• Electoral Reform: The County List system.


    This is a variant of the closed party list system devised by the British Gazette for England.

    Before going into detail let us describe why the British Gazette feels that electoral reform is urgently required and to point out the pros and cons of “the party list system.”

    It is a fact that many Eurorealists in parties such as UKIP who may have supported FPTP (First Past The Post) in the past realise that their efforts are never going to be rewarded without PR. There are many systems of PR however, the one system that is considered the most fair in terms of reflecting the wishes of the voters is the party list. The party list in it’s purest form would comprise one constituency for the entire nation. This would mean that were England to comprise one constituency of 533 MPs – to elect just one MP a party would require a mere 0.18761726078% of the votes cast. Clearly, this would appeal to many people who are members of and supporters of minor parties. The disadvantages of this arrangement are obvious however. To have one constituency and 533 would effectively sever the link between MP and individual constituent as there would be no guarantee that any of the 533 MPs would live near such an individual constituent. Suppose all 533 MPs lived in the home counties and you were living in Westmorland? Possible if your brother lives in Maidenhead and can act on your behalf. The other major criticism of the “party list” is that those on the list and their rankings, 1st, 2nd 3rd &C. are decided by the party bosses. Well that is false argument as the “party bosses” already do this – look at Cameron’s behaviour before the election in trying to foist “politically correct” candidates on constituencies. This sort of dictatorial behaviour will go on whatever system is used. If the Guardian reading “chattering classes” want to see more women and “minority candidates” then if you happen to be a black Muslim woman who is happy to declare that you are a lesbian then you are in with a very good chance of getting a safe seat with any of the three main political parties!

    Therefore two things are necessary in an electoral system. A reasonable degree of “proportionality” to ensure that the wishes of the electorate is accurately reflected in the results. A strong constituency link which means that the constituent does not have to travel an unreasonable distance to see their MP. At this point is worth pointing out that it is generally considered that the Single Transferable Vote is the system which best combines these two conflicting aspects. The British Gazette would agree with this statement and point out that this system is used in the Irish Republic and is the one desired by the Liberal Democrats. This of course begs the question; If the British Gazette considers STV the best system, why not advocate that?

    For two principal reasons:
    (i). We think that a system for England should incorporate aspects of England’s history.
    (ii). To avoid the charge of gerrymandering.

    The term gerrymander is an American term to denote the “rigging” of boundaries to favour one party. In 1812, Governor Gerry signed a bill into law that redistricted his state to benefit his own political party. One of the resulting contorted districts was said to resemble a salamander. The term first appeared in the Boston Sentinel on March 26, 1812. Today in Britain we have the “Boundary Commission” that is said to be independent of political parties who draw up the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies. These constituencies are drawn up in an arbitrary but calculated manner and often are artificial creations having no historical or community cohesion. The British Gazette thinks this is wrong and considers the best way of being seen to avoid the charge of gerrymandering and to create historically relevant constituencies to which voters will identify with and feel an allegiance to is to use the ancient historical counties of England as constituencies. There are 42 counties if you count East and West Sussex as two counties and incorporate the Isle of Wight into Hampshire. London of course spreads into the counties of Essex, Hertfordshire, Surrey and Kent and totally covers the county of Middlesex. The debate over the status and future of England’s historic counties is a separate one. Notwithstanding what happens to England’s historic counties, the British Gazette considers that they should at least be resurrected as individual parliamentary constituencies. This will achieve the two aims of giving the English people constituencies to which they have an attachment and can also be seen to be free of gerrymandering – a bit like Caesar’s wife.

    Of course readers will immediately point out a certain very relevant fact: The counties vary very significantly in terms of both area and population.
    To answer the question about area first: no English county is so large as to present an unreasonable size for the voters. To answer the second question: the number of MPs each country will elect will be in general proportion to its population.

    So far the British Gazette has not mentioned Northern Ireland (18 MPs), Scotland (59 MPs) and Wales (40 MPs). It would suggest that the power to decide what type of electoral system these nations use to send their MPs to Westminster should be devolved to them. So far as the total number of MPs is concerned the British Gazette would suggest that the number should be broadly the same at present but with the numbers of English MPs raised SLIGHTLY to counter the effects of England’s (533 MPs) under-representation. This will be achieved through the process of “rounding up.” If the addition of up to 42 extra English MPs causes England to be over represented then the number of MPs the Celtic nations send should be increased to counteract this to create equal representation.

    To demonstrate how this will work here are some figures:
    England’s population is estimated to be 51,446,000. This equates to 96,522 (rounded up to the nearest whole number) per constituency. Now let us consider the county of Cornwall. Why Cornwall you ask? Because Cornwall is one of the few counties of England whose boundaries have not been arbitrarily altered by civil servants and bureaucrats. Cornwall’s population is estimated to be 532,200 people. Thus 532,200 divided by 96,522 equals 5.51 MPs. Clearly this either has to rounded up or rounded down. In the light of the Celtic nation’s over representation, the British Gazette proposes rounding up – in this case to 6. This shows the effect of reducing the size of the constituency and thereby reducing the degree of proportionality. In the extreme case of the entire UK being one constituency a party could manage to elect a single MP on 0.18761726078% of the votes cast. This would mean for example the “Monster Raving Looney” party would find itself with a number of MPs. This is clearly unacceptable as it brings the politics of the country into ridicule. In Cornwall’s case, to elect one MP a party would require 16.67% of the votes cast. In more populous constituencies such as Middlesex, the threshold to elect an MP would be much lower.

    Readers will however point out that there are two counties that are extremely small. These are Rutland and Huntingdonshire. Rutland’s population count at the 2001 Census was 34,563. The latest population estimate for Huntingdonshire is 168,900 (mid-2008 population estimate). Clearly, the party list cannot be used in these two circumstances. The British Gazette therefore suggests that Rutland gets one MP (which will give them a threefold over representation) and Huntingdonshire gets two MPs which will give them a modest over representation. So far as the voting system is concerned we would suggest that the voters in these two counties should be given the choice of First Past the Post or Alternative Vote in local referendums. This could well mean that one county uses one system and another country uses another. Well, why not if that is what the people want?

    • Constituency boundaries may not matter all that much (all things are relative) but all things being equal it would be better if they were stable and followed natural communities. These should also as far as possible follow local authority boundaries.

      That constituencies should have equal electorates can not be looked at in isolation without consideration of the electoral system being used. Equalising constituency electorates does not make FPTP a fairer system. It makes it fairer between the two largest parties and less fair for all the rest.

      That constituency boundaries are required to be altered on a regular basis is a significant expense, and means the suspicion of gerrymandering is always present.

      The underlying problem with all these matters is the malevolent working of the FPTP electoral system, but the switch to a party list system is not necessary or desirable.

      Can I draw your attention to Direct Party and Representative Voting? This would be the best replacement for FPTP. It is a form of Proportional Representation based on single member constituencies.

      It is the best system to replace FPTP because it addresses the weaknesses of FPTP, but retains all its advantages such as the relationship between MP and constituency, and the simplicity of voting and counting, and it looks really quite similar. It would reinvigorate and strengthen our political system.

      It would also solve the problem of constituency boundaries and constituency sizes, MP job security, safe seats, marginals etc. and doesn’t involve party lists with their attendant problems of the power of party bosses to ‘appoint’ MPs. On the contrary it puts more power in the hands of constituents.

      It’s the right time for the British political class to consider such radical ideas; FPTP is a mad, bad, and possibly dangerous system and we cannot allow the consequences to go unchallenged.

    • Hmmm. I prefer to include Rutland with Leicestershire when apportioning population like this. Even though it goes against my preference for “whole county” solutions, an electorate of 34,000 having a single whole MP where everywhere else has 90,000-plus strains it too much.

    Write a comment