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.
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
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.
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.
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’.