Tuesday, March 25, 2008


The UK has apparently unveiled a "radical" plan for voting reform. This "radical" plan? Preferential voting:

Ministers fear that the Commons will have difficulty retaining its status as the pre-eminent legislative chamber if peers, elected by proportional voting, can claim greater authority than MPs, who are sometimes put in office by less than a third of the electorate. Straw has warmed towards the alternative voting system in the past two years, seeing it as an improvement on the first-past-the-post system.

Michael Wills, the constitutional affairs minister, praised the alternative voting system at a meeting on electoral reform last month. "The alternative vote has many attractions, including the fact that you have to get 50% plus one in that constituency, therefore you have a greater legitimacy," he said.

Preferential voting is the electoral reform you have when you don't really want electoral reform. Sure, it's an improvement over first past the post - practically anything would be - but its not much of one. While it results in every MP having an actual majority in their constituency, it doesn't address the core problem of large manufactured majorities, and parties winning government without holding a majority (or sometimes even a plurality) of the overall vote. What the UK needs is a proper European-style proportional representation system - that would allow the will of the voters to really be felt. But sadly, that's the last thing on the Labour-Conservative oligarchy's minds.

As for the other proposals, making voting easier is always good, but compulsory voting infringes people's right to decide to have nothing to do with the process (or just to be lazy). While I think people should vote (and smart people will - your vote is a weapon; use it wisely), I don't think they should be forced to just so politicians can juke the stats. OTOH, given current turnout rates in the UK and levels of political disgust, compulsory voting will either see a third of the population fined for refusing to endorse a political system and Parliament that neither represents nor works for them, or the embarrassment of seeing spoiled ballots win a plurality of the vote. And neither will be particularly good for the UK's democracy.