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Electoral Reform Stage 1, a strategic overview – Part One

This is the first in a series of papers about Electoral Reform and focuses on the principal issue of voting reform. That is, to change the voting system to one which engages more people in the process and provides a parliamentary voice to opinions that would otherwise go unrepresented. There are many contending systems, all of which would be far more proportional than FPTP (First Past the Post), which is the current and long serving voting mechanism.

By proportionality, I mean the voting power in the House of Commons that each MP is authorised to wield. A PR system is designed to be proportional (as much as could possibly be the case) to the numbers of people that voted for each MP. However, the activity I describe as ‘voting power,’ in most descriptions of PR, is often commonly analogous to, and understood to mean, seats. This is, in fact, not necessarily the case as voting power is the real issue here and it is not necessarily synonymous with seats. In fact, in some PR scenarios they are quite different.

Proportional Representation is a term that is commonly used to describe proportional voting systems that improve the proportionality between ‘voting power’ and electoral support.

As the UKIP cabinet member for Electoral Reform, I intend to drive the agenda with new and different arguments, a structured strategy and a perspective on the subject to stimulate interest and thinking on what would be the most significant constitutional change since the establishment of parliament – yes, even bigger than Brexit.

The biggest hurdle to overcome in pursuing this change is not the inbuilt and expected opposition from the vested interests of the Labour and Conservative parties but coalescing the actions of existing support within the country, firming the support of those minded to vote for a fairer voting system but, as yet, not positively engaged, and converting those who hold the view that voting reform is either undesirable, or insufficiently important to sway their votes in a general election.

It is a subject that has been discussed over many years and seen one referendum already, a subject that has wide support with organisations such as the Electoral Reform Society, the reform blog, website ‘makevotesmatter’, and political parties (the Liberal Democrats, The Green Party, Plaid Cymru, the SNP and, of course, UKIP). Despite this wide support, progress has been absent in any real sense. There is always the feeling that something is happening, that the pressure is mounting, but nothing ever does and, before too long, any window that appeared would be closed or obscured by a more pressing national or international situation.

Changing how we elect our parliamentary representatives is a most significant and ground-breaking move, although, to the ordinary elector, it doesn’t look like that. It comes across as just another voting system and may look as if is it is only promoted to improve the lot of one political party or another. That has been the history of these efforts to date. One can only look back and despair at the way the Liberal Democrats squandered a heaven-sent opportunity to advance this cause when they had the chance. However, they are not the only ones. In a recent speech (October 2017), Lord Owen, the former Labour Foreign Secretary and founder of the SDP, reflected on a similar opportunity missed when he said that his greatest regret of that time was not achieving PR.

Opportunities have come and gone, though a further one will appear. It is for this future opportunity that I accepted this position and it is toward this that I shall work. This time, though, the lessons of the past will be heeded and the same mistakes will not be made again.

To be successful we need the following:

  1. The right arguments

  2. The full support of the party

  3. The support and co-operation of like-minded organisations and political parties.

  4. A mechanism to choose which electoral system suits the UK best

  5. A channel through which we can direct the voting intentions of those who are drawn to our cause away from parties that wish to preserve their self-interest and toward parties that support this change.

The present situation is characterised by disparate organisations with different ideas as to how electoral reform is going to be achieved and different ideas as to which ‘off the shelf’ system would be best, with some preferring to leave that hoary old chestnut to the end. Just co-ordinating the effort and goodwill of all these groups can raise the profile in the minds of the public, but it must have an outcome which is controllable. It cannot be left to wishful thinking.

Just like Brexit, we need to progress the spectrum of political power by systematically moving through these stages of influence:

  1. Relevance

  2. Support

  3. Votes

There are only three ways that voting reform can happen. Either the parties seeking government include it in their manifestos prior to an election, a private member’s bill makes it all the way through to law, or a sitting government is so worried about loss of potential support that they promise a referendum on the issue. You may remember that the latter worked spectacularly well for Brexit.

Some organisations see this differently. Klina Jordan, of Make Votes Matter, feels that the first or second of the scenarios I present here are the most likely, whereas I think the referendum option, which has a proven track record, is favourite. Either way, this doesn’t really matter because we need to keep all options open. The reality is, if we gain enough support it will be perceived as voting intention and something will give.

We will create and disseminate better and completely original arguments, drive an evaluation process to determine which voting system is best for the UK, gather together like-minded people, organisations and political parties to spread the benefits of change, and direct voting intentions away from the parties that want to retain the existing unfairness toward parties that support it. UKIP will be a principal beneficiary of this activity.

By these means we will make it happen.

The first step is to establish the SAGE grouping, which I’ll be discussing further in the next bulletin.

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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.

28 Comments on Electoral Reform Stage 1, a strategic overview – Part One

  1. I never imagined myself agreeing with Mr Kinnock MP but I did during this debate on PR

    The former referndum on the AV system had the right outcome, our MP’s need to be made aware of this excellent system to replace FPTP

  2. In reply to Rob Pearce, I think it would be regrettable if the debate within UKIP between proponents of PR and proponents of First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) was turned into an emotionally-charged, totemic issue, like gun control seems to be in the USA.

    What characterises supporters of UKIP is our shared belief in in the UK being fully independent of the EU. Introducing further qualifiers, like support for PR, would narrow UKIP’s support base for its primary object. Getting the UK out of the EU is difficult enough as it is without being undermined by the introduction of side-issues like PR.

    UKIP is the party for Brexiteers. Not all Brexiteers support PR (e.g. me) and not all supporters of PR support Brexit – indeed most of them seem not to, for example such reactionary and pro-establishment, pro-globalist forces as the LibDems, the Greens and the SNP all support PR.

    Not only this, but some radical writers, like Peter Hitchens, support FPTP. This isn’t conclusive of the primary issue but it is an illustration of why support for PR should not be turned into an official, totemic – them or us – issue for UKIP.

    There are arguments for PR and arguments for FPTP. These arguments are familiar.

    Neither system is perfect. Nevertheless PR tends to increase the power of political parties and professional politicians, partly because it is more likely to require the formation of coalitions between parties and partly because it gives parties the power to clump candidates together in lists to present to the electorate.

    Also FPTP has the merit of being the traditional way of doing things here in the UK and of being comprehensible to the man in the street – the candidate with the most votes in a constituency or electoral area wins. Contrast this simplicity with the Byzantine complexity of PR systems in countries such as Germany.

    But these are not the main argument against a campaign for PR which is this: it is a distraction from addressing the main ills of representative democracy which is the stranglehold of the cartel parties.

    PR will do nothing about this stranglehold and indeed may make it worse.

    Single issue referendums – used sparingly for important questions – can address this issue. I do not have the space here to elaborate on the argument why.

    388 words

    • Kudos for adding the vote count, saving me the hassle of doing it myself! Thanks.

    • You make a number of assumptions that aren’t necessarily true. Firstly that as a political party we can only pursue one policy at a time. Forging ahead with a fairer voting strategy or a housing policy or an immigration policy takes nothing away from our Brexit focus. In fact, the party will garner additional support and not be tarnished with the ‘one trick poly’ argument that damaged us so badly. The arguments for fairer voting that I will be presenting will not be familiar to most and you assume that an existing ‘PR’ system will be chosen with all their flaws. see As for Peter Hitchens, he has the distinct ability to be spectacularly and brutally right, or wrong by the same measure.

    • Richard,
      Would you say that having UKIP MEPs, including Scotland, AMs in Wales, are of no value? All due to PR systems of a sort.

      You seem to give no value to national parties and want a parochial Victorian system.

      Do you think all those people who voted Tory in 2015, robbing UKIP of the 15-20 seats we hoped for, just happened to do so due to a sudden rush of love to their local Conservative candidate, constituency by constituency? No they didn’t! They were scared by the NATIONAL fear of Ed Milliband propped up by the SNP. Surely you remember that phrase.

      Most people in this country vote NATIONALLY. Sorry but we’re just going to have to disagree on the issue.

    • If you think that ‘the main ill is the stranglehold of the cartel parties’ ( and I don’t disagree ) then the ONLY way to tackle that is by the introduction of some version of PR.
      That stranglehold reasserted itself in this year’s election to the extent that you now have people claiming that the total vote for the two main parties means there is no real appetite for PR.
      The bottom line is that the current system gives us grossly unfair results with so many of us simply not represented at all in the so called Parliament. Leave aside the unfairness to UKIP voters, for the moment : just look at what FPTP is doing to Scotland and therefore to the wider UK : namely that a Party which has the support of less than 50% of the voters in Scotland nevertheless is able to claim that it represents the great majority of them because it certainly does have the great majority of Scottish seats in the Commons.
      Everyone in the country already has familiarity with one or more versions of PR, what with the Euro elections ( which gave us a fair result in 2014 ) and then the Scottish , NI, and Welsh Governments all being elected via PR.
      SO no one would have a problem casting a vote in a PR system for the Commons.
      My own view is that we should keep it simple and just go for the same system as that used for the Euro elections : it is fair, and because it is region based it still means that Parliament has a guaranteed number of MPs for each geographical region.
      I would tweak it, though, to counter your argument about the power of central party organizations to decide who is the preferred candidate.
      Instead of Parties listing their candidates as 1,2,3 etc in the List system, Parties could be required to provide, in alphabetical order, a List of their candidates – but then the electorate could make their own choice as to which of those they would prefer to see come out top of the List, in the event of their favoured party achieving only one ( etc ) seat under the PR system. With this modification parties would still be able to exclude persons they thought brought their party into disrepute, but nevertheless from a long list the whole electorate would have the ultimate say.
      This should lead to some interesting debates prior to elections, not only the traditional Hustings between parties, but also Hustings within parties . Thus, for example, labour voters would get a choice between pro and anti immigration Labour candidates ( i have a feeling I can guess which would prevail ).
      FPTP is rotten to the core. I call it the ‘Rotten Borough System of FPTP ‘ ~and I encourage all to adopt this phrase.

  3. Where are all the Kippers who joined this party because they were inspired by its aspiration to actually become the government one day?

    Hands up if you haven’t yet given up and joined ForBritain in exasperation…

  4. I cannot understand the commentators on this thread who don’t get PR. Mostly, you just seem too way too cynical. PR is the most democratic way for allocating numbers of MPs commensarate with their party’s share of the popular vote. I am a believer in democracy, I don’t care if it helps UKIP or the Greens or whoever, although I would be happy if it did help UKIP. Unless you suggest completely replacing our party political national system with something else, and what would that be, I wonder.

    With the glaring exception of Farranger, I’m sorry but what on earth do the rest of you want? Do you want to be stuck with LabCon for ever, cos that’s what you’re gonna get! A stark choice indeed between a ridiculous lefty mob ruling us, and a ridiculous righty mob, who by definition only represent a section of the country.

    T G SPOKES: Given you comment was perhaps tongue in cheek, you do realise that MPs are sent to Westminster to form part of the NATIONAL assembly don’t you? If I read you correctly you are advocating abolishing political parties altogether. So, 600 odd MPs swanning around the national chamber. Presumably they will be talking to each other? What about? Local issues? They are part of a body which has to run the country. How will they do that if the member for Ipswich only wants to talk about Ipswich issues, and the member for Taunton only wants to discuss Taunton? And so they will have to come to some consensus on important national stuff. Those who want to do it one way will argue that way and join a group of similar-minded MPs. And so parties will be back within five minutes!

    RICHARDW: “If the UK had PR for parliamentary elections UKIP would be treated as a pariah party. No other party would enter into a coalition with it – just as has happened to the National Front in France and AfD in Germany”.
    Rubbish. Only a few more percentage points and AfD could be in power. At the very least, 90 odd MPs in the Bundestag have got to influence the ruling coalition to an extent.

    What is the point being a political party if all you want is to “influence” government? You’d be better off as a pressure group, you’d get more money that way by not being restricted by party funding rules.

    • What do we want? I want to give power to local people, not to political parties. Parties already have too much power.

      How can UKIP on the one hand pride itself on the independence of its councillors and on the other hand argue for “proportional representation”? It’s not really congruous.

      There are other things we can do to improve our democratic representation, better things, things that probably have a better chance of success, too. Power of recall, greater independence for local councils, referendums, even an English parliament, perhaps.

  5. No! No Britain can never vote proportionally anymore than you can put men on the moon, and of course the automobile will never replace the horse.

    I used to believe that Ukip won a British PR election a few years ago and became the largest British party in the EU parliament. Perhaps it was all a dream?

  6. Isn’t there a Catch 22 here? Putting aside the three ways shown, realistically none is going to happen, to be in a position to bring about a change to the system Ukip would have to be the government, but if they have become the government they must have done it under the existing system.

    Notwithstanding that pretty much all politics is about covert party self-interest, this issue looks like naked self-interest. Not an attractive trait as the LibDems, who have been pushing this, and more, for years, have proven. To boot, the public has seen how most of Europe is saddled with coalition governments – the almost inevitable result – and it is not pretty, and unlike Brexit it is not an issue that will excite the man in the street.

    Have you ever come across anyone outside a political party that buzzes with desire to change the voting system; top of their agenda? Me neither. I would rather see efforts focussed on honest, pragmatic, apolitical answers to all the issues directly affecting people. We know there are folk out there who have voted Ukip, giving Ukip second place in a large number of seats, so could do so again with the right incentives (policies).

  7. I oppose proportional representation (PR).

    The reason UKIP supports it seems to be the opportunistic one that it gives minority parties, like UKIP, more chance of getting professional politicians.

    This rests on the assumption that more professional politicians necessarily results in more chance of minority parties influencing government. In fact it often has the opposite effect for anti-establishment, anti-globalist parties like UKIP.

    If the UK had PR for parliamentary elections UKIP would be treated as a pariah party. No other party would enter into a coalition with it – just as has happened to the National Front in France and AfD in Germany.

    The ambition of UKIP should be to influence government, not to provide job opportunities for aspiring prefessional politicians.

    It is often said that Mrs Thatcher would never have come to power had we had PR in this country. Labour and the Liberals would have entered into a coalition against her.

    The real revolution which is needed in democracy is not PR but more referendums. It is only single-issue referendums which can break the power of the cartel parties – as demonstrated last year in the EU referendum.

    It is more use of referendums that we should be campaigning for – not PR.

    • I agree strongly, on both PR and referendums. So far as I can tell, PR gives power to parties and takes politics further away from the man in the street. It’s precisely the opposite of what UKIP should stand for, in my view.

  8. Do you honestly think that the ruling two parties will change the current system to advance and to allow minor opposition parties to flourish?
    Turkeys and Christmas comes to mind.

    • No, I don’t but then I’ve already indicated that.

    • Yes they will change it – listen to people like Clive Lewis (Norwich S) and others in the Labour party.

      You guys obviously don’t remember a chap called Nigel Farage. He banged on and on about an InOut referendum.

      The rest, as they say is history. Or will be, hopefully.

  9. It shows just how disinterested even people in UKIP are to reform, there have only been three others commented on the issue all day.

    LabCon have nothing to worry about having their cosy little duopoly broken down, do they.

  10. I don’t understand why this issue has to be so complicated. Most people in this country vote for a party, not a particular candidate.

    One of the reasons the AV referendum failed as far as I recall was that LabCon barraged the electorate with misinformation and fear that if they lost FPTP, they would have less say democratically.

    It’s a moot point now but AV was actually a worse option than FPTP from what I’ve read – and it was only on the vote forms because the Tories were not going to have real PR as an option, and were lucky that Nick Clegg is yet another spineless, gullible jellyfish who could be easily persuaded away from what the LDs wanted which was PR. They were paranoid that if the public voted for PR, there was no way they would be able to ever again get elected with a stonking great majority in the Commons.

    One irony on this is that under proper PR, the Conservatives would still end up being the largest single party a lot of the time. Doubtless with about the same proportion of MPs as they have now. But they’re hanging onto the dream that with one more push, they’ll get another landslide for the section of the electorate they represent and bugg*r the rest of us.

    It is so simple – if you get 25% of the popular vote, then you get 25% of the number of MPs. What could be more DEMOCRATIC than that in a party political system?

    Anyone who thinks UKIP has a cat’s chance in hell of getting any MPs under FPTP, I mean proper UKIP people – well, where have you been the last 25 years, asleep? Why aren’t senior figures in the Greens, LibDems, and UKIP screaming about PR? UKIP, I’m ashamed of you – in 2015 you woulda won 83 seats! What’s the matter with you all??

    I suppose you could blitz Thanet S and Thurrock with a campaign and offer 500 quid to every elector to vote for us come the next GE. At least UKIP might get 2 MPs that way. But the best way has to be keep on BANGNING ON AND ON AND ON AND ON AND ON AND ON about PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION.

    The media eventually cannot ignore that.

  11. Need a reform of the quality of the candidates for MP positions, let alone the voting system. The best voting system in the world will still only elect rubbish to government if rubbish is presented to the people.

    • And in some systems with lists, you don’t just get rubbish, you get rubbish rubbish.Or cronies.

    • FPTP wwhere the residents of a small area vote for their own local man who can be hung from a lampost is perfect.

      Also local men are as clever as prime ministers. Also if they know more than us ( An easy answer ) Why?

      Unfortunately most mass communications are corruptible. And, We are all conditioned to think that others know better. Clearly nonsense.

      So. It’s better and easier to repair a corrupt system.

      It’s better to say ” I Represent my constituants ” not the xxx Party.( This is why every MP who stands up says “I represent xxx and so on, also they have ritual constitution surgeries ). Window dressing.

      All MPs know all this. They also know the system is fixed. Mostly it’s still better than other systems. Look up factionalism. At every stage of the argument FPTP is better but not perfect ( because it can be corrupted, as can anything.)

  12. A good start would be to give every MP a vote proportional to the numbers of registered voters in their constituency. Of course that would require an electronic voting system in the HoC instead of the antiquated shambles we have at present.

    The added advantage would be to remove the disproportionate representation of the Scots.

  13. I’ve always regarded Electoral reform as an opening for crazy people and the opportunist.
    All accept the present system is abused; as Corbyn has shown.
    I await revelation. Nothing so far.

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