22 May 2015

Fair Past The Post

What most voters want.

1. A Local MP.
You vote for one candidate that represents your local area and is directly accountable to voters at a geographical level similar to now.

2. Simplicity.
You have one vote by placing a X next to the candidate of your choice. The candidates with the most votes are elected.

3. Fairness.
The number of seats is in line with the number of votes.

Our present system of first-past-the-post, delivers on the first two principles, but not the last one. Basically what people seem to want is a proportional version of first-past-the-post and it is a possibility.

A slight tweak to our system would deliver all three principles. Let me explain.

The population of the UK is around 65 million. Our current number of MPs at Westminster is 650.

That rather neatly works out at around 100,000 population for each MP. 

For example, Sussex has a population of 1.6m and returns 16 MPs to Westminster.

This sort of size area is perfect for what I am proposing. Most of the non metropolitan counties return between 8 and 16 MPs.  Metropolitan counties vary more, but can be ideally sized by combining several boroughs. An area returning 12 to 16 MPs is the ideal and could be achieved by combining 2 smaller counties if appropriate.

My idea is to continue voting for one candidate but to allow candidates to stand across the whole county and votes across the whole county area to be counted.

So, in my Sussex example, the 16 candidates with the most votes across the county are elected.

It is a bit like how we elect ward councillors in multi member wards except voters will get one vote instead of multiple votes.

Using the results of the last general election we might have got the following results in Sussex using my system.

P. Bottomley CON(Worthing) 56,954
P.Kyle LAB(Brighton+Hove) 54724
S.Kirby CON(Brighton+Hove) 51722
D.Cooper LDEM (Sussex) 51338
F.Maude CON(Crawley+Horsham) 48953
G.Bastin UKIP(East Sussex) 48498
C.Lucas GREEN(East Sussex) 42143
S.Owen LAB(East Sussex excl. B+H) 40995
G.Jones UKIP(West Sussex Coastal) 40911
C.Ansell CON(Eastbourne+Lewes) 40140
N.Baker LDEM(Eastbourne+Lewes) 38324
C.Oxlade LAB(Crawley+Chichester+
Bognor+Arundel) 36068
N.Herbert CON(Arundel & S. Downs) 34331
A.Tyrie CON(Chichester) 32953
N.Ghani CON(Wealdon) 32508
N.Soames CON(Mid Sussex) 32268

These are the 16 candidates that would be elected under my system. With a further 6 unelected.

T.Macpherson LAB (Worthing+Horsham+Mid Sussex) 32173
G.Barker CON(Bexhill+Battle) 30245
A.Moncrief UKIP(West Sussex Mid+North) 25406
N.Gibb CON (Bognor+Littlehampton) 24185
A.Rudd CON (Hastings+Rye) 22686
J.Richmond GREEN (West Sussex) 20584

The result is very proportional

CON 48% votes 50% seats (8 of 16)
LAB 19% votes 19% seats (3 of 16)
UKIP 14% votes 13% seats (2 of 16)
LDEM 11% votes 13% seats (2 of 16)
GREEN 7% votes 6% seats (1 of 16)

Whereas the actual result under our present system was 14 Tories, 1 Lab and 1 Green. Over half of Sussex voters had no impact on the result under our present system and the majority of counties are similar.

Of course, these are the votes under FPTP. Under a PR system the voting is even more fair because it would remove some tactical and protest voting.

The eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed in the above example that the Tories fielded 11 candidates (8 were elected), Labour 4 (3), UKIP 3 (2), Lib Dems 2 (2), and Greens 2 (1). This led to a total of 22 candidates standing for 16 seats.

Why would the parties not stand more candidates than this?

This is where the beauty of my system comes in.

At the moment it makes sense for parties to stand as many candidates as possible (as many as they can afford in lost deposits).

This results in "split votes" between ideologically similar parties and ideologically similar candidates resulting in millions of voters electing no-one while other candidates win with far less than 50% of the vote.

Under my system, the parties can manage this by only standing candidates that have a real chance of being elected. If they stand too many candidates, their party could lose seats by "splitting" their own vote between candidates.

What my system does is spread the problem of split votes equally between ALL the parties rather than just those ideologically similar.

Another unique feature of my system is it removes the need for difficult and expensive drawing of boundaries. All you need to do is to allocate the number of MPs to be elected in line with the county population.

It is for THE CANDIDATES themselves to determine the areas where they want to target local electorates.

In the example above, you can see parties have given a geographical label to each candidate and each candidate would concentrate their efforts there and be accountable to that area of the county.

Why would they do that? Because if every candidate campaigned across the whole county, it would risk wide disparities in their votes and reduce the number of seats they won. Parties would aim to spread their votes fairly evenly between their candidates to maximise the seats won.

The easiest way to do this would be to target each geographical area with a different party candidate. This is where "the local link" is maintained and accountability with voters strengthened.

The larger parties would target "constituencies" of a similar size to now, whereas the smaller parties would target bigger areas, right up to the whole county area being targeted for the smallest parties.

To make absolutely sure that no unnecessary joke or ego candidates clogged up the ballot paper, I would abolish the current £500 deposit and replace it with a condition that every candidate has a minimum of 500 electors in the county who had donated at least £1 each to their campaign in the 12 months running up to the election.

This would remove any time waster candidates, who at the moment just need a big ego and be willing to a lose a £500 deposit.

Democracy is too important to be the plaything of wealthy joker candidates. Any serious candidate with really wide support would be easily able to muster 500 paid up supporters from a county with around 1.2m electors. In practise an independent candidate with significant support from the electorate would probably stand more chance of being elected than now. They would need just 6% or so of the countywide vote. There is not a single elected independent MP in GB at the moment.

In conclusion, voters keep the close geographical link with a candidate. They keep the simple vote and counting process and they get the proportionality they want between parties. What is not to like?

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