Other benefits of STV

STV (Single Transferable Voting) is often promoted as a means to get a more representative result.  There are, however, other significant benefits:

  1. Voters can choose between different candidates of the same party; this breaks the power of the selection committees.
  2. “Split votes” are almost impossible, so a disgruntled candidate can appeal over the heads of their party direct to the electorate.  Protest votes also become irrelevant – you can vote for what you want.
  3. Mini “one party states” are unlikely, so parties and candidates do not get complacent, and at every election, there is something to fight for, so with a bit of luck the electorate actually gets engaged.

Choosing between candidates

Because of the way votes get transferred (see previous post) parties can put up as many candidates as they like.  Whilst it may initially look a little odd, they can even put up more candidates than there are seats.  This has two main implications:

  • The parties can offer a diversity of candidates; men and women, experienced national figures and local popular figures, candidates from opposite sides of key issues, etc.. So the Conservatives can put up Europhiles and Europhobes; Labour can put up Socialists (against PFI) and New Labourites (pro-PFI); and Liberals can put up “Orange Book” Economic Liberals and Social Liberals.
  • The voter can then choose between candidates.

In the 1980s Labour could have put up both pro-CND candidates and multilateralist candidates – they may then have been more electable; the electorate may not have “turned away from Labour”, but have “turned away from a particular flavour of Labour”. Even if they had not consequently won any of the elections in 1979, 1983, 1987, and 1992 (and for the purpose of this argument I am agnostic), the electorate would have elected a more representative and more effective opposition.

With such a system our MPs would be aware that they are not being chosen by selection committees in “safe seats”, but by voters. This might make them a little more responsive to the public electorate rather than the party selectorate!

The end of the split vote and the protest vote

Split votes distort election results and allow individuals and minor parties to try and apply improper pressure on parties.  For instance UKIP have tried to pressurise the Conservative Party to select anti-Europe candidates by threatening to stand against them, splitting the vote and letting Labour (or the Liberals) in.  This is quite improper; if UKIP have a point of view they should stand by it and the Conservatives should select candidates who they want to put before the electorate.  FPTP (First past the post) permits split votes and the consequential potential for a lottery result.  With transferable voting (STV or AV – Alternative Voting) split votes are impossible, because if the vote that is split is a majority opinion, transfers will “unsplit the vote”.

Protest votes are also a feature of FPTP and can cause anomalous results.  Under STV, because the voters’ votes are more likely to make a difference voters can vote for what they want rather than waste their votes on a “protest”.  (In a four seat constituency, 80%+ of the votes will actually elect someone, compared to sometimes less than 40% in a single member constituency).  In addition under a transferable voting system, protest votes are likely to get transferred anyway – so why not vote for what you actually want?

No Safe Seats

Safe seats encourage complacency (even arrogance) by the MP and his or her party. And with the electorate they encourage apathy.  With multi-member constituencies, a party has to have overwhelming support to create a safe constituency (in our 4 member seat they would need 80%+ support to take all the seats).  The voters can no longer be taken for granted!  At each election all parties need to campaign – as a minimum the last seat is likely to be keenly contested.  And with the possibility of change it is worth the electorate turning out.

These means an end to “Labour heartlands” and Conservative “domination of the shires”, instead Labour can look forward to wining some seats in the rural south, just as the Tories may look forward to winning some seats in northern cities.  Consequently a governing party is likely to have MPs drawn from all parts of the country – which has to be a good thing.

So why don’t we get this?  Is it because our small-c conservative politicians just can’t get their minds around the idea of multi-member constituencies – and are too firmly embedded in the current system which is comfortable, secure – and lacking in real accountability?

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