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Voting Reform, understanding the Options

Anyone who is seriously thinking about which system Make Votes Matter should promote would do well to download and read House of Commons Library briefing ‘Voting Systems in the UK’, no. 04458, 1st April 2016. It is only a starting point but is the useful summary.

If you can get hold of  a copy and if you have the time, it is well worth reading ‘The Report of the Independent Commission on the Voting System’, October 1998, cmd 4090-I. True it is a bit dated and I do not accept its conclusions, but there is useful analysis of the options then available.

Mr Cameron;s mistake – or the fault of a dysfunctional political system?

Text of letter to Dorset Echo Sunday 2nd July 2016.

Things would have been much better in the wake of the Brexit vote if there had been a Plan B. It appears that the Leave campaign did not have one, but neither did the government. Mr Cameron was (and still is) not only the leader of the Conservative Party but also Prime Minister, head of government and the person whose advice the Queen always accepts. He should be acting in the public interest. He believed we should stay in Europe, but by giving us the choice he should have ensured there was  a coherent plan for our possible withdrawal from the EU.

Many of us may not have anticipated how dirty the campaign was to be, but the politically savvy should have, especially in view of the precedent of the referendum on changing the voting system. Mr Cameron should have been able to seek advice from senior civil,servants, economists, and political advisers.

But would a different Prime Minister have done any better? Sadly I think not. The first past the post voting system forces politics to be confrontational. Beating your opponent becomes more important than doing the right thing. Parties that aspire to govern must be broad churches. The greatest sin is to try to cooperate with other parties. Until we change that system I see little hope of improvement.

David Smith, Weymouth

Time to Democratise Building Societies

First published Feb 2014.

In theory building societies should surely be one component of a sustainable banking sector. In practice although they are ‘owned’ by members, the board always succeeds in getting all its nominees elected, and so members have no control. Banks which are plcs at least have to worry about the share price. Building society boards have been completely unaccountable. The Building Societies Members Association (BSMA) – www.building-societies-members.org.uk – exists to challenge this state of affairs. Help their campaign to get one or more member nominated directors elected.

Building Society legislation is not fit for purpose. Any changes are made on the advice of the Building Societies Assocation, which represents directors rather than members.

Someone has asked me exactly how it is that the building society boards manage to ensure that only their nominees get elected. It works like this:

The building society board will decide who they want to fill any vacancies that arise. They will nominate exactly as many candidates as there are vacancies. Members have the right to nominate their own candidates. However this fact is not advertised; to discover this members would have to search through the website for a copy of the rules, or contact the secretary to ask for a copy. Furthermore each such candidate needs to be nominated by 250 people, and the society will not contact members asking for nominators, so it is quite a task to contact the 250. Also if a second member wished to stand he or she has to find a different set of 250 nominators. In spite of that there have been member nominated candidates in the past.

If there are no member nominated candidates, members are invited to votes ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for each of the board nominated candidates. Unsurprisingly the ‘yes’ vote always wins; members are given no useful information on which to judge the individual candidates. If you want accountability always vote No to the elction of each board nominated candidate.

If there are member nominated candidates, then the multiple X vote is used to elect the requisite number of directors. Suppose there are four vacancies to fill and, in addition to the board’s nominees, there is one member nominated candidate. Each member is entitled to cast up to four votes but does not have to use all four of them – though the wording on the voting paper can suggest otherwise. If a member wants the the member nominated candidate to be elected and decides to cast all four votes then he or she has to decide which of the board candidates to leave out. Different members will make different choices and so votes cast for the member nominated candidate will be largely cancelled out.

In this situation if every member votes for the member nominated candidate then he or she will be elected. Suppose 10,000 members between them cast 40,000 votes. Then the member nominated candidate attracts 10,000 votes leaving 30,000 to go to the other four. That is 7,500 each if they are equally distributed. If however only 8,000 members vote for the member nominated candidate, then the others attract 32,000 votes between them, which if equally distributed is 8,000 each.

It follows therefore that if every member uses all their votes it is likely that in order to elect the member nominated candidate, then approaching 80% of voting members will have to vote for him or her. However if members can be persuaded to vote only for the member nominated candidate then the desired result becomes more possible.

Possible remedies for the unsatisfactory situation include:

  • Elect directors by preferential voting (Single Transferable Vote). At the moment the legislation prevents this and it is not in the interest of the main political parties to change this.
  • Provide that at least one place on the board is reserved for a member nominated candidate. Again this would require legislation but the main political parties might not be quite so vehemently opposed.
  • Adopt the Swedish practice of including stakeholders other than board members on the nominations committee.
  • Adopt a similar practice in relation to the remuneration committee.

Board members’ total remuneration packages are unacceptably high. If you want to challenge this always vote to reject the report of the remumeration committee (itself made up iof board members.)

Note that these suggestions are the author’s and not necessarily those of BSMA.

Sober Opinion on Paris Climate Change Summit

Brian Heatley of Greenhouse Think Tank has written a sobering but realistic assessment of the agreement reached in Paris ansd the implications. We have to come to terms with the fact that damaging climate change cannot be avoided and we have to live with it. Read this at, http://www.greenhousethinktank.org/uploads/4/8/3/2/48324387/paris_-_final2.pdf

This should surely not be too much of a surprise.

Conservatives forever – hooray?

As printed in Dorset Echo on about 28th Jan 2016
The Conservatives won the last election with the votes of just under a quarter of those registered to vote, and yet given the disarray in the Labour Party, and other factors, it is more than likely they will win again in 2020 and beyond. So should Conservative voters rejoice? Today’s Conservative leadership are not the conservatives I trusted up to 1979. They follow a radical ideology known variously as neoconservative, neoliberal or neoclassical. It is an ideology relentlessly promoted by the right wing media and by the government, so successfully that most people believe It is common sense. Its consequences are rising inequality, and the feeling amongst those comfortably off, that ‘the poor will always be with us’ – until that is they actually get to know poor and disadvantaged people.
Judging by my family (at least those of my generation), typical Conservative voters are conservative in that they are suspicious of change, and wrongly assume that the Conservative leadership is like them. Many are middle managers, small business owners, farmers, and professionals such as GPs, high street solicitors and accountants. They should no longer in my view assume that a Conservative government will look after them. Indeed the combined threats of climate change, migration pressures and financial instability may make it impossible. There will be many losers, the only winners being the very rich. In such circumstances it is surely unsafe to allow a monopoly of power to one party vulnerable to corruption by big money interests. There must be effective opposition, which the Labour Party can no longer provide on its own, as there is no longer a united ‘working class’. This means abandoning our First Past the Post voting system, which grants power to the largest organised minority.
First Past the Post encourages negative politics; the object becomes beating down the opposition without conceding that they too might have something to teach. Britain faces unprecedented challenges. We need to pull together and learn from each other. A reformed voting system which is both more proportional and allows voters to choose a person they trust rather than just a choice of party would do much to engender a more positive attitude. We need to be united; we have never been less so.
The majority of MPs have a ‘settled view’ in favour of retaining First Past the Post.  As pointed out by Bishop Colin Buchanan in his booklet ‘An Ethical Approach to Electoral Reform’, this is pure self interest; why should they have the right to choose the system by which we elect them?
David Smith

Voting Reform – the Constituency Link

27 December 2015

Dear Mr Corbyn

Voting Reform – the Constituency Link

I write as a Green Party member who nevertheless hopes you can unite the Labour Party and cope with the right wing media. I am glad that you are thinking about voting reform. The Tories must be beaten in 2020 and this may involve an anti Tory alliance which undertakes to introduce a more proportional system and then call a further election. Of course there is the question of choosing which system. Is there time to leave this to a Constitutional Convention?

I understand you would insist on retaining the constituency link, but would ask you to reflect on what that means, and why it is important. Is it valued more by MPs or by their constituents, and which is more important? When they are elected, many MPs go on about how they aim to represent all their constituents, not just those who voted for them. All too often the reality is very different; the MP has no interest in engaging with a constituent who dares to challenge his or her party’s policies, and does not have the social skills to deal with more personal matters. The MP for South Dorset, in which constituency I live, is perhaps an extreme example. Experience has taught me that it is not worth trying to communicate with him. He is not my MP. I will not bore you with the story of when a group of us had the temerity to lobby him on the Health and Social Care Bill. If he could, he would have had us peasants transported to the colonies for daring to challenge him.

I suggest that most voters would far prefer a choice of three or four MPs in the hope that one of them would be someone they could relate to.

In terms of systems, the choice is basically between Single Transferable Vote (STV) and a mixed system in which some MPs are elected into single member constituencies and others are appointed from a regional party list. Under STV constituencies would return typically four members, but this could vary to suit natural communities. In North London you could have a three member constituency covering the London Borough of Barnet or a six member constituency covering Enfield as well. In remote areas you might have a single member constituency. All the MPs would have been elected on the same basis. Voters would be able to take into account the personal qualities of the candidate, not just his or her party.

With mixed systems, German experience suggests you need as many list MPs as constituency MPs to achieve proportionality. This means doubling the size of constituencies and electing half the members to represent a whole region. Which system best preserves the principle of the constituency link? I suggest it is STV.

I will be at Tolpuddle in July representing ‘Make Votes Matter’.

yours sincerely

David Smith

Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform – New Year Bulletin

Looking back over a year where the pollsters predicted another no overall control parliament from the first past the post system whose main promoted characteristic is that it is meant to prevent coalition and give (unrepresentative) majority government.
The actual result was 24 per cent of eligible voters voted for the Tories with a slender overall majority of 12 while 40 Scottish Labour MPs were wiped out while they picked up nearly a quarter of the votes,  entitling them to 15 not just one MP, and SNP got all but three constituencies, 56, on half the vote.
One really good reason why pollsters get first past the post elections wrong but referendums and PR systems right has to be because we have in first past the post, in May 2015 at least, 650 different elections, each depending on local candidates, which party is working the constituency, how many other parties are putting up and differential turnout, media and party interest, marginality and media coverage overall.
Lord Ashcroft’s polling in individual constituencies was much more accurate but very much more expensive.  Lynton Crosby has been knighted for his ruthless role, ensuring it was Labour that lost votes to UKIP not the Tories, in kicking the player not the ball, ensuring that televised debates split the Tory opposition and promoted the SNP where the Tories had nothing to lose.
The Mirror ran a story about the 901 votes which secured the Tory majority:
We have conflicting stories about the role of the Labour leadership, the austerity versus the austerity-lite accusations, the role of turnout and how many parties put up in a given constituency.  LCER remains perhaps the only Labour grouping where people with differing explanations and political views can unite in their opposition to the voting system, Compass, Progress, Labour First, Momentum, and now Open Labour (see especially the last paragraph of David Purdy’s article at http://openlabour.org/comment/finding-direction).
The good things that the Labour Government did about Equality are also things which help Democracy and vice versa.  The only flaw is that the voting system which should make us all equal in the ballot box divides us so instead of one person one vote one value we have floating voters in marginal seats which decide elections and the rest don’t even have a walk on part.  But check out Stephen Twigg’s list for Equality and our unfinished project at http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2015/10/29/equality-for-all/.
Jonathan (Jonny) Reynolds MP took the initiative to move a motion to bring in a Bill “Representation of the People (Proportional Representation) (House of Commons) which you can find at:
  http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm151216/debtext/151216-0002.htm#15121629000002.  In his speech Jonny Reynolds put to the House the following which seems to sum up what LCER has been saying over the years:
“the means of electing the House of Commons – namely, the first-past-the-post electoral system – is no longer fit for purpose.  It has led to a narrow and unrepresentative politics, increasingly poor decision making, poorly conducted elections and, at times, poor government.  Moreover, it now threatens the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom and the cohesion of the constituent nations of the UK, by failing to produce representation that truly reflects the diversity of political views contained therein.”
Although the motion was lost by 164 to 27 for, Labour split almost evenly with many of those who have opposed first past the post over the years versus some new and progressive Labour MPs supported the question: Graham Allen, Kevin Barron, Ben Bradshaw, Richard Burden, Stella Creasy, Jon Cruddas, Geraint Davies, Jim Dowd, Paul Flynn, Margaret Hodge, Fiona Mactaggart, Jonathan Reynolds, Andrew Smith, Wes Streeting, Stephen Twigg and Chuka Umunna along with the Tellers for the Ayes Helen Goodman and Daniel Zeichner. Our thanks to each of you.
The opposition was led by John Spellar, not the Tories who provided most of the votes against the motion.  He made his usual attacks, first on the fact that as a student, Jonny Reynolds attended a session of the Jenkins Commission, totally ignoring the fact that this was a Labour government commission, promised in our 1997 Manifesto, containing members of other parties, but of the five Joyce Gould and David Lipsey were both Labour (Sir John Chilcot is now engaged elsewhere).  And Mr Speller’s reading of the recent French local elections is bizarre.  With first past the post rather than the second ballot used in France the Front National would have swept the board in the first and only round.  And as it was once said when Le Pen’s father began winning votes “you don’t bring the temperature down by breaking the thermometer”. Fascism needs to be dealt with politically not by a voting system that covers up what is happening in many constituencies.
However John Spellar had the support from well known first past the post supporters in mainly safe Labour seats where the only problem is low turnout and the UKIP vote: Clive Betts, Ronnie Campbell, John Cryer, Simon Danczuk (suspended from the party), Paul Farrelly, Mary Glindon, Mark Hendrick, Kelvin Hopkins, Gerald Kaufman, Ian C Lucas, Rob Marris (reelected in a marginal seat), Siobhain McDonough, Ian Mearns, Virendra Sharma (a mistake as an LCER member),  Gavin Shuker, Dennis Skinner, Graham Stringer, Gisela Stuart (a member of LCER Executive before being elected in 1997), Derek Twigg, Mike Wood.
If you want strong arguments for electoral reform from an economic equality point of view see this report by the New Economics Foundation, see particularly page 40:
Looking abroad: LCER Chair (until our AGM) writes about Germany where the voting system, Additional Member System, converted members of the Plant Commission, to a form of top up system, see http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2015/12/15/letter-from-berlin/
Picking up on a similar theme to Jonny Reynolds’ above, Chris Bryant writes: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2015/12/conservatives-are-rewriting-constitution-create-one-party-state.  English Votes for English Laws, when rolled out where devolution means devolving responsibility without power or finance, or without an element of pluralism from voting systems which broadly reward votes with seats, is worrying.  England is the last colony in the most over centralised part of the UK state.
The other set back was that we lost the possibility of 16 and 17 year olds voting for their future, in or out of Europe, in a referendum which may take place as early as June this year. We are also losing attainers who will be 18 years of age on Thursday 5 May and eligible to vote if on the register.  Opposition to lowering the voting age have come from a misinterpretation of the turnout in the 18-25 age group.  But this is the age when young people are moving away from home, often moving frequently from place to place, often in the private rented sector.  Once they have the habit and the knowledge of voting, instilled through information made available by local authorities, schools, teachers and parents, we have a chance of a more inclusive democracy.
As it is, the incomplete register will be the basis of the next parliamentary boundary changes.  Initial proposals in the boundary review are to be published in September this year.  However, Conservative MPs will be given seats so that they will not be affected whereas Labour MPs will be: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/12077770/No-Tory-left-behind-pledge-amid-boundary-change-fear.html?fb_ref=Default
“Super Thursday”, as some are calling Thursday 5 May this year, will see some 47 million people registered to vote – so some missing millions there?  Elections will take place for Scottish and Welsh local government, for London regional government including the London Mayor, for some English local government including the Bristol Mayor and for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs).  Then we have the Referendum where 16,17 year olds have been disenfranchised alongside many people who have EU citizenship but their lives, families, work are based in the UK.  They have a real stake in the outcome of the EU referendum and are allowed to vote in the European elections as long as they sign up that not voting elsewhere.
In 2016, the voting systems used will be as follows:
* Supplementary Vote (SV) for PPCs and Mayors
* Additional Member System (AMS) for the Greater London Assembly
* Single Transferable Vote (STV) for Scottish local elections
* First Past the Post (FPTP) for Welsh and English local elections.
* One member one vote (OMOV) for the EU referendum so all votes count
  equally wherever people live.
OMOV was true for the Scottish Independence referendum which shook up Scottish traditional voting patterns and for Labour’s own Leadership elections.  Note that the highest percentage increase in membership is in the Cinderella region of the South West which has four MPs and before the LibDems imploded came third or fourth in many seats which we failed to contest in a serious way choosing our candidates late or asking members to work in urban areas where Labour had target seats.
Amazing how much FPTP is responsible for: over targeting, the Conservative led coalition from 2010 – 2015, safe seat mentality taking people for granted, division within Labour groups and Labour parties, the loss 40 Labour seats in Scotland, the loss of much of the South, South East and East of England, outside urban areas of London, Norwich, Cambridge, Luton, Southampton, Hove, Slough, Oxford, Bristol, and Exeter.
NB: Supplementary Vote: Many people will lose their vote in the Supplementary Vote elections for Mayors in London and in Bristol because they don’t know how to cast their second vote.  It may be that Labour will go on only asking its core vote to vote Labour but where they drifted to other parties from neglect, attraction or simply something new, we need in new voting systems to get more than the Labour vote.  We need to politely ask those voting for other parties to give us their second preference.  That is how to win under SV.  And in Scotland this also applies under their STV system for local elections.
The good news is that the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has suggested and the TUC agreed to prepare a report taking a new look at the voting system.  All trade unions should have a new look at what first past the post delivers them when they compare themselves with the Trade Unions operating in the rest of the EU. And according to research for the Electoral Reform Society, 63 per cent of Labour voters support PR. Even more Conservative voters than not but read the results at http://polho.me/1k26egw.
We have work to do before our LCER relaunch.  This is an opportunity for you to discover which Labour politicians are in favour of Electoral Reform and which will fight reform.  If you know the position of your own MP or a former candidate, MEP, MSP, AM, any Labour Peers or councillors, or candidates, just let us know.  We have a little list and none of them should be missed.
There will be a cross party Alliance for electoral reform set up early this year to coordinate the work being done in political parties, particularly Labour, with cross party and non party campaigns run by the Electoral Reform Society, Unlock Democracy and Making Votes Matter.  Watch this space!
And follow @labour4pr which now has 3725 followers on twitter!
Mary Southcott
LCER Parliamentary and Political Officer
0117 924 5139
077 125 11931
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