Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Stupid idea for new electoral system

I live in a safe Labour seat, so how I vote in a general election doesn’t affect its outcome. With this in mind, at the last election I voted Green, because the more Green voters there are, the more incentive the main parties have to try to poach them by adopting the kind of beardy Guardian-reading policies that I support. Spending five minutes adding one to that statistic seemed rational enough to me. It would however be nice if everyone’s vote affected the outcome of the election, so I’ve invented a voting system which comes closer to having that feature.

The basic idea is that instead of MPs having one vote each in the House of Commons, they get the number of votes they received in the election. The constituencies would be larger, each returning the (say) five candidates who received the most votes. This shares with proportional representation the features that people’s votes are more likely to matter and that representation is approximately proportional. It doesn’t have PR’s unpopular feature of giving a lot of power to whoever draws up the party lists, since candidates run individually and not as a name on a list. In fact, the parties would have even less power over their MPs than they currently do, because it’s easier for a rebel to run successfully as an independent if they only have to come in the top five, not the top one. It’s also more fine-grained than PR, in a way which should really come into its own with all the coalition-forming that goes on in parliaments with proportional electoral systems.

The problems with it are numerous, of course, but the ugliest feature of it is that Westminster would be crawling with MPs from the BNP and other unsavoury parties which the first past the post system is so good at marginalising. They’d be fourth- and fifth-class MPs, of course, but they’d be there, making their unsavoury speeches and presumably getting paid. I’d be happy for MPs with fewer votes to get paid less, but these people have still got to eat. I’m inclined to think that the price of living in a democracy is being governed by people who represent the views of your fellow citizens, even if that includes people who think that ideally the people in a country would all be the same colour. It’s perfectly possible for the mainstream MPs to marginalise them within parliament. Their speeches would slow things down, but so does not having electronic voting, and we haven’t done anything about that.

It’s hard to tell exactly how the system I’m suggesting would pan out. One possibility is that parliamentary committees would be swamped by stupid people in black shirts, and whatever it is that the committees do would be done much worse.  Another possibility is that people whose votes now mattered would vote with more care, more information and in larger numbers, and power would move from the parties to the people. Popular parties might put out multiple candidates, inviting voters with no preference between them to vote for one if their surname began with A-L and the other if M-Z, splitting their large voteshares equally and keeping the BNP out that way. Alternatively, it might turn out that the fascists are a majority who have been victims of a heretofore insoluble co-ordination problem, and we’d all be doomed. So maybe it’s a good thing that my suggestion is definitely never going to be put into practice. (Next week: direct democracy by text-message referendums.)

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