The case for electoral reform is stronger than ever. But it's still hard to see it happeningby David Lipsey / June 19, 2005 / Leave a comment
The general election result has hugely strengthened the case for electoral reform. Labour won an overall majority of 67 and a majority over the Tories of more than twice that, yet its share of the vote was just 3 per cent more than the Tory share. If the Tories had achieved a further swing of just 2 per cent, they would have won more votes than Labour, but Labour would still have had an overall majority.
Labour has a big majority while having won the votes of 21.6 per cent of the electorate. In less than a decade the proportion of the electorate choosing the government has fallen from one third to just over one fifth. Turnout hovered around 60 per cent for the second election in a row. As only the votes of middle voters in marginal constituencies count, it is perhaps surprising that so many people bother to vote, not so few.
Across Britain it took just 27,000 votes to elect each Labour MP to 44,000 for each Tory and 96,000 for each Lib Dem. No members of the House of Commons were elected by a majority of their electorate, and only 34 per cent of MPs won a majority of those who actually voted.
Questioned for the BBC/ITV exit poll, fully 18 per cent of voters said they had not voted for their first choice party for fear of their least liked party getting in. The British people may have got the bloodied-nose government they wanted but only by voting for people they didn’t.
None of this constitutes an argument for pure proportional representation—the belief that seats should precisely reflect the party preferences of the electorates. I was a member of the Jenkins committee which was asked to recommend an electoral system which combined a number of not easily reconcilable goals: broad proportionality, stable government, voter choice and the maintenance of constituencies. Like Roy Jenkins himself, I believe that there is no perfect electoral system, but that does not mean that no system is any better than any other.
Jenkins recommended a blend of systems. For constituencies, nearly as many as now exist, voters would number the candidates in order of preference, with the second preferences of candidates at the bottom of the poll reallocated—the so-called Alternative Vote (AV). So there would be no more need to vote tactically. On top of this, there were to…