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Electoral Reform (Stage 1), Evaluation: making it work for us. Part 3.

[Ed: you can read Part 1 in this series here and Part 2 here.]

The Electoral Reform Society, a 134-year-old organisation which hasn’t yet achieved its principle objective, yet is, surprisingly, proud of this, lists 9 voting systems, under the heading ‘Type of voting system’. They do not include the voting system I designed F2PTP (see here) despite the fact they have known of it for over two years and I have corresponded with them about it, though not to any great extent, largely because of their disinterest.

One wonders, then, what qualifies, in their view, as a ‘voting system’? Clearly, it isn’t a voting system, so it must be something else. Such an approach is a part of a series of reasons that obstruct the progress of this very necessary reform and typifies the approach of organisations and perhaps political parties to overlook or even dismiss ideas that don’t fit their pre-determined ideologies. The ERS doesn’t list F2PTP as a voting system, not because it isn’t one, it clearly is, nor because it isn’t in use anywhere yet, as they list other, ‘theoretical’ systems, but because of its source. Anything that hasn’t grown up through their ‘politically correct’ processes, simply doesn’t count.

As it happens their ‘preferred’, system for a UK general election is STV (Single Transferable Vote); that is set in stone, and that is part of the problem.

That’s pretty much the view of other pro-reform organisations and the result is the growth of pro-reform, but dispirited organisations, each with their own view of their own preferred systems and their own preferred campaign strategies. Their work does keep the subject alive and does broaden general awareness, but what they haven’t achieved is any identifiable progress to change the election that really counts.

My approach, the UKIP approach is to draw together all the groups that want reform and work collectively towards making it happen. This means, as a priority, we must all agree on the eventual voting system that will be put to the people. That means evaluation. As it happens, evaluation can be a very powerful tool.

Notionally, an evaluation process is straightforward. One sets the criteria, that which the voting system would ideally produce as outcomes and the practicalities and disadvantages of its processes, weigh these criteria because some criterion may be less important or less significant as others, then measure each of the voting systems against the weighted criteria to produce a result. All the voting system electoral outcomes require a certain amount of modelling and projection, based upon real votes in past elections, but there are well known techniques to determine the outer limits of the models and a valid comparison of this part of the evaluation process can be made.

Were we to leave it here, little would be achieved. Despite the obvious benefit of choosing something that best meets one’s own needs, it has not been done, to my knowledge, with voting systems. People use all sorts of associated information to validate their preferences. That might be that they use this system there, or many countries already use this system, or this system is technically the most proportional. However, any evaluation process, as I’ve described, has never been carried out.

Nevertheless, inbuilt and stubborn prejudice is unlikely to be resolved by simply arguing that one view has greater validity than another. So, we need a mechanism to break this deadlock. A mechanism exists, and it is polling.

Not only do we need to set and weight criteria, but it makes sense that the setting and the weighting of such criteria would do well to take into account the views of the very people that may well be asked to decide on the outcome.

The Swiss, before drafting legislation that will, on conclusion, be put to a referendum, embark upon a process of official opinion polls to find out what’s likely to go down well and what to avoid. The eventual legislation, therefore, is far more likely to be approved in a referendum if the principles discovered through the polling process are represented in the proposed law.  It is simple and effective, and that’s probably why our government doesn’t bother with such things.

However, I digress.

Establishing the opinion of the people is a powerful tool. For example, were one to think that the simplicity and transparency of a particular system was important, yet meet opposition from those who felt differently, a poll that suggest people wouldn’t vote for something they didn’t understand changes the game entirely and it is an opinion that cannot be argued with. The people’s view is also a politically useful tool, because part of the polling process can also assess the likelihood, given much better political arguments, of people voting for candidates that support voting reform.

Where technocrats disagree, the opinion of the people can settle that far better than lengthy argument.

The intention, then, is to invite representatives to come together to partake in an evaluation process to decide which of the available voting systems would be the best one for United Kingdom general elections. When we get to this stage it would represent real progress and be practically as well as politically achievable. My intention is to move the project forward and it is likely to be a step by step process.

A potential problem remains, though, as to how many organisations, or political parties, will want to be involved in such a process. That we don’t yet know. However, it wouldn’t end the innovation as UKIP would be able to carry it out whatever the inclination of others might be to partake, and unwillingness on the part of others would not play well politically. Refusing to consider, which is what evaluation is, shows unreasonableness and bigotry, not the sort of public face these organisations want to project.

The next article in the series will outline new arguments for electoral reform and how we can use them to change the importance of electoral reform as most people perceive it.

 

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David Allen
About David Allen (85 Articles)

UKIP cabinet member for Electoral Reform. Author and political innovator. UKIP Borough Council candidate 2016, KCC candidate 2017, Parliamentary candidate for Rochester and Strood 2017 in which he saved his deposit.

18 Comments on Electoral Reform (Stage 1), Evaluation: making it work for us. Part 3.

  1. Hi David.

    Have you considered Score Voting?

    It has a lot of the same benefits as F2PTP, as it also limits wasted votes and tactical voting with a small change to FPTP.

    FPTP Currently: a voter marks one candidate, voters’ marks are tallied, and the candidate with the highest total wins

    W/ Score Voting: a voter scores each candidate, voters’ scores are tallied, and the candidate with the highest total wins

    There’s a petition up for it if you’re interested: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/203139

    • In mass voting systems the simpler the better. One action, one tick, for one person, is the best way to minimise spoilt papers. Any additional complexity, even ones that may appear to be simple to you or I, increase spoilt papers exponentially (I suspect). I believe some studies have been done on this.

  2. David, Opponents of proportional representation frequently use the examples Israel and Italy to deride any suggestion of change.
    The key to a successful system is the cut off point for entry into the parliament should be four or five percent. No higher and no lower. That way it tends to prevent loony parties getting in and increasing the instability of the government but those that have a decent amount of public support.
    I am lucky to have had the experience of being in a campaign to bring in proportional representation to a country that was firmly wedded to first past the post. We were successful because a) we were persistent and b) we had a certain amount to a certain amount of flexibility regarding which system to support, while at the same time determined not to be fobbed off by any of the slightly proportional systems that the two main parties wanted to suggest.
    We were prepared for a long haul and for a while it was largely the the work of seven of us in one tiny office once a month but the opportunity came much sooner than we expected. I won’t bore you with the details here but suffice to say it was a good rebuff to the naysayers and a lesson to us all about political possibilities.
    The number of people in the country who want to move back to FPTP is negligible these days.
    I have to say though David, I think if you insist on pushing your F2PTP then you are fighting two battles. The second being to convert everyone to a system nobody ever heard of.
    I strongly advise that the UK movement should stick with the AV system used in Scotland and Wales or some variant of it. It will be far easier to get people to accept an extension of the AV model from the regional level to the national level than to introduce a totally new concept. There are slightly better systems than AV but that said AV is a damn good one, and very importantly it is the only one you are likely to get. Time for pragmatism.
    Should anybody be interested in how NZ got a PR electoral system and how things working since (pros and cons) I am happy to answer any questions.
    I should perhaps add that this is a topic that does not usually excite the imagination of many. However in the final year the whole thing became national news especially as politicians from the two main parties were flailing and failing badly in the attempts to save the two party monopoly on political thought. It was a joy to behold!
    Well worth the effort.

    • I’ll be seeking volunteers to work with to move this forward in a meaningful way and see a formal and public opinion led methodology as the best way to get agreement on which system should be presented to the people. It looks as though your experience is exactly what we need in the SAGE gro0up. F2PTP is simply one of the systems in the mix. I hope you will apply when we have the technology up and running.

    • Your experience sounds utterly invaluable.

      Are you currently in the UK by any chance ?

      Surely you should be co opted to any Advisory Group which UKIP creates to take this forward.

      And for that matter to any combined Group which those parties in favour of PR need to create to start exerting pressure, as was done in NZ ?

      I absolutely agree with you about the additional ( unnecessary / own goal type ) obstacle which UKIP’s arguing for the F2PTP system would create.

      Achieving PR is already a huge huge battle to win – creating another one before you even get started is just totally counter productive.

      On the subject of AV ~why should that be preferred to the ‘proper’ PR system the UK uses for Euro elections ?
      The system used in the Euros is totally fair. It is ALREADY in use.

      My only tweak to it ( and this would just be icing on the cake – I would be happy with just the cake for that matter – i agree with you about pragmatism ) is that I would prefer if Parties could only present their Lists of candidates in alphabetical order and the electors could ( if they chose ) then prioritise them 1, 2, 3 etc..
      Thus a staunch Lab or Tory voter could make a choice between a candidate who was strongly PRO or strongly ANTI mass uncontrolled immigration / grammar schools / foreign aid / whatever whatever ~ the whole system would be so much more fair and democratic ~and far far more likely to end up with a HoC with Members in it who were more in touch with their electors.
      rhys burriss
      ( UKIP candidate Bishop Auckland 2015 )

      • The argument that we should use a system already in use elsewhere is a poor one. after all many systems are already in use and usually imposed, not democratically chosen. People’s inbuilt preferences as to which system is best, often quite stoutly defended, require a systematic process to choose one of them to present to the people. Finding out what people prefer, as a part of this process, is a sensible option, after all they’ll be the ones deciding in any future referendum.

  3. i don’t think it’s interesting at all.

    In my opinion it’s the sort of silliness that’ll stop voters listening.

    All the damage and corruption comes later within the power bases of government and their reliance on civil service and external money ( lobbying ).

    The power in the hands of the civil service in the last 50 years has been a serious contribution to our present predicament. They have enormous power and manpower to waste. ( Which is why I try to keep a close eye on developments )

    If time were spent on that, UKIP would not be wasting time.

  4. Very Interesting.
    What is the status of F2PTP within UKIP? Has F2PTP been adopted as “the” system?

    • No.
      Currently UKIP has no formal position on which system we think would be best, but that’s largely to do with the fact that we simply haven’t had a strategy before to progress electoral reform.
      We must, either with others, or alone if necessary, undertake an evaluation that takes into account the views of the general public whom, after all, are likely to make the decision in a further referendum. However, most pro-reform organisations have a ‘preferred’ system to begin with, so there is no reason why UKIP shouldn’t have one as well.
      When we have the technological platform in place I’ll be recruiting a team from the membership to progress electoral reform. Part of that process, perhaps, should be to choose a preferred option, though the more comprehensive evaluation process is intended to choose the system most likely to win a referendum.
      However, F2PTP fares better than other systems, against the arguments made by Labour and the Conservatives. Were our own processes to choose F2PTP as the UKIP preferred option that would be a good starting point.
      There is much political capital to introducing a completely new system, building on past-history as the only party with any new ideas. F2PTP significantly increases the proportionality of representation, yet remains effectively immune from the traditional arguments against PR, meaning that opposition to it would be piecemeal and ill considered. Its radical yet simple characteristics, together with its ‘newness’ has the potential to exercise the minds of the media and raise the profile of UKIP in the minds of the electorate once again.

      • Thanks for the explanation, David.

        I think your analysis of previous elections using different systems is very helpful, and any system to be proposed to the public at large will need to be tested by such means. Certainly what we don’t want is a proposal that seems just the ticket only to be shot down by critics as failing in a significant aspect.

        I had not heard of F2PTP before, so downloaded the pdf, which I found interesting and well worth a good read. It has much to be applauded.

        Critically it introduces the concept that for there to be a proportional system there has to be a move away from single member constituencies. I can see further benefits from larger constituency boundaries, so the principle is sound. I am less persuaded by the number having to be “2”.

        The aspect that will be very controversial is to change the Parliamentary voting system. And the danger of linking constituent votes and MP votes in the one objective is that it dramatically increased the challenge of achieving acceptance; there are two major reason not to support it.

        I understand that the reason for changing the MP voting system is to achieve proportionality, a UKIP Policy. However this is not the only way of achieving proportionality while not loosing the constituency link, and in so saying I am not thinking of any of the other PR systems currently in use in the UK.

        • I suspect that people support a direct link between their MP and their locality but in a multi-member constituency the more members there are the weaker this link becomes. A single representative offers the best link, but as F2PTP needs a minimum of 2 that is the next best option.
          As for opposition, it is already absolute from the Labour and Conservative parties, it’s hard to exceed that, even though I take your point that the establishment will hate it, principally because half of them will lose their seats. However, in the population, that’s seen as a good thing.
          However, these are just the arguments we need to test with the people. If we threaten seats, that will force a referendum, then we need to win it. Brexit strategy all over again, just a different subject.

  5. The 2011 electoral reform referendum set the worst possible alternative against the existing FPTP. In short it was a fix. I can’t see the big two ever agreeing to change, FPTP clearly makes life next to impossible for anyone who wishes to challenge them.
    Since the last coalition government it’s clear that arrangement works and in fact several EU members have governments made up of more than one party, thus giving a greater level of popular representation in the ruling administration and avoiding extreme policies being applied by government that most people voted against . In fact the only thing we voted on that had clear majority, ever, was Brexit.

    • It was a fix, in that when provided with a choice between the existing FPTP or the proposed AV system, the referendum outcome was that FPTP ‘won’. This has then been ‘perceived’ as an overwhelming majority ‘in favour’ of FPTP, rather than a rejection of the proposed AV system.
      Perhaps there should be another referendum, with other alternative systems as multiple options.
      ” In fact the only thing we voted on that had clear majority, ever, was Brexit.”
      But then having said that, our political establishment is still struggling to come to terms with this majority outcome, and are trying their level best to wrangle their way out of this. Referenda are pointless if the establishment either tries to ignore the outcome, or tries to ‘interpret’ it.

  6. Parliament debated the petition “To make votes matter, adopt Proportional Representation for UK General Elections” on October 30th.

    See: https://petition.parliament.uk/archived/petitions/168657

    Links to the video, transcript and research can be found there. I started reading through the Hansard transcript, but it soon started to become clear that they consider the result of the previous 2011 referendum an overwhelming acceptance of FPTP, rather than a rejection of the proposed AV system.

    The ‘big two’ parties, ie Labour and Conservatives, are very keen to maintain the ‘status quo’, as it means that it will be one of either party in power at any time. It seems to be the ‘other’ parties keen on reform and introducing ‘proper’ PR. So on that note it can be considered disappointing that the LibDems did not (or at least attempt to) pursue this any further while in coalition with the Tories.

    • Apologies, there is clearly a gap in my memory, as I have learned from reading comments on the other parts of this article that it was the LibDems who ‘sort of’ forced that referendum in 2011.
      I cannot even recall how I voted in that referendum now.

  7. Interesting thoughts David. I think that we need to go further in changing the voting system in the HoC. It seems wrong to me that all MPs have an equal vote when the numbers of their constituents vary so widely. An example is the current over representation of the Scots.

    Given an electronic voting system in the HoC it would be possible to weight the votes in proportion to the number of people represented by the MP; surely fairer than the crude voting system employed at present?

    Of course it would also be good to penalise those whose attendance record is so obviously poor.

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