Thursday, November 27, 2008

Voting systems

What do you think about electoral reform? What is the ideal system of expressing preferences, counting votes, and allocating them geographically or to particular human beings with varying degrees of mandate?

These are big questions. But they always seem to be dwarfed by the problem of change. Is it possible to change the voting system when the people who were elected using it have the casting vote? Surely they will always tend towards the status quo?

The current system is bloody awful. It puts the final decision – the verdict on who runs a highly centralised state – into the hands of a small number of voters in a narrow geographical area. Some would argue that the good thing about this system is that it gives all power to the most impulsive and undecided voters.

Some would argue this... but I wouldn’t.

The current government have had little problem in establishing different forms of voting for non-parliamentary (House of Commons, anyway) elections. Some of the regional assemblies have been fought on systems that are different from First Past The Post and haven’t attracted much criticism as far as I can see.

The European Elections are fought on the odious Party List system – one that appears to me to be an absolute travesty of everything that is good about elections – and one that shows just how far my own party are from grasping what is – for me – the most important thing about democracy. That it works best when legislation is the product of what Tony McWalter calls ‘distributed moral wisdom’.

On the inertia question, it seems to me that the waning primacy of the House of Commons both in terms of its inability to compete with the Core Executive (boo!) and the gathering forces of regional government (yay!) is one of the most interesting developments of the last decade. Perhaps an elected second chamber will park the question permanently?

A full list of UK voting systems can be seen here.


Shuggy said...

The current system is bloody awful.

Ah but when you look at the alternatives, it doesn't look so bad. What's so good about proportional systems that routinely:

a) produce unstable coalitions (What lasts longer: an Italian government or a wine-gum? Discuss);

b) gives us coalitions and the policies that flow from these that no-one voted for;

c) occasionally produce changes of government without anyone casting a vote;

d) give disproportionate power to small fuckwit parties who play king-maker (see b and c);

e) that are so fiendishly complicated, one could argue that it is a docile and trusting electorate that has faith in the counting process;

f) perpetuates a situation where it can in theory, and historically often has been, difficult if not impossible to get rid of aforementioned king-maker small party fuckwits out of the goddam government;

g) has versions that take power away from constituency parties and local electorates and gives it to the party machine;

h) would virtually guarantee representation for the BNP in the national legislature;

i) is advocated by pious twats who simper on about 'fair votes' but only want power for themselves...

I could go on but I sense you're glazing over. Thing is, I'm agnostic - or rather I don't believe that there is such a thing as a 'fair system'. It depends on what you want your voting system to do. What annoys me is the way it's become received wisdom that the case for a proportional system is unanswerable. I trust I've demonstrated that this isn't the case.

Finally, I trust devolution has refuted once and for all that there is absolutely no grounds whatsoever for arguing that PR increases turnout.

Paulie said...


My favourite line in that comment is "I'm agnostic."

I'd agree with you that the 'fairness' argument is overstated (and most of the other stuff as well, as it happens). The only one that I think is a bit flawed is the one about devolution. It's too early to tell about that one.

I wrote this post (like so many lately) on a bit of a whim. I've just done a quick search on my own site and found that I write about this quite often on a whim and then forget that I've done it.

That's probably why its so repetive around here. Maybe my brain only has the retentive abilities that goldfish have?