Thanks to everyone!

9 05 2011

I just wanted to write and say thank you to everyone who voted for me and also for my fellow candidates (big shout out to Mark Collins, Rebecca Taylor, Brian Stone & Paul Elgood!) in the recent local elections.  On top of that, a huge thank you to everyone who voted YES to AV- it’s a real shame that the British public came out so strongly against electoral reform (I can’t believe Brighton voted no!).  I think Sam Power deserves great respect for his tireless efforts as the man “on the ground” for the local YES campaign.

I think we ran a great campaign- Mark & Rebecca really showed me a great deal about how to build and run a campaign (see Becky’s post on the result here), and I felt the enthusiasm and dedication of the YES campaign was really inspiring and made me feel happy to be a part of it.

A final, most sincere thank you to Lawrence Eke who (it felt at times) single handedly built and captained the Liberal ship in Brighton & Hove.  You’re  a champ!

And what next?

EDIT – here are the election results for the city and for my ward in particular

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#FPTP has no place in a representative democracy

19 01 2011

Assuming that the wrangling in the House of Lords doesn’t derail the legislation, this year may see one of the most significant reforms to our electoral system since universal suffrage was granted (fully) in 1928.  Ultimately the long history of political reform in this country (and elsewhere) has been driven by two fundamental urges- towards greater accountability of the executive (and thus a balance of power in government) and towards greater representation.

In 1928 the franchise was finally extended to all adults over 21 regardless of property ownership, qualification, gender, religion etc.  In 1969 the voting age was changed to 18, further extending the franchise.  I make the case that the drive for this was the urge for more representative government.  If more people are entitled to vote, parties seeking election must appeal to a wider audience to get their vote, the resulting government is then more representative.

One cannot fault governments of the past for not predicting the flaws of first past the post (FPTP).  Whilst it’s true that other voting systems were proposed throughout the 19th Century (if not earlier), the weaknesses of FPTP were not then apparent.  Equally, other voting methods were “untested” and thus unreliable.

Maurice Duverger (a French poltician & sociologist) observed in several papers in the 1950s and 60s that a system such as FPTP (known as a “plurality voting system”) tends to favour a two-party system.  That is to say, FPTP encourages a polarisation of the body politic, both in the minds of the people and the institutions of government.  This principle is referred to as “Duverger’s Law.”  In short:

i) smaller parties are unlikely to win, so voters desert them for larger parties
ii) parties with similar agendas split the vote, meaning neither get elected, this encourages parties to merge into larger parties

These two elements tend, over time, to a firmly entrenched two party system.  I contend that two party systems are, by nature, neither representative nor beneficial for their country.  The reason for this is simple- if there are only two options, neither has to be truly good to be chosen, only better than the alternative.  In effect, a two party system is a duopoly of government, and just as bad as any duopoly would be for consumers in the open market.  As for being representative, on the contrary a two party system means that you’re either “in” or you’re “out.”  As such:

i) supporters of the losing party are highly unlikely to have their views represented in government
ii) people whose views are not represented by either party are not represented in government (discouraging voter turnout)

Duverger himself argued that this was not a certainty (we here in the UK have bucked the trend), but merely that FPTP would both “act to delay the emergence of a new political force, and … accelerate the elimination of a weakening force.”  It has certainly done so, with coalitions, inherently representing a greater diversity of views, coming in to existence less than a handful of times in our history.

What’s worse is that this tendency towards polarisation is not the only downside to FPTP: the methodology of FPTP means that any votes for losing parties are discounted, resulting in millions of votes making no difference to the results of elections in “safe seats.”  As it is, the elections are decided by the minority of voters living in marginal constituencies.  This means that the potential governments are fighting to represent the views of these “marginal” voters and not of the electorate as a whole.  This map, based on 2005 electoral data, shows seats that haven’t changed hands for 40 years.

What’s more, the “winner takes all” methodology of FPTP, combined with ever-decreasing turnout means that MPs can be elected with only a fraction of the electorate supporting them.  Only three MPs elected in 2005 secured the votes of more than 40% of their constituents.  George Galloway polled the votes of only 18.4% of his constituents, yet ended up in the House of Commons!

Safe seats such as this reduce accountability of MPs to their constituents- as with monopolistic businesses, these MPs do not have to offer anything resembling a high quality service to continue in post- they are the only option.

So, in summary, first past the post is not fit for purpose as the electoral system of a representative democracy.  It discourages pluralism, restricting voter choice, it discounts the votes of millions of eligible citizens because they live in safe seats and weights unfairly votes from marginal constituencies.

As I said in my introduction, I strongly believe that electoral reform has always been driven towards greater representation of the people by their government.  It’s clear that first past the post only discourages representation.  For the same reasons we needed universal suffrage, we can’t have FPTP.  Democracy means power comes from the people- their views have to be taken into account.  Ours is a representative democracy, so let’s make it representative.





Results from East Saltdean By-Election

22 10 2010

By-Election, October 2010 – Telscombe Town Council East Saltdean Ward Result:

The result of the by-election for the East Saltdean Ward of Telscombe Town Council held on 21st October 2010 was as follows:

Candidate Description Number of Votes
John CARDEN
Labour Party Candidate 112
Simon DOYLE
Liberal Democrats 264
Paul EVANS
The Conservative Party Candidate 268 – Elected

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Have to say it’s a really unfortunate result for Simon Doyle who ran an excellent campaign and was a truly dedicated local candidate.  It will be interesting to hear feedback from residents during the follow up case work regarding things like turn out (although numbers are similar to the By-Election in Feb 2008) and to what extent potential Lib Dems voted Labour as protest.

Clearly PR doesn’t work for by-elections, but let’s hope that dissatisfied voters push for AV- I know generalisations are less than accurate, but how many of that 112 would have Tory as a second preference?