Friday, May 07, 2010

Westminster Must Learn from Holyrood

It is clear that the "first past the post" electoral system used in the UK is unrepresentative in an age of party politics. No-one in their right mind can claim that it is a fair result when the Liberal Democrats win a 23% share of the vote and get about 50 parliamentary seats, whereas the Labour Party get a mere 6% more of the popular vote but 200 more seats than the Lib Dems.

Some would claim then that the answer to this gross disparity between popular vote and seats in Parliament is to introduce Proportional Representation, something I have posted about before. I am simply not convinced that simple PR is the way to go, for example, what threshold do set you set for parties to gain seats in Parliament? In the Czech Republic, if I remember rightly, a party needs 5% of the popular vote to get seats, if such a system were implemented in a British context then we would have only three parties in the House of Commons, representing 89% of the electorate based on the results of Thursday's election, and the nationalists of Wales and Scotland, as well as the Northern Irish would simply have no voice in Parliament.

Perhaps I greatest concern when it comes to PR is who chooses the MPs? Do we go to a system of party lists, where the same old faces keep cropping up no matter how unpopular a politician is? Such an approach surely centralises political influence within the national party and takes power away from local parties. Simple PR also changes the nature of the British MP, no longer is he the chosen representative of his constituency, but rather he is the lackey of the central party, taking democracy away from the local level and alienating the people yet further from the system.

What then is needed, in my thoroughly un-humble opinion, is a hybrid system where the House of Commons consists of MPs elected by constituency based, simple majority voting, and 100 MPs elected on the basis of a proportion of the electoral vote, without including those seats where a given party won. So, for example, in a given constituency the winner of the simple vote becomes the MP for that area, the number of votes for each of the other parties contesting that election are tallied with the number of other non-winning votes for each party around the country, and the extra 100 seats are divided according to the percentage of the non-winning share. This is of course similar to the Additional Member System as used in the Scottish Parliament, but without the option for each voter to choose a person and a party separately. Obviously the 100 MPs taking their seats as a result of this system would have to be chosen from a party list, which isn't ideal in my world, but I can't for the life of me think of a democratic alternative to party lists.

As I said to begin with, it is clear that the British electoral system is no longer representative of the British people and as such must be changed. What is not clear, is the fairest, most democratic way to ensure that the voice of every voter is heard, and that the electorate are engaged in the political process.