able to field candidates. There would be more 2 candidate elections, Tories would struggle to stand in the urban north and Labour in the rural south. This would mean less split votes, and more honest elections especially when first-past-the-post is only really works for 2 candidate elections. Candidates would have to get the written support of 2500 potential voters and membership support of over 1000. This would mean a frenzy of door knocking and campaign literature in EVERY constituency and right throughout the parliamentary term. Candidates would be allowed to garner support for up to 2 years before an election - they would probably need this time. For once voters would have to be canvassed and listened to.

7. Allow a tick box on the ballot, so a voter can donate £5 of tax money to said local party if they so wish. A voter could donate to a different party than they vote for or to no party at all if they leave the box unticked.

8. Top 400 second placed candidates elected to second chamber. This would mean a reduction in overall parliament numbers of over 200. Currently there are over 900 Lords and 650 MPs, a total of 1550. Under my proposals there would be 900 MPs and 400 in the Lords, a total of 1300. (Maybe MPs could swap to the bigger Lords chamber and vice versa). Those who lose out by just a few votes on becoming a MP will now be elected to the revising second chamber. The 400 best second places (runners-up with the highest percentage of votes in each constituency around the country) will be elected. This avoids any legitimacy issues (as second placed candidates are obviously less legitimate). And also avoids extra elections that the public might tire of. It would also ensure a more regional outlook of the Lords.

9. Smaller wards for local government. Just like for Westminster, local councils could do with smaller wards. Currently 2 or 3 councillors are elected in each ward in the UK, why not make it 1 councillor per ward and have the wards much smaller. This would make them closer to their electors and make the ward identity easier to adhere to local areas. It would also be good if candidates were made to live in either the ward or a neighbouring ward.

10. Fixed 4 year terms instead of 5. I am dubious as to what difference fixing terms makes anyway (as it seems a government will always find a way to dissolve parliament if they have to) but 4 years is definitely more democratic than 5. Gives people their say more often. (There is an argument for annual elections with a quarter of seats up for election every year of a 4 year cycle around the regions, but I won't make this argument this time about avoiding too much London-centric campaigns).

No comments:

Post a Comment