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REPUBLICAN PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN
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REPUBLICAN PARTY NEWSLETTER
For a Civic and Constitutional Republic
REPUBLICAN PARTY NEWSLETTER
For a Civic and Constitutional Republic
Issue No 58 Friday 23 April 2010
ST GEORGE'S DAY
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Highlighting news stories important to the Civic Republican view, particularly those that are overlooked or little covered in the main media.
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.
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:
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
……. …….until next time
1. Comment from RICHARD MIDDLETON
2. Comment from Tancred
3. Reply by Peter Kellow
democratic countries use some form of Proportional
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.