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An Ethical Case for Electoral Reform

October 19, 2015

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.

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