Monday, 18 May 2015

Why STV is better than party-list PR if you want electoral reform that can throw the Conservatives out

Earlier today, the leaders of five major parties, specifically the Green Party, UKIP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the SNP handed in a petition containing nearly half a million signatures rightly calling for electoral reform to Downing Street.

Unsurprisingly, the Conservative and Labour leaders did not show up, due to the fact that the Conservatives and Labour still benefit from first past the post in Britain.

Or rather they do not, area by area:

The Conservatives have 51 MPs out of 55 in the South West and 78 MPs out of 84 South East constituencies-but Labour has 51 MPs out of 75 in the North West and 26 MPs out of 29 in the North East. Also, of the 10 seats Labour gained from the Conservatives, 3 were in the North West and 4 were in Greater London. Meanwhile, the South West was the region where the Liberal Democrats lost the fewest deposits and probably retained the most support overall, but they no longer have any seats at all in that region. They still have two seats in the North West but they suffered some of their heaviest vote share drops outside Scotland in Manchester and Liverpool.

It is clear that proportional representation will actually benefit every party, by giving all areas a fairer choice and by ending the north-south political divide, and therefore it will improve democracy in general.

I however do not specifically support party-list PR in terms of PR systems. The reason is that the current list PR elections that occur in the UK (for European Parliament elections, for London Assembly elections, for Welsh Assembly elections, and for Scottish Parliament elections, the last three of which have single member constituencies as well) are held on a closed list (meaning that voters can only choose a list, not indicate preferences for particular candidates in a list over others) system, which places too much power in the hands of party leaders. This can make it more difficult to unseat particularly unpopular incumbent MPs than under FPTP in some cases. Secondly, list-PR systems make it difficult if not impossible for independent candidates to effectively stand for election. Thirdly, constituencies have to be large for PR to be effective, and the nature of Britain is not well-suited to list PR.

For this reason, I recommend Single Transferable Vote instead. It is more localised than list-PR, which will please electors still wanting the locality factor in their representatives. STV also discourages negative campaigning which has become entrenched in British politics, because of its fundamental reliance on preference votes. It also requires MPs to be more accountable to their constituents as well, and is more flexible for independents than list PR. Finally, STV is very useful for throwing unpopular governments out, as Fianna Fail found out to their cost in the Irish general election of 2011; Fine Gael and their Labour coalition partners will likely be hit heavily come the next Irish general election as well.

Despite the long counts STV will require, especially in light of how large British STV constituencies will need to be in order to be manageable, I believe it is a considerably better path than list PR in terms of real electoral reform and more importantly improving MPs' accountability to the people as a whole, as opposed to party whips.


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