One of my pet crusades is electoral reform, so I thought I’d share some ideas here. I’ve never really discussed these with anybody, so in that respect, these views are quite “raw” and unpolished.
I still think that we need to have two levels of parliament. The lower house deals with all the day-to-day issues, the party politics, and forms the government. Exactly as today. The role of the upper chamber is really to hold the lower chamber to account. Not so much party politics, and a little more common sense. Again, generally the same as today. It is the composition of these two levels which should change. If push comes to shove, then the lower chamber has precedence, although I’d hope that there would be an amount of collaboration instead.
The main goal here is to try and make sure that the lower chamber is representative, in terms of the number of votes cast. It is to try and ensure that a party with x% of the vote also carries x% of the weight in parliament, to get away from the situation where such-and-such a party ends up with 10% of the vote, but with only 1% of parliament members,
At the heart of my approach is the question of whether we vote for a person, or a party. Personally, I feel the latter, although I think we can develop a system which caters for both. But this question highlights the limitations both of the first-past-the-post system, and of the obvious PR system (party lists – I have reservations about how fairly these lists are compiled).
First-off, you start with a constituency, so in that respect you could still think of yourself as voting for a person. However, each constituency is three times the size, say, as a present-day. So, we only have 1/3 the number of constituencies. The number “3” is arbitrary, unimportant, but bear with me.
It is worth noting that herein lies one of the biggest downsides of this system. A third of the constituencies means that 2/3 of current MPs would lose their jobs. So, in this respect alone, the system poses problems.
In each of these new constituencies, you have a vote, pretty much the same as we do today. However, in each constituency, the top 3 people will get to represent you in parliament. At this point, we introduce technology. Each candidate has a weighted vote in parliament, which is proportional to their share of votes in the election. Say, for exanple, that Candidate A receives 10,000 votes in an election. Candidates B and C get 5,000 votes in the election. Candidate D receives fewer that 5,000 votes. When these people get to parliament, this translates as:
Candidate A = 50% = 0.5
Candidate B = 25% = 0.25
Candidate C = 25% = 0.25
in parliament. Candidate D is not elected. In such a way, of course, you end up with the same number of MPs as we have today. Again, though, this is arbitrary – we could have a smaller (or a larger) number of MPs by varying either the size of each constituency, or by the number of leading candidates who are elected. A country such as France, twice the size as the UK geographically , has fewer MPs in its lower house, but this is not key.
Once you get into parliament, you frame all of your motions such that people either agree or disagree, a binary choice. As today. You can have amendments etc. with which people either agree or disagree. As today. Then, in parliament, when Candidate A goes through the lobby, their vote carries 0.5 weight. Candidate B goes through the lobby, and their vote carries a weight of 0.25, and so on. So, parliamentary votes become more complicated, because we no longer have a one-man-one-vote situation, but this is where we can use technology. Smart cards swiping past a reader, perhaps? It could be like a high-end Tesco!
Of course, this system is more complicated than the one we have at present, but also far more representative.
The problem I have with the current composition of the House of Lords is that everybody is appointed by the prime minister. If they like you, you’re in. But it is all based on patronage, which I think is wrong.
An alternative approach would be to have an elected second chamber. But this would mean (obviously) elections, campaigning, and inevitably party politics. The second chamber begins to look much like the first. It becomes confusing, when the role of the second chamber is different to the role of the first. Election advocates have even suggested that the second chamber would be elected as a part of the general election process, thereby most likely making the composition of both houses to be identical. A second chamber which simply rubber-stamps the wishes of the first seems a little superfluous.
My idea would be to depart from both models, and to have a second chamber for which people qualify. I’m quite open on exactly who should qualify, but possibly people like ex-cabinet ministers? Basically, people who have had experience of dealing with issues, and might be able to contribute something useful? Remember, their job would be to scrutinise. Of course, cabinet ministers are still appointed by patronage, which I think is absolutely wrong, but this is something that can be sorted separately. These are obviously quite large changes, so need to be managed in smaller chunks.