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 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.


The Liberal-Democrat Accession and the English Parliament

You should always be careful what you wish for and be wary of the law of unintended consequences. Although I will probably be voting Lib Dem this time round – unless my Tory MP astounds me by previously unsuspected support for an English parliament – a Lib-Dem break-through could have far-reaching ramifications for the prospects and nature of any future English parliament.

For a start, as they made clear yesterday, the Lib Dems will make their support for a minority Labour- or Conservative-led government conditional on introducing proportional representation. One imagines this would involve a referendum on changing to the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system for UK-parliamentary elections.

Many supporters of PR see it as a way to mitigate (i.e. ignore) the West Lothian Question. The logic behind this position is simple, though flawed in my view. For example, under STV, if the actual vote on 6 May exactly followed yesterday’s ICM opinion-poll ratings (Con 33%, Lib Dem 30% and Lab 28%), then the Conservatives would be the largest party both in England and the UK as a whole; and in any coalition of the parties to form a government, the UK majority thus constituted would also be consistent with the parties’ shares of seats in England. Therefore, on one level, it would no longer matter if non-English MPs voted on English laws, as the same laws would be passed if only English MPs voted.

On the other hand, the reverse logic could also apply: if the votes of non-English MPs were no longer needed to pass English bills, why let them vote at all? The only real justification for non-English MPs voting on English legislation presently is when there is a link to spending in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland via the Barnett Formula. But presumably, the days of that formula itself might well be numbered under a Con-LibDem coalition, as the Lib Dems favour scrapping it and even the Tories talk in their manifesto of greater fiscal autonomy for Scotland.

Indeed, in a proportionally elected House of Commons, the situation of non-English MPs voting on English laws would come to appear blatantly, if not scandalously, anomalous. Under First Past the Post, by contrast, the fact that Labour’s Scottish MPs have occasionally been required to pass the government’s England-only legislation against the will of a majority of English MPs did not on one level seem that outrageous in that the government majority procured in this way was no more disproportionate than the normal majority of English MPs only it would expect to command, as both majorities were merely the product of the absurd FPTP electoral system rather than of the way English people actually voted at the 2005 general election.

In other words, in a situation in which voting majorities in the Commons bear little relation to the way the public actually voted at the election, the misuse of non-English MPs to inflate those majorities even further does not stand out too obviously. By contrast, in a proportionally elected House where the parties’ shares of the seats are meant to reflect the way people voted, and where MPs are meant to be more accountable to their electorates, distorting those shares by allowing MPs not accountable to the people affected by bills to vote on them would be completely inconsistent and unacceptable.

Accordingly, I tend to think that, rather than mitigating the WLQ, PR would render it inoperable. But then if you do not allow non-English MPs to make England’s laws, what arrangements would be made for that little matter of how to govern England? Do you go down the route of an English Grand Committee: English laws debated and voted on by separate sessions of English MPs only? Do you draw the logical conclusion and say that Parliament needs to evolve into an English parliament to deal with English matters, with a separate set of representatives elected from across the UK to deal with reserved matters? Or do you just try to ignore the problem by pretending that England does not exist and that the West Lothian Question simply does not arise, let alone require a solution – the Labour government’s approach?

In this way, by insisting on introducing PR before dealing with the English Question, the Lib Dems might find that question comes and bites them in the bum: they could create a constitutional mess in which the very legitimacy and function of the parliament for which they had finally secured PR was called into question – a British parliament without a valid democratic role and status in most of what it did, i.e. in English matters.

To be fair to the Lib Dems, their manifesto does state that they want to hold a citizens’ convention to help draw up a written constitution, and the English Question would be dealt with as part of this process. But the Lib Dems are not going to be in a position to carry out this commitment in full as part of a coalition government. All they’ve actually said is that they’d make electoral reform a minimal precondition of any deal to support a minority government, not the whole constitutional-reform programme; and neither Labour nor the Tories have any appetite to address the English Question. But as I say, the English Question may impose itself as unavoidable if the Lib Dems do succeed in introducing STV.

There are two possible scenarios that follow on logically from this. Firstly, if the Lib Dems do secure STV (and if, as I argue, this would lead to an urgent need to address the English Question because of the crisis of governance it would bring about), then any English parliament would also be based on STV. Having gone to the trouble and expense of introducing STV, which would require the re-drawing of constituency boundaries and the amalgamation of constituencies into multi-member seats, there is no way the English parliament could then revert to the pre-STV single member-constituency system. Having finally achieved their goal of a proper proportional system, the Lib Dems would never accept an inferior system for England; nor – I think – would the English people.

However – scenario two – what if the British public did not endorse STV in the initial referendum required to adopt it as the system for UK elections? For instance, Gordon Brown favours the Alternative Vote (AV) single-member system, and if the Lib Dems’ referendum were held under a putative Lab-LibDem coalition, it could be a multi-option referendum with AV as one of the systems on offer. Labour could be expected to argue strongly for AV, which is in reality merely a mitigated form of FPTP and would preserve the unfair advantage the present system gives to the party. Who knows, voters might prefer to retain single-member constituencies and the winner-takes-all aspect of the present system, albeit in a slightly fairer form. Under this second scenario, the West Lothian Question could remain in place for much longer, as AV would perpetuate the disproportionality of the present system from which the very ability of Labour to form any kind of government depends and which also disguises the outrageously unfair extra advantage Labour obtains from the WLQ.

In this context, the Lib Dems could find themselves in the unenviable position of propping up an unfairly elected Labour government that exploits its stronger base of support in Scotland and Wales to secure its power in England. Would it not then be both more effective tactically, and give greater moral credibility to their demands for constitutional reform, if the Lib Dems declared now – ahead of 6 May – that they would not exploit the West Lothian Question in the new parliament, even if to do so were the only way in which a coalition of which they were a part could actually form a working majority?

After all, how can the English people believe in the Lib Dems’ advocacy of greater democratic fairness and proportional representation if they are in theory willing to exploit one of the most egregiously unfair and disproportional aspects of the present system simply to have a share in government? If they want England to back them on 6 May and support STV in a referendum, then surely they should back ‘building a fairer Britain’ in the forthcoming parliament, too – including fairness for England.

The SNP would break its self-denying ordinance and support a minority Labour government

I’ve just been listening to an interview with SNP leader Alex Salmond on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme. Towards the end of the interview, Eddie Mayer asked Salmond if the SNP would be prepared to break the self-denying ordinance it has hitherto observed in parliamentary votes on what Mayer called ‘devolved’ matters and what Salmond rightly insisted on calling ‘English-only matters’.

The context of the question was the SNP’s election-campaign claims that they would use their influence in a hung parliament to defend Scotland’s interests, in particular to shield Scotland from the severity of the budget cuts that those of us living south of the border are going to have to endure. How could they exercise that influence if they refused to support the party of government in England-only votes?

Salmond stated that he wanted to keep the option of voting on English matters ‘up his sleeve’ as one of the trump cards he might need to play to secure the SNP’s objectives. In other words, the SNP would be prepared to vote on English matters in some circumstances.

Mayer then set the example of a minority Conservative government needing the SNP’s support in a vote on an (English) education bill. Salmond suggested that the example was unrealistic, as the SNP would be more likely to support a more ‘progressive’ policy agenda than one of Tory cuts to public services. This is a round-about way of saying that the SNP would prop up only a Labour minority government or Lab-LibDem coalition, not a Tory government or, one assumes, a possible Con-LibDem partnership.

In other words, if Gordon Brown wants to cling on to power after the election – whether Labour wins the largest or second-largest number of seats – his best bet might be to forge a deal with his SNP compatriots and, of course, Labour’s Plaid Cymru Welsh-Assembly coalition partners.

Come to think of it, it’s rather obvious that Salmond could not get away with suggesting he might do a deal with the Conservatives at Westminster, as the SNP has tried to position the Tories as an anti-progressive force intent on savaging Scottish public services. Salmond is therefore indirectly encouraging Scottish voters to vote Labour in seats where the SNP can’t win in order to ensure a sufficiently large ‘Scottish block’ of ‘progressive’ votes in the new parliament that can override the Tory-LibDem majority in England.

The West Lothian Question could be more alive and embittered than ever in the new parliament – which of course also suits Mr Salmond’s agenda just fine.

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.

Vote in hope or vote in anger: Lib Dems or UKIP

In a recent post, I set out why I think people should vote to bring about a hung parliament, if they can, as the most likely way to ensure that the next parliament will be a reforming one. I indicated that I myself would probably be voting UKIP, nonetheless, because there was no candidate that could realistically beat the incumbent Tory MP where I live and thereby increase the chances of a hung parliament. However, I did say that if the Lib Dems started to significantly improve their opinion poll standings UK-wide, I would maybe reconsider and vote Lib Dem, as they nonetheless have an outside chance here, having gained 32% of the votes in 2005 against the Tories’ 47%.

Before the dramatic surge in the Lib Dems’ poll ratings following last week’s leadership debate, I had revised this position and had already pretty much decided to vote Lib Dem. This was partly in response to the Hang ’em campaign, which is seeking to mobilise the votes of those who want an overhaul of the British system of governance behind getting a hung parliament at this election. The campaign is aiming to pinpoint the best candidate to vote for in each constituency if you want fundamental reform of British (and English) politics: independent- and reform-minded Tory or Labour MPs, or the candidates best placed to defeat incumbent, reform-resistant Tory or Labour MPs – often, but not always, in practice the Lib Dem candidate in England, but also SNP and Plaid Cymru candidates in Scotland and Wales; but strangely and, in my view mistakenly, not UKIP’s Nigel Farage in House of Commons Speaker John Bercow’s Buckingham constituency.

When I read about this campaign, I thought I might as well give my vote to the ‘Hang ‘Em’ candidate in my constituency, who I’m certain will be the Lib Dem, although the verdict of the Hang ‘Em jury is still out for my seat. That’s because the incumbent MP has no record of interest in constitutional and parliamentary reform and, as I say, only the Lib Dem could realistically unseat him.

For me, it suddenly appeared to be a question of whether I wanted to vote in hope or in anger: the hope of a hung parliament, however unlikely to be furthered by a Lib Dem win in my seat, but nonetheless more likely if everyone who shares my views gets behind the Hang ‘Em candidate; or the anger I feel towards the three main parties for abandoning their pledges for referendums of one sort or another on Britain’s place in the EU.

I’m sure that many people across the UK, and especially in England, have been going through similar thought processes: moving from a position of outrage about the behaviour and unaccountability of politicians and the Westminster elite towards backing the Lib Dems and a hung parliament as the most likely route to deliver fundamental political reform. I’m sure that’s the deeper reason for the strong upsurge in Lib Dem support over the past week, although Nick Clegg’s capable performance in the leaders’ debate has helped to crystallise it.

The people want their politics to change; and the English people want a parliament that is more responsive to its concerns and priorities. For better or worse, that feeling has begun to coalesce around the Lib Dems. Let’s just hope it’s enough to deliver at least a hung parliament. And it’s in that hope that I shall be voting on May 6th.

Vote hung parliament!

The English tend to resent people telling them what to do. But at the risk of provoking such resentment, I want to set out here why I think the best result for England from the British general election would be a hung parliament, and then discuss how best to bring about that result.

In a hung parliament, the party that was able to form a government – whether Tory or Labour – would be especially reliant on their MPs elected in Scotland and Wales (and, in the case of the Conservatives, their UUP MPs, if any) to pass legislation affecting England but not the countries those MPs are supposed to represent. If the government relied on some sort of pact with the Lib Dems (whether an actual coalition or an agreement to support the government on principle, if not in every single matter), it might be the case that the support of both the government’s non-English MPs and non-English Lib Dem MPs would be required to vote through English bills.

This situation would make the unrepresentative and unjust character of the West Lothian Question even more obvious than it has been under New Labour’s 13-year-long disproportional rule. So much so, in fact, that the WLQ could come to the attention of many more people in England who have hitherto been blissfully ignorant of it. Who knows, this could even provoke as much outrage as the expenses scandal, and English voters would be rightly furious that the government was exploiting this gerrymandering principle to impose its will on England. Even more so if the SNP and Plaid Cymru, in return for government concessions making the injustices of the Barnett Principle even more onerous to English people, decided to relinquish their self-denying ordinance by voting on non-Scottish and non-Welsh bills respectively in support of the government.

In short, a hung parliament could help bring about a constitutional crisis by waking English people up to the way they’re being ripped off by Westminster.

A second way in which a hung parliament could help along the process of constitutional reform is if the Lib Dems extract an agreement for constitutional and electoral reform in exchange for their support for the government. At the very least, this might involve proportional representation (PR); although I wouldn’t be too surprised if the lily-livered Lib Dems were content to let Gordon Brown (if Labour remained in government) have his insulting referendum on the Alternative Vote (which, as I’ve said elsewhere, is not a real alternative to First Past the Post), rather than pushing for a properly proportional system, which England deserves.

At best, the reforms that might follow could involve a constitutional convention, which the Lib Dems favour, in which potentially all options would be on the table, including an English parliament. It is, however, extremely unlikely that the party of government would agree to such a wholesale process of constitutional reform, even if the Lib Dems made it a condition of their support. However, smaller-scale reforms would be a step in the right direction; and under PR, there would at least be a reasonable chance of electing some English-Democrat and UKIP MPs, depending on which system was adopted.

How to vote for a hung parliament

Under the First Past the Post voting system, the sad truth is that, in most constituencies, it really doesn’t matter how you vote: the incumbent party will almost inevitably win. This is, for instance, the case in my constituency, which is a safe Tory seat.

However, if you are ‘lucky’ enough to live in a marginal constituency, then your vote might actually influence the eventual outcome of the overall contest, and could serve the cause of a hung parliament. This is what I’d recommend:

  • In seats where the Lib Dem candidate has a realistic chance of winning: vote Lib Dem, as this will increase the chance of a hung parliament
  • In seats where it is a fight between Labour and the Tories: either vote Conservative or any other party than Labour. Don’t vote Tory if a) the prospect of doing so makes you feel sick, including because they aren’t remotely interested in governing in the interests of England or English voters; or b) because the opinion polls nationally are suggesting the Conservatives are in danger of winning an overall majority – in which case, they don’t need your vote, and at least you’ll have voted in accordance with your conscience.

In my case, I’m pretty convinced I’ll end up voting UKIP because the only alternatives to the big three, in my seat, are UKIP and the Greens. As I said, it’s a Tory safe seat, so it essentially doesn’t matter how I vote, and none of the main parties are remotely interested in how I do so or in fighting for my vote. So I’ll vote UKIP because I’m furious with the way they all reneged on their commitments to a referendum on the EU.

If, over the course of the campaign, it started to look as though the Lib Dem candidate had a chance of winning, I’d switch to voting for him – simply in order to try and get a hung parliament.

So my recommendation is: vote hung parliament – if you can!

PV: An electoral wildcard

I must confess to being a little obsessed with electoral systems and the degree to which they are proportional. This comes in part from my experience of having been largely disenfranchised by the system presently used for UK general elections and local elections in England: First Past the Post (FPTP). I have never voted for a successful candidate in a parliamentary election, and that’s not because I’ve always voted for ‘fringe’ parties or for none, which I have on occasions but not every time. For most of my adult life, I’ve lived in Tory ‘safe seats’: unwinnable under FPTP even by Labour (for which I’ve never voted) or the Lib Dems (OK, I admit it).

So I’d like to see the introduction of a genuinely proportional voting system such as STV or a Party List system; although this question should not be dealt with in isolation from consideration of the English Question, as I pointed out in a comment to an article elsewhere. Realistically, it may be the case that, for elections to an English parliament or to the House of Commons under a reformed system, the present single-member constituency system will be retained, at least initially, although possibly in combination with a party-list element; whereas the proportional systems I favour require multi-member constituencies or county / regional / national lists.

If single-member constituencies are retained, it’s important to ensure that the voting system used is as fair and proportional as possible. I recently advocated what I now know to be called the Approval System, which involves the ability to vote for as many candidates / parties as you like without giving them a ranking. I think this has some advantages over the Alternative Vote (AV), which is the system Gordon Brown wants to hold a referendum about if Labour win the forthcoming election, in that it turns every expression of preference for a candidate into a genuine endorsement of them as MP if they are elected; whereas, under AV, most candidates are elected on the basis of a sizeable number of lesser-preference votes (people’s second, third or even lower choices).

I would argue that the result that the various single-member systems produce are broadly as follows:

  • FPTP: the winner is the first-choice candidate of most, but not necessarily the majority of, voters
  • AV: the winner is the candidate obtaining a majority of relatively high-preference votes if no candidate obtains a majority of first-choice votes
  • Supplementary Vote (SV – another single-member alternative to FPTP): of the two candidates gaining the largest number of first-choice votes, the winner is the one obtaining a majority of votes once second-choice votes for either candidate are added to their total
  • Approval Voting: the winner is the candidate enjoying the broadest base of support, but not necessarily universally strong support nor that of the majority.

In summary, AV and SV are attempts to overcome one of the main deficiencies of FPTP – the fact that the winner is frequently not supported by a majority of voters – by determining the winner on the basis of a majority of high-preference votes: guaranteed under AV and relatively likely under SV. By contrast, the Approval Vote aims to determine merely the candidate who most people are willing to give some level of support to, but without any attempt to ensure that this is a majority – although it often will be.

I would like to propose a new system, which I’m calling the Popular Vote (PV), which guarantees that any candidate who is the first choice of a majority of voters is automatically elected, while the winner of any poll that doesn’t produce an overall majority for any candidate is, quite simply, the most popular candidate among all voters. My system is a type of Borda Count, but with a revision that overcomes the main problems with that particular method.

It would work as follows:

  • PV is a form of preferential voting and, like a Borda Count, it assigns a number of points to voters’ preferences. The maximum number of points that can be obtained by any candidate is determined by the overall number of candidates. For example, if there are five candidates, the highest number of points you can give to any candidate is five (i.e. they would be your first choice).
  • However, unlike a classic Borda Count, voters would not be obliged to rank all of the candidates (e.g. from five to one); nor would they be obliged to award their top candidate five points. They could, for instance, decide to award their favourite candidate any number of points from one to five: a voter’s first-choice candidate would simply be the one to whom they gave the most points. In most cases, voters would give their preferred candidate five points, but it would be entirely up to them how many points they decided each candidate merited, the only restriction being that no more than one candidate could be given the same score; i.e. you couldn’t award the same number of points to more than one candidate, meaning that you’re obliged to demonstrate your preferences in the points you award to each candidate.
  • When the vote is counted, note is taken of the first preference of each voter, and if a majority of voters selects one of the candidates as their first choice, that candidate is elected. However, if no such majority is attained, the result is then determined by the number of points each candidate has obtained – the winner being the candidate with the most points.

This system provides a fail-safe way of ensuring that the will of the majority prevails, but that if there is no majority, the most popular candidate wins. The fact that preferences are assigned a given number of points guarantees that the candidate with most points is the most preferred candidate. And the fact that, unlike a classic Borda Count, voters are not obliged to rank all of the candidates prevents the winner from being the consensus candidate (e.g. someone who averages around three points out of five for most voters, beating candidates enjoying a high degree of preference from a smaller share of voters) because the number of points voters assign to candidates is a much more accurate reflection of the degree of support they really give to each of them.

This also overcomes one of the main objections to the Borda Count: that it can be rigged by factions or parties fielding more than one candidate to reduce the points value that their supporters will give to opposition candidates. My system also overcomes the vulnerability of the Borda Count to voting tactically by, for instance, giving a higher points score to weaker candidates in order to defeat the stronger candidate you don’t want to win. Both of these problems only exist if voters are obliged to give every candidate a ranking / points score. But if you can simply just leave the box next to the names of candidates you dislike blank, then the number of points you decide to give to each candidate you like is a true reflection of the degree of support you give them.

Let’s take my constituency, where there are five candidates at the forthcoming election: the three main parties plus UKIP and the Greens. Under a Borda Count, I would be obliged to rank all of the candidates from five (my favourite candidate) to one (least favoured). Under PV, I can give any number of points, or none, to any candidate; but once I’ve used any number from one to five for any candidate, I can’t give the same number of points to any other candidate.

The way I’d be likely to vote under PV would be: Lib Dem five points, UKIP four and Greens two – but no points for either Labour or the Conservatives. By contrast, under FPTP, I’m probably going to end up voting UKIP. The reason for giving five points to the Lib Dems under PV would be because the Lib Dem candidate would have a chance of winning under that system, given that the incumbent Tory MP polled only 47% of the vote last time round (not enough to win automatically under PV) while the Lib Dem candidate polled around 32%.

I would want the Lib Dem candidate to win only to help bring about a hung parliament, which creates circumstances in which constitutional and political reform could be favoured. A hung parliament also brings the West Lothian Question into play more than ever, as whichever party was in government would need the support of Scottish and Welsh MPs (and even parties) to pass English laws, which could exacerbate English people’s grievances about the WLQ and might focus the minds of the other parties to do something about it.

Under FPTP, by contrast, the Lib Dem candidate stands virtually no chance, unless the Lib Dems start to push the barrier of 30% support across England. In this context, it costs nothing to use my vote to register a protest against the Lib Dems’ venal abandonment of their previous support for a referendum about the UK’s membership of the EU: hence UKIP – and hence why I would still give UKIP four points under my PV system.

Under a Borda Count, my voting choice would be far more tactical: probably, Lib Dem five (for the same reason as under PV), Labour four, UKIP three, Greens two and Conservative one. The reason for giving four points to Labour would be purely tactical: to harm the Tory and enhance the chances of the Lib Dem candidate without any risk of Labour winning, because they came a poor third last time. But this is a travesty of my real feelings and opinions (loathing Labour, and detesting the Tories’ similar self-serving complacency about the political system and refusal to acknowledge the English Question in any form). There would still be an element of tactical voting on my part under PV, but the system itself still enables my real preferences to be expressed quite accurately: giving a greater priority to getting a hung parliament than registering support for UKIP’s position on the EU and, to a lesser degree, immigration; but nonetheless still showing strong support for UKIP by awarding them four points.

Under AV, by contrast, I’d probably vote UKIP first choice and Lib Dem second, on the basis that if the Tory didn’t win an outright majority, then my second preference for the Lib Dem would get a chance of being registered; but that there’s no point listing any further preferences, because the Lib Dem is going to finish second (or, very outside chance, first) anyway.

I think there can be no question that PV, as I’m proposing it, would produce much more representative results at a constituency level than either FPTP or AV, because if you don’t get an outright majority of first-choice votes for any candidate, the system ensures that the most popular candidate overall wins – and that that candidate is genuinely popular, as the number of points obtained is directly related to the real strength of support for each candidate.

PV wouldn’t necessarily produce a proportional election result at a national level, however, as it shares the deficiencies of any single member-constituency system in this regard. However, logically, it would produce a more proportional and representative result nationwide than either FPTP or AV in that it genuinely determines the most popular candidate in each seat. Therefore, by extension, the aggregate, national result would also be a better reflection of the degree of popularity enjoyed by each party across England and Britain as a whole.

And PV would definitely alter the result in each constituency, compared with FPTP, to a much greater degree than would AV. For example, in my constituency, it would be conceivable that the Lib Dem could win under PV, whereas, under either FPTP or AV, this is virtually unimaginable. In order to win, under PV, voters giving candidates other than the Lib Dem or the Tory their highest score would have to also give a large number of points to the Lib Dem, and a low score or no points at all to the Tory. You could say that this artificially engineers victories for candidates with a relatively low level of first-preference support. But I would argue that PV simply determines the candidate people most want to win, as opposed to the candidate most people want to win, which is what FPTP does. And remember, if a majority of people select any candidate as their first choice, the result under PV and FPTP would be the same.

Up to my readers to decide which system they think is best, and to measure their choice against how the different systems would affect their voting decisions at the upcoming election. I know which system I’d vote for: a system that empowers my vote rather than returning the same party with no real alternative time after time, even without an overall majority.