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11:59am on Sunday, 9th May, 2010:

In Proportion


As we have a hung parliament, and the only way out of it seems to be for either the Conservatives or Labour to promise the Liberal Democrats that all future parliaments will be hung, too, it might be worth looking at what we can do to ensure that whatever form of proportional representation we get isn't just as broken as the system that it replaces.

I've mentioned before that I have my own ideas on something that will fit the bill. It keeps a constituency link, it lets voters vote unpopular MPs out, it's simple and it's more proportional (enough to be fairer, but no so much that you can't get a "strong government" single party in charge every so often). It has no ghastly disadvantages, except that you don't know until the end of the results process exactly how many MPs will be returned. Oh, it also means that in a by-election, a sitting MP could lose their seat.

Because you couldn't be bothered to click on the link above, here's how it works:

  1. Everyone votes as now in first-past-the-post.
  2. Every constituency returns as now a first-past-the-post MP.
  3. Additionally, constituencies are grouped in threes. For each group of three, you:
    1. Add up all the votes for each party that didn't win them a seat.
    2. If the total exceeds the votes of whichever individual polled highest in the group, you get a top-up MP.
    3. Your top-up MP is whoever polled highest from your party in the group but wasn't first-past-the-post.

For example, suppose that the Colchester, Clacton and Harwich & North Essex constituences formed a group. Here's what the results were for the three main parties from Thursday's poll:

Will Quince       Conservative      15,169
Jordan Newell     Labour             5,680
Bob Russell       Liberal Democrat  22,151

Douglas Carswell  Conservative      22,867
Ivan Henderson    Labour            10,799
Michael Green     Liberal Democrat   5,577

Harwich & North Essex
Bernard Jenkin    Conservative      23,001 
Darren Barrenger  Labour             9,774
James Raven       Liberal Democrat  11,554

Applying my system, Russell, Carswell and Jenkin would be elected by right. We then add up the votes of the losers across all three constituencies.:

Conservative       5,169 (from Colchester)
Labour            26,253 (from Colchester, Clacton, Harwich & North Essex)
Liberal Democrat  17,131 (from Clacton, Harwich & North Essex)

The score to beat is Jenkin's 23,001. Labour do indeed manage this, so should get a top-up seat. This would go to Henderson, who polled highest of their losing candidates.

Here's how the representation stacks up proportionally:
First-past-the-post: Conservatives 66%, Labour  0%, Liberal Democrats 33%.
My system:           Conservatives 50%, Labour 25%, Liberal Democrats 25%.
Votes cast:          Conservatives 48%, Labour 21%, Liberal Democrats 31%.

I think mine is the better match, and it doesn't come with all the baggage that AV+ and STV come with.

Now although this a fairly simple idea, I can't find any description online of anything like it. I'm sure it must have been thought of before, but I don't know what it's called nor what turned out to be wrong with it. Even if it hasn't been thought of, though, I wouldn't know who best to write to to get some dialogue going about it.

Oh well. As the saying goes, it doesn't matter who you vote for, the government always gets in.

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Copyright © 2010 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).