House of Commons

I posted a few weeks ago about how I’d reform the House of Lords, and I’ve mentioned a few times that I think electoral reform is my biggest subject, so it should come as no surprise that I have ideas about the House of Commons, too.

At the outset, a lot of people already believe that the UK’s “first-past-the-post” system is a good one, and many people assert that our parliament is already democratic. This is particularly highlighted at the moment in the Brexit debate, with people readily talking about the “sovereignty of parliament” in relation to the final deal. So I think you’re looking at tweaking the existing setup rather than completely rewriting it. In response to the assertion that we are already democratic, I’d say that parliament doesn’t represent me, so there is a problem. Here are my ideas on improve things.

At the moment, we have a bunch of constituencies which each elect their MP. I mean, a party-based structures exist behind this level, but broadly, every individual constituency exists in its own bubble, and it is only when you aggregate the results from all the constituencies that you begin to form a picture of what a government would look like.

I’m kind-of still in favour of this, except my first step would be to say that, instead of the top one candidate becoming an MP, then the top three candidates would all become MPs. (It could be a different number to this, but I’d suggest that 3 is a minimum.) Straight away, this gives you a problem – you have three times as many MPs, at a time when even the current numbers are an issue.

So I think you need to tinker with the number of constituencies we have nationally. Make each constituency three times bigger, so you end up with only a third as many constituencies, and the same number of MPs as today. I mean, you could make your constituencies even bigger, if you want to reduce the number of MPs from 650.

This in itself would pose another problem. Today, in an area of three constituencies, you have three guys who are earning a very comfortable living out of the UK electoral system. It’s not atypical that each guy could be the same colour, too. And so, you’re basically saying that two of them are out of a job! So this is a big stumbling block. I’m not really sure how you get past this one, except by asking people to put the national interest above their own self-interest. Or, keep the constituency sizes the same and have 2000 MPs! Or, possibly, pay them off – “here’s a bunch of cash, so you’ll never have to work again, now go away”. But getting them to support any parliamentary reform is likely to be tricky.

You’ll note at this point, though, that there’s not really much difference, from the electorate’s point of view, and this is entirely deliberate. You’re still voting for (or against) a person rather than a party. The only difference is that you’re electing three people, not one.

When you get to the House of Commons itself, that’s when you bring technology in. At the moment, each MP has a single vote. Counting votes is as easy as counting bodies. Going forward, you now have three people representing a constituency. I still think you say “one vote per constituency”, but you split that vote between the three delegates. And you make the split proportional to the number of votes received. So, for example, if one guy (in a constituency) gets 10,000 votes, and the other two guys get 5,000 votes each, then you split the vote 2:1:1. And you make this work using smart-cards. You’re talking about only a few hundred users, so this should be a trivial nut to crack.

So at the end of this, you have a debate in the House of Commons, then you have a vote and people disappear into one or other of the lobbies. You keep all of that the same, except this time, you swipe your card past a reader. And the software will say, “ah, Delegate X just swiped their card, so there’s half a vote for/against the motion. Motions themselves then either succeed or fail by a straightforward count, just as they do today. I mean, you could even do away with cards altogether, and use fingerprints!

As part of this, you can use the software in introduce various checks, for example that someone’s vote is only counted once.

The reason I like the system of this “weighted vote” is basically because each MP has a vote which is proportional to the number of votes they received. In that way, I think you have a House of Commons in which votes are more reflective of the public’s views. A guy who comes third, with just 1,000 votes, still gets elected, but will have a proportionately smaller vote once they get into parliament.

Of course, there may be an anomaly because the three people elected didn’t, between them, claim 100% of the public vote (which would be the case if you had 10 candidates, for example) but I think you can work through that. It’s not insurmountable.

There’s also the practical issue that an MP does more than just vote, for example helping with their constituents’ problems. This job becomes so much harder if you say, “your constituency is now three times as big”. Although, of course, there are now three people to represent that larger area, so you’d hope that workloads could average out. In many ways, it’s no different to today, where somebody is elected and takes a punt that they will be willing/able to tackle constituents’ problems. It would also give people the opportunity to speak to somebody who might be more sympathetic to their particular plight. Plus, of course, even today a newly-elected MP has no idea how much this workload will be.

Of course, critics will quickly say that this system would likely prevent one party from having an absolute majority, as we usually do today. So, in theory, you’ll have less decisive governments of coalitions. But I suspect this is something we just wouldn’t agree on – to me, the current system might well give you a “strong” government, but it is at the expense of being unrepresentative. For me, something which is representative is the holy grail, so I’m quite happy to respond by saying, “well, surely government should be like that?” I mean, in real life humans need to collaborate with each other, working with people who have different interests, so I see the removal of partisan-ship as a plus, not a minus. An individual motion stands or falls on its merits, not by whether one group of people happens to support it or not. By comparison, the current system seems to take small differences in the public vote, then exaggerate them so as to install a government driven by ideology. Surely one which relies on co-operation is better?

Anyway, there we have it. It’s unpolished, in that this is the first time I have committed these thoughts to paper. Bits would need smoothing out, but I don’t think there are any showstoppers. But maybe you think differently?

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