Jackart on constitutional reform

Jackart has published a response to my constitutional reform proposals:

This blog has a view on the voting system, which is much the same as its view on everything else: If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.

I agree with that motto. But the system is broken. People feel disenfranchised. They feel parliament is remote, unresponsive to their concerns. They think politicians only care about themselves. They felt all this before the expenses scandal, which brought their anger to the boil because politicians were blatantly taking the piss with their claims for non-existant mortgages, their duck islands, their moat-cleaning, their £2600 TVs.

Anger over expenses isn’t the problem, it’s just a symptom.

The expenses scandal was not as a result of a voting system;

It was in part. Statistics show that MPs in safe seats were more likely to fiddle their expenses. Therefore if there were fewer safe seats, there’d be less troughing.

it was a symptom of a culture of entitlement amongst Parliamentarians. I think they’ve got the message, and an election under the current rules would suffice to clean the worst of the stink.

Yes, but to make a long term change you have to change incentives. People respond to incentives, not to exhortations to behave better. (What’s more likely to reduce car theft: the chief of police appealing to thieves not to steal so many cars, or car manufacturers fitting anti-theft devices?)

Without changed incentives, in a few years’ time, politicians will be back to their old ways again.

For supporters of electoral reform must first demonstrate that the system is fundamentally broken, rather than in need of a few running repairs. Does anyone think that the landslides in 1983 and 1997 did anything other than accurately reflect the public mood? Has any really unpopular government won a big mandate without the support of the people?

Under FPTP a government could come to power if 2/3rds of the voters vote against them (Labour won on 35% in 2005). There’s no such things as “the support of the people”, because the people aren’t one big undifferentiated mass.

Can the country get rid of a Government they don’t like? Yes.

Can the country get rid of a government the majority don’t like, if a sizable minority (40%) do like it? No, as Margaret Thatcher showed in the 1980s.

For in Britain, the coalitions are within parties, not between them. This means that the voter knows in advance what a Government led by one or other of the party leaders will look like. They may think they’re all shit, but at least they have the option to vote for the least smelly turd.

I’d like the voters to have a meaningful choice between more than two parties, so I can vote for someone who isn’t a turd at all. For example, the Pirate Party or Libertarian Party might well, under a PR system (or even AV) turn into credible organisations worthy of my vote.

By joining a party, you accept to some extent that you will not agree with all the policy they come out with.

I’d be happy to join a party who represents my views. The Labservatives don’t, and given my experience of the last 12 years of Labour and before that 18 years of the Tories I have zero confidence that either of them could run a whelk stall let alone a country. Both are stupid and nasty. Labour are bigotted against the rich (hence 50% income tax), and the Tories are bigotted against the poor (hence whatever shite they will come up with if they win the election, shite that’ll pander to anti-poor prejudice but will do nothing to fix the real problems with the benefit system).

Furthermore, without money, and lots of it, you don’t stand a chance of breaking through in a small party- only someone as rich as sir Jammy Goldsmith can influence elections from scratch.

You would do with a different electoral system.

You may argue that many people live in “safe seats” or may be forced to vote tactically in order to achieve a “less bad result” , but whilst this is frustrating, by definition a majority of people in a given area are happy with the chap they’ve got representing them,

This is only true if >50% vote for him.

Proportional representation by party list is an abomination.

Agreed. I am against list systems.

It enshrines parties in the constitution, with the result that party machines choose the representatives, not the voters.

Same as FPTP, then.

The varying forms of Single Transferable vote

(all forms of STV are essentially the same, bar a few administrative details)

are supposed to be “fairer” to parties whilst eliminates the party list element by retaining the concept of voting for an individual. The level of proportionality depends on the number of members in the constituency and the exact formula by which the votes are transferred.

True.

There is the additional problem that parties will have to consider the tactics of who to put up – do you put up a full list, and risk the vote being split between candidates,

No. With STV (or AV), splitting the vote isn’t an issue. That’s in fact the whole point of both systems. I don’t think you understand STV well enough.

Finally there is the AV plus system, also known as Instant transfer voting,

Hold right there. You’re confusing AV with AV plus or (AV+ for short). AV is known in the USA a “instant runoff” voting, a better name in my opinion. AV isn’t a proportional system, but AV+ is. In my original proposal I called for AV, not AV+ but the proposal would work just as well with AV+.

which seems to mean ranking the candidates and then eliminating the possibilities one by one and transferring votes to other parties. I just cannot see how that would make any difference to the outcome in the vast majority of constituencies, except that it would mean that the Labour party and Lib dems would happily give each other the 1 and 2 slots, thus guaranteeing centre left Governmnet for ever.

Only if that’s how the voters voted, in which case it would reflect public wants. (It’s not obvious to me that the voters would vote that way — for example I’d be inclined to vote Lib Dem 1, Tory 2, and Labour 3, if given a choice between those three)

Labour and the Liberals just want to change the rules because they’re losing, and that smacks of sour grapes.

Of course. And Cameron wants to keep FPTP because he thinks he’ll win under it.

My favoured solution (which I blogged a year ago) is that the Crown would be the repository for a petition, which when it reaches a certain number in a set time, would cause the Queen to dissolve parliament.

That’s a good idea.

FPTP is supported by the people, who basically couldn’t care less so long as they can get rid of the rotters, should one Government lose their trust.

It’s reasonably likely there will be a referendum on PR. If there is, I think the majority will vote for it: most people who support the Lib Dems or one of the smaller parties such as UKIP, Greens, BNP, etc will favour PR. Most Tory supporters will vote against. And most Labour voters will vote for PR, since they would prefer a minority Tory or Labour government to the near certainty of a Tory government under FPTP.

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2 Responses to Jackart on constitutional reform

  1. Jackart says:

    Two things: first you missed what I think to be the most important point in the post. That politics is not a tribal head count.

    Second is you present the idea that Tories only support FPTP because Cameron will win under it. There was no call for electoral reform (beyond making constituencies equal sizes) when the Tories were in the wilderness, so you’re wrong.

    “It’s reasonably likely there will be a referendum on PR”. Why? The Tories rightly won’t touch it, and Labour are only half-heartedly interested because they are about to lose. Not a chance of it getting through under those circumstances.

    You accuse me of being ignorant of the alternative voting systems. Guilty as charged, because I am convinced that FPTP isn’t sufficiently broken, or indeed broken at all, so I am not really interested.

    • cabalamat says:

      the most important point in the post. That politics is not a tribal head count

      To be honest I didn’t understand what point you were trying to make. In a democracy, if an election isn’t a head count, what is it?

      you present the idea that Tories only support FPTP because Cameron will win under it. There was no call for electoral reform (beyond making constituencies equal sizes) when the Tories were in the wilderness, so you’re wrong.

      That’s a misrepresentation of what I wrote — “Cameron wants to keep FPTP because he thinks he’ll win under it”. My comment was about Cameron not Tories in general. In my opinion, Cameron has no deep convictions, with the exception that he deeply believes that he should be prime minister.

      Regarding Tories in general, the fact that FPTP often serves them well is of course the main reason they support it. If there’s one thing the expenses scandal has shown, it’s that MPs are very good at pursuing their self-interest.

      When the Tories were in the wilderness, they still supported FPTP, because they anticipated that one day they’d get unlimited power again, something that would never happen under a proportional system.

      “It’s reasonably likely there will be a referendum on PR”. Why? The Tories rightly won’t touch it, and Labour are only half-heartedly interested because they are about to lose. Not a chance of it getting through under those circumstances.

      What I can imagine happening is after the Euro elections, Brown goes (or is kicked out). The new leader — maybe Johnson or Miliband — draws up a list of constitutional reform proposals. These would include PR, also recall elections, fixed term parliament, etc. The proposals are then voted on in a referendum. Labour could get the referendum bill through parliament, because:

      (1) they have a parliamentary majority

      (2) it’d look like they are being decisive (something Brown is incapable of), and thereforee increase their support

      (3) it’d look like they were giving the people what they want (of course, you have to find out what they want before giving them it).

      and the main reason: (4) Labour are onto a loser right now. If they don’t do something really dramatic they will definitely lose the election, and they could well be in the wilderness for as long as they were after 1979, or the Labour party might self-destruct completely. In short, they have very little to lose.

      To use a poker analogy (dunno if you’re a poker player): their stack is down to 4 big blinds, and the blinds are coming round. They look at their cards — KQ suited, a decent hand. They go all in; it’s a gamble, but really they have little to lose, since they’ll soon be out anyway.

      You accuse me of being ignorant of the alternative voting systems. Guilty as charged, because I am convinced that FPTP isn’t sufficiently broken, or indeed broken at all, so I am not really interested.

      How can you say X is better than Y, if you don’t know what Y is?

      I wouldn’t characterise FPTP as being broken; I’d characterise the political system as being broken, and FPTP is part of that system.

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