Just read Is this the time for electoral reform? on Times Online, in which Ken Ritchie, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, says "Yes", and Lord Norton of Louth, Professor of Government at the University of Hull and a Conservative peer, says "No". I want to comment on that word "No".
Those two simple letters encapsulate an argument that goes something like this. (1) The electorate would always prefer a single-party majority government to a minority or coalition government. (2) First-past-the-post (FPTP), our current electoral system, is more likely to produce a single-party majority government, and is therefore better at reflecting the will of the electorate.
In response to (1), is it really the case that the majority of voters in the last election would have preferred a majority Conservative government to what we currently have? That is the implication. Let's test it out. Let's ask a typical Lib Dem voter: "Given the choice between two alternatives, and only two alternatives, would you prefer a majority Conservative government or a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition?" The answer: "Coalition." Now here's a typical Labour voter: "Coalition." QED. The electorate would not always prefer a single-party majority government to a minority or coalition government.
In response to (2), if the chief advantage of FPTP is that it distorts the wishes of the electorate so as to produce a single-party government with an overall majority, then are proponents of FPTP open to considering alternative voting systems that similarly distort the wishes of the electorate? Why not have an STV election, with all of its advantages, and then selectively replace successful Liberal Democrat candidates with unsuccessful Conservative and/or Labour candidates? That would produce the same desired effect (a single-party majority government), and could be done in such a way as to overcome some of the undesirable outcomes of the last election, such as the following, from Ken Richie's piece:
On May 6 the Conservatives won only one of Scotland’s 59 seats. In the eastern region, Labour won only two of the 58 seats. Yet one in five Scots backed the Conservatives, and the same proportion of voters wanted Labour in the East of England. That’s what representative democracy means under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system.
I think it's time for a change.
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