Another British push for voting reform

Another British push for voting reform

October 26, 2016 4:25pmET

In Canada, the special parliamentary committee on electoral reform is preparing to write its report.

In Great Britain, voters rejected the Alternative Vote system of ranked ballots in a 2011 referendum. But efforts at changing the U.K.’s First Past the Post system continue, both inside and outside the House of Commons.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who represents a south London constituency at the Westminster Parliament, yesterday introduced a motion on proportional representation:

That this House welcomes the various collaborative campaigns to make votes matter by introducing a fair voting system;

notes that petitions started since the 2015 general election calling for a fair voting system have gained over 500,000 signatures, and that recent polling suggests a significant majority of the public support moving to a more proportional system of electing hon. Members;

further notes that the alternative vote system is not proportional and that the 2011 referendum gave no verdict on proportional representation;

agrees that the current system of electing hon. Members is no longer fit for purpose;

believes that the UK’s voting system should ensure that those who are entitled to vote have a vote that counts, and counts equally, no matter who they vote for or where they live;

further believes that the share of seats a party gets should closely reflect the share of votes that people give them;

and calls on the Government to bring forward legislation to introduce a system of proportional representation for elections to the House.

MPs from several parties (but not the governing Conservatives) have signed on in support: Green, Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, SNP, and UKIP.

Meanwhile, an electronic petition on PR has earned over 24,000 signatures as of Oct. 26. One hundred thousand votes are required for debate in Parliament:

The vast majority wants PR. Our FPTP voting system makes Parliament unrepresentative. One party got 37% of the vote and 51% of seats, while 3 parties got 24% of the vote but share 1.5% of seats. FPTP violates the democratic principle of majority rule and causes problems like costly policy reversals.

The UK has never had a say on PR. As David Cameron himself said, the AV Referendum was on a system that is often less proportional than FPTP, so the rejection of AV could not possibly be a rejection of PR. In fact, so few voters wanted either system on offer that the turnout was just 42%.

There are tried and tested PR systems that keep the constituency link. They would make every vote matter equally, rather than allowing a minority of swing voters in a few marginal seats to pick the government.

The British government has already provided a written response:

First Past The Post (FPTP) is a robust method of electing MPs. A referendum on changing the voting system was held in 2011 and the public voted overwhelmingly in favour of keeping the FPTP system.

The Government’s manifesto made a commitment to respect the will of the British people as expressed in the 2011 UK Parliamentary elections voting system referendum and keep the First Past the Post system for elections to the House of Commons. The Government, therefore, has no plans to change the voting system for elections to the House of Commons.

The Government is concerned that proportional voting systems would weaken the direct constituency link which is a key feature of our Parliamentary system, and under a proportional system the voting process is more complicated for the voter.

The Government’s view is that the First Past the Post voting system is the best system for elections to the House of Commons. The system is well established and understood by voters and provides a clear link between constituents and their representatives in Parliament. More often than not, it results in a government with a working majority in Parliament making decisive government possible.

At the voting system referendum in May 2011, electors were asked whether the Alternative Vote system (AV) should be used instead of the First Past the Post system for electing members of the House of Commons. The referendum produced a clear result with over 13 million voters rejecting the option for change to move away from the First Past the Post system, compared to over 6 million voters who voted for change.

The Scottish Parliament and Welsh National Assembly use mixed-member proportional (MMP) voting systems.

Scottish election officials briefed the Special Committee on Electoral Reform in August:

For national elections in the U.K., a 1998 report by the Independent Commission on the Voting System recommended a referendum on limited proportional representation.

In fact, the British Parliament considered the question of proportional representation as far back as 1884. Legislative attempts to introduce the single transferable vote (STV) failed in 1917, 1921, 1924, and 1931.

The U.K.’s Electoral Reform Society has also testified at the special committee:

-Andrew Thomson