The First-Past-The-Post system makes the House of Commons outrageously unrepresentative. Most votes are wasted since they are not reflected in the outcome. The Commons is dominated by party loyalists with their group-think. Citizens are constrained to engage in tactical voting – in other words, to choose the least bad option or vote to keep a specific candidate out.
As our Radix colleague Joe Zammit-Lucia well knows, there is an alternative. Now, in 2019 and quite unlike 1918, it is technically possible, in principle, for each citizen to find and vote for a candidate they substantially support and to be assured that their vote will count one way or another. This is how:
- Require all candidates to obtain for election a certain number of votes (to be determined by the size of the electorate, traditional turnout and the target number of seats).
- Install electronic voting at polling stations.
- The voter is provided on a first screen with the choice of constituency candidates they would currently see on the paper ballot. Voters discontent with this selection would have the option of moving to a second screen which would show all candidates in a larger area, say their county or a region.
- With a familiar search function (as on every computer and smartphone) people could home in on their pre-chosen candidate quickly. In principle, a third screen might contain all candidates country-wide, but that would likely be a step too far for present sensibilities.
There would be a process where candidates falling far short of the threshold would redistribute their contingents of votes to candidates closer to the threshold. Similarly, very popular candidates would redistribute their surplus votes. This way, no vote need go wasted while voters would have a much wider choice of candidate and so no longer vote for the least bad option. This would diminish the power of parties while still according them an important role.
Such a system of “transferable power of political attorney” would make parliament vastly more representative and reward outstanding candidates with the loyalty of supporters outside their narrow constituency while retaining a geographical anchor (since voters are “nudged” to make a local choice).
In the present situation, this would reshuffle the cards radically. It would restore legitimacy to the electoral system. It would encourage a different quality of parliamentarian. It would decimate the power especially of the two big parties and end the near-dictatorial stranglehold of the party leaders.
Otherwise, yet another election, with the many rotten boroughs (safe constituencies), runs the risk of producing much the same impasse again. A referendum became necessary and defensible, despite the notorious defects of such plebiscites, not least because of the failures of the parties over decades.
To return to David Boyle’s half-baked proposal, my system would allow, say, a Conservative voter in a constituency with a Leave Tory standing to go to the second screen and doubtless find there a Remain Tory. And similarly for those of other political persuasions.
Waiving the deposit (as David suggested) is a red herring. This is a only minor outlay in conducting a campaign. As for the “coupon” tactic of government-sponsored candidates, surely the very last thing we need is to hand even more power to a dictatorial government everyone acknowledges to be out of its depth.
For more see http://www.fuzzydemocracy.eu.
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