April 27, 2011

The increasingly desperate Tory push to keep the worst electoral system in the world

Posted in Democratising Britain, Politics tagged , , , , at 2:25 am by David Gould

On Conservative Home, Rupert Myers creates a hypothetical AV election:

On election night, the first round results come in:
Conservatives: 28%
Labour: 24%
Liberal Democrats: 19%
English Defence League: 15%
Tom Barnaby ‘Keep Midsomer Safe’: 14%

Tom Barnaby has massively eroded the support bases of both the Liberal Democrats, and the EDL, but is eliminated from the contest in the first round. A breakdown of the second preference votes shows that a record breaking 99% of all second preferences of Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem, and EDL candidates went to Tom Barnaby. Tom Barnaby, the first/second choice of over 99% of the constituents of Midsomer, is eliminated in the first round.

So, we are led to believe that only 14% of voters would put Tom Barnaby first yet 85 out of 86% would put him second.

Not 3rd, 4th or 5th.  2nd.

Also, rather conveniently for Rupert, neither the Greens, UKIP, BNP nor any other independent bother to stand.

Now if a result like this has ever happened, feel free to let me know.  I’d put the odds at less than 1 in a million.

But here’s the amusing bit.  Under FPTP, he would have come last too.  In all probability, at least half all of his voters would have voted tactically, reducing his vote to single figures.  And since he sounds like a right wing candidate, he may well have split the Tory vote and let the Labour candidate in.

March 15, 2011

Hawaii adopts AV

Posted in Democratising Britain, Politics tagged , , , , at 2:14 am by David Gould

Hawaii says Yes!
NOtoAV is fond of saying only Australia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji have AV and Fiji is abandoning it (for a miliary coup/dictatorship).

Yeah well, almost every country but the US, Canada and Britain have abandoned FPTP, blame our democracy 1.0 for not offering more choice and Hawaii just adopted AV.

May 11, 2010

FPTP, AV and STV aren’t the only electoral systems

Posted in Democratising Britain, Politics at 9:07 am by David Gould

What do we want out of an electoral system?

1. Governments that can govern, guaranteed

2. No governments with dangerous majorities, guaranteed

3. A free and fair election for all (except possibly the BNP)

4. Fair representation for all viewpoints (except possibly the BNP)

5. The electorate help to choose the candidates, not just the political parties

6. Every vote counts

7. All reasonable views are represented in the House of Commons.

8. A system which is easy for the public to understand and which doesn’t benefit from tactical voting

I hear you ask “is this even possible?”

Yes, it is – and there are at least 2 ways of doing it.

Note that FPTP (our current electoral system) provides none of these. AV only provides #6 and #8. AV+ arguably adds #7. Most forms of PR fail #1 and #5. STV however, only fails #1 and what I recommend is adapted from it.

What is STV?

To the voter, Single Transferrable Vote is exactly the same as AV – you simply rank your candidates in order of preference. To the vote counters however, STV is a lot more complicated.

Here is a nice Flash animation which explained it for British Columbian voters (MLAs are their version of MPs).

Believe it or not, STV produces governments in which parties polling above ~3% win seats roughly proportional to their national vote share. It is used in Ireland, Australia & local/regional/European elections in the UK.

Here are some common arguments against STV:

It allows extremists eg the BNP to gain seats

This is more false than true. Whilst the 2010 results under full PR would have given the BNP 12 seats, STV isn’t full PR and would probably have given the BNP zero seats. Their obnoxious leader, Nick Griffin, came third and probably would have come third under STV too – as few voters would give him a 2nd or 3rd place ranking.

MPs don’t have a direct connection to their voters

Whilst true about list PR, this is completely false regarding STV. Voters would have 2 MPs, much the same way most of us have 2 councillors. If you don’t like your MP, under STV you will at least have one you prefer to deal with. And bad MPs are much easier to get rid of. One could argue that having 2 MPs means they dodge responsibility for you and your area. But really, they already do that and MPs have almost nothing to do with local government anyway.

STV produces weak minority governments and sometimes deals are done that don’t reflect manifesto commitments

This is true. Although manifesto commitments are frequently broken under FPTP, even honourable parties have to do it under STV. Majority governments would require more than 50% of the country to vote for them and that almost never happens. Under STV, we would see the current situation of uncertainty and deals behind closed doors happen all the time.

Introducing Ideal-Majority STV (IM-STV)

IM-STV is exactly the same as STV except that it guarantees small majorities for the winning party by introducing a ‘winner’s bonus’. It necessarily reduces representation of the opposition parties although they remain proportionately represented within opposition (unlike FPTP/AV/AV+). Most importantly, it will be obvious that any of these opposition parties could receive the winner’s bonus next time round and thus all parties have a fair chance to form the next government (again unlike FPTP/AV/AV+). Our political system might need minor adjustments to incorporate this but the media couldn’t easily ignore smaller parties.

How big a majority do we want?

I believe all British Governments should have a majority of at least 1 (John Major started with a majority of 21 but ended up with a minority of 9). Having a majority less than a 20 generally means you need support from other parties. Majorities above 60 can be abused and should be rare. Labour’s majority in 2005 was 66.

With IM-STV, you can guarantee a specific majority/minority (perhaps set by an independent committee) or, as I’ve done, make it dependent on the mandate.

What determines a mandate?

Is it the overall % of vote that determines a mandate? Or is it how much the winning party wins by?

It’s a bit of both. The following is a bit mathematical – feel free to skip over it to the table below.

Under PR type systems, usually the winning party polls lower and wins by a smaller majority as more people vote for the smaller parties. The winning party invariably polls at least 20%.

By trial and error, I’ve determined that if you divide their total % of vote by 10, add the result to one third of the winning margin and add that to 48%, we provide the winning party the ability to deliver their manifesto based on the mandate given by the electorate.

The following exaggerates the majorities of recent elections as, under this IM-STV system, voters would have voted differently and the elections would probably have been closer. However, in last week’s 2010 election, the Tories polled 36.1% and won by 7.1%. If they’d have achieved this under an IM-STV system, this would be a good result and, as such, the Tories would be awarded [(36.1/10)+(7.1/3)+48 =] 53.97% of seats or a 46 seat majority.

Here’s a summary of how the last 5 elections would have come out, again slightly exaggerating the majorities:

Year Winning Party Poll result % Margin of victory % ‘Ideal’ % of seats ‘Ideal’ total seats* ‘Ideal’ majority* FPTP majority ‘Ideal’ LibDem Seats^ FPTP LibDem seats
1992 Tories 41.6 7.2 54.56 353 54 21 90 20
1997 Labour 43.2 12.5 56.49 365 78 179 83 46
2001 Labour 40.7 9.0 55.07 356 60 165 90 52
2005 Labour 35.3 3.0 52.53 339 26 66 105 62
2010 Tories 36.1 7.1 53.98 349 46 -20 107 57

* based on 647 seats

^ projected as STV isn’t 100% proportional. Taken mostly from winning party but some from 2nd place party

How are the bonus seats determined?

The seats are awarded to “best near-winners” ie those candidates for the winning party who lost by the smallest amounts. At this point, there are 2 options:

1. The seats are ‘taken away’ from those who would otherwise have won under STV.

2. The seats are granted in addition to those who won.

The second is arguably fairer but the first is more practical.

The only disadvantages of this system are that there is a small bias against independents (less than FPTP/AV/AV+ though) and boundaries would need to be redrawn. On the latter point, there is one last advantage of using this system – it dramatically diminishes the effect of unfair boundaries and hence would provide another huge advantage in the near term.

Opportunities to change the electoral system come along once in a lifetime and have a huge impact on the future of the country. We have the worst electoral system and AV would be the second worst. Whilst I think STV has major benefits over all the other systems, IM-STV addresses the main problem with STV and is clearly better than the others.

March 31, 2006

Will democracy destroy the planet?

Posted in Democratising Britain at 2:10 am by David Gould

Focus groups have become a fundamental tool of politicians ever since Bill Clinton defeated George Bush. The same tactics were used by John Major in his 1992 victory and Tony Blair until at least 2001.

Focus groups were originally solely a tool of marketeers. Edward Bernays, Freud’s nephew, invented them to find out how to satisfy mostly-unconscious fears and desires (MUFD) with products.

Politicians found the best way to get elected was to satisfy MUFD of swing voters with spin.

Here’s the problem – our MUFD are often our least enlightened attributes eg greed, self-importance, fear of immigrants etc. If Government policies exclusively pander to MUFD, the country goes downhill extremely quickly.

One slight reprieve is that swing voters’ MUFD vary. Blair found that New Labour got blamed for the problems with the railways, even though they didn’t feature in the same voters’ MUFD a year earlier.

Can spin fill the gap between sensible policy and catering for our MUFD?

Let’s recap

Governments in democracies are (re-)elected for anticipating and satisfying voters’ MUFD either with spin or actual policies.

Now, when will voters’ MUFD start reflecting the urgent need to cut CO2 emissions? Probably only when the media makes them feel guilty about it. Why would the media want to do that? The BBC might, as it doesn’t have to worry so much about losing sales. The Independent too, as it occupies a niche for people who feel they ought to know about such things.

But the rest don’t.

Therefore, democracies tend to elect governments who, while paying lipservice, avoid making voters pay for protecting the environment until it’s too late.

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February 21, 2006

The Smoking Ban was a free vote…

Posted in Democratising Britain at 4:25 pm by David Gould

Was I the only one who found the endless statements like this all week very odd indeed?

How can we have a representative democracy unless MPs are free to best represent their constituents?

Having found our that Bob Marshall-Andrews was being threatened with deselection for encouraging MPs to represent their constituents I sent him a supportive email:

Thank you for standing up to the increasingly authoritarian executive.
If they try to deselect you, it will bring them down even faster.
Keep asking the awkward questions. 😉

He actually replied to me personally:

Thank you very much for your kind email. Your support is greatly
Regards, Bob

I found this quite touching and perhaps an indication that those who do stand up for democracy are having a tough time.

It has also come to my attention that our legislative process (which failed to recognise that the Civil Contingencies Bill is in fact a Hitlerian unlimited legal power Bill) is having scrutiny removed completely thanks to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.
This is nothing less than a another major step towards dictatorship.

I wrote to my MP. It will take you 5 mins.

June 30, 2005

Fixing our democracy

Posted in Democratising Britain at 6:44 pm by David Gould

Let’s first agree how our political system falls short of democracy:

1 Our FPTP system leaves us with a choice between the Opposition Leader and the PM whose 2 inner circle make all the decisions except the few which need to be approved by Parliament when 3 90% of MPs vote along party lines rather than for their constituents and 4 The makeup of the Commons isn’t proportional to the electorate’s voting nevermind 5 the electorate’s wishes.

Most commentators agree this is closer to an elected dictatorship than a democracy.

I’ve mentioned previously that the AV+ & STV electoral systems can fix 4, 5 and to some degree, 1.

3 is the trickiest to fix. Secret ballots would be infinitely better than what we have now but I think that ultimately the public should be able to find out how their MPs voted. I would approve secret ballots to be revealed when the election is announced after which the new MPs should vote on whether to return to open ballots.

That leaves 1 & 2 for which I also have a solution: get MPs to elect the Prime Minister and inner circle after the election. In the absence of the Blair & Howard show, elections would become much more focussed on issues and local candidates. The PM & inner circle would be elected on merit rather than loyalty to a party or leader. This system could prevent deals being made.

In other words, we get a choice (and with STV a wide choice) of candidates who WE trust to a) represent us locally as well as b) elect the leaders.

March 28, 2005

Tactical Voting and Electoral Reform

Posted in Democratising Britain at 11:10 pm by David Gould

In case it isn’t obvious, we no longer live in a democracy.

However, we get one chance every 5 years to make the government listen.

If, like most of the country, we think Blair should go, we must vote tactically. If we believe in democracy, ironically we must still vote tactically. More importantly, we must persuade as many people as possible to vote tactically.

Labour’s claim that tactical voting will let the Tories back in is yet another lie. As electoral analysis shows, for the Tories to have any power whatsoever, they would have to poll 10.3% higher than Labour, requiring a further swing of ~16% ie. nothing to worry about.

What we are looking for is a Tory vote 1-9% higher than Labour. This will force Labour to form a coalition with the LibDems in return for electoral reform.

Here are two websites that make it easy for you to vote tactically:

The first simply tells you the most likely non-Labour candidate to win in your constituency. The second gives you much more detail, reflecting current polls but is definitively anti-war.

Under our current electoral system, your vote only counts if your candidate wins. Therefore, it is pointless voting unless you vote for a candidate who can win.

New Labour lied yet again when they promised a referendum on proportional representation in 1997. They did set up a commission which recommended the AV+ electoral system similar to that used in Scotland, Wales and Australia.