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Which voting system?

One of the effects of the British election result is that it has called into question the country’s “first past the post” electoral system. The problem is to find a better one. The three main parties reflect, in a rough and ready sort of way, the threefold division of the economic process and those who take part in it. There are those who own the land, those who run businesses and are the owners of physical capital, and those with nothing to offer apart from their labour. But with first-past-the-post elections, the smallest party is squeezed out and so, for most of the past century, the business interest aligned itself with the landowning interest, leading to a political structure which does not reflect economic reality.

This underlies most of the present tensions. But change could be for the worse. Britain has enjoyed decisive government. But regardless of which of the two parties has been in power, Britain’s decisive government has also been bad government, endlessly tinkering, seeking to extend its powers, and over-willing  to embark on reckless foreign involvements.

The mathematics of elections means that there can be no electoral system that is truly representative of the views of the people. Proportional representation would mean the end of the single-member constituencies that are one of the more successful features of the British constitution. The wrong sort of proportional representation would also hand more power to political party head offices who would offer a list of their favoured hacks to the electorate – as happened last year at the EU election.

One good compromise, the Alternative Vote system, retains single member constituencies and allows voters to give their order of choice. This could mean that the candidate who received the most first choice votes might not be elected if the candidate who came second was the second choice of enough of the voters whose first choice had come third. (this sounds complicated but is not). The benefit of the system is that it should put a stop to tactical voting. Under such a system, it is more likely that people would cast their first choice vote for the candidate they most wanted to win. That must surely be a good thing.

Another option is the Single Transferable Vote system as operating on both sides of the border in Ireland and for local authorities in Scotland.

There is an explanation of the different voting systems here on the BBC website