Alternative alternative voting systems, part five: AV+, or denying (proportional) representation to England

The Alternative Vote Plus (AV+) is the system for UK-parliamentary elections recommended in 1998 by the Independent Commission on the Voting System (the Jenkins Commission) appointed by the New Labour government. That government then reneged on its 1997 manifesto promise to hold a referendum on whether to adopt the recommendations of the Commission.

AV+ is a form of Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system, in which single-member constituency MPs are topped up by MPs elected from a proportional open party list encompassing a wider geographical area – in the case of AV+ based around traditional counties and urban areas. It is therefore very similar to the Additional Member System (AMS) used to elect the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. Indeed, the Jenkins Report recommended that the same top-up areas be used in Scotland and Wales for UK-parliamentary elections based on AV+ as for their national elections using AMS. The difference with AV+ is that it is AV rather than First Past the Post that is used for the constituency part of the election.

The way in which it was proposed that the top-up element of AV+ would work is described in the Jenkins Report here. The total number (80) and geographical distribution (65 in England) of top-up areas is described here. In addition, it was proposed that about 15% to 20% of all MPs would be elected via the top-up part of the system.

My contention in this article is that one of the main, if unstated, reasons why New Labour never carried out a referendum on AV+ is that introducing it would inevitably have raised questions regarding English governance in general that New Labour wanted to keep permanently brushed under the carpet. The same could in fact be said of PR in general: the implementation of any form of proportional representation for the UK parliament would inevitably create a dynamic towards an English-national politics. This is because a PR election would produce a body of English MPs that for once reflected, albeit still imperfectly, the actual level of support enjoyed by each party in England. It would be contrary to this proportionality if MPs elected outside of England altered the balance of power between the parties, especially if this overrode the will of English MPs (e.g. if Labour used its Scottish MPs to maintain a majority in English matters that it would not otherwise have based on English MPs only). But even if the balance of power was not affected by non-English MPs legislating for England, the legitimacy of them doing so would be questioned much more forcefully. That’s because proportional representation is predicated on geographic representation: the importance of ensuring proportionality is to ensure that people within a certain geographical territory have elected representatives and governments that reflect how they voted and are therefore properly accountable to them. But that principle would be violated if representatives from outside that territory continued to make laws for it.

With regard to AV+ in particular, and Mixed Member Proportional systems (including AMS) in general, I would argue that it has the potential to offer solutions to the West Lothian and English Questions that the British Establishment doesn’t want, because it introduces a distinction between English and British governance. Indeed, it is because of the potential for AV (without the top-up element) to serve as a stepping stone towards a form of AV+ in which a distinct English level of governance is recognised that I have previously argued I would be prepared to back AV in the proposed referendum in May 2011, for all my considerable criticisms of AV. In that previous article, I argued that a House of Commons elected using AV, coupled with a House of Lords elected using a regional party-list form of PR, could provide a transitional stage towards a hybrid English-British parliament. In this parliament, executive responsibility for English matters would belong to AV-elected English constituency MPs (although they would need the voting support of their party-list-elected colleagues), while the party-list MPs would also sit in a new federal British parliament responsible for reserved matters. (I outlined this constitutional blueprint in detail in the now sadly discontinued English Parliament Online site. I’ll republish the article here at some point.)

That particular model for Parliament is based on the idea that you could map two other distinctions onto the distinction between constituency MPs and party-list MPs: 1) the distinction between devolved and reserved matters; and 2) the distinction between national and Union-British politics and governance respectively. On this basis, under AV+, the primary focus for constituency MPs’ activities and accountability would be devolved issues affecting the day-to-day lives of their constituents in the nations from which they were elected, such as health, education, transport, justice, housing, etc. The top-up, party-list MPs would then be responsible and accountable mainly for reserved and Union-wide matters, while also having regard for the impact of their decisions on the nations from which they had been elected. Building on this principle, in my hybrid English-British parliamentary model, the English party-list MPs would be accountable to their constituency colleagues for their decisions in the British parliament: the English parliament would have powers of scrutiny over British legislation, just as the British parliament could scrutinise legislation from the devolved parliaments, or at least the English parliament.

In the case of AV+ as proposed by the Jenkins Commission, the top-up MPs do not in fact have such a Union-wide or English-national remit, as they are elected from smaller regions. However, even such a system could evolve into a situation where, for instance, only English constituency and top-up MPs could deliberate on the finer points of England-specific legislation at the committee stage, while the support of England-only constituency MPs and party-list MPs from across the UK could be required to pass the bills at the final reading. This would provide some means for Scottish-, Welsh- and Northern Ireland-elected MPs (i.e. the party-list MPs from those countries) to have a say regarding the impact of English legislation on their countries, while not allowing Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish constituency MPs to meddle in areas that are dealt with for their countries by devolved parliaments and assemblies. I.e. this presents an almost ready-made solution to the West Lothian Question.

Indeed, there would be no requirement to retain Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish constituency MPs at all in a Westminster parliament in which English legislation was enacted primarily by English constituency and top-up MPs with additional scrutiny by Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish party-list MPs fulfilling the role to which I am arguing top-up MPs are best suited: considering the impact of legislation on their countries and on the Union as a whole. The introduction of AV+ could, then, have led irresistibly to the abolition of non-English constituency MPs at Westminster, their role having been taken over by MSPs, AMs and MLAs (although this would require further devolution, such that the law-making powers of the respective parliament and assemblies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were equivalent to, and exercised in the same areas as, the continuing UK parliament’s powers to legislate for England.).

As a result, the remaining UK parliament would have comprised: English constituency MPs, English party-list MPs and non-English party-list MPs. All MPs would have been equally entitled to vote both on reserved matters and at the first and third stage of English legislation – but with non-English party-list MPs no longer having the power to outvote English MPs in relation to England-only legislation. Where a conflict arose between the English MPs and the non-English MPs regarding such legislation, doubtless the usual political deals and quid pro quos would have come into play, given that the non-English MPs raising concerns would belong to the same parties as their English colleagues. So such a system would undoubtedly continue to protect the interests of the UK’s smaller nations rather well, probably to the detriment of England. This is not the most logical or fair outcome, but it’s what the UK parliament could easily have evolved into if AV+ had been adopted: once you had created bodies of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs not directly elected by constituents (the top-up element), there would be no purpose (other than gerrymandering) to retain constituency MPs from those countries as well, as their role in assessing the impact of English bills on their countries (including the Barnett consequentials) could more than adequately be fulfilled by the party-list MPs. You might have to increase the number of such MPs so that their total would be proportionate to the number of English MPs (both constituency and party-list) relative to the size of each country’s population. And you’d accordingly have to change the system for electing the party-list MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so that the distribution of seats reflected the parties’ shares of the vote. In other words, this would be a full party-list system, and not just a constituency top-up as it could continue to be in England.

However, this was not to be and will almost certainly never be now. Nevertheless, the system we may end up with as a result of the coalition government’s planned reforms – AV-elected constituency MPs from across the UK and regional party list-elected Lords – could well present a similar ready-made solution to the West Lothian Question. That is, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish elected Lords could replace constituency MPs from those countries in their role of scrutinising English legislation with respect to its impact on their countries. In such a situation, there would again no longer be any practical need to retain the unwanted services of non-English MPs in the creation of laws and regulations that apply to England alone.

Lords elected outside of England deliberating and voting on English bills has been dubbed the ‘Upper West Lothian Question’. But if the powers of the Lords were limited to revising and delaying bills, with the final say being given to English-elected MPs only, then this could be a workable solution to the West Lothian Question. Doubtless, party-political and unionist considerations would result in resistance to stripping non-English MPs of their role in England’s governance. But eventually, the duplication of the West Lothian Question that would result from both non-English MPs and non-English Lords voting on English laws would come to seem so grossly unfair and superfluous that a decision would have to be taken as to which elected body, the Commons or the Lords, should fulfil that function, if at all. An elected Lords including non-English members could easily come to be seen as a more legitimate body for deliberating on the impact of English bills on the UK as a whole, as the Lords would be a body with a genuine UK-wide remit, reflecting the logic I referred to above: party list-elected representatives having an overall responsibility to ensure the interests within the UK-wide context of the broader geographic areas from which they are elected (which, in the case of non-English-elected Lords would be the whole of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively), while constituency representatives should be directly accountable to their constituents on devolved matters.

So, whether in its originally envisaged form, or in the interplay between an AV-elected Commons and a party list-elected Lords, or indeed as employed in my model for a hybrid English-British parliament, AV+ has a strong potential to force a resolution of the West Lothian Question. And that’s because it creates a body of elected representatives with accountability at a more national and / or Union-wide level in addition to constituency MPs: it creates national, including English, blocks of MPs and / or Lords, and a justified expectation on the part of each nation’s voters that the people only they have elected should be accountable to them for the laws that affect them.

It’s for this reason – to try to prevent the emergence of an English-national politics and political consciousness – that AV+ will almost certainly never be implemented in its originally envisaged form. Nonetheless, I’ll finish by assessing it here using the same criteria I’ve employed to determine the merits of other voting systems, but with an additional eye towards the particular benefits or disadvantages that England would have stood to gain from AV+.

My first criterion is, Does every vote count / is every vote counted? Here, I’d give AV+ three points out of five, compared with only two for AV on its own. AV fails to count often the majority of second-preference votes and still produces situations in which the votes of a large minority of voters (and sometimes even a majority, if the eventual winner fails to secure a majority of primary and preferential votes) have no influence on the final result. The top-up element of AV+ remedies this situation to some extent by ensuring that the most under-represented party or parties at constituency level are able to secure some degree of representation. Therefore, under AV+, the majority of votes are not counted / do not count at constituency level; but most voters’ choices for either their directly elected MP or regional party top-up representative should influence the result.

Second criterion: is the system proportional? Here again, I’d give AV+ as originally envisaged three out of five. It is proportional but only in a limited way, as the ratio of top-up to constituency MPs (about one to five) is not high enough to ensure a strongly proportional result, especially as AV itself can be wildly disproportional. This is in contrast to other Mixed Member Proportional systems, which have far higher proportions of party-list representatives (e.g. Germany, where 50% of MPs are elected in this way).

Criterion No. 3: Does the system foster accountability? AV+ scores four out of five here: not only does it preserve the close link between MPs and their constituency, but it also improves the accountability of Parliament to the UK as a whole (by virtue of the improved proportionality) and of English-elected representatives to English voters, as discussed above. It fails to score a perfect five, because it is only imperfectly proportional, and because AV alone in fact does little to improve the accountability of MPs to the majority of their constituents, or to eradicate safe seats.

Criterion No. 4: Does the voting system allow voters to express the full range of their political and personal preferences, and send a message to politicians? I’d say that AV+ merits only three out of five here, compared with two out of five for AV alone. You do get quite a fine-grained menu of choices under AV+: you can express the full range of your preferences in the constituency vote and indicate your strongest preference in the top-up party vote, with a reasonable expectation that at least one of your choices (party and / or individual) will be elected. However, in practice, I’m not sure whether people wouldn’t end up treating the constituency vote in the manner of an FPTP election while voting tactically in the top-up vote. That’s to say, if you know your preferred candidate has little chance of winning the constituency election based on AV, you might limit your vote to one candidate (either your preferred candidate or a tactical vote), and then vote in the top-up election in exactly the same way: for your preferred party if you thought they had a chance of gaining an extra seat that way, or tactically for another party that stood a better chance of winning the extra seat or seats on offer.

For example, if the last election had been fought using the AV+ system, and the parties standing in my constituency and ‘region’ had been the same as they were (i.e. no English Democrat or BNP candidates), then I’d have been tempted to vote for only the UKIP candidate at constituency level (as only the Tory could win in practice, so why bother expressing anything other than your real first preference?) but Lib Dem in the top-up vote, as that party stood the strongest chance of winning the additional seat: FPTP-style vote at constituency level, tactical vote in the ‘proportional’ part of the system.

As for the fifth criterion, Does the system mitigate the need to vote tactically?, I’ve just partially answered that question: no, there would still be strong tactical voting pressures and incentives in both the constituency and top-up elections. So I’d give AV+ only two out of five here.

The sixth criterion is, how easy is the system for voters to understand, trust and use effectively? Here also, I’d give AV+ only three out of five. AV alone is quite a complicated and non-transparent system that generates unfair results (based on the possibility that the winner’s majority is smaller than that of another party if all second preferences were counted). If you add to that the rather complicated, bitty top-up system suggested by the Jenkins Commission for AV+, then the question of how to vote in order to secure a desired outcome, and the link between how one had voted and the eventual result, could be quite bewildering for many voters. On the positive side of the equation, AV+ would in fact produce fairer results by virtue of the mechanism it employs to compensate the parties most disadvantaged by the disproportionality of AV. And English voters in particular would feel they were more empowered to achieve a result they actually wanted, and a parliament that truly represented them. Across the UK as a whole, voters would soon come to understand that they had two chances to hit their desired target and would begin to use AV+ astutely to procure if not their most preferred outcome, at least one they had chosen, whether enthusiastically or tactically.

To summarise, here is how AV+ stands in relation to the other systems I’ve discussed in this series of articles to date:

Criterion FPTP AV AppV ARV TMPR AV+
Does every vote count?

3

2

3

4

4

3

Is the system proportional?

1

2

2

3

3

3

Does the system foster accountability?

3

3

4

4

4

4

Does the system let voters express their views?

1

2

3

4

4

3

Does the system mitigate tactical voting?

1

2

2

3

4

2

How user-friendly is the system?

3

2

4

3

3

3

Total scored out of a maximum of 30

12

13

18

21

22

18

AV+ emerges as significantly better than the AV system the establishment is condescending to allow us to choose over FPTP, but significantly inferior to the range voting ARV system, or the more open and empowering but still constituency-focused TMPR system discussed in the previous post. But in any case, we won’t be getting the choice of AV+ or any of its cognates (AMS or MMP) any time soon, because the last thing the establishment wants is any English-national dimension to elections.

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South-East Cambs candidates’ views on the Power 2010 pledge

I’ve had a couple of replies from my local candidates on the Power 2010 Pledge, which I wrote to them about on St. George’s Day. Their responses are basically in line with their parties’ manifestoes, which I suppose is no surprise.

First, the incumbent Tory MP, Jim Paice:

“My Party is a Unionist party – and so we will not put the Union at risk. However, having said that we are supportive of devolution and have committed in our Manifesto to rebalance the unfairness in the voting system for devolved issues in Parliament (the so-called ‘West Lothian Question’). We have pledged to introduce new rules so that legislation referring specifically to England (or to England and Wales as is also often the case) cannot be enacted without the consent of MPs representing constituencies of those countries. The Labour Government has refused to address this situation, and it is not a Manifesto commitment of the Lib Dems.

“You can read the Manifesto here http://www.conservatives.com/Policy/Manifesto.aspx and the relevant section is pages 83-84.”
Firstly, Jim Paice is right about Labour and the Lib Dems on this issue. Indeed, the Lib Dems have indicated elsewhere that they are prepared to tolerate the continuation of the WLQ until more fundamental reforms of the constitution, parliament and voting system are enacted – which is highly convenient if they actually need the votes of Scottish Labour MPs to pass English legislation in the event of a Lab-Lib coalition after the election.
This emphasis on resolving the West Lothian and English Questions within a broader context of constitutional reform – again, consistent with the manifesto – is what emerges from the reply I received from the Lib Dem contender in South East Cambs, Jonathan Chatfield:
“Thank you for writing to me about the English question and wider Power 2010campaign.

“I am delighted to support the campaign for a reforming Parliament and have signed the pledge. Liberal Democrats have been calling for wholesale reform of our Parliamentary system for a long time and I am pleased to say that it is already our policy to:

“Introduce a proportional voting system

“The Liberal Democrats will change politics forever and end safe seats by introducing a fair, more proportional voting system for MPs, and for the House of Lords. By giving voters the choice between people as well as parties, it means they can stick with a party but punish a bad MP by voting for someone else.

“Scrap ID cards and roll back the database state

“Liberal Democrats would scrap ID cards. Getting rid of this illiberal, expensive and ineffective scheme, will free up money for thousands more police on our streets. We will also get innocent people off the DNA Database and scrap the intrusive ContactPoint database which will hold the details of every child in England.

“Replace the House of Lords with an elected chamber

“Liberal Democrats will replace it with a fully elected second chamber with considerably fewer members than the current House.

“Draw up a written constitution

“Liberal Democrats believe that people should have the power to determine this constitution in a convention made up of members of the public and parliamentarians of all parties, and subject to final approval in a referendum.

“The only part of the pledge with which I do not agree is the call to ‘allow only English MPs to vote on English laws’. We need a wider look at the constitution and our electoral system, rather than creating two types of MPs at Westminster. I believe that the better approach to solve the anomalies in the current constitutional settlement is to address the status of England within a Federal Britain, through the Constitutional Convention set up to draft a written constitution for the UK as a whole.

“Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.”

No surprises there, then, and no surprise that the Power 2010 movement itself enjoys the backing and participation of senior Liberal Democrats: the Power 2010 Pledge (apart from English votes on English laws) could almost be taken out of the Lib Dem manifesto!

Of course, from my perspective, it’s highly problematic that the only part of it that Jonathan Chatfield doesn’t agree with is the proposed remedy to the West Lothian Question; and it’s ironic that this is the only bit that the Tory candidate does agree with.

Sort of. Because the Tories’ ‘answer’ to the West Lothian Question is not a real answer. It’s true that they would allow only English MPs to determine effectively the final shape of any England-only legislation, by allowing only English MPs to participate at the report and committee stages of bills. But non-English MPs will still be allowed to vote on those bills at their second and third reading. So if there’s an overall Conservative majority among English MPs (the most likely outcome of the election) but not a Conservative majority across the UK as a whole, there could be stalemate if the other parties and non-English MPs voted down English bills at their second and third reading.

This is another reason why the Conservatives are banging on about being given an overall majority across the UK as a whole (which actually means a substantial majority in England only), because otherwise they would not be able to govern in England if they formed a minority government and still tried to adopt their proposed mitigation of the WLQ. Expect that to be dropped then in such an eventuality.

The Conservatives’ proposal would, however, nicely salve their conscience if there were a hung parliament but they had enough MPs to make a deal with the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the UUP to give them an overall majority. They could then defend themselves against accusations that they were, in effect, using the votes of non-English and, in some instances, anti-Union MPs to pass legislation in the Union parliament that affected only England! They would argue that their ‘English pauses for English clauses’ arrangement effectively gave English MPs – i.e. the English Tories – the final say on English bills.

Equally, the Tories’ tweak to the procedures for English bills could be introduced in the event of a Con-Lib coalition, especially as the Lib Dems seem to have no difficulties of conscience in practising West Lothian voting. So in effect, the Tory and Lib Dem positions ironically dovetail on the West Lothian Question: they’re prepared to continue with that anomaly so long as it suits their political interests and they can appear to legitimise the governance of England by the Union parliament for the Union – as opposed to government of the English people by the English people for the English people.

So should I conclude that I should give my vote to neither the Tories or the Lib Dems? Well, my view, as frequently expressed in this blog during the election campaign, is that, without a hung parliament, there’s no chance of driving through the radical constitutional reforms that could lead to constitutional recognition of England as a nation and to an English parliament. The Tories clearly are not interested in addressing the broader English Question, and their proposal doesn’t even amount to English votes on English laws – partly because of the unworkability of that proposal, at least under present parliamentary arrangements.

The Lib Dems, on the other hand, do recognise the need to address the English Question, even if they are at best equivocal about what the status of England, if any, would be in their federal blueprint for the UK; and even if electoral reform begs the English Question even more critically than carrying on with West Lothian voting in a non-proportionally elected House of Commons, as I argued in my previous post.

So it’s still the Lib Dems for me, as they’re the only party in South East Cambs that could unseat the Tory MP and help towards a hung parliament. But if they do have a share of power after the election, they’d be very much on probation, as far as I’m concerned. Their credentials with regard to real democratic reform will be dependent on the extent to which, if at all, they allow the English people to determine the way they are governed. And tolerating the WLQ isn’t a good start.

Vote for England and St. George?

That’ll teach them not to officially fly the flag of St. George atop our dual-purpose English and British parliament! Serves them right – although, apparently, the police stopped the Power 2010 activists from projecting this giant Cross of St. George onto the Palace of Westminster after only about two minutes, no doubt on some spurious counter-terrorist or public-order grounds. British police state!

The Power 2010 campaign, which was, to say the least, a reluctant convert to the cause of English votes on English laws at the time of their online poll to determine the most popular ideas for constitutional reform, which culminated in February, is now urging people to write to their parliamentary candidates to ask them for their views on the English Question. Good for them, and great idea to project the flag and create this image!

There’s no doubt that if all English people who support an English parliament – 68% according to an ICM poll commissioned by Power 2010, due to be published today – could back just one party in support of that aim, then that party would romp to victory at the general election and reclaim Westminster as the English parliament. But in practice, the idea of voting for a pro-EP candidate puts me in something of a quandary. I devoted my last post here to promoting the idea behind the Hang ‘Em campaign, which seeks to mobilise voters to back the candidate most likely to advance the cause of a reforming parliament, principally by achieving a hung parliament. In accordance with that objective, I’ve decided to vote Lib Dem, as their candidate in my constituency is the only one who could possibly defeat the existing Tory MP, thereby furthering the goal of a hung parliament. But should I switch my vote over to the Tory if he turns out to support an English parliament?

I’m definitely going to take the opportunity to ask him and should have done so when I bumped into him in a local street canvassing last week (!); but I’m not sure he or one of his campaign team are going to have time to reply before 6 May now – talk of doing too little, too late, myself included in the criticism! In any case, I think it’s highly unlikely he would support such a radical constitutional innovation, as he never seems to deviate in any way from official Conservative policy, which doesn’t even propose a workable solution to the West Lothian Question, let alone address the English Question. But what if he does turn out to support an EP?

Well, there’s no point voting for a candidate who favours an English parliament who, if elected, wouldn’t do anything to advance that cause. But I’ll ask him whether he would do anything about it, if he does support an EP, and give him the chance to set out his views. I’ll let you know what answer I get to my question, if any. But my default position remains that the best way to promote the goal of an English parliament is to vote for a hung British parliament; and, in any case, voting Lib Dem is entirely consistent with both objectives, as they at least say in their manifesto that the English Question needs to be dealt with as part of an overall British constitutional convention.

So I still say ‘vote hung parliament’ until the Cross of St. George hangs from an English parliament!

Have a good one, by the way.

Make Gordon Brown say ‘England’

I’ve ranted on enough about the way England-specific topics are unlikely to be explicitly dealt with as such in the much heralded prime-ministerial debates, including in this blog. But now Power 2010 is giving people a chance – however slim – to persuade ITV to ask the leaders where they stand on English votes on English laws (EVoEL) during the first debate tomorrow, on ‘domestic’ (i.e. mostly English) issues.

They’ve set up a web page that allows you to send an email requesting that ITV ask the West Lothian Question that the Labour and Tory manifestoes, published this week, have already shown the parties to be unwilling to even address, let alone resolve in any meaningful way.

Give it a go and, you never know, the leaders might actually be forced to utter the ‘E’ word: it’ll be worth it for the sheer entertainment value of watching Gordon Brown squirm as he pushes that hated word out of his mouth!

Farcical Tory whinges about electoral unfairness

The Tories have been moaning about how they are electorally disadvantaged by the present constituency boundaries in England. In a post on the Conservative Home blog today, they quote the Sun as saying: “On a uniform swing across the country, the Tories would get 278 MPs if they scoop 37 per cent of the vote. But Labour would get 280 on just 32 per cent of the vote”.

As I point out in a comment to that post, 278 MPs still equate to 43% of seats in the House of Commons; so the Tories have got nothing to complain about other than the fact they resent Labour benefiting from the unfairness of the voting system even more than they do.

These anomalies arise only as a result of the unfair system used for UK-parliamentary elections. Admittedly, they are exacerbated by Labour’s gerrymandering of constituency boundaries, such that urban seats, where Labour’s support is concentrated, have smaller populations than rural ones, where the Tories are stronger. But it’s the ‘winner takes all’ principle of the First Past the Post system that translates this advantage into seats in Parliament. The Tories, who have consistently opposed electoral reform, have only themselves to blame. But, rest assured, if they get back in power, they’ll rig the system back the other way, in their favour.

In a properly proportional voting system, these anti-democratic absurdities would be a thing of the past. Using multi-member STV, for instance, the number of seats up for election in each constituency would be in proportion to the population size of the constituency; and the result would be in proportion to the way people actually voted. But you won’t find the Tories supporting that, because then they’d have even fewer than 43% of seats from 37% of the vote.

But – and this is the stupidity of their support for FPTP – they would be the largest party and would have the automatic right to try and form a government; whereas under FPTP, anomalies such as Labour being the largest party in parliament based on a smaller share of the vote can always arise: they’re structurally built in to the system, and arguably this would still work in Labour’s favour even if constituency sizes were all the same, as Labour tends to win their seats on smaller shares of the vote than the Tories.

Idiot, self-serving Tories.

And the other dimension they’re not factoring in to these calculations is that Labour’s overall UK plurality (i.e. largest share but not majority of seats) is entirely dependent on their electoral strength in Scotland and Wales. In an English parliament – based on the shares of the vote the Tories are using for their calculations – the Conservatives would be in the majority, or at least the party of government. And indeed, if they stood up for proper English votes on English laws, rather than their botched mitigation of the WLQ, which allows non-English MPs to continue voting on English legislation, they could prevent Labour from being the party of government for England.

Idiot Tories!


Keep the English Question on the election agenda: vote EVoEL

This is a bare-faced appeal to my readers to visit the Power 2010 website and vote for the option of English Votes on English Laws (EVoEL).

I’ve discussed Power 2010 before, but just to remind you, it’s a movement for political and constitutional reform that is conducting an online poll to determine the five most popular reform measures that candidates at the general election will be asked to support. An English parliament isn’t on the list because it was eliminated in a public deliberation in December of last year, whose impartiality and validity left something to be desired. But EVoEL did make the cut, and it’s the only proposal that addresses the English Question to be included in the poll.

It’s really important to try and get EVoEL back into the top five, where it was placed up until Monday of this week, when it was overtaken by the idea of an elected second chamber of (the British) Parliament. That was thanks to an appeal to supporters of the Unlock Democracy organisation to vote for that single measure alone. There are only five days left to go, so now is the time to vote!

The idea of an elected second chamber has some merits, but it would certainly not deal with the discrimination faced by English voters under the present system. Indeed, it might make it worse by setting up an upper-house West Lothian Question: elected Lords or Senators from non-English seats voting on English legislation.

EVoEL is currently 94 votes behind an elected second chamber. At one point yesterday, the gap was 98 votes, and it then dropped to 72. So we can make a difference. EVoEL is absolutely no substitute for an English parliament; but voting for it in this poll should be considered a tactical vote. Getting it through would basically keep the English Question on the agenda, and candidates will be asked to commit to supporting fairer representation for English people in Parliament – just at the time when the Tories have now finally abandoned their previous commitment to EVoEL and have decided to adopt Ken Clarke’s ‘English Pauses for English Clauses’ measure: non-English MPs can still vote on English bills at their second and third readings, the only difference being that only English MPs can make amendments at the committee stage.

We need proper democratic accountability: England-only laws enacted by only English MPs; and no MPs whose countries are not affected by laws relating to England should vote on them. So vote EVoEL now!

English Votes on English Laws is undesirable but possible

I’ve just thought of a way to overcome one of the problems that is often brought forward as a reason why it would be hard or inadvisable to introduce English Votes on English Laws (EVoEL) in the Westminster parliament: the fact that clauses in many bills relate to different combinations of the UK’s constituent countries, e.g. England and Wales; England, Wales and Northern Ireland; or Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales). Therefore, it’s practically difficult to say that a particular bill relates to England only and to limit voting on that bill to MPs from English constituencies.

My solution to this problem with the West Lothian solution is to say that for country-specific clauses such as these, you simply count only the votes of the MPs from the countries affected. So you don’t have to break up the chamber of the House of Commons and form a separate English Grand Committee, or a separate England-only block at the committee stage of a bill (Ken Clarke’s proposal that appears to be the Conservatives’ current policy). Scottish MPs could still be present at and participate in debates on matters not affecting Scotland, to preserve at least the idea that the Westminster parliament is that of the whole UK and to allow Scottish MPs to input into spending decisions that will in fact indirectly affect their constituents via the Barnett Formula. But if any Scottish MP voted on clauses or whole bills not affecting Scotland, those votes would simply be regarded as inadmissible and not counted.

So this is more of a negative version of EVoEL: counting out the votes of MPs representing seats not affected by parliamentary bills, rather than counting in only the votes and participation of English MPs on English bills or clauses. The drafters of bills and the House of Commons business managers know which clauses relate to which countries. So bills can be walked through and voted on clause by clause, just as now; only without counting the votes of MPs representing seats not affected by those bills.

Not great; but do-able.