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REPUBLICAN PARTY NEWSLETTER

For a Civic and Constitutional Republic

www.republicanparty.org.uk

 

REPUBLICAN PARTY NEWSLETTER

For a Civic and Constitutional Republic

www.republicanparty.org.uk

 

Issue No 58 Friday 23 April 2010

 

ST GEORGE'S DAY

 

 

 

Flag of the Autonomous Region of Southern England

 

 

This week 

  • The Kellowian Weighted Representations Electoral System

     

 

News Stories

Highlighting news stories important to the Civic Republican view, particularly those that are overlooked or little covered in the main media.

  

 

ELECTORAL REFORM 

  • The Kellowian Weighted Representations Electoral System

 

As the general election campaign gets into its final days each of the leaders is searching for another policy to throw into the ring in the hope that it will attract a few more crucial votes in what is proving to be an ever more open contest. The idea of reforming the “first past the post” (FPTP) voting system that we have has floated around in British politics for years but can never gain any traction as long as the Conservatives and Labour see how well it serves their interests

 

When the possibility of horse trading with the LibDems comes in view however attitudes can change. Electoral form is back on the agenda and the choice is presented as between FPTP and proportional representation (PR) for these are the only options so far invented. But there is now a third system that overcomes the problems presented by these two.

 

 

There is often an assumption that systems of proportional representation are somehow good because they are more “democratic”. However, there are two classic arguments against PR systems

1.     They result in weak governments with frequent coalitions and minority parties holding the key to forming governments

2.     They allow minority parties who may be extremist to gain representation

Both of these arguments are valid. What then of the system that is presented as the alternative, the first-past-the-post system?  There are two major arguments against this system

1.     Many voters in ‘safe’ seats are effectively disenfranchised as their vote will never make any difference to the outcome

2.     It is ‘undemocratic’

Again these arguments are valid. So how to choose between the two systems? You cannot. The problems with them are intrinsic. In order to overcome the problems of both PR and FPTP Peter Kellow of the Republican Party has devised an entirely different system known as the Kellowian Electoral System of Weighted Representation, or the “Weighted Reps System” (or KWR) for short.

 

The basic process is as follows

1.     The members of the assembly are elected by a first-past-the-post system exactly as we have now for our House of Commons.

2.     Within the Commons each member has a vote “weighted” according to the overall national votes for their party. So if the weighting for a party is, say, 1.2 and in a debate ten members of that party vote their vote counts as 10 x 1.2 = 12.

3.     This weighting is decidedly NOT to give the party a voting strength proportional to its share of the votes cast for that would simply introduce PR with all the problems associated with it. The weighting is decided by a simple mathematical method that achieves the objectives of

a.    making every voters’ vote count .

b.    achieving as far as possible stable government

c.    disallowing extremist minority parties

 

The details of how this system works can be viewed at this page where the details of how the system works are set out using the general elections of 1997 and 2005 as examples. Inevitably this may look rather complicated at first but the practice of the scheme would soon make its functioning understandable to voters.

 

The point is that technically you vote just as you do now with one vote at your polling booth for one candidate and following that the makeup of the commons (or other democratic body) will be formed as now. The difference comes in that there will no longer be a simple case of one MP one vote as now. Some MPs will have weighted votes. What will decide the weighting? It will be a reflection of the number of votes that their party has polled nationally.

 

At present it is too easy for third runners like the LibDems (if that is still what they are) to have a percentage of votes in parliament that is far less that the percentage that they polled nationally. The weighting will make an adjustment to the voting power of each MP of a party that falls into this predicament.

 

If we take the 2005 results the Labour/Conservative/LibDem split in the national polls was    35%/32%/22%, but in the commons the voting power was 55%/31%/10%. The effect of the FPTP system was to enhance greatly Labour’s power in parliament – enough to give it an overall majority. The position of the Conservatives in the Commons as the second party corresponded roughly with their share of the national vote, but the big losers were the LibDems who had a derisory 10% on commons votes compared to a national turnout for them of 22%. 

 

What makes this such a bitter pill for many to swallow is less that the system is not proportional than that many votes are seen to be wasted. If you are a Conservative voter in a safe Labour seat it is hardly worth casting your vote. This problem represents disenfranchisement on an enormous scale. On the other hand PR systems may make more use of your vote but they have the huge disadvantage of creating unstable government and there is no country where they are used (e.g. Italy) that does not suffer from endless coalitions and horse trading between parties. The aim must not be PR but making votes count so that all citizens are enfranchised.

 

Sometimes it is argued that PR is more democratic than FPTP and in a sense it may be, but there is no definition of democracy that makes PR voting essential. Democracy is above all about government by the majority or biggest minority. PR has little to do with this aim. Democracy is about picking a winner to run the country not about having all and sundry running the country.

 

Voters

 

To examine the alternative to PR and FPTP, let us look at how Kellowian Weighted Reps would have worked with the last four elections. We can do this retrospectively because the voting process and the MPs elected operates in the same way as now. However there is one big sense in which the outcomes of the elections would have been different with weighted reps. Voters would know that their vote would never be wasted. This would lead to much less tactical and more conviction voting. It would also lead to dramatically more voting in itself. What the result would have been under weighted reps is not easy to guess so let us not try for the moment.

 

Here are the figures as they were:

 

 

%Age Of Votes Nationally

%Age Of Seats In Commons

%Age Of Votes In Commons With Weighted Reps

Overall Majority Historically

Overall Majority With Weighted Reps

Weighting Of Each MPs Vote In Commons

1992

 

 

 

 

 

 

Labour

34

42

35

 

 

1.00

Conservatives

42

52

52

21

34

1.20

LibDems

18

3

9

 

 

3.65

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1997

 

 

 

 

 

 

Labour

43

63

58

177

111

1.00

Conservatives

31

25

29

 

 

1.28

LibDems

17

7

9

 

 

1.37

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2001

 

 

 

 

 

 

Labour

41

63

53

165

49

1.00

Conservatives

32

25

32

 

 

1.51

LibDems

18

8

11

 

 

1.60

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

Labour

35

55

43

66

None

1.00

Conservatives

32

31

36

 

 

1.50

LibDems

22

10

17

 

 

2.25

 

The first thing to notice is that each Labour MPs vote has a weighting of one – that is it has no weighting – whereas the other parties consistently have a weighting of greater than one (under the system you cannot have less than one). This is because the electoral system favours Labour in number of ways that we need not go into. But the point is that under the KWR system such advantages are compensated for to a degree.

 

This means that the overall majorities of the last three Labour governments would have been reduced to the point that in 2005 Labour would not have had an overall majority. The KWR system is designed to give the biggest party a certain boost so that a strong government can be maintained, but if a party can only poll in a general election a measly 2% more than the opposition with the third party polling 22%, does it really deserve to have an overall majority? Surely the only reasonable answer is no.

 

The second thing to notice is that the third party, the LibDems, gain more voting power with weighted reps than they do with FPTP. They do not achieve a voting power in proportion to the national votes they receive, but as stated that is not the object of KWR. The aim is to favour the third and fourth parties over the present system but only to a certain extent in the technical voting. This last phrase “in the technical voting” is vitally important for because every vote cast will have an effect on voting power in the Commons there will be a great incentive to use your vote for the party you believe in and not to vote tactically.

 

The effect of having a system where every vote counts cannot be overestimated. There is much disillusionment with politics and politicians at the present and this is compounded by a feeling of disenfranchisement that the present voting system creates. Under KWR the face of British politics would change dramatically but not at the expense of perpetual unstable government. For it is reasonable to assume as many people divert their vote through tactical voting away from the bigger parties as the smaller. Like any PR system KWR works on the assumption that we have a party system and always will have. People surely do vote for a candidate but they are heavily influenced by that candidate’s party - to put it mildly.

 

But what happens if an MP belonging to a party decides not to vote in the Commons with the party? Rebel voters who disobey the whip will lose their weighting for this goes only to parties. However, rebels will of course still have their unweighted single vote.

 

What about small parties with under 10 MPs at present or independent candidates. It is a basic principle of KWR that no elected MP can lose their seat or their right to vote. It could hardly be otherwise. Such MPs simply take up their seats and vote as now but will not have any weighting for they automatically drop out of that calculation. An insignificant adjustment has to be made to accommodate them but we need not go into this detail here.

 

The existence of the First Past the Post system we currently have is among the reasons why people are being turned off politics in their droves. No system of Proportional Representation has ever been found to be workable in any other country and those who dream of installing it in Britain are committing a grave and irresponsible error. And it is a truth universally acknowledged that those who advocate PR the most forcefully are those who stand to make most short term gain from it.

 

The Kellowian System of Weighted Representation gives a way out of the impasse. It would require no technical changes in the way we vote and only a simple calculation to adjust the weighting of votes in the Commons – or any other elected body. It is workable and understandable. It should be attractive to both small and large and middling party. Ultimately all can benefit from the more vibrant political life it would create.

 

Following the announcement of the election result on Friday, 7th May, this newsletter will appear with the results as they would be with the KWR system. So watch this space!

 

===================================================

If you wish to comment on these articles email

peterkellow@republicans.org.uk

===================================================

……. …….until next time

 

2 Comments

===================================================

1. Comment from RICHARD MIDDLETON

 

Hi Peter

It's a very interesting idea but I can't see anyone ever adopting it. The
fact is that, while plenty of people are interested in bread-and-butter
issues, electoral systems are too "anoraky" for most people. Blame dumbing
down by the media, a failing education system or whatever!

I don't agree that the choice of electoral system, in itself, creates
instability. It all depends on the culture of the country.

Southern Ireland/ the Irish Free State/ Eire/ the Republic of Ireland has
used the STV [a 19th Century British invention, which was used for
university seats before 1950] since 1918, with one notable exception.

The 1918 Westminster Election used FPTP. It gave Sinn Fein [one of the
many incarnations of the party to have borne the first person plural
reflexive pronoun] 75% of the seats, on only 46% of the vote. In other
words, a slim majority of Irish people voted for parties, which wanted
Ireland to remain within the UK [Nationalists wanting one parliament in
Dublin and Unionists wanting a second one in Belfast], yet extremists have
claimed the result, ever since, as a massive victory, which justified a
guerilla war between 1919 and 1921, fifty years of agitation and
non-co-operation, and thirty years of mayhem and carnage in Northern
Ireland from 1969 onwards.

The RoI's governments have been incredibly stable, whether they had decent
majorities in Dail Eireann or entered into coalition. Many analysts
believe that the main focus of British policy in Ireland, over the last
forty years, was to protect the Republic and shield its political system
from the madness, north of the border. If that's true, then the policy was
very successful.

Bear in mind, too, that the origins of the RoI's party system lay in the
brutal, year-long Civil War, during which the Free State Government
executed more rebels than the British had over the previous hundred years
(even strapping prisoners to a landmine, on one occasion, and detonating
it], while the Anti-Treaty IRA wrecked towns and infrastructure, across
the south and west, and murdered people like Michael Collins. Yet,
(leaving aside the activities of Mr Haughey, Mr Blaney, Mr Lynch and
Captain Kelly in 1969, when they helped to set the Provos up in business]
since the 1930s, things have remained very civilised.

New Zealand has also adopted the STV and doesn't seem to be suffering
terribly, as a result. It has restructured its welfare state [one of the
oldest in existence], slashed bureaucracy and embraced modernisation in
energy production, agriculture and transport. It is also trying to
diversify into areas, such as tourism and film production.

Italy is something of a red herring, although I recall that stability was
used as an argument against democracy and PR by Mussolini. I had a Latin
teacher, who was always bashing the Italians. She was incredibly right
wing, belonged to an extremist religious sect and obviously thought "the
New Romans" gone soft, since their ancestors' bid for World domination had
conked out, 1600 years earlier.

There was never any history of co-operation in politics. Instability
existed, before the First World War. Northerners hate "idle southerners",
who supposedly hold the country back. Communists hate fascists [whatever
the two might call themselves today]. The Church has done battle with
secularists for 140 years and, when it wasn't getting its way, often
encouraged Catholics to boycott various state institutions and
initiatives. [I think it's more the other way round, today. Watch out,
Papa, Dawkins is coming to get you!]

In the background, the Mafia, bankers and the CIA have meddled in
politics, since the end of WW2. Judges and the police have tried, with
moderate success, to stem tidal waves of corruption, for about the same
length of time. Britain may have become much more corrupt, since 1979, but
the problem is not quite as deeply ingrained or widespread.

In any case, no one could seriously argue that Italy has been better off,
under the "stable" government [decadent dictatorship?] of Berlusconi.
Frankly, he is a crook, who has set economic and social progress back
thirty years and embroiled the state in all sorts of scandals. I remember
when economic indicators put Italy ahead of the UK, in most areas (and
then there's the small issue of quality of life).

I also wonder how relevant this discussion is to a party, which wants to
set Parliament free, by completely separating the executive from it.
Surely, if the Government were no longer directly responsible to
Parliament, a bit more variety in the Commons wouldn't matter too much. It
would have ceased to be an electoral college for choosing the Prime
Minister.

You also assume that small parties tend to be extremist and that PR must
produce governments with small majorities (or no majorities at all). In
Northern Ireland [which used STV from 1920 until 1929 and has used it
again since 1973], the small parties [Alliance, Green, Progressive
Unionist, NI Labour etc] are generally more liberal, both on
socio-economic issues and the question of Northern Ireland's future
status. In the early 1920s, when STV was used to elect the first two
parliaments of Northern Ireland, only nationalist and unionist candidates
were elected: no one else really got a look in. Unionists got 40 out of 52
seats, in the first election. At the end of the decade, however, the
situation was much more peaceful: inter-communal tension was reduce.
Socialists started to appear and it was to eliminate them that the
Unionist Government abolished PR.

[What you have to understand is that, in electoral terms, unionists and
nationalists have never been true enemies. James Craig, 1st PM of NI,
actually gerrymandered the new FPTP boundaries in 1929, to give
nationalists the same number of seats that they'd had under STV. Someone
in the Boundary Commission got his sums wrong and the Nationalists lost
one seat! Voting habits were determined by birth and upbringing. Catholics
would vote only for broadly nationalist parties and protestants only for
broadly unionist ones. Unionism and nationalism have a kind of symbiotic
relationship: the former only exists because of the latter. Therefore, the
real enemy of the Unionist Pary was the NI Labour Party, for which the
50%+ of Belfast's workforce engaged in industry (mostly Prods), at that
time, might conceivably have voted. Today, the UUP and DUP are fierce
competitors, on one side of the fence, and the SDLP and Sinn Fein are, on
the other but even the DUP and Sinn Fein work together fairly well!]

From my point of view, both Thatcher and Blair [each of whom destroyed the
existing identity and philosophy of a "major" party- no pun or confusion
intended] were extremists, who exercised arbitrary power and had no
respect for democratic values. How do we keep people like that out of
office, in future?!!

Basically, we are either democrats or we aren't. If we are, we have to
support an electoral system, which actually reflects the opinions of
voters, and accept the results of fair and free elections, even when we
don't like the people, who are elected. The danger in Britain, of course,
is that, once elected, extremists can exercise power, with very few checks
or balances. A written constitution and proper constitutional court, and a
Head of State, separate from the Head of Government, would act as
guarantors of liberal democracy.

The English are very suspicious of PR but they don't seem to realise that,
until the 19th Century, the electoral system was slightly proportional, in
places. In the days of multi-member constituencies, it was possible for
candidates to be elected, almost in proportion to the percentages of votes
their parties obtained. This phenomenon could only be seen in the very
largest counties.

I think I'm right in saying that, if eight FPTP seats are lumped together
in one constituency and each voter still chooses one candidate with an "X"
[as at present], the results will be very similar to those of the STV. Ten
UKIP MPs and four Greens [at a guess] are not going to bring the political
system to its knees. If a couple of BNP candidates were elected, the party
would face much more scrutiny from the media. That would probably be very
damaging to the neo-nazi cause- as the Question Time debacle showed. It is
also doubtful that any of its members could sit in the Commons for long,
without being investigated by the Commissioner for Standards. Furthermore,
the real causes of BNP success [the two most important being a feeling of
abandonment among white working-class people in the North and a fear of
immigration among skilled manual workers in the SE] would have to be
addressed by the three main parties.

I remember when the Provos were "denied the oxygen of publicity" by the
British Government's broadcasting ban. It was totally counter-productive.
Every time there was a terrorist attack, Sinn Fein couldn't be questioned
properly by journalists. Life would have been much more difficult for the
pre-Armani, beards-and-tweed-jackets Sinn Fein, if its spokesmen had been
put under the spotlight on TV.

Incidentally, the ban was Douglas Hurd's idea. He suggested it, to placate
Thatcher, who had seriously talked of population transfers [i.e.
Bosnian-style ethnic cleansing with marginally less slaughter but
retaining the element of ferocious condemnation at the UN], to put all the
Catholics in one region and all the Prods in another!

What was that you were saying about keeping nutters from the Far Right out
of Parliament?

RICHARD

 

===================================================

 

2. Comment from Tancred

 

Hello

After reading the last newsletter I had to send you this email.  Your
claim that PR does not work is simply wrong.

Most democratic countries use some form of Proportional Representation.
It works very well in German, Denmark, Sweden , Norway, New Zealand,
Australia and Scotland to name but a few of the successful countries.
None of these countries is considering moving to FPTP.

Every country Britain has helped bring democracy to since 1945 has been
given a form of PR.

Yes Italy and Israel are excellent examples of how not to do PR but no one
in the UK is campaigning for their model of PR.


===================================================

 

3. Reply by Peter Kellow

 

"Most democratic countries use some form of Proportional Representation.
It works very well in German, Denmark, Sweden , Norway, New Zealand,
Australia and Scotland"

 

All in this list except Germany are monarchies and so cannot provide a guide to using PR in a republic.  Germany itself is not a good model as it not a presidential republic as this site advocates.

 

Balance of power is fundamental to a presidential republic. My big fear with having a legislature elected with PR is that it would be a fatally weakened body. A weakened legislature would be open to domination by the President who as a single individual, of course, could not be elected by PR.

 

For this reason personally I could not support a republican constitution that used PR for electing the legislature in the republic. I am convinced that such a constitution would fail putting the clock back on the progress of the British Republic for decades.

 

I agree that FPTP is an abomination because it disenfranchises vast swathes of the electorate. This is why I propose the weighted reps scheme which overcomes the problems of both PR and FPTP. It would give a strong legislature to balance the strong presidential office and at the same time make sure that ever vote counted.