Monday, 25 May 2009

Real Proportional Representation

Monday, 25 May 2009

25 May 2009Alan Johnson is right about the public mood of anger and disquiet over the way MPs have abused the system of second home allowances (‘The Times’ today). They had a year to change it but decided not to (see All At Our Expense). I have no doubt that Labour MPs, staring into the abyss of an uncertain future and possibly having to come to terms with suddenly not being an MP anymore, would welcome the opportunity to cling onto power in any way possible. So is it not just an amazing coincidence that Labour politicians, fearing that their pedestal of power is about to be kicked from under them, would leap onto the bandwagon of Proportional Representation that they kicked, without a second thought, into the long grass back in 1998?
OK, I agree that some form of Proportional Representation is better than our current First Past The Post (FPTP) system but not if it only serves to pay lip service to the idea. In 1998 the ‘Jenkins Report’ came up with a system of ‘Alternative Vote Plus’ (AVP). Alan Johnson proposes to suggest we have a referendum weighing FPTP against AVP. Why is that? What is wrong with throwing a number of systems into the melting pot that satisfy the criteria that the Jenkins Commission followed? Does he think that the electorate is too silly to make up its own mind or does he fear that we would pick one that does not suit a particular political party or changes the balance of power in favour of the people? Why can’t we have a proper open competition on electoral reform?
In 2007 I proposed a system of PR on my website. I posted a copy to the Electoral Reform Society and they politely ignored me. Never the less I posted it on my own web site for anyone to scrutinize. See ‘New Voting System’. Let’s look at how my system sits against the guide lines given to the Jenkins Commission. The statements in italics represent the criteria by which the AVP system was devised.
‘The maintenance of a geographical link between MP and constituency ‘
The Jenkins Report rejected the idea of a ‘Single Transferable Vote’ (STV) system because it would require massive voting constituencies of 350,000 electors resulting, they concluded, with an oppressive degree of choice. There was also a number of counting systems that would have given different outcomes.
The average number of voters for Labour, according to the number of sitting MPs, in the 2001 election was 26031, for the conservatives 50347 and the Liberal Democrats 92583. Recently the political parties have tried to spread the fear that voting for extreme parties rather than one of the main three would allow parties like the British National Party (BNP) to get in. In 2001 the average vote for the BNP was 47129.
There are 650 MPs in Parliament and 60 million people in the UK. If 40 million are registered voters that would mean 61538 voters per constituency if the voters were evenly spread. But we know this is not the case because more people live in towns and cities than in rural and agricultural areas.
The constituency I live in has a demographic of 230,000 people, of which two thirds, 153,000 would be registered voters. As you can see from the above figures, nowhere near this amount of people are currently voting but if they did it would reflect the true amount of voters that sitting MPs are representing today. So MPs are already presiding over massive voting constituencies.
As far as ‘oppressive choice’ is concerned, we have seen elections with an abundance of candidates from the ‘Monster Raving Loony Party’ to an independent candidate with a personal axe to grind. Anyone can stand for Parliament now. There just needs to be a simple rule stating that a candidate must acquire 25% of a National Vote at least to represent those people and to save ourselves from lunatic fringes and real minority concerns.
My proposal would suggest the need to double the size of a constituency in order to keep the same number of sitting MPs, however, because my proposal would also share the vote between the MPs in that constituency, MPs will be presiding over no more a percentage of the vote than they have experienced before. So if we presume that two MPs could be presiding over the same geographical area that two MPs had covered previously, albeit disproportionate to the voters, nothing has changed.
‘The need for stable government‘
Many people opposed to PR tend to point the finger at Italy’s often fractious coalitions. Politicians love to throw fear into the path of change because they hope to distract people from the possibilities of change for the better that does not include them. Conversely one has to acknowledge the difficulty that exists in many political systems and how easily parties can split themselves into factions. On the other hand we can see this happening almost weekly within the current Government, as we have seen before in previous Governments. So whether there is infighting within one party or fighting among several parties, the only difference is that in the current systems there are whips telling MPs to vote a certain way and in other systems the centre of power does not lie with one majority. Considering the number of times the people have not been asked about things they really should have been asked about, is the act of ignoring the people considered as stable Government?
My proposal, like the AVP system, uses a ratio to decide what MPs sit in the House of Commons. The difference is that my system keeps MPs geographically based and MPs vote in the House of Commons with their vote percentage. In short, there are no arbitrarily picked MPs from a pool of 150 (the AVP system). And if the current political parties are any good, then our people will vote for them will they not?
‘The desire for broad proportionality‘
There is a balance required between the geographical size of a constituency and the size of populace. Beyond that, one has to consider how one is able to represent left wing voters in a staunch right wing constituency and right wing voters in a left wing constituency. The AVP system will not achieve this. Even if it elects a proportional representation from a list of 150 MPs who are not ‘directly elected’, they lose the geographical connection.
My system does not satisfy itself on ‘broad proportionality’ It is directly proportionate to the point where 99.6% of votes count both geographically, and where this cannot be achieved in sufficient numbers it can go regionally and even nationally. The AVP system cannot possibly compete with this.
‘An extension of voter choice‘
This is pure nonsense. Why not vote for your first choice and expect it to count? My system does not put up with second best, which is why my system aims to make 99.6% if voter’s first choice count – not second best.
Alan Johnson describes the Jenkins system as an ‘elegant solution – Alternative Vote Plus’. Personally I think it merely tinkers with the idea of proportional representation and is not proportionately representative at all. It is also unnecessarily complicated. I would dearly like to put my system up against Mr Johnson’s preference to see which one the public likes better and I challenge him to do so. Unlike Mr Jenkins, I don’t have to horse trade with other political parties and MPs desperately trying to save their own skins should a shake up in electoral reform actually occur.
So I say to Mr Johnson, your proposal is not acceptable. If you really wanted to see electoral reform using the Jenkins solution you could have done it back in 1998 when it was proposed. The electorate must question why you choose to resurrect it now, if not to save a perceived massive defeat at the next general election. The Conservatives, of course, will oppose any PR all the way, especially as they appear to be under the delusion that they will win a landslide victory at any general election. It is not as simple as that. And besides which, what makes Mr Cameron think that we want another political party in power that is just as guilty of abuse as the rest? The three main political parties not only abused expenses and would have continued to do so had it not been made public. Not one of them deserves our support because not one of them has represented the people who elected them.
Yes we do need electoral reform – not to save any of our current main parties but to stop that sort of corrupt power from ever taking a strangle hold on our democracy ever again. So if you really want to see electoral reform Mr Johnson, why not give people a proper choice? We should decide what to vote for in a referendum – not you.

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