The Youth Parliament is a brilliant innovation, see http://www.ukyouthparliament.org.uk/about-us/, but for those of us that argue for voting reform, the arrangements for electing MYPs are slightly disappointing. Each Local Education Authority (LEA) that participates in the scheme (that is most of them) makes it own arrngements for the conduct of elections and other support. As far as I can ascertain most if not all of them use some form of ‘First-Past-the-Post’ (FPTP). The conduct of the election is the responsibility of the LEA support officer, not the British Youth Council, and not the people who run adult public elections in the area. There is no national guidance as to whether FPTP or some other system be used.
In the Youth Parliament elections in Dorset, “this year’s election took place on Monday 2 February to Friday 6 February 2015. 40 schools in Dorset took part in the election, including those attending Learning Centres and Special schools. The election has been a huge success, with a total of over 35,000 votes cast by over 17,500 students, making 2015 a record turnout for Dorset”, (see, https://www.dorsetforyou.com/ukyp ) . Two MYPs and two deputies were elected. Disappointly there were just eight candidates drawn from seven schools. One MYP and one deputy were elected from one school in Dorchester. The others were elected from two establishments in Weymouth. Schools in all other towns, such as Bridport, Sherborne, Beaminster, Blandford, Christchurch, Wareham, Wimborne… were unrepresented. This seems a little unbalanced to me.
By contrast the first elections in the London Borough of Sutton were conducted by Single Transferable Vote (STV) and the results were pretty representative. Counting the votes was hard work but was carried out by students themselves supervised by a very experienced member of the Electoral Reform Society, with the full co-operation of the support officer. Later the support officer changed and the use of STV was discontinued. The new support officer was not of course an expert in voting systems, but felt she must be in charge and adopted the simpler system of FPTP. Another motive could be that the council frowned on innovation.
If a better system is to be more generally adopted, I suggest it requires an initiative from the Youth Parliament itself. It could approve and promote one or more models of how elections could be conducted. Students and support officers in a particular LEA could innovate with more confidence and counter negative comment. Youngsters should stand up and say that if MPs insist on choosing the method by which they are elected without interference from the public, then they the young should be able to do likewise.
One excuse for not using STV is that it is complicated. That has never fazed voters where it has been applied. Yes the count takes longer but computers can help. In Scotland STV is used for electing local councillors, but the ballot papers are read by machine (optical character recognition) and counted by computer. This would involve licencing the appropriate software and securing the use of the local council’s OCR machines, but there are lower cost alternatives:
a. There are plenty of enthusiasts could provide a counting program for free. Of course it would have to be tested to the satisfaction of the UKYP. The election could be run online. Writing code to capture votes should not be too difficult. This could be run on school intranet servers and votes files trabsmitted to a central computer which would count the votes.
b. One of the Dorset objectives is, “Principles of youth elections – young people learn about what a real election is: free, fair, transparent, accountable and accessible for all.” To this end the count could be done manually by students under the supervision of a person using a computer program which tells him or her exactly what has to be done at each stage and why. It would provide not only the final results sheet but also a log file duplicating the dialogue in detail. The superviser would need little training, and need not fear making a boo boo. Again there are plenty of people capable of writing such a program and supplying it at no cost. Anyone learning about the disciplines involved in an STV count would thereby have a good appreciation of those involved in a FPTP election.
PS. For those voting reformers who favour a party list system or AMS over STV, and who say why am I focussing on the latter; the answer is simple. MYPs are not supposed to engage in party politics, and STV is the only fair system that is not based on the concept of party.
Originally Posted 17 Oct, revised 19 Oct.
The media and the major parties would have you believe that voting reform is ‘off the agenda’ following the Tories’ ‘win’ in May. Retired bishop Colin Buchanan and former president of the Electoral Reform Society argues otherwise in a booklet published in July. The existing first-past-the-post (FPTP) system, he argues is not just grossly unfair but is immoral. It causes problems for both voters and political parties. He recites the common arguments against FPTP, such as lack of proportionality, randomness, the pressure to vote tactically, and the fact that parties are sometimes induced to compete (to their mutual disadvantage) rather than co-operate.
He particularly highlights the double standards involved in the major parties’ attachment to FPTP for their own election – a system that they would not dream of using for their own internal processes (such as candidate selection). MPs should not be the ones to chose the method by which they are elected.
He notes that whereas Christian leaders in the run up to the 2015 General Election strongly urged that politics and theology are inseparably enmeshed with one another and that people should consider moral principles in voting; they failed to address the iniquities of the voting system which frustrates voters’ intentions. The Church of England has benefitted greatly from the adoption of Single Transferable Vote (STV) but its leaders seem to have forgotten this, and its implications for our polity.
Uniquely amongst systems of Proportional Representation, STV allows people to vote not just for a party but on the merits of particular candidates. Power is thereby taken away from party managers and transferred to people. To a very limited extent this can be achieved by the use of open primaries to select candidates. This was tried in a limited number of cases for the 2010 election. Apart from the fact that people can vote mischievously in primaries, parties discover that a candidate thus selected who gets elected asks too many awkward questions of the leadership, and thus the idea is dropped. Furthermore we are still talking single member constituencies, which cannot deliver proportionality. STV achieves both objectsd in one go. ‘Strong Government’ which is said to be achieved by FTPT yields a government which cannot be effectively challenged in the House of Commons, delivers those governments into the hands of donors, lobbyists and media moguls.
The booklet ‘An Ethical Case for Electoral Reform’, is published by (and most easily obtained from) Grove Books, tel: 01223 464748, http://www.grovebooks.co.uk. Quote publication number E178.
The booklet was published before the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. This has revealed an apparent disconnect between the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party and Labour supporters in the country. Some will argue that the ‘Corbynistas’ are not representative of voters’ intentions. I submit that under FPTP we simply do not know. Had STV have been used for the General Election, not only would there be reliable evidence on that point but also it would give the Labour Party to evolve to meet changing opinions and circumstances. Increasingly, economists are challenging the accuracy of the austerity narrative, but most of the Parliamentary Labour Party are not. Surely as members of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition they should be.
Some senior Conservative MPs are uncomfortable with reform of tax credits. As things stand although they might speak out it is unlikely this would affect the way they vote in parliamentary divisions. Under STVthey would be more beholden to voters and less to the party machine; they might vote with their consience.
Email from Clare Moody, Labour MEP for South West
14 October 2015 Our Ref: CM/TW/SMIT01118/
Thank you for your email on CETA.
CETA is currently undergoing ‘legal scrubbing’, a technical stage which follows the conclusion of international agreement negotiations. The final text will be referred to the European Parliament once this process is concluded, and only then will the agreement be put to a vote.
Significant changes can be introduced during legal scrubbing and the text that will be submitted for ratification may be quite different to the text that was published last year. I am therefore not in a position to make a final judgement until I can see the final text, which may not happen until well into 2016.
I can nonetheless reiterate my concerns about the text that was published last year, which I’ve raised consistently together with my Labour colleagues in the European Parliament.
We oppose ISDS in any shape or form, and we have based our criticisms of the Commission’s overall approach of the issue of investment protection on the basis of the provisions contained in the CETA text. As it stands, these provisions are clearly unacceptable. On this matter, I would also like to recall that Labour MEPs voted against a European Parliament resolution on TTIP in July because it did not clearly reject ISDS.
We have other concerns regarding CETA. A key issue is public services. We believe that the protections offered to public services are insufficient, and that future renationalisation of public services by a Labour government could be at risk of legal challenges because of the way these provisions are drafted.
Other parts of the text are also problematic, in particular the lack of enforceable labour rights in the agreement as well as the extensive protections given to pharmaceutical patents, which could act as a deterrent to the universal access to medicines.
For the sake of balance, it should also be pointed out that the agreement contains a number of provisions that would significantly benefit the UK’s economy in opening up the Canadian market to our businesses, in particular when it comes to agricultural products. Crucially, the agreement also foresees extensive access to Canadian public procurements for EU businesses.
We will continue to raise these concerns in the European Parliament in the coming months, and keep you informed of further development as the process continues.
With best wishes
Labour MEP for the South West and Gibraltar
Twitter @ClareMoodyMEP Facebook: ClareMoodyMEP
Britain is said to have an ‘overmighty executive’; too many decisions are made by ministers without effective parliamentary scrutiny. Another term coined by the late Lord Hailsham was that Britain is an Elected Dictatorship. British Prime Ministers have a far greater range of powers than the US president for example. As I will argue below, our First Past the Post voting system is a major factor in the persistence of this situation, in that it usually delivers an absolute majority in the House of Commons.
Why is this a problem? It does deliver ‘strong government’ because government is not challenged, at least in Parliament. But every leader needs advice if she is not simply to act on the basis of her prejudices. As explained by the 20th century’s greatest management guru Peter F Drucker, any leader is in danger of becoming a ‘prisoner of the organisation’. and accepting biassed and ill considered advice. The only way in which the leader can escape from this is by ensuring that she is exposed to differing views, especially views opposed to her own. She then has to ask herself the question, “What is it about this guy’s perception of reality that makes him hold this view?” Having thought this through she will be much better prepared to make a good decision.
As Drucker explained, FDR recognised this. He started from the then economic orthodoxy (much like the current orthodoxy), but it was not pulling the US out of depression. It was only then that he paid heed to other advice and brought in the New Deal. FDR used a trick to stimulate disagreement and debate in the White House. He would call in his aides one by one and say that what he wanted to explain was strictly confidential. Each of these aides had a different opinion and FDR affected to accept it. The result was that a very lively debate on the issue in question ensued and FDR was able to benefit.
British Prime Ministers do not behave like that. By the time they achieve that position their main objective becomes retaining power for herself and her party rather than the good of the country. They are also more influenced by party donors, (whether wealthy individuals or unions), money markets, business lobbyists and mainstream media, than voters. Only an assertive parliament representing a mixture of views, and in which MPs have more loyalty to voters than party bosses. Jeremy Corbyn is a potential exception to the rule. Yes he comes from a working class backgound which he honestly states, but he also acknowledges. the need to listen, at least to his supporters. If he has any chance of being Prime Minister he has to listen to a whole raft of other views, but in the mean time has to battle with a parliamentary party that is wedded to right wing orthodoxy.
Governments need executive powers, but in a healthy democracy these should be carefully defined and limited. In Britain there are two types of executive power, those granted too freely by a parliament, elected under under our first past the post system, and subject to close party discipline; and royal prerogative powers which have never been claimed by parliament. Although these latter powers are exercised in the name of the Queen, the most important of them are exercised by ministers without reference to the Queen. The Privy Council is an elaborate side show. Prerogative powers have never been codified, an essential preliminary to parliament asserting any kind of control. The nearest to this came in 2009 when Gordon Brown asked the Ministry of Justice to look at the the question. Civil servants made a rough list of the powers ministries claimed they had, but were then allowed to get away with consigning the issue as too difficult to handle. Needless to say Parliament did not put its foot down.
But if the Privy Council does not make the big decisions, why have it? why the flummery? Why the fuss about whether Jeremy Corbyn is or is not a Privy Councillor ( see, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/Jeremy_Corbyn/11925338/Queens-advisers-strip-Jeremy-Corbyn-of-Right-Honourable-title-after-Privy-Council-snub.html)? Unreasoning loyalty to a Queen who does not appear to love her subjects is used as a means of distracting people from the increasing corruption in government. If we are to retain a monarchy we should at least remove it from the machinery of government; have a Norwegian style monarchy.
I have heard from the Palace. Not only can the Queen not consider my request but my letter is being sent to the Foreign Secretary without consulting me. I regard this is as a gross breach of trust and now believe that the monarchy needs to be abolished as soon as possible.
Opinions of the British monarchy are now somewhat mixed, but the Queen enjoys the respect of many of her subjects. The monarchy has re-invented itself before; I think it is now time for the monarch to become the ‘defender of democracy’ (‘populi potestatis defensor’). While it is no longer appropriate for the monarch to be partisan, I see no reason why the Queen cannot speak out in favour of democracy. British (and Canadian and Australian) Prime Ministers have far too much power. There are too many decisions that ministers make in the Queen’s name without Parliament getting a look in. Of especial concern at present are the massive trade treaties being negotiated in secrecy through the European Union. Member states will have the opportunities of ratifying the treaties (or not as they choose). In most members states the parliament has to approve. This is not the case in Britain. I have therefore written to the Queen (see below). If she will not speak out, why should we keep the monarchy?
Her Majesty The Queen
London SW1A 1AA
2 September 2015
The Ratification of Treaties
In his remarks in the run up to September 9th, Dr David Starkey refers not only to your “”record of unimpeachable integrity and simply keeping going”, but also your lack of power. I cannot help but thinking that he, along with many others, underestimates your potential influence for good. Such influence has of course to be non partisan. The normal way of ensuring this is to act on the advice of the Prime Minister, someone you appoint as being the person most likely to command the support of the House of Commons. However I believe that there is one area in which a Prime Minister’s advice should not be trusted and that is the extent of his or her executive powers People who seek such positions will never willingly agree to limits to their powers.
Each year you approve a great many Orders in Council, the majority of which are of relatively little significance. There are two areas of much greater significance, deployment of the Armed Forces and ratification of treaties. Although there will be occasions on which the Armed Forces may have to be deployed without delay, Parliament has now insisted on having some say in such decisions. It has not however done so over treaties. This seems odd to me and to reflect very poorly on the integrity of most Members of Parliament. Treaties currently under negotiation such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are likely to have more influence for good or ill on life in Britain than half a dozen Acts of Parliament concerned with merely domestic matters. It seems to me inexcusable that Parliament has so far failed to insist on its right to decide whether they should be ratified. Although the mainstream media have signally failed to cover the issues properly, many people believe that the destructive consequences of such agreements would dwarf the alleged economic benefits.
It would of course be impossible for you to say that the UK should not ratify TTIP, but I do suggest that you could ask that Parliament pass its judgement before you approve. Hopefully this would shame MPs into doing their duty to their constituents. It might be argued that in saying that you would be partisan. I dispute this; it was Mr Brown’s government that last reviewed the working of the Royal Prerogative and made no significant change in how treaties should be ratified.
‘I have the honour to be, Madam, Your Majesty’s humble and obedient servant’.
David H Smith
I have to inform you that your presentation, “The Ratification Process in EU
Member States: A presentation with particular consideration of the TTIP and
CETA free trade agreements “, found at
is misleading in relation to the United Kingdom. I attach a note from the
House of Commons library setting out the current position. Basically, though
treaty texts are laid before parliament, because the government controls the
order of business of both Houses, it can and does prevent most treaties
being debated. There is one exception, namely when it is very clear what
domestic legislation is required in order that the UK can honour the terms
of the treaty. European treaties fall into this category but trade treaties
such as TTIP, CETA and TISA do not.
I am not surprised you are confused. The UK should not be called a
democracy; officially it has been called a ‘constitutional monarchy’. More
accurately it has been called an ‘Elective Dictatorship’.
I believe that Prime Minister, David Cameron has already decided to advise
Her Majesty to order ratification of whatever comes out of Europe – never
mind the details. So member states opposing the deal cannot expect help from
the UK. The situation is not helped by the fact that the Labour Party (‘ Her
Majesty’s Loyal Opposition’) is tearing itself apart.
keep up the good work , and yes, some of us in the UK are trying to educate
the public over TTIP.
David Smith, Weymouth, UK
Letter to Dorset Echo 1 Aug 2015 (letter to Richard Drax MP follows)
Many people are extremely worried about a treaty between the EU and the USA
known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Many
more would be if there were more coverage in the national media. We believe
that it is a treaty designed to protect huge trans-national corporations at
the expense of the peoples of Europe and the USA. It is being negotiated in
the utmost secrecy and so we do not know the details, but what we have
learned is not reassuring. Before it comes into force the finalised
agreement will have to be sent to EU member states so that they can agree
it – a process known as ratification. In most countries the parliament will
be able to in effect to accept or reject. This is not the case in the UK at
present. I have today written to Richard Drax MP to request that the
government do allow Parliament to vote on the treaty.
For those worried about TTIP, be in Weymouth Town centre from 11 am on Sat
David Smith, Weymouth
9 Old Station Road, Weymouth, DT3 5NQ, tel: 01305 815965 day or evening
From: David Smith
Sent: Saturday, August 01, 2015 6:55 PM
To: Richard DRAX
Subject: Ratifying the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
Dear Mr Drax
I am asking that before the above treaty is ratified by the UK, the
government grants a parliamentary debate to decide whether ratification can
Treaties are ratified by use of the Royal Prerogative as I am sure you are
aware. In general, although they are laid before Parliament in accordance
with the Ponsonby Rule (now enshrined under the Constitutional Reform and
Governance Act 2010), there is no vote by either House on whether the treaty
should be ratified or not. The government does not generally grant such a
Exceptions are made when domestic legislation is required in order that the
UK can honour the treaty. In such cases the convention has been established
that the legislation is passed before ratification. In effect Parliament has
approved the treaty. Examples include all European Treaties and the
Extradition Treaty with the USA in 2003. The Extradition Act was passed
before the UK ratified.
Trade treaties have not been subject to parliamentary scrutiny (except for
the odd ill informed adjournment debate). This is unsatisfactory. It was bad
enough that the Marrakesh Agreement of 1994 was not subject to proper
scrutiny. It has had a massive and largely unacknowledged impact on the UK.
Now we are threatened with an even more potentially dangerous treaty which
will, if ratified, bind us for 30 years. This treaty is designed to remove
‘non tariff barriers to trade’. What this means is that trans-national
corporations will be able to sue governments in secret courts if any
necessary and sensible regulation reduces their expected profits. Risks for
investors are removed, but risks to the welfare of the peoples of Europe are
There have been vague assurances, largely from the European Commission that
for example it is not intended to threaten the NHS. Many politicians seem to
believe these assurances; otherwise negotiations would have been halted by
now. They are naïve. Negotiations are being conducted in unprecedented
secrecy. The only motive I can see for this is to deceive both politicians
and members of the public. I do not believe that even members of Her
Majesty’s government know the detail. Both Canada and Australia are now
beginning to experience the downsides of treaties of this nature signed in
the early 1990s. The pace of corporations’ claims against states is hotting
up as they become more confident and ruthless.
Many people see the dangers; that the majority do not as yet, is down mainly
to the lack of coverage in the media.
Bearing in mind it is surely imperative that when the final agreement is
sent to nation states for ratification it receives rigorous scrutiny, and
that if necessary it is sent back for redrafting. Each nation will need to
ensure that its interests are protected. As things stand in the UK this will
be down solely to the government; there will be no effective parliamentary
scrutiny. This is intolerable in the 21st century. If the government is
short sighted enough to deny proper scrutiny in order to avoid its will
being challenged, and things go wrong, it will never be forgiven. The
Conservatives will lose power for a generation or until the UK becomes a
I have three lovely grandchildren, but the outlook for the future looks so
bleak that I have come to wish they had never been born.
David Smith, 9 Old Station Road, Weymouth, DT3 5NQ