I’ve been writing an essay on possible electoral reform in the UK, but it’s turning into a mini-book. So I’m just going to post up the very short summary of my main conclusions and proposals.
My proposal for how to reform the House of Commons:
- Decrease the number of constituencies from 650 to 600.
- Ensure all constituencies are almost identical in size so as to make all votes roughly equal (currently, the smallest has 21,769 electors and the largest 110,697).
- Following the Jenkins Commission’s Report 1998 (JCR 1998), introduce two kinds of MP; those chosen from single member parliamentary constituencies (like now), and those chosen proportionally from multi-member regional constituencies. This is what happens currently for elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, and the London Assembly.
- Following the JCR 1998, only 15-20% of MPs to be multimember; so, 480:120 or 500:100, single member constituency MPs to multimember constituency MPs. This is as opposed to the devolved legislatures which have around 40-45% of members drawn from the multimember regional constituencies.
- Very approximately, the country should be divided into around a dozen multimember regional constituencies; this ensures a high level of proportionately, but not so much that politics becomes destabilised.
- This could be on similar lines to how Members for the European Parliament are currently elected from the UK so that the constituencies do not all have an equal number of MPs. The benefit is that natural geographic or cultural regions can be treated as constituencies regardless of size, e.g., Northern Ireland.
- Alternatively, this could be done as in Wales and Scotland where the regions all elect the same number of members. The disadvantage of this is that either traditional boundaries would have to be disregarded, or some constituencies would have more MPs than their populations would proportionately require.
- In the single member constituencies, MPs to be elected on the same basis as the London mayor, on the Supplementary Vote system; voters pick a first and second choice, if no candidate receive more than 50% of first choice votes, then all but the leading two candidates are eliminated and all second choice votes are redistributed to determine the winner.
This series of proposals taken together introduces some proportionality, but not to the point that it destabilises politics (that is, permanent coalitions and collapsing governments). It encourages people to vote for who they really want, as they know their vote really counts in the multimember regional constituencies, and that they can vote for who they want in the single member constituencies without wholly ruining it for the second favourite candidate. Currently, people will often vote Labour to keep out the Tory, or vice versa, when they really want to vote Green (for example). Under this proposed system, they could confidently vote Green in the multimember regional constituency, and then either Labour in the single member constituency or Green first choice and Labour second choice. It also makes it more likely that the MP in the single member constituency will command 50% or more of the electorate.
The only possible downside is that it introduces two kinds of MP. But I say we already have two kinds of MP: we have those in the Government who are thus in the Executive branch of Government, and back benchers who are not in the Government and are thus not part of the Executive. In other words, the MPs who run the country + look after their constituents, and MPs who only look after their constituents. Indeed, the Speaker of the House could himself be considered an altogether different, third type of MP in the current set up.
I hope to publish a more detailed analysis and investigation into reform of the House of Commons soon.
© 2018 Bryan A. J. Parry
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5 thoughts on “House of Commons Reform Proposal: Very Short Summary #ElectoralReform #HouseOfCommonsReform #HoCReform”
By the author’s own admission, his system (which is only an adaption of the known AV+), is not even very party proportional and it’s not at all proportional in terms of other divisions (e.g. Brexit/Remain), which is necessary if votes are really to matter. Moreover, it’s even worse than AV+ because the constituency MPs would be elected by the restrictive Supplementary Vote system instead of the much freer and more flexible Alternative Vote.
Hello Anthony, thank you for responding.
It’s not my “own admission”, it’s by design. As per Jenkins 1998, I think the disadvantages of a purely or largely proportional system outweigh the benefits. Semi-proportionality, as it were, is a decent half-way house. I think the systems that have been trialled in the devolved legislatures essentially work very well, although with a smaller percentage of members chosen from multi-member constituencies (figure stands at 40-45%, whereas Jenkins, I think rightly, recommended 15-20%). The alternative vote is on balance, I feel, slightly worse than the supplementary vote as the former can result in donkey voting; sure, I have a first preference, probably a second, and maybe just maybe a third, but fourth, fifth, and so on? Unlikely. Many people will just vote randomly for their 3rd or 4th choice onwards.
There are advantages to FPTP. There are advantages to PR. I think SV+, or indeed AV+, with a small percentage of proportionally chosen members, gives us some of the benefits of both approaches whilst mitigating many of the negatives. Incidentally, I would probably include a far more significant proportional element to the House of Lords to provide further proportionality. But a predominantly proportional system would, I feel, be the wrong way to go.
Additionally, my proposal isn’t merely “Jenkins 1998 AV+, but with a supplementary vote”. Even though I agree with him that the optimal number of MPs elected proportionally should be 15-20%, I disagree with him on the number of regional constituencies from which they should be elected. The report states that England should be made up of a few dozen regional multi-member constituencies, whereas I feel that the number of constituencies should be fewer in order that the outcome is more proportional.
Jenkins proposed a semi-proportional system, not because it would be better than a fully-proportional system, but because it might be more acceptable to politicians. If disproportionate systems like FPTP are unfair as you seem to believe, semi-proportional systems are a bit unfair and your system does not even attempt to be proportional or semi-proportional between non-party groups such as Remain and Brexit.
I have to say that I don’t agree with your assessment of the Jenkins Commission Report. The point is that all systems have plus and minus points. The report goes through different systems and their respective strengths and weaknesses; his report wasn’t merely a cop out that would be more acceptable to politicians, as you put it. Your point about “fairness”, by which I assume you mean “proportion of votes equalling the same proportion of seats” is only one aspect of the problem, I’m afraid to say.
Some people mistake “voting” for “democracy” and think that to make things more democratic is the same thing as to make there be more votes. They don’t realise that voting has its downsides, too, e.g., corruption of the process by people with more money or charisma, and that other things, e.g., sortition, have a perfect place in democracy. Likewise, it is my experience that many advocates of PR mistake “same proportion of seats as votes” as being the same as “better democracy”. There are a number of factors to balance in designing or choosing an electoral system. For example, PR would mean there would ALWAYS be a minority government or a coalition government. This is undesirable. Worse still, PR breaks the link between constituency and representative and thereby actually removes power from the people and gives it to the party structures who choose who go on their candidate lists. This is also undesirable as it breaks the direct link between voter and representative which is surely key to having responsible politics. What about manifesto promises? Well, any party can say they’ll do anything, can pander to any populist trend they want, and they know they will never have to deliver — being in coalition or minority government ensures they can bin off any manifesto or platform commitment and just blame it on not having a majority. I could go on. But the point is that despite PR systems obviously maximising one aspect, they neglect others. Hence why I think mixed systems are a better bet.