Which electoral system is best for the UK?

Written by Anonymous on 29 October 2010 in Opinion
As Parliament prepares to vote on a referendum for a new system of voting, five MPs put the case for various electoral options

Labour MP Diane Abbott says AV

The AV vote is a Labour Party manifesto commitment, and despite popular belief I make it a point to vote in line with my party's manifesto.

Alternative voting may not be the ultimate solution but it will certainly be fairer than the system we currently use. It is more proportional and so takes into account wider views. Among its many advantages is reducing the need for tactical voting. People can vote for the candidate they truly want torepresent them as their first preference without feeling as if they're wasting their vote. It will also help to reflect the public's true opinion of fascist parties. Groups like the BNP are very unlikely to get second or even third preferences.

It is obvious that the current voting system is unpopular with many people. The government must never ignore the views of people, particularly when it comesto how they are represented.This is one of the reasons the decision should be taken to a referendum, giving everyone the chance to have their say.

I am however appalled at the Lib-Con coalition's attempts to use voting reform to bring about boundary changes. These changes are clearly designed to ensure they gain more seats in further elections.

Tainting the reforms with attempts to maintain power is highly inappropriate and may mean that people will not vote for AV reform despite believing this is the best system, in effect defeating the point of the entire reform.


Conservative MP Robin Walker says FPTP

I strongly support keeping first-past-the-post (FPTP). First, any other voting system risks giving a leg-up to extremist parties like the BNP.

Secondly, FPTP's greatest strength is its simplicity. It is simple to understand, to carry out and to judge. Whoever gets the most votes wins - full stop. Far more often than not, this produces decisive results that permit the formation of decisive governments.

I am not saying that coalitions between parties never work. The coalition between my party and the Liberal Democrats has worked better than anyone could have expected and delivered the decisive and strong government that this country needs. Nevertheless, an alternative vote or proportional representation system would make coalitions much more common. The downside of this is that the government is decided by politicians behind closed doors, not by voters in polling booths.

Thirdly, the strange thing about AV is that it creates two classes of voter. For example, BNP or UKIP voters would get to vote more than once because their second choice would be most likely to be taken into account first.

Giving extra power to the people that finish last seems a peculiar way to run any election. No wonder Nick Clegg once described AV as "a miserable little compromise that nobody wants".

Fourthly and most importantly for me, FPTP, unlike any system of PR, maintains the constituency link, which reinforces accountability and maintains a strong personal link between voters and their elected representatives. Ifear that any move away from FPTP to more proportional voting systems could break that vital connection.

Voting reform is not something that came up on the doorstep during the election campaign and there are many more urgent issues that people want resolved. It might be an obsession for politicians whose careers it directly affects, but what most people want is effective, responsive government - something we can deliver well under the current system.


SNP MP Angus MacNeil says STV

11 May 2010 saw Scotland plunged back into the 1980s. Installed in Downing Street was a Tory prime minister who was backed by less than 17 per cent of Scottish voters. To add insult to injury, he talked a good game but has so far failed to deliver anything but cuts for Scotland.

Indeed, much of the UK government's time seems to have been taken up planning a referendum on an electoral system no one really wants.

AV is preferable to FPTP - the all-or-nothing system that delivers illegitimate governments such as the one currently inflicted on people in Scotland. However, AV is flawed in many ways. If the UK government is serious about real electoral reform to return a Parliament representative of voters' wishes, they would opt for the single transferable vote (STV) system.

The foremost advantage of STV is that it most accurately reflects the intentions of the voting public, creating a stronger link between the member and their constituents.

Introducing a system of STV would enhance competition between parties, making no seat "unwinnable". Seats would be won by convincing voters across the constituency, not just targeting action at a few swing voters.

Introducing STV would reduce the regular upheaval caused by the boundaries being withdrawn. And because STV would let voters list as many candidates as they wished in order of choice, they never need to waste their votes or vote tactically.

STV is nothing new. It's the system of voting currently used to elect members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and select committee chairs at Westminster.

The arguments in favour of STV are many. If we are going to have a referendum on voting reform - bearing in mind other questions, such as Scottish independence, are far more pressing - then let's have one on a more credible system.


UKIP MEP David Campbell Bannerman says AV+

Just one per cent of the electorate - less than half a million voters in marginal swing seats - determined the outcome of the last general election. Most party resources were targeted on these few key voters, leaving many MPs and constituencies as mere spectators.

Under FPTP, 1.9 million voters remained totally unrepresented, and one-third of voters overall remain under-represented. So will the new voting reform bill solve this growing democratic deficit? The bill is currently missing a better option: AV+ as recommended by the Jenkins Commission.

AV+ is a common sense solution. Electors would have two votes: a constituency MP vote, and a party list vote, which might be different.

AV+ would benefit all parties. Conservatives would obtain the boundary changes they made in the coalition agreement, while AV+ is consistent with that agreement as it is still AV. The Tories would obtain top-up MPs reflecting votes in weaker areas. Labour would be spared gerrymandering of existing constituencies and would gain topup seats in Southern England. The Liberal Democrats would benefit from moves towards proportionality and a system similar to those in Wales and Scotland.

Smaller parties such as the Greens would gain fairer representation. My own party, UKIP, obtained more votes than all the Northern Ireland parties, but none of their 18 seats.

The elector would benefit from greater choice, fairness and representation - a Labour voter in darkest Surrey as much as an embattled Glasgow Tory. Every vote would count, tactical voting would be made unnecessary and every constituency MP would have a majority of their constituent votes.


Lib Dem MP Mike Hancock says PR

There is only one test that matters for a voting system in a democracy: does it lead to a Parliament that accurately reflects the votes of the electorate? The current FPTP system woefully fails that test.

It turns our elections into lotteries that depend on a few thousand swing voters in marginals. In 1992 around 2,000 people would have had to vote differently for John Major to have lost his overall majority. This year, a few thousand more votes in marginals would have given Cameron an overall majority. In 2005, 35 per cent of the vote got Labour 55 per cent of the seats, while only three per cent less in the vote for the Tories got them just 30 per cent.

Of course, there are many objections to PR - mainly by MPs and their supporters who fear that, having been elected under one system, another will see them lose their jobs. And not surprisingly getting turkeys to vote for Christmas has never been easy!

They say people don't understand PR, but that's a little patronising. People are now voting in PR elections for the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, Scottish local councils and the Greater London Assembly. Only the mother of parliaments is getting left behind. They say that FPTP leads to clear one-party government in contrast to PR. Well, history tells a different story.

STV with multi-member constituencies made up of five current seats would keep the constituency link and allow electors to choose within parties. While FPTP encourages politicians to focus on a few voters in a few marginal constituencies, with PR their focus must broaden to everyone.

MPs may fear being gobbled up, but that will happen anyway if we don't make sure everyone has a real say and a vote that counts.

Tags: Angus MacNeil, AV voting, David Campbell Bannerman, Debate, Diane Abbott, Electoral Reform, Electoral Reform in Britain, FPTP, Issue 29, Mike Hancock, Robin Walker

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