With a hung parliament looming and the most likely out come being a coalition government with the Lib Dems being the king makers, what will the Lib Dems expect for their support?
Gordon Brown has already offered the Alternative Vote System, which isn’t a proportional representation form of voting system and is unlikely to be enough to secure the Liberal Democrats support if they find themselves in a position of power (maybe a once in a lifetime opportunity for the Lib Dems).
What the Liberal Democrats really want is true proportional representation in the form of the single transferable vote system.
What is the Single Transferable Vote?
The single transferable vote system is quite complicated, so I’ll try to simplify the description!
The current parliamentary constituencies would be changed to allow for multiple candidates to run an area, similar to what we see in local elections and the EU elections where we might see a mix of candidates running a constituency rather than just 1 MP.
Each voter ranks the list of candidates on their ballot paper in order of preference. For example if there are 5 candidates in an area:
Candidate A – 2
Candidate B – 1
Candidate C – 4
Candidate D – 3
Candidate E – 5
In the above example the voter wants Candidate B as their preferred candidate.
A formula is used to determine how many votes is needed for each candidate that will be elected for an area. The most commonly used formula is the Droop quota:
Valid Votes Cast (divided by) Seats to Fill + 1 = Votes Needed To Win 1 Seat
Example for a constituency with 80,000 votes cast and 3 seats available.
80,000 votes cast / 4 = 20,000 votes to gain 1 seat.
Candidates with the required 20,000 votes (in the example above) are immediately elected.
An elected candidate with more than the 20,000 votes has their extra votes transferred to their second choice on the ballot paper.
If no candidate has 20,000 votes, the candidate with the least votes is removed and their votes are redistributed to the other candidates (to the 2nd choice on the ballot paper)
This continues until 3 candidates have their 20,000 votes or there are only three candidates left in the count.
There are variations on the single transferable vote system, but the above is the basic idea.
What Would STV do to British Politics?
The single transferable vote system would transform parliament, we’d be highly unlikely to ever see another majority government.
With current polls showing the popular vote almost split 3 way we might expect to see the share of seats shared almost equally between the three main parties with the smaller parties gaining the odd seat.
My only real concern about this voting system is it would almost certainly result in BNP MPs, how many I don’t know. On the face of it having one BNP MP is bad, but 1 MP has no power in parliament and with the BNP only gaining 0.7% of the popular vote in 2005, I find it highly unlikely to see the BNP number of MPs being significant.
Have a few extremist MPs would be worth having a new system that resulted in a truly representative parliament. I don’t like the Green party or UKIP, but they hold views many in our society hold and it’s wrong not to have someone representing them in politics.