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Reforming the Voting System for Westminster

March 22, 2017

An open letter to Richard Drax MP, Con. South Dorset

Dear Mr Drax

I wrote to you some time ago to ask you your views on the subject. It was clear that you were then unprepared to countenance any change from First Past the Post, though I found your reasons unconvincing. The fact that the majority of MPs agree with you would seem to be due to the fact that it suits their convenience rather than that it is good for the governance of Britain. This is immoral. Therefore, and in the light of recent events, I ask you whether you are prepared to reconsider.

When in 2013 Mr Cameron promised a referendum on Europe, he should immediately have commissioned a study on what Brexit would mean. He should then have stressed what is still the statutory position that referenda are only advisory. Nevertheless he should have brought forward legislation to amend the fixed term parliaments act to provide that in the event of a convincing Brexit vote, a general election would then be called. Mr Cameron’s dereliction of duty has created the biggest constitutional crisis since 1688.

Having established the people’s view on Europe it would have been far better, rather than rushing for the exit, to have sought allies amongst those countries who have become Eurosceptic, and fought either to secure reform that is fair to all (rather than just in the UK’s interest) or to force a break up of the EU. The way we are going about it is guaranteed to make us enemies and the country will suffer.

Now we have the situation in which the vote is regarded politically as more legitimate than any decision made by a government elected with just 37% of the vote and 25% of those who could have voted. The referendum trumps parliament, but the people have no chance to change their minds. All this implies that First Past the Post is not fit for purpose. Our democracy such as it was is shattered.

Mr Cameron’s poor judgement is just one example of the increasing ineptitude of governments of both stripes. This is largely hubris. For example ministers seem to have given up seeking evidence to support their decisions, or evaluate their effects. Also decisions seem to be made for presentational purposes. The whole truth is rarely told, and the mainstream media (including the BBC) are content to parrot what the government says when they are not simply trying to stir up hatred.

British prime ministers have too much power and as Lord Acton said, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. One major reason for this is that too many MPs put loyalty to their party ahead of loyalty to constituents or to their country. This is not surprising as in ‘safe’ seats the MP owes his or her seat to the local party rather than voters, and PPSs and junior ministers are chosen more for their party loyalty than for their ability.

One MP who has not sold her soul to the party is Dr Sarah Wollaston (Con., Totnes), who was selected to fight the 2010 election in an open primary. A bold experiment by Cameron, but she asked too many questions and so it has not been repeated. Recently as Chair of the Health Select Committee she had the temerity to challenge the government’s story of NHS funding. Good for her; that is the kind of MP we want.  She has suggested more open primaries, and an open and  proper selection procedure for PPSs. Needless to say this will not happen while we retain First Past the Post.

My solution is a voting system which is both more proportional than First Past the Post and also gives voters the chance to consider other qualities than the candidates’ party. Single Transferable Vote is the obvious choice. For example, South Dorset, West Dorset and North Dorset might be merged into one constituency returning three MPs. It would be likely on past showing for two Conservatives and one of another party (or possible an independent) to be elected. It would be in the interests of the Conservative Party to field three candidates and so Conservative voters would have some choice of which candidates they prefer.

The conurbation of Bournemouth and Poole might be one constituency returning a number of MPs.

yours sincerely

David Smith, [address supplied]

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