Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘STV’

Make Votes Matter

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 30th June, 2018

Make Votes MatterBritain’s democracy is at a crisis point, with the Prime Minister shackled by the need to appease about 60 hardline Brexiteers in her parliamentary party as well as the whims of the 10 right-wing DUP members from Northern Ireland, whose support she bought with a bung of a billion pounds. Meanwhile, the Opposition Labour Party, which should be on the crest of a wave given the government’s incompetence and distress, is actually behind in the opinion polls, thanks to Jeremy Corbyn’s endorsement of Hard Brexit and fears among the middle ground of UK voters that the party wants to turn Britain into a kind of socialist utopia. The voices of the Liberal Democrats and Greens, meanwhile, are muted by the fact that their parliamentary representation is disproportionately small — just one MP in the Greens’ case. This is a direct result of the country’s antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system, which means that many electors vote not for the party whose policies they agree with, but for the lesser of two evils — or who don’t bother voting at all, “because my vote won’t make any difference”. Some people might argue that the current system obliges both the Conservatives and Labour to be “broad churches”, to be able to have a chance of forming a working majority, but the Brexit situation has underlined the fact that there are deep splits within both parties, making it difficult for either of them to hold a coherent line. For these and other reasons, pressure is building for a reform of the electoral system to some form of proportional representation — which already exists in Scotland and Northern Ireland and was used in the European elections nationwide. The Single Transferable Vote (STV) system used in Ireland is probably the most effective in producing results that largely reflect the electorate’s wishes, and which give the voter the opportunity to differentiate between their feelings about different candidates or parties. So today, when  there is a national day of action in favour of fairer votes — proportional representation — don’t be surprised to see or hear a lot about STV. No electoral system is perfect, but STV gives more power to the voter, and would avoid the most grotesque distortion as of the current system, in which sometimes a party can win fewer votes but more seats.

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Why Britain Needs PR

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th December, 2015

imageBritish MPs will today have the chance of voting for a change in the country’s electoral system, from First Past the Post (where the candidate with the most votes in a given constituency wins the seat, irrespective of the percentage he or she gets) to a more proportional system. This debate has come about because the outcome of May’s general election was the most disproportionate ever. The Conservatives obtained an overall majority despite not having a majority of the votes, which is usually the case, but worse still, the SNP was grossly over-represented (winning all but three seats in Scotland) while the LibDems were reduced to a rump of eight seats. UKIP fared worst of all, winning just one seat despite having the third highest vote share. The Greens similarly managed just one. So all those latter parties are naturally keen to see a fairer system.

interestingly, it is the Labour Patty, or at least some key figures in it, such as Chuka Umunna, who have been pushing for a debate on the issue now. That is because they realise that Britain might be saddled with a Conservative government for a very long time otherwise. Of course there are some Labour MPs and activists who have always been in favour of proportional representation (PR), but no Labour government has ever done anything about it when in office, having benefitted from the current system. There was a referendum early in the last parliament about whether to adopt the Australian system of the Alternative Vote (a very inferior alternative, in the eyes of most supporters of PR), which would have made things slightly better had it passed. But Labour failed to campaign strongly alongside the LibDems in favour, while the Tories firmly opposed. The Conservatives will also oppose the motion on moving to PR, arguing that First Past the Post gives us strong government, but that “strong government” is one that does not have the support of a majority of the electorate. Better to move to PR and enjoy a system that works well in many continental countries, where coalition governments reach consensus on issues and the pendulum swing from left to right and back again, as has so often happened in Britain, is far less marked. Under PR, the Labour Party could also divide into a Socialist Party and a Social Democrat Party, which would avoid the self-defeating internal battles we are seeing now. So, all in all, Britain’s democracy would be served better by PR — ideally the Single Transferable Vite system in place in The Republic of Ireland. But the current government will surely disagree.

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Sue Garden on Constitutional Reform

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 21st August, 2012

The mainstream media in Britain like to poke fun at the Liberal Democrats, saying they are obsessive about constitutional reform. This is meant to be an insult, but should be regarded as a compliment; the other two main parties are happy to live with the corrupt old system we have at present in England as well as in the UK Parliament, because each of them will normally come out a winner every few years almost by Buggins’ turn. The Liberal Democrats — and Liberals before them — have indeed been dogged in trying to drag our political system into the 20th, let alone the 21st, century; for over 100 years they have been trying to reform the House of Lords. Tory backwoodsmen killed that off recently (though Labour didn’t exactly rally round strongly to say they would work hard to get it through in a tripartite agreement between LibDems, Labour and progressive Tories). And of course the AV referendum was a catastrophe. Nonetheless, it is a tribute to the LibDems’ genuine attachment to the issue that the Camden local party was able to attract an impressive turnout on a balmy summer’s evening like this evening for a discussion on constitutional reform led by their local life peer, Baroness (Sue) Garden of Frognal. Sue is now a government whip, but nonetheless recognises that the current situation with the Lords is a total anomaly. Alas, it is unlikely that any significant change in that Chamber will come for some considerable time. However, I, along with some others, stressed how the LibDems really ought to be pressing for fairer votes at the local level — something already enjoyed by the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland, notably. It is grotesque that we have such a warped first-the-post voting system that we can end up with local authorities that are one party states, like North Korea. There are two in East London where I live: Newham and Barking & Dagenham; both 100% Labour. No wonder few people in those boroughs bother to vote. This is something the Party should consider pressing as part of its next election manifesto. And unlike AV for Westminster, which was a real dogs’ dinner anyway, STV for local elections is something everyone can understand. And it would mean that everyone should get at least one local representative who is not beholden to the ruling group’s line.

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Bob Worcester on the Royal Wedding and Yes2AV

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 28th April, 2011

Over the past four decades Sir Robert Worcester has established himself as the doyen of opinion pollsters in the United Kingdom. Though Kansas-born he took on British citizenship and lives happily in Kent, of whose University he is Chancellor. This lunchtime he was the guest speaker at the Kettner’s Lunch at the National Liberal Club, regaling us with the latest poll findings around the royal wedding. Only just over half of the UK population said they were very interested or fairly interested in the subject, yet fewer than 20 percent would like to see an end to the monarchy. Of much more concern to the NLC audience, however, was Bob’s take on the AV referendum. He strongly criticised the weak literature put out by the Yes campaign and said that current polls point to a victory for the No2AV. However, there is still a week to go and much may depend on the turnout in areas such as London and Scotland, where there seems to be more support for Yes2AV. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, he believes that there will be an almighty battle ahead when the government tries to reform the House of Lords, not only introducing STV as an election method but also slashing the total number of peers to around 300, who would be eligible for a single 15-year-term only. In the meantime, Bob has another book coming out shortly, co-authored with Roger Mortimore, Paul Baines and Mark Gill called Explaining Cameron’s Coalition — an analysis of the May 2010 general election and how the Lib-Con Coalition came about. The volume will be published by Biteback on 11 May — the first anniversary of the Coalition’s formation.

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Stephen Gilbert Speaks Out on Yes2AV

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th March, 2011

With only six weeks to go to the Alternative Vote referendum in the United Kingdom, MPs who are in favour of the switch to a fairer voting system are beginning to speak out loud. Last night, Stephen Gilbert, LibDem MP for St Austell and Newquay, was guest of honour at a social event put on by Holborn & St Pancras Liberal Democrats in London and urged everyone present to seize this opportunity for change. Were the vote to go the wrong way, it is unlikely there would be another chance for electoral reform for a generation, he claimed. Steve is right that the LibDems must not leave the campaigning only to non-party-political groups, although cooperation with them is of course very important. Although Ed Miliband and some other leading Labour figures (including London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone) have come out in favour of AV, 200 Labour MPs are said to be opposed. So is most of the Conservative Party, the BNP (!) and some absurd purists such as Crossbench peers David Alton and David Owen who argue that people should vote No on 5 May because AV is not STV (the single transferable vote). Of course most LibDem campaigners for electoral reform would prefer STV, but the Conservatives made clear that was not an option when the Coalition Agreement was negotiated. So we have to work hard for the second best, AV. There has been a fear among some senior figures in the party that parts of the electorate would be turned off if the LibDems are seen to be too prominent in the Yes2AV campaign. But there is an even greater danger: that we could lose the referendum if they are not.

Link: http://www.yes2av.org.uk

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Katie Ghose to Spearhead Electoral Reform

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 30th August, 2010

As both sides on the British electoral reform debate gear up for eight months of intense campaigning for and against adopting the Australian-style Alternative Vote (AV) system for British general elections, one of the key figures on the Yes side is now in place: the new Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, Katie Ghose. Katie is a barrister and an experenced NGO campaigner, having for the past five years been Director of the British Institute for Human Rights. She also worked previously for Age Concern and Citizens Advice as well as helping carry out the biggest ever independent review of Britain’s asylum system. Katie got the Electoral Reform Society job despite fierce competition, including from at least one former MP.

‘I’m joining the Society at an exciting time,’ Katie says. ‘The coming referendum will be the first time the British public have had the opportunity to decide how they elect the politicians who speak in their name. The year ahead will see a real national debate on the system that defines our politics. I look forward to working with the Society’s members, supporters, staff, trustees and all members of the Yes campaign to deliver an historic victory for political reform and for British voters.’

Britain currently uses a ‘first past the post’ system to elect Members of the House of Commons, which has tended to favour the larger parties unduly and occasionally to give outright victory to a party that received fewer votes than its main rival. At the May 2010 general election, no party secured a majority, which resulted in the UK’s first peacetime coalition, between the Conservatives and the smaller Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats are firm supporters of electoral reform, ideally favouring the proportional system of the Single Transferable Vote (STV), as indeed does the Electoral Reform Society. Moreover, it is proposed that the House of Lords (the upper chamber, currently filled by appointed and some hereditary peers) might in future be elected by STV. Nonetheless, the LibDems and the ERS and other interested groups such as Unlock Democracy have all agreed to back the preferential AV system in the referendum. which is currently scheduled for next May. The (LibDem) Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is expected to play a prominent role in promoting it, though the Yes campaign will be both all-party and non-party.

Link: www.electoral-reform.org.uk www.unlockdemocracy.org.uk

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Electoral Reform Society Conference

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 28th June, 2010

The political highlight of my weekend was down in the basement of the Mother’s Union in Westminster, alas hidden from the glorious summer weather, attending the annual conference of the Electoral Reform Society (ERS). The dedicated and indefatigable outgoing Chief Executive Ken Ritchie — who has given 13 years of sterling service to the organisation, though he will now probably be replaced by a more charismatic media performer — gave an excellent account of what ERS has been up to over the past 12 months, including some jolly japes on the Thames outside the Houses of Parliament, highlighting some of the many shortcomings of the UK political system. There was then a panel discussion on electoral reform — specifically referring to the referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV), which is expected in 2011. This panel brought together former Home Secretary Alan Johnson (the man I think ought to have been running for Labour leader at this time), the LibDems’ Deputy Leader Simon Hughes,  the London Green MEP Jean Lambert and a charming young man, Ryan Shorthouse (who really ought to be a LibDem) from the progressive Tory thinktank Bright Blue. No sign of Energy Secretary Chris Huhne (who had been earlier billed) or his new partner and ERS staff member Carina Trimingham. The central message from the panel was that however imperfect many of us may feel AV to be (in contrast to a more proportional system, such as STV), we have to campaign for it enthusiastically in the forthcoming referendum, otherwise the momentum for electoral reform will be lost for another generation.

Link: www.electoral-reform.org.uk

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Tweet If You Want STV!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 20th February, 2010

This morning I was the guest speaker at the AGM of DAGGER, the pressure group within the Liberal Democrats that campaigns for electoral reform, and specifically for the the adoption of the single transferable vote (STV) in multi-member constituencies. It’s interesting how what used to be considered a fringe issue of interest only to a few hardy souls like the late Enid Lakeman has now become maintream in the British political debate. And quite right too. The political system in Britain is ‘broken’ and electoral reform is an essential part of the repair kit. Alas, Gordon Brown has decided that any change should be to the far less proportional Alternative Vote (AV) system in single member constituencies, which is not even as much of a change as the Jenkins Commission recommended back in 1998. However, as I said in my presentation this morning, reformers should take advantage of the debate in the run-up to the proposed referendum to promote the other options, notably STV. But much of my speech concentrated on urging electoral reformers both within the LibDems and beyond to go viral — in other words, to get out there on Twitter and Facebook, and to post comments on political blogs. That is also an excellent way of getting more younger people involved in the campaign.

Link: http://www.flocktogether.org.uk/dagger

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Voting for Change?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th February, 2010

The British House of Commons will be voting later today on whether to hold a referendum on changing the country’s first-past-the-post system of electing Westminster MPs with the Alternative Vote (AV), which would give voters a slightly greater say in choosing their representative as they could order the preferences — 1, 2 etc. For most supporters of proportional representation — which includes a majority of Liberal Democrats — AV falls far short of the ideal. The Single Transferable Vote (used in Nothern Ireland, amongst other places) gives a much fairer outcome. Moreover, the AV system being suggested falls short even of AV-Plus (which involves a top-up list to ensure a more proportional outcome) which was recommended by the late Roy Jenkins and his Commission way back in 1998. That Commission was largely a result of Labour’s 1997 Manifesto commitment to consider introducing PR, but of course fairer vtoes then disappeared off the government’s agenda and have only been resuscitated by Gordon Brown in the twilight of the Labour administration in the hope that this might somehow assuage public anger at the MPs’ expenses scandal. Some bloggers argue that AV would be even worse than first-past-the-post, but I hope the vote in the House today does approve a referendum, as this will then open up the whole issue of electoral reform. Those of us who want STV will then have an opportunity to make our case on a matter previously dismissed by the mainstream British media as ‘marginal’. Indeed, I’ll be taking part in a workshop at the Friends Meeting House in London next week aimed at taking the debate further.

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Lord Lipsey on Electoral Reform

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 15th October, 2009

Lord LipseyThe Labour peer and former political editor of The Economist, David Lipsey, spoke on electoral reform at the Kettner lunch at the National Liberal Club today. As one might expect, he was largely preaching to the converted. As he was a member of the Jenkins Commission on electoral reform — whose findings have, alas, largely been  ignored by the Labour governments ever since — he was able to blend authority with anecdote. I loved his story about one  meeting of the Commission, at which Roy ordered a bottle of claret for the members, and then a second one just for himself. Despite this, he gave a lucid and brilliant summary of what had been said, ordred a gin and tonic when he got on the train back to London, then promptly fell fast asleep. It’s more than a pity that Lord Jenkins is not still around to weigh into the discussion now, at a time when most of the Brtish public seems to think that politics is broken and that bringing in electoral reform is maybe one part of the solution to mend it. Unfortunately, despite the good efforts of people such as Lord Lipsey, the Labour government has only agreed to put the offer of a referendum on electoral reform in its manifesto for the next general election, which it is most unlikely to win.

I have always been uncomfortable with the Jenkins Commission’s recommendation for the adoption of the AV+ system of voting in general elections for the House of Commons, rather than the more proportional STV (with which the electors of Ireland cope well). But David Lipsey is no fan of STV himself, mainly, he says, because it weakens the link between voter and parliamentarian. Anyway, it looks as if  any future change would be to AV+ (in which voters list candidates in a single-member constituency in order of preference, then the bottom ones successively drop out and have their first preferences redistributed, until one candidate achieves more than 50% and is declared elected. The ‘+’ bit would be a top-up list to ensure that parties come out of the whole elction with an overall share of representation more or less proportional to their total vote). But maybe this discussion still remains academic. As David Lipsey said, the likehood of it happening anytime soon is very slim.

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