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Electoral reform: Planned vote next week

Nick Robinson | 18:01 UK time, Monday, 1 February 2010

The BBC has learned that the government plans to ask MPs to vote next week on taking the first step towards changing Britain's voting system.

SwingometerThe move could mean that in future general elections - though not in this year's - voters would be asked to rank candidates by preference instead of putting a cross next to one name as now.

Senior ministers agreed today to propose an amendment to the Constitutional Renewal Bill to offer voters a referendum by the autumn of 2011 on scrapping Britain's "first past the post" system and replacing it with the "alternative vote" (AV) system. The cabinet is to be asked to approve the plan tomorrow, allowing Gordon Brown to unveil the idea in a speech he is delivering on political reform at lunchtime.

Under AV - the voting system used in Australia - every candidate is ranked on the ballot paper. If no candidate wins at least half of the votes, the votes of losing candidates are redistributed until a winner emerges with an overall majority.

The system is not a form of proportional representation. Indeed, in the event of a big electoral swing, it can exaggerate the majority that a winning party gets.

Gordon Brown backed AV at Prime Minister's Questions recently, claiming that "[g]iven the issues that have arisen about trust in politics, there is a case for every member of this House coming here with the support of more than 50% of the electors," but has met opposition from a sizeable group of Labour MPs who fear that the move could be a thin end of a wedge leading to full PR - which could undermine Labour in its traditional heartlands.

However, a growing number of ministers have argued that a vote on a referendum will expose the Conservative Party as opposed to political reform and will woo Liberal Democrat voters and Lib Dem MPs whose votes might be needed in the event of a hung Parliament.

Even if the Commons votes for a referendum on AV next week, the measure is very unlikely to become law as there is not sufficient time between now and the general election for it to pass through all its Parliamentary stages.


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  • Comment number 1.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    "Even if the Commons votes for a referendum on AV next week, the measure is very unlikely to become law as there is not sufficient time between now and the general election for it to pass through all its Parliamentary stages."


    So, a complete waste of time then. Window-dressing perhaps

    What we need is a full-scale reform of the electoral process. Consider alternatives to FPTP, review of constituency boundaries, and a wholesale reduction in the number of MPs, say 50%.

  • Comment number 3.

    So Boring! So Typical of a government trying to distract everyone from the real problems.

    Another Mandelson idea no doubt.

    No one has any idea what on earth you're talking about. The last thing on anyone's mind at the moment is electoral reform.

    Let's get this election out of the way and let the next government sort this one out after they prioritise the economic problems and get those sorted.

  • Comment number 4.

    they promised reform before and did not deliver

    Wonder what the BNP will make of this then ?

  • Comment number 5.

    Whilst pondering electoral reform, especially for something like AV, then the ballot paper needs to include a "None of the above" option to be truly democratic.

  • Comment number 6.

    Perhaps we could also have a clause stipulating something like if none of the candidates gets more than 20% of the vote in the first round, that all candidates must withdraw and new ones stand in their place.

    I would also like to see the pass mark based on a percentage of the constituency electorate, rather than those that choose to turn out :)

  • Comment number 7.

    Cynical political shennanigans - much as I would like to have PR or even perhaps this halfway compromise I do not believe they mean it.
    If they put it in one of the spending bills they are rushing through to spend more money we do not have to buy votes then perhaps I would beleive it was sincere.

    Sadly it is not a real choice that is being offered. The Dark Lord manipulates again.

  • Comment number 8.

    A preemptive strike by Labour in the hope, as has already been said, to show themselves as constitutional progressives, while believing and hoping Conservative opposition will be seen as Tory support for the existing system and therefore by default everything the public sees as corrupt and wrong with parliament following years of increasing disillusionment.
    However, where was this Governments desire to change the system since 1997? And, should they lose the coming election just how would a new voting system increase its chances of forming a new Government in 2014/15? saving them from being out of office for a generation?

  • Comment number 9.

    So I get to vote for UKIP then English Nationalists and the BNP?

    Liberals, labour and tories would not even make it onto my list.

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    Proportional Representation is the only genuinely democratic way.

    If 10% of the electorate vote for Party X, then Party X should get 10% of the seats in parilament.

    It's not hard.

  • Comment number 12.

    Clearly Labour wouldn't be suggesting this after 12 years or whatever...unless it is in their interest at this moment in time. They must think we are stupid.

    Had they been true democrats (had any party in government been true democrats) the electoral process would have been comprehensively reviewed and modernized decades ago.

  • Comment number 13.

    Promises of referendums have been made before and failed to materialise. What are politicians up to this time?

  • Comment number 14.

    I don't trust Brown (or Blair in the past, for that matter). Any "reforms" they try to make would have ulterior motives. They are so politically motivated, they should just go.

  • Comment number 15.

    First past the post ensures Stronger governments most of the time. This is just another cynical attempt by the government to push its grubby dividing lines.
    AV is one step along the way to fringe parties such as the BNP getting into power. What IS needed are primary contests that ensure that no MP can have a safe seat. In areas of the country the party machines can parachute in preferred candidates in the full knowledge that the electorate in those constituencies would vote for a donkey if it had a red or blue rosette on it. Instead of wasting time with distractions such as these, the government should be concentrating on passing legislation to get the country back on track.

  • Comment number 16.

    I agree that it is a good idea for MPs, and indeed the government, to get more than 50% of the vote but that is difficult when we have 2.5 large parties and a few small ones.
    In France, if no candidate gets 50% on the first round there is a second round the following Sunday where the top two candidates fight it out. It would be a good idea if we had the vote on a Sunday too while we are about it.
    What we do not want is the ludicrous system used in the recent European elections. In fact we had two ludicrous system in different parts of the country.
    Alternatively we could have an honest coalition i.e. one agreed before the voting.
    And of course no voting system will prevent elected representatives from fiddling their expenses.

  • Comment number 17.

    1 - buying libdem support should conservatives be elected with a small majority or a hung parliament
    2 - makes the getting rid of an MP from the labour party twice as hard as it is now

    prior to the 97 election blair and ashdown from the libdems were having secret backroom negotiations, regarding voting issues and the scenario of a hung parliament occuring.
    in return for support, blair was offering junior cabinet posts to libdem senior shadow spokesmen.
    also agreed was the use of paper candidates:

    where the libdems were a strong 2nd to a conservative, labour fielded a paper candidate who did no canvassing and often (as BBC proved in their panorama program) the local labour party election offices were closed and no one could get in touch with their candidate.
    where the labour candidate was a strong 2nd to a conservative, libdems did exactly the same, not canvassing, election offices closed, etc.

    the purpose of this was to "not split any opposition vote"

    libdems sold out to labour, and labour dangled a carrot to the libdems in return for support that was not admitted in public (as its illegal)
    the people were treated as fools back then in the 97 election, and this method of buying libdems support nationally and giving it a new fancy name, is exactly the same thing.
    libdems would be wise to treat it with a pinch of salt and ignore the desperate pleas of a labour government that is scared stiff of the electorate.

    after the 97 election, blair had a huge majority, and his conviction was to drop the libdems like a stone and labour have continued to ridicule them ever since.
    now labour want to introduce AV so that its even harder to get rid of them, at the same time as announcing that its part of their package to clean up politics at westminster.

    is the best way to clean up politics at westminster to give the people a direct say, and vote out this bunch of schemers as soon as gordon brown allows us to?

  • Comment number 18.

    Worth thinking about, things certainly need changing. Anything that makes politics more representative is good.

    However, as soon as you see words like "not in this election though.. the next one", your heart sinks.

    Because it'll be the next one. And then the next one after that. Turkeys who will never vote for Xmas.

    Never mind.

  • Comment number 19.

    AV 'works' in Australia, because - and PRECISELY because - voting is compulsory.

    Any attempt to bring AV to UK elections without compelling people to vote - and which party is going to propose that? - will create a system even worse than the status quo, and will make Parliament even less representative of the public will at large.

  • Comment number 20.

    More about smokescreen to hide the problems destroying this country than voting reform. This is also a cynical ploy to court favour with the Lib/ Dems in the event of a hung parliament. Not that the Lib/ Dems would need any bribing, they are always ready to join their natural allies the Labour party if it means a pretence of power just as they had with the failed Callaghan government.

  • Comment number 21.

    "Labour MPs who fear that the move could be a thin end of a wedge leading to full PR - which could undermine Labour in its traditional heartlands."

    yep; that sums up labour all right.

    They don't want to change the system which is skewed in their favour.

    I remember reading on the labour party website just before the last local elections that they had to work extra hard, because this time round the labour government's boundary changes didn't give them quite as much of an in-built advantage increase as it did the time before when they fixed it.

    They're constantly moving boundaries and changing the rules to try and skew it in their favour.

    Watch the postal votes closely too (especially the military ones). I'd wager that a large number of tory postal votes in the marginals will go awol this year.

    They don't play fair, and they don't like democracy.

    The only reason they're having an election at all is because they know they'd be phsically strung up on lampposts by a baying mob if they didn't.

  • Comment number 22.

    "Proportional Representation is the only genuinely democratic way.
    If 10% of the electorate vote for Party X, then Party X should get 10% of the seats in parilament.
    It's not hard."

    and say that one of the top dogs in that party is loathed by 40% of the country, ie, gordon brown?
    with the party machines nominating their top people to the top percentages of votes, wed be stuck with brown until the labour party see fit to dump him from their selection lists.
    labour would only need 1% of the vote and their leader - one gordon brown - would be selected as an MP in parliament.

    so by making it even harder than it is already to get rid of political party's top people, the days of seeing a portillo dumped by his constituents would be well and truly over.

    hardly an improvement in democracy is it!

  • Comment number 23.

    Hear we go again offering a referendum, it just beggars belief. The FPTP as served this country well, if any change is needed, how about a general knowledge test to qualify for a vote in the first place.
    The only referendum the majority want is on the EU and hell will freeze over before we get that.

  • Comment number 24.

    11. At 7:04pm on 01 Feb 2010, The Midland 20 wrote:
    Proportional Representation is the only genuinely democratic way.

    If 10% of the electorate vote for Party X, then Party X should get 10% of the seats in parilament.

    It's not hard.

    The problem with that is that it takes no account of regional representation. It could, but that would mean either more MPs (unweildy, expensive and some might say we already have plenty) or larger regions, which wouldn't address the problem.

  • Comment number 25.

    If electoral reform can wait until after the election we can defer consideration for another day. I would rather MPs sorted out some other issues.

  • Comment number 26.

    A little background:

    "In 1990, the Labour Party set up the Plant Commission and in 1992 the then Labour leader John Smith pledged the British people a referendum on the issue. In December 1997, Tony Blair's Government announced the setting up of the Independent Commission on the Voting System, headed by Lord Jenkins. The Commission recommend a new system of voting, the Alternative Vote Plus (AV+) to be put to voters against the current system of first-past-the-post. In its 2001 manifesto, the Labour Party backtracked from its commitment to a referendum, but agreed to hold a review of the voting system."


    So, don't hold your breath waiting for a referendum on electoral reform from the Labour Party.

  • Comment number 27.

    And who is going to believe that we will get a referendum we all know what happened to the last promise !!!!. They have had plenty of time to reform the voting system, but like the Lords reforms they seemed to have stopped some way short of the promises, once the public were going to have a say.....

  • Comment number 28.

    19. At 7:19pm on 01 Feb 2010, NewForfarian wrote:
    AV 'works' in Australia, because - and PRECISELY because - voting is compulsory.

    Any attempt to bring AV to UK elections without compelling people to vote - and which party is going to propose that? - will create a system even worse than the status quo, and will make Parliament even less representative of the public will at large.

    I used to think that people should be obliged to vote, but I've since changed my mind. I now think that people who either aren't interested enough or can't be bothered to vote simply cloud the issue and that the thing is better left for the rest of us to decide.

    I'm not suggesting that anyone should be barred from voting - just that people should not be encouraged to impose ill-informed or michievous decisions on the rest of us if they are, otherwise, disinclined.

  • Comment number 29.

    Of course AV is political,stop sounding like children.The aim would be to encourage tactical voting by Lib_Dems in Tory-Labour marginals,Labour reciprocation in Lib-dem-Tory marginals.In the event of a close result,Clegg might be encouraged, (Or pressured), to support Labour on the promise of electoral reform.It`s enactment before polling day would be a disadvantage for the government.

    AV will not determine the election,the economy will.Cameron and Osborne went to Davos as monetarists and left as Keynesians in one of the fastest U turns in Tory history.Perhaps some quiet time for reading and reflection,they may be running the economy in a fewe weeks time.

  • Comment number 30.

    Gordon promising a referendum? Thats a joke for a start.

  • Comment number 31.

    Out of curiosity, how much does a national referendum cost? Indeed, how much does a general election cost?

  • Comment number 32.

    The mathematics of this is very simple.

    There are TWO leftish of centre political parties and ONE rightish of centre political party.

    Polling (done by Labour) suggests that the Lib Dem core voters will vote 2:1 for Labour

    Therefore (ignoring the 'others') Labour candidates will receive 1/3rd of the Lib Dem Vote - simple - More Labour MPs keep their seats (about 35). The Lib Dems (of course) won't gain many seats at all.

    Thus despite the Tories being ahead in the opinion polls they will only get as many seats as Labour (about 280) and we would be locked for ever into a coalition government of the left.

    If we do use AV then we should regard second preference votes as not being as important as first preference (after all the voters could have chosen the other party first)- perhaps only transfer 1/3rd of their value.

    As for pure PR (10% gives you 10% of the vote) - this will also lead to conxensus politics of the left. I wonder what Nick Griffin would demand for his party's 12 votes in Parliament? Such a system would almost by definition prevent individuals standing for Parliament.

    So this plan should be consigned to the Gerrymandering Dustbin in the sky.

  • Comment number 33.

    Odd. PR delivers neutral governments.

    The French have a system whereby if the candidate doesn't achieve a 50% vote, he/she has to come back and do it over again. That allows time for a bit of political horsetrading and delivers somebody whith a real majority. All this first, second, third choice stuff is rather immature. You can end up with somebody who nobody really wants or accepts.

  • Comment number 34.

    What a surprise!

    Brown knows he is looking at electoral defeat, so he thinks let's change the system! Labour have been in power for 13 years. If they really thought it was a good idea, why have they left it until now?

    First they want to scrap the traditional election night count, then they way to change the entire system.

    Brown has no concept of democracy. He should have been put on trial for treason for signing the European constitutional treaty without the referendum promised in his own manifesto.

    It's time for the removal van at numbers 10 and 11.

    We need regime change!

  • Comment number 35.

    complaints about not bringing forward proposals for electoral reform, complaints when proposals are brought forward.

    I guess out of the three major parties, Labour, in power have brought forward proposals, the Liberals have long wanted change, it seems only the tories are against the idea.

  • Comment number 36.

    Can we afford a referendum? It will be in the same year as the next census.

  • Comment number 37.

    its the economy stupid, not the voting system!

  • Comment number 38.

    Proportional representation is long overdue in Britain. Those Labour MPs who think it would "undermine the heartlands" should think about those of us in Essex whose votes against the Conservatives are thrown in the bin every election, all due to FPTP.

    I live in New Zealand at the moment and PR helps make politics here more calm, more collaborative and more considered than the mudslinging and lurches from left to right of British politics.

  • Comment number 39.

    PR has served many countries in and around Europe well, including the devolved administrations in the United Kingdom. FPTP is dictatorship by minority and does not represent the real country, why shouldn't we continue to modernise our system? Great Britain is one of the youngest democracies in the world but our failure to modernise has allowed others to take over, we're now one of the least democratic country's in Europe.

    Afterall if we at least try PR and dislike the system we could always change to FPTP.

  • Comment number 40.

    All those advocating Pure Proportional Representation should probably read even the briefest selection of modern German history - it was an utter disaster there. Yes, it's "fair." Brilliant. That'll keep us all happy when our parliament can't decide anything because it's split into so many factions and none of them want to work together. This problem could be particularly grim in Britain cause it's certainly true that our parties would NOT work together if required to be the inevitable coalitions formed. If we'd had PPR at the last election, the only way to establish a government holding any real power in parliament would have been to form a coalition between any two of the big three parties. What a fantastic idea... not.

    John Wood has said exactly what I thought regarding the AV system. It's about nothing but keeping Labour in power - milk the fact that most Lib Dem voters will put Labour as their second preference, and also disguise the fact that Labour are fundamentally failing to please the electorate on key issues.

  • Comment number 41.

    JW 32:

    "So this plan should be consigned to the Gerrymandering Dustbin in the sky."

    It won`t happen before the election,there isn`time.The advantage to Labour is ebough Lib-Dem votes in Tory-Labour marginals for them to survive, even to prosper if conservative confusion over the economy continues to implode.

    It`s politics,you simplify and accentuate,I`ve even heard they lie.

  • Comment number 42.

    At 8:19pm on 01 Feb 2010, nlygo wrote:

    its the economy stupid!

    That was Bill Clinton wasn't it.

  • Comment number 43.

    #39 Tom

    I agree that it is now time to give a straight PR system a go. Even though it will, initially, not do the Labour Party much good. In the medium term, I would expect that the electorate will see that they actually have a vote that counts.

    I have voted Labour all my life, but live in a solid tory area and quite honestly, I may as well never have voted. With PR I would have an equal effect on the process with everyone else.

    I say let's do it.

  • Comment number 44.

    If we are interested in democracy, perhaps we should have a system than holds individual MPs personally responsible for upholding promises in their election manifestos.

    Any MP who breaks an election promise should be charged with electoral fraud, required to repay their entire salary, and barred for life from holding any public office ever again.

    That might focus a few minds....

  • Comment number 45.

    #40 CBF

    Is that Germany, the powerhouse of industrial Europe?

  • Comment number 46.

    What the Tories should be working to achieve is a fairer voting system whereby all constituencies have the same ( or a very similar ) number of voters. The over representation of mp's in Scotland where there is also a devolved parliment needs to be corrected. We are far beyond the West Lothian question. Its now the Westminster question.

  • Comment number 47.

    Lots of cynical comments here....but actually AV is less bad than most other systems because:

    - You can effectively vote AGAINST a candidate or party you can't tolerate by not giving them any number on your ballot, while including others you regard as acceptable but second/third best.

    - You don't just have to vote for one you can tolerate and think has some chance of being elected - no more need for tactical voting.

    - If you look at the results of the last election, it is not credible that more than a dozen or so seats would have changed hands because of second/third preference votes etc, so there's not much impact on the likelihood of a hung parliament, which is a huge disadvantage of full PR.

    - So the result probably wouldn't be all that different, but it would better reflect voters' likes and dislikes among the candidates.

    BUT be wary of the hidden agenda of "AV PLUS", which takes the good idea of AV and tacks on a quota system to elect additional party hacks from a pre-agreed list in order to top up the number of MPs for parties that don't do well enough in the AV results. That would make hung parliaments more likely and put into parliament a bunch of MPs who'd represent nobody in particular, but who party leaders think they can rely on as lobby fodder.

    AV PLUS was certainly in the Government's sights earlier on, but the "PLUS" seems to have gone ominously quiet at present. The risk is that once we've all agreed to the good idea (AV), there will be a campaign to iron out its "imperfections" by adding this twist to increase the power of party leaders at the expense of electors.

  • Comment number 48.

    I got it. It will be a Hobson's referendum so the politicians can flatter themselves.

  • Comment number 49.



    "All those advocating Pure Proportional Representation should probably read even the briefest selection of modern German history - it was an utter disaster there."

    The stability during the 1970's of the German economy is actually one of the benefits of the PR system they have...

    In fact I find it amazing you have decided to look to Europe for examples of PR, especially when we have PR already in the United Kingdom and that appears to be working quite well. If the Scottish National Party can survive as a minority government, why couldn't it work on a Westminister level?

    You say our parties won't work together but Scotland and Wales have the same parties working with nationalists and vice versa pretty well, so why wouldn't it work at Westminister level?

    Yes, FPTP is fantastic but it's only a benefit when it's your party that will benefit!

  • Comment number 50.

    Having studied various voting systems in great detail at school a few years ago, the arguments in favour of FPTP cannot be dismissed. A hung parliament can cause a number of issues, particularly if all the other parties 'gang up' and block all decisions made by the ruling party. Perhaps a complete scrapping of the Lords and replacing it with a PR system whilst keeping the Commons under a similar system, but with fewer MPs. Once a decision has been made by the Commons, it is passed to the Lords. They do not have complete overriding powers, but can send a bill back to the Commons with changes. If a bill is bounced back and forth a certain number of times a referendum is held. In order for the increase in the number of referendums to be possible, additional methods of voting in referendums should be made open. Whilst the referendum idea is a bit far IMHO I do believe that a balance of PR in the 'Lords' with FPTP in the Commons could bring a balance to UK politics. Election promises should be legally bonding to an extent. i.e. the ruling party MUST propose it in parliament and the members of the ruling party must NOT vote against it. Therefore MPs cannot be blamed if their political opponents actively prevent them providing an electoral promise. The ruling party may, however, seek to have a promise altered in extreme circumstances. One such example would be major budget cuts (where increases in spending had been promised) due to the credit crunch.

    This is all just what came to mind whilst I was posting but, like all great ideas, it needs some pub time!

  • Comment number 51.

    There's no question that some form of PR would be a fairer, more sensible way of conducting elections. Just think, though - no more razor edge marginals - no more bellweather seats - no more rocket science calculations to convert polls into projected seats - no more weird & wonderful psephology - no more Orpingtons and Basildons and Glasgow Hillheads. All be rather boring, wouldn't it? Bit like when we went metric.

  • Comment number 52.

    AV is worse then FPTP! A tyranny of the centre. If we're to have change then let's adopt the least worst system, which I figure is multi-member STV. AV would be deeply horrible. I bet the scabby libdems end up supporting it..

  • Comment number 53.

    @sagamix (51)
    Don't start, people will think you're serious! It's taking far too long to get rid of the lunacy of Fahrenheit as it is ;)

  • Comment number 54.

    24. At 7:32pm on 01 Feb 2010, Its_an_Outrage wrote: "The problem with that is that it takes no account of regional representation. It could, but that would mean either more MPs (unweildy, expensive and some might say we already have plenty) or larger regions, which wouldn't address the problem."

    And how much Regional representation is there really? All MPs now vote with the Party Whip (or not) based on their need to preserve their seat on the gravy train

  • Comment number 55.

    AV, if we ever get it, would be vastly preferable to the present system. It avoids the problems of proportional representation and would make MPs much more representative. At the last general election, Labour won a thumping great majority in the House of Commons (60 seats +) on just 36% of the popular vote. That just isn't democracy; it more like rule by rotten boroughs.

  • Comment number 56.

    Ummm, just a thought.
    Wonder how many of these MPs will still be around after the ol' election.

    They shouldn't mind egg on their faces after feeding from the trough.

  • Comment number 57.

    clued @ 53

    "It's taking far too long to get rid of the lunacy of Fahrenheit as it is"

    Yes, but I think I know why that is. There's just something about "Sunny 72", isn't there? ... something so right.

  • Comment number 58.

    #47 pedantic
    BUT be wary of the hidden agenda of "AV PLUS"

    Agreed, but simple AV would at least drag Westmidden into the 20th Century, and the UK would share the wooden spoon jointly with France in the EEA democracy stakes instead of holding it alone.

    In 2005, only 219 of the 646 seats would have been decided on the 1st round under AV, making 427 marginal seats - possibly enough to increase the interest in the election and even, perhaps, get a decent turnout.

    Longer term, "AV PLUS" or "Pure" PR only gives the parties, quite literally, the whip hand. The only fair system is multi-member seats elected by STV as for Scottish Councils since 2007 and throughout the island of Ireland for most elections, including the Euros.

  • Comment number 59.

    @sagamix (57)
    Well maybe people can keep it as a boutique measurement. I will remember to ban it only from government and the BBC when I am king.

  • Comment number 60.

    #52 FrankFisher
    "AV is worse then FPTP! A tyranny of the centre."

    We're agreed that multi-member STV is the leastworst system, but you provide no reasoning why you believe AV to be worse than the 1872 plurality system.

    How can any system be worse than the current one, which in 2005 produced 3 MPs (for Ochil & Perthshire South, Belfast South and Edinburgh South) with the support of less than one third of those voting, and 53 more had the support of less than 40% of those voting?

    At least under AV it would be the leastworst choice in the opinion of each area.

  • Comment number 61.

    Agree we must have option to vote NONE OF THE ABOVE so wenever have a minority mandate government ignore the wishes of the silent majority .

  • Comment number 62.

    Nick, Any news on what cuts labour intend to make. We hear plenty about Mandy attacking the tories cuts but he tells us nothing of labour's cuts. Mandy's bell boy Liam Byrne slithers onto the television to do his masters bidding, but all we hear is the attack on Cameron.
    Come on Nick put Mandy on the spot with your interviewing skills.
    What's the betting Brown slithers off to N.I. on Wednesday so he can avoid PMQs again.

  • Comment number 63.

    PR advocates should remember that that is how Hitler came to power!

  • Comment number 64.

    Reporting on something that is plainly not going to happen.

    (slow hand clap to fade.....)

  • Comment number 65.

    Even before they got into power New Labour pledged to abolish the unelected House of Lords but that joined the big pile of broken manifesto promises, so even if they will the next election I can't see this ever happening.

    The citizens of this country deserve nothing less than PR together with a national referendum at each parliamentary election for continuing with a monarchal head of state and associated freeloaders.

  • Comment number 66.

    The false representation generated by the first past the post system is akin to that of a banana republic -

    The general election in 2005 resulted in the winning party gaining 54% of MPs from 35% of votes cast for it by the electorate.

    The general election in 2001 resulted in the winning party gaining 63% of MPs from 41% of votes cast for it by the electorate.

    The general election in 1997 resulted in the winning party gaining 63% of MPs from 43% of votes cast for it by the electorate.

    The general election in 1992 resulted in the winning party gaining 52% of MPs from 42% of votes cast for it by the electorate.

    Consequently, the Gallagher index, which measures the extent of any dis-proportionality, places the UK near the bottom.

    The solution is simple, Sainte-Laguë Proportional Representation, as used in sensible places like Scandanavia. The fact that UK politicians have consistently failed to use this system has caused people like me to refuse to recognise their right to govern and to have as little to do with the authorities as possible.

  • Comment number 67.

    I would like to see this move more towards a PR system. Plus:

    Fewer MPs (20% less or so?)

    A beefed up committee system that can forward policy

    A new layout for parliament (in the round perhaps?) that can reduce adversarial politics.

    And the destruction of the "Westminster Village" society of journalists and MPs that do behind the scenes deals over stories, encourage cowards to give opinion without having to be named and generally put a barrier up between our parliamentary system and the people who pay for it.

    It is long past time that the arrogance of the political elite and their little media friends was brought down to size.

  • Comment number 68.

    I personally don't have a problem with FPTP as, despite producing majority governments from minority support, at least it provides, more often than not, majority governments (N.B. there is a caveat coming shortly!).

    With a system that is "more representative", if I vote for party A on the basis of policies x, y and z but they haven't the necessary support to form a government, there is nothing stopping them trading policies x, y and z for policies 1, 2 and 3 of party B and forming a coalition government. More representative yes. More democratic? Maybe not.

    HOWEVER, majority governments do suffer from an ability to pass legislation perhaps a little too easily and without proper scrutiny. Here enters the House of Lords. It is probably fair to say that there is quite a bit of support for reforming it but, which reforms will make it a good check on what goes on in the Commons? It should be elected and it's composition will certainly need to be different to the Commons if it is not to replicate the decisions of the Commons. However, supposing FPTP is already taken, that only leaves us with "more representative" forms remaining - hardly satisfactory if the upper house could argue greater legitimacy than the lower house. Could PR/STV/AV be tweaked slightly to redress this imbalance? For example, PR with a 12 year fixed term?

    House of Lords, more representative but you can't get rid of them that easily - would be good at making unpopular but perhaps responsible decisions, after all, they'd have to live with the consequences for longer.

    House of Commons: less representative but can be seen off reasonably frequently - able to produce strong, decisive governments.

    Both: would check and balance each other the way Parliament was always meant to.

  • Comment number 69.

    I vote in Australian elections and previously voted in UK ones. There are three things I would point out about the Australian system. Firstly, (as already noted above) it is illegal not to vote and hence, one has no choice but to deal with the second point, that the ballot papers are absolutely huge (getting on to A3 huge) and very complicated. UK voters will definitely hate this the first few time they vote and they will need help in understanding how to vote, with the subsequent furore that will attend any close result. Thirdly, the system leads to "preferences" whereby parties tell their supporters the order in which to vote for all the other parties. This has the effect of creating another strata of politics whereby major parties do deals with the smaller ones to get higher up their preference rankings. The result of all this complexity is that outside the polling booths, rival activists are armed with their "how to vote" flyers and it will all be rather unpleasant for the average British voter who will quickly become nostalgic for the one cross next to one name system.

  • Comment number 70.

    would be a good idea. If puts an end to the 'safe seat' to make government work hard for every area. Not just the key marginals. Very few votes actually count in this system. Don't think it will happen though. The reform of politics is just words. They'll do as little as they can get away with. Also I doubt 'Big Dave is watching you' Cameron is fooling anyone into the thinking that the tories are youthful and forward looking. They are far too miserable and stuck in their ways to go for this.

  • Comment number 71.

    To quiteright #68:

    Agreed, we lack proper 'checks and balances'.

    However, with a House of Commons elected by FPTP and an Upper House elected by, say, PR we would end up with a battle for legitimacy along the lines of 'Ye Olde and Auncient Englisshe Parliament' versus 'The True Representatives of the People'. My hunch is that the House of Commons would lose and become a laughing-stock within a matter of a few years (or earlier) and real power would shift to the Upper House (not, I hope, elected for a 12-year term).

  • Comment number 72.

    I live in Australia and here we have the same system of voting that is proposed.
    Most people do not fill in all the preferences so allowing the votes to be shared out. Also it guarrantees in Australia a 2 party dictatatorship so politicians basically are not accountable as they always get reelected except for a few at the marginals.
    The only fair way is to have complete proportional representation i.e.
    1. Have the winner in each constituency be elected in a first past the post system, therefore representing the constituents.
    2. Add all the votes cast up. Have a threshold of say 5%, then adjust parliament by adding MP's without a constituency to make up the correct proportion in the Commons.
    3. There are 2 riders on this.
    a. To stop a 'Rotten Borough' system, no MP without a constituency can be a Minister or Head of a Committee.
    b. No member of the House of Lords can be a Minister or Head of Committee, (they were not elected and are Political Appointees eg Lord Mandelson, If he wants to be a Minister, let him get ele3cted)

  • Comment number 73.

    After the expenses scandal, (where MPs decided the rules for themselves remember), why should MPs decide the voting system?
    We, not our employees, should be the ones voting how we change the electoral system.
    I am sure that there are sufficient experts in government and constitutional law out there to be able to allow an informed debate on a CORRECT FOR THE COUNTRY voting system.
    After all the lies and deceit we have suffered from this disreputable crowd, they are the very LAST people I would trust to reform a Christmas club, let alone a voting system.
    New Labour has made the country less democratic than ever. It will take more that a botched form of PR to mend it. (Particularly as the one being proposed by govt. is the best one for the Labour party, NOT the citizen.
    (Perhaps as the govt has overridden the Supreme Court recently, because of it embarassing them, if by their actions they have acted to ignore separation of powers, they have acted illegally and as such should be disbarred from the next election and jailed!!
    (I can dream can`t I ??)

  • Comment number 74.


    That is sobering news, regarding the reform in elections will be a planning vote next week....

    NB: I am not a political operative in the United Kingdom.

    -Dennis Junior-

  • Comment number 75.

    Well interetsting that parliment are thinking of a referendum on changes to the voting system, but was not interested in offering a referendum on something more serious ie the EU treaty.

  • Comment number 76.

    D'Hont or nothing. AV is a rubbish system.

  • Comment number 77.

    #29 I do hope so, and before this show do any more damage. The MOD budget is in crises where they have been roding peter to pay paul all with the acknowlegdement of the treasury under GB and later as PM.

    he politically announced the Carriers and then sanctioned 7 months later a delay which will cost an extra £670m+.

  • Comment number 78.

    The isssue is not the way FPTP system or AV+ or whatever, the electeral commission needs more teeth for a start to prevent paper candidates, this is a bigger issue as the financial melt down,

    I actually stood in 2 coumcil elections , as an independant, and see at first hand the contempt that labour had for there voters, Using MP power of sending out colour leaflets , too the whole borough , as a cover, cause he had the money from the extra £10k per year "comms" budget, saying how wonderful labour where, why else send them out then,

    but the counmciller are limited to the amount that they can spend which actually prevents too much leaftets being sent out, get the picture.

    it issues like that that need sorting out.

    the MPs and there families should live in the area use the local schools and services etc before they can stand. This would not safe seat paracuting etc.

  • Comment number 79.

    Bringing in a half-baked proposal like this shows how desperate Brown is. It is also symptomatic of his government, which has a history of rushing through poorly thought-out legislation that is also poorly-written.

    If he's really a fan of electoral reform then why is he restricting it to one of the possible alternatives? I would hope that if this comes to debate then an amendment is put forward to recommend that the topic be delayed (but revisited within a time limit so the next government can't avoid it) in order that several possible alternatives can be properly discussed before a referendum.

  • Comment number 80.

    The only snag about AV is that you have to give a ranking to parties you would never dream of voting for.

    The voting system needs to retain flexibility so that it reflects the views of voters.Some may want to rank all parties; some may only want to select one and some may want to show voter displeasure by not voting for any.

    New Labour is hoping that where they do not win a seat outright on the voters' first choice, they may pick up sufficient votes to win in the lower rankings.

    Perhaps as well as moving to AV we could move to the idea of a coalition government where voters elect the best MPs from any party into government with the remaining MPs forming the opposition.

  • Comment number 81.

    Another headline grabbing announcement from a dysfunctional Government desperate to cling to power and pretend they care about democracy. The electorate will not be fooled by this tangental policy because it is another distraction from the dire economic competence of Brown, Darling and Mandleson.
    Labour asking for another mandate at the ballot box is like an arsonist asking for more matches having set fire to everyone's house.
    Fortunately, only 93 days till 6th May.

  • Comment number 82.

    "57. At 9:56pm on 01 Feb 2010, sagamix wrote:
    clued @ 53

    "It's taking far too long to get rid of the lunacy of Fahrenheit as it is"

    Yes, but I think I know why that is. There's just something about "Sunny 72", isn't there? ... something so right. "

    Wrong once again Saga (it's getting very repetitive telling you that). We live in a metric world - get used to it.

    Regarding the voting system, I think that BEFORE we mess with FPTP, we bring some balance and order to the electoral boundaries, such that, as someone said earler, the number of voters in each constituency is roughly the same, and the boundaries are more logically defined. And of course that the whole question of English voters being essentially 2nd class citizens (compared to Scottish and Welsh voters) MUST be addressed somehow. Sort these issues out and only then tinker with how votes are counted.

  • Comment number 83.

    Yet more political posturing from disaster Brown! This is a measure designed to appeal to the Lib Dems in the event of a hung Parliament after the next election. It is also a gerrymandering measure designed to exlcude the Conservatives from ever being able to form a government again. Brown has wrecked this country and now he wants to gerrymander our political system.

  • Comment number 84.

    conedia @ 82

    "We live in a metric world - get used to it."

    You're sounding quite progressive there, Cone! ... nice one.

    Not "clear thinking" though, I'm afraid - can't give you the full CTP accreditation - not based on your voting system comments, anyway. Why? Well, because you're coming over as somebody for whom the most important feature of any electoral reform is that it improves the prospects of the Conservative Party. Can't really proceed on that basis, can we?

  • Comment number 85.

    My idea for reform would be to put your X against the party you least want to win, then the party with the fewest NOT votes is elected by default. This way the party people hate the most would know it instead of being elected because all the anti votes were divided between the alternatives.

    I do remember back before Labour were elected they were promising to reform voting but then put it on the back burner all those years when they were happy with how first past the post was serving them. Now all of a sudden Mr Brownturn is having another look at reform because the democracy he has preferred for the last 'decayed' doesn't look like it will produce the desired result next time round; what a hypocrite.

    No matter how much tinkering he tries, has it not yet dawned on him that many, including former Labour voters, will be voting for party's alphabetically in the next election?

  • Comment number 86.

    When is this government going to stop faffing around with this kind of political fluff and deal with the defucut it has created?

    Endless procrastination about equality bills that make no sense, discourage opportunity and are now oppsed by the Pope, no less. Endless dithering about Iraq enquiries without providing the right evidence.

    The Treasury is urging ministers to cut spending not raise taxes in a document that has been redacted by the government; this is THE single most important issue facing the country and it cannot wait any longer.

    We can't continue to spend more than we earn. Gordon Brown raised public spending to levels that assumed boom conditions would last forever and it was a catastrophic error that we are now paying for. It has to be reversed.

    Detailed plans have been drawn up showing how it worked in Finland, Canada, Belgium, Ireland, Spain, New Zealand, the Netherlands but the government has decided to redact the data.

    Benefits must be cut, public sector pay will have to be frozen and thousands of public sector jobsworths will have to be sacked; this is urgent and yet Mandleson has the gall to make a speech suggesting it's the tories who are being disingenuous. This is hypocrisy in the extreme.

    I have argued countless times, usually with the result of serial abuse from newlabour apologists, about the urgent need for spending cuts not tax increases; now the Treasury are urging the government to do the same. What happens? They redact the document.

    This is utterly farcical and the BBC is failing in its duty to bring the matter to public attention. We are being hoodwinked before an election; swingeing cuts are coming and we might as well here it from all parties.

    The whole country is hiding behind a screen hoping the debt will go away with some ncoe growth numbers; it's just not like that. The bills are too large and we can't afford to keep spending like this.

    Call an election.

  • Comment number 87.

    Is there no end to this governemnt's cynicism and hypocrisy? They've had 13 years to introduce electoral reform and it is only now - when with any luck they'll be annihilated at the next election - that they plan to change the system in that hope that it will return them to power sooner rather than later to complete the job on which they've made such a good start: the total destruction of British institutions, society and the economy...

  • Comment number 88.

    Now correct me if I am wrong, but wasn't reform of the electoral system one of those things NuLab was elected on and conveniently forgot after they were elected. Spin, Spin and more Spin!

  • Comment number 89.

    I think that there should be compulsory voting as part of these reforms. Not taking part is wrong. Why should the rest of us (who vote) be blamed for picking the wrong candidate/party by the people who don't vote? 50 percent of the the voters - not 50 percent of those bothering, should be the hurdle!!!!

    OK this bill is a piece of electoral positioning but that does not mean it is worthless.

    Oh and dealing with people who vote for a candidate 'by party' should be made more difficult - ballots should show only the candidate's name! (or perhaps picture too - but not party!) We are voting for someone to be responsible for us not for being a party hack and lobby-fodder. Perhaps we should abolish parties too....

    And while we about it where is the legislation that lets us vote for the Senate (a.k.a. the reformed House of Lords)!

    And I am not so sure that we should not elect our leader directly and our head of state too!!!! (And EU president too!!!)

    And why not for the senior civil servants (Permanent Secretaries) of the every ministry as they are the 'real' government.

  • Comment number 90.

    So let me see the government wishes for us the general public to have our say.
    Now let me see is this the same government that promised a referendum on Europe/EU Treaty?
    Stop treating us like fools. This latest bit of rubbish from this government is not worth the paper it has been written on.It will not become law and all this is is more mind games by Brown, Mandleson & co.
    I have an empty rubbish bin available for this load of rubbish.
    This lot are not fit for purpose, fit for anything come to think of it.

  • Comment number 91.

    Didn't Gordan promise a reforendom at the last election?

    Something to do with a treaty or constitution if I remembor correctly.

    As for trust in politics and polititions, I for one would prefer not to see so many geting golden good byes dispite fiddling their tax returns.

    Why have only 6 been put forward for prosicution for fraud and tax avoidance.

    Benefit in Kind Income Tax is due for payments for items like Mock Tudor Beams, Childrens pay to view videos and duck houses, This Tax is due even if the offending sums are repaid or the offending item is given to charity

  • Comment number 92.

    The last referendum promised by these guys was on the Euro constitution. I cannot recall this coming to pass, as we had the (ha ha)entirely different Lisbon Treaty.
    My guess would be that, if Gordon wins this one, conditions will somehow have changed to make a referendum unnecessary.

    Can anyone find a single person who thinks that this could possibly be:
    1. A priority at this time
    2. A genuine attempt at improving democracy?
    I thought not.

  • Comment number 93.


    Crawl back under your rock and give it a rest Robin. Even your evangelical leader had to admit that his "vision" came from the wrong channel.

    AV is a waste of space, and this is just a part of the build up to making voting mandatory; nobody recognise the moves yet? Should do you have seen them often enough....

    Let us have NOTA, or better still APAFOS, to put our cross in.

  • Comment number 94.

    NR "a sizeable group of Labour MPs who fear that the move could be a thin end of a wedge leading to full PR - which could undermine Labour in its traditional heartlands."

    typical, just interested in them selves , not the country !

  • Comment number 95.

    If Parliament votes on electoral reform it means that the voting system will be cleaned up and made fairer just like MPs expenses weren't.

  • Comment number 96.

    At least this is something and a recognition that our antique electoral system is in desperate need of reform.

    Much more is needed, in particular, the single member constituency system has to go.It results in around 75% of seats being safe seats, Once elected to one of these an MP has a job for life, provided only that he or she does not upset their own party and get deselected. As a result many become mere lobby fodder.

    It means also that governments can get an overwhelming majority on a minority of actual votes.

    Naturally most MP's like the single member system which gives many of them job security, and governments more power than their popularity in the country deserves. In support of the system, they cite "constituency links", without explaining what advantages this gives electors.

    In fact many electors find that this is a disadvantage when they are seeking support from an MP, to deal with a problem or promote a cause. There is a convention that MP's do not help with the problems of people outside their own constituency. So if your own MP is ineffective or hostile, you have no alternative. How much better for constituents, but inconvenient for MPs, it would be if they could shop around 3 or 4 MPs.

    It is important that there should not be ordered party lists, so that voters would have the chance to choose, not only between parties, but between candidates from the same party.

    Most MP's of course hate these ideas which would mean that they would have to compete with colleagues to provide a good service.

    Many politicians have told us repeatedly in recent years about the importance of competition, even though it means poor job security. They should be told that it is time that they took some of their own medicine.

  • Comment number 97.

    Strange how political paries who are unlikely to win under the first past the post system seem always to want to scrap it!

  • Comment number 98.

    I think Gordon Brown has conveniently glossed over one basic fact ... the collapse in trust felt by many of the British people in politicians has nothing to do with the electoral system, but everything to do with the behaviour of those politicians.

    Are we really saying that MPs elected by AV will have more integrity and that the dodgy expenses would never have happened?

    After over a decade of manifesto promises to carry out electoral reform, rushing into it now smacks of politcal manoevering in the hope of being able to cling to power in a coalition government, even though the Conservatives look set to be the largest party. Hardly an endorsement of the electoral fairness Gordon Brown says AV will bring. We don't even have a coalition government and already we are seeing backroom deals.

  • Comment number 99.

    Long overdue, but this is simply not going far enough. In my 50's I've stopped voting and will not re-start until all votes are counted equally across the country since at general elections people vote nationally not locally. The recent EU elections were nearly there but even they were counted regionally. It is the people who should say what the system is not the current politicians - turkeys don't vote for Christmas. I would also advocate halving the number of constituencies and having 2 MPs for each - one male and one female so as to reflect the population and the difference in thinking, this also avoids all female lists in some areas.

  • Comment number 100.

    #72 michael wrote:
    "1. Have the winner in each constituency be elected in a first past the post system, therefore representing the constituents.
    2. Add all the votes cast up. Have a threshold of say 5%, then adjust parliament by adding MP's without a constituency to make up the correct proportion in the Commons.
    3. There are 2 riders on this.
    a. To stop a 'Rotten Borough' system, no MP without a constituency can be a Minister or Head of a Committee.
    b. No member of the House of Lords can be a Minister or Head of Committee, (they were not elected and are Political Appointees eg Lord Mandelson, If he wants to be a Minister, let him get elected)"

    This seems an interesting and sensible idea, which is why I quoted it in detail. No chance of it being adopted in the UK then.

    It keeps the constinuency link, but has some safeguards to prevent even more power going to the party leadership (the problem with the list system). I would add:
    3c No member without a constituency, once elected, can appear on the party list again.

    Of course the whole purpose of AV is to make the electoral system even more biased towards Labour than it is at present. So I have two other proposal for Labour's manifesto:
    a) count votes in disadvantaged areas double, and call it equality of opportuntity
    b) no one privately-educated to be allowed to vote (both should appeal to Sagamix)


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