We have a parliament with two “houses”, the House of Commons, and the House of Lords. The purposes of these two are slightly different. Generally, the House of Commons, made of nationally elected MPs, proposes laws, and then the House of Lords accepts, amends or blocks these laws. The two houses act as a check and balance on each other.
For election in the House of Commons, we currently have a system of First Past The Post (FPTP), which means there are a load of constituencies (650ish), and each one gets a clear winner, and the parliament is made up of these winners. Our House of Lords is currently selected by the Prime Minister, and approved by the Queen, with a little help from the parties, with a few bishops thrown in for good measure.
What’s wrong with it?
Firstly, the House of Commons has one big issue: FPTP. It is representative locally – you vote for your local MP – but you get no say nationally. I’ve drawn a graph below, that shows the number of seats each party won last election, contrasted with national percentage of the vote.
Clearly, this is lacking representativeness somewhere, since the Lib Dems got 23% of the vote, but less than 9% of the seats. So we probably need reform here.
Secondly, the House of Lords is undemocratic because none of us vote for it. Labour and Lib Dem both think we need elected Lords. Conservatives quite like the current system, because even those Lords elected by the other parties and Bishops and the like tend to be pretty conservative.
Since these figures are even more unbalanced, it could be argued that we probably need reform here too.
So I think its clear that electoral reform could be a good idea. No one knows what’s best, there’s never going to be a consensus, but after a lot of debates with people about this (thanks Nick and Raj), and reading a lot of articles about it, I’ve made up my own mind.
The Lib Dems originally proposed using proportional representation. This means that, to an extent, a party that got 30% of the vote would get 30% of the seats (It’s not quite that simple, but its close enough for now). However, I have two concerns about PR:
Firstly, its not representative locally. Full PR would be that your vote counts nationally, but not locally. So the Tories get 40% of the vote, they go through and choose 40% of the MPs, from all their candidates. The problem with this is that if the voters that know a candidate best choose not to vote for him, his party may still choose to elect him.
The same applies with another type of PR: “Party list“, where your vote counts locally, but still not specifically. Here, a larger area is combined: so where there are currently 5 constiuencies, make it one big one, with one vote to cover all 5 MPs. The parties are listed, you vote for them, and again, if the Tories get 40% of the vote, they choose 2 of the 5 MPs on their own.
Another take on this is “Multi Member” (what the LDs apparently propose, although they are wonderfully vague about it), where you vote for individuals, rather than parties. The concern is that it can still lead to voting on party lines, along larger constituencies with voters having less knowledge of individual candidates. Again meaning that the voters who know local candidates best would not have control.
Secondly, it is more likely to lead to a hung parliamentesque parties-making-deals situation. I’m not saying that’s definitely bad, but its also not necessarily good. In Ireland, for example, this has led to repeated weaker governments, of odd coalitions between parties that don’t agree on much. In Israel where they use PR, the average government only lasts 22 months. In Italy they’ve had about 60 different governments since 1945. Maybe this is a problem with countries that begin with “I”, or maybe its an issue with PR.
If we look at the best performing countries internationally, according to GDP, we are number 6 worldwide. And of the 5 countries above us: US, China, Japan, Germany and France; *none* uses a full PR system. Only Japan and Germany do a bit, with Japan using PR for 37.5% of seats, FPTP for the rest, and Germany using Mixed Member, which is a cross between PR and FPTP. In other words, of all these countries with strong economies, FPTP is the dominant system. What, would it appear, is the best option for us to take post recession?
There are many plus sides to proportionality: but I feel we should benefit from them in the House of Lords, not the House of Commons.
I propose a single member STV system, with resized constituencies exactly the same size (also known as the Alternative Vote). What this means:
Local representation. Local people have a local say with a local MP. As mentioned above, PR would decrease this, and I feel it is pretty important – surely the best judge of a someone’s ability to represent the people are those who know them, rather than a selection based on what party they belong to?
Equal sizes. Ultimately, its fairer, because every MP is selected by exactly the same population size. There would be some exceptions to the resizing – the Isle of Wight would probably remain as one, rather than being 1.5 constituencies – but basically it would be fairer. This is what the government is proposing, albeit with reducing the number of MPs.
Your vote has more value. With single transferable vote, you put the candidates in order of how much you want them. So, if Spiderman, Hitler, James Bond and Chairman Mao were the candidates, you could vote:
- James Bond 1
- Spiderman 2
- Chairman Mao 0
- Hitler 0
This would mean that James Bond would get your vote. If he got knocked out, Spiderman gets it. If he gets knocked out, neither Hitler nor Chairman Mao get any help from you.
It is claimed that part of the purpose of the House of Lords is to provide a “moral compass”; one of the reasons that there are 26 bishops as Lords. I think this is a difficult issue; a) how do we define UK morality, and b) is the House of Lords the correct place to impose it?
I am a practising Christian, and passionate about morality; but I don’t feel that bishops speak for me. I certainly don’t feel that the Church of England is a good example of “church”, let alone a righteous foundation to comment on the morals of a nation. More importantly, in a democratic system, should they be representing Muslims, Atheists and Jedis?
I feel that the best way to see good morals in government and law is to elect moral citizens to represent you. In other words; I have a higher chance of having a relationship with my local MP than any other MP or Lord. I therefore am more likely to be assured of his moral, ethical and professional conduct. He, is therefore, my choice for a “moral compass”.
Therefore, let’s have Lords elected by the exact proportion of the vote. Each party is given their percentage of votes at the national elections to propose Lords, with Lords elected for the length of the parliament; although many would presumeably continue through consecutive periods, if their party wished.
There we go. All on my own, I have perfectly solved the UK political reform dilemna: legislation being chosen by your locally elected parliament, and the nationwide passing of those decisions being done by a completely proportionally represented senate.
Except its never as easy as that, so tell me what you think in the poll, and leave an argumentative (or affirmative) comment below…
How to change the system?
What should we do to MPs
- Alternative Vote - more local choice of MP, less proportional. (Also known as Single Transferable Vote) (34%, 12 Votes)
- Multi member STV - less local choice of MP, more proportional. (29%, 10 Votes)
- Shoot them all, and let the Queen run it! (17%, 6 Votes)
- First Past The Post - Stay as it is. (14%, 5 Votes)
- Full PR - no local choice at all, totally proportional. (6%, 2 Votes)
Total Voters: 35
What should we do to Lords?
- Link it to percent of Vote: Lib Dems have 20% of votes, get 20% of Lords. (fully proportional) (68%, 17 Votes)
- Stay as it is. (12%, 3 Votes)
- Keep it chosen by the PM and Queen, but ditch the bishops. (tiny bit proportional) (12%, 3 Votes)
- Ditch the Lords, and let Simon Cowell choose. (8%, 2 Votes)
- Link it to number of MPs: Lib Dems have 20% of MPs, get 20% of Lords. (a bit proportional) (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 25