Electoral Reform

One of my pet crusades is electoral reform.

I still think that we need to have two levels of parliament. The lower house (House of Commons) deals with all the day-to-day issues, the party politics, and forms the government. Exactly as today. The role of the upper chamber (House of Lords) is really to sanity-check, to hold the lower chamber to account. Almost the same as today, but without the party politics. The lower chamber has precedence, although I’d really be hoping to see collaboration instead.

Lower Chamber

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 half of the votes, say, also has half of the weight in parliament. This is very different from the current situation, where small differences in the number of votes might translate to large differences in parliamentary weights.

First, do we vote for a person, or a party? I broadly feel the latter, although we already developed a system which caters for both. Tick.

Incidentally, even though I’m usually voting for a party, I have big reservations over how things like party lists are compiled. For that reason, I don’t advocate a traditional, proportional approach.

My approach would see the voter behaving exactly as they do now, putting a single tick in a single box. In fact, it’s very important to me that this aspect doesn’t change.

So, you start with a constituency, just like now. However, each constituency is three times the size, say, compared to present-day. So, we only have a third the number of constituencies. The “three” here is arbitrary, it could actually be any number you like, but bear with me.

Why do I want these super-constituencies? Well, that’s probably best explained by looking at the votes in my own constituency (2017):

PartyPercentage of Vote
Lib Dem12.2

with other parties making up the smaller places.

So, my MP is sent to Parliament representing just 58% of their constituents. And, bear in mind here that I live in a very “safe” area – the most marginal seat (North East Fife) elected its MP with just 32.9% of the vote.

Now, imagine if, instead of sending the top one person to Parliament, we sent the top three. If we do that, we’re representing not just 58% of the electorate, but (58.1 + 25.5 + 12.2), a much larger 95%. Even in the most marginal seat, the top three cansidates, between them, obtained 90% of all votes).

But we can’t just send all three to Parliament? Not on an equal footing? Not when one guy got almost 60% of the votes, and the other guy just over 10%? That would be crazy!

That’s right, that’s where technology comes in. We don’t send them on an equal footing. When they go to Parliament, the top guy gets 0.581 of a vote, the second guy gets 0.255 of a vote, and the third guy gets 0.122 of a vote. So, in that way, the candidates stay reflective of their number of voters.

Too complicated? Well, now you’re the one being crazy. Supermarkets will scan hundreds of items, priced down to the pence level, and still get the answer right on a hundred-pound shop! This stuff, technically, is trivial! Not to mention that supermarkets deal with many thousands, and we’re only talking here about a few hundred.

We could even have people walking through different lobbies, as we do today, but instead of counting one vote, the machines count fractions instead. As today, the winner is whoever has the most votes.

Now let’s backtrack to that number three. We’re sending three people, but have only a third as many constituencies, so the total size of my Parliament remains the same as today. But we could vary this if we wanted, more candidates per constituency, or more constituencies. My own view is that three candidates covers pretty much the entire spectrum of views, and that 650 is about the right size for a national parliament.

So, everything else stays the same, it’s just that as they go through your lobby, each MP doesn’t have one vote, they have a fraction of a vote.

Upper House

The problem I have with the current composition of the House of Lords is that many people are appointed by either the current or a previous prime minister. If they like you, you’re in. The notion of patronage, I think, is wrong.

An alternative approach would be to have an elected second chamber. But this would mean elections, campaigns, and inevitably, party politics. The second chamber begins to look much like the first. When the roles of the second chambers are different, I think it becomes blurred. So, how about this?

My idea would be to depart from both models, and to have a second chamber where people qualify. I’m quite open on exactly who should qualify, but possibly people like ex-cabinet ministers (any colour)? Basically, people who have had experience of dealing with issues, and might be able to contribute?

But, importantly, you do this on a rule, which is the same, year in, year out, not on whether somebody’s face fits.

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